If you’re on a tight time schedule and you want to fit in as much as you can in the North and South Island then getting from Auckland to Queenstown in 8 days is going to be a challenge with so much to do but we’re pretty confident we’ve mapped out a great little adventure for you. No time for hanging around – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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Although you’ve only got 8 days to get yourself down to Queenstown, it would be rude not to check out NZ’s largest city, home to 1.3 million people and known as the City of Sails.
After a nice stroll in downtown Auckland, checking out the Viaduct area and maybe grabbing a bit to eat it’s time to get to know your new hire car a little better. A perfect place to start is to head out west through the suburbs and out to the Waitakere Ranges. With heaps of tracks through the lush forest, there is plenty to keep you busy here. If walking is not your thing, keep driving through the forest and end up at one of the superb west coast beaches like Piha or Muriwai. The surf’s good out there and the black volcanic sand makes for an interesting day at the beach.
If you’re looking for something a bit closer to home but still fancy a drive out, head on out to Devonport or even up to one of the North Shore’s laid back locations like Browns Bay where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
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2Auckland to Taupo – (279km – 3 hours 18 mins)
Pokeno Ice Cream (52.1km – 36mins from Auckland)
We know it’s only been half an hour since you left Auckland but it’s already time for the best kind of stop – an ice cream pit stop. The Pokeno store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country. Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself.
Pokeno to Rotorua (179km – 2 hours 10 mins)
Right, now you have filled up on ice cream it’s time to crack on and head to the first big stop of the day – Rotorua. After the 2 hour drive, you’ll be ready for a stop off and there’s lots to keep you entertained in Rotorua. The first thing you will notice is the smell (and no, that wasn’t your mate in the back!). Rotorua is New Zealand’s thermal wonderland and that is the smell of sulphur.
With only a few hours to spare in Rotorua, there are a few things you can get stuck into – these are three of our highlights:
Wai-O-Tapu – probably the best place to check out the geothermal rumblings including the world famous champagne pools and the Lady Know Geyser.
Use your GO Play card here
Te Puia – a great place to learn about Maori culture including a performance at the Marae. You also have a chance to check out the rare Kiwi bird at the live enclosure – one not be missed
Zorbing – basically this means chucking yourself down a hill in a giant inflatable ball – not much more to it but it is a lot of fun! Zorb are a GO Play partner too so discount card at the ready!
Rotorua to Taupo (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)
Well, if you’re like us you will probably have had enough of that smell by now so it’s time to hit the road to your final destination for the day – Taupo. A great stop off on the way into Taupo is the rather impressive Huka Falls. Here you will see water flowing at a rate of 220,000 litres per second (that’s a lot by the way) down to the Waikato River below. We don’t think a salmon has ever made it up there but we will leave that up to you to debate.
Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and is a pretty impressive sight. Hopefully you’ve arrived with enough time to explore. If you’re a big Lord of the Rings fan, make your way out of town along Desert Road where you will get to see views of Mount Ruapehu which is probably better known as Mount Doom.
Finally, why not round off your action packed day with a skydive over the lake. The views are sensational as you plummet from 13,000 feet and Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner who will give you a 5% discount for the pleasure of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good aeroplane!
3Taupo to Wellington (370km – 5 hours 5 mins)
Whanganui (258km – 3 hours 27 mins from Taupo)
From Taupo, we have over three hours to drive before we hit our next destination: Whanganui.
There’s plenty to see in Whanganui so you’ll have to be a bit selective. We suggest a look at the Cooks Gardens, on St Hill Street, right in the centre of town. These are famous because they were the location where Peter Snell ran the famous sub-four minute mile in January 1962 (that’s crazy fast). If you’re feeling particularly fit, you can try attempting your fastest mile time here too, right where Snell did it in front of 13,000 people.
Afterwards, take some time to wander around the Whanganui Regional Museum, on Watt Street, which displays the impressive work of Gottfried Lindauer, one of the most famous colonial artists in the country. The museum also includes one of the most important collections of Moa bones, including some complete skeletons of the extinct giant bird.
We’re going to continue south to Wellington along a slightly longer route, past Palmerston North, with a pit stop in Carterton.
Stonehenge Aotearoa (193km – 2 hours 41 mins from Whanganui)
Take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to Stonehenge Aotearoa to see a full scale model of Stonehenge located on the hills of the Wairarapa, pretty much as far from actual Stonehenge as anything can be. You’ll be able to learn a bit about astronomy, both ancient and modern methods, and find out more about Maori astrology too.
