So, you’ve arrived in the adventure capital of the world with only 8 days to get yourself up to Auckland in the North Island. Arriving in Queenstown with only 1 day to explore can be quite daunting as there’s so much to do whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or you’re looking for a relaxing first day but fear not – we have pulled together our top three things to do for adventure and relaxation (we know, you can thank us when you drop the car off!) Anyway, enough of this – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
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- Trip itinerary
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1Queenstown and around
Queenstown is such a great place to start any New Zealand adventure but with so much to do and so little time to do it all, we’ve pulled together a list of our personal favourites:
Adrenaline fuelled adventure
For those who have headed to Queenstown for adrenaline fuelled adventure, these are our highlights of things to do in a day:
1) AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy – Australasia’s highest bungy at 134m, this is not for the feint hearted – 8.5 seconds of freefall will have you screaming like a lunatic!
2) Skipper Canyon Jet – reaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Shotover Canyon is sure to get your pulse racing. The 360 degree spins will get you closer to the wall than you feel comfortable with! Skippers Canyon Jet is also a GO Play partner. Bonus!
3) Coronet Peak ski resort (in season) – fantastic resort for pros and beginners alike, Coronet Peak is a GO Rentals favourite in the winter where lots of fun can be had on and off the slopes
Something a bit more…relaxing
We know that jumping off mountains and flipping jet boats is not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s more to Queenstown than adrenaline fuelled adventure. Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:
1) Ben Lommond – a 4 hour walk giving you some awesome views of Queenstown, the lake and surrounding mountains
2) Skyline gondola – take the gondola up Bob’s Peak and enjoy some award winning cuisine and some amazing views. If you want to get down a bit quicker, the luge is a lot of fun!
3) Arrowtown (22.1km – 22mins) – head out in your new GO Rentals hire car and check out this small town which was at the heart of the NZ gold rush. There are lots of nice shops, bars and places to eat as well as relaxing walks.
At the end of a busy day, Queenstown is a great place to unwind with a huge range of bars to suit everyone. Depending on the time of year, you’ll either be welcomed in to a roaring fire or sit out enjoying the sun setting over Lake Wakatipu.
Check out our guide to Around Queenstown for plenty of ideas whether you’re an adventure junkie in search of bungy, rafting or maybe a trip up the gondola; there’s plenty to do for everyone.
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2Milford Sound (303kms – 4 hours 25 mins)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. A great chance to give the GO Rentals hire car one final run out, the 4+ hour drive from Queenstown is well worth the early start to check out the magnificence of this most spectacular fjord carved out by glaciers during the ice age (that’s a long time ago by the way!).
Hop out of your GO Rentals hire car and straight onto a boat as this is a must once you get down there. With a number of companies offering day or night cruises, you’ll not be short of options for exploring the water when you arrive. Find yourself ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ at the spectacular waterfalls, some of which are over 1000 metres high so be sure to pack the camera but also make sure you pack your wet weather gear as inevitably it rains down at Milford Sound. Some say this makes the waterfalls even more spectacular but we’re not too sure about that one!
For those wanting a more hands on experience of Milford Sound, why not give kayaking a go. There’s nothing quite like taking to the open water and paddling yourself out into one of the most inspiring places on planet earth. 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.
Use your GO Play card here
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.
If you don’t fancy the drive down to Milford (it can be a very long day), GO Play partner Real Journeys offer a bus and fiord cruise trip which will take you from Queenstown to Milford and includes a boat cruise. Oh yeah, they will also give you a 10% discount. Awesome.
Make sure you allow enough time for the journey to and from Milford Sound – there are a lot of bus tours leaving from Queenstown so take your time and drive safely.
3Queenstown to Christchurch (483km – 6 hour 37 mins)
After a busy day of adventure and action in and around Queenstown, it’s time to hit the road and head north to Christchurch. There is plenty so see and do along the way making this journey a day out in itself.
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (256km – 3 hours 26 mins from Queenstown)
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 – a perfect spot for you romantics out there as Lake Tekapo has been the scene of many a wooing! If you can park here for the night, you will not regret it. Mt John, just above the Tekapo township, is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world, home to 6 telescopes, including New Zealand’s biggest telescope, which can observe 50 million stars each clear night (yes, you read that right).
Lake Tekapo and Mt John are located about 3.5 hour drive north of Queenstown.
