Queenstown is one of the most popular travel destinations in New Zealand and there are lots of Queenstown day trips to experience. Mighty alpine scenes, adventure activities and a vivid town centre attract tourists of all ages from around the world. Another reason for Queenstown’s popularity is good connections for other South Island destinations.
Me and my partner Ciarán did four day trips from Queenstown. Travelling was made easy by an affordable bus pass and convenient schedules that allowed us to leave from Queenstown in the morning and return in the evening. We spent from one to three days in each of them, but honestly we could have stayed for weeks to soak in these natural wonders.
1. Milford Sound
When we were still planning our travels in South Island to think about Queenstown day trips, our Kiwi friend described Milford Sound to us by saying, “It’s a pain to get to, but worth every hour.” That was proven right from the off, as we started to approach the chain of mighty mountains that hide the famous fjord. Our bus driver made several stops along the way, allowing us to admire reflections of Mirror Lakes, infinite Eglinton Valley and the waterfalls of The Chasm.
We visited Milford Sound on a day after record-breaking rain, which had striped the cliffs with thousands of waterfalls. Sunshine quickly dried these waterfalls out, yet highlighted the contrast of sparkling sea and rugged mountains. Therefore, Milford Sound is breathtaking in any weather and season.
Tranquil lake sceneries provide a holiday destination for all nature lovers. The town might be famous for #thatwanakatree, a special willow tree growing in the water, but Lake Wanaka is a special destination for more than its Instagram star. The compact town surrounded by vast nature offers great opportunities for an active holiday.
We explored the area by SUP boarding, tramping and mountain-biking. Even though Wanaka is less than two hours away from Queenstown, it was surprisingly quiet, providing nearly empty tracks and waves for active tourists. The local shops offer a good selection of sports equipment and knowledgeable guidance for the best spots.
3. Franz Josef
Our stay in Franz Josef was short and sweet with just one full day, but we maximised our time experiencing the landscapes of the region, or at least as much as Mother Nature would allow us! Unfortunately we were unable to make it up onto the glaciers either day on a heli-hike as the winds were so strong; apparently cancellations happen 50% of the time.
Our tour became an amazing three hour hike through the forests instead, with our guide Andy teaching us about the native flora and fauna in the region, as well as Maōri stories of how the topography was created. It ended with an unparalleled view of the glacier from the valley floor, sipping on some hot chocolate.
Later on we got out of the boots and thermals and hit the hot pools. Lazily reclining in the shadow of the glacier-capped mountains that loomed majestically overhead, we were able to completely relax, basking in the fact we were having the New Zealand experience we had always dreamed of. A short visit, but a special one. We will definitely be back!
4. Aoraki Mt Cook
Aoraki is the Māori name of the New Zealand’s tallest mountain whose name literally means cloud piercer. Living by its name, the three days in the Mt Cook village was a constant thrill of catching the moment when the famous triangular peak is revealed behind the clouds. Luckily that moment came with various times and weathers while we were exploring the National Park.
Several walking tracks cross around alpine village, making them easy to catch straight from the local accommodation without a car. The most popular is gentle Hooker Valley track, which provides a path to admire Aoraki/Mt Cook. The ones not afraid to use their calves can take several other tracks that lead upwards along the cliff walls. As the peaceful village goes to bed early, it is also easy to wake up by dawn and see the sunrise colouring the sky behind the mountains.
Authors: Johanna Malinen and Ciarán Tragheim, a travel duo originally from forestry Finland and buzzing London. They decided to see how life is on the other side of the world, moving work and home to Wellington. During the weekends and holidays, they travelled throughout New Zealand, entirely by bus or other public transport.