Well this is exciting news! You have a 2 week holiday and you’re planning a South Island road trip – let’s see if we can help you out with your itinerary planning! Our 14 day itinerary starting and finishing in Christchurch will take you on some of the roads less travelled around New Zealand whilst dropping you back in every now and again to some of the biggest and best tourist attractions you’re ever likely to come across. This will be a true journey of discovery and one we hope you will love as much as we do. Anytime, enough chit chat – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
Book a vehicle for this trip
1Christchurch to Dunedin (361kms – 4 hours 36 mins)
It’s going to be a bit of a whistle stop trip to Christchurch but you should have time this morning to explore Christchurch before you hit the road for the trip south down the east coast to Dunedin. Christchurch is a city on the mend after the devastating earthquakes of 2011 and there is plenty to do here – you may decide to give yourself an extra day here and cut something out of this itinerary later down the line – we can’t blame you as it’s an awesome place to spend the day but for now, we’ve got to get going in order to fit everything in to these 14 days.
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. 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.
Related Blog Posts
- 10 of New Zealand’s Best Bike Rides to Check Out This Summer
- 10 of New Zealand’s Weirdest and Most Wonderful Tourist Attractions
- Cage diving with the Great Whites – a GO Play Exclusive
- 9 reasons why Australians love New Zealand
After spending a couple of hours exploring the city, it’s time to hit the road and the first big stop of the day will be Timaru.
Timaru (164kms – 2 hours 9 mins)
After passing through some of the interesting towns and villages on the way, including Ashburton and Geraldine, Timaru will be the first big stop off planned on this trip down to Dunedin. Timaru sits almost exactly half way between Christchurch and Dunedin and is Canterbury’s second largest city. As with any good pit stop location, there’s plenty to do in Timaru to pass a couple of hours and spend some time out of the car, from the beautiful Caroline Bay which is a great for a dip in the warm summer months to the historic precinct which houses some grand old buildings like the old Customs House.
There are plenty of cafes and bars that link the beach with the main shopping area so grab a bite to eat – we still have a few miles ahead of us!
Oamaru (87.8kms – 1 hour 10 mins)
Although we may still have a few miles ahead of us, your next stop is only just over an hour away and marks the start of a busy run in to Dunedin with lots of interesting stops on the way. Oamaru provides you with an awesome opportunity to catch a glimpse of the blue penguin (Korora) up close. These little fellas head out before first light and return at the end of the day just as its getting dark.
Totara Estate (8.4kms – 10 mins)
This old Mill House dating back to 1874 comes with quite a history. A working mill until the mid-1940s the estate was originally a farm for sheep, cattle and grain but a downturn in wool prices saw the first frozen meat shipment making its way from NZ to England successfully in 1882 and so began the start of a multi-billion dollar industry that formed the basis of New Zealand’s economy.
The old buildings were restored by the Historic Places Trust in the 1980s and are definitely worth a stop off.
Moeraki Boulders (29.2kms – 22 mins)
This is one of the quirkier detours on the trip to go and check out a bunch of rocks! To be fair, these are a pretty impressive collection of boulders which have been formed over a period of 4 million years. The large spherical boulders are scattered all along the Moeraki coastline and two were found to contain dinosaur bones which we think is pretty cool. The beaches are pretty stunning round these parts and very rugged so make sure you check out these ancient bad boys.
From here it’s a straight run into Dunedin which should take you around an hour.
2Dunedin and around
Dunedin is one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets and is one of the best preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Often referred to as the ‘Edinburgh’ of the South, Dunedin is proud of its Scottish heritage and is steeped in history and culture. On such a tight time schedule, you will only have a few hours today and a couple of hours in the morning to explore so we have tried to include as many highlights as possible below so don’t be shy – get out there and explore:
Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle and is often why Dunedin gets compared to Edinburgh. The magnificent castle is perched on the side of a hill overlooking the Otago Harbour. Named after its builder William Larnach, the castle has quite a history and regular tours of the castle run where you can learn about the scandal of Larnach’s three wives and six children.
