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Ziptrek in Queenstown

Ziplining, jetboating, paragliding, hitting the ski slopes, racing your family on a luge, and fantastic food: what’s not to love about Queenstown when you’re a kid? Pack your sense of adventure and get ready for fun with these great things to do in Queenstown with kids whether you want to do adrenalin activities or take it easy. Learn about the best family hotels in Queenstown with kids, the best things to do in Queenstown with kids, the best family restaurants in Queenstown and more.

Things to do in Queenstown with kids

TSS Earnslaw farm visit with kids

The TSS Earnslaw, a historic coal-fired steamship based in Queenstown, was built to serve the remote farming communities around Lake Wakatipu and carried up to 1,500 sheep on her decks in the early 1900s when she was known as the ‘Lady of the Lake’. These days she works up to 14 hours a day taking tourists on scenic cruises. Not bad for a ‘Lady’ who is more than 100 years old. If you can tear your eyes away from the spectacular scenery, head inside and watch the burly engineers shovelling coal to power the boilers in the engine room. Hungry kids (and their parents) love the Walter Peak Gourmet Barbeque Lunch Cruise which includes an impressive buffet with wood fired meats, gourmet salads, freshly roasted vegetables, crusty bread, and cute desserts like chocolate mousse served in tiny milk pails.

TSS Earnslaw at Walter Peak Farm
TSS Earnslaw at Walter Peak Farm

Skiing with kids in Queenstown

Queenstown has four ski fields within a 90 minute drive of town. Coronet Peak is just 20 minutes from Queenstown and has a ski lift with a magic carpet that’s ideal for beginners. If your legs need a break from skiing, head to The Remarkables and go sledding. Treble Cone is 90 minutes from Queenstown and best known for its intermediate and advanced runs, but there is also a beginners’ program. Cardrona has a laid-back friendly vibe that makes newbies feel instantly at home and a great choice of affordable restaurants. This field also has an Adaptive Snow Sports program which enables people with a physical, sensory, or cognitive disability to zoom down the slopes. Wherever you decide to go, booking a private family ski lesson makes all the difference on your first day. One-on-one time with an instructor is great for building confidence and you’ll make rapid progress, even if you haven’t skied before. An hour or two of private tuition should have you zipping down the beginners’ slope in no time.

Cardrona Adaptive Snow Sports program
Cardrona Adaptive Snow Sports program

Jet boating with kids

The Shotover Jet, Queenstown’s most iconic and wildest jet boat ride, is hard to beat. However, if you (or your kids) would prefer a little less excitement, the Wilderness Jet offers a more leisurely ride along the Dart River through the stunning Te Waipounamu World Heritage area. The drivers are still keen to prove jet boats can travel in 10 centimetres of water and there are plenty of squeal-inducing spins, but stunning scenery rushes past the boat on this trip instead of a canyon wall. A stroll through ancient beech forests gives you time to catch your breath before an exhilarating ride back to the jet boat wharf. Return bus transfers from Queenstown to Glenorchy are included in the trip.

Jetboating on the thrilling Shotover River

Bob’s Peak with kids

When you get off the Skyline Gondola at the top of Bob’s Peak, it is time to choose your own adventure. After you have checked out the incredible view from the wrap around lookout at Skyline Queenstown, of course. A five ride pass for the luge is a great way to kick off your day out here. After one practice run on the Easy track (this is mandatory for every rider, even if you’ve been luging before) you can race each other down the Fast track.

Luge track at Bob's Peak
Luge at Bob’s Peak

If your kids are older, Bob’s Peak is the best spot in town for tandem paragliding with a relaxed take-off down a grassy slope and superb views of The Remarkables mountain range. Jump as a family so each pilot can take photos of you during the flight. Not keen on jumping off a mountain? Fly through the air surrounded by birdlife and beautiful trees on an eco-friendly zip-lining tour instead. Guides buckle each rider into their purpose-built harness then it’s as simple as walking down a couple of wooden steps and letting gravity do the rest. Ziplining is exhilarating and relaxing, a quirky combination which makes this adrenalin activity unique. Even better, the zipline platforms have superb views.

