5 easy but stunning weekend trips from Queenstown

By Katherine Sparshatt,

It’s true Queenstown has some of the most fantastic scenery going and there’s no way anyone could get bored of mountains, lakes and breathtaking views. But what if you could explore more and find something a little different right outside your back door? Well grab your mates, load up the car and hit the open road for a quick and easy staycation.

Fancy a sea breeze? Or maybe hiking through century-old forests? Or even being surrounded by some different mountains? We’ve found 5 great weekend trips, all within a 3 hour drive of town Queenstown…

Fiordland

Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas, Fiordland

With some of the most dynamic scenery in New Zealand, Fiordland is perfect for a weekend of cruising round the lakes exploring glow-worm grottos and caves, or hiking the many rugged peaks. One of the top highlights is the Milford Discovery Centre’s Underwater Observatory.

With a submerged viewing area taking you 10 metres below the surface, the centre allows an incredible glimpse into the surrounding marine life including Black Coral. Normally only seen below 500 metres deep, Black Coral grows here due to the unique water composition.

The best place to stay to access Fiordland is Te Anau on the outskirts of the National Park. We recommend the Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas for great views and little bit of pampering, perfect if you’re looking to treat yourselves for the weekend. As well as luxury amenities, guests can enjoy free Wi-Fi and make good use of the outdoor pool surrounded by mountains.

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Brighton

Wains Hotel, Brighton

Brighton Beach | Photo by Jens Hilligsøe (CC BY 2.0)

Just a few miles south of Dunedin is Brighton, the kind of place you can escape to for a quiet weekend on the beach. With fresh salty air and the sound of crashing waves, there’s nothing better to restore your spirit and give you a change of scenery from the dramatic mountain landscapes. There’s a vibrant local community of artists in Brighton and a few boutique galleries that you can while away the afternoons exploring.

To stay near Brighton we recommend Wains Hotel in Dunedin, a beautiful 3.5-star hotel situated in a historic Victorian-era building. With bygone elegance and luxurious touches, the hotel makes for a dreamy weekend away with continental and full cooked breakfast options, a chic evening bar and complimentary Wi-Fi access.

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Waitaki

Brydone Hotel, Oamaru

Lake Waitaki | Photo by russellstreet (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Waitaki is filled with stunning 19th century architecture, friendly locals and great wine from the surrounding wineries.  Whether teeing off on a golf course that overlooks the Pacific Ocean or sampling the local wines whilst touring the vineyards, there’s not much more you could want from a relaxing staycation just a few hours from home.

To be close to Waitaki we recommend staying in Oamaru and our top hotel pick is the Brydone Hotel Oamaru. The hotel’s architecture and ambiance hold onto its 19th century roots, with sweeping staircases and graceful chandeliers. Each room is cosy and well equipped with comfortable interiors and a rustic charm.

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Makarora

Lake Hawea Hotel, Makarora

Lake Wanaka | Photo by Jocelyn Kinghorn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At the head of Lake Wanaka, Makarora is the gateway to unparalleled nature. Encompassing mountain views, untouched valleys and glacier-fed rivers, Makarora is Queenstown’s landscape without the people or even the town! There’s simply a Tourist Centre with a provisions shop, café, and bar. From Makarora you can take a helicopter ride over the Southern Alps to enjoy the breathtaking scenery from above or take a jet boat ride down the Makarora and Wilkin rivers for an up-close and personal view.

To stay close by to Makarora we recommend staying at the Lake Hawea Hotel which is surrounded by its own unique scenery and is just a little further north than Wanaka. A recent refurbishment of the hotel has made for uninterrupted views over the lake and mountains with each room also featuring modern amenities plus free Wi-Fi.

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Catlins

Admiral Court Motel & Apartments, Invercargill

Purakanui Falls | Photo by Ruth Graham (CC BY 2.0)

The southernmost point of New Zealand’s South Island, Invercargill is a combination of city life, nature and wildlife reserves. Just an hour east of Invercargill is the Catlins, a remote wilderness of rugged coastlines and rainforests. The Purakanui Falls are one of the most photographed waterfalls in the country and if you’re looking to spot some wildlife keep an eye out for fur seals and sea lions along the beaches.

Our top pick is the Admiral Court Motel & Apartments. The no-frills but comfortable accommodation is ideal for a weekend spent exploring the local area. The hotel offers off-street parking, bike storage and its studio bedroom units come with kitchens and microwaves so you can prepare your own meals and late night hot chocolates.

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For more Wanaka inspired trips, check out our post on New Zealand’s top hotels here.

Cover image source: Ghislain Mary (CC BY-SA 2.0)