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Driving from Christchurch to Franz Josef (or vice versa) is a common road trip on the South Island of New Zealand. This route is used by travelers to move from east to west over the Southern Alps and onto their next destination.
Franz Josef is one of the most popular places to visit on the South Island and so is Christchurch – this is what makes this road trip is so popular! I’ve personally had the pleasure of driving this route many times before both for work, and on holidays road tripping around New Zealand. I absolutely love it!
There are plenty of great places to stop along the way and those with time can spend a night or two along the way. Of course, this trip can be done in one day too, you’ll just need to skip many of the stops I recommend below.
In this blog, I’ll share the 12 best places to stop between Christchurch and Franz Josef as well as places to stay!
About the drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef
The drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef is a 380-kilometer (236-mile) journey that without stopping takes 5 hours. With that said, you’ll want to allow at least an entire day if you plan on stopping along the way. Better yet, spend a night or two on the road in one of the small towns such as Arthur’s Pass Village, Hokitika, or at a beautiful campsite by a lake (more on them below.)
There are two different routes you can take on this road trip, however, the best way to go travels through Castle Hill Conservation Area – one of the best attractions on this drive. This is not only the quickest way to go but also the most scenic option. So, be sure to punch the correct route in on Google Maps before you go (it should map you this way but be sure to double check!)
It is important to know that while driving from Christchurch to Franz Josef is on a well-maintained highway, it can sometimes be a little slippery in the winter months – especially on Arthur’s Pass. If you’re visiting New Zealand in winter, check the road conditions before you depart Christchurch. Snow can close the highway or make the journey dangerous. Be sure to always carry snow chains in the winter.
During the summer the highway is usually completely fine to drive, however, always be prepared and watch conditions especially if heavy rain is forecasted. Slips have occurred on these roads and closed the highway for weeks.
Related Read: Another alternative road trip route is the drive from Chrsitchurch to Punakaiki – read about this itinerary and all of the best stops.
Christchurch to Franz Josef FAQs
Best Stops when Driving from Christchurch to Franz Josef
1. Porters Pass Viewpoint
First up on your road trip from Christchurch to Franz Josef is a place called Porters Pass Viewpoint. The viewpoint is located around 1 hour from Christchurch along highway 73. From the parking lot, you can admire the views of the surrounding mountains, it’s one of my favorite viewpoints in NZ!
Although you don’t have to stop for long, I recommended getting out here to stretch your legs and even take a short walk. If you set off early enough from Christchurch you can even get here for sunrise and enjoy it with a coffee in hand – just pick it up in Springfield (only 15 minutes before Porters Pass.)
2. Kura Tawhiti / Castle Hill Conservation Area
Kura Tawhiti or Castle Hill Conservation Area is a unique attraction in New Zealand that you need to visit on your way to Franz Josef. Kura Tawhiti even has Topuni status!
Fun fact: Topuni status means a chief has placed a cloak over the area. Tōpuni status therefore means Ngāi Tahu values on the conservation area are upheld. You can read more about it here.
The rock formations at Kura Tawhiti formed millions of years ago and were once under the ocean. Limestone rocks formed and when exposed to the elements, were then eroded away into the unique shapes you see today.
Visiting Kura Tawhiti is easy and done by making your way from Porters Pass Viewpoint to the large parking lot only 10 minutes away. This attraction is well signposted and very hard to miss. From the parking lot, there is a well-defined walking track you can enjoy that leads through the boulders. It takes anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes to explore the area and the 1.4 kilometers (each way) walking track is considered easy.
This is certainly one of the best stops between Christchurch and Franz Josef!
3. Cave Stream Scenic Reserve
Next up is one of the more unique attractions on this road trip. Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is a 594-meter cave with a stream running through it that you can walk through.
Although unique, it’s not for the faint-hearted and does involve difficult terrain that’s not suited to children or those with mobility problems. Accessing the cave is done by following a stream and depending on the weather, it can get pretty deep (around waist-deep in some places.) Along the way, you must climb over rocks, and having someone who is fit and strong is recommended to help others (I had my partner with me and he helped others in the cave.)
There are two entrances so if you plan on walking through be sure to walk against the current. It takes around 1 hour to traverse the cave and there are some ladders you need to climb. It’s also important to bring one flashlight per person and never go alone. During winter the water is freezing so it’s not recommended to enter the cave.
