A road trip from Queenstown to Christchurch is a popular road trip route for most travelers in New Zealand. At just under 500 kilometers (311 miles) it will take most drivers between 6 and 7 hours without stopping. With that said, this is one road trip you’ll want to take your time doing. I recommend stopping to spend the night (or two) in a few of the cute mountain towns along the way – there is just so much to see!
In fact, after reading this guide you certainly won’t want to rush this road trip nor will you be able to. You see, many of the most amazing places to visit and explore in NZ are located between Queenstown and Christchurch! It’s no wonder this road trip is one of the best things to do in Queenstown.
To help you plan your trip, in this blog I’ll list all the best stops between Queenstown and Christchurch, a massive 15 in total! With stops at the Gatorade-blue waters of Lake Pukaki, a chance to see the Southern Lights at Lake Tekapo, and the highest mountain in New Zealand (mount cook), there are some seriously epic stops on the road between Queenstown and Christchurch that you aren’t going to want to miss!
About the Drive from Queenstown to Christchurch
The scenic drive from Queenstown to Christchurch is a 493.5 kilometer-long trip (306.6 miles) that without stopping takes around 6 hours. With that said, this journey should take you much longer if you truly want to explore the area. In my opinion, between 5 to 7 days is the perfect amount of to stop along the way and visit some of the best attractions. For example, spending two nights in Wanaka, two nights in Mount Cook, and one night in Lake Tekapo is a great itinerary that gives you six days to explore.
There are actually two different routes you can drive to get from Queenstown to Christchurch. One goes through the town of Cromwell, and the other through Wanaka. As you may already know, Wanaka is filled with amazing things to do, and as such, this guide will show you the more scenic route that travels from Queenstown to Wanaka and then onto Christchurch. If you are simply trying to get the Christchurch as quickly as possible you can choose the other route. Just be aware that you will miss Wanaka.
On the road trip from Queenstown to Christchurch be sure to drive to the conditions. If you are visiting Queenstown in winter, then be aware that parts of the single-lane highway are prone to icy conditions that can make driving hazardous. This is especially true on Lindis Pass which is the highest part of the journey. If you’re visiting Queenstown in the summer, traffic on the windy roads can be dangerous and care needs to be taken especially when driving past attractions that often take people’s attention away from the road.
Queenstown to Christchurch FAQs
Related read: If you want a slightly shorter road trip option, you can instead simply drive from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo. This road trip is about half as long as the journey to Christchurch and also includes some really special places to check out along the way.
15 Best Stops Between Queenstown and Christchurch
Easily one of my favorite little towns on the South Island, Arrowtown is quaint and charming. It’s located a 20-minute drive from Queenstown and is a perfect first stop on your road trip to Christchurch. Steeped in history, the town dates back to the early 1800s when it was a booming gold mining town. The historic streets and restored cottages look like a movie set.
If you’re after some good food then The Chop Shop on Arrow Lane and Terra Mia on Buckingham Street are great options. Head to Patagonia on Ramshaw Lane or Good Day Cafe on Buckingham Street for your coffee fix. If you plan on staying the night (which I highly recommended) find The Blue Door for a local treat and drinks by the fire with live music.
If you have more time then try your hand at gold panning on Dudley Street. Afterward, take a walk through the Historic Chinese Settlement for a glimpse at how life was back in the gold mining boom of centuries ago. You can even go on a short hike on the Tobins Track for amazing views. Of course, if you have more time there are lots of other great things to do in Arrowtown.
2. Lake Hayes
On route to the Crown Range, you will come across Lake Hayes – a large Lake with a loop walking track popular with walkers and cyclists. Lake Hayes is especially beautiful at sunset when the last light of the day creates stunning reflections on the lake. If you want to stretch your legs, walk the 8km Lake Hayes Loop Track and enjoy views from every angle. Alternatively, you can also cycle this trail as it’s one of the best bike trails in the Queenstown area.
This track is especially busy on weekends, and you will need to watch out for other walkers, dogs, cyclists, and larger groups walking the track. Lake Hayes is also a great spot for a swim, as it’s not as cold as Lake Wakatipu. Pay attention to any signage around the lake warning of high bacteria levels – which tends to occur a few times a year at which point swimming isn’t recommended.
After, if you fancy a drink, head to Akarua Wines just down the road for a tasting and maybe even lunch – just make sure you have a designated driver!
