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15 Best Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Christchurch

15 Best Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Christchurch

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There’s no doubt in my mind that Queenstown and Christchurch are two of the most iconic destinations on the South Island. While I’m (more than) a little bit biased towards my beautiful hometown of Queenstown, I love spending time exploring all the incredible things to do in Christchurch.

From seeing with your own eyes the impact of the devastating 2011 earthquake, to wandering the beautiful Gloucester Street, you’ll quickly understand why so many people choose to visit Christchurch every year.

So whether you’re in Queenstown and are looking for your next adventure, or are simply in the planning phase of your New Zealand holiday, have I got a treat for you!

One of THE most incredible road trips on the South Island is the drive between Queenstown and Christchurch. At just under 500 kilometers (311 miles) it’s quite a journey, taking most drivers between 6 and 7 hours without stopping.

But if you really want to enjoy this road trip to the fullest, then stopping at the iconic spots along the way is an absolute must. I highly recommend renting a car in Queenstown and then 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, I’m sure you won’t want to rush this road trip. This guide includes 15 of the very best stops on the road between Queenstown and Christchurch. So let’s get started!

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! This discount is only valid for bookings made before June 30, 2024, with travel dates before Dec 21, 2204. You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

About the Drive from Queenstown to Christchurch

The scenic drive from Queenstown to Christchurch is a whopping 493.5 kilometer-long trip (306.6 miles), filled to the brim with iconic spots like the Gatorade-blue waters of Lake Pukaki, the highest mountain in New Zealand (Mount Cook), and much, much more.

In my opinion, 5 to 7 days is the perfect amount of time 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 is a little shorter at 481 kilometers (299 miles), and the other is a little longer and goes 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 to Christchurch as quickly as possible, you can choose the route through Cromwell. Just be aware that you will miss out on visiting Wanaka.

One thing I want to mention before we get started is about safety on this trip! 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.

That said, as long as you keep an eye out and drive to conditions, I’m sure you’ll have an incredible time on this road trip. Well, I’ve kept you waiting long enough, let’s take a look at those stops I’ve been hyping you up about!

Related read: On a budget? Check out our guide to the best free things to do in Wanaka including hiking the famous Roy’s Peak!

Queenstown to Christchurch FAQs

Bailey looks over at Mount Cook National Park from Lake Pukaki Viewpoint
What a beautiful country!

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

1. Arrowtown

Buckingham Street in Arrowtown during summer in New Zealand
Buckingham Street in Arrowtown during summer in New Zealand
Bailey smiles at the camera in Arrowtown, New Zealand
Explore this cute gold-mining town!

Easily one of my favorite little towns on the South Island, Arrowtown is quaint and super 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 just like a movie set!

If you’re after some good food, then Terra Mia on Buckingham Street (amazing Italian!) would be my top pick. Fancy something a little lighter? Head on over to Patagonia on Ramshaw Lane to enjoy some amazing coffee and cooked breakfasts!).

I’d also highly recommend spending some time exploring all the great things to do in Arrowtown. No trip to Arrowtown would be complete without trying your hand at gold panning on Dudley Street (great for kids!).

Afterward, you can 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. And really, that’s just the start of the list of fun activities here!

I can’t help but also recommend this half-day ride and wine bike tour from Arrowtown, which is such a great way to explore the gorgeous local scenery and try some of the region’s famous wines! This is precisely why I consider it one of the best wine tours in the Gibbston Valley.

As it’s self-guided, you can explore at your own pace, ending your scenic tour at the famous Gibbston Valley Winery. This is one of my favorite places to go when visiting the Gibbston Valley wine region!

With bike rental included, as well as wine tasting, I think this is a pretty good deal at just $99 NZD per person. The entire experience, including riding, sightseeing, and wine tasting, lasts around 4 hours. So why not start off your road trip from Queenstown right with a fun experience like this one! You can check availability and book this tour online here.

There are lots of great accommodation options in Arrowtown, so why not take it easy and spend the night here?

2. Lake Hayes

Beautiful reflections of the clouds at Lake Hayes
If you get some clouds they make for beautiful reflections!

