Built on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and flanked by the utterly remarkable Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown is busting at the seams with fun for kids of all ages.
Whether you want to ski it, jump it, raft it, climb it, zip it, thrill it. chill it or eat it, there’s something for every family in our round up of 25 of the most epic things to do in Queenstown with kids
1. Hit the slopes
Queenstown is a magnet for families who enjoy their sports on ice. As the gateway to some of the southern hemisphere’s best skiing and snowboarding there are slopes for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and levels of experience at its four incredible ski fields, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona and Treble Cone, the closest of which is just a 20-minute drive from town. Along with some of the world’s prettiest alpine scenery, each offers awesome infrastructure, including onsite rentals, a range of terrain for all levels, advanced trails and backcountry skiing for expert, and awesome ski schools so your children can show you up after about 20 minutes on the snow.
2. Get your skates on
When too much ice is never enough head to Queenstown Ice Arena. Set in the Queenstown Gardens, just a five-minute walk from the town centre, the ice centre provides an all-weather activity the whole family can enjoy.
3. Stop to smell the roses
Gorgeous Queenstown Gardens is just a short walk from the centre of Queenstown and is beautiful all-year round with a variety of flora and fauna. The wheelchair accessible garden has great expanses of lawn, a large water feature and a pretty rose garden and is the perfect space to let the kids loose to burn off a little pent up energy. And be sure to buy or rent a disc to be beaten at a a round or two of (free) frisbee golf at the 18-holes disc golf course by your more co-ordinated offspring.
4. Explore Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu is the stunning centrepiece of Queenstown. Said to have its own ‘heartbeat’ as it rises and falls by about 20cm every 27 minutes, the s-shaped beauty, carved by glacial forces is the third largest lake in New Zealand as well as its longest, at 84 kilometres. There are plenty of ways to see the lovely lake, including kayaking, aqua biking, or stand up paddle boarding. Or explore its banks on a rented bicycle. Or just prop yourself up with a warm mug of something delicious at one of the bars and restaurants that line its shores to soak up its otherworldly beauty in comfort.
5. Go underwater without getting wet
Take a peak under Lake Wakatipu without getting wet at Queenstown Underwater Observatory. Just a few metres from the shore you’ll spy trout and the Long Finned Eel, a particularly unattractive serpentine sort, known to weigh in at as much as 16 kilograms, that I’m fairly certain would scare the bejesus out of anyone they should encounter in the actual water. Visitors can also watch eager scaup ducks diving, dodging the creepster eels as they dive amongst the fish for their next meal. At just $5 entry, it’s one of the best value all weather attractions in town.
6. Get on your bike
Rent a bike for a leisurely cycle around Lake Wakitipu or, if you’re a bit of a closet drunk like me, head on an off-road cycling quest to the Gibbston Valley for a tipple in the vineyards. Less sozzled families with older kids can tackle one of the great mountain biking trails or head up the Skyline Gondola to Queenstown Mountain Bike Park, where you’ll find 450m of vertical descent and 27 varied trails for all riding levels.
7. Ride the Shark boat
Climb aboard the Hydro Attack semi-submersible shark for an adrenaline-packed over and underwater adventure. The fierce shark boat accelerates from 0 to 80 kilometres per hour in just 3.9 seconds and reaches heights of up to five-metres out of the water, and 1.5 metres below. Like a stunt plane on water, you can expect 90-degree rolls, a few tight turns, loads of laughs and, if you’re anything like me, soiled trousers.
8. Take to the lake on TSS Earnslaw
The TSS Earnslaw is a gorgeous 1912 Edwardian vintage coal-fired steamship that chugs across the waters of Lake Wakatipu. One of the oldest tourist attractions in Central Otago, the lovely vessel is the only remaining passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere and even made a cameo in the movie ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ as an Amazon River boat. Take the half day cruise to Walter Peak High Country Farm for a demonstration of sheep shearing and mustering. Get up close and personal with the farm’s furry residents including donkeys, deer, a couple of ambivalent alpacas and a few slobbery Scottish Highland Cattle. Finish your visit with a delicious country style morning or afternoon tea before cruising back to town. It is, in our humble opinion, one of the top things to do in Queenstown with kids, especially littler ones.
9. Make some Aerial moves
Take flight at indoor skydiving centre, iFLY Queenstown, where you can simulate a 3,000-metre free-fall in a multi-storey indoor wind tunnel. Step by step training means daredevils from five to 95 can head into the vertical wind tunnel to be swept away. Or you can just check out the aerial action through the glass… like I did.
10. Take to the tracks
Ride up Bob’s Peak on the Queenstown Gondola for incredible vistas and to ride the purpose-built Luge carts at the Skyline Luge. One of the best things to do in Queenstown with kids, visitors can tackle almost a kilometre of tight turns, tunnels and dips all the way down the hill, then leap on the chairlift and zoom all the way back down, over and over and over again until their parents collapse in an exhausted heap.
11. Raft along a river
Exploring Queenstown’s rushing rivers on a raft is sure to get your heart thumping. There are rapids for everyone, from beginners to advanced whitewater enthusiasts. Families might like to check out beautiful Skippers Canyon or go on a family white water rafting tour with Family Adventures New Zealand, while more adventurous souls who aren’t me might prefer to tackle river boarding down the Kawarau River, or heli-rafting down the wildly churning rapids of the Shotover River. I’ll just wait over here.
12. Join the jet set
The world’s most exciting jet boat ride, Queenstown’s Shotover Jet has been thrilling folks for decades. Indeed, I first experienced the adrenalin pumping jet boat ride through the spectacular Shotover Canyons 25 years ago, and the 360-degree turning, stomach churning ride is as pant-wettingly terrifying as ever. Proudly owned by the Ngāi Tahu Māori people, this has to be the most exciting way to experience the extraordinary beauty of the area.