3. Crown Range
Crown Range Road is the most popular driving route between Queenstown and Wanaka. It’s full of steep hills, twists, and turns – this drive is not for the faint-hearted. I recommend experienced drivers only on this road and even some motorhome companies ban their cars from driving on it. Also worth noting is to have snow chains in your trunk as a precaution during the winter months. This highway is in fact the highest main road in all of New Zealand!
There are several places I recommend stopping at on the Crown Range Road – the first is called Crown Range Scenic Lookout which offers a great vantage point over the Remarkables Mountain Range and the Kawarau River. You do need to walk to this viewpoint. So, park up at the small parking lot on the side of the road and walk the narrow steep hill to the viewpoint. Other viewpoints on the road include Arrow Junction Lookout and Crown Range Summit.
Next, stop off at the Cardrona Hotel – a historic bar and restaurant dating as far back as 1863. It is said to be the most photographed building in all of New Zealand, so be sure to take a photo outside. The food on offer in the restaurant is award-winning and they serve some of the best craft beer in the Queenstown area, so try to stop here for lunch if your schedule allows.
Just a short drive from the hotel is the very unique and hilarious – Bradrona. A fun attraction, which is to put simply a collection of bras hanging from a fence. This tradition said to have been started by backpackers in late 1998 and continues to this day. Today over 800 bra’s that now call Bradrona home.
At the end of Crown Range Road is the gorgeous tourist-haven town of Wanaka. There are lots of awesome things to do in Wanaka so I recommend spending the night or two here to break up your journey from Queenstown to Christchurch. Some of the main highlights in Wanaka include the #thatwanakatree, Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring National Park, and the very famous Roy’s Peak Track.
Roy’s Peak is one of the hardest day hikes in the area but it’s also one of the most rewarding. On the trail, you’ll hike 8 kilometers (5 miles) and almost 1,500 meters (4,920 ft) to reach the peak which towers over Lake Wanaka. Hiking the entire trail up and back with breaks and to enjoy the views takes around 6 to 7 hours depending on your fitness level. And yes, you’ll be able to visit the famous photo spot around 30 minutes from the summit to get that breathtaking shot!
Afterward, you’ll likely have quite the appetite so head into town and visit my favorite place to grab a bite to eat at the food trucks located on Brownston Street for a casual meal. If you want to treat yourself then look no further than Ode on Post Office Lane – a memorable dining experience for sure.
Other fun activities in the Wanaka include Puzzling World – a family-friendly world of fun, kayaking or paddle-boarding on the lake, the Wanaka Lavender Farm, and enjoying a happy hour cruise on the lake. For free, why not try the very popular sport of disc golf which can be played at Lismore Park or Eely Point. And for couples, I highly recommend visiting Rippon Winery a short drive from the center of town for stunning views and a romantic wine-tasting experience.
Stay Overnight in Wanaka
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Wanaka the Ramada Resort is a great luxury option. For budget travelers, you can’t miss Hawea Hotel. Altnertaviely, I have often stayed at Manuka Crescent Hotel and find it to be a good middle-ground in terms of comfort and price.
Airbnb or bach holiday home rentals are also popular in Wanaka with lots of private houses to choose from! I love renting my own apartment or house when traveling to have more space and access to my own private kitchen!
Read my blog about where to stay in Wanaka for detailed info on the best areas and hotels!
5. Lindis Pass
Another stunning and unique drive is along the famous Lindis Pass which lies between Wanaka and Omarama. It’s a long road at 63 kilometers (39 miles) but it passes through epic scenery like the Lindis and Ahuriri River Valleys. Along the way, you’ll enjoy mountain views, tussock grass, and in winter, a light dust of snow.
For the best viewpoint on this road, stop at the Lindis Pass Lookout. This is located at the highest point on the Lindis Pass and is signposted on the road simply as ‘The Lookout’. There’s a small car park here that leads to two small viewpoints over the valley, the Lindis Conservation Area, and Longslip Mountain. However, don’t stop there.
At the viewpoint on your left (facing away from the road), you can actually climb up the hill to get an even better view. It only takes 20 minutes but as you can see from the photo above, it’s so worth it!
Heavy snow and ice are common on the Lindis Pass in the winter, so be sure to have your snow chains on-hand in case you need to use them. I have driven Lindis Pass during snowfall and it is scary!
6. Omarama Hot Tubs
Likely my favorite stop on the road from Queenstown to Christchurch is the Omarama Hot Tubs. Treat yourself to a soak in mountain waters in your own personal hot tub. With stunning views of the Omarama landscape, it’s the perfect way to break up a long drive.
