This post on Queenstown day trips by car shows you two short self-drive trips from Queenstown: one takes you to Arrowtown and the other follows Lake Wakatipu shores.
Arrowtown is a postcard-pretty mining settlement full of historical buildings and just 20 km north of Queenstown. It’s a must-see destination if you are visiting Queenstown.
Lake Wakatipu again is on the other side of Queenstown and you can follow the lake shore either south or north. We went south to Kingston and the scenery was majestic!
A tree-lined street in Arrowtown with gold-mining cottages.
My Queenstown day trips by car are short trips that need half a day or a whole day depending on your travel schedule.
This post is one (number 5) of my posts on our South Island road trip. We made a South Island self-drive tour in 11 days and you can find the whole itinerary and the all other posts here: New Zealand South Island Road Trip in 11 Days
Queenstown and its Surroundings
So Queenstown is located in the middle of the South Island of New Zealand and has an amazing setting. It’s certainly one of the most scenic locations any city in the in the world has. It’s on the north shore of Lake Wakatipu backed and protected by high mountains in the north.
And what’s best, the whole area around Queenstown is just as beautiful as the city itself, wherever you go. So Queenstown is an ideal travel destination for nature lovers but of course for sport lovers and adventure seekers as well.
I have made a separate post with great autumn photos on Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu shores: Queenstown Autumn Walk Photos.
Queenstown Day Trips by Car: Itinerary
This Google map shows you Queenstown and the two day trip itineraries. You can zoom in the map to see the details or zoom out if needed.
The Arrowtown day trip makes a loop north from Queenstown and the Lake Wakatipu drive follows the lakeshore down to the small community of Kingston and returns the same way.
1. Day Trip to Arrowtown
So we went to Arrowtown, and to see more on the road we took the Malaghans Road up to Arrowtown, that’s the route in the west, and the eastern Lake Hayes road back to Queenstown.
Malaghans Road to Arrowtown
Right outside the city center there is the Skyline Gondola that brings you up a mountain called Bob’s Peak. It’s worth taking that, from the top you’ll have a fantastic panorama of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown and the whole region. Bob’s Peak has a restaurant and nice walking tracks. More about the Skyline Gondola
And another roadside attraction is the Kiwi and Birdlife Park.
Then you drive uphill along the steep gorge road and there is a scenic spot, Arthurs Point. Arthurs Point has a high bridge above a winding river deep down in the gorge. An incredible view! In this place you can take a jetboat ride in the gorge. If you are interested, read here about the Shotover Jet.
Driving on you will reach the plain of Speargrass Flat with that has high mountain chains on both sides, snow-capped in the autumn.
Pretty, pretty! And your destination Arrowtown is close, at the other end of this plateau.
I really like this Arrowtown scenery. The location between the mountains is fantastic and it is the best-preserved old gold-mining town in the region.
In 1862 they found gold in Fox river that flows through the community and people flocked to the area to search for gold. Today there’s no gold left and no miners at work and Arrowtown is just a small town. But now too people flock here – for the beauty of the place and the old gold town atmosphere.
We in fact decided to stay longer than a day in the pretty Arrowtown. We took a campervan site at Arrowtown Camping that is located just a short stroll from the main street.
And we had an ideal autumn weather for sightseeing in Arrowtown. There was frost every morning but the days were sunny and pretty warm.
This is the tree-lined Centennial Avenue, one of the most atmospheric spots in Arrowtown. A whole row of tiny cottages that have remained from the gold-mining era.
This is Bedford Street, the main street where most shops and restaurants are. And there are many old colonial shops that sell local products and handicraft. A bit touristic but the buildings really have style.
Beyond Bedford Street there is a wooded park and the riverbank, that is Arrowtown Recreational Reserve. This is where it’s easiest to park your car in Arrowtown. The river looks great with yellow leaves in the trees and and you can walk long ways along the riverbank.
There is also a former Chinese Mining Settlement where you can learn about the history of Arrowtown.
