Queenstown is the ultimate summer base camp for outdoor exploration. It’s your chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and find that feeling – we’re talking about that tired body, crisp mind, full stoke feeling. You know the one.
We’ve put together our favourite off-the-beaten-track missions. Here’s how to spend a week actively immersing yourself in Queenstown’s breathtaking backyard as a slower, more connected kind of adventurer.
Day One: Hike up to Lake Alta
This glacial backcountry lake is tucked into some of the region’s most dramatic alpine terrain and lies just outside the boundaries of The Remarkables ski field. The 1.5 - 2-hour hike climbs gently from the carpark, offering sweeping views and, often, patches of lingering snow.
On arrival at Lake Alta, you’ll find yourself surrounded by towering granite peaks, the famed Double and Single Cone summits amongst them. This is a place that invites long, awed silences, and deep breaths of fresh alpine air. It feels truly remote and unspoiled, and yet, it’s only 40 minutes from downtown Queenstown.
If you’re lucky, you might even encounter a Kea, New Zealand’s cheeky native alpine parrot. They are astonishingly curious but take care not to feed them or leave gear unattended.
For those who prefer having a local along to guide the way and share knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna, the family-owned guiding company, Alpine Luxury Tours offers guided half-day tours up to the lake. Plus, they’ll bring a packed picnic to enjoy among the remote alpine wilderness.
Make it a full-day mission on the Wye Creek Track
For a rewarding, wobbly leg-inducing full-day mission, link up with the Lower Wye Creek Track from Lake Alta, which will take you all the way down from the mountains to the valley floor. Though you’re heading downhill, it’s a challenging hike in sections. The route is not marked above the treeline and is only recommended for experienced, properly equipped hikers in good weather.
For climbers, there’s top-rated sport climbing on the upper half of the Wye Creek Track. The majority of the crag, which has climbs for most levels, sits up on the flanks of the Remarkables range. The views here over Lake Whakatipu and the surrounding mountains are impressive, so even if climbing’s not your thing, it’s well worth pausing to take in the landscape on your way down.
You’ll emerge at the Wye Creek Carpark, which is 20 minutes from Queenstown, so make sure you've contacted a local shuttle company or organised a ride to meet you there.
Après-hike at Jack’s Point
Post-hike, pop by the restaurant at Jack’s Point and bask in the afterglow of a day well spent. It’s the perfect spot for a sundowner or a hearty meal to appease your mountain hunger.
Lake Alta. Credit @leilamurtonpoole on Instagram
Day Two: Mt Judah Track, Glenorchy
The Mt Judah Track in Glenorchy is one of the lesser-trodden hiking trails in the region, but a firm favourite with locals. It’s a true backcountry expedition into the Whakaari Conservation Area that combines mining history with excellent mountain views.
It’s a steady incline up the Mt Judah Track to the historic Bonnie Jean Hut (2-3 hours). The track passes through the abandoned Glenorchy Scheelite Battery and State Mine and quickly rewards with stunning views over Glenorchy and Kinloch.
Bonnie Jean Hut is for day use only so either turn around or make it an overnighter and push on for another 1-1.5 hours up steep switchbacks to Heather Jock Hut. Heather Jock is about as classic New Zealand backcountry as you can get. It’s a bare-boned and rustic little cabin nestled into tussock. It has three bunk beds, rolling views and a long drop toilet. If you don’t want to stay overnight, leave enough time to head back down to the carpark.
Before you start hiking, getting to Glenorchy is a journey in itself. The 45-minute drive from Queenstown winds deeper and deeper into this UNESCO World Heritage area. Make sure to stop in at Mrs Woolly’s General Store in Glenorchy village, for a coffee, sundae and pre or post-mission fuel up.
