Great news! You’ve got a long weekend and you’re heading out from Christchurch for 3 days. If you’re looking for a great plan for those 3 days then look no further! This 3 day itinerary will take you from the Garden City to Mt Cook Village via Lake Tekapo and some amazing stargazing. We love this adventure – it’s one of our favourite things to do in the South Island and such an amazing 3 days break where you can do as much or as little as you want. What are you waiting for – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Christchurch to Lake Tekapo (227km – 2 hours 50 mins)
After picking up your hire car in Christchurch, it’s time to hit the road – we have a few miles to cover today and despite it being just under 3 hours to your final destination at Lake Tekapo, we’re going to throw in a couple of detours which we think you will love!
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 and out 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 (276km – 3 hours 30 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. We definitely recommend a stopover here and promise 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).
2Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook Village (103kms – 1 hour 5 mins)
Well, how was it? Were you completely star-struck? (See what we did there?!!) Hopefully you got a clear night and the stars really did shine for you (to quote Coldplay – that song is going to be in your head for the rest of the day!) but it’s time to hit the road – you have a big day of adventure ahead of you!
Thankfully for you after a day behind the wheel yesterday, it’s only just over an hour to your final destination of Mt Cook Village where you can have an action-packed day or just sit back and soak in the views. Here are just a few of our top tips though:
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.
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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?!!
3Mt Cook Village to Christchurch (330kms – 3 hours 55 mins)
So hopefully all this mountain air will have done you the world of good and you will be heading back to Christchurch feeling rested and energised by the fantastic surroundings in Mt Cook Village. Your last day sees you heading back up to Christchurch which will take you just short of 4 hours so make sure you leave plenty of time.
If you make it back to Christchurch in good time and you’re not familiar with the South Island’s biggest city, it’s definitely worth spending a couple of hours exploring before you have to drop the car back off and head back to the real world.
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Christchurch has unfortunately made headlines in recent times for a string of earthquakes that caused serious damage to the city – but its charm remains untouched and the city is rebuilding. Check out the several Gap Filler projects that volunteers have created to temporarily “activate” sites left empty by the earthquakes – you’ll be able to see some unique and really creative work that is proof of Christchurch’s charm and resilience.
The tree-lined Avon River and Christchurch’s many parks and gardens give the city its reputation as the Garden City so make sure you check out the botanical gardens and the beautiful parks. For something a bit different, why not take a trip down to the picture perfect Antigua boatsheds and try your hand at punting – we bet you have a few crashes if our own experience is anything to go by!
So, that brings to a close this 3 day adventure in and around Christchurch and hopefully we have given you plenty of ideas for things to do. If you have some top tips of your own, let us know on our GO Explore Facebook page so we can pass them on to fellow travellers.