Queenstown and beyond - a motorhome mecca
Motorhoming in Queenstown gets a bad rap… well, for domestic motorhomes, anyway. For international, it's the place to fly into, pick up a camper and explore one of the most well-known destinations in the southern hemisphere.
Queenstown constantly tops the best places to visit charts in NZ, so why is it that whenever I speak to people on the road, they always suggest avoiding motorhoming in QT.
I always thought it must be because it's not "motorhome friendly".
That got me asking what constitutes motorhome friendly? My take on whether a place is somewhere I should visit is based on a few fundamental principles.
- Dump stations, fresh water and grey water
- Motorhome friendly carpark – both at the supermarket and just near that town centre/places you want to visit.
- Variety of campsites/places to stay – I think Kaikoura is an excellent town because they have great paid campsites, doc sites, and a mixture of freedom camping spots as well. Check out youtube of our trip in Kaikoura
- Good hikes and outdoor activities. When you're out and about in your motorhome, it's great to enjoy the outdoors and soak up the scenery, so somewhere you can park up and go for a bush walk, visit a waterfall or just hike to a hilltop view appeals to the adventurous spirit of motorhomers.
The NZMCA probably has a better grasp on what they consider and how they decide if a town should feature as a motorhome-friendly town. They also have a list on their website.
Looking at the list above, you'd instantly think Queenstown was an absolute top spot for motorhomes… so it still doesn't make sense why people avoid it when touring the South Island. It could be because it can get quite busy, and driving around the main centre in a motorhome or towing a caravan could become tricky. It's also an area where you can see a fair bit of impaired driving, think driving over the crown range, black ice, slippery roads, and people more familiar with driving on the other side of the road!
My first big tip; visit in off-peak season. March/April is when many local motorhomes start to travel around – Christmas/school holiday rush is over, and the allure of the NZ southern summer is somewhat over for those visiting from abroad. The weather is usually super settled, and you'll get those long blue-sky days, the sun shining and not too hot for sleeping overnight!
Sold? Keen to experience Queenstown, we recommend a few potential motorhome/caravan trips.
Queenstown to Glenorchy
The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy has lots to celebrate; it's easy enough for motorhomes and follows Lake Wakatipu, so it is a spectacular drive. There are also some great spots to camp, mainly doc sites, which is great for those with an annual doc pass. 12 Mile Delta Campsite rests on the shores of the lake and is a large, well-maintained doc site worth a stop, even if it's just for a night. Worth it if you’re keen to try a local restaurant as I'm sure a taxi or Uber wouldn’t be too expensive from here. Consider driving to Moke Lake and spending a few days here. It's only a 20-minute drive from Queenstown and a great spot to catch some of the Aurora Australis. There is the 6km Moke Lake loop track, which is a good option for people keen to get a bit of activity in; otherwise, Moke Lake is a nice place to sit and watch the bird life. Click here for further information.
Continue towards Glenorchy; there isn't much to see, but it's worth stopping and looking around the town. You can continue to Kinloch, a tiny town with limited services but worth a look, and there is a great spot to stay again right on the shores of the lake. Did you know that Lake Wakatipu is NZ's longest lake??? Check out the Kinloch campsite here.
Queenstown to Kingston
What a marvellous drive! This is another one of those WOW moments. Driving along the lake towards Kingston is beautiful and well worth it. While Kingston is only another small town, it's a great option for people with plenty of time, especially for bike enthusiasts. You can do day bike rides to Lumsden or overnight and head to Walters Peak. The Around The Mountains Cycle Trail is worth a look. It's one of the most well-known multi-day cycles in NZ, and certainly packs a punch when it comes to the scenery! Check out details here.
Kingston also offers the closest self-contained freedom camping spot to Queenstown with the Kingstown Lake Camp and bonus ... it's on the shores of the lake!
Queenstown to Bendigo
First, stop for lunch at Arrowtown and enjoy the old heritage nature of this historical gold mining town. There are some great shops, river walks, and excellent daytime motorhome parking. Then, head through the to Gibbstown Valley, stopping to sample some wine and cheese and try lunch at Kinross, a beautiful spot. Make sure you book first!
Enjoy the scenery as you drive through Gibbstown Valley. The Roaring Meg lookout is a good spot to stop for some photos, and there is also the gold mining centre which is an interesting place to look around for some history. There is plenty of options for overnight stays in Cromwell, and it's worth spending a day or two there, including at the Bendigo Self-Contained Camping spot right on the shore of Lake Dunstan.
On all of those trips there is lots to do and see so you could aim for anywhere from just a few days to a week depending on how much you like to explore and get and out about. We also have another guide worth downloading for some top road trips in NZ (see below).
Some top tips for Queenstown motorhoming/caravanning:
A dump station between Frankton and Arrowtown is available at the NPD fuel station. It's a good place to fuel up, fill with water, and dump your waste. If you come off the side road rather than Hawthorne Drive, you can fuel first; the freshwater tap is by the fuel station, then come to the dump station. It's also right by Pak n Save, so you can stock the fridge if needed.
For those from the North Island keen to explore more of the Otago region over an extended trip, consider leaving your motorhome in Queenstown. There are a few options for storing your motorhome, including ones that will pick up and drop off at the airport, included in the storage fee! There are a few options, and most are MUCH less than the cost of the ferry crossing, not to mention fuel! Worth considering for those who can make 2-4 week trips but are still working and keen to explore more while the motorhome is down in the south.
There is a lot to do in Queenstown and around the central Otago lower west coast and Fiordland region, and the road trips are almost endless. Don't make the mistake of limiting yourself on time. It's a region that genuinely deserves extended motorhoming!
Some other ideas:
- Queenstown, Wanaka, Lake Hawea, Blue Pools, Lewis Pass, West Coast
- Queenstown, Kingston, Te Anau, and Milford sounds
- Queenstown, Cromwell, Omaramar, Twizel
Obviously, it's worth spending some time in Queenstown on either side of any road trip.
Some cool things to do in Queenstown (that aren't the obvious ones) include:
- Drive around Deer Park in Kelvin Heights. It's a great way of getting some amazing views of Queenstown, Kingston, Frankton and the Remarkables without having to hike, plus you'll see some Lord of the Rings filming spots. Just check conditions before driving in with a motorhome.
- Walk or cycle the Queenstown Trail. If you want to do this, a great place to stay would be Driftaway in Frankton. It's newly opened and has hot pools and beautiful lake views. But most importantly, from here, you could do the walk from Frankton to Kelvin Heights, to Jacks Point (approx. 8kms), and then the following day walk Frankton to Queenstown (approx. 8kms). There is a good bus system that would drop you back to Frankton (near Driftaway) if you are walking. Click here for more information on the Queenstown Trails.
- Lake Alta Walk at the top of the Remarkables is another fantastic option, for summer only.
- Of course, a spot of wine tasting is always recommended, even more so for those with E-Bikes that can use the many cycleways around the region.
Despite what many think or even my early impressions, Queenstown has a lot to offer domestic motorhomes, and I highly recommend it as an option. Especially consider leaving your wagon in storage and coming back multiple times to truly explore some of the fantastic road trips on offer from Queenstown as your base.
We'd love to hear your favourite things to do in Queenstown? Do you rate it?