En route to the Crown Range, you will come across Lake Hayes – a large and gorgeous lake with a loop walking track that’s super popular with walkers and cyclists! One of my absolute favorite times of day to visit Lake Hayes is during sunset, when the last light of the day creates the most unreal reflections on the lake.

If you fancy getting out and stretching your legs, why not walk the Lake Hayes Loop Track and enjoy views of the lake from every angle! It’s around 8 km (5 mi) long, and takes around 2 to 3 hours to walk the entire thing. That said, you can easily walk just a part of it and then make your way back.

Hopping on a bike more your type of thing? 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 though – 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. This has to be one of my all-time favorite wineries in the area, so don’t forget to grab a bottle or two on the way out. Just make sure you have a designated driver if you’re planning on some tastings! Akarua Winery is open Monday to Friday from 10:30 am to 4 pm.

3. Crown Range

Views of the Wakatipu Valley from Crown Range Road Scenic Lookout
Views of the Wakatipu Valley from Crown Range Road Scenic Lookout
Bailey smiles at the camera at Crown Range Road Scenic Lookout
This was the first ever view I got of Queenstown when I first arrived!

Crown Range Road is the most popular driving route between Queenstown and Wanaka. It’s full of steep hills, twists, and turns, making it one of the more challenging sections of this drive! I recommend experienced drivers only on this road, and even some motorhome companies ban their cars from driving on it.

It’s also worth noting that you should have snow chains in your trunk as a precaution during the winter months. This highway is the highest main road in all of New Zealand, so as you can imagine, the snow/ice builds up here!

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 a short way to this viewpoint – you’ll park up at the small parking lot on the side of the road and walk the narrow and relatively steep hill to the viewpoint. That said, the short walk is totally gorgeous, just look at those photos above! Other great viewpoints on the road include Arrow Junction Lookout and Crown Range Summit, so definitely check those out too if you have the time.

Bailey enjoys a glass of wine at the Cardrona Hotel
The beer garden at the Cardrona Hotel!
Ice cold beer at the Cardrona Hotel
Oh how I love you summer!

Next, a stop off at the Cardrona Hotel is an absolute must. This historic bar and restaurant dates back as far back as 1863, but the food served at the restaurant here is fresh and super tasty. The hotel is actually said to be the most photographed building in all of New Zealand, so don’t miss out on a chance to take a few photos.

Now, back to the food! With an award-winning restaurant that also serves some of the best craft beer in the Queenstown area, you’re in for a real treat here. In fact, I always recommend stopping here for lunch – they also have a huge outdoor seating area out the back, perfect for a day in the sun.

Just a short drive from the hotel is the very unique and hilarious – Bradrona. A fun and free attraction, to put simply Bradrona it’s a colorful collection of bras hanging from a fence! This tradition is said to have been started by backpackers in late 1998 and continues to this day. Today, there are over 800 bras that now call Bradrona home. I just wonder who had the job of counting them all!

4. Wanaka

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary stands by the Wanaka Tree
At the Wanaka Tree!

At the end of Crown Range Road is the gorgeous tourist-haven town of Wanaka. There are tons 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 my favorite highlights in Wanaka include the #thatwanakatree, Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring National Park, and the very famous Roy’s Peak Track. Seriously, I could go on all day about the things to do here, so don’t forget to check out my blog linked above to learn more!

That said, I can’t resist the chance to tell you a little about these awesome spots now. The Roy’s Peak Track is one of the hardest day hikes in the area, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. I’d say this is one for the intermediate and advanced hikers out there, but if you only want to walk part of it, that’s totally fine too!

For the full trail, you’ll hike 8 kilometers (5 miles) and almost 1,500 meters (4,920 ft) in elevation gain to reach the peak which towers over Lake Wanaka. Hiking the entire trail up and back with breaks and enjoying 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 (literally) breathtaking shot!

Afterward, you’ll likely have quite the appetite, so this is a great opportunity to head back into town and visit my favorite place for a casual meal in Wanaka, the food truck market located on Brownston Street! If you want to treat yourself, then look no further than The Bombay Palace for some delicious Indian food, or Kika for some award-winning tapas.

a couple at the top of Roys Peak in Wanaka
At the top of Roy’s Peak!