It’s been quite the journey but here we are – New Zealand’s capital. Wellington is small but has no shortage of things to see. Head for the CBD, park your rental car and wander around the small streets.
Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand so check for yourself), visit the cool one-of-a-kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool Bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).
A visit to Archives New Zealand, on 10 Mulgrave Street, allows you to see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament, if you’re feeling politically-inclined, before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars (including some decent craft beer spots).
Before you head off to catch the ferry to the South Island, we suggest you park on Wexford Road, on the north-eastern side of the airport. On a typical windy Wellington day, you’ll have the chance to see what you escaped from, making the very wise decision to drive down from Auckland. Planes taking off and landing in Wellington often sway a little more than they should – a little scary for passengers on the plane, a bit of fun for you safely watching from the comfort of your rental car on safe ground.
5Picton to Christchurch (337km – 4 hours 19 mins)
Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Track (134km – 1 hour 52 mins from Nelson)
For those adventurous souls out there who love nothing more than strapping on a pair of hiking boots and heading off into the unknown, the Queen Charlotte Track offers you the perfect opportunity to explore rural New Zealand. Dominated by a bush-clad shoreline, the track takes you on an amazing journey through the Marlborough Sounds and the 70kms of track will energise even the most active.
For those of a less active disposition, the Sounds are famous for the greenshell mussels which are found in abundance so why not treat yourself to a fantastic lunch.
Wine tasting and much more
Marlborough is a world famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through. There are plenty of wineries who will gladly take you through their wide range of vinos from a fruity pinot noir to the flagship wine of the region, Sauvignon Blanc. There are some famous vineyards down here like Cloudy Bay but we recommend sampling some of the more boutique wineries – a great way to get around is on a bike although be careful if you have a few vinos on the way as you may get a bit wobbly! Wine tour by bike offer bike hire or guided tours which helps as they will transport you back to Blenheim.
If wine is not your thing, there are also lots of microbreweries in the region so this is the perfect place to stock up for the road trip ahead.
Kaikoura – Swim with the dolphins (157 km – 2 hours 9 mins)
Heading away from Blenheim, take the road south heading towards Christchurch. A great stop off on the way is Kaikoura which is a whale watchers delight. Not only that, this is a great opportunity for you to take a dip and swim with the dolphins at the right time of the year – this must be on a few wish lists so let’s get it ticked off!
Cellar View Café and Restaurant
As you head down from the magnificent wine tasting region of Marlborough you will hit Kaikoura. This is one of New Zealand’s best locations for seeing marine life including whales and dolphins. It is also the home to the Cellar View Cafe and Restaurant. This place serves up some pretty amazing dishes matched only by the stunning views out to the pacific. It’s easy to let an afternoon drift by, enjoying the delicious food and admiring the endless view. Nice.
Swimming with dolphins
GO Play partner Encounter Kaikoura offers a brilliant opportunity to get in the water in the south Pacific and swim with these amazing animals with tours operating three times a day.
It’s not just dolphins that pass through the waters around Kaikoura though and if you time things right, there is also the chance to see various species of whale as well as seals and birds.
From Kaikoura, it’s an easy drive into your resting place for the night – Christchurch (181km – 2 hours 21 minutes)
6Christchurch to Queenstown (483km – 6 hours 37 mins)
After a morning exploring Christchurch and around, it’s time to hit the road and give your GO Rentals dream machine a run out. Although Queenstown is your final destination on this 8 day adventure, the drive down from Christchurch will take you on a journey to some fantastic sights on your way and if you fancy it, you can always break the journey up with a stopover.
Lyttelton (12.4km – 19 mins from Christchurch)
Heading out of Christchurch, a stop off at Lyttelton is well worth the detour and it’s a great place to grab some breakfast if you’re up bright and early. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – the road from Christchurch to Lyttelton offers you some fantastic views looking down to the city and the harbour as well as down to the Southern Alps – a great way to start this road trip.
Akaroa (78.8km – 1 hour 29 mins from Lyttelton)
Located 75km from Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great stop off as you head south. This village is located on Banks Peninsula within a harbour of the same name and is considered “the most French town” in New Zealand, as it was the only French settlement in the country. Spend some time exploring the small town and then head to the harbour for the best fish and chips meal of your life (at least that’s Akaroa’s claim so you be the judge and let us know). If you didn’t get the chance to head up to Kaikoura, Black Cat Cruise offer the chance to swim with the very rare Hector dolphins which are only found in these waters and with a GO Play discount of 10%, you’d be a fool not to!
