Great news – you have 14 days off and you’ve decided to go and explore the Abel Tasman National Park before heading down the rugged West Coast and cutting back towards the Southern Alps – this is going to be a pretty awesome road trip and hopefully we have some little gems for you to stop off at on your way as there are going to be some pretty big drives on this journey of discovery. This is what New Zealand road trips are all about so there’s no time for hanging about – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Christchurch to Blenheim (309kms – 3 hours 55 mins)
So the first day of the road trip is going to be a fairly big drive up north to Blenheim which will take around 4 hours without stops. There are some great places along the way though so we recommend taking your time and enjoying the journey.
Amberley (46.4kms – 44 mins)
Although you are only just under an hour into your road trip, Amberley is a great little stop off point to grab a coffee in one of the local cafes which serve the farming and wine growing community. There are also some great little craft shops or you may even fancy a wander to the beach.
Waipara (11.9kms – 9 mins)
Carry on north for another 10 minutes and you will come across Waipara, one of the South Island’s great wine producing areas famed for some lovely pinot noirs, reislings and chardonnays. The region has the highest summer temperatures and lover rainfall of any of the New Zealand wine growing regions making the ideal spot to pick up a bottle or two for your trip away.
Kaikoura (123kms – 1 hour 31 mins)
A great stop off on the way north 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!
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.
Cellar View Café and Restaurant
Kaikoura 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.
If you get the chance, try and fit in a lunch time stop here as the seafood up in Kaikoura is some of the best in NZ (the Crayfish are a GO Rentals favourite).
Ohau Point (26.4kms – 22 mins)
Shortly after leaving Kaikoura you will come across Ohau Point which is a great spot to go for a walk and if you are lucky, spot some seals and their pups basking on the rocks below.
Blenheim (103kms – 1 hour 15 mins)
Marlborough is a world famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through. At the heart of the region sits Blenheim, a town that offers much more than just a drop in point for those picking up the local produce. Blenheim is full of character and the accommodation options here are full of quirks which you don’t get in many countries but everywhere offers a warm welcome to visitors. The town has a lively café and restaurant scene which means if wine is not your thing, there is still plenty to keep your taste buds tantalised!
If wine is your thing, 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.
2Blenheim to Nelson (114kms – 1 hour 33 mins)
After what was hopefully a great day wine sampling yesterday, it’s time to hit the road as we head for Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park. Make sure you stock up on your favourite wines from the region before you head off – we recommend you head off early today as there is lots to see and do and it is good to get to the national park early as some of the trips run in the morning only.
Havelock (40.4kms – 32 mins)
The first stop off of the day will be at Havelock. We’re hoping it is not too early in the day to get involved in sampling the area’s most famous resident – green lipped mussels. Havelock describes itself as the green lipped mussel capital of the world – we’ll leave it up to you to decide but we are a bit partial to them when we are down in these parts.
Nelson (73.4kms – 1 hour 1 min)
Arriving in Nelson, you will quickly notice that it is a very diverse town with lots of different accommodation options from backpackers to five star luxury resorts. It’s a city that attracts an artistic community with over 350 working artists and crafts people living in the city.
Exploring the Abel Tasman National Park (59.7km – 1 hour from Nelson)
From Nelson, it’s a further hour to the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. The roads are windy so make sure you allow enough time to drive the relatively short distance of 60kms. Once you get to the park there are so many activities to choose from it really is up to you how you plan your day – these are some of our top tips:
Cruise and water taxi – if you’re after a fairly relaxed, laid back day, there is no better way to see the park than on a cruise of in a water taxi. The crystal clear waters of the Abel Tasman are a sight to behold to getting out on the water is a must.
Use your GO Play card here
If you’re feeling a bit more energetic, we highly recommend hiring a sea kayak for the day and heading out into the park. You’ll be amazed at what you can see over the side of the kayak as you peer down into the depths of the sea. Park up (is that even a saying for a kayak?!) on a secluded beach and enjoy a spot of lunch – spectacular.
Cruise and walk – the best of both worlds if you want to get out on the water as well as waking through this beautiful national park. Take a cruise and get dropped off deep into the park before following the route back along the rugged coastline.
If you don’t fancy a drive all the way into the Abel Tasman National Park, there are loads of other things to do in the area. One of our favourites is to visit the Boulder Bank:
The Boulder Bank
The Boulder Bank is another spectacular example of the South Island’s natural wonders. The 13km long bank is one of the very few of its type in the world so you are in the presence of something very unique. It has been formed from large granodiorite boulders that have been moved by wind, water and tide to form the spectacular line in front of you.
