If you only have a short time to explore New Zealand’s South Island then no problem! Hire a car or camper van and embark on this Christchurch to Queenstown road trip! You will not regret it.
You’ve arrived at Christchurch airport and you’ve picked up your rental vehicle. Awesome. Now get ready to explore this beautifully moving city. Park at the Botanic Gardens (for free) and head to Re:START where you can wander through shipping containers that have been turned into shops and food trucks (there’s also a number of free pingpong tables for those competitive people). Re:START has a terrific atmosphere and gives you the feeling that something amazing can come out of something so tragic. After a bit of food at one of the trucks head towards the 185 chair earthquake memorial. In your walk to the memorial you will see for yourself the damage caused by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
Time for some more food and drink. C1 Espresso is an awesome place to go as they deliver burgers to your table through a tube and play Harry Potter audiobooks in the toilet while also serving phenomenal coffee! After this head to Quake City for an exhibition on the Canterbury Earthquakes. The museum relays the tragic and heroic accounts of those affected by the quakes.
For a place to sleep the Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park has terrific options for accommodation including campsites, cabins and motel rooms.
After a day of exploring the city it is time to head for lakes and mountains. Next stop Lake Tekapo! With a driving time of just under 3 hours you will be transported to a place of scenic beauty and the bluest lake you have ever seen. Lake Tekapo, although small, is well worth spending the night. To get your day started head off on a one and a half hour round trip to the summit of Mount John where you will be rewarded with beautiful views of the town and surrounding areas. The end of this path will rather conveniently take you to the entrance of the Tekapo Hot Springs where you are able to chill out after your walk (check bookme for deals on entry). Finally, when it gets dark, take a look up at the stars to view the darkest night sky in the whole of New Zealand. If it’s a clear night you will not be disappointed!
For a place to eat I would recommend Tin Plate for breakfast, lunch or dinner (their pizza was incredible). Also for travellers who are looking for a spot of wifi, Tin Plate had the fastest wifi I have used in New Zealand!
There’s plenty of accommodation in Lake Tekapo but I would recommend Lake Tekapo Holiday Park & Motel. It is right next to the lake itself, has various types of accommodation to suit all budgets and is next door to the track to Mount John and the hot springs!
Time for some more mountains, in fact the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Take the stunning drive from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook where you will once again witness another ridiculously blue lake, Lake Pukaki. The town of Mount Cook has an awesome little visitors centre with a fantastic amount of detail about the local area. If you are strapped for cash don’t worry about doing the boat tour or kayak tour on the Glacier Lake. You can take a short walk yourself and reach the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake for pictures of Icebergs!
If you arrive early enough then the Hooker Valley track is a must do (check weather conditions at the visitors centre). The walk takes around 4 hours.
There is plenty of accommodation in Mount Cook but it can be expensive. Glentanner is the closest holiday park (about a 25 minute drive).
Lake Wanaka is calling. From Mount Cook it is about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive to Wanaka. The drive is beautiful so make sure you stop to take some pictures on the way.
The little town of Wanaka is a South Island favourite. With a lake, the famous Wanaka tree, restaurants, shops, mountains and the opportunity to go skydiving you could stay in this little town for a week and not run out of things to do.
Stand up paddle boards and kayaks can be rented opposite the I-site from Paddle Wanaka which allow for a fun couple of hours out on the lake. If you fancy doing something a little extreme I couldn’t recommend Skydive Wanaka enough. For your first skydiving experience these guys are absolutely perfect and the views are spectacular.
If you have a little more time on your hands I would suggest staying in Wanaka for an extra day and taking a trip up Roy’s Peak. It’s a tough climb (around 5-6 hours) of straight uphill but the views are amazing (the best I’ve seen in New Zealand). Check the weather on the day of your hike because conditions can change quickly.
Lake Outlet Holiday Park is a beautiful place to stay if you are camping. This is around a 15 minute drive from the town centre. If you would prefer to stay in the town centre then Lakeview Holiday Park has a number of budget choices. However take a look on Airbnb for Wanaka because there are some incredible deals right in the town centre.
The adventure capital awaits. It’s time to head to Queenstown. Take the route over the Crown Range to say you have driven on New Zealand’s highest road. If you are lucky enough you may even see a plane weaving through the mountains, at the same height as you, to land at Queenstown airport.
There are so many activities to choose from in Queenstown it can be a little overwhelming. Go on ‘bookme’ in advance to get a good deal on skydiving, parasailing, luging and boat rides. If you are looking to get the views over the town, take the Gondola trip (one of the steepest in New Zealand) up to the luge and enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the lakes. I would recommend adding on a few luge rides to that gondola trip!!
Queenstown has various options for accommodation but can be really expensive. Give Airbnb a go well in advance for a good deal or stay in Lakeview Holiday Park so you are nice and close to the town centre (it also means you don’t have to search for a car parking space in town).
In terms of food our ultimate culinary tour starts with breakfast at Patagonia by the lake where you can have churros (covered in chocolate, of course) and coffee, followed by lunch at Fergburger where you a rewarded with the most delicious burger after waiting in a hectic queue.
And that’s it!
A whistle stop tour of some of the most beautiful places on New Zealand’s South Island. Many car and camper van rental companies allow you to pick up in one place and drop off in another so if you are on a limited time budget I would recommend doing this. If you have more time then I would recommend staying at each of these places for more than a night or adding Milford Sound onto this trip.
Final tip… plan your petrol wisely, petrol stations tend to be quite spread out and have limited opening hours!
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