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (280km – 4 hours 10 mins from Akaroa)
Stargazers all over the world know Mt John and Lake Tekapo, in the Aoraki/Mount Cook Mackenzie region, as one of the absolute best places to look at the stars (and even catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights – Aurora Australis).
Lake Tekapo is also famous for its unique turquoise colour, as well as its beautiful starry nights – it’s a great place for you romantics out there and there have been many ‘wooing’ incidents down at Lake Tekapo. If you can park here for the night, you will not regret it. Mt John, just above the Tekapo township, is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world, home to 6 telescopes, including New Zealand’s biggest telescope, which can observe 50 million stars each clear night (yes, you read that right).
Lake Tekapo and Mt John are located about 3.5 hour drive north of Queenstown (256km) so if you’ve done enough driving for one day, this could be a great place to stopover and break up the journey.
7Milford Sound (303kms – 4 hours 25 mins)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. A great chance to give the GO Rentals hire car one final run out, the 4+ hour drive from Queenstown is well worth the early start to check out the magnificence of this most spectacular fjord carved out by glaciers during the ice age (that’s a long time ago by the way!).
Hop out of your GO Rentals hire car and straight onto a boat as this is a must once you get down there. With a number of companies offering day or night cruises, you’ll not be short of options for exploring the water when you arrive. Find yourself ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ at the spectacular waterfalls, some of which are over 1000 metres high so be sure to pack the camera but also make sure you pack your wet weather gear as inevitably it rains down at Milford Sound. Some say this makes the waterfalls even more spectacular but we’re not too sure about that one!
For those wanting a more hands on experience of Milford Sound, why not give kayaking a go. There’s nothing quite like taking to the open water and paddling yourself out into one of the most inspiring places on planet earth. Real Journeys offer a 4-5 hour trip out on to the water taking in the serene Harrisons Cove and the magnificent Mitre Peak offering some spectacular views up to the Pembroke Glaciers.
Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory
Due to its unique underwater environment, Milford Sound is home to species of black coral usually found at depths of 500m or more, including magnificent 300 year old ‘trees’ and the best way to check these old timers out is at the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory.
The Discovery Centre will send you on a journey back through the history, geology and wildlife of the Sound where you will also learn about the culture and heritage of this awe-inspiring place from local guides.
Use your GO Play card here
If you don’t fancy the drive down to Milford (it can be a very long day), GO Play partner Real Journeys offer a bus and fiord cruise trip which will take you from Queenstown to Milford and includes a boat cruise. Oh yeah, they will also give you a 10% discount. Awesome.
Make sure you allow enough time for the journey to and from Milford Sound – there are a lot of bus tours leaving from Queenstown so take your time and drive safely.
8Queenstown and around
So your 8 day adventure is coming to a close. We have ended with a relaxing final day in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world but there’s no time to waste – let’s GO! We’ve carefully selected our top three highlights whether you’re after adventure or relaxation:
Adrenaline fuelled adventure
For those who have headed to Queenstown for adrenaline fuelled adventure, these are our highlights of things to do in a day:
1) AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy – Australasia’s highest bungy at 134m, this is not for the feint hearted – 8.5 seconds of freefall will have you screaming like a lunatic!
2) Skipper Canyon Jet – reaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Shotover Canyon is sure to get your pulse racing. The 360 degree spins will get you closer to the wall than you feel comfortable with! Skippers Canyon Jet is also a GO Play partner. Bonus!
3) Coronet Peak ski resort (in season) – fantastic resort for pros and beginners alike, Coronet Peak is a GO Rentals favourite in the winter where lots of fun can be had on and off the slopes
Something a bit more…relaxing
We know that jumping off mountains and flipping jet boats is not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s more to Queenstown than adrenaline fuelled adventure. Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:
1) Ben Lommond – a 4 hour walk giving you some awesome views of Queenstown, the lake and surrounding mountains
2) Skyline gondola – take the gondola up Bob’s Peak and enjoy some award winning cuisine and some amazing views. If you want to get down a bit quicker, the luge is a lot of fun!
3) Arrowtown (22.1km – 22mins) – head out in your new GO Rentals hire car and check out this small town which was at the heart of the NZ gold rush. There are lots of nice shops, bars and places to eat as well as relaxing walks.
At the end of a busy day, Queenstown is a great place to unwind with a huge range of bars to suit everyone. Depending on the time of year, you’ll either be welcomed in to a roaring fire or sit out enjoying the sun setting over Lake Wakatipu.
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