Wanaka really is full to the brim with things to do, and if you’re visiting with family, I really recommend visiting Puzzling World – a family-friendly world of fun and wacky adventures! Another great stop for families (and anyone, really!) is the Wanaka Lavender Farm, which has its own petting farm and is a no-brainer if you’re visiting in summertime.

I couldn’t miss out on mentioning Lake Wanaka, which is also pretty popular for kayaking and paddleboarding. If you’re a little shorter on time, or just want to take things easy with an easygoing tour, then this happy hour cruise on the lake is well worth a look! Not only is it super affordable, but the entire experience lasts around an hour and is one of the best ways to snap photos of the lake.

As an added bonus, this tour comes complete with a complementary cheese board, and there’s a fully licensed bar on board in case you’re a touch thirsty. With tickets just shy of $61 NZD per person, I couldn’t turn down this experience, and I’m so glad I went on it! To try out this tour for yourself, you can check availability and book online here.

Bailey at Lake Wanaka Lookout
View of Lake Wanaka!

Stay Overnight in Wanaka

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Wanaka, then you’re in luck! There are lots of fantastic hotels in and just outside of town, that cater to a range of budgets.

For those who want to take their road trip to the next level, Club Wyndham is a great luxury option. With a heated pool, a café and bar, as well as a fully-equipped fitness center, this is the ultimate place to stop and unwind after a long drive.

For budget travelers, you can’t miss out on staying at YHA Wanaka. For a budget-friendly hostel, it definitely packs some pretty impressive views. There’s a movie room, laundry facilities, and several other rooms where you can relax and make new friends.

Last but not least, I have often stayed at the Clearbrook Motel and find it to be a good middle-ground in terms of comfort and price. All apartments here also feature a balcony or a patio to admire the stunning mountain views… You don’t even have to leave your accommodation to take some amazing pictures!

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

Lindis Pass lookout
I never get sick of this breathtaking view!

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 also 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 can be a little scary if you’re not used to it!

6. Omarama Hot Tubs

Bailey smiles at the camera while in the Hot Tubs Omarama
Why wouldn’t you top here?
Bailey enjoys a soak in the Hot Tubs Omarama
So dreamy!

If I had to choose my favorite stop on the road from Queenstown to Christchurch, the Omarama Hot Tubs would right up towards the top of the list! I mean, what could be better than treating yourself to a soak in your own personal hot tub? With stunning views of the Omarama landscape, it’s the perfect way to break up a long drive. 

You’ll 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!

Once you’re in the tub, you can control the temperature yourself and relax with the river and mountain views. I even ordered a glass of wine to enjoy with my soak (yes, they have a fully-licensed bar!).

A soak at the Omarama Hot Tubs lasts 90 minutes and starts from $60 NZD 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!

Stay Overnight in Omarama

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!

Although the small town is somewhat limited in terms of accommodation, the Omarama TOP 10 Holiday Park is a great option with various rooms and apartments available as well as campsites. Better yet, this accommodation is just a 5-minute walk from the hot tubs!

7. Omarama Clay Cliffs

The Omarama Clay Cliffs near the town of Omarama, New Zealand
Don’t just stick to the outside of the cliffs, go exploring!

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 couldn’t help but think that they looked like a scene straight 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. The Clay Cliffs are just a 10-minute drive from the town of Omarama on Henburn Road (turn left onto Qualburn Road off State Highway 8, then left onto Henburn).

Reaching them is pretty easy, but you will have to drive on 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.

It’s also important to note that these cliffs are located on private land, so a $5 NZD 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.

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8. High Country Salmon

The high Country Salmon Farm near Twizel, New Zealand
It’s not hard to catch a fish when there are so many!

Located off State Highway 8, just South of Twizel is High Country Salmon – a salmon farm, café, 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 café and the other half to local restaurants and stores. That’s pretty impressive!

The floating café 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 catch-a-fish experience for only $10 NZD, plus $35 NZD per kg of salmon caught. As an added bonus, they’ll even gut and clean it for you, nice!

It’s a good idea to book this catch-a-fish experience online in advance, as they occasionally don’t run it due to short staff.

9. Twizel

Lake Ruataniwha in twizel
The beautiful Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel

The small town of Twizel is a popular stop on the road from Queenstown to Christchurch. It’s also a great stop to fuel up and 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’s 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. As it’s on private land, it can only be visited on a guided tour booked in Twizel.

