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Everything You Need to Know About Driving in Queenstown – Road Trip Tips & Where to Stay With A Car Queenstown

mountains stand tall behind a row of autumnal trees with a still lake in the foreground

Visiting Queenstown is on every New Zealand tourist’s agenda. The home of adrenaline, the heart of an incredible landscape, and the one town that no one ever wants to leave. A visit to Queenstown can be daunting to know where to begin planning as there’s so much to see and do. Here I’ve put together essential info and tips on how to tackle a road trip through Queenstown, as well as a selection of my favourite places to stay. Let’s get started with this Queenstown road trip and accommodation guide! 

Queenstown is accessible by public transport, the InterCity and Naked Bus both offer affordable (but long) routes to the centre of town from the West Coast, Christchurch, and elsewhere on the island. There are also direct flights to Queenstown from Australian cities such as Sydney and Brisbane, as well as domestic flights from Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. However, I would consider the best way to visit Queenstown is by either your own or a hired car.

The advantages of having a car in the town are plentiful; The freedom to get out and about to explore the neighbouring towns such as Arrowtown, experiencing the full effects of road tripping along the mountainside and enjoying those iconic views, and the choice of accommodation that suits your budget and needs, regardless of location – to name just a few!

Devil's Staircase NZ

Lake Wakatipu drives

Here are a few things to know about driving in New Zealand’s South Island, and the best places to stay in Queenstown to help you get started on planning your Queenstown trip!

Road Trip Tips for Driving in Queenstown

  • Parking in Queenstown centre is very expensive, as well as it being a struggle to find a spot in the first place. Where possible, park at your accommodation and consider walking to town and or using public transport to get around.
  • A lot of the streets in QT centre do not have traffic light crossings, meaning pedestrians are walking here there and everywhere. The town can be very busy particularly in high season so be sure to look out for tourists crossing!
  • The roads taking you around Lake Wakatipu can have a lot of twists and turns, so be sure you know your vehicle and its capabilities before you set off.
  • NZ weather, especially around the mountains, can be temperamental so be careful not to get caught out in any crazy weather changes (we saw a big storm heading our way so made sure to be back on marked roads before the hail started!).
  • There are lots of look outs, most of which are well signposted in advance. Be considerate of other drivers by giving plenty of warning before darting off the roads to catch the views!
Silhouette views of mountains

Sunset over the lake

  • Likewise, be conscious of other drivers, particularly tourists who may not know the roads well. They might quickly stop, change direction, slow down, or swerve without good warning, so keep your distance.
  • Driving alongside the mountains means the roads can be narrow. Be patient with large and slow vehicles and overtake only when it’s safe to do so.
  • These roads are not illuminated with street lights after dark. If driving in the cooler seasons make sure to know when the light fades if you’re unsure of driving at night, and know that your vehicle’s lights are working properly.
  • If you get stuck or lost, have a plan of action at the ready! Keep a map, blankets, water, and supplies with you in the car, and take care to ensure the usual road trip best practices. It’s worth remembering that the areas around Queenstown can be remote, and getting into any car trouble can be made worse when you’re in unfamiliar and secluded places.
Storm clouds brew over an unmarked road with mountains in the distance

Stormy roads

  • Know where you’ll be able to next fill up on petrol, and don’t pass up an opportunity to resupply water, food, and fuel. As mentioned, the roads can be isolated so you never know when the next chance will be.
  • Be respectful of the environment. Always remember leave no trace practices and guidelines to making sure we keep this beautiful land exactly as it should be: unspoiled and untouched. That goes for picking up litter, not crossing boundaries designed to keep you and the wildlife safe, and adhering to the local government laws and rules.

These are just a few of the things to remember about driving in Queenstown and Otago. The area is known foremost for its landscape and natural scenery, however it’s also a popular destination for road trips so keeping diligent with your behaviour will help to preserve the areas we’re so privileged to visit and encourage the same good actions from others.

Snow-capped mountains at the Remarkables Ski Field in Queenstown

Winding mountain roads up the mountains

Sloping mountainsides with a winding road overlooking Queenstown New Zealand

Views over Queenstown from The Remarkables

Where to stay in Queenstown When You Have A Car

Most visitors choose to stay as near to the centre of town as possible, however for cheaper prices it’s recommended to look further afield, particularly if you’re driving and require parking space. The benefit is that you’ll likely get a better price and avoid extortionate parking lot fees!

Being a busy tourist centre, there are lots of options for accommodation in Queenstown. However, prices can be steep so it’s well worth booking far in advance for the best deals and locations.