13. Fly through the treetops
ZipTrek EcoTours offer fun eco-adventures through the forest canopy high above Queenstown on a series of fast and vast ziplines. Located on Skyline Gondola Hill, there are three courses to choose from. The Moa 4-Line Tour is a great starting point and perfect for kids, (minimum age six) with four exhilarating ziplines that go longer, higher and faster. Two guides accompany all tours and not only teach kids and their adults all the tricks of the ziplining trade, like hanging upside down from the wire like a loon while doing 50kph, but also educate them on sustainability and the local environment along the way.
14. Swing out
Kids (and adults) aged 10 and over can dive head first into the Shotover canyon on the Shotover Canyon Swing, the world’s highest cliff jump at 109 metres high. Once you’ve experienced the gut dropping 60m free fall, you’ll swing 200 metres out and over the canyon on a zipline. If you’d rather walk on the mild side (and by mild we mean only moderately terrifying) tackle the Canyon Fox, starting 182 metres above the river, there’s only a five-metre drop before you speed across the canyon and back again on a superfast zipline. Whether you choose one or both, we’d advise packing a couple of extra pairs of undies.
15. Take a flying leap
Take the Skyline Gondola high up Bob’s Peak to the Ledge Bungy. Soak up the sensational views of Lake Wakitipu and the surrounding mountains to distract yourself while the A.J. Hackett Bungy team get you harnessed up. The specially designed harness allows you to do it your way, twisting, flipping, spinning, running or jumping off the purpose-built jump base. We’ll do it our way and watch.
16. Make a splash
Head indoors for a dip at Alpine Aqualand, an indoor swimming complex that has something for all ages. Whether you want to muck about in the leisure pool with the inflatable floatation rings, in-pool netball hoops and toddlers’ area, zip down the two hydroslides, get serious in the 25-metre lap pool, relax in the adult spa, or do as I do and get your sloth on in the lazy river, this watery wonderland is the place.
17. Excite your senses
Odyssey Sensory Maze is a super cool walk through dark spaces, physical obstacles and challenges with illusions, lighting effects, sounds and smells to accompany you along the way. Best for kids aged eight and over, this 30-minute quirk fest is a must visit for those who love a little sensory overload.
18. Birds of a feather
The Kiwi Birdlife Park had the kids in a flap. Home to 20 plus species of native New Zealand wildlife, this wildlife conservation park is right in the heart of Queenstown and, along with kiwi viewings in a special nocturnal house, visitors can see endangered Kea, a variety of kakariki (parrots), New Zealand Falcons and the not so feathery Tuatara, a local lizard rocking a prehistoric vibe, and more.
19. Step back in time
Take a drive 20 minutes out of Queenstown to the delightfully restored gold rush village of Arrowtown, nestled on the banks of the sparkling Arrow River. This ridiculously pretty town is a living historic settlement with a rich heritage and many a tale to tell. Take a stroll down its tree-lined avenues to see the old mining cottages or kick back with a bevvy and a bite at one of the town’s too cool for school restaurants and bars.
20. Unleash your inner Hobbit
Little Hobbits will be excited to head “far over the misty mountains cold…” through ancient beech forests and glacier-carved valleys to see some of the stunning Queenstown sights that starred as Middle-Earth’s in the Lord of The Rings movies. On a half or full day LOTR location tour with Nomad Safaris you can visit the film locations of Minas Tirith, the Misty Mountains, Argonath, Amon Hen, Isengard, Ithilien, the Lothlorien Forest and more. Plus, you’ll see locations featured in Wolverine, X-men Origins and the Narnia movies. Squee.
21. Thrill out
Thrillzone is the kids’ top choice for indoor fun. This high-energy, adrenalin fuelled indoor action centre has it all. From the immersive Vortex 12D Motion Theatre, virtual reality games and lazer tag, to paintless paintball and 360° Drift Karting, there’s hours of action under the one roof, so you can be humiliated multiple times by your more agile, athletic and co-ordinated children, as they beat you at everything over and over again. Or is that just me?
22. Chow Down at Fergburger
There’s so much great food to find in Queenstown but visiting and not joining the queues at Fergburger is like visiting Rome without stopping by the Colosseum or New York without spying Lady Liberty. The iconic burger shop is an institution and with around 20 interpretations of the humble burger, including a mighty fine venison number and options for vegetarians, some would even say it’s the best burger shop in the world. Having not tasted every burger in the world, I can neither confirm or deny this rumour.
23. Get a sugar hit at the Remarkable sweet shop
With the largest selection of confectionary in New Zealand, The Remarkable Sweet Shop had my sugary sweet daughter in a spin. With sweet treats sourced from all around the world, you’re sure to find your favourite. But our tip is to go straight for their selection of fabulous in-house fudge. My kids could argue forever over whether the Passionfruit, Salted Caramel or Hokey Pokey flavours were the best, so I say just get them all.
24. Gobble up the goodies at The Cookie Muncher Cookie Bar
Queenstown is home to what is said to be the world’s first cookie bar and keeping children (and their mother) from its siren call is impossible. My advice is to just give in and prop yourself up at the Cookie Bar with a giant fresh-baked hot cookie, steaming hot chocolate or a cookie stuffed mega shake.
25. Choc out at Patagonia Chocolates
Established by a couple of ex-pat Argentinians who were missing real South American chocolate, Patagonia Chocolates is a chocoholics dream come true. But along with to-die-for hot chocolate (we like the chilli version), they knock out awesome house-roasted coffee and what my kids insist is the best ice cream in town. Though this accolade may be as much due to the fact that they dip the cones in your personal choice of chocolate and tasty toppings, as it is to the quality of the ice cream. Five locations in and around Queenstown means you’re never too far from your next chocolate hit.