Numerous short walks start in downtown Queenstown, including a scenic leg-stretch around Queenstown Gardens on the small peninsula overlooking Lake Wakatipu. Another easily accessible highlight is the more strenuous climb up Queenstown Hill, with a pay-off of panoramic views of the lake, Cecil Peak, the Remarkables and more.
Many more short but memorable walks can be found within a half-hour drive, including the amble around Arrowtown’s Chinese Settlement reimaging life during the gold rush, and the undulating path around Lake Hayes ringed by mountain vistas. Wine lovers can explore ruggedly handsome Gibbston on foot, visiting cellar door tasting rooms and recharging with a vineyard lunch.
On the way to Glenorchy is the turn-off to Moke Lake, a hidden gem nestled among tussocky peaks. A loop track here circumnavigates the serene lake, with options to extend the outing by heading south towards Lake Wakatipu or further into the backcountry via the Moonlight Track.
A wonderful day out can be had along the leisurely Lakeside Trail tracing the Frankton Arm around to Kelvin Heights before joining up with the Jack’s Point track. This popular option serves up non-stop lake and mountain views along with several tasty refreshment stops.
On fine days, the all-day return walk to the summit of Ben Lomond (1748m) reveals epic scenes stretching into Mount Aspiring National Park. The Skyline gondola offers an exciting shortcut to Bob’s Peak, shaving a couple of hours or so off the outing. Regardless of whether you shorten your journey with the gondola or decide to hike the full track unassisted, Ben Lomond is a challenging track in an alpine environment so there are a few things to know before you go.
If you're after a variety of short and long trails, a day could easily be spent hiking around Arrowtown, starting with the historic Sawpit Gully circuit followed by the easier, cross-country wander to the historic Shotover Bridge.
Queenstown makes a great base for the many multi-day hikes in the World Heritage Areas of Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Park. Highlights include three Great Walks: the Routeburn, Milford and Kepler, and the Greenstone Caples and Hollyford Tracks. Staying in communal DOC huts set in spectacular locations along the trails is an unforgettable part of the New Zealand hiking experience.
Walkers need to be fully equipped, self-sufficient and capable of carrying a heavy pack for several hours a day. If this sounds a little outside your comfort zone, fully guided options are available, where your load is lessened to a daypack, and comfy lodgings come complete with hot, hearty meals.
With a stunning scenic flight and fascinating local insights as part of the deal, heli-hikes are the ultimate way of getting off the beaten track. Popular options include Middle-earth themed trips with snow landings, and Earnslaw Burn – a spectacular alpine basin decorated with multiple waterfalls and a hanging glacier.
Heli-hikes can also be combined with winery visits, 4WD tours, fly-fishing adventures, and overnight stays in remote lodges. All tastes and levels of fitness are catered for.
Despite their close proximity to civilisation, many of the day-walks around Queenstown are in rugged terrain, crossing rivers or streams and following steep tracks with precipitous drop-offs. Sturdy shoes or proper hiking boots are generally required, as is appropriate clothing for the conditions. The weather can deteriorate very quickly, especially in the mountains. Read the New Zealand Outdoor Safety Code to prepare for any trip into the backcountry.
Many of the more challenging walks are maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Visitor centre staff can help choose the right walk or hike for you and advise on track conditions, weather forecasts, guided trips and transport services. The Queenstown DOC office is on ground level at 50 Stanley Street.