Queenstown swimming tips
Mountain lakes are cold. Lake Whakatipu is icy all year round. Smaller lakes like Moke Lake and Lake Hayes warm up more in the peak of summer but be prepared for water cold enough to give you brain freeze. Bring warm clothes for after your swim.
Southern sun takes no prisoners and sunburn puts a downer on your holiday. Fair skin can burn in 12 minutes. So, slip, slop, slap. You know the drill.
Stay safe. Don’t swim alone. Stick to your limits, check what’s under the surface, know where you’re going to get out of the water, and never underestimate rivers.
Right, now we’ve covered the sensible stuff, let’s get to the fun bit, finding you a breathtakingly beautiful spot to spread out that towel and swim.
A five-minute stroll from town, Queenstown’s main beach looks straight towards Cecil and Walter Peaks. It’s perfect for a swim on a hot day with a pontoon at the far end of the beach. There are also paddle boards, kayaks and other water sports for hire in the summer months.
Sunshine Bay is a quiet secluded beach on the left-hand side of the Queenstown to Glenorchy Road 3 kms from town. It’s a five-minute drive, or you can walk or cycle there on the Sunshine Bay Track.
Enjoy stunning views of Cecil Peak, and the TSS Earnslaw as she chugs back to dock. There are a few benches, a bathroom and a small jetty, but that’s it for amenities, so bring everything you need with you.
Kelvin Heights beach
Kelvin Heights beach has incredible views of The Remarkables. It’s popular with boaties, water skiers and wakeboarders, as there’s a large boat ramp located on Bay View road. The sheltered beach is also a great spot for paddle boarders.
The beach is a 20-minute drive around Lake Whakatipu from central Queenstown. Or if you prefer, take a 10-minute water taxi across from Queenstown and do the short walk to the beach. There are no shops or cafés this side of the peninsula, so pack a picnic.
Wilson Bay’s crystal-clear waters are great for wakeboarding and water skiing, and you’re far enough out of Queenstown to feel like you’re on your own private beach.
The bay is a great rest stop on the way to Glenorchy, and there’s also a walking/biking track that runs alongside the lake through regenerating native bush and pine forest connecting Wilson Bay to 7 Mile Bike Park.
A hidden treasure, about 20 minutes out of town, Bob’s Cove is a favourite for locals who want a short walk to a stunning spot. The track descends through native bush, and past a historic lime kiln from the 1800s. There’s a small jetty (perfect for jumping off in summer), shore swimming and fishing spots.
More wild swimming spots near Queenstown
Moke Lake is a ravishing setting for a wild swim. A high-country lake flanked by tussock clad slopes, the water is clear and fresh. On a calm day, the glassy surface reflects the surrounding peaks.
To get there take the road to Glenorchy, turn off 6 km out of Queenstown onto Moke Lake Road and follow the gravel road for about 7 km to the lake.
On a hot day, the water warms up enough for that first dip not to be too big a shock. Pack a picnic and settle in for a day strolling around the lake, with a swim to cool off.
Lake Hayes is a popular summer swimming spot, as its shallow depth means it warms up more than other alpine lakes in the region. A grassy beach at Mill Creek Shallows is a good spot to enter the lake.
On the road from Queenstown to Arrowtown you can access the lake from Lake Hayes Pavilion on SH 6 or from the North Lake Hayes picnic area.
A wild swimming spot with a difference, Little Thailand is a series of cliff jumps above Lake Whakatipu about a 10-minute drive from town, on the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy. The cliff is also a rock climbing destination with bolted routes.
Park up and hike down through the bush to the cliffs. There are three main rock jumps, with heights ranging from 5m to around 15 m. Pick your leap and take a bracing plunge into the lake below.