Considering a trip to the land of the hobbits, where seasons are opposite, and birds prefer to walk rather than fly? Of all New Zealand’s towns and cities, two are constantly topping the charts for the best places to visit and live. Sooner or later, you’ll come across the toughest decision, Queenstown vs Auckland.
Making it even trickier to decide, Queenstown and Auckland couldn’t be any more different from one another. Queenstown is a small mountain town squeezed between towering peaks in the middle of the South Island. Whereas Auckland is New Zealand’s most populous city, tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea on the North Island.
Whether you have a day, a couple of weeks, or are considering a move, deciding Queenstown vs Auckland is like choosing between just-out-of-the-oven cookies and fresh lobster – each is amazing in its own splendid way. Let’s take a deeper look to help you decide which to tick off first!
Queenstown vs Auckland – Nature
The number one reason travelers find themselves in New Zealand – it’s mind-blowing landscapes and unique wildlife. With more hikes than you could conquer in a lifetime and endless backcountry to explore, it’s hard to imagine a more scenic country. On top of that, Queenstown might be the most picturesque town in all of New Zealand. So putting two and two together, Queenstown has to top the charts for the most stunning town in the world.
We’re not exaggerating either. Queenstown is tucked next to the deep blue Lake Wakatipu and below the eye-catching Remarkables mountain range. Across the lake, Cecil Peak rises seemingly straight out of the lake, and Coronet Peak provides a brilliant backdrop. You can walk out your front door and within hours summit the 974 meter (3195 feet) Ben Lomond, or if you prefer something gentler, a stroll through the Queenstown gardens showcases the surroundings as well as brilliant native birdlife.
You can likely tell Queenstown is hard to beat. However, New Zealand’s largest city does give it a good battle. Auckland sits on the coast of both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea and is home to over fifty islands. While nature isn’t quite as in your face as it is in Queenstown, you can get to plenty of golden sand beaches, stunning coastal trails, and unique volcanic landscapes within an hour.
The verdict: Queenstown
Queenstown vs Auckland – Day Trips
If you’re visiting New Zealand, you’ll likely have a few must-visit destinations on your list. The best thing about Queenstown and Auckland is they both make for great bases to explore the surroundings.
Queenstown, being located in the middle of the South Island, gives you easy access to some of the country’s best hiking and breathtaking landscapes. Just over the Crowne Range, an hour’s drive from Queenstown, is Wanaka, the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park. Another must-do day trip from Queenstown is Milford Sound. Take your pick of a bus or a small plane, and be prepared to have your mind blown time and time again as you journey to the 8th Wonder of the World. Another few hours’ drive will get you to Aoraki Mt Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Just keep in mind that to leave Queenstown by vehicle, you’ll have to travel through the windy Kawarau Gorge or the Devil’s Staircase.
If you prefer less mountainous drives, Auckland has plenty of incredible day trips that are bucket list-worthy and easy to get to. One of the most well-known day trips is Hobbiton, about two hours drive away. Here, you can wander Middle-earth, frolic through The Shire and peer into Hobbit’s homes. Also on the list of day trips from Auckland is Waiheke Island. After a 45-minute ferry ride, you’ll be amongst rolling green hills, breathtaking vineyards, and dreamy coastlines.
Auckland vs Queenstown: Things to do
As you may have figured out, neither Queenstown nor Auckland is a check yourself into a resort and spend all day sipping cocktails by the pool kind of location. Both places are filled to the brim with unique and exciting things to do, and we promise you won’t be bored in either.
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s easy to see why. Just strolling down the main street, you’ll see signs advertising bungy jumping, rafting and jet boating. Then looking up, you’ll see a constant flow of paragliders soaring past. If you’re in Queenstown in the winter, snow-covered mountains turn to scenic ski fields, and one could spend an entire week playing between the Remarkables and Coronet ski fields.
For those who prefer something more relaxing, book yourself in for a soak in the Onsen Hot Pools for a private spa pool with incredible views. You can also take a day tour out to Gibbston Valley to sample the finest red wines in the country, stroll the Frankton track or enjoy classic New Zealand cuisine at one of the many restaurants in town.
Auckland may be less packed with adrenaline-filled activities, but you can still get your kick if you’re in the mood. Head up to the Sky Tower, soaring above Auckland’s skyline, and you can either enjoy a delicious feast or bungy jump 192 meters (629 feet) off the edge. You could also spend hours walking down Queen Street and popping into one of the many stores or wandering around Viaduct Harbour to watch super yachts and sailboats navigating in and out.
The verdict: Queenstown
Queenstown vs Auckland – Nightlife
Given that most visitors come to New Zealand to get away from the crowds and disconnect, it makes sense that the country isn’t on the map of the best places to party. Even if iconic clubs aren’t around every corner, Queenstown and Auckland have their fair share of dance clubs, chic cocktail lounges, and laidback sports bars.
Queenstown nightlife is heavily dominated by the backpacker crowd. Every night feels like a weekend in Queenstown, and whether you want a quiet bar to sit back and relax or an all-night dancing kind of place, you’ll find one.