Warm-up first in the sauna before venturing out to your private cedar hot tub. If you fancy an extra treat why not indulge in a massage – available in their private treatment rooms. Oh boy, I want to transport myself to the hot tubs right now!
A soak at the Omarama Hot Tubs lasts 90 minutes and starts from $49 based per person on two people sharing. However, even large groups of 8 can enjoy this activity and the prices get cheaper per person the more who join you! For an extra special treat, stay the night in Omarama on your road trip to Christchurch and soak in the tubs at night. You’ll be able to see the stars in a dark sky reserve over the Southern Alps!
Stay Overnight in Omarama
If you want to visit the hot tubs without being rushed, consider spending one night in Omarama. Although somewhat limited in terms of accommodation, Omarama TOP 10 Holiday Park is a great option with various rooms and apartments available as well as campsites.
7. Omarama Clay Cliffs
I think it’s fair to say the road from Queenstown to Christchurch is filled with unique stops, and the Omarama Clay Cliffs may just be the most unique of them all. An otherworldly collection of tall pinnacles each separated by a narrow ravine. When I first laid eyes on the Clay Cliffs I exclaimed that they looked like a scene from Mars.
Thankfully they’re not, which means you can visit them for yourself without joining Elon Musk on a one-way trip to the actual planet mars. The Clay Cliffs are just a 10-minute drive from the town of Omarama on Henburn Road (turn left onto Qualburn Road off the State Highway 8 then left onto Henburn). Reaching them is easy but you will have to drive a gravel road. Any vehicle can manage though if you just take it slow.
The Clay Cliffs were formed over a million years ago by gushing glacier waters which eroded the clay into what you see today. There is a small trail that leads around the cliffs and you can also safely venture into them for a closer look. It only takes around 45 minutes to explore the cliffs.
Important to note is these cliffs are located on private land, so a $5 vehicle admission fee is to be paid at the donation box at the gate. It’s used to maintain the gravel road to the cliffs and must be paid in the correct change at the gate.
8. High Country Salmon
Located off State Highway 8, just South of Twizel is High Country Salmon – a salmon farm, cafe, and shop all in one convenient location. 100% of the salmon from here is sold in New Zealand with half of it going to the on-site shop and floating cafe and the other half to local restaurants and stores. That’s pretty impressive!
The floating cafe serves up everything from sushi to salmon breakfasts from 9 am to 11 am and an immense lunch menu from 11 am until 4 pm. For the young kids (or big kids) you can throw fish feed pellets into the salmon pen for free and watch them go crazy! If you want to buy fresh salmon but want the thrill of catching it yourself they actually offer a fishing experience for only $15. Once you catch the fish you’ll pay $30 per kilo for it and they’ll even gut and clean it for you.
The small town of Twizel is a popular stop on the road from Queenstown to Christchurch. You may want to fuel up here or stop off for some food. My recommendation for food in Twizel includes Poppies Cafe on Benmore Place for their awesome Venison Pie or head to Fishtail Restaurant for some yummy Indian food.
You may find yourself thinking the scenery surrounding Twizel is familiar. That is because a few scenes from the Lord of the Rings movie franchise were filmed here. One of the most popular scenes, the Battle Of Pelennor Fields scene in The Return Of The King, was filmed at nearby Ben Ohau Station. Unfortunately, it’s on private land and can only be visited on a tour booked in Twizel.
Twizel is actually a really nice place to spend the night especially if the nearby towns of Mount Cook Village and Lake Tekapo are fully book (which happens a lot in the summer months!) A lot of people don’t know this but it’s also a lot closer to Mount Cook National Park than Lake Tekapo. If you do stay you’ll be able to explore the area even better. My favorite thing to do is to head to Ruataniwha Lake to watch the sunset. On a calm day, you get amazing reflections and the sky turns into cotton candy!
Stay Overnight in Twizel
Twizel is a place many people choose to spend the night. In fact, if accommodation in Mount Cook National Park is fully booked, Twizel is your next closest option.
For a luxury stay, check out the Mountain Chalets Motel. For something a little cheaper, 34 Mackenzie Apartments are perfect! There are also plenty of Airbnbs and holiday home rentals to choose from in Twizel.
10. Lake Pukaki
You may recognize Lake Pukaki from your Instagram feed – the bright blue lake with Mount Cook as a backdrop. Honestly, if you’re a photography fan you must stop here! But even if you’re not, why wouldn’t you want to enjoy this view?!