  • $$$ Airbnb – We stayed at a beautifully well-equipped modern home a short 10 minute drive from the centre of town. Nestled between mountains between Lake Hayes and Queenstown, this spot near Frankton was perfect for us to get our bearings on our first night, and ideal as there was ample parking for us. Generally Airbnb’s can be a little more expensive in QT due to high demand, as well as having perks necessary for those with their own vehicle such as off-road parking spaces. You absolutely get what you pay for however, the standards of our host’s home was exceptional. We even had access to their hot tub spa, they provided a beautiful breakfast spread, and they had a puppy to play with!
  • $$ Pinewood Lodge – A mid-range cost option has to be this simple but convenient lodge just 10 minutes walk from the centre of town. We had a car port to ourselves and stunning views of the Remarkables from our cabin. We booked a simple double room which came as part of a unit of 3 rooms, including our own kitchen area, bathroom, and lounge area. We felt comfortable leaving the car in the lodge complex as we headed out for the day and evening in town.
  • $ Nomads hostel –  This comfortable and modern hostel certainly has plenty of perks. It’s proximity to bars, restaurants, and a stones throw from the lakefront it couldn’t be more ideally located. The free Wifi and breakfast and general upkeep is always appreciated, particularly for low-cost accommodation. Parking is limited to public lots, which can rack up a hefty cost if you stay for more than a few nights. There is parking close by, but it’s worth weighing up the cost of parking against the cost of the hostel.
  • $ Base hostel – Base’s facilities are basic but practical, but they do have a fun bar adjacent which offers a small dinner for free to their guests, which is definitely their main attraction (besides the price!). It’s location on one of Queenstown’s busiest streets means that parking is unlikely if you’re staying here. Street parking near residential homes might be possible a few minutes walk up the hill, however always check the signs and neighbourhood before parking up. You don’t want to block any locals’ driveways or endure a fine!

The list of accommodation options are endless, but it would be unfair for me to comment on places I’m yet to stay. If you have a car with you, finding accommodation with free parking can be a pain so be sure to check ahead with your chosen facility that you can be allocated a spot. For more ideas on where to stay in Queenstown, the official Queenstown website can help with a great breakdown of choices to suit your needs!

Mountain top and rooftop views from Pinewood Lodge in Queenstown

Pinewood Lodge views

And there we have this guide to driving in the South Island of New Zealand and where to stay in Queenstown with a car! Who’s ready to get going with the stereo playing your favourite tunes and the views waiting to be snapped up ahead? I know I am!

Have you got any New Zealand road trip tips? Share your thoughts!

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  • Reply
    07/11/2018 at 3:57 pm

    Do they drive on the left side of the road or the right side of the road? I think this has always been my biggest concerns about driving in other countries well and tight old city places as well. Great post, very detailed and informative.

    • Reply
      07/11/2018 at 10:58 pm

      That’s a great question! They drive on the lefthand side, the same as the UK for me which definitely makes things easier. It can be scary at first, but taking time and being patient will help you get used to it 🙂

  • Reply
    07/11/2018 at 4:34 pm

    wow New Zealand looks very epic! Reminds me of Iceland. xo, natalie

    • Reply
      07/11/2018 at 10:58 pm

      It’s so gorgeous! I would love to visit Iceland, it’s high up on my list!

  • Reply
    Alexandra Marie Mahoney
    07/11/2018 at 4:53 pm

    Ugh, Queenstown has been #1 on my travel bucket list for some time now but I still haven’t made it there. This article is REALLY making me want to just go and buy a plane ticket now! Haha great read and great photos 🙂 You can check me out here>

    • Reply
      07/11/2018 at 10:59 pm

      Ooooh I really hope you’re able to get there soon!! It’s such an awesome place, can’t recommend it enough!

  • Reply
    Nafisa Habib
    07/12/2018 at 3:16 am

    I must say New Zealand is beautiful in all way. I love road trips. Loving each photo, indeed cool road trip tips to explore.

    • Reply
      07/12/2018 at 10:57 am

      Me too! Driving is a wonderful way to see a country. Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    07/12/2018 at 1:00 pm

    A Queenstown road trip is definitely on my bucket list! Really appreciate the useful tips and will definitely have to reference them when we finally get out there. Your pics are gorgeous!

    • Reply
      07/13/2018 at 12:20 pm

      Thank you so much! Hope you get to head out there sometime soon 🙂

  • Reply
    Chirasree Banerjee
    07/12/2018 at 2:16 pm

    I would love to take that road trip! The scenery all around is beautiful. You must have parked your car many times to soak in these stunning views!

    • Reply
      07/13/2018 at 12:19 pm

      It really is incredible! Yes we absolutely stopped off a lot, each view just seemed better than the last!

  • Reply
    07/12/2018 at 2:34 pm

    Great post with some top tips! I absolutely love road trips – I think it’s the best way to see most countries! It’s not always easy but definitely worth it

    • Reply
      07/13/2018 at 12:18 pm

      Thank you! I totally agree, I love taking the time for detours and little extra trips you wouldn’t get with public transport 🙂

  • Reply
    Kareemah Ashiru
    07/12/2018 at 3:58 pm

    Great tips! New Zealand is on my list of places to visit. Was it expensive renting a car and what rental company did you use?

    • Reply
      07/13/2018 at 12:18 pm

      It’s definitely worth a trip! On this trip we actually drove in my partner’s car which he owns, but previously I’ve rented a car with who were really efficient and professional, and the cost for a small car was a great deal!

  • Reply
    07/12/2018 at 11:48 pm

    Driving in an unfamiliar place can be so scary…honestly my husband usually does it since he’s such a better driver! The photos of the area remind me a bit of Scotland…lots of windy roads and stunning landscapes!

    • Reply
      07/13/2018 at 12:16 pm

      It certainly can be! That sounds very sensible if he’s happy driving it’s not worth pushing yourself if it’ll just make you stressed! Yes it does remind me of Scotland too!

  • Reply
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