The lighthouse was made in Bath (England) and shipped in parts to New Zealand, then assembled in 1861.
You can access the bank by turning off SH6 and driving along Boulder Bank Drive, 7km north of Nelson.
Then of course you cannot forget that Nelson is the microbrew capital of New Zealand with many independent breweries making some fantastic kiwi beers round these parts. Whatever you choose to get up to round these parts, you’re in for a cracking day. Nelson is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand and even in the colder months, the sun will often be shining so make the most of it and have a blast.
3Nelson to Greymouth (287km – 4 hours 9 mins)
World of Wearable Art Museum (32km – 34 mins from Mapua)
The World of Wearable Art (WoW) is a New Zealand institution in its own right. The first ever show was held in Nelson in 1987 and has since grown (and moved to Wellington where it is currently held). The museum displays some of the supreme winners of the shows. Whether you’re interested in clothes and fashion or not, this is an important slice of New Zealand’s culture – one that you should not miss.
Mapua (32km – 34 mins)
After a day exploring in the Able Tasman National Park, it’s time to hit the road again and get a bit more familiar with your new GO Rentals car. The first stop of the day is not too far away however as you head out on SH6 towards the west coast.
Mapua is a very picturesque village situated on a wharf on the Abel Tasman coastline. With a huge range of shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes, this makes the perfect stop off for breakfast and a bit of retail therapy before you hit the road proper. From the Jellyfish Café and Bar to Forest Fusion Functional Art, there is lots to see and do in Mapua as well as taking in the lovely surroundings.
Buller Gorge Swing Bridge (165km – 2 hours 23 mins from Mapua)
Heading out of Mapua keep following SH6 heading towards the west coast. After a relatively short drive there is another chance to stretch the legs and get the adrenaline pumping at the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge. From big thrills to big spills to serene walks, Buller Gorge offers some of the best adventure activities this side of Queenstown. From the comet line, a 160m flying fox zip line to jet boating on the Upper Buller Gorge with GO Play partner Ultimate Descents, there’s plenty to keep the most adventurous happy. If you’re of a less adventurous disposition the Buller Gorge is also a great place to explore on foot with some lovely trails and falls to discover.
Use your GO Play card here
Bev’s Dolls (46.2km – 41 mins from Buller Gorge)
In a converted garage at 35 Main Street in Reefton, you’ll find Bev’s Dolls – a collection of over 2000 dolls, including a 180-year-old German stone doll and popular contemporary dolls such as the Harry Potter doll collection. Check that Bev is home and, for a fee, she’ll show you her impressive collection.
Formerly the Blackball Hilton Hotel (56.9km – 1 hour from Reefton)
At first glance, it might look like you’re just in a quiet small town in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand but, in fact, you’re standing in front of a hotel that was subject to global controversy. Well, sort of.
The hotel was built in 1910 and named The Dominion at the time. In the 1970s, the name was changed to The Blackball Hilton. Threats of legal action by you-know-who who owns a big hotel chain with the same name in the US forced the Blackball Hilton to add “Formerly” to the name in order to continue to operate.
The hotel is located on 26 Hart Street and offers both food and accommodation, if you feel like a break.
From here it’s a short drive to your final destination in Greymouth (23.1km – 31 mins)
4Greymouth to Franz Josef (173km – 2 hours 17 mins)
After arriving in Greymouth pretty late the night before, you can take the time to do some exploring around the town and maybe squeeze in one of the activities you may not have had time for the previous evening. It’s then time to hit the road heading south down the famous rugged West Coast.
Hokitika (83km – 1 hour 10 mins)
Hokitika (what a great name… go on, say it again!) is the last ‘big’ town you’ll pass on the drive south from Greymouth but make sure you don’t just drive on by. Hokitika is NZ’s major centre for the working of greenstone. Why not get involved yourself and try some jade carving at the Just Jade Experience?
You may also want to go and check out the glow worm dell (although this is best seen at night) where you’ll see the lit-up worms suspended by their sticky threads – if you’ve not seen anything like this before, the glow-worms are a truly magical sight and well worth a look.