There are lots of different places you can pull over to enjoy the view with a few unmarked spots on the road into Mount Cook National Park. However, one place that’s perfect for a short walk and picnic is located at the end of the lake. Here at this picnic and freedom camping spot, you can enjoy the Lake Pukaki Shoreline Walk and enjoy breathtaking views of the lake and Mount Cook.
You will of course get plenty more views of Lake Pukaki in Mount Cook National Park which is the nest stop on this road trip from Queenstown to Christchurch!
11. Mount Cook
Easily the most bucket-list-worthy stop between Queenstown and Christchurch, the majestic Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand standing tall at a whopping 3,724 meters.
A popular thing to do among travelers to Mount Cook is to snap a photo on the road! Hear me out – about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Mount Cook Village, and just before the airport is one of the most stunning photo opportunities in Mount Cook. Pull your car safely off the road and stand in the middle of the road, behind you the winding road, and Mount Cook makes for an epic backdrop. It’s sure to make your friends at home jealous. Of course, it goes without saying to watch out for oncoming cars when taking your photo here.
In the village of Mount Cook, you may wish to walk the popular Hooker Valley Track. It’s easy and flat and at just a 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) round-trip it won’t take too much time from your day. The track provides gorgeous views of Mueller Lake, Mount Sefton, and Mueller Glacier, and is considered one of the best hikes on the South Island. But if that sounds too long, there are also some much shorter walks in Mount Cook too including the Bowen Bush Walk, Glencoe Walk, and Governors Bush Walk.
Why not spend the night at Mount Cook so that you can experience some of the awesome activities on offer – like a helicopter tour or kayaking on Tasman or Mueller Lake. There are not many hotels in Mount Cook Village so you need to book in advance. A few favorites of mine are the luxurious Hermitage Hotel the Mount Cook Alpine Lodge and budget-friendly YHA Hostel.
12. Lake Tekapo
Visiting Lake Tekapo is a must on any road trip around the South Island and on your way to Christchurch you’ll conveniently drive right past. One of the most popular activities in Lake Tekapo is to visit the tiny but stunning Church of the Good Shepherd. This Church is especially popular with photographers as the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps and the milky blue lake.
Did you know – Lake Tekapo is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve meaning it’s one of the best places in the world to go stargazing. You can stargaze from a hot tub here at Tekapo Springs – what a way to enjoy the night sky all lit up with stars! You may be lucky enough to spot the Southern Lights too (the Southern hemisphere’s equivalent of the Northern Lights). If you want to get an even better view of the stars then you should definitely join a stargazing tour where you’ll head to Mount John Observatory to see them through a high-powered telescope.
Other activities in Lake Tekapo include going jet boating on the lake, wandering the lupin fields (colorful flowers) between October and January, and going for a coffee in town. There’s also an array of restaurants in Lake Tekapo including Our Dog Friday on Motuariki Lane for excellent burgers.
Staying Overnight in Lake Tekapo
Staying a night or two in Lake Tekapo is highly recommended. This place is just too beautiful to simply pass by.
One place I always love to stay is the YHA Lake Tekapo, it’s perfect for budget travelers and the location is right in town. If you have a higher budget then consider staying at the Mantra Lake Tekapo. It has a pool and the reviews speak for themselves.
There are also a huge range of Airbnbs in Lake Tekapo that range in price, size, and comfort level. Personally, if you’re traveling in a large group this is what I’d do!
13. Mt Hutt
Mt Hutt was repeatedly voted New Zealand’s best ski resort from 2015-2019. Their slogan goes “you’ve not skied in New Zealand until you’ve skied Hutt”.
Wide-open terrain, long runs, high snowfall, and gorgeous views over the Canterbury Plains, skiing at Mt Hutt is definitely something to be added to every adventurous traveler’s itinerary. With 364 hectares of terrain, the runs on Mt Hutt are most suitable for intermediate or advanced skiers. A 686-meter vertical drop means it’s also a great mountain for off-piste skiing.
There are 5 terrain parks here making Mt Hutt ideal for freestyle ski enthusiasts and snowboarders. Featuring lots of jumps suitable for all skill levels as well as medium, large, and extra-large rails – the parks here are a great place to learn some new skills in the snow. The ski season here runs from early June to mid-October and the closest town to Mt Hutt Ski Resort is Methven.
If you are traveling from Queenstown to Christchurch in the summer then this is one destination you’ll likely skip. Not to worry though, our next destination is perfect in the summer months!
Note: Mt Hutt is run by the same company as The Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski fields in Queenstown. So if you’re skiing in Queenstown, then you can get a pass that’ll also allow you to ski at Mt Hutt for a discounted price!
