Are you ready to hit the road for one of New Zealand’s most epic road trips?

In this short-distance drive, tick off your bucket list and get set for adventure, relaxation or a bit of both!

We’ll begin our travels in the resort town of Queenstown – New Zealand’s adventure capital – winding our way up and across the country. Before you leave Queenstown, make sure to stop off at the famous Fergburger restaurant to get your world-class burger: after all, no one likes a hungry traveller.

Let’s hit the road!

Queenstown to Christchurch Distance

The Queenstown to Christchurch stretch is a scenic symphony of 611 kilometres, set to the rhythm of a leisurely 10-day journey with a total driving time of 7 hours and 45 minutes. So, pump up your playlist, rev up your Travellers Autobarn vehicle, and discover the magic of New Zealand one kilometre at a time.

Quick stats

611km trip distance

10 day roadtrip

Kuga Campervan recommended

road trip map

Day 1: Queenstown

View of Queenstown, New Zealand

Before starting your 10-day adventure to Christchurch, make sure to explore first the adrenaline capital of the world – Queenstown. Nestled amidst majestic surrounding mountains and perched by Lake Wakatipu, it’s a playground for thrill-seekers and nature lovers alike. Whether you’re bungee jumping off a cliff, heli-biking through backcountry trails, or simply savouring local cuisine with a lakeside view, Queenstown ensures your journey starts with a bang. And who knows, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you might even stumble upon a slice of Middle-earth™ along the way.

Sightseeing #1: Lake Wakatipu

Behold the majesty of Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand’s third-largest lake, shaped like a lightning bolt and cradled by towering mountains. This glacier-carved marvel is famed for its ‘heartbeat’ – a unique tide that causes water to rise and fall every 30 minutes, said to be the slumbering monster Matau’s pulse. Hop aboard the iconic T.S.S. Earnslaw steamship for a blissful cruise, or cast a line for year-round trout fishing. Each corner turned reveals a breathtaking new vista.

Sightseeing #2: Lake Hayes

Pack your bags for a short jaunt from Queenstown to serene Lake Hayes. This mirror-like lake, nestled amidst mountain panoramas, is a haven for nature lovers. Whether you fancy a brisk walk, a cycle, or a peaceful kayak paddle, Lake Hayes offers it all. And hey, don’t leave your camera behind – the picturesque beauty of this spot is worth capturing! Keep an eye out for the local rowing club, you might just spot them in action.

Day 2: Queenstown to Arrowtown

Travel time: 15 minutes
Colorful autumn in Arrowtown, New Zealand

On day 2 of your South Island road trip, it’s time to rewind to the gold rush era as you journey from Queenstown to Arrowtown, a mere 15-minute drive. As a historic gold mining town, Arrowtown lets you stroll through restored cottages, pan for gold in the Arrow River, and step into the shoes of Chinese miners at the riverside settlement. Whether you’re uncovering history at the Lakes District Museum or simply café hopping, Arrowtown adds a golden touch to your adventure.

Sightseeing #1: Coronet Peak

Coronet Peak isn’t just a mountain, it’s a snow lover’s paradise. Just 15 minutes from Queenstown, this world-class ski destination caters to all abilities. Conquer the rolling trails if you’re an experienced skier, or find your snow feet in the dedicated learner areas. With New Zealand’s longest ski day, night skiing options, and a range of dining and kids’ programmes, Coronet Peak delivers thrilling snow adventures without compromise.

Sightseeing #2: Historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement

Experience history firsthand at the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. This partially restored 1880s settlement, nestled on the banks of Bush Creek, pays tribute to the Chinese gold miners who helped shape the region. The humble huts offer a glimpse into a bygone era of toil and modest living. Interpretation panels share stories of the miners’ challenges and triumphs. Though the side tracks aren’t wheelchair-friendly, the main walk is, taking you right through the heart of the settlement.

Day 3: Arrowtown to Wanaka

Travel time: 1 hour
Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Continue heading North for 55.4 kilometres, and you’ll come across Wanaka. This alpine town is the ultimate hub for outdoor adventures, perfect for exploring the Southern Alps. In fact, Mount Aspiring National Park is close by for hiking, biking, kayaking or any other outdoor adventure you can think of!

