Dunedin is the second largest city in the South Island, rich with history with plenty of things to see and do. It’s also the home of the latest addition to the GO Rentals’ family – our brand new branch at Dunedin Airport. Before you start your adventure towards Queenstown it only makes sense to do a bit of exploring in Dunedin first which is very easily done!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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If you’re from overseas you might not realise that Dunedin has strong Scottish roots with its very name meaning “Edinburgh” in Gaelic. The settlers that arrived between the 1850s – 1900s certainly left their mark and you can experience much of it yourself in a number of different ways.
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Toitu Settlers Museum
A good place to start is the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. It’s a museum that chronicles the social history of the city including its people, their relationships, art, fashion, culture, transport and more. It gives you fascinating insight into everything behind what you’ll expect to encounter on your travels here and across the region. Hosted in a recently revamped space it’s a great facility from one end to the other.
Larnach Castle and Dunedin Railway Station
Another way to experience Dunedin’s history is through its architecture and there are two fine examples you have to prioritise. Larnach Castle and the Dunedin Railway Station. Larnach Castle is actually one of the only castles in New Zealand dating back to the 1870s, carefully preserved and restored to the time of its creation. It also has magnificent gardens to explore. The Dunedin Railway Station is one of the most photographed railway stations in the country thanks to its exquisite Flemish styled facade. It also often hosts exhibitions and galleries too.
As well as its fascinating history and architecture, Dunedin is also close to some amazing natural features like the Otago Peninsula. It received world acclaim when CNN named it one of the Top 10 places to propose for marriage in 2011 thanks to its incredible scenery and natural wildlife. The latter, especially with regards to its birdlife, is something that draws people from far and wide. The opportunity to see colonies of Hoiho (Yellow Eyed Penguin) and Royal Albatross can be experienced nowhere else in the world which makes it all the more special.
Something a bit different – Oamaru (112kms – 1 hour 27 mins)
If you’ve already seen the sights of Dunedin in a previous trip and want to spend your first day doing something a bit different then you could do a lot worse than a little excursion to Oamaru, less than 90 minutes’ drive away. Things to see and do there include:
• Steampunk HQ – If you happen to be a fan of popular culture and the alternate genre that is Steampunk, then you’re definitely in for a treat here as Oamaru as an entire museum dedicated to it! With your GO Play card you get a 10% discount too!
• Blue Penguin Colony – Animal lovers are really spoilt for choice in this part of the world as Oamaru has its own Blue Penguin Colony that you can observe and experience. They are among the smallest and most adorable penguins in the world that settled here in the 1900s and have since become the town’s most popular attraction. A 10% discount here too with your GO Play card!
2Dunedin to Queenstown (282kms – 3 hours 41 mins)
After a great day in Dunedin, it’s time to take your GO Rentals ride out towards the tourist’s paradise that is Queenstown.
The trip from Dunedin to Queenstown isn’t bad by New Zealand standards at just under 4 hours but the New Zealand way is to do things chilled out and relaxed so we’ve included a few suggested stops along the way.
Roxburgh (152kms – 1 hour 52 mins from Dunedin)
Approximately 150kms into your journey you’ll probably feel the need to stretch your legs and the small little town of Roxburgh is a great place to do exactly that. That’s because Roxburgh has a number of great walking trails for you to stroll including the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail. It is also home to the Roxburgh Dam, the first hydro dam built on the Clutha River. This has a great lookout point with great views to admire and appreciate. There’s also plenty of places to eat in Roxburgh including Jimmy’s Pies, famous throughout the country.
Cromwell (72kms – 54 mins from Roxburgh)
Another great little town to discover, just under an hour’s drive from Roxburgh is Cromwell, an iconic former gold mining town that’s since been reinvented as the stone fruit capital of New Zealand. You’ll find no shortage of things to do here including walking through the Heritage Precinct, visiting the Gold Mining Centre, going on an orchard tour or even watching some racing at the Highlands Motorsport Park if dates coincide. The wineries in the region aren’t too shabby either!
If you’ve managed to keep to schedule with the previous two stops then you can reward yourself with a final stop in Arrowtown, a short little detour off the Arrow Junction that’s well worth your time.
Similar to both Roxburgh and Cromwell, Arrowtown has strong roots from the Gold Rush Era, much of which can still be seen today. The main street of this quaint little town is a great tribute to the period with restored European and Chinese buildings from the time. Autumn is an especially nice time to visit as the tree-lined street turns a beautiful amber courtesy of the leaves all around.
That’s just the beginning of Arrowtown’s offerings which include but are not limited to the historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, Sawpit Gully Trail, Lake District Museum and Art Gallery and the Arrow River in which you can pan for the gold. Who knows, you might even strike it lucky and be able to pay off the whole trip!
3Queenstown and around
After 2 great days of journeying, you’re finally here in Queenstown, one of the most exciting cities in New Zealand. To put it simply, there’s not much that Queenstown doesn’t offer as a holiday destination. Great scenery, incredible food and wine, adventures, thrills and spills – the list goes on.
There’s only a couple of days in this itinerary to make the most of it however so you’ll have to be selective. That’s why we’ve done the selecting for you with our top highlights that offer a bit of everything for your visit below:
The wild and wondrous
As promised, we’ve chosen to cover a range of experiences from the wild to the wondrous. In most cities, you’d be lucky to get one or the other but Queenstown gives you both!
1) AJ Hackett Bungy – The pioneers of the Bungy Jump have 3 different locations to choose from (if you’re brave enough). The 3 options are The Kawarau Bridge, The Ledge and Nevis (the highest in NZ at 123 metres). Ooph!
2) Skyline Gondola – For great views (without the thrill) you can’t beat a peaceful ride on the Skyline Gondola looking over the city and the Wakatipu Basin. You’ll reach a summit of 450 metres by the end of the journey, the views from which are simply unforgettable.
3) Skiing (seasonal) – Queenstown has some fantastic slopes all within close proximity to the town centre. This includes the likes of The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Treble Cone. It has a great festive atmosphere during the ski season too which is great to enjoy.
Some alternative activities in Queenstown
Those three were just to get you started and we’ve got three more cracking options below.
1) Queenstown Hill – a 3-hour walk to the peak of Queenstown Hill through an amazing pine forest is a great way to get your fix of nature. There’s also a great sculpture near the summit to grab a few selfies too.
2) Jet Boating – One of the biggest and most successful tourist attractions are the jet boats in Queenstown with a number of operators offering rides at ridiculous speeds with equally ridiculous manoeuvres. Awesome fun!
3) Kiwi Birdlife Park – You can also enjoy amazing animal encounters at the Kiwi Birdlife Park, one of the highest rated places in the city. The Kiwis are the main stars but they also do a great conservation show during the week and have many other native species of bird too.
Use your GO Play card here
Queenstown has a thriving nightlife with over 150 cafes, bars and restaurants to choose from. It’s a great place to be able to unwind, especially given how active you’re likely to be throughout your day of adventuring. Everything from busy clubs to quiet wine bars and late night coffee can be found so you’re completely covered!
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3Wanaka (67kms – 1 hour 6 mins)
For your final day, if you can bear to pull yourself away from the excitement of Queenstown, we thoroughly recommend a side-trip to Wanaka, one of the most beautiful places in the entire country. Only an hour’s drive from Queenstown, it’s really easy to get and has a number of great attractions and sights to see when you’re there.
One of the reasons Wanaka is so well known in recent times is because of its lake and the iconic and hugely Instagrammed Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka (also known as #ThatWanakaTree). It’s actually a little off the beaten track in the foothills of the Mount Aspiring National Park and wasn’t given too much notice by the locals originally. After a few great snaps, however, the tree has pretty much become immortalised.
With your GO Play Card you can get some great discounts on some fantastic things in Wanaka including Sky Diving with Sky Dive Wanaka. From 15,000ft you’ll be strapped to a complete (but highly experienced) stranger before taking the ultimate plunge. After reaching 200 kmph a parachute will (hopefully) be deployed and you’ll be able to spend the rest of the journey in the best seat in the house floating gently towards the ground while taking in the unbelievable view. You can then share the news with your parents who will react the way all parents do without doubt.
Kayaking and SUP
If you’d rather keep both feet a bit closer to the ground then there are plenty of on-water activities you can do. Some of the more popular include Kayaking and Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). The great crew and Paddle Wanaka are fully equipped to sort you out with rentals and they also do guided tours as well. Once again they are a GO Rentals partner which means our customers get a discount with their GO Play cards.
Roys Peak Track
Another famous Instagrammed sight can be found on the Roys Peak Track, itself a beautiful 3+ hour walk with some amazing wilderness to take in. The views you enjoy of the Mount Aspiring National Park and Lake Wanaka itself are simply breathtaking. You might have to join a bit of a queue to get a photo at the exact iconic spot but there are other spots you can discover for yourself for photos that’ll be just as good.
Another great and unique attraction to try and tick off in Wanaka is rock climbing with Wildwire Wanaka. Although your own inexperience might put you off slightly, Wildwire Wanaka caters for beginners and families just as much as those with experience with different levels of course to choose from. Furthermore, the courses are set up alongside one of the most picturesque sights in Wanaka, the Twin Falls. It’s a great challenge and stern test of the body and mind but the feeling you get afterwards makes it well worth it.
As this is your last day, be sure you give yourself time to get back to Queenstown airport for your flight home or your next destination. You’ll probably be a little tired but you’ll have made some great memories along the way and it’ll hopefully leave you chomping at the bit to return for more!