Whether you’re heading to Queenstown on holiday or you’ve lived there all your life, there has never been a better time to get out and explore the abundance of amazing destinations right on the doorstep of Queenstown.

Whilst Queenstown rightly gets a lot of attention as one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations, it’s amazing to discover how many other spectacular destinations are found within 3 hours’ drive of Queenstown.

There are some major places within 3 hours’ drive of Queenstown including Dunedin and Invercargill, however, we want this post to be more about the hidden nuggets and the places that don’t necessarily drive hundreds of tourists every day. If you need a set of wheels so you can hit the road and explore these amazing destinations, make sure to check out our Queenstown car rentals.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the top 10 destinations within 3 hours’ drive of Queenstown.

1.      Glenorchy – 44 mins


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Carona Virtual (@caronavirtual)

This 45-minute drive is possibly the finest in New Zealand and the destination more than matches the drive itself. As you take the 45-minute drive along the shores of Lake Wakatipu you will be blown away by the spectacular views as the road opens up ahead of you. Once you get there, Glenorchy is a rustic town and an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. As well as being a great place for walkers, mountain bikers, and horse trekkers, it has also become a go-to destination for Lord of the Rings fans, with a number of filming locations dotted around Glenorchy.

2.      Blue Pools – 1 hour 59 mins


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Gotta Love NZ (@gottalovenz)

The Blue Pools were once a hidden gem in New Zealand’s South Island but sadly no more. That doesn’t, however, mean they are not worth a drive out to see them. Located on the road between Wanaka and Haast, the Blue Pool are accessed via a short walking track on the road just past Makarora. The water in the pools is some of the clearest in New Zealand, so clear you can often see brown trout swimming in the waters below. The brave will take a dip in the icy waters and the bravest will jump off the bridge into the pools below.

3.      Te Anau – 2 hours 3 mins

Te Anau is often considered a pit stop on the way to Milford Sound but it is so much more than that. Located just over 2 hours from Queenstown, Te Anau is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park. The town is packed full of amazing things to do including the lake, the Te Anau Caves and the Kepler Track. The caves are a limestone grotto full of glowworms and an underwater waterfall and should definitely be on your to-do list. Also on your list should be a trip to the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary which is a great chance to see native birds in their natural habitat.

4.      Roy’s Peak – 1 hour 8 mins


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by New Zealand Guide (@newzealandguide)

Roys Peak is one of New Zealand’s great one day walks and you will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views on this planet. The drive to Roys Peak will take you just over an hour over the Crown Range, dropping you over and into Wanaka and from there, it’s just a short drive around the shores of the lake to the start of the walk. The walk itself is a 16km return tramp which will take you between 5-6 hours depending on your fitness levels.

5.      The Catlins – 2 hours 55 mins


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by New Zealand Guide (@newzealandguide)

This is one of the longer drives from Queenstown but just fits into our 3-hour criteria and is well worth the drive. Head south from Queenstown on SH6 to the south coast of the South Island and you will be rewarded with some absolute nuggets, including Nugget Point lighthouse, Purakaunui Falls, Cathedral Caves and McLean Falls. Whilst it may take less than 3 hours to drive to The Catlins, we recommend spending some time driving around the lower South Island and taking a road trip on The Southern Scenic Route which will take you to Bluff where you can make the return trip to Queenstown.

6.      Mt Aspiring National Park – 1 hour 35 mins


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Matt Jones (@_matthewjones)

Mount Aspiring National Park is a wonderful mixture of remote wilderness, high mountains, and beautiful river valleys. It is a walker’s paradise and a must for mountaineers. The drive into Mt Aspiring National Park will take around an hour and a half from Queenstown and again, you will head over the Crown Range, out past the star to Roys Peak and into the park. There are heaps of walking tracks in the park and you will find lots of information on the Doc website.

7.      Mt Cook Village – 3 hours 10 mins

You got us. This one will take you beyond the 3-hour mark but it’s definitely worth the 10 extra minutes. Mt Cook Village is the gateway to the Mt Cook National Park and the home to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook. There are lots of great walking tracks in the park and one of the best is the Hooker Valley Track that will take you up to the iceberg speckled Hooker Lake with some pretty spectacular views of Aoraki Mount Cook. It’s a short 10km return track which is good for people of all fitness levels.

8.      Omarama – 2 hours 6 mins


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The Mini Giant (@mini9iant)

If you are looking for a slightly different experience here in New Zealand, then take a drive to Omarama and give gliding a try. Omarama is a great stop off on the way to Christchurch or a good day trip from Queenstown and is actually a great spot for a number of activities – gliding, hot tubs, and sheep shearing. The town has a world-class reputation for gliding and it’s an amazing experience to soar over the Waitaki Valley and McKenzie basin.

9.      Lake Benmore and the Benmore Dam – 2 hours 57 mins

Lake Benmore is New Zealand’s largest artificial lake and home to the Benmore Dam. Located around 3 hours from Queenstown and part of the Waitaki River, it was created in the 1960s and is part of the Waitaki power scheme. As well as the Benmore power station, Lake Benmore is also home to some great fishing and is one of New Zealand’s most fished lakes, full of brown trout, rainbow trout and salmon.

10. Omakau – 1 hour 29 mins


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Ray Briffett (@raybriffett)

Omakau is a former mining town located an hour and a half from Queenstown and it is a town packed full of charm. Omakau is also a gateway town to the famous Otago Central Rail Trail. Located between Alexandra and Ranfurly, it’s a great place to stop by, stroll past historic buildings and learn a few things about the old gold mining days. No matter where you start the Otago Rail Trail, Omakau is a great place to stop off on route or a great place to jump on the trail, even if you are not planning on cycling the entire route.


Whilst Queenstown is definitely the jewel in the South Island’s crown, there are so many amazing places within a 3-hour drive of the city.  No matter where you pick, from popular spots like Wanaka and Cromwell to off-the-beaten-track destinations like The Catlins and Omakau, rent a car and take a road trip – there are so many amazing places to be discovered.