Stay safe out there
Queenstown summer days are long, and the sun packs a punch. When you’re out in the backcountry, pack plenty of sun protection and a good supply of water. Check the latest trail conditions with the Department of Conservation before you leave. Mother nature is unpredictable, especially in the mountains of Aotearoa, so remember to always bring a warm and waterproof layer, no matter how fine the forecast is looking.
These spaces are precious, and we need everyone’s help to keep them that way. Make like a local and leave the trails as you found them, taking out everything you bring in.
Get your gear dialled
Whether you’re after walking poles, boots, crampons or climbing gear, Outside Sports and Small Planet are great local spots to hire and buy what you need. You can guarantee the staff are out there doing it on their days off, so they know what they’re talking about.
Jean Hut, Mt Judah Track. Credit @natachahoarau_ on Instagram
Days Three and Four: Discover the Queenstown Trail
The Queenstown Trail is a phenomenal 130-kilometre off-road trail network linking Queenstown to Gibbston via historic Arrowtown. It’s one of New Zealand’s Ngā Haerenga 23 Great Rides, threading through the Whakatipu Basin dishing up rivers, mountains, valleys and lakes, corner after corner. There’s no better vehicle than a bike to truly immerse yourself in a place, and trust us, you could spend days upon days exploring the local gems on this trail.
Bike hire shops in Queenstown can get you set up with everything you need to hit the trail – whether that’s an e-bike or the regular kind. Here’s how to spend a couple of days exploring some of our favourite sections of the trail.
Trail Day One: a meandering journey from Lake Whakatipu to Arrowtown
Twin Rivers Track
Is there any greater joy than stripping off for a dip in a secluded river bend after a bike ride in the sun? We think not. The Twin Rivers Trail starts from Frankton and is one of the lesser-known sections of the Queenstown Trail. It's intermediate-grade riding with a few punchy climbs.
Snake your way for 11.5km alongside the turquoise waters of the Kawarau and the Shotover rivers, and once you've reached the historic Shotover Bridge, turn right to join the Countryside Trail.
The Countryside Trail
13.5 kilometres of idyllic, intermediate-grade riding will take you to Arrowtown, passing tree-lined avenues and gorgeous countryside scenes along the way. When you roll into historic Arrowtown, there’s plenty to feast on. Re-fuel at one of the many cafes and restaurants, and stretch out your legs by spending an afternoon wandering local art galleries and artist’s studios.
Take a detour to loop Lake Hayes
For a bigger day of riding, add on the Wai Whakaata/Lake Hayes Trail, a short, eight-kilometre loop circumnavigating Lake Hayes. Wai Whakaata means ‘water that reflects’, and on a still day, the surrounding mountains cast breathtaking reflections across the lake’s surface.
Be sure to slow down and check out the native planting efforts along the shoreline. Local organisation, Mana Tāhuna are working to restore the landscape around the lake. Stop in at the famed Amisfield Restaurant & Cellar Door for a wine-tasting break. As well as producing some of Central Otago’s finest wines, their ever-changing menu highlights seasonal and local ingredients.
Biking the Lake Hayes Trail - Credit Will Nelson
Trail Day Two: Frankton to Jack’s Point via Kelvin Heights
Frankton Loop Trail
After a few big days, the Frankton Track and Kelvin Peninsula Trail offers 16 kilometres of easy riding, whilst still laying out spectacular views across Lake Whakatipu. The trail starts at the Queenstown Gardens, and sidles around the lake, across the Kawarau Falls Bridge and out to Kelvin Heights and the Queenstown Golf Course.
Jack’s Point Trail
For an extra challenge, take the Jack’s Point Trail from Kelvin Heights to Jack’s Point. The seven-kilometre, Grade 4 trail ramps up the grunt factor. There are some steep climbs, tight turns and a few technical sections - but it’s well worth the effort. This is one of the most rewarding trails in Queenstown, with incredible views of the Remarkables on one side and Lake Whakatipu on the other.
Why not add on a few extra days to more deeply explore the Queenstown Trail? Find an extended itinerary here, with a few more local tips.
