New Zealand’s South Island is truly one of the most stunning places on earth. 

From snow-capped mountains to picturesque valleys, there is so much beauty to take in. 

Queenstown, informally known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, is a great jumping off point to explore lots of other hidden gems that the South Island has to offer. 

From winery tours in Otago to exploring Milford Sound by cruise, continue reading for a list of the 12 best day trips from Queenstown.

Table of Contents

1. Milford Sound Sightseeing Cruise & Scenic Flight

Milford Sound is one of the most visited sites on the South Island – and for good reason. 

This gorgeous sound is situated in Fiordland National Park.

With this tour, you get to experience the sound from both the air and the water.

First, you’ll fly in a seaplane from Queenstown down to Milford Sound.

From above, you’ll pass over mountains, lakes, and waterfalls.

Next, you’ll board a cruise and travel around the entire fiord, even going out to the Tasman Sea.

Tour details

  • Duration: 5 hours
  • Inclusions: Light refreshments, hotel pick up and drop off, all taxes and fees, live commentary, flight and cruise

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2. Milford Sound BBQ Experience

Milford Sound is guaranteed to leave travellers of all ages awe-struck by its beauty.

This unique tour leaves from Queenstown and lasts a full day.

Your private, air conditioned van will pick you up in Queenstown and start making its way south.

Along the way, you’ll pass the Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu.

Continuing south, you’ll reach Fiordland National Park.

It is here that you’ll board a cruise and enjoy a kiwi-style barbecue lunch while taking in the incredible scenery around you.

Tour details

  • Duration: 13 hours
  • Inclusions: Lunch, hotel pick up and drop off, air-conditioned vehicle, local driver/guide, cruise

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3. Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise

Doubtful Sound is like the bigger sister of Milford Sound.

It is also located in Fiordland National Park, but is bigger and less popular than Milford, namely because it is harder to get to.

This wilderness cruise tour begins in Queenstown and will bring you right to the dock in Doubtful Sound.

Cruise the crystal clear waters and take in the breathtaking fiord around you.

Your journey will include passing by Lake Manapouri and crossing over the 670-meter tall Wilmot Pass.

Finally, it will end with a 3-hour catamaran cruise in this stunning location.

Tour details

  • Duration: 12 hours
  • Departure Point: 88 Beach St, Queenstown
  • Inclusions: Live commentary, hotel pick up and drop off

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4. Glenorchy Movie Locations Tour: The Lord of the Rings

Are a Lord of the Rings fan? Then this is the tour for you! 

Queenstown and its surrounding areas, including Glenorchy, were used as filming locations for all three movies.

This tour will allow you to live out your wildest Middle Earth fantasies and see these locations in person.

You’ll explore the countryside in a 4WD vehicle, which is an adventure in and of itself.

While in the car, you’ll visit the locations that acted as the Fortress of Isengard, Forest of Lothlorien, and more.

This is one of the only tours that will allow you to get off the beaten track and see a part of New Zealand that not many get to experience.

Tour details

  • Duration: 4 hours 15 minutes
  • Departure Point: 37 Shotover St, Queenstown
  • Inclusions: Driver/guide, light refreshments, transport by 4WD vehicle, pick up and drop off from select hotels

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5. Central Otago Wine Tour and Lunch

Calling all wine lovers!

New Zealand is known for its delicious wine, so while in Queenstown, why not spend a day exploring the South Island’s most famous wine region?

Central Otago is where you’ll find acres and acres of gorgeous vineyards.

This boutique wine tour leaves from Queenstown and will take you into the heart of Otago.

Once there, you’ll be treated to wine tastings and lunch.

You’ll visit multiple wineries, including Peregrine Wines, Gibbston Valley Wines, Chard Farm Winery, and more.

Tour details

  • Duration: 5 hours 30 minutes
  • Inclusions: Wine tastings, local guide, lunch, hotel pick up and drop off, air-conditioned vehicle

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6. Skippers Canyon 4WD Tour

Skippers Canyon is one of the most scenic gorges in New Zealand.

It is only a short distance north of Queenstown, making it perfect for a day trip.

You will be picked up in Queenstown in an air-conditioned 4WD vehicle. 

The beginning of your journey will offer beautiful views of the Wakatipu Basin.

From there, you’ll drive along the saddle (the highest part of your trip), that boasts a view of Mount Aurum.

While in Skippers Gorge, you’ll travel to multiple points of interest, including Hells Gate, Zoo of Rocks, Castle Rock, and Bells Hill. 

Tour details

  • Duration: 4 hours 
  • Inclusions: Local guide, hotel pick up and drop off, transportation by air-conditioned 4WD vehicle, taxes, coffee, tea, local chilled wine, biscuits, and cheese and crackers.

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7. Full Day Paradise Valley Tour

Paradise Valley will have you exploring New Zealand’s beautiful nature.

This tour will take you to the Glenorchy region, where you’ll see mountains, lakes, and more.

You’ll also be shown some of the filming locations from The Lord of the Rings. 

Tours visit Mount Aspiring National Park, Diamond Lake, and even a sheep shearing shed. 

This is the perfect tour for families or small groups.

And it’s even customizable – whether you’re a film buff, a hiker, or a photography addict, you can tailor the tour to you!

Tour details

  • Duration: 7-8 hours 
  • Departure Time: 9:00 am
  • Inclusions: Local guide, hotel pick up and drop off, afternoon tea, bottled water, coffee or tea, live commentary, snacks, cookies, and fresh fruit

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8. Mt. Cook Small Group Adventure Tour

If you’re looking for the ultimate day trip from Queenstown, look no further than this small group adventure tour!

This fully guided tour will transport you all the way from Queenstown to Mt. Cook (New Zealand’s tallest mountain).

Along the way, you’ll also get to experience Kawarau Gorge, Lindis Pass, the Southern Alps, Lake Pukaki, the Hermitage, and High Country Salmon.

Each tour is limited to just 11 people.

Guests sit comfortably in a luxurious mini van throughout the journey (the van even has WiFi).

Multiple stops are made along the way and snacks and refreshments are offered on board.

Tour details

  • Duration: 12 hours 
  • Departure Time: 6:45 am
  • Inclusions: National park fees, snacks, bottled water, refreshments, hotel pick up and drop off, fully guided small group tour, WiFi, onscreen entertainment

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9. Full Day Cromwell, Wanaka and Arrowtown Tour

For a full day of South Island exploring, this tour is just the ticket.

Over the course of 8 hours, you’ll get to experience all that Queenstown and its surrounding areas have to offer.

You’ll exploring its iconic landmarks and its breathtaking scenery, all in one day.

Specifically, your air-conditioned vehicle will take you to Wanaka, Cromwell, and historic Arrowtown.

Cromwell is located on the shores of Lake Dunstan and is known for its fruit, while Wanaka is a place of pure natural beauty.

Finally, Arrowtown is a charming and historic gold rush village nestled on the Arrow River.

Tour details

  • Duration: 8 hours 
  • Departure Time: 8:00 am
  • Inclusions: Snacks, refreshments, coffee or tea, hotel pick up and drop off, air-conditioned vehicle

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10. Fly Fishing Trip

Whether you an experienced fisher or not, New Zealand is a great place to try your hand at fly fishing.

This day trip from Queenstown will allow you to experience the best fly fishing in the South Island.

A day spent on the water is one you’ll never forget.

Fish for trout in a beautiful river, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Your expert guide, Matt Butler, will teach you different fishing skills and techniques, giving you the best chance possible of catching a trout!

Wildlife, adventure, and nature – what’s not to love?

Tour details

  • Duration: 6-10 hours 
  • Departure Time: 8:30 am
  • Inclusions: Lunch, transport, rod, line, and reel, snacks and drinks, flies, tippet, and consumable

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11. Dart River Jet Boat Ride and Wilderness Jet

Dart River Wilderness Jet promises to be an exhilarating day for all.

You’ll travel from Queenstown to Glenorchy, and then to Mount Aspiring National Park.

In the park is where you’ll board the only jet boat operator on the Dart River.

Not only will the boat ride be thrilling, but you’ll be surrounded by so much natural beauty, you won’t know where to look first.

Your expert guide will be on board the entire time to teach you about the region, including about Maori history.

After the boat ride, you’ll be taken on a guided wilderness walk where you’ll see an ancient beech forest and filming locations from The Lord of the Rings.

Tour details

  • Duration: 6 hours 
  • Departure Times: 9:00 am or 1:00 pm
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, entry fees, back-country bus tour, guided wilderness walk, audio commentary

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12. Routeburn Track Guided Walk

The Routeburn Track is one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand. 

And once you do it, you’ll understand why!

Your tour (both full and half day options are available) will begin in Queenstown.

From there, you’ll drive through some of the most scenic parts of the country.

Eventually, you’ll end up at the western end of Lake Wakatipu, which is where your guided hike will begin.

On this day hike, you can expect to see lush vegetarian, diverse topographies, and all types of birds.

Tour details

  • Duration: 7-8 hours 
  • Departure Times: 8:30 am
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, park fees, professional guide, bottled water, snacks, coffee or tea 

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Queenstown provides the perfect location for a number of day trips on the South Island.

From cruising Milford Sound to hiking the Routeburn Track, there is plenty of fun and adventure to be had on any of the tours above.

For all new cities, I go overboard on my itinerary, just to see every major attraction. Countries I've visited include New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand. Mostly Asian countries. Next target - Europe!