This vibrant town is the centre for skiers and snowboarders, with four ski resorts just a short drive away. By night, the town centre comes alive with boutique restaurants, trendy takeaways and cocktail bars – oh, and beer fans, take note – the Wanaka Beerworks is offering samples, tours and demonstrations: it’s not as simple as you may think!

Bonus tip: spend an extra day in this town so you can take advantage of all the adventures nearby. Why not spend a day on the mountain or kayak in the evening to watch the sunset? Or the other way around? Anything is possible in this picture-perfect small town.

Sightseeing #1: Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka is a glorious playground for the adventurous and the leisurely alike. Spanning 193 square kilometres, this alpine jewel is a hotbed for jet boaters, sailors, and kayakers. The allure doesn’t stop at the water’s edge – the surrounding mountains and proximity to Mt Aspiring National Park make it an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. And when you need a breather from the action, the stylish shops, cool cafes, and award-winning wineries offer a charming urban escape.

Sightseeing #2: Roy’s Peak Track

Trade the hustle and bustle for the tranquil tussock grasslands of Roy’s Peak Track. Starting from Lake Wanaka, this steep hike rewards you with panoramic views of the lake and surrounding peaks, including majestic Mount Aspiring. The song of grasshoppers and skylarks will serenade you as you traverse farmland and alpine meadows to the 1578m summit. Remember, it’s a popular track, so prepare to share the breathtaking views with fellow nature lovers.

Day 4: Wanaka to Omarama

Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Omarama Clay Cliffs, New Zealand

After spending an exhilarating day in Wanaka, it’s time to ride the thermals to Omarama, just an 80-minute drive away. Known as the ‘place of light’, this gliding capital offers a bird’s eye view of the breathtaking Mackenzie Basin. But if skyward adventures aren’t your style, soak in a hot tub under the stars, watch sheep shearing at Wrinkly Rams, or explore the towering Clay Cliffs. And don’t forget to cast a line in the Ahuriri River – who knows what you might catch.

Sightseeing #1: Omarama Clay Cliffs

Venture just 16 km west of Omarama to encounter an alien landscape – the Omarama Clay Cliffs. These towering pinnacles and narrow ravines are a geological spectacle, with layers of gravel and silt testifying to the power of ancient glaciers. It’s a sight to behold but remember, you’re on private land, so don’t forget to drop a donation at the gate. After exploration, head back to town for a well-deserved soak in the hot tubs.

Sightseeing #2: Omarama Hot Tubs

Dip into the ultimate outdoor luxury at Hot Tubs Omarama, right in the South Island’s heart. These hot tubs take relaxation to a whole new level, with locally-sourced wood heating pure mountain water perfectly, regardless of the season. By day, drink in the stunning landscape; by night, marvel at the star-studded sky. Each tub is secluded, allowing you to immerse yourself in tranquillity, undisturbed.

Day 5: Omarama to Lake Pukaki

Travel time: 30 minutes
View of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook, New Zealand

Now, set your sights on Lake Pukaki, the crown jewel of the Mackenzie Basin and arguably the most breathtaking lake in New Zealand. Its mesmerizing turquoise-blue waters, fed by glacier water and tinged with ‘glacial flour,’ create a spectacle that’s as unreal in real life as it is in photos. Whether you’re capturing its beauty through a lens or with your own eyes, Lake Pukaki ensures your South Island adventure is painted in shades of unforgettable blue.

Sightseeing #1: Dark Sky Project

Embark on an ethereal journey with Dark Sky Project, New Zealand’s premier mountaintop stargazing experience. At 1,029m high, Mt John offers a breathtaking 360-degree panorama within the world’s largest accredited International Dark Sky Reserve. Expert astronomy guides bring the Southern skies alive, revealing distant galaxies, star clusters, and solar systems through powerful telescopes. This exclusive, weather-dependent tour includes warm jackets and transport to and from the summit. Step into the universe and feel the stars within your reach.

