Queenstown, on the South Island of New Zealand, couldn't ask for a more spectacular location. With the Southern Alps providing a magnificent mountain backdrop to this city on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, even in downtown Queenstown, it's easy to get the feeling that you're a long way away from the chaos of the city. Enjoy spectacular views from Queenstown Hill, soak in the tranquility of Queenstown Gardens, or take a Queenstown scenic cruise on Lake Wakatipu or nearby Lake Hayes, and you'll feel like you've died and gone to heaven.
However, paradise comes at a price. New Zealand is one of the world's most desirable places to live and visit, and the high cost of living here can make visiting Queenstown on a budget tricky. After all, even getting to this fairly remote city can cost you an arm and a leg. So once you arrive, you'll want to take advantage of free or cheap things to do on the shores of Queenstown Bay.
Luckily, there are some good options available for exploring Queenstown on a budget. And to make the most of them, you'll want to travel light. Make sure to drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Queenstown before you head out to explore this beautiful region, and you'll find it much easier to enjoy Queenstown on a budget.
Cheap places to stay in Queenstown
The average cost for a double hotel room in Queenstown is NZ$149, which is close to US$100 at the time of writing. That's not particularly expensive by the standards of world cities, but bear in mind that's the average cost spread out over the year, not during the popular summer season (which, here in the southern hemisphere, takes place in what Northerners would consider winter). You can expect to spend much more on a hotel during this time, and if you want views of the mountains or of Lake Wakatipu, the cost will just keep climbing.
However, although Queenstown's relatively small size limits your choice of hotels, it also means that it isn't hard to get from just about anywhere in the city to just about anywhere else. Plus, if you want to explore the incredible natural environment around the city — and why would you come here if you didn't? — you may want to rent a car during your stay, making it even easier to get around. In that case, it might be worth considering getting a room in a suburb of the city or even in a surrounding town and driving in when you want to take advantage of Queenstown attractions. Deciding where you want to stay in Queenstown is half the battle.
On the other hand, if you want to stay cheaply in Queenstown itself, check out some of these options to stay in Queenstown on a budget:
YHA Queenstown Lakefront Backpackers
Located right on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and not far from downtown Queenstown, this hostel represents an extraordinary bargain in the city. It's only half an hour's walk to the Queenstown Hill walking track, and you can reach Queenstown Gardens with an even shorter one-kilometer walk. Queenstown Ice Arena is only 20 minutes away on foot, and the wildlife refuge of Kiwi Birdlife Park is also less than 20 minutes away.
It would be hard to imagine a better location for exploring the city than this, and as it's located close to the edge of town, it's also easy to get out into the backcountry that surrounds Queenstown from here. There's free parking, free Wi-Fi, and a bed in an eight-bedroom dormitory with a view of Lake Wakatipu will only cost you around $70 in January, the height of the tourist season here. The accommodation may be basic, and you'll share a bathroom with other travelers. But if you're looking to save money on your trip to New Zealand, you can't do much better than this.
Nomads Queenstown Hostel
If you prefer to be even closer to the heart of Queenstown, this two-star hotel puts you right in the thick of the action. It's only a short walk to just about anywhere you might want to see in the city from here, but Queenstown's small size means it's also not hard to access hiking trails in the surrounding mountains. In fact, even though you're in the heart of downtown, you can even walk to the Skyline Gondola and visit the luge track on foot from here.
This hostel is located on a quiet residential street, which makes it a peaceful place to stay even as you visit Queenstown city center. In January, you can get a room in a dorm for not much more than $40, which includes access to an en suite shared bathroom and a secure locker to store your belongings. The hostel also offers private rooms that include their own en suite bathrooms for around $150 during the same time period.
If the hostel life isn't for you, you may be glad to know that there are some upscale options that, while more expensive, offer you a lot of bang for your buck. This five-star hotel is certainly one of them. Offering free Wi-Fi with parking included, the hotel also has an outdoor area and offers ski equipment hire and a ski shuttle that will take you to the nearest slopes. Lake Wakatipu is a short and pleasant walk away, so you can take advantage of scenic cruises or exciting rides on jet boats and other adventure activities right by the hotel itself.
In January, an Alpine Studio will cost you around $160 per night. This room includes either one king or two twin beds, plus a flatscreen TV and a private bathroom with toiletries provided. There's even a kitchenette with a mini fridge and a microwave, so you could offset some of the cost of your hotel room by making some of your own meals.
Cheap things to do in Queenstown
Queenstown is a fantastic gateway to the outdoors, and one of the best things about outdoor activities is they tend to be free or very cheap. You can have some truly incredible experiences in Queenstown without spending very much money at all, so once you've dropped off your bags at a convenient luggage storage, check out some of these affordable options for cheap things to do in this part of New Zealand.