A big perk of Queenstown’s nightlife is its laid-back style. Except for rare occasions, you’ll never come across a cover charge or a dress code to get into bars and clubs. You’ll fit in whether you’re wearing your favorite dress or jeans and ugg boots, and if you’re not a night owl, you’re in luck. The partying starts earlier here than in much of the world, and by ten pm, bars will be packed with party-goers.
Being a much larger city, Auckland has a much more robust nightlife than Queenstown. If you’re a fan of shows, live music, and concerts, you’ll have much more luck in Auckland. A long-time favorite amongst locals and visitors is 1885 Britomart. Starting as a classy cocktail bar from the early evening, its many rooms turn into a vibrant dance club as midnight nears and continues until the early hours.
Another must-do bar is Ponsonby Social Club, and we promise it’s as posh as it sounds. Here you’ll want to dress in your best and prepare to pay premium prices for fancy cocktails, but it’s well worth it. Your night will be filled with dance all night worthy live music and plenty of upmarket entertainment.
Queenstown vs Auckland: Weather
Considering New Zealand has roughly the same landmass as Colorado, you may be surprised that Auckland and Queenstown have very different weather patterns – although both are considered to have an oceanic climate.
Queenstown sits at 310 meters (1017 feet) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains, which is good and bad when it comes to weather. Sitting in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps, Queenstown gets plenty of blue sky days, especially in the winter months. You’ll also notice a distinct four seasons in Queenstown, with December through February marking summer and temperatures consistently in the 20’s °C (70s °F). Winter brings lows around freezing, yet with plenty of sunshine, temperatures warm up to around 7°C (45 °F) during the day.
On the other hand, Auckland doesn’t get much of a winter at all, and lows rarely fall below 7°C (45 °F). However, it’s common for Auckland to be rainy and overcast in winter, often making for unpleasant days. Come summer, the tides turn and you’re met with endless hot summer days perfect for the beach. From late November through March, temperatures consistently reach into the high 20’s °C (low 80s °F). In fact, Auckland is one of the warmest places in New Zealand.
Queenstown vs Auckland: Beaches
Okay – you think we’re probably joking here. How can we compare the beaches of a city sandwiched between an ocean and a sea to a mountain town? Well, you’d be surprised just how closely Queenstown and Auckland compete when it comes to beaches.
Built on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown has a massive amount of shoreline just waiting to be explored. Queenstown Beach, located right near the town center, is a magnificent place to relax. In the summer months, locals and tourists alike can be found at all hours of the day, either enjoying a picnic, taking a nap, or simply pondering the beauty around. On the other side of town, Frankton Beach is an excellent spot for families. The water warms up enough in the shallow bay to enjoy a cool swim, and with BBQs and toilet facilities, it’s an ideal spot to post up for a long afternoon. Keep in mind, outside of the warmer bays, the water doesn’t get much above 3 °C (37 °F)!
The Pacific and Tasman seas don’t get much warmer, so you’ll need to be prepared for cooler waters, even in Auckland. It’s also a good idea to get comfortable with public transport or hire a car as the beaches in Auckland aren’t as easily accessible as in Queenstown. Once you get out of the city, you’ll find the outskirts of Auckland is a wonderful place to live with an endless line of gorgeous beaches stretching up and down the coast. The closest beach to Auckland CBD is Mission Bay. This stretch of golden sand is especially popular with locals, and as soon as the sun is out, the beach comes alive with families, paddle boarders, and sunbathers.
Queenstown vs Auckland: Culture
All around, New Zealand culture is a bit quirky. Tucked away at the bottom of the world without many close neighbors, the country has developed many of its own traditions and ways of doing things. In both Queenstown and Auckland, there’s no doubt you’ll notice these oddities. Meat pies are considered a staple part of life and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and the entire country turns its attention to the TV when an All Blacks game is on.
Queenstown itself seems to have its own culture, and as soon as you reach the town, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in a magical place like no other. With so much beauty and fresh air, life feels a bit less complex, people are happy, and there’s always a buzz around town. You’ll also notice an abundance of young adults out and about, with a large percentage of Queenstown’s population in their 20s. As Queenstown is also expensive to live in and doesn’t have an abundance of high-paying career opportunities, it’s apparent people who live in Queenstown are there for its active lifestyle and activities rather than to progress their careers.
What Queenstown lacks in population and diversity, Auckland more than makes up for. Home to over 1.6 million people, compared to Queenstown’s 47,000, you’ll find people from all walks of life in Auckland. Whether you’re into arts, music, sports, or another hobby, you’ll be able to find a group of like-minded friends to spend time with. Because of its larger size, you’ll find it has a slightly less homey and welcoming feel to Queenstown. Even so, both places are very safe and are often found on lists proclaiming the best places to live in the world.
Queenstown vs Auckland: The Final Verdict
While Auckland brings many exciting things to the table, we have to give Queenstown the win for this one. Where else can you ski, bungy jump, and relax on the beach, all before dinner? Once you’ve set foot in the fairytale-like town, you may never leave!