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The best guided day tours from Queenstown – Perfect for non-drivers

Queenstown is a non-negotiable stop on most South Island itineraries – and for good reason!

The town itself is vibrant and exciting; home to nightlife, adventure sports and beautiful walking tracks, it offers something to practically everyone.

Queenstown is also a great base to explore neighbouring areas like Aoraki Mount Cook, Milford Sound, Glenorchy and Gibbston Valley.

However, not all travellers want to drive in Queenstown.

Joining a guided day tour can allow you to:

  • explore while recovering from jet lag
  • enjoy the services of a professional guide/driver, including commentary
  • maximise your time
  • give you access to locations you wouldn’t otherwise see.

By joining a guided tour, you can sit back and relax, safe in the hands of a professional – whether that be an experienced driver or pilot.

So, if you’re ready to soak in the South Island’s stunning scenery, without the stress of driving yourself, the only thing left to decide is where exactly you’ll go…

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A small group of people standing in front of the Altitude Tours van.
Small-group day trips, like those offered by Altitude Tours, are a great way to explore Queenstown and beyond.

Our favourite small-group guided day tours from Queenstown

Planning your tour from Queenstown last minute?

We’ll shortcut you to our top picks so you book quickly…

🌄 The best Milford Sound tours from Queenstown

🏔️ The best Aoraki Mount Cook tours from Queenstown

🚌 The best half-day tours from queenstown

Skippers Canyon
Glenorchy – Lord of the Rings
Gibbston Valley winery tours 🍷

Milford Sound

Milford Sound, unofficially named the eighth wonder of the world, is a must-see for many visitors travelling to Queenstown.

With towering waterfalls, marine wildlife (including dolphins, penguins and NZ fur seals) and incredible scenery, it’s hard to go past this mind-blowing destination!

Only, Milford Sound isn’t that close to Queenstown, so you’ll need to think carefully about how you choose to get there.

Many people choose to explore Milford with a guide, allowing them to make the most of what is recognised as one of the most spectacular scenic spots in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Expert commentary and local knowledge will enhanse your experience, teaching you about this famous fjord’s ecology and history – and you won’t have to do any planning yourself.

Nor will you have to contend with SH94 (Milford Road) which can be challenging for less experienced drivers – particularly during winter when you’ll sometimes find ice and snow on the road.

Where should I base myself to visit Milford Sound?

Some chose to stay in Te Anaudriving themselves from there, or joining a [discounted] guided tour. To make this work well, we recommend two nights in Te Anau though, which takes time out of what can already be a busy trip, and also requires a car.

If you’re short on time, prefer not to change accommodation so often, or would just rather not drive on the left hand side of the road, a guided tour from Queenstown might be the best option for you.

The next few options are our favourite day tours from Queenstown…

Two women on half embrace pointing at the peak of the mountain while a man leans on the railing of the boat they are riding.
Milford Sound, looking out to Mitre Peak. Photo: Adam Bryce.

See Milford Sound on a guided tour by road

Milford Sound to Queenstown is too far to drive yourself in one day – but it can be done with a guided tour.

Though it’s a big day on the road, covering 575km, this is a great way for budget-conscious travellers to see Milford Sound.

Sit back, relax, and let someone else take care of the driving.

Though there are a number of tours to get you into Milford Sound, our top pick is Altitude Tours .

These small-group tours [promo code NZTT10] have won countless awards, delivering an experience that’s second-to-none.

And because you’ll be in a small group (which we much prefer to the large coach tours), you’ll have more time at each stop and a more intimate, personalised experience.

Pros
  • More affordable
  • Milford Road is spectacular
  • Not easily affected by weather
Cons
  • Long day on the road

Pro tip: We also highly encourge you to book the trip with the glass-roof van so you can make the most of Milford’s towering mountain scenery on the drive in.

Your tour also includes the cost of your Milford Sound cruise.

A glass roof on al Altitude Tours van travelling to Milford.
The glass-roof vans with Altitude provide panoramic views.

Milford from Queenstown by air

If Milford Sound is high on your must-see list, but you’re short on time, flying is the best way to maximise your time back in Queenstown.

Instead of spending the whole day on the road, you’ll take off, enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery (including the flight literally into the fiord as it opens up beneath you) and be back in Queenstown again by lunch.

We recommend booking the fly-cruise-fly tour [promo code NZTT] to make the most of all the Milford has to offer.

This allows you to enjoy Milford from the air and on the water (where you’ll have a good chance of seeing dolphins and NZ fur seals).

However, if you’re short on time, a Milford Sound flyover [promo code NZTT] is a great option. Though this extended flight doesn’t land in Milford, you’ll see our most famous fiord from the air, along with at least five major glaciers!

Pros
  • Stunning scenery from the air
  • See Milford in half a day or less
Cons
  • More expensive
  • More easily impacted by weather

⚠️ The weather in Milford Sound can be challenging for scenic flights. Because of this, we recommend you book your flight as early as possible in your itinerary, giving you backup days if required.

Looking out the side window or an Air Milford Scenic plane at the snow capped mountain peak.
A flight into Milford is about more than just fiords!

