This post will show you two Queenstown day trips by car: north to Arrowtown and south the Wakatipu lakeshore.
Arrowtown is a postcard-perfect mining village 20 km north of Queenstown, a must-see place in this part of New Zealand.
The other Queenstown must see is the fiordlike Lake Wakatipu. Rent a car and follow the lakeshore south or north, both are beautiful. We went south to where the lake ends, recommend!
A tree-lined Arrowtown alley with old mining cottages
These two Queenstown day trips by car are easy ones, half or whole day, depending on what you want.
This post is one (number 5) in a series about our South Island road trip. We made a South Island self-drive trip in 11 days and you will find the whole itinerary and the other posts here: New Zealand South Island Road Trip in 11 Days
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand: a Lake Wakatipu steam cruiser
The New Zealand city of Queenstown is located in the center the South Island, in one of the most scenic locations a city can have. Well protected from winds and storms by mountains on all sides it faces the deep fiord like mountain lake Wakatipu.
And what’s even better, wherever you go in the area around Queenstown it’s just as beautiful as in the city itself.
So if you are a nature lover, Queenstown and the areas around it are an ideal travel destination for you. And if you are a sport lover or adventure seeker, Queenstown is for you as well.
Queenstown, the city: beach park in autumn
To read more about Queenstown, see this post: The Magic New Zealand: Queenstown Walk in Photos.
Now about the day trips:
Queenstown Day Trips by Car: Itinerary
Two self-drive itineraries from Queenstown on the map
This Google map shows you Queenstown and the two day trip itineraries. Zoom in the map to see more details, or zoom out to see more of the region.
The Arrowtown day trip is marked in the upper part of the map, making a loop trip from Queenstown. The Lake Wakatipu drive again goes along the lakeshore down to the small community of Kingston where we turn back and return the same way.
1. Day Trip to Arrowtown
Queenstown day trips by car: Arrowtown
So we went to Arrowtown. To see more we took a loop trip, taking the western Malaghans Road up to Arrowtown and the eastern Lake Hayes road back.
Malaghans Road to Arrowtown
So we set off from Central Queenstown. Right outside the city center is the Skyline Gondola, a cable car that takes you up the Bob’s Peak mountain. Take the gondola while in Queenstown, but maybe not when on the way to Arrowtown.
Once on the top you’ll get a fantastic panorama of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown and the whole region. Bob’s Peak has a restaurant and some great walking tracks. Read more about the Skyline Gondola here.
The next roadside attraction is the nearby Kiwi and Birdlife Park, also a place to visit while in Queenstown.
The road starts climbing up a steep gorge until it reaches a scenic spot, Arthurs Point. Arthurs Point has a high bridge above a stream below, deep down in the gorge. A place to see, really!
In this place you can take a jetboat ride in the gorge. If that interests you, read about the Shotover Jet here.
Driving from Queenstown to Arrowtown
Driving on, you will reach the plain of Speargrass Flat that has high mountain chains on both sides, snow-capped in the autumn.
The drive from Queenstown to Arrowtown
Pretty, very pretty! Now we are almost in our destination Arrowtown at the other end of the plateau.
Queenstown Day Trips by Car: Arrowtown
Arrowtown in autumn
We instantly fell in love with Arrowtown. Its setting in a mountain valley is stunning and there’s so much history in this place.
A summary about the town’s history: until 1862 Arrowtown was a tiny rural communtiy. Then they discovered gold in the Fox river flowing through the remote village and soon after that gold-seekers started to flock to the area and Arrowtown rapidly grew to what it is today.
Today there’s no gold left and no miners either. They have gone. Today tourists flock to see the place, for its beauty and special gold town atmosphere.
Queenstown day trips by car: visit the old mining town of Arrowtown
We liked the place so much that we just had to come back another day and stay the night in the old mining town. So we came and booked a site for our campervan at Arrowtown Camping located almost next door the town’s old-style main street.
This time, too, we had an ideal bright autumn weather in Arrowtown. Even when there was frost every morning, the days were sunny and warm enough.
Arrowtown, New Zealand
This is the tree-lined Centennial Avenue, one of the most atmospheric spots in Arrowtown. A whole row of tiny gold seekers’ cottages, just like it still was the gold-mining era.
Bedford Street, Arrowtown Main Street
Queenstown day trips by car: Arrowtown
This is Bedford Street, the main street where most shops and restaurants exist, together old colonial shops selling local products and handicraft.
A bit touristic of course, but these historic buildings really have some style!
Historic buildings of Arrowtown
More to See: the Riverbank
Biking along the Arrowtown riverbank
Beyond Bedford Street there is a wooded park and riverbank, the Arrowtown Recreational Reserve.
This is also the place where to to park your vehicle, at least if you have a big one. The river looks fantastic with all these yellow trees around it, and you can walk long ways up and down the riverbank.