Speights Brewery Tour
A trip to Dunedin would not be complete without a trip to the Speights Brewery. New Zealand has many iconic beers from Steinlager to Monteiths but down in these parts, Speights rules the roost. A great way to spend a couple of hours learning about the brewing process and obviously getting to sample some of their finest drops.
Dunedin Botanic Gardens
A great place to spend a few hours relaxing and unwinding at any time of the year. The colours in the autumn fall are spectacular but there’s nothing quite a like a stroll through the gardens in the height of summer when everything is in full bloom. A definite favourite of the GO Rentals team for chilling out and getting lost in a good book.
Royal Albatross Centre
The Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head is the site of the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world making it a pretty spectacular place to visit. It’s not just the rare albatross that can be seen though as the world’s smallest penguins, the little blue penguins can also be found here on the Otago peninsula – double whammy!
Use your GO Play card here
We have only scratched the surface of things to do in and around Dunedin here so make sure you check out our Explore New Zealand section for more ideas.
3Dunedin to Invercargill via Catlins Coast (244kms – 3 hours 21 mins)
The Southern Scenic Route is one of New Zealand’s gems and is truly a road less travelled. Conceived by the people of Tuatapere in Western Southland to share the delights of the lower south island with those willing to make the journey down there, this trip from Dunedin to Invercargill will be one of the highlights of your trip.
Clutha Country (80 kms – 1 hour 1 min to Balclutha)
Balclutha is the biggest town in an area known as ‘Clutha Country’ and you can expect a warm welcome from the locals. Southland is notorious for the friendly welcome afforded to all those who travel through these parts and with such a wide variety of things to do in the area, it is a great first stop off point for the day. From the superb fishing on the Clutha River to the numerous trails and tracks that run through the rolling hills, it is great to get out and stretch your legs and soak in the fresh southern air.
The Catlins (186kms – 2 hours 33 mins to Tokanui)
The Catlins are often overlooked by travellers who avoid the loner route around the bottom of New Zealand for the faster route between Dunedin and Invercargill – don’t follow the masses, they don’t know what they’re missing out on! The Catlins are a remote and rugged area of natural beauty and the drive itself is pretty spectacular but don’t be fooled into thinking there is nothing to do down this way as there are some great stop off points between here and Invercargill. Here are a few of our favourites:
Curio Bay – famous for its petrified forest, the tree fossils can be seen at low tide and are over 180 million years old! There is also a small population of yellow-eyed penguins that nest nearby so potentially another one to tick off your penguin watchlist! Surfing is also pretty popular in Curio Bay so maybe this is your moment to shine – there won’t be many people around to watch if you wipe out!
Slope Point – this is the South Island’s most southerly point and the only thing between you and the Antarctic is a few uninhabited islands – now that’s what we call remote! It’s about a 20 minute return walk to get to Slope Point but this is a great photo op so send your best ones in to our GO Snap Happy comp!
Nugget Point – this is one of New Zealand’s oldest lighthouses and it’s a really great 30 minute walk to get to it so hop out of the car and give your legs a stretch – you may even see some of those yellow-eyed penguins if you’re lucky!
Cathedral Caves – these magnificent 30 metre high caves are only accessible at low tide so be sure to check the website before venturing out to find them. It’s about a 30 minute walk through the forest and beach to get to them but well worth it if you catch the right tide.
Waikawa – one of the bigger townships down on this route is Waikawa. Stop in here to stock up on goodies for the rest of your road trip to Invercargill and check out the museum whilst your there which has numerous displays relating to the early settlers. There are a couple of nice walks that will take you around 20 minutes if you need to stretch those legs before the final stint of this trip.
From Tokanui which is midway along this stretch, it’s another 60kms to Invercargill which will take you around 50 minutes.
4Invercargill to Stewart Island (28.1kms – 25 mins plus a 1 hour ferry crossing)
Waking up in New Zealand’s southernmost city, you have a big day ahead of you as you head across to Stewart Island. Depending on the time of year will depend on how many ferry crossings there are but in the height of summer, there are 3 departures a day at 9.30am, 11am and 5pm from Bluff returning from Stewart Island at 8am, 3.30pm and 6pm. In winter, these crossings go down to 2 or sometimes 1 a day so be sure to check the website for more information.