Aoraki Mt Cook

Mount Cook, or Aoraki as it’s known in te reo Māori, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand.

Found in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, a 525km round-trip by road from Queenstown, it’s another spectacular spot that is only accessible by either driving yourself there (and spending a night or two in the region – in Twizel, Mount Cook Village or Tekapo), or by joining a day trip.

We do not recommend anyone drive themselves there and back in one day.

Instead, if you’re keen to visit in one day, join one of the following guided day-trips.

Once there, there are lots of exciting activities to choose from, including skydiving, heli hiking, scenic heli and skiplane flights, hiking (in particular, the Hooker Valley Track) and scenic boat trips [promo code NZTT10].

Looking over the icebergs in Mount Cook.
The Hooker Valley Track at Aoraki/Mount Cook is a beautiful free walk that’s suitable for most fitness levels and ages.

By road

Our favourite Queenstown-based small-group tour company run guided day trips into Aoraki Mount Cook, so of course, we think the decision about who to travel with by road is easy!

With friendly and knowledgeable guides, free WiFi, comfortable vans and a great itinerary, Altitude Tours is the best option.

Choose from transport to Mount Cook and:

Remember to use the promo code NZTT10 to save 10% on all of those prices too!

Pros
  • More affordable
  • Not easily affected by weather
Cons
  • Long day on the road
  • 3.5 hours at Mount Cook
The calm waters of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook Glacier Mountain Range.
See Lake Pukaki as you drive to Aoraki Mount Cook.

By air

If you’ve got a little extra money in your budget and you like the sound of maximising your time at Mount Cook, we highly recommend flying with Glenorchy Air.

Your flight will take in panoramic views of Lake Wānaka, Lake Hawea, Lake Pukaki, Lindis Pass, Franz and Fox Glaciers, Tasman Glacier (the longest in New Zealand) and, of course, Aoraki Mount Cook herself.

In addition to your flight (which guarantees you a window-seat), you can choose:

Pros
  • Get 6 hours at Mount Cook – more time to explore
  • Stunning scenery by air
Cons
  • More expensive
  • More easily impacted by weather
Glacier Explorers inflatable boat out on Lake Tasman in Mt Cook.
The Tasman Explorers boat trip is one option that can be added to your Mt Cook flight or road trip.

Half-day tours from Queenstown

If you’re short on time, or you like the idea of exploring without spending the whole day in a van, these half-day guided tours are the perfect solution.

Skippers Canyon

Embarking on a tour into Skippers Canyon [promo code NZTT10] near Queenstown is an adventure into the heart of New Zealand’s gold mining history.

This trip offers breathtaking views of the Shotover River and rugged canyon landscapes…. and it’s one you wouldn’t do by yourself.

With an expert guide at the helm, you’ll navigate the thrilling and narrow Skippers Road, soaking in the scenery that makes this tour a must-do for any thrill-seeker or history-buff visiting Queenstown.

And as it’s nice and close to town, it’s the perfect half-day trip.

4WD tour

Join a small-group 4WD tour into the heart of Skippers Canyon [promo code NZTT10], learning about the region’s interesting history.

Enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack at the old school house, while you explore the old school house, before venturing down to the river to pan for gold.

This varied and intriguing tour is fun for everyone.

A vehicle passing a narrow bridge to cross between the rocky cliffs.
Tour & jet boat

If you like the sound of Skippers (and you should, it’s amazing!), why not head into the canyon for an adventure?

Skippers Canyon Jet [promo code NZTT10] races people along this historic part of the Shotover River – this is the ultimate combo of fun, adventure and learning.

Jet boating beside rocky banks on Skipper's Jet.

Glenorchy – LOTR

Known as the “Gateway to Paradise,” Glenorchy’s epic landscapes have graced the big screen in films like ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Though you can drive yourself there, much of the scenery filmed for these movies is tucked away on private land – so you’ll need a tour to visit it all.

Visit spots included well as visiting the filming locations for Isengard, Ithilien Camp, Lothlorien and Fanghorn forest, Battle of Amon Hen and many more.

Expert guides will help bring the area’s magic to life, sharing stories and hidden gems, while you enjoy the beauty of the lakes, mountains and forests that define this awesome area.

Choose between Pure Glenorchy (with vans) or Nomad Safaris (in 4WDs).

Raising swords and a staff on top of a hill while overlooking a valley, in reference to the film LOTR.

Winery tours

Join on a guided winery tour from Queenstown to Gibbston Valley [promo code NZTT10] and savour many of Central Otago’s world-renowned wines.

Knowledgeable guides provide insight into local viticulture, all while you enjoy wine tasting with a picturesque backdrop of vineyards and mountains.

It’s the perfect half-day tour for those that like the finer things in life!

Explaining the growth of grape-bearing vines to a family tourist in Gibbston Valley Winery.
Explore the amazing wineries found in Gibbston Valley. Photo credit: QueenstownNZ.co.nz

And there you have it – all of our favourite day tours from Queenstown.

Whether you don’t drive at all, or you just want a day out from behind the steering wheel, these tours are well worth the money.

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