You and the GO Rentals car should be getting to know each other by now so before you know it, you’ll come across Lake Mahinapua which offers a fantastic stop off point for a picnic and a stretch of the legs. Once a coastal lagoon it’s a lovely place for a swim and the water is surprisingly warm. A great place for families, there is a suitable wading area for young children and bigger kids love jumping off the jetty or launching a canoe to explore. For the twitchers out there, you’re likely to see black swans and mallard ducks and if you’re extremely fortunate you could also spot a magnificent white heron or the rare fern bird if that floats your boat.
There’s a number of short walks or if you have the time try the two hour Mahinapua walkway which traverses board-walked wetlands and forest following an historic logging tramway.
The final pitstop before you hit Franz Josef should be at Ross (27.2km – 22 mins from Hokitika) which was made famous in 1909 when NZ’s largest ever gold nugget was mined weighing in at an impressive 2.807kgs. Your drive from here cuts back inland, passing many beautiful lakes before finally arriving at Franz Josef (107km – 1 hour 23 mins).
The Glacier was first explored in 1865 by Austrian Julius Haast and it has been advancing and retreating ever since and now it’s your chance to get up close and personal with a variety of activities to tickle your fancy.
There are several ways to explore the glacier from independent walks to heli-hikes but however you choose to take in the sights and sounds of the stunning glacier, make sure you pack your bag for all weathers as things can change quickly up at the glacier. Arriving mid-afternoon will give you plenty of time to book your excursion for tomorrow when you will have a full day to explore the glacier however you want. Get a good feed and a good night’s sleep as tomorrow is going to be a busy day!
5Exploring the Franz Josef Glacier
Hopefully you booked your excursion when you got in last night and you will be up at the crack of sparrows to head up to the ice but it is going to be an awesome day we promise!
There are a number of independent walks you can make which provide great viewpoints of the glacier. The best is probably Sentinel Rock which is 10 minutes from the car park or the Ka Roimate o Hine Hukatere walk which is a more energetic 40 minute walk that leads to the terminal of the glacier.
Without a doubt the best way to experience the glacier is to walk on them. Small group walks with experience guides and equipment provided (amazing socks!) can be booked in the town of Franz and offer half or full day trips up onto the glacier. We cannot recommend highly enough taking the full day hike as this will allow you to get further up the glacier with the chance to find new routes or even undiscovered ice caves. With your crampons on and your ice picks at the ready, this is another great snap for Facebook to show you as the true ‘explorer’ so don’t miss out on this one. Franz Josef Glacier Guides are also a partner of GO Play, offering a 10% discount for guided tours on the ice – cool!
Use your GO Play card here
For those with a few more dollars to spare, a heli-hike offers two fantastic opportunities; see the sheer scales of the glacier from the skies but also get onto the glacier much higher up where the ice is much purer. Here you’ll get the chance to discover blue-ice caves, seracs and pristine ice formations and let’s face it, a trip in a helicopter is pretty cool.
Aoraki Mount Cook
Taking things one step further, Aoraki Mount Cook is within reach of Franz by helicopter with a number of companies running tours to see the highest peak in NZ. These tours can often be combined with a heli-hike on either Franz Josef of Fox glacier and is the ultimate Southern Alps experience. If you do head out on one of these amazing trips, be sure to let us know so we can all be super jealous in the office!
There really is no better opportunity to snap yourself the perfect photo for our GO Snap Happy competition, looking all adventurous with your ice axe and crampons!
6Franz Josef to Queenstown (350km – 4 hours 43 mins)
After a day on the glacier, today is going to be about the driving and some spectacular scenery (don’t worry, these GO Rentals hire cars love a good run out!). The drive to Queenstown takes you down the West Coast before cutting inland along the Haast Pass towards Queenstown. There are some spectacular view points on the way but be sure to pick one or two or you may never arrive in Queenstown!
Lake Matheson (27.8km – 27 mins from Franz Josef)
As you head out of Franz Josef, one stop that cannot be missed is a detour to Lake Matheson. If you’re looking for the photo to put on Facebook to make all your friends jealous, then this is it. Better still, send your photo in to our GO Snap Happy competition for a chance to win back the cost of your rental – can’t say fairer than that! Take the road west at the popular Fox Glacier township and you’ll be rewarded with views that take your breath away and make you question why you ever want to go back to whatever it is you do when you’re not touring round NZ’s South Island.
Famous for reflecting a near-perfect image of Aoraki/Mount Cook in its waters, Lake Matheson was formed around 14,000 years ago when the Fox Glacier retreated from its last major advance towards the sea. If we had to guess, we reckon you’ll end up with 39 photos give or take on your camera – the best view is always just around the corner!