Chinese miners lived in these small huts in the 19th century after European miners had left. At that time the Europeans left Arrowtown to find gold elsewhere. Some of the huts of the Chinese still remain, and in addition there is a small shop and an old outhouse.
Arrowtowners still today remember their roots and they want Arrowtown to be a miners’ town. They also have an active miners band that plays on village occasions.
If you don’t want to make a self-drive trip to Arrowtown you can alternatively take a tourist bus from Queenstown, there are many tour providers.
But we had to leave by them time the tourists came. We took the Lake Hayes road back to Queenstown.
Lake Hayes Road to Queenstown
And the Lake Hayes Road turned out to be still more beautiful than the road we had taken to Arrowtown. Rolling hills, snow-capped mountains and bright autumn colours.
Lake Hayes is like a postcard. This is one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand that often appears travel promotion materials.
And they say Lake Hayes is at its prettiest in clear autumn weather. I haven’t seen it in any other season but I can tell that Lake Hayes and autumn together make a striking combination!
If you have energy you can walk around Lake Hayes, they have built a circuit walking track along the lake shore.
The track also takes to a coffee cottage, a winery and a lunch bistro in pretty lakeside locations. On the Queenstown Trail website you’ll find the instructions.
So this was the Arrowtown day trip and our second of my Queenstown day trips by car shows you Lake Wakatipu shores:
2. Lake Wakatipu Day Trip
So we set off from Queenstown and took the Southern Scenic Route towards the Fiorland National Park. This is what it looked like after the first bends and turns. And we followed Lake Wakatipu down to the small community of Kingston that is located at the southernmost end of the lake.
The photo above shows the Kawarau Falls just a few kilometres south of Queenstown Airport. That’s a beautiful place and needs a stop. You can see Kawarau river on the photo.
We continued south and had a mountain ridge on the left hand side and Lake Wakatipu on the other side, all the way down to Kingston. These mountains are really high and there’s a skiing area in the winter, the Double Cone skiing centre.
And on the right hand side there is the hilly Kelvin Heights peninsula. Kelvin Heights is a residential area and imagine the views they fave from their living room windows. Stunning views to the deep-blue Lake Wakatipu and the slopes of Queenstown.
The road to Fiordland National Park follows Lake Wakatipu for 47 km. The views are amazing all the way and we just had to stop all the time. For short walks or just for sitting in silence for a while and looking at the view.
Lake Wakatipu has an exceptionally strong blue color. That’s because it is a glacial lake and the water comes from melting snow.
Lake Wakatipu is the second largest glacial lake in the south, only Te Anau is bigger.
There are many world-famous areas you might want to visit in New Zealand: along this road there are the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound, Lake Manapouri and Te Anau. But since driving on New Zealand roads takes so much time we couldn’t to go that far south nor try to get all the way around Lake Wakatipu.
But to get a feeling of the fiords we decided at least to drive down to where the lake ends.
Kingston is a small settlement and quite isolated from everything. But in earlier days Kingston was an important port from where all travelers from the south took a steamship to get north along the lake.
There still remains a museum railroad that reminds us of those days when horses, railroad and steamships were the only way of transportation.
But we had another way of transportation and prepared a picnic in our rental campervan band then turned back north.
And if you like walking, don’t miss this: a short drive from Kingston there is a walking track called the Devils Staircase. It is a one and half hour track in the lush native forest.
If that interests you, you can read here about Devils Stairase and other walks in and around Queenstown.
Driving back to Queenstown we knew the lake already and there was more time to look at the mountain side of the road: was deep forests, high mountains and lots of farming area. And this flock of deer in afternoon sun, what a roadside view!
So after this self-drive trip along Lake Wakatipu shore we are back in Queenstown. For photos on Queenstown check out my post Beautiful New Zealand: Queenstown Walk in Photos.
More on New Zealand Travel
This was post number 5 on our New Zealand South Island road trip. You will find all other sections on the trip’s main page: