Christchurch to Queenstown
The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is one of the great drives, filled with some truly eye-catching landscapes. If you drive without stopping, the journey should take around six hours, but we'd recommend at least an overnight stop along the way. To give you an insight into the trip ahead, we've detailed some of the highlights you'll see along the way with approximate driving times.
Christchurch to Queenstown
Rakaia Gorge: + 1 Hour
Departing from Christchurch, pick up Highway 77, which we feel is more scenic than the alternative Highway 1 which travels via Ashburton. After an hour's drive you'll reach the beautiful Rakaia Gorge bridge that was built in 1882 and provides views of the Rakaia River passing through the gorge. On the way to the next stop you'll enjoy views of the Methven countryside and Mount Hutt.
Geraldine: + 2 Hours
Continuing from highway 77 onto Highway 72, it's another hour before you reach the quaint town of Geraldine. It's a chance to take a coffee break and browse the arts and craft shops. If time permits, there is a small museum that you can visit. Pick up highway 79 then 8 to arrive at our next stop.
Lake Tekapo: + 3 Hours
Lake Tekapo covers 83 square kilometres and is a popular resort that takes avantage of its postcard setting. Check out the Church of the Good Shepard, a landmark building that capitalises on its position of the lake and draws the coach tour parties. The resort town offers plenty of hiking trails, water activities and with the clear and dark skies, is a world renowned stargazing spot. A quick drive to the Mount John Astronomical Observatory is a great way to enjoy panoramic views of the impressive landscape if you're not staying for long.
Lake Pukaki: + 3 Hours, 30 minutes
A brief 30 minute drive along Highway 8 brings you to another stunning lake. Lake Pukaki is a gorgeous turquoise 178 kilometre lake, complemented by the snow capped mountains of Mount Cook National Park. There are no facilities to distract you from the breathtaking landscape.
Mount Cook National Park: + 3 Hours, 40 Minutes
A few minutes further, turn off onto Mount Cook Road and into Mount Cook National Park. The park is 700 square kilometres of awesome mountain scenery and the site to 19 of New Zealand's 20 hightest mountain peaks. Allow 40 minutes to reach Mount Cook Village. Along the way you'll pass Glentanner Park, a good option to stay overnight and organise all your activities. In Mount Cook Village itself you will find a couple of backpacker options, motels and the Hermitage Hotel. The star of the vast landscape is Mount Cook, (12,316 feet / 3,754 metres) and the training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary's ascent of Mt Everest.
Twizel: + 3 Hours, 45 minutes
Twizel is the main town near Mount Cook National Park with more accommodation than the park itself. Its location means it's a popular spot for exploring the nearby lakes, mountains and of course Mount Cook National Park. If you are not staying overnight, Twizel is ther place to refuel both the car and yourself. If time permits, you can also check out the Salmon Fishing Farm.
Lindis Pass: + 4 Hour, 30 Minutes
Driving along State Highway 8, The Lindis Pass is located between the valleys of the Lindis and Ahuriri Rivers. It's worth a 5 minute stop at the scenic lookout to take in the impressive 'road movie' views. The pass is the highest point on New Zealand's South Island state highway network.
Cromwell: + 5 Hours, 15 Minutes
Before reaching Cromwell you have the chance to visit Bendigo Historic Reserve and explore former goldfields, and wineries set in more than 1000 hectares of open country. Continuing onto Cromwell, Highway 8 runs parallel with Lake Dunstan, popular for jet skiing and boating. Turning right and crossing the bridge brings you into Cromwell, a town marked by wineries and orchards, as demonstrated by the much photographed Cromwell 'fruit' sign. The best place to head is the reconstructed town of ‘Old Cromwell’ reflecting the gold mining era and where you can grab a coffee overlooking Kawarau River.
A few kilometres on, there is the option to take a left turn and head to Bannockburn, a small town and renowned wine region with plenty of cellar doors to visit. There are also a number of art galleries to visit that feature on the Central Otago Arts Trail.
Arrowtown: + 5 Hours, 40 Minutes
It's now a 25 minute drive amongst the rugged hills and alongside Kawarua River towards Arrowtown. During this short leg there are a couple of places of interest to stop at, including Goldfields Mining Centre, the Roaring Meg Powerstation and the award-winning wineries of Gibbston. It's then onto Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town with plenty of cafes, boutique shops and restaurants. Make time to visit the Chinese Settlement Village, a free attraction that offers a fascinating insight into the history of the first chinese settlers seeking their fortune.
Queenstown: 6 Hours
Following along state highway 6, it's another 20 minutes into the downtown area of Queenstown. On the way, you'll pass by the local's favourite spot, Lake Hayes, cross over the iconic Shotover River, and drive along the edge of Lake Wakatipu with awesome views of The Remarkables.