As you carry on down the Haast Pass, there’s loads of forest and lakeside walks you can take along the way depending on how you’re doing for time. Lake Paringa offers a great pitstop location for lunch with some stunning scenery in all directions. The highway then makes its way back out to the coast at Bruce’s Bay and a stunning drive awaits.
Monro Beach (125km – 2 hours 8 mins)
Enjoy the views along the rugged coastline as this is your last chance to take in the splendour of New Zealand’s West Coast – it’s soon time to turn east and head inland towards the lakes and mountains. Be sure to stop off for the walk down to Monro Beach just before you hit the Haast Pass going east where between July and December it’s possible to see the tawaki (Fiordland crested penguin). Make sure you cover up though as the venomous sand flies can be brutal at most times of the year. From here, your GO Rentals beast should be singing along as the road takes a meandering route through the Mt Aspiring National Park and on to Wanaka.
Blue Pools (78km – 1 hour 30 mins)
Just north of the Makaroa Tourist Information Centre is a hidden gem (not so hidden since it made it into the top 10 things to do in NZ list!) for Kiwis and tourists alike. The Blue Pools walk can be accessed directly from the Haast Pass and is well signposted along the route. Follow the track into the forest where you’ll find a series of crystal clear pools that have been carved out of the rocks by centuries of erosion. The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom. Jumping in looks tempting but it’s not advised as it will be a particularly cold shock to the system as well as upsetting the resident brown trout and you don’t want to mess with a brown trout unless you like a wet face slap.
From here you still have around 140kms ‘til you hit Queenstown which will take you around 2 hours.
7Queenstown and around
Unless you’ve been living under a rock up until now, you will have heard all about Queenstown and its reputation as the adventure capital of NZ, if not the world. Well, that’s certainly true and for you adventure junkies out there, there’s certainly plenty to get your pulse racing. Here are just a few of our highlights:
AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy
AJ Hackett was the pioneer of Bungy across the world, and the Kawarau Bungy was the first commercial bungy in the World. However, it’s the Nevis Bungy which is like no other. The Nevis is Australasia’s Highest Bungy with a 134m (440 feet) drop and 8.5 seconds of freefall the ground rush is like no other. Getting there is an adventure in itself with a 40 minute drive off road through a sheep station and then you find yourself dangling on a high wire cable across a large valley – for true adventure junkies, this is the ultimate thrill.
Skippers Canyon Jet
Get ready for the thrill of a lifetime with New Zealand’s world famous Skipper Canyon Jet – the ultimate jet boat experience. Reaching speeds of up to 85mph, feel your adrenalin surge as you accelerate into the towering Shotover River Canyons. You may think that the driver is a lunatic, but rest-assured, he is an expert and will have you skimming over the shallows, doing 360 degree spins and take you closer to the edge of the high sided canyon walls than you would think is possible! Skippers Canyon Jet is also a GO Play partner. Bonus!
Use your GO Play card here
Coronet Peak Ski Resort
Coronet Peak is New Zealand’s top Ski Resort. Whether you’re a seasoned downhill pro that would give James Bond a run for his money, or a mere novice who wouldn’t know a snowboard from a surfboard, you’re sure to have a ball here. It’s only 25 minute drive from Queenstown so give it a go. The Apres-Ski can be good fun too!
Accessible from the town centre is the 4+ hour walk to the summit of Ben Lomond. With awesome views of the lake and mountains as well as the summit of Mount Aspiring, this walk is perfect for those who have just landed and want to get an idea of the geography of the area. If you’re fit, consider hiking to the top of Ben Lomond summit for an extra-special panorama. Don’t forget the camera!
For those who want the best of both worlds, give the Skyline Gondola a go. The luge is a fantastic place to take the kids, grab a picnic and let the racing commence! We also reckon the top of the gondola is one of the best places to take a date – amazing views which will blow them away – go on, give it a go!
Arrowtown (20.1km – 22 mins)
Hop in your GO Rentals Car and in less than half an hour, you’ll find yourself in historic Arrowtown. It was the heart of gold rush territory in the south and a true step back in time. At the heart of Arrowtown is Buckingham Street, a tree-lined step back in time dotted with shops, bars and great places to eat with no international chain store in sight. If you want to get out and stretch your legs, there are some great walks and biking tracks which can be accessed from the town centre.
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 will either be welcomed in to a roaring fire or sit out enjoying the sun setting over Lake Wakatipu.
8Queenstown to Te Anau (172kms 2 hours 5 mins)
As you leave Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu behind you, Lake Te Anau, the largest of the South Island’s many lakes comes into view and before you know it you will have reached Te Anau which is your final destination for the evening.
Te Anau is a picturesque township with lots going on in and around the town if you made it down here in good time. There are some great walking tracks which take you to the shores of the lake and the glow worm caves are a must if you have never seen anything like this before.
There are loads of accommodation options in Te Anau and plenty of restaurants to choose from in the evening making this a perfect stop off on your way down to Milford Sound.
9Milford Sound (118kms – 1 hours 42 mins)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. The great news for you is that Te Anau is only 118kms from Milford Sound but even this relatively short trip will take you close to 2 hours. We recommend getting up early and getting down to Milford Sound as early as possible – it’s 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!).
Once down here, there is plenty to see and do so make a Milford Sound Bucket list and get ticking things off. Here are some of our favourites:
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!
This is a definite favourite of the GO Rentals team as you get to really explore the Sound as well as spending the night out on the water – saves you thinking about where to stay tonight as well! Some boats have underwater viewing observatories, and all give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the amazing geography and wildlife so get your cameras at the ready! Look out for penguins and dolphins, as well as whales – the occasional one makes it all the way into the fiords.
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. GO Play partner 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 decide not to do the overnight cruise, preferring instead to head out in a kayak or explore the observatory, there are accommodation options at Milford Sound or you can make your way back to Te Anau but be aware that the road back out gets pretty busy with day trippers on their way back to Queenstown.
10Milford Sound to Queenstown (287 kms – 3 hours 43 mins)
Well, after what will hopefully have been an awe-inspiring day down at Milford Sound, it’s time to hit the road and head back to Queenstown. Thankfully if you stayed the night down here, the traffic should not be as busy as you head the opposite way to most people making their way down here for the day. Make sure you take your time – the roads are windy and will still be busy so stick to the speed limit and get back to Queenstown safe and sound.
11Queenstown to Wanaka (68.6km – 1 hour 12 mins)
A short drive awaits today and although Wanaka offers many of the same adrenaline fuelled adventures as Queenstown, from snowboarding to mountain biking, it’s also the perfect place to relax and chill out by the side of the lake.
Rob Roy Glacier
If you do fancy a stretch of the legs there are over 750km of walking tracks in and around Wanaka whether you want a short stroll or a full day hike. About an hour’s drive from Wanaka is Rob Roy Glacier, an ideal entry point to the Mt Aspiring National Park. From the Raspberry Creek car park, you will find a stunning walk up the valley brings you outstanding views of Rob Roy Glacier. It’s about a 4 hour round trip so this one is not for the feint hearted.
A trip to Wanaka is just not the same without a trip to Puzzling World and it’s a definite favourite of the GO Rentals team. With 1.5km of passages in the ‘Great Maze’, it’s a great place to get lost for a few hours and act like a big kid as you race your mates to the four corners and back to the middle. It’s also really funny when someone gets themselves lost! Throw in a few weird and wonderful illusions like water running uphill (what’s that all about?!) and this makes for the perfect start to any day.
Beer fans take note! For something a bit different, why not have a drive out to the Wanaka Beerworks where you can sample the local beers and ales as well as taking a tour and finding out about the history of beer making (it’s actually harder than you think!). Make sure you take home a sample selection to keep you going throughout the rest of your trip.
This small classic movie theatre located in Wanaka is a real find. With comfy old sofas and 3 seats in an old Morris Minor this is a truly quirky place to spend a few hours unwinding. There is a cafe and bar serving delicious meals before, during or after the movie, homemade ice cream and some world-famous hot cookies baked fresh for every intermission. Expect a warm and friendly welcome from the staff to boot.
Mercure Oakridge Resort
After another full on day, it’s great to relax and unwind and there’s no better place than the Grand Mercure Oakridge resort where you can make the most of the heated outdoor rock pools and spa complex. We’ve heard this sort of thing goes down really well with the ladies so why not treat the special one in your life to a day pass (you can always take the beer tour!) or even better, splash out and stay the night. Win win.
Speight’s Ale House
A perfect place to grab a bite to eat is at the Wanaka Speight’s Ale House. A traditional Kiwi experience awaits along with the full range of Speight’s ales. Highly recommended come the fish and chips served in a traditional paper bag washed down with a pint of Speight’s Summit Lager – delicious! You wanted the full on Kiwi experience – it doesn’t get much more Kiwi than that.
