One of the Locals: The Insiders' Guide to Queenstown

A woman and horse walking down a little country lane on a sunny day.

Forget about Google recommendations. If you’ve been hosted by locals while visiting a city, you’ll appreciate their access to authentic experiences that may have otherwise slipped under your radar.

Words by: Maggie Worthington

Photos by: Anna Briggs and Supplied 

With that in mind, we’ve been teasing insider tips out of the people that know this town best, to bring you a list of locally approved places to eat, shop and get together in Queenstown. We reveal the best burger in Queenstown, charming shopping laneways, community gatherings, neighbourhood eateries, and more.

So even if you’re staying for a week or a while, it’s time to get down with the locals. We can promise you that you’ll be welcomed as an old friend.

Kappa

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36 The Mall 36 The Mall, Queenstown

Hidden away upstairs on Ballarat Street, owner and chef Naoya Higuchi has been slicing sashimi and rolling sushi in the kitchen of Kappa since the early 2000s – and it’s remained a popular foodie destination to this day. Pull up a chair and you’ll be dining amongst chefs on their days off and loyal locals who have been coming since their childhood. 

A hand over top of a burger on a table.

The Lab Kitchen

While it’s no secret which burger has a line down the street, ask any local and they may be kind enough to whisper the location of the other best burger in town. Owned by chef Brad McWhirter, The Lab Kitchen’s burgers are focused on tasty flavour combos and high-quality ingredients, with vegan and vegetarian options available. You have to be following their socials to find out where they’ll be popping up next (they’ve even been known to out-do the sausage sizzles outside Bunnings). Order in advance to avoid intense disappointment.

A large group of people dining outside a bar.

Where Locals Drink

There’s more to a great bar than what’s pouring from its taps. While you can get a good pint at most drinking holes down the main drag, there’s a few key spots with plenty of heart that draw in the locals. At The World Bar, friends gather and raise their pinkies over a cuppa from one of the many famous cocktail teapots (the burgers here are also supremely good). Atlas Beer Cafe is a low-key lakeside bar humming with locals and their dogs, with plenty of beers from nearby breweries on tap. A few steps over, Little Blackwood arguably shakes up some of the best cocktails – any place that has a dedicated espresso martini menu instantly wins in our books.

Takeaways on Perky’s Floating Bar

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Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

While at first it may seem like a bit of a novelty attraction, don’t be fooled into thinking that Perky’s is just a one-time place to tick off your list. Residents return to this floating bar as much as visitors, never tiring of local beers, wine and great cocktails paired with uninterrupted views. The best part, though? You can pick up your favourite takeaways on the way, and enjoy them onboard.

A hand reaching for fish and chips in paper.

Chur Fish & Chips

There’s nothing fancy about this fish and chip shop in Fernhill – and that’s what we love about it. A classic takeaway shop reminiscent of those in suburbs and small towns all over Aotearoa, the team makes sure Queenstown doesn’t miss out on this truly Kiwi experience. The fish is fresh, the hand-cut chips are homemade (insider tip: ask for the chur seasoning!) and the burgers are stuffed with local produce. Play a classic 90s game on the arcade machine while you wait for your order, and then enjoy the goods on the hilltop or take them down to the lake.

A dark stage lit up by fluorescent lights.

Community Event Calendars

With establishments cramming their calendars with community-focused events, there’s never a dull moment to be living in Queenstown. The Beech Tree hosts a quiz night every Wednesday, but it’s also a popular local haunt to get competitive over board games and sip on some tasty craft beers. Over at Yonder, the stage comes alive throughout the week with local and international musicians, comedians, DJs and even silent disco nights. Moving away from the strobe lights and into tranquility, Sherwood offers a range of curated events, gigs and workshops, including Songwriter Society on the last Thursday of every month – an open mic night for writers of original songs and poetry.

Remarkables Market

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23 Hawthorne Drive, Frankton, Queenstown

Every Saturday, Queenstown wakes up early to wander down to The Red Barn in Frankton for the weekly Remarkables Market. The barn hosts over 60 local stalls, trading everything from seasonal fruit and veggies, artisan goods and freshly baked goods, to handmade jewellery, knitwear, art and more. The Saturday ritual is made extra memorable with live music, picnic tables and playgrounds inviting visitors to linger a little longer. Plus, the market has prioritised eco-friendly practices from day one – there’s not a single disposable plate, cup or utensil in sight. While the regular Saturday market only runs from October to April, keep an eye out for special winter markets popping up throughout the chilly months.

Get Creative

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Building 11, Dart House, Remarkables Park Town Centre 12 Hawthorne Drive, Frankton, Queenstown

Just around the corner from the airport, Te Atamira is a multi-purpose cultural and arts hub that inspires the community to embrace everyday acts of creativity. Thanks to their jam-packed calendar full of free events as well as artist-led workshops and classes, you’ll find your new favourite hobby in no time. Learn to dance, pick up a musical instrument, try your hand at life drawing or meet some new mates at community sing-a-long sessions. Alternatively, book a two-hour freestyle hand-building pottery session at The Clay Station (all materials provided) or pop into The Bead Shop in town for a mindful hour or so of crafting your own jewellery.

Country Lane

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26 Hansen Road, Frankton, Queenstown

Switch out the mainstream shops for a truly unique shopping experience down Country Lane in Frankton. Don’t expect any chain stores here. Instead, this charming village has been transformed from a family farm into a neighbourhood of local businesses, each with their own unique offering. From secondhand bookshops to vintage clothing stores, honey bee centres to jewellery studios, tattoo parlours to hair salons… Every place has been thoughtfully selected to form a community-focused collective. Don’t miss Sundays, a standout restaurant serving Neopolitan style pizza in a beautiful renovated church.

A large group of people smiling to camera with a lake behind them.

Queenstown Mountain Bike Club

Whether you’re in Queenstown for the weekend or foreseeable future, the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club is a volunteer organisation that invites all keen riders to get together and hit the trails. Help maintain the trails at Wednesday Dig Nights, attend Pedal and Pints for a social ride with other bikers and enjoy a cold one afterwards, compete in races, or make the most of their resources available to find the best trails to ride in Queenstown.

Two men working behind the counter at a cafe in Arrowtown.

Arrowtown Favourites

You’ll find all of Arrowtown’s neatest businesses here, but we couldn’t go without mentioning these locally-loved spots. Kickstart every day with a specialty brew (and fresh donuts) from the friendly baristas at Wolf Coffee Roasters on Buckingham Street. Take a break from outdoor activities and check out what’s screening at Dorothy Browns, an independent cinema that doubles as a gin bar and bookshop. Down the same laneway, step through the secret passageway of Blue Door Bar for great cocktails and intimate live music sessions. For a classic pub experience complete with great food, local pints and solid vibes, it doesn’t get more charming than The Fork & Tap – especially next to their crackling outdoor fire.

Neat Queenstown Places

Margo's

A sign promoting tacos and Mexican food.
Place Queenstown
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There’s no greater universal disappointment than dining at a Mexican restaurant, expecting to get punched in the face with zingy, spicy and numbing flavours…...

Kappa

The inside of Kappa restaurant in Queenstown.
Place Queenstown
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Next time you’re walking down Ballarat Street, look up in search of a small piece of Japanese paradise.

SUNDAYS

Customers dining at a large table at Sundays in Queenstown.
Place Queenstown
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One of the beloved residents of Country Lane in Frankton, SUNDAYS is set inside a beautifully refurbished church.

Aosta

The entrance to Aosta Arrowtown.
Place Queenstown
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Put simply, the Aosta in Arrowtown dining experience is like no other.