Akaroa (280km – 4 hours 10 mins 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 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!
Use your GO Play card here
Lyttelton (78.8km – 1 hour 29 mins from Akaroa)
Heading 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 late. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – leaving Lyttelton and heading to Christchurch, there’s a great road which 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 this road trip.
It’s a short 12.4km into Christchurch CBD from here which will take you around 20 mins.
4Christchurch to Picton (337 km – 4 hour 19 mins)
Day 4 of your road trip starts in largest city on the South Island – the Garden City. Spend the morning exploring this beautiful city – some of the GO Rentals team highlights are below.
The garden city
Christchurch was named as number 2 on the New York Times top 52 places to visit in 2014 and there are plenty of reasons for that. Following the earthquakes of 2010-11 the city has now emerged as a vibrant city with plenty to see and do. Known as the Garden City, Christchurch has an abundance of parks and gardens including the gorgeous botanical gardens. Add in to this mix the tranquil Avon River and you can see why people rave so much about the city.
Eat | Drink | Shop
Christchurch is a vibrant place for eating and drinking whether you are looking for 5 star opulence or a backstreet café. Re:START is an outdoor retail space opened in late 2011 made from shipping containers. Scattered with a mix of premium brands and home grown products, Re:START is a quirky experience which tells of the cities resilience and ability to come back following the destruction of the earthquakes. Located within Re:START you’ll also find Quake City, a multi-media attraction which tells the story of the earthquakes that hit Christchurch and the Canterbury region.
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.
There is a big day of driving ahead of you to make the ferry across to the North Island so make sure you leave plenty of time as there is plenty to see and do on the way. There is a late ferry that leaves at 10.30pm so you can really make the most of your day. Don’t forget to book your ferry in advance – something we can help with if you like.
Kaikoura – Swim with the dolphins (181 km – 2 hours 21 mins)
A great first stop off on the way is Kaikoura which is a whale watchers delight. Not only that, this is a great opportunity for you to take a dip and swim with the dolphins at the right time of the year – this must be on a few wish lists so let’s get it ticked off!
Cellar View Café and Restaurant
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.
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.
Wine tasting and much more (129km – 1 hour 47mins)
Marlborough is a world famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through (hopefully it may be a more sociable time of the day!). 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.
From Blenheim, it’s a short 28kms to the ferry terminal at Picton which should take you around half an hour.
It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.
Park your car and head for a walk around the waterfront where you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s board room and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s not far from New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa – a futuristic multi-storeyed complex that forms one of the largest new museums in the world, with numerous interactive displays.
For the best panoramic views of the city and Port Nicholson all the way across to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria. The historic cannon on the summit was installed in 1877 and was fired each day as a time signal for many years. If you look down below, in the suburbs, you will spot the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve, not far from the Colonial Cottage Museum on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.
Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) and visit the cool one-of-akind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool Bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).
Treaty of Waitangi
A visit to Archives New Zealand on 10 Mulgrave Street allows you to see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament, if you’re feeling politically-inclined before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars (including some decent craft beer spots).
If you have some free time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. Weta is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, including creatures, makeup and digital special effects for movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.
You can take the 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-thescenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.
An interesting activity if you have a got a half hour to spare is a little sadistic but we do love to see it. Head over to the airport in Wellington (we suggest you park Wexford Road, on the northeastern side of the airport) and on a typical windy Wellington day, you’ll have the chance to see what you escaped from by choosing to drive from Queenstown to Auckland rather than catching flights. Planes taking off and landing in Wellington often sway a little more than they should – a little scary for passengers on the plane, a bit of fun for you safely watching from the comfort of your rental car on rock solid ground.
6Wellington to Taupo (370km – 5 hours 5 mins)
Stonehenge Aotearoa (84.2km – 1 hour 14 mins from Wellington)
Heading north out of Wellington, we’re going to take a slightly longer route towards Palmerston North, with a pit stop in Carterton.
Take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to Stonehenge Aotearoa to see a full scale model of Stonehenge located on the hills of the Wairarapa, pretty much as far from actual Stonehenge as anything can be. You’ll be able to learn a bit about astronomy, both ancient and modern methods, and find out more about Maori astrology too.