Queenstown day trips by car: views of the Arrowtown riverbank
In addition, there is a former Chinese Mining Settlement, a good place to can learn about the town’s history. What did we learn?
In the 19th century there was already less gold, which made European miners leave Arrowtown to find gold elsewhere. After the Europeans left, Chinese miners settled in the area and built small huts for themselves to live in.
Some of the huts of the Chinese miners still remain by the river, and there is their small shop and an old outhouse.
Queenstown day trips by car: Arrowtown Miners Band
Still today, Arrowtowners want to recall their roots. They maybe want to retain Arrowtown as a miners’ town. As an example there is an active miners band that plays whenever there’s a chance.
Arrowtown day trip by bus
If you don’t want to drive to Arrowtown, take the tourist bus from Queenstown. There are many tour providers, this London double-decker being one of them.
At the time the tourists arrived we already had to leave. This time we took the Lake Hayes road.
Lake Hayes Road to Queenstown
The Lake Hayes Road turned out to be even more beautiful than the road we took up. Just look at these rolling hills, snow-capped mountains and bright autumn shades!
Queenstown day trips by car: Lake Hayes
Lake Hayes is like a postcard, which it in fact is. As one of the most photographed lakes in all New Zealand, Lake Hayes often appears in the country’s travel promotion materials and postcards.
People claim Lake Hayes is most picture perfect in autumn. I haven’t been here at other times of the year, but can confirm that Lake Hayes and autumn make a striking match!
Lake Hayes, the postcard lake of New Zealand
A lake Hayes reflection
If you still have some energy, walk around the lake where they have built a circuit walking track on the lakeshore.
The track also takes to a coffee cottage, a winery and a lunch bistro, all of which exist in pretty lakeside locations. You will find Lake Hayes Trail instrucions on the Queenstown Trail website.
So this was the Arrowtown day trip, now the second day trip that takes you into Lake Wakatipu scenery:
2. Lake Wakatipu Day Trip
Queenstown day trips by car: crossing the Kawarau River
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 few bends and turns. And that’s not all, we followed Lake Wakatipu down to the small community of Kingston, located at the southernmost end of the lake.
The photo above shows the Kawarau Falls only a few kilometres south of Queenstown Airport. The Kawarau Falls are a beautiful place and need a stop. You will see the Kawarau River where the falls are on the photo above.
Driving to see the mountain chains south of Queenstown
We continued south and had a mountain ridge on the left hand side and Lake Wakatipu on the right, and it was like that all the way down the lake. As these mountains are so high, there’s even a winter ski area, the Double Cone skiing centre.
Then, on the right hand side there is the hilly peninsula of Kelvin Heights, a local residential area where homes have breathtaking views from their living room windows. To the deep-blue Lake Wakatipu and the terraced city of Queenstown.
Sitting on the green shores of Lake Wakatipu
The road we are driving along leads to Fiordland National Park. To begin with, it follows Lake Wakatipu for the first 47 km. The views were the kind that made us stop all the time. For short walks or just to sit on the grass to take in the view.
Lake Wakatipu has an exceptional strong blue color. That’s because it is a glacial lake that gets its water comes from melting snow from the mountains.
More Lake Wakatipu views
Lake Wakatipu is the second largest glacial lake in the south, only Te Anau further south being bigger in size.
If you continue along this road, you will reach some world-famous New Zealand regions: the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound, Lake Manapouri and Te Anau.
We, however, couldn’t proceed that far south and could not even drive around Lake Wakatipu. There was not time enough for that.
Never mind, on this short trip to Kingston and back we got a feeling of what New Zealand fiords might look like.
Queenstown Day Trips by Car: Kingston
The tiny village of Kingston at the south end of Lake Wakatipu
Kingston is a small village far from everything. Yet in earlier days it was an important port from where all travelers from the south took a steamship, to continue their way north along the lake.
There still remains a museum railroad to remind us of the days when horses, railroad and steamships were the only ways of transport in the country.
Our rental campervan in New Zealand
We, however, had today’s mode of transportation and at this point needed a lunch in our rental campervan. Then it was time to head back north.
Then, on the way back, if you like walking, don’t miss the Devils Staircase, a steep walking track north of Kingston. It is a one and half hour track through a lush native forest.
If you like hiking, read here about the Devils Staircase and other walks in and around Queenstown.
A view from the road
Driving back to Queenstown we already knew what the lake looks like, so there was more time to look at the mountain side. Fantastic deep forests, high mountains, green farming areas – and a flock of deer in strong New Zealand afternoon sun!
So we are back in Queenstown. For Queenstown photos, check out the post The Magic New Zealand: Queenstown Walk in Photos.
More on New Zealand Travel
This was post number 5 about our New Zealand South Island road trip. You will find all other sections on the trip’s main page:
New Zealand road trip in 11 days