Known to the Maori as the Hill of Intense Sacredness, this beautiful hill is free to explore. And as you do, you won't have a hard time understanding why New Zealanders consider the place sacred. Take the 4.2 km Time Walk to see the iconic Basket of Dreams sculpture and enjoy incredible views of the city, Lake Wakatipu, and the beautiful surrounding mountains. Not only is this activity completely free, but it's basically a must-do to get a better sense of what Queenstown is all about.
The steepest cable car in the southern hemisphere, the Skyline Gondola whisks you 450 m up to the top of Bob's Peak, where you can enjoy incredible views of the surrounding countryside. There are tons of hiking trails to explore, along with the exciting luge track, though that will cost you extra. There's also a bike Park, a bar, and a restaurant, but the ride up to the top is enough all by itself. It's NZ$46 for an adult ride on the gondola, which isn't especially cheap. But considering what a unique experience it offers, it does represent a good bargain.
Kiwi Birdlife Park
This former garbage dump has been transformed into a beautiful wildlife sanctuary for native New Zealand wildlife. You can go on a Kiwi Encounter to meet New Zealand's adorable national bird or take part in a conversation program to see raptors and other magnificent birds in action. An adult admission here costs NZ$48, which includes the Kiwi Encounter, the live birds show, and a visit to the honeybee experience with a complementary honey tasting.
Cheap places to eat in Queenstown
Queenstown may be a small city, but that doesn't mean it's lacking when it comes to great places to eat. The popularity of Queenstown with tourists means that there are tons of restaurants and cafés ready to cater to any taste and preference, so it's not hard to find delicious things here. And even though Queenstown can be expensive at times, if you look around, you'll find some cheap things to eat that don't cheap out on flavor. The best street food in Queenstown is always a good bet when you're trying to eat on the cheap, but there are also some great restaurants where you can save money while still enjoying a feast.
This bright and charming café is located at the foot of the Skyline Gondola and makes the perfect place to grab breakfast before you go up or a hearty lunch when you come back down. The impressive breakfast plates with a poached egg, avocado bruschetta, and an apple cider elixir shot cost NZ$22 and are the perfect way to fuel up before taking on the mountain.
Located in the heart of Queenstown, this popular restaurant allows you to dine in or take away and offers tremendous food at a very affordable price. Check out the @Thai Platter, with spring rolls, fried wontons, chicken satay, and pork rib. Enough to feed two people, it only costs NZ$30, which is a great bargain.
Skyline Gondola Light Bites
Normally, popular tourist attractions are the most expensive place to buy anything, including food. But if you're stuck at the top of the mountain and feeling hungry, Skyline Gondola Light Bites can help you out. Offering bowls of soup with bread rolls or vegetarian nachos at very affordable prices, this is a great place for a light meal that won't break the bank.
Cheap bars in Queenstown
As the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown attracts a young crowd that likes to party. As a result, you'll find plenty of places to drink, from high-end cocktail lounges to working-class watering holes. That makes it easy to drink on a budget in Queenstown.
The kind of place where you'll find tradesmen drinking after work, this neighborhood pub is a great option for affordable drinks. Located in an old courthouse, this bar offers $20 steak, $15 beef burgers, five-dollar pints of beer, and six-dollar cocktails. You really can't go wrong with that.
This British theme pub boasts lager and ale on tap for NZ$10 and wine starting at NZ$9.50 per glass. The vibe is welcoming and casual, and it's a great place to enjoy a game or have a meal as well as a drink. A small pizza will cost you $18, so while it's not the cheapest place to eat or drink in town, it's still a good bargain.
Red Rock Bar Café
An excellent place for cheap food, as well as cheap drinks, Red Rock is famous for its all-day breakfast that costs only NZ$10. Alternatively, the two-person Red Rock Platter is packed with popular bar food like chicken wings, onion rings, and potato wedges and costs only NZ$30. Cocktails cost NZ$12, while pints of beer are closer to $10.
Bonus budget tips for Queenstown
Cook your own meals: Eating out in Queenstown can be quite expensive, so consider cooking your own meals if you have access to a kitchen. Many hostels and budget accommodations have communal kitchens that you can use. You can also visit local markets and supermarkets to buy groceries and cook your own meals.
Use public transportation: Queenstown is a relatively small city, and many attractions are within walking distance. However, if you need to travel further, consider using public transportation. The local bus system is affordable and efficient, and you can also rent bicycles or e-bikes to explore the city and surrounding areas.
Visit free attractions: There are many free attractions in Queenstown, such as hiking trails, parks, and scenic viewpoints. You can also explore the town center, which is filled with shops, galleries, and cafes.
Queenstown can be expensive to get to, but once you're here, you'll find tons of great free things to do. Plus, saving money on food and accommodation gives you more cash to enjoy some of the incredible outdoor experiences on offer in this legendary New Zealand vacation destination. Leave the bags behind and get ready to enjoy the exceptional natural environment Queenstown offers.