14. Rakaia Gorge
One of our last stops on this epic road trip is the stunning blue waters of the Rakaia River and Gorge. This majestic landscape will have you in awe and is a great place to stretch your legs and enjoy the sunshine. At Rakaia Gorge, you can walk the Rakaia Gorge Walkway along a 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) return walking track that traverses the edge of the gorge. It should take most walkers 3- 4 hours to complete.
The walkway passes through native forest, then climbs the historic ferryman’s track. From here, continue along one of several glacial and river-carved terraces to a fantastic lookout point. The track then leads downhill to a gully to the site of the former Snowdon coal mines. Here you will spot several coal mine tunnels and even the remains of mining extraction equipment. There’s another lovely lookout point about a 45-minute walk from here. Further along, you may also choose to go slightly off the track and down to the river.
Swimming at the river beneath the top bridges on the Rakaia Gorge is a popular activity among locals, but, beware the water is very cold.
Important information – be careful of wasps here from January to March. My advice is to wear light colored clothing and carry antihistamines.
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and the second-largest city in New Zealand (second to Auckland). It’s easily one of the best places to visit on the South Island!
You may be most familiar with Christchurch from the devastating earthquake that happened here in 2011. An interesting and thought-provoking activity in Christchurch is to visit the many sites that show the city’s dramatic rebuild since the earthquake. Some good places to see examples of the rebuild are Rolleston Avenue, Canterbury Museum and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Bridge of Remembrance.
There’s a host of family-friendly activities in Christchurch. My favorite is the International Antarctic Center located next to the airport. It’s a great way to spend a few hours and is sure to keep the whole family entertained. Here, there’s an Antarctic storm room, an immersive 4D cinema room, and the opportunity to learn more about the first expeditions to Antarctica.
The Christchurch Gondola is also a fun way to see Christchurch from high up. Offering 360-degree views of the city, the Southern Alps, as well as the Pacific Ocean. The gondola to the summit is 1000 meters and at the top, there are various walking tracks as well as a gift shop, cafe, and the Time Tunnel ride where you can learn all about the history of Christchurch.
As you can imagine, in a large city like Christchurch there are lots of excellent restaurants suitable for all tastebuds. My personal favorites include Earl a laidback eatery on Lichfield Street and the very popular Twenty Seven Steps on New Regent Street.
Where to Stay in Christchurch
Christchurch, although not a large city by international standards is for New Zealand. As with any large city, picking the right place to stay for you is really important. The two main choices are either out by the airport for a convenient trip back home or in the heart of the city where all the action happens.
One of the best places out by the airport is the Jucy Snooze Christchurch. It’s actually located within walking distance of the airport! Another cool hotel close by is the Commodore Airport Hotel Christchurch. Although a short drive away they offer a free shuttle and have amazing reviews.
In the city center, the Crown Plaza Christchurch is perfect for those wanting a typical luxury stay. It’s a large hotel with amazing views of the city. For budget travelers, the social but comfortable YHA Hostel is a good option. Although cheap, it’s located in the heart of the city and only a couple of minutes walk from Hagley Park.
Additionally, there are plenty of Airbnbs and holiday homes to rent for a few nights in Christchurch. You can’t pass up the opportunity to stay in a luxury 3-bedroom home (like this one) right near the beach with incredible views!
Essential Information to Know Before You Go
- This route is 493 km and should take approximately 6 hours. As it’s such a long drive I highly recommend turning this drive into a 3 to 7 day trip. You can choose to spend the night at Wanaka, Omarama, Twizel, Lake Tekapo, or Mount Cook.
- Bring your snow chains during the winter months as the Crown Range and Lindis Pass can get very snowy and icy
- Pack your camera – this drive is a photographer’s dream! My favorite photo stops are Arrowtown, the Omarama Clay Cliffs, Lake Pukaki, the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo, and the road to Mount Cook.
- Be careful not to run out of fuel. Gas Stations on this road can be found at Wanaka, Omarama, Twizel, and Lake Tekapo.
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 in 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!
A road trip from Queenstown to Christchurch is likely a focal part of almost every New Zealand South Island itinerary. I think you’ll agree there are so many unique stops on the road from Queenstown to Christchurch. So, whether you stop at just a few or all of the above stops, it’s certain to be a drive to remember.
Thanks so much for reading My Queenstown Diary! I really hope you loved this blog post! Of course, if you did then browse around some more for lots of great articles on Queenstown and New Zealand!