If you’re visiting in summer, we recommend spending an hour or two in and around Invercargill before making your way to Bluff to catch the 11am ferry.
A trip to Queens Park is a must where you will find a lovely rose garden, a golf course and the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, which has the claim to fame of being New Zealand’s largest pyramid structure! Invercargill is also a great place for sports enthusiasts and New Zealand’s only indoor cycling velodrome can be found here and one of New Zealand’s finest golf courses, Oreti Sands (recently voted as number 17 in the top 25 golf courses in New Zealand) is located nearby.
If you happen to be down here in November time, the Burt Munro challenge is a great event to come along to. Immortalised in the film ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’, Burt Munro hailed from Invercargill and each year, a group of cycling enthusiasts get together to honour Burt by racing bikes down in Southland at a number of different locations including Oreti Beach. Check out the website and see if you can time your visit with this fantastic event.
A trip to Southland would not be complete without a visit to New Zealand’s third island. Stewart Island or Rakiura (‘the land of the glowing skies’ in Maori) is home to New Zealand’s southernmost National Park. Rakiura National Park accounts for over 80% of Stewart Island and as you can imagine, this is a land of unspoilt wilderness where unmodified ecosystems thrive. The park therefore provides an exceptional opportunity to see native wildlife in its most natural habitat.
If you are a keen adventurer and fancy a night out in the wild, there are a number of hiker huts within the park and this is one of the best places on earth to witness Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights) as well as watching breath taking sunsets that the Maori name is derived from.
If you are staying just for the day, there is still a great opportunity to see some amazing wildlife in its natural habitat and two or three times a week, guided trips to Masons Bay provide the rare opportunity to see kiwi birds eating sandhoppers on the beach – that is definitely a trip not to be missed.
In addition to the amazing wildlife, Stewart Island is also home to 245kms of walking tracks so it a paradise for hikers. For people on a day trip looking to stretch your legs and explore the island, there are a number of short 2-3 hour return walks that will lead you through this unspoilt landscape and leave you wishing you had more time on this magical island.
However you choose to spend your day on Stewart Island, we promise you it will be worth the trip and the thought that this is the last place on earth before you hit Antarctica heading south is pretty special.
If you’re heading back across to Invercargill for the night, there are plenty of options for grabbing a drink and a bite to eat in the city centre. Local food specialities include oysters from Bluff and blue cod.
5Invercargill to Milford Sound via Southern Scenic Route (296kms – 3 hours 57 mins)
After a fantastic day exploring Stewart Island/Rakiura yesterday, it’s time to hit the road again and get back on the Southern Scenic Route as you head north into Fiordland country. There is a more direct route to Milford Sound but this is a trip of discovery, it’s about the road less travelled and it’s about adventure so let’s stick to the Southern Scenic Route which only takes about half an hour longer anyway!
Tuatapere (80.3kms – 1 hour 4 mins)
Sitting right on the edge of the fiordland wilderness, Tuatapere is the first stop off point of the day. Although this town is a stop off point for many who are embarking on the Hump Ridge Track – a 3 day walk which will take you to the wilds of western southland including a visit to the Percy Burn Viaduct, thought to be the largest remaining wooden viaduct in the world – it is a great place to hop out of your car and stretch the legs. Located on the Waiau River, the town has a rich sawmilling history and the logging museum is worth a look in. There are loads of things to do here from fishing to walking to jet boating but our 10 day itinerary means we are going to have to crack on – a place to add to the list for a re-visit.
Clifden (12.5kms – 10 mins)
Hop back in your GO Rentals car and head 10 minutes north before your next stop at Clifden. For you Brits, this is not to be confused with Clifton Suspension Bridge but Clifden is famous for its suspension bridge which spans the Waiau River. This is a pretty impressive structure built from totara and Australian hardwood and is the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand.
Manapouri (66.9kms – 52 mins)
Lake Manapouri is New Zealand’s second deepest lake and features a hydro power station at its western end. The lakeside town is a great place for a stop off and exploring the lake by kayak or on some of the walking tracks around the shores is a great way to spend a few hours. For those not on a 10 day itinerary, there are some fantastic walking tracks such as the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’ that come through Manapouri.