Stay Overnight in Twizel

Twizel is also a really nice place to spend the night, especially if the nearby towns of Mount Cook Village and Lake Tekapo are fully booked (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 have the chance 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!

For a great midrange option, the Mountain Chalets Motel would be my personal pick. Their cozy chalets can sleep up to 5 people, so it’s perfect whether you’re traveling as a couple or as a family! All of the chalets also come with a kitchenette and have unlimited free Wi-Fi.

If epic views are what you’re after, then the Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park really can’t be beaten. As its name suggests, this holiday park sits directly on the shores of Lake Ruataniwha. If you get the chance, I really recommend going fishing or canoeing here on the lake – don’t forget to snap a few shots while you’re at it!

10. Lake Pukaki

Bailey at Lake Pukaki Lookout, New Zealand
On a clear day, you’ll be blown away by the view!

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.

Another popular spot to check out Lake Pukaki is at this viewpoint. Here, there is a large parking lot and even toilets. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Cook all the way across the lake.

You will, of course, get plenty more views of Lake Pukaki in Mount Cook National Park, which is the next stop on this road trip from Queenstown to Christchurch!

11. Mount Cook

Bailey on Lake Pukaki Lookout on Mount Cook road with the famous view of the winding road with Mount Cook in the background
Mount Cook is NZ’s best national park!
Bailey in the Muller Hut area stands on a rock with Mount Cook in the background
At the Mueller Hut!

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 (12,218 ft). 

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 also want to walk the popular Hooker Valley Track. It’s easy and flat, and at just a 10-kilometer (6.2-miles) round-trip, it takes around 3 hours to complete the return trip. The track provides gorgeous views of Mueller Lake, Mount Sefton, and Mueller Glacier, and is one of my favorite 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. Perfect if you’re traveling with the little ones who might not enjoy a long hike!

That said, I don’t think anyone can deny that the best views of Mount Cook are those you get from up in the sky. There are lots of fantastic helicopter tours that operate in the area, but my favorite has to be this 20-minute scenic helicopter flight, thanks to its flexible flight times. It also includes an alpine landing – how neat is that!?

At $337 NZD per person, it’s not the cheapest experience, but if you’re looking to take your road trip from epic to truly unforgettable, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of soaring above the epic scenery below. Plus, you’ll land with a pocket full of incredible photos! You can check availability for this tour and book your spot online here.

Stay Overnight in Mount Cook Village

Why not spend the night at Mount Cook so that you can experience more of the awesome activities on offer – like that helicopter tour or kayaking on Tasman or Mueller Lake? As one of the most popular destinations on this list, you can bet that this incredible area has a lot to offer!

There aren’t many hotels in Mount Cook Village (there are 6 on Booking.com!), so you do need to book a hotel in advance to secure your room. Let’s take a look at two of my favorites:

The Glentanner Park Center is my go-to choice for traveling on a budget. Although it’s a 17 km (10.6 mi) drive out of town, the dorm rooms here are clean and cheap, plus there’s also a communal kitchen area which is perfect for meeting new friends!

If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, then the Aoraki Court Motel is definitely worth a look. All of the rooms here are spacious and modern, with fantastic mountain views, all just a 3-minute walk from Mount Cook Village.

12. Lake Tekapo

Views of lupins and Lake Tekapo on the south island of New Zealand

If Mount Cook hasn’t convinced you to pack up all your belongings to live in the cozy mountain village, then your next stop will be the beautiful Lake Tekapo!

A visit here is a must on any road trip around the South Island, and 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. Nearby is also a famous statue of a sheep herding dog.

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 here (the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent of the Northern Lights). The best way to enjoy the stars is on a guided tour either to Mt John Observatory or at Tekapo Springs.

In my opinion, nothing really beats learning from an expert on a guided tour, using state-of-the-art technology to get the best views of the night sky! This magical experience lasts around 2 hours and can be booked online here.

There’s also an array of restaurants in Lake Tekapo including TLV Restaurant & Bar on Motuariki Lane for excellent burgers (open from 12 pm to 8:30 pm). Or for amazing views, a visit to the Dark Sky Diner is a must. I love going at sunset!