Whanganui (193km – 2 hours 41 mins)
From Carterton, we have just short of 3 hours to drive before we hit our next destination, Whanganui.
There’s plenty to see in Whanganui so you’ll have to be a bit selective. We suggest a look at the centre of town. These are famous because they were the location where Peter Snell ran the famous sub-four minute mile in January 1962 (that’s crazy fast). If you’re feeling particularly fit, you can try attempting your fastest mile time here too, right where Snell did it in front of 13,000 people.
Afterwards, take some time to wander around the Whanganui Regional Museum, on Watt Street, which displays the impressive work of Gottfried Lindauer, one of the most famous colonial artists in the country. The museum also includes one of the most important collections of Moa bones, including some complete skeletons of the extinct giant bird.
Hop back in your GO Rentals car for the last trip of the day up to Taupo which should take you around 3.5 hours.
7Taupo to Auckland – (279km 3 hours 18 mins)
Having arrived pretty late in Taupo the previous day, a new dawn awaits with plenty of options in this town situated on the shore of New Zealand’s largest lake.
Make sure you stop at the Huka Falls, a set of incredibly impressive waterfalls along the Waikato River, with about 220,000 litres of water flowing per second (that’s a lot of water). Next, stop at the Huka Prawn Park (Karetoto Rd) for a visit (you’ll need a couple of hours if you want to take the tour) and some seafood deliciousness.
Lake Taupo itself is pretty impressive and, not far from the township, along the Desert Road, you’ll get to see Mount Ruapehu (Mount Doom for you Lord of the Rings fans) and its neighbouring (and equally impressive) volcanoes.
The Desert Road itself is worth the drive as the scenery is not something you’ll find anywhere else (alpine deserts such as this one are a rare sight anywhere else in the world) so take your time to soak in the views.
Although this is a guide to off-the-beaten track adventures it would seem wrong if we failed to mention the amazing skydiving to be had over Lake Taupo. The views are simply stunning as you plummet from 13,000 feet heading towards the lake. A further bonus is that Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner and will kindly offer you a 5% discount for the pleasure of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good aeroplane!
Use your GO Play card here
Taupo to Rotorua (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)
After a hectic morning spent in Taupo, it’s time to hit the road and head north to Auckland. There is a quick stop off on the way in Rotorua where you can easily spend a couple of hours, taking in the delights of the geothermal wonderland. With only a couple of hours to spare, these are our top tips:
Wai-O-Tapu – probably the best place to check out the geothermal rumblings including the world
famous champagne pools and the Lady Know Geyser. And…Wai-O-Tapu is a GO Play partner so you get all this geothermal fun with a 10% discount. Result.
Te Puia – a great place to learn about Maori culture including a performance at the Marae. You also have a chance to check out the rare Kiwi bird at the live enclosure – one not be missed.
Zorbing – basically this means chucking yourself down a hill in a giant inflatable ball – not much more too it but it is a lot of fun! Zorb are a GO Play partner too so discount card at the ready!
We didn’t like to mention it before but what’s going on with that smell?? A geothermal wonderland it might be but it comes at a price. After a couple of hours here the smell of sulphur may well have overwhelmed you so it’s time to hit the road to your final destination on this 8 day adventure – Auckland.
Pokeno Ice Cream (179km – 2 hours 10 mins from Rotorua)
After dealing with the sulphuric smells of Rotorua for a couple of hours we figure you deserve a treat and Pokeno ice cream will certainly deliver. The Pokeno store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country. Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself
After this little stop off, you only have another 52kms to Auckland which should see you there in just
over half an hour.
Having arrived pretty late the night before, wake up to the sights and sounds of NZ’s largest city, home to 1.3 million people and known as the City of Sails. After a nice stroll in downtown Auckland, checking out the Viaduct area and maybe grabbing a bite to eat it’s time for one last trip out in your lovely little hire car. A perfect place to end this trip is to head out west through the suburbs and out to the Waitakere Ranges. With heaps of tracks through the lush forest, there is plenty to keep you busy here. If walking is not your thing, keep driving through the forest and end up at one of the superb west coast beaches like Piha or Muriwai. The surf’s good out there and the black volcanic sand makes for an interesting day at the beach.
If you’re looking for something a bit closer to home but still fancy a drive out, head on out to Devonport or even up to one of the North Shore’s laid back locations like Browns Bay where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
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