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12Wanaka to Mt Cook Village (206kms – 2 hours 17 mins)
It’s only just over 2 hours to drive to Mt Cook Village though so you will still have plenty of time this morning to explore Wanaka and tackle any of the activities you may have missed yesterday. Heading out of Wanaka, there are some great stop off on the way up to Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Your journey north will take you towards Twizel and over the Lindis Pass – a spectacular drive where you will often see snow down to the roadside throughout much of the year. If you’re making this drive in the winter months, be sure to check the conditions of the road before heading out as things can get a bit precarious and the weather can soon close in up above 900m.
Twizel (140kms – 1 hour 35 mins)
Twizel will be your final stop off point before you head into the Mt Cook National Park where you will spend your third night of your trip. The town was purpose built in the 1960s to provide homes for workers on the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme and it now offers a great base for people looking to head off into the National Park. There are a good range of shops here to stock up on goodies for the rest of your journey into the National Park.
Your journey from Twizel takes you up the shoreline of Lake Pukaki with some stunning views of the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mt Cook which will leave you breathless. It’s a further 63.9kms from Twizel to Mt Cook Village which should take you just under an hour.
13Wanaka to Mt Cook Village (206kms – 2 hours 17 mins)
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (63.9kms – 58 mins)
This is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular National Parks (and we have some amazing ones!) so spending the day here is going to be one you never forget. There is so much to see and do in the park that choosing your activities carefully to maximise your time here is going to be crucial. We recommend planning your day the night before in Wanaka, leaving yourself the whole day today to take it all in and soak up that fresh mountain air. With so much to do here, we have pulled together some of our personal favourites:
Walking – it kind of goes without saying that the walking in these parts is pretty special. With walks to suit every degree of fitness, explore the national park’s rich flora including the Mount Cook ‘lily’, the world’s largest buttercup.
Skiing and snow sports – obviously this is an activity for the winter enthusiasts but many descend on Mt Cook Village as the winter sports down here are pretty awesome! There’s plenty for those who are not into skiing through from snowshoeing to climbing so there is plenty to do down here in the winter months.
Scenic flights and heli-hiking – If you have a few dollars to spare we can definitely recommend taking a scenic flight around these parts. For something extra special, try one of the ski-planes which can land up on the Tasman Glacier – now that is cool! For those true adventurers, you can also take a helicopter ride to go hiking or even ski the virgin snow up high on the mountains.
Best of the rest – no matter what you’re into, the chances are you can do it down here from fishing to golf, cycling to horse trekking and lots in between.
Whether you are a sporting enthusiast, adventure junkie or a nature lover, this place is a truly special location to spend a long weekend.
This part of the world also gives you the perfect opportunity to get involved and enter our GO Snap Happy competition – just send us your best photos for the chance to win back the cost of your car hire – how good is that?!!
14Aoraki/Mount Cook to Christchurch (330kms – 3 hours 53 mins)
After an awesome day spent exploring the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, it’s time to hit the road and head off towards the east coast and the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch and your final destination on this two week road trip. Make sure you leave plenty of time today as there are some really great stop off points and we don’t want you to miss anything on your final day!
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (107kms – 1 hour 13 mins)
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 – 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).
Akaroa (280km – 4 hours 10mins from Lake Tekapo)
Located 75km from Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great stop off as you head towards the big city. 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). Black Cat Cruises, a GO Play partner offer an awesome opportunity to swim with the rare Hector’s dolphins which are only found in these waters – a must if you have never done this type of thing before.
Lyttelton (77.5km – 1 hour 18 mins from Akaroa)
As you head into Christchurch, a stop off at Lyttelton is well worth the detour and it’s a great place to grab some dinner if you’re arriving in the early evening. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – the road from Lyttelton to Christchurch 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 end the third day of this road trip.
From here it’s only another 18kms into Christchurch where your 2 week adventure will come to an end. Hopefully you will have time at the start or end of your trip to explore the beautiful Garden City. Here are some of our top tips for things to do in Christchurch.
We hope you have had an amazing time and crammed in as much activity as possible – there is so much to see and do down here that you could spend 14 years never mind 14 days exploring and still not see it all. If you stumbled on any hidden gems on your trip, let us know via our GO Explore Facebook page and we can make sure we add them in for future adventurers!