If you do have a bit more time, it’s also a great place to base yourself to explore Doubtful Sound, one of fiorldland’s hidden gems. Tucked away at beyond Lake Manapouri, this is a truly magical, untouched beauty with very few crowds. You may decide that this is a great alternative to Milford Sound if you prefer something a bit more off the beaten track and we definitely wouldn’t blame you – it’s one of our favourite places on earth.
Exploring Doubtful Sound can be done in a number of ways but the best is probably on an overnight cruise. Stargazing at night whilst out on the water is simply out of this world and you will truly be blown away by the experience.
For those of you who resist the temptation to head to Doubtful Sound, we will carry on our journey north to what Rudyard Kipling once described as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ – Milford Sound.
Te Anau (21.7kms – 18 mins)
There is one final stop off before we get to Milford Sound and this is a good place to base yourself for the night as accommodation options down at Milford Sound are limited. 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 up to Milford Sound.
For those who may be staying in Milford Sound lodge for the night, it’s another 118kms which will take you just short of 2 hours so make sure you leave plenty of time.
Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. As you know, 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.
7Milford 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 towards your next destination – 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.
Amazingly your route back to Queenstown will see you continuing to following the Southern Scenic Route which you have been on since you left Dunedin and has been a mainstay of your trip to the lower South Island.
The journey today will take you close to 4 hours and depending on traffic it could be more so make sure you leave plenty of time to get the car back to Queenstown. Hopefully you will have set off early enough today to explore Queenstown when you arrive – as you can imagine there is a lot going on so today is a chance to pick out some of the things you want to get involved in and maybe a cheeky trip up the Skyline Gondola for some amazing views over the city and mountains beyond. The good news is that we have also put some time aside tomorrow for getting involved in the all-action adventures around these parts so read on for our top tips!
8Queenstown to Wanaka (68.6km – 1 hour 12 mins)
It’s only a short drive ahead of you today so you will have plenty of time to get involved in some activities in and around Queenstown but you’re going to have to pick your activity wisely from the action-packed to the more sedate – here are some of our top tips:
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) Skippers 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) Wine tasting – The Central Otago region is famous for producing world-leading Pinot Noirs – this one is not for the driver but passengers can enjoy sampling some fine wines from the region before hitting the road
After all the excitement and adrenaline of Queenstown it’s going to be time to hit the road but thankfully for you, it’s a short trip in your new best friend to your next stop off in Wanaka. 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.
Wanaka and around
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.
9Wanaka to Franz Josef (285km – 4 hours 53 mins)
After a couple of days based in and around Queenstown and Wanaka, it’s time to hit the road proper and get some miles under the belt (these GO Rentals hire cars love a good run out!). The drive out of Wanaka along Highway 6 takes you away from Lake Wanaka and out towards Lake Hawea. Pick out one or two stops on the route otherwise you will be pulling in to every layby as there is some truly stunning scenery as you drive along the Haast Pass as the road eventually cuts back in at the head of Lake Wanaka before sending you out to the rugged West Coast.
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.
Monro Beach 78km – 1 hour 30 mins from Blue Pools)
Your GO Rentals beast should now be singing along as the road takes a meandering route through Mt Aspiring National Park before meeting up with the Haast River making its way to the sea which is exactly where you are also heading. Some cracking views await you as you hit the coast just past Haast but be sure to stop off for the walk down to Monro Beach 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.
Lake Matheson (125km – 2 hours 8 mins from Monro Beach)
As you carry on up 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 finally starts to make its way inland at Bruce’s Bay and your final destination fast approaches.
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. 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 are 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!
After the spectacular but lengthy drive of the previous day, you’ll be glad to be out of the car (the car will surely have a name by now) and stretching the legs and what a site to wake up to – the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier. The Glacier was first explored in 1865 by Austrian Julius Haast and it has been advancing and retreating ever since.
Exploring the glacier
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.
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!
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!
