Christchurch to Queenstown
This classic New Zealand road trip keeps the Southern Alps in your sights, amidst idyllic rural scenes, surreal blue lakes and rivers.
Along the way are world-class wineries, diverse hiking and cycling trails, and enough extreme activities to satisfy the most serious of adrenaline junkies. What’s more, there are car rental or campervan depots in both Christchurch and Queenstown, so this trip can be completed one way.
The South Island’s major gateway, Christchurch is a welcoming city and a convenient departure point for the exciting road-trips that lead in almost every direction. Immerse yourself in its dynamic vibe by visiting its arty centre, suburban hotspots, parks, gardens and beaches, before hitting the open road.
Christchurch to Queenstown
You can get to Queenstown from Christchurch in a day. The South Island however has so much to offer that it would be a real crime to rush through. In a perfect world you should plan between 4 - 7 days for this spectacular trip alone.
Best time of year
This part of New Zealand is worth a visit all year round! In winter you will need to drive more carefully as some roads can be icy, and snow chains may also be required.
Christchurch: parks, gardens, art and energy, plus plenty of ‘new’
Aoraki/Mt Cook: National Park – stand at the feet of giants
Arrowtown: historic gold mining town turned tourist favourite
Lake Tekapo: blue jewel in the golden Mackenzie Country
Wanaka: welcoming gateway to alpine adventures
Queenstown: high-flying resort with a down-to-earth attitude
- Leg One Christchurch to Geraldine
Head west towards the Southern Alps on SH73 to join Inland Scenic Route 72 towards Methven to make the most of mid-Canterbury’s rural, riverside and gently rolling scenery. Geraldine – the Cheese & Pickle Capital of NZ – is a pleasant overnighter, with unpretentious shops, nice cafes, a friendly pub and leafy holiday park.
SIDE TRIP: Peel Forest
If you’re feeling impatient to explore the foothills of the Southern Alps, take the detour off SH72 to Peel Forest Park, 22km north of Geraldine. This precious native forest remnant features a peachy campsite, and walks ranging from easy strolls to a hike up Little Mount Peel summit (1311m). Nearby is one of NZ’s best rafting rivers, the Rangitata, with family-friendly trips through to freaky grade five escapades. If that doesn’t float your boat, check out the equine excursions for all-comers offered nearby.
- Leg Two Geraldine to Tekapo
SH79 winds through increasingly hilly terrain as it heads to rural Fairlie, a welcoming introduction to the legendary Mackenzie Country. SH8 leads over Burkes Pass to a basin of golden tussock and surreal turquoise lakes, the star of which is Tekapo with its famously photogenic lakeside church. Don’t miss Mt John summit (drive or walk) for one of NZ’s best lookouts. After dark, Mt John Observatory offers mind-boggling tours of the night sky.
- Leg Three Tekapo to Aoraki/Mt Cook
Continuing on SH8, Aoraki/Mount Cook will loom ever larger (weather permitting) as you sidle around pretty Lake Pukaki. Get even closer to NZ’s highest mountain on day hikes from Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre, or swoop around its slopes on a scenic flight.
- Leg Four Aoraki/Mt Cook to Wanaka
There’s no let-up in scenic splendour as SH8 cuts through the flats and climbs over Lindis Pass. After Tarras, take SH8A and SH6 to Wanaka, an energetic town with an insatiable appetite for the great outdoors. Explore Mount Aspiring National Park on day hikes to Rob Roy Glacier or Aspiring Hut. Mt Iron is a shorter option closer to town, and handy to Puzzling World, a fun place to exercise your brain.
- Leg Five Wanaka to Arrowtown
Drive over the short but view-filled Crown Range road, stopping at the Cardrona Hotel for a slice of gold mining heritage. Catch a serious case of gold-rush fever in Arrowtown, a total charmer with visitor attractions in spades. Compared to neighbouring Queenstown, it a quiet base for adventures around the Wakatipu area, such as cycling, bungy jumping and winery tours.
- Leg Six Arrowtown to Queenstown
Frequently lauded as one of the world’s best mountain resorts, Queenstown lives up to the hype with a buzzy centre and beautiful lakeside setting. It also offers a bamboozling array of activities within easy reach including hiking and cycling trails, golf courses, wineries, and iconic must-do’s such as the TSS Earnslaw lake cruise and Skyline Gondola.
SIDE TRIP: Central Otago
Venture through the wine-soaked Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell, Clyde and Alexandra, an appealing trio of towns in Central Otago. This region is steeped in yet more fascinating pioneer history, sweetened with luscious stone fruit and spiced with world-class pinot noir. Savour it on a walk such as Flat Top Hill, or a cycle ride along Roxburgh Gorge or the Otago Central Rail Trail.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
To return to Christchurch without retracing your steps, take SH6 and SH8 to Cromwell and Alexandra, then SH85 through the beautiful Manuherikia Valley to the Maniototo Plain. Oamaru and Timaru on the east coast are both pleasant pit stops en route north via SH1 to Christchurch. The total journey from Queenstown is 564km/8 hours.