Thankfully, you don’t need to walk through the cave to enjoy it, and instead, you can walk to the entrance and just enjoy the first part of the cave. This is what a lot of people did while I was there (but I myself just had to go inside!)
The entire landscape here is beautiful so be sure to get out and walk around. The cave is located only 5 minutes from Castle Hill Conservation Area on the road from Christchurch to Franz Josef.
Related Read: Castle Hill Conservation Area is also a popular stop on any road trip from Christchurch to Hokitka – find out what the others are too!
4. Lake Pearson
Lake Pearson can be either a quick stop or overnight stop on your way from Christchurch to Franz Josef. This small wildlife refuge is a beautiful place to stop to stretch your legs or for a bite to eat (if you packed a lunch.) Sit on the shore of Lake Pearson and enjoy the magnificent views of the mountains and even some wildlife. If you’re visiting on a calm day the reflections are stunning! There are also toilets at Lake Pearson.
For those with a campervan, tent, or motorhome, there is a DOC campsite at Lake Pearson. You can camp here for $8 per night per person (adult). You must book in advance but it’s the perfect spot to spend the night if you’re looking for a cheap campsite. With that said, there are many more below so don’t book just yet!
5. Arthur’s Pass National Park
Arthur’s Pass National Park is a bucket list place to visit in New Zealand. Within the park, there are a ton of awesome things to do. This is the most ideal place to spend a night on this road trip simply because there is so much to do. Below I’ll mention some of the best activities you can do on your road trip from Christchurch to Franz Josef!
Hike Avalanche Peak
Avalanche Peak Route is one of my favorite hikes in New Zealand. However, by no means is this 6-kilometer (3.7 miles) trail easy. In fact, most people take 5 to 6 hours to walk the 6 kilometers up and back down! The steep terrain and huge elevation gain of over 1,110 meters are the reason for this. However, those who do tackle this monster, get to witness one of the best panoramic views over the Southern Alps!
The trail can be hiked in a loop or up and back the same trail and starts just across the road from the Devil’s Punchbowl parking lot (mentioned below.) I myself was short on time and went up and back down the same way for a shorter option. The full loop is around 9 kilometers.
Avalanche Peak sits at 1,833 meters above sea level and the trek up can actually be dangerous if you’re not experienced or prepared. Please do not attempt this hike in high winds, rain, or in winter (without the right experience.)
Take in the views on Bealey Spur Track
The Bearly Spur Track is one hike those making their road trip an overnight adventure should not miss. This 6-kilometer (each way) hiking trail takes you high above the river valley to the Bealey Hut. Although the trail has an elevation gain of over 600 meters it is gradual and not overly difficult. You can stay in the Bealey Hut on a first-come, first-serve basis and it’s completely free. With that said, it’s an old hut so there are only very basic facilities.
All up the hike takes around 4 to 5 hours and the views are magnificent!
See the famous Devils Punchbowl
If you want to visit the most ferocious waterfall in New Zealand then look no further than the Devils Punchbowl. This 131-meter tall waterfall is huge!
The waterfall is accessed via the Devil’s Punchbowl Walking Track and is short and sweet with a small elevation gain that takes around 20 minutes each way. Once there, you’ll be amazed at the falls and might even get a little wet. Regardless, this waterfall is super cool and one of the best things to do on the South Island.
One thing I love about this activity on Arthur’s Pass is that it’s perfect for almost any weather. In fact, Arthur’s Pass is often cloudy but that doesn’t take away from this experience. And the rain? Well, that makes it even better! This is easily one of the best hikes on the South Island.
Where to stay in Arthur’s Pass
Accommodation on Arthur’s Pass is very limited, however, there are a couple of places to stay that make this road trip an epic overnight adventure. The most budget-friendly option is the Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel. This cute motel is located right in Arthur’s Pass Village and comes with basic facilities at very affordable prices. They even have family Chalets!
Another place located near the village is The Nook. This is an Airbnb-style apartment that has fantastic reviews. There is only one room here though so you do need to book well in advance!
For the more luxurious travels consider staying at The Bealey Hotel. It’s around 10 kilometers from Arthur’s Pass Village but sits on the edge of the Waimakariri River. The rooms here are pretty nice and the views are spectacular!
There are also a few DOC campsites along Arthur’s Pass. I mentioned above about Lake Pearson but there is also, Avalanche Creek Shelter (best located), Hawdon Shelter Campsite, Klondyke Corner Campsite, and Mistletoe Flats Campsite. Check these out for cheap places to stay in a tent, campervan, or motorhome.