Ziptrek in Queenstown
Ziptrek at Bob’s Peak

Best family hotels in Queenstown

Splurge on stylish accommodation

The Rees Hotel, a luxury hotel located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, is home to one of Queenstown’s most awarded restaurants. Apartments are tastefully decorated to highlight the view and come with all the features you would expect at 5-star accommodation including plush beds, a full kitchen, and a spacious bathroom with locally made toiletries. There is also a fireplace to cosy up to on chilly nights. While the regular hotel rooms and apartments are lovely, it’s The Rees Lakeside Residences which take this hotel to the next level. Each self-contained residence comes with a ‘Luxury Travel Curator’ who is on hand throughout your stay to cater to your every whim. It’s a picturesque 30 minute walk into town or you can hire bikes from reception or catch the hotel’s complimentary shuttle bus to the city centre.

Lounge bar at The Rees in Queenstown
Lobby lounge bar at The Rees Hotel

Central hotels in Queenstown

Peppers Beacon is positioned on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and is a five-minute stroll into town. Based on the well-priced rooms, the jaw dropping view, and the handy location, this is one of the Queenstown’s accommodation bargains. Self-contained garden view apartments offer excellent value, especially when you can enjoy the flower-filled central courtyard and complimentary barbeque facilities if your visit Queenstown in summer. However, it’s hard to beat the picture perfect outlook from a two bedroom lake view apartment where everything from the TSS Earnslaw to jetboats, yachts, and paragliders keeps you entertained you as you soak up the view from the balcony. The hotel restaurant only serves breakfast but with a full kitchen in the apartment and plenty of excellent dining options nearby you won’t go hungry.

Peppers Beacon in Queenstown
Peppers Beacon

Cheap hotels in Queenstown

Queenstown has plenty of affordable accommodation options. Bella Vista Queenstown offers motel style accommodation a short walk from the Skyline Gondola. Rooms are clean and comfortable and many have partial or full kitchens. YHA Queenstown Lakefront has a communal kitchen, guest laundry, and different sized dorm rooms (share or private facilities) which can be booked for sole use by families. For something cheap and cheerful but a little more upmarket, Novotel Queenstown Lakeside offers rooms with two double beds and views of the lake. Breakfast and accommodation are free for up to two children under 16 sharing a room with their parents (or grandparents).

Best family restaurants in Queenstown

Where to have a special night out

Enjoy a taste of the South at The Bunker, a rustic dining spot with a menu featuring New Zealand game and other local specialties. Start with scallops plucked from the Southern Ocean, following by West Coast pork belly on a bed of caramel carrot puree, or Central Otago lamb served with baby vegetables and wild thyme jus. Pavlova with strawberries, mascarpone, and sorbet made with berries from nearby Cromwell is a must for dessert. From tender local lamb to fresh seafood and mouth-watering desserts, the only thing rivalling the food at True South Dining is the view. If you feel like dressing up that’s no problem but jeans are more than fine at this upmarket yet laid back fine dining restaurant. If you’re staying in the heart of Queenstown, drop into Rātā which combines some of the region’s best produce with innovative cooking techniques. The signature dish, The Feast, features a generous serving of braised lamb shoulder and is more than enough for two people.

Best cafes in Queenstown and takeaway options

Joe’s Garage has a buzzing atmosphere and an all day menu that makes it tempting to dine here several times at different times of day. Start your morning with the Clever Trevor, ciabatta heaped with savoury mince and served with a free range egg, or smashed spuds, streaky bacon, two grilled eggs, and a dash of hollandaise. The classy burgers here go beyond the norm. Vudu Café and Larder is another all day dining hotspot and serves some of the best coffee in town plus delicious muffins and cakes for an afternoon treat. Queenstown icon Fergburger is great for an affordable bite, provided you’re prepared to join the queue stretching out the door and down the street. If the weather is good, it’s only a short walk from here to Lake Wakatipu where you can enjoy burger with a view.

Disclosure: The writer has been visiting Queenstown with her son since he was a baby. He is now a teenager and still loves coming to this fantastic family-friendly destination with his parents.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.