11Franz Josef to Greymouth (174km – 2 hours 21 mins)
After a full-on day on the glacier, a big-ish drive awaits you the next day with lots of interesting stop off points as you make your way up to Greymouth. The first part of the drive carries on up SH6, passing many beautiful lakes before finally cutting back in to the coastline and arriving at Ross which was made famous in 1909 when NZ’s largest ever gold nugget was mined weighing in at an impressive 2.807kgs.
Lake Mahinapua (122km – 1 hour 35 mins from Franz Josef)
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.
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 North before you hit 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.
Punakaiki pancake rocks (83km – 1 hour 10 mins from Hokitika)
Hmmmm pancakes as Homer would say! Well, this is a different type of pancake but we’re pretty sure Homer would be happy with a stack this high. These 30-million-year-old limestone formations are nothing to be scoffed at. They’re towering cliffs of rock which really do look like a sky-high layer of grey pancakes stacked one on top of the other.
Although Greymouth is the final stop of the day, we recommend taking the drive another 40-50 minutes north to check out these stony phenomenons. With a well-maintained path leading out to the best spots, this is a great chance to see the huge waterspouts that blast out towards the sky from blowholes. Chances are you’ll have been driving all day and sunset is a fantastic time to see these beauties and get those picture-postcard snaps.
Greymouth (43.9km – 36 mins from Punakaiki)
Although it’s the biggest town on NZ’s West Coast, Greymouth is more of a stopping off point for many travellers either by road or rail as the famous Tranzalpine railway to Christchurch heads off from Greymouth. There is however still plenty to see and do in the area and probably the most popular is the Monteith’s brewery tour and tasting (that’s right folks, more beer tasting!). Monteith’s is one of NZ’s most famous exports and the master brewers will talk you through the process of creating multi-award winning beers…and then you’ll get to try them for yourself. Winner.
On yer bike! Adventures also offer some fantastic off-roading fun in their quads, go-karts, argo and hagglunds through amazing rainforest trails and flowing creeks. You may have been missing out on adventure since leaving Queenstown so this should get you going again!
12Greymouth to Nelson (287km – 3 hours 36 mins)
The next leg of your journey takes you to the far north of the South Island and this day is filled with lots of little gems to break up the journey.
Formerly the Blackball Hilton Hotel (27.4km – 31 mins from Greymouth)
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.
Bev’s Dolls (56.9km – 1 hour from Blackball)
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.
Buller Gorge Swing Bridge (46.2km – 41 mins from Reefton)
After a pretty short drive north on SH6 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 is 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
Mapua (165km – 2 hours 23 mins from Buller Gorge)
As you approach Nelson, your final stop off point for the day, it’s well worth a stop off in Mapua.
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 tea and a bit of retail therapy before you hit Nelson. From the Jellyfish Café and Bar to Forest Fusion Functional Art, there’s lots to see and do in Mapua as well as taking in the lovely surroundings.
World of Wearable Art Museum (32km – 34 mins from Mapua)
If you get the time when you arrive in Nelson, 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.
13Exploring the Abel Tasman National Park (59.7km – 1 hour from Nelson)
From Nelson, you’ll have an early start to head off to 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.
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.
14Nelson to Christchurch via Blenheim (423 kms – 5 hours 29 mins)
The journey back is going to take you down the east coast on the South Island through the famous Marlborough wine region. There are some great stop off on this leg of the road trip making sure you have an awesome last day. It’s 423 kms back to Christchurch but this is one of the great drives and one you will not forget.
Havelock (73.5kms – 1 hour 1 min)
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.
Blenheim (41kms – 33 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. 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.
Obviously this is a trip for the passengers and not the driver but make sure you purchase a couple of bottles so your driver doesn’t feel left out – it will be a nice way to thank them for driving you on this 900 km road trip!
Kaikoura (129kms – 1 hour 37 mins)
A great stop off on the way south back to Christchurch 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!
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.
Use your GO Play card here
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.
From Kaikoura, it’s 181 kms to Christchurch which will take you around 2 and a half hours and brings to an end this epic 2 week adventure. We hope you have had a blast and fitted in loads of activities along the way. We know you must have some awesome pictures from your road trip so make sure you enter our GO Snap Happy competition of send them in to our GO Explore Facebook page.