Need more info: Check out more epic things to do on Arthur’s Pass.
After a long but adventurous drive over Arthur’s Pass, you’ll arrive in Hokitika – your first stop on the West Coast! Hokitika is a small town with lots to offer visitors.
This is a great place to spend a night if you want to break up your journey and check out the awesome things to do in Hokitika such as Dorothy Falls, Glow Worm Dell, Hokitika Beach, and the National Kiwi Center. You can also do Jade carving in Hokitika!
For food, head to Hokitika Sandwich Company for lunch or Stella Cafe Hokitika for the best coffee in town! Take your food down to the beach and get a photo with the famous Hokitika sign. It’s a staple for visitors!
I think you’ll be surprised at how nice Hokitika is and enjoy your visit/stay a lot!
Where to stay in Hokitika
Hokitika is only a small town but it’s a very popular place to visit on the South Island so there are plenty of great places to stay. For budget travelers, you can’t beat the Mountain Jade Backpackers. This hostel/hotel has dorm beds, budget doubles, and even cheap studio apartments. It’s located in the heart of the city and is my go-to when I need to save money for fuel (gas!)
If you don’t mind spending a tad more you can stay at the Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation. Although located a little out of town, you are right on the beach with breathtaking ocean views. In summer, this is a very popular choice!
Now there aren’t really any luxury stays in Hokitika (when compared to places such as Queenstown), however, the Beachfront Hotel Hokitika is pretty close. This stunning hotel is only slightly more expensive than the options above but wow, is it beautiful! It’s certainly a luxurious stay with ocean views, stunning rooms, a bar, and room service.
7. Hokitika Gorge
New Zealand’s rivers on the South Island are stunning. They’re often glacier-fed and rock flour in the glacier melt gives the rivers a bright blue color – especially on a sunny day! A great example of this is the powerful Hokitika River that runs through Hokitika Gorge.
On any road trip on the West Coast, you simply must make a stop here and enjoy the short 2-kilometer walk to the gorge and its viewpoints. There’s not much to do there except stare at the powerful river and take photos, but it’s so beautiful it just had to make this road trip itinerary!
Hokitika Gorge is just outside of Hokitika so it’s super convenient to visit!
8. West Coast Treetop Walk
Ever wanted to walk among giants? Well on the west coast of the South Island you can visit the West Coast Treetop Walk and take a stroll 20 meters above the forest floor. This cool experience lets you explore the landscape from a different perspective.
Located only 15 minutes from Hokitika, the West Coast Treetop Walk costs $32 NZD per person (for adults), and all up there is 450 meters of boardwalk to explore. Along the walk, there is also a tall viewing platform that must extend around another 20 meters higher. In total, it takes around 30 to 40 minutes to enjoy the walk, however, if you love the view you can stay longer.
Stay nearby: If you’re looking to take a break from your road trip, consider staying near the treetop walk. The Lake Mahinapua DOC Campground is a great place for those camping or in a campervan/motorhome. It’s a beautiful location right on the shores of Lake Mahinapua. If you need a hotel the Mahinapua Retreat B&B and the Mirror Creek Holiday Cottage are good options nearby.
9. Lake Lanthe
Around 30 minutes south of the West Coast Treetop Walk on the road between Greymouth and Franz Josef is the beautiful Lake Lanthe. On a clear day, the reflections here are absolutely stunning and the lake makes for a perfect place to stop for a bite to eat and even a toilet break.
The Lake Lanthe Matahi Campsite is also located here and a popular place to stay for those on a road trip. At only $8 a night (for adults) it’s really cheap and peaceful.
10. Pakihi Walk Lookout
As you continue south past Lake Wahapo you’ll come to Forks-Okarito Road. A short detour down here brings you to the Pakihi Walk Lookout. This road actually leads to Ōkārito, the next stop on this road trip itinerary from Christchurch to Franz Josef.
The Pakihi Walk is a short 1-kilometer return trail that leads to a magnificent viewpoint overlooking the stunning forest and even the Southern Alps. In fact, you can actually spot Mt Cook from here! This short trail is well worth a stop even for just 20 minutes. Although rather unknown, it’s one of those hidden gems in New Zealand.
Ōkārito is a small coastal village that sits on the shores of Ōkārito Lagoon. This is not a common stop on most visitor’s road trip itineraries, however, that’s such a shame. Around 30 residents call this small town “home”, and for visitors, it’s a unique chance to explore a lesser-known area on the famous West Coast.