Sightseeing #2: New Zealand Alpine Lavender Farm

Get ready to be swept away by the charm of the New Zealand Alpine Lavender Farm! Tucked under the grandeur of the Ben Ohau mountain range, this lavender farm is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest certified organic one. Its secret? A volatile climate and high altitude result in award-winning lavender oil. Lose yourself in the vibrant lavender fields, pick up some organic goodies, and don’t forget to say hi to “Lucy the lamb” and “Bennie the bear”!

Day 6: Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook

Travel time: 45 minutes
Amazing Nature of Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook, New Zealand. Young Family walk on Suspension Bridge.

Travelling from Lake Pukaki, your next stop is the awe-inspiring Mount Cook – New Zealand’s tallest mountain and a sight that will etch itself into your memory. Whether you’re trekking through its majestic landscapes, soaring above in a scenic flight, or simply soaking up the view from the comfort of Mount Cook Village, this alpine wonder guarantees an unforgettable experience. Just remember, the weather here changes as quickly as it takes to say ‘Mount Cook’, adding a dash of adventure to your journey.

Sightseeing #1: Mount Cook National Park

Ascend into the realm of the gods at Mt Cook National Park. Home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain, it’s a landscape steeped in Ngāi Tahu legend and alpine beauty. Easily accessible via State Highway 80, you can ski on the mighty Tasman Glacier, hike among herb fields and glaciers, or gaze at a star-studded sky in NZ’s only International Dark Sky Reserve. Encounter cheeky Kea parrots, and let the grandeur of the Southern Alps leave you breathless.

Sightseeing #2: Mueller Hut Route

Embrace the challenge of the Mueller Hut Route in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. This popular 9.7-km trail will take you through rugged terrain and steep inclines, but the rewards are worth every step. At 1800 meters, Mueller Hut offers stunning 360-degree views of glaciers, vertical rock faces, and New Zealand’s highest peaks. Visit between December to April for the best experience. Remember, this trail is demanding, so come prepared!

Day 7: Mount Cook to Lake Tekapo

Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Head north for just under 1.5 hours, and you’ll find yourself entering the beautiful scenic drive of Lake Tekapo: an attraction in itself. The calming of the waters and lush greenery in its surroundings brings about a calm feeling that continues to bring back tourists day in, day out.

During your travels, you’ll also find horse treks, nature walks and hikes close by – so whether you’re an early bird who likes to catch the sunrise or prefer the evenings at sunset, there’s something for all.

Sightseeing #1: Tekapo Springs

Perched at 720 metres above sea level, Tekapo Springs is a haven of tranquillity in an alpine setting. The three hot pools, named after the Mackenzie Region’s lakes, are filled with pure underground water. Each offers a unique experience: gentle water curtains in Ohau, relaxing massage jets in Pukaki, and a serene adults-only space in Tekapo. Soak away your cares while enjoying the stunning views of Lake Tekapo and the Two Thumb mountain range.

Sightseeing #2: Lake Alexandrina

Beyond the well-trodden path of the Mackenzie Region’s famous lakes lies a local secret – Lake Alexandrina. This spring-fed high country lake is a paradise for fishing enthusiasts, teeming with brown and rainbow trout and salmon. Surrounded by dry tussocks and towering mountain peaks, Lake Alexandrina offers a tranquil retreat from motorboats and jet skis.

Day 8: Lake Tekapo to Geraldine

Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Campervan on road in New Zealand

On day 8, you are about to discover Geraldine, a charming country town that effortlessly blends artistry with adventure. Here, a stroll down the historic trail leads you to quaint boutiques showcasing unique crafts and refreshing cafés. But Geraldine is more than just pretty – it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. From white water rafting to mountain biking, fishing to skiing, it’s a sporting haven nestled in the shadow of an ancient forest. So, ready for a taste of rural New Zealand with an adventurous twist?

Sightseeing #1: Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery Museum

Get ready for a nostalgic journey at the Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery Museum, boasting one of the Southern Hemisphere’s top collections of vintage cars, tractors, and machinery. Here, you’ll find over 50 cars from as far back as 1907, along with over 100 vintage tractors and a plethora of old-school machinery. And don’t miss their latest exhibit – a room filled with miniature models of pedal cars, tractors, trains, and aircraft!

