Get inspired by our list of the best places to visit between Christchurch and Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island and create unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.
While you’re in Christchurch on holiday, a road trip is a fantastic way to see more of our incredible country. Drive from the Garden City to the Adventure Capital of New Zealand (maybe the world!) and enjoy breathtaking views of New Zealand’s South Island along the way.
The Christchurch to Queenstown drive time is approximately 6-hours non-stop. But we recommend taking extra time to rest, grab a delicious bite to eat, and see some amazing views and detours.
To reference when you fill up on petrol, here is our full Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary:
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: 226-kilometres (2-hours and 53-minutes)
Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook Village: 104-kilometres (1-hour and 11-minutes)
Mt Cook Villate to Wanaka: 206-kilometres (2-hours and 24-minutes)
Total Distance without detours: 604.5-kilometres (7-hours and 28-minutes)
What to Know Before You Go
Before you drive from Christchurch to Queenstown, you’ll need a set of wheels. You’ll find many quality rental car companies in the city centre and at Christchurch airport. Hire a rental car with insurance and roadside assistance. If you already live here, then we’ll assume you have this one covered.
Driving in New Zealand for the first time?
We drive on the left-hand side of the road!
You will need a full driver’s licence or an international licence in English. Always pay attention to the posted sign limits. In the case of an emergency, dial 111.
Must-have road trip gear
Before setting out, it’s a great idea to carry the following items:
Mobile phone charger
Bluetooth or wireless hands-free kit
Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat (the sun is very strong here, even on cloudy days)
Snow chains and a heavy coat in winter
Driving Itinerary from Christchurch to Queenstown
Where to from here? Jump in the car, Bluetooth your favourite road trip tunes, and hit the road. The first milestone in our road trip from Christchurch is the gorgeous Lake Tekapo.
When you leave Christchurch, you have the option of the most direct route to Tekapo by heading south on State Highway 1, before turning onto State Highway 79 just south of Rakaia.
But our recommendation is to leave Christchurch on State Highway 77 and head into the Rakaia Gorge for a sample of the most spectacular scenery the South Island has to offer. One hour from Christchurch will bring you to the Rakaia Gorge Walkway (609 Rakaia Gorge Road) – stop here to discover jaw-dropping photo opportunities and enjoy the fresh air. If you’re feeling adventurous, pull on your hiking boots and trek the 10-kilometre walkway.
From here, drive 2 hours south, and you’ll arrive at one of NZ’s most stunning turquoise lakes, Lake Tekapo. Tekapo is one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing adventure towns and has an array of outdoor activities to suit all ages and adventure levels. Take your skis to Roundhill Ski Area, take a guided 4WD tour, a backcountry guided hiking tour, soak in the Tekapo Springs Hot Pools, and stay until sundown to observe faraway galaxies at Mt John Observatory (Tekapo is a dark sky reserve!).
Beautiful glaciers and long hiking tracks
From Tekapo, a 30-minute drive along State Highway 8 will bring you to the lookout on Lake Pukaki. Snap some pics, then take the turn onto State Highway 80. Wind alongside the spectacular turquoise waters to Mount Cook National Park. Marvel at New Zealand’s tallest mountain, where icy glaciers cover 40% of the region. Trek the 3-hour Hooker Valley Track for breathtaking views of the Tasman Glacier and ski fields.
Done for the day? You’ll find a holiday park at Glentanner Station, and other accommodation at Aoraki-Mount Cook Village.
From Aoraki/Mt Cook take the 1-hour, 20-minute alpine drive to the Lindis Pass viewpoint. From here, you get your first glimpse of the expansive tussock-covered mountains of Central Otago.
Continue along State Highway 8 to Tarras, where you’ll turn onto State Highway 8A, then onto State Highway 6 to Wanaka township.
The most popular hike for serious photographers in Wanaka is the hike up Roy’s Peak. Enjoy spectacular views of Lake Wanaka, surrounding mountains, islands, and snow-capped mountains.
Detour – epic National Park glacier and guided walk options
From the Wanaka city centre, head 3 hours, and 45 minutes west to visit the spectacular West Coast town of Franz Josef and the surrounding glacier country. The Franz Josef glacier plummets from the tops of the Southern Alps into dense rainforests. Take a hike, guided walk, kayak on the Okarito Lagoon or experience a stunning helicopter glacier landing on the snow.
Now – back to Wanaka and on to Queenstown. You have two possible route options from Wanaka. Take a 35-minute drive along Cardrona Valley Road and stop at the Crown Range road scenic lookout. As you descend, you’ll enjoy some spectacular viewpoints of Lake Whakatipu.
Or head out on State Highway 6 and stop for a coffee and Real Fruit ice cream at Cromwell. This historic gold-mining town overlooks the shores of Lake Dunstan. As you head into town, you can’t miss the oversized fruit sculptures on the side of the road.
Twenty-five minutes from Cromwell is Otago’s most famous wine region. Stop by Gibbston Valley Winery & Restaurant and sample their award-winning Pinot Noir and cheese range.
Detour – Visit Larnach Castle and Gardens
Drive 2.5 hours southeast from Crownwell to Dunedin, home to New Zealand’s only castle. Visit farmer’s markets or relax at one of this romantic destination’s many cafes.
Reaching Queenstown – home of the best adventure activities
Get your adrenaline rush on and Bungy-jump, paraglide or ride the gravity-fuelled Skyline Luge. Ready for a relaxing evening walk? Take in the spectacular nature on one of Queenstown’s beautiful scenic hiking trails.
Detour – waterfalls and wildlife
Take a 2-hour drive southwest of Queenstown to the gateway to Milford Sound& Doubtful Sound, Te Anau. Home to endangered, flightless takahē birds, limestone glowworm caves and an underground waterfall.
Are you prepared to experience one of the most exhilarating road trips of a lifetime?