One of the most popular things to do in Ōkārito includes kayaking on the lagoon. Because it’s sheltered from the ocean, the waters are calm and easy to paddle. On a short trip, you can view wildlife including wading birds, and just admire the views.
Another popular activity is the Okarito Trig Walk. This 4.8-kilometer return track is relatively easy and leads to a breathtaking view of the West Coast. For a short hike stop at Ōkārito Wetland Walk and turn around. This trail is only a 1-kilometer return. For a longer hike, Three Mile Pack Track is a 10-kilometer return trail. All trails begin at the same location and follow the same path. You can read about all the trails in Ōkārito here.
Stay in Ōkārito
If you love getting well off the beaten path then a night in Ōkārito is a real treat. The Code Time Lodge is one of the only hotels in the town and it comes highly reviewed. For campervans/motorhomes and those with tents, the Okarito Camp Ground is the place to stay.
12. Lake Mapourika Recreational Area
Just a 5-minute drive from Franz Josef via the SH6 lies the largest lake on the West Coast. Lake Mapourika is a popular spot for fishing, bird watching, and kayaking. In fact, it’s a water lovers’ paradise and a guided kayak tour across the Lake is a very popular activity!
The abundant trout and salmon fishing here attracts many locals and tourists daily because the fish are huge. I mean, most trout caught in Lake Mapourika tend to be between 3 – 5 pounds, and the salmon are even bigger! The annual fishing competition (held in February) has proven very popular over the years too. If you love to fish then book this 3-hour fishing tour and see if you can catch a record breaker!
If you don’t fancy getting in the water you can book a 2-hour scenic cruise around the Lake. There’s abundant birdlife so keep an eye out and you may spot birds like the rare crested grebe, white-throated shag, white-faced heron, and kingfisher to name only a few.
13. Franz Josef
At the end of your road trip from Christchurch is the small but lively town of Franz Josef. Franz Josef is only a small town but it’s a fun place that makes for the perfect place to spend a night or two.
From Franz Josef, there are lots of different things to do. You can partake in cycling, beautiful walks, and even action-packed adventures like rafting or skydiving. If you’re after something a little more unique then why not take a guided tour to the White heron colony at Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve. Or, visit Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary to see the Rowi – the world’s rarest kiwi, there’s only 600 of these left in existence in the country.
Another activity I love in Franz Josef is a visit to the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools. These beautiful hot pools are so relaxing especially after a long drive or hiking adventure. There are three public pools that are all at different temperatures as well as private pools.
After all that driving and exploring you’re sure to be hungry so grab some food in the highly recommended Alice May or Monsoon restaurants both on Cron Street in the town. If you love craft beer and pub food go to Snakebite Brewery, it’s my favorite place to go for a hearty meal and delicious beer.
Related read: To keep busy in Franz Josef, read my blog about the best things to do and see in Franz Josef!
Where to Stay in Franz Josef
The small town of Franz Josef is a really beautiful place to stay. Despite being small, there are lots of lively restaurants, bars and other attractions in town along with a huge range of accommodation to choose from.
For budget travelers, Glow Worm Accommodation is a great choice. Its located within walking distance of everything and offers dorm and private rooms at really affordable prices. I actually stayed here on my first ever trip down the west coast and had a social night with other travelers.
For those with a slightly larger budget, the Aspen Court Franz Josef is a good mid-range option with outstanding reviews. The hotel is located on the outskirts of town but is only a short walk from the best restaurants and bars. They also have apartments and studios so its perfect for those who like to prepare their own meals or those traveling in a group/family.
If you’re a luxury traveler the Te Waonui Forest Retreat is pure happiness. The entire retreat is surrounded by lush forest and from your balcony, you’ll be able to hear the sound of nature. Rooms are also large and well decorated. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the beautiful west coast – if you can afford the hefty price tag that is!
There are also a few great holiday home rentals and Airbnbs to choose from in Franz Josef town.
Related Read: Another epic road trip is the journey from Christchurch to Dunedin – read all about it!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to book a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
As you can see the road trip from Christchurch to Franz Josef is one epic adventure with lots of beautiful stops and attractions. Without a doubt, I’m sure you’ll find many more places to stop and take in the views of Arthur’s Pass on this trip.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope this guide has helped plan your upcoming road trip. If you found this guide helpful, be sure to browse around some more! I have so many road trip blogs as well as guides about Queenstown, Wanaka, and so much more!