When gold was discovered on the Shotover River in 1862, the site of Rees’s old homestead, the Camp, was formed as a makeshift town, which is now the heart of Queenstown itself. There were signs of earlier Māori inhabitants in the area, particularly on what is now called Queenstown Peninsula, although it is unknown to what extent.

The name Queenstown was decided upon in 1863 and is said to derive from a place in Ireland. As the gold rush faded, in the late 19th century, Queenstown became nothing more than a sheep farming town with less than 1,000 residents. That is, until almost 100 years later, in the 1980s, when its reputation as a tourist destination begun. At that time, the population of the town was still around 3,000 people, however that number doubled in size over next two decades to approximately 6,000 in 2001.

In 2015 estimated population numbers are about 13,000 for the immediate Queenstown area and over 30,000 for the whole Queenstown Lakes District, which includes Wanaka, Arrowtown and Glenorchy.