How to help care for the trails you love
Queenstown Trails is a non-profit dedicated to building Queenstown's network of trails for everybody to enjoy. They have big plans in the works and need all the support they can get.
Getting involved is an awesome way to weave yourself into the community, even if you don’t live here full-time. You can become a Trail Lover, join the trust as an Official Partner or even help by completing a trail survey – find out more on the Queenstown Trails website here.
Kawarau Falls Bridge
Day Five: Get the legs and the heart rate pumping on Queenstown’s best mountain bike trails
Queenstown is a world-class mountain biking destination, with a range of easily accessible tracks for all abilities. As well as the famed trails of the Queenstown Bike Park, there are a bunch of lesser-known, locally-loved trails to explore, too.
Consider purchasing a Queenstown Mountain Bike Club (QMTBC) 14-day visitor membership. For $25 you get access to the club's great deals and discounts, and you'll be supporting their work building and maintaining Queenstown's epic trail network.
Bush Creek Track
Bush Creek Track is an epic singletrack descent into Arrowtown, which starts halfway up the access road to Coronet Peak. Expect Grade 3 riding, which starts cruisy before cutting through beech forest, across bridged streams and over plenty of tree roots, with some interesting switchbacks and short steep sections. It’s a shared track, so remember to give way to walkers.
Access is via a steep climb from Arrowtown, or from either the Rude Rock trail or the advanced Slip Saddle Trail, which both start from Coronet Peak. If you’re hungry for downhill-only action, drive your bike up the access road in the car or a shuttle, and then press send.
Finish up with a well-earned drink and pizza at The Fork and Tap, one of the many great Arrowtown pubs loved by locals.
Rude Rock Track
A local favourite, Rude Rock is flow encapsulated. Starting from the Coronet Peak base building, the Grade 4 trail swoops with the contours of tussocked hills down to the top of Skippers Canyon, rewarding riders with insane views.
The trail is as fast and the kickers as high as you want to make them, and with optional rocky drops, there’s fun for both intermediate and advanced on Rude Rock. Pedal back up the access road, or there are shuttle options for pure, uninterrupted downhill joy.
Support the local mountain biking scene
Mountain biking in Queenstown didn’t become world-class by accident. The Queenstown Mountain Bike Club is a volunteer organisation that digs trails, organises races and rallies and supports the passionate local mountain biking community.
If you’re keen to show your appreciation for these incredible tracks, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Donate directly, join a Thursday dig night or become a member here.
Rude Rock Track
Day six to seven: Raft and Hike the Rees Valley
Packrafting offers a whole new way to sink deep into nature. The Rees Valley, past Glenorchy, is one of the most spectacular places on earth, and it makes for a great packrafting mission on waters that feed directly into Lake Whakatipu. With vast mountains, wide valleys, glaciers, waterfalls and crystalline waters the Rees Valley feels like another planet, but it’s a fairly accessible trip, so it’s great for first-timers.
Head out with a local guiding company, like Packrafting Queenstown. Their guides know the landscape like the back of their hands, and it’s an awesome way to meet and connect with like-minded people in one of the world’s finest settings.
You’ll start by hiking from the head of Lake Whakatipu into the Rees Valley for a couple of hours, setting up camp along the way. Where the first tributaries start to flow into the Rees River, you’ll set up the rafts and paddle on down back to camp. The next day, it’s a combination of some Grade 2 rafting and hiking to get back out of the valley, spent and grinning.
Help create a better future for Queenstown
For many visitors, Queenstown tugs on deep heartstrings. Fortunately, there are a growing number of ways to turn that connection into a contribution. You can help protect Queenstown's spectacular landscapes by donating to Love Queenstown which supports local climate, conservation and biodiversity projects that make an impact.
Whether it’s digging tracks, donating to local climate initiatives or investing in local businesses, you’re invited to help keep this place special for generations to come.