Sightseeing #2: Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve

Dive into the captivating wilderness of New Zealand at Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve. Spanning 769 hectares, this reserve boasts awe-inspiring vistas, rich wildlife, and a variety of walking trails, including one that takes you to Little Mount Peel’s peak. Here, you’ll encounter an assortment of native flora and fauna, including age-old Podocarpaceae trees and bird species like the kererū and fantail. It’s a paradise not to be missed for nature enthusiasts and bird watchers.

Day 9: Geraldine to Ashburton

Travel time: 45 minutes
Winter reflections, Ashburton lakes, Canterbury, New Zealand

If you are a history enthusiast and fishing fan, make a beeline for Ashburton, a substantial town between the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers. This area showcases human tenacity, evolving from a barren landscape into a bustling farming district. Discover Ashburton’s intriguing past in one of its six museums, or treat yourself to some unique finds at local art and craft galleries. Also, give fly fishing a shot – it’s a favourite pastime around here.

Sightseeing #1: Ashburton Domain

Experience the pulse of Ashburton at Ashburton Domain, a 37-hectare recreational haven for all. Whether you’re an athletic ace, a parent with energetic kiddos, or just in search of a serene garden walk, this spot checks all the boxes. Little ones will adore the splash pool and playgrounds, while fitness enthusiasts can enjoy a workout on the track around the domain, equipped with exercise stations.

Sightseeing #2: Ashburton Aviation Museum

With a rich aviation history dating back to World War 2, Ashburton houses an impressive Aviation Museum at its historic airport. Boasting over 20 aircraft, including the recently added ex-RNZAF Skyhawk, it’s a flight enthusiast’s dream. Original remnants from the training base era, such as tarmac and tie-down rings, add to the authenticity. This museum, home to one of the only nine Thompson Refuellers worldwide, is a must-visit.

Day 10: Ashburton to Christchurch

Campervan overlooking body of water near Christchurch

Your final leg of the journey will take you the remainder of the way up to Christchurch – your final stop in this itinerary, but not in your adventure!

With plenty to see and do, we recommend spending at least a few days exploring this place. Though a recent string of earthquakes devastated the city, some believe this now adds a bit of extra charm – making it one of the newest cities in the world.

In the centre of Christchurch, the Botanic Gardens provide a quaint display, with tours and a captivating water feature.

As you adventure forward, use Christchurch as the base camp for New Zealand’s south island exploration, with the Banks Peninsula in close reach, as well as the Southern Alps and famed Canterbury Plains.

Sightseeing #1: Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Venture into Christchurch’s verdant retreat – the Botanic Gardens. Boasting over 150 years of history, the Gardens present a remarkable array of global flora. Meander through 10 distinct gardens filled with mature trees and sprawling lawns, all nestled within the Avon River loop. Delight your senses in the rose garden, uncover native species, or marvel at foreign plant life in the conservatory complex. Open every day, this tranquil and picturesque haven is ready for you to explore.

Sightseeing #2: Garden City Tour

Get ready to traverse Christchurch, fondly known as the Garden City. This tour whisks you away into two private gardens, teeming with unique trees, captivating sculptures, and commemorative plantings. Bask in sweeping views of the city, Canterbury Plains, and the Southern Alps from the vantage point of Port Hills. The journey also includes a stop at the Botanic Gardens, where the renowned Caterpillar ride offers an insightful tour. A dive into horticultural marvels and natural splendour is on the horizon!

Person jumping next to campervan with view of New Zealand lake and mountains

Queenstown to Christchurch can be quite a quick journey, leaving you with plenty of extra time to explore along the way. The South Island is famed for its natural beauty, mix of adventurous activities and relaxation – and we’ve only just touched on some of the highlights!

One of the best parts is also travelling in winter – it may be a little colder – but you’ll often find things are much cheaper and you’ll be sharing the road with a lot less people.

So, what are you waiting for? Checkout the latest deals on campervan hire in Christchurch, and let’s get going! Looking for more South Island Road Trips? Check it out here!

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