There are a lot more things to do here, so be sure to read my guide on the best things to do in Lake Tekapo. It includes hikes, tours, and tons of free activities to get stuck into.

Staying Overnight in Lake Tekapo

If you have the time, then staying a night or two in Lake Tekapo would be my recommendation! This place is just too beautiful to simply pass by.

One place I always love to stay is the Lakes Edge Lodge. It’s perfect for budget travelers, and it’s also conveniently located just a 3-minute drive from the town center. There are also shared laundry services, perfect for if you’re combining multiple New Zealand South Island road trips.

If you have a higher budget, then consider staying at the Mantra Lake Tekapo. The great reviews here really do speak for themselves – and these apartments also enjoy outdoor pool and hot tub access! With one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments available, this is a great option no matter the size of your group.

 13. Mt Hutt

Mt Hutt Ski Field, New Zealand
It’s one of the best ski fields in New Zealand

Mt Hutt was repeatedly voted New Zealand’s best ski resort from 2015 to 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 (900 acres) of terrain, the runs on Mt Hutt are most ”for intermediate or advanced skiers. A 686-meter (2,251 ft) 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.

The 2024 ski season here runs from the 14th of June to the 13th of October. Lift passes for Mt Hutt start at $159 NZD for adults aged 16 and over, or you can get consecutive day passes which go up to $545 NZD for a 5-day pass. Mt Hutt also has rentals available and the closest town to the ski resort is Methven – where you can book a hotel.

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

Views of Rakaia Gorge, NZ
What a view!

One of our last stops on this epic road trip is the stunning blue waters of the Rakaia River and Gorge. This is also a common stop on any road trip from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo and vice versa. 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 to 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 viewpoint. 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, perfect for a few more pics! Further along, you may also choose to go slightly off the track and down to the river.

Swimming in 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.

 15. Christchurch

Bailey at the New Regent Street Precinct in Christchurch, New Zealand
New Regent Street Precinct in Christchurch, New Zealand
Bailey walks through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The botanical gardens!

Ending arguably the best road trip in New Zealand, our final destination is Christchurch, 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, and is packed to the brim with things to see and do!

You may be most familiar with Christchurch from the devastating earthquake that happened here back in 2011. To this day, the impact of the earthquake can still be seen, but what was once a story of tragedy and loss has now transformed into one of revival and hope!

No visit to Christchurch is complete without visiting Quake City, which tells the story of the devastating 2011 earthquake. Some more places to see examples of how Christchurch has bounced back from the earthquake are Rolleston Avenue, Canterbury Museum, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Bridge of Remembrance.

There’s also a host of family-friendly activities in Christchurch or tours to join. My favorite is the International Antarctic Center that’s located right 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 1 km (0.62 mi) and at the top, there are various walking tracks as well as a gift shop, café, and the Time Tunnel ride where you can learn all about the history of Christchurch. 

Bailey at Ohinetahi Viewpoint next to Sign of the Bellbird in Christchurch, New Zealand
There are some nice viewpoints around the city.
Bailey walks among flowers at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand
The botanic gardens.

A stroll through Christchurch Botanic Gardens with a coffee is a great way to spend an hour or two. It’s completely free to enter and transforms depending on the time of year you visit!

If you love hiking, be sure to check out the Godley Head Loop Track. This 9-kilometer (5.6-mile) loop takes you along the coast where you can spot whales, dolphins, and seals – it’s one of the best hikes in all of New Zealand!

For those who love high-octane fun, you can’t miss out on this Christchurch Ziplining tour, where you’ll enjoy four dual zip lines that run more than 518 feet (150 m) above the ground! When I last went on this experience, I had such a laugh with the guides, who did such a great job at making me feel as safe as possible, even if I was a little scared!

As for places to eat, one of my favorite restaurants in the city is 5th Street on Elgin St. in Sydenham. For your coffee fix, C1 Espresso on 185 High Street also can’t be missed. It’s one of the best coffee shops in Christchurch! Your food is delivered by pneumatic tubes, which you can watch overhead – it’s one of the coolest coffee shops I’ve ever been to.

Riverside Market is also a great place to go to eat lots of different food! This indoor market is located right in the CBD and has everything from breweries to specialty cookie shops. There are also some unique boutique shops to check out. Wander around and see what catches your eye!

Note: Christchurch is a huge hub for campervan companies. This is a great place to rent a campervan and start or end your road trip in New Zealand.

Related Read: Looking for your next epic road trip? Consider driving from Christchurch to Hokitika. This road trip takes you through Arthur’s Pass, which is one of my all-time favorite places to snap photos on the South Island!

Things to do in Queenstown Before You Go

A boat travels right up to Stirling Falls in Milford Sound
Milford Sound!
Bailey walks the vines in the Gibbston Valley wine region
Wine tours are also very popular in Queenstown.

Before you leave on your epic road trip, there are plenty of fun activities to try out! Honestly, there are so many, it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do. Below are some of my top favorites.

  • Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting – This is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money, for $215 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries, you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
  • Queenstown Canyoning Adventure – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek your way down a part of a Queenstown canyon with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.

Where to Stay in Christchurch

Crowne Plaza Christchurch
The Crowne Plaza Christchurch is a beautiful centrally located hotel. Photo credit: Crowne Plaza Christchurch

Although not a large city by international standards, Christchurch is big for New Zealand. As with any large city, picking the right place to stay is really important.

There are lots of different areas to choose from when deciding where to stay in Christchurch. To help you narrow it down, I’ve included my top choices near the airport, in the city center, and just outside the city.

By the airport

One of the best places by the airport is the Lylo Christchurch. It’s actually within walking distance of the airport! It’s also 2 minutes from a retail center and the International Antarctic Center. They have luggage storage, laundry, and a communal area with a kitchen. There are a variety of rooms with prices starting at $117 NZD. You can book this super convenient hotel through Booking.com.

Another cool hotel close by is the Commodore Airport Hotel Christchurch. Although a short drive away, it has a free shuttle, free parking, and amazing reviews. Rooms come with a balcony or garden access to get that fresh air before a flight. They also have a restaurant, bar, and indoor pool. You can expect to pay between $250-$350 NZD per night. For luxury right by the airport, reserve a room at the Commodore Hotel online.

City center

In the city center, the Crown Plaza Christchurch is perfect for a luxury stay. It’s a large hotel with amazing views of the city. You can grab a coffee at the on-site cafe or cozy up by the bar’s fireplace with a cocktail. It has a gym, restaurant, and spacious rooms. You can snag prices as low as $209 NZD when you book in advance online.

For budget travelers, the social but comfortable Urbanz is a good option. Although cheap, it’s located in the heart of the city and only a couple of minutes from Hagley Park and New Regent Street, which is full of bars and restaurants. It’s a trendy, modern space with a pool table, kitchen, laundry, and on-site bar. Dorm rooms cost about $41 NZD, and private rooms are $109 NZD. You can book this budget-friendly hotel on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.com.

Just outside the city

If you don’t mind staying a few minutes outside of the city center, I recently stayed at Tasman Holiday Parks Christchurch and loved it! It’s a holiday park, so perfect for those with a campervan or motorhome, but they also have newly renovated rooms and apartments available for a great price! There are plenty of facilities, including kitchens, BBQs, and a pool. Stays start at $114 NZD and can be booked online here.

Essential Information to Know Before You Go

Crown Range Road near Queenstown, New Zealand
Crown Range Road near Queenstown, New Zealand
  • This route is 493 km (306 mi) 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.
  • If you’re taking this road trip in reverse (from Christchurch to Queenstown), make sure you read my tips on renting a car in Christchurch before you leave!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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 rent 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’s what most budget travelers use 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…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Travel Insurance Has Your Back!

Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.

If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!

To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.

Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera while on the Sealy Tarns Trail in Mount Cook National Park, 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 for some great articles on Queenstown and Mount Cook National Park, and so much more!

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Milford Sound VS Doubtful Sound – An Unbiased Comparison

8 BEST Glenorchy Tours from Queenstown

Divina Deveraturda

Tuesday 9th of March 2021

I am so excutef visiting these amazing and wondeeful GiOd s gifts of nature to mankind next year when the border will be open to international travelers... see you soon New Zealand