So you’ve hit the South Island and arrived in the adventure capital of New Zealand. Picking up your hire car is a pretty exciting prospect and heading out into unspoilt beauty awaits but don’t go zooming off too quickly before giving yourself time to explore Queenstown first.
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1Around Queenstown – Days 1 & 2
Unless you’ve been living under a rock up until now, you’ll 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.
Queenstown Complete Guide
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 Skippers 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 a 25 minute drive from Queenstown so give it a go. The Apres-Ski can be good fun too!
Something a little bit more relaxing
We know that adventure sports are not for everyone and Queenstown definitely offers more than just thrill-seeking pleasure. Take your time to take in the stunning scenery and with a wide variety of walks to suit all abilities, get yourself out and enjoy the pure south island air.
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 from Queenstown)
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’ll either be welcomed in to a roaring fire or sit out enjoying the sun setting over Lake Wakatipu.
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3Milford Sound (288kms – 4 hours 24 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 new GO Rentals hire car a 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.
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.
Use your GO Play card here
4Queenstown to Wanaka (68.6kms – 1 hour 12 mins)
After all the excitement and adrenaline of Queenstown and the ‘road trip’ to Milford Sound, 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.
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 Rasberry 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.
5Wanaka to Franz Josef (285kms – 4 hours 53 mins)
After a few 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.
Just north of the Makarora 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.
West Coast Complete Guide
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!
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 will 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!
7Franz Josef to Greymouth (174kms 2 hours 21 mins)
After a full-on day on the glacier, a big 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 (12.1km – 10 mins from Lake Mahinapua)
Hokitika (what a great name… go on, say it again!) is the first ‘big’ town you will pass on the drive north from Franz 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!
8Lewis Pass – Hanmer Springs (215kms – 2 hour 50 mins)
Leave Greymouth heading east on SH7, leaving the coast behind as it’s time to get your skates on and head over east-side. This is a day for beautiful scenery as you cross the Lewis Pass in search of relaxation in Hanmer Springs.
Formerly the Blackball Hilton (27.4km – 31 mins from Greymouth)
The first stop off on your route over the Lewis Pass should be at the rather enchantingly named Formerly the Blackball Hilton (Google it and you will see why this is enchanting!). With individually decorated rooms, The Hilton offers a unique experience for travellers and if you have time, you may want to consider a stopover. The town of Blackball is a former mining town and was the scene of controversy throughout the early 1900s with illegal strikes and a communist turned capitalist adding to the history of the place. The bar and restaurant offer fantastic food and if you’re lucky enough to stay the night, you may be treated to one of the many themed nights held here with a plethora of fancy dress outfits to choose from.
Ikamatua Golf Club (30.2km – 39 mins from Blackball)
For a rather surreal experience, why not give the Ikamatua golf course a try if that’s your thing. A rather charming 9-hole club situated midway along the Lewis Pass, you‘ll be guaranteed a warm welcome and a friendly smile. Travellers have been known to be invited to play in local club competitions so bring your A-game!
Reefton (26.8km – 21 mins from Ikamatua)
Reefton is a fantastic place to break up your journey across the Lewis Pass and if you’ve not had the opportunity to check out some of the gold-mining in this area yet (what have you been doing!), here is another chance at Oceana Gold’s open pit. If that’s not your scene, there are plenty of other things to keep you amused in Reefton, not least the fresh water fishing which is some of the best throughout NZ. For the more adventurous, why not give kayaking a go or even try some mountain biking down the Devil’s Tail to the Clematis suspension bridge.
Maruia Thermal Springs (59.9km – 46 mins from Reefton)
Depending on your plans and your how much time you have in Hanmer Springs, Maruia Thermal Springs could be a good option if you’re looking for some relaxation but don’t have the time to spend in Hanmer. Located right on SH7, Maruia Thermal Springs is located in the natural and tranquil surroundings on the Maruia River. With pools of varying size and temperature, it’s the perfect place to unwind and take in the breathtaking views of the snow-capped peaks whilst your body recovers with the healing powers of these thermal waters. Hmmm that sounds perfect…can we join you?
Your last leg of this long day takes you over to the East side of the South Island with the last section taking just over an hour before you arrive in Hanmer Springs.
After another awesome day road tripping across the Lewis Pass, a day in Hanmer is just what the doctor ordered. Surrounded by the beautiful Southern Alps with crisp alpine air, relax and unwind in the award-winning thermal pools or simply enjoy the peace and tranquillity or Hanmer Village and surrounding areas.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa
The thermal pools and spa complex in Hanmer has been soothing peoples’ aches and pains away for the best part of 125 years and all those who have been before you can’t be wrong! Relax in one of 15 open air pools or try out one of the 3 aquatherapy pools. Families and children are catered for too since a recent redevelopment has added three waterslides and a lazy river to keep even the liveliest of kids (and adults!) entertained.
Wai Ariki Farm Park
If getting crinkly is not your thing, there are plenty of other attractions in Hanmer and one of the best is the Wai Ariki Farm Park. Offering a hands-on experience, Wai Ariki is home to some weird and wonderful animals which are sure to keep kids and adults amused for the morning. The Tibetan Yak are a particular favourite!
Alpine Pacific Centre
After spending 9 days on the road and off the beaten track, we know some of you will be missing the shops and Hanmer is just the place to see to your needs. With a fantastic range of boutique outlets including the quirky ‘Up the Garden Path’ and ‘Wink’, we’re sure you’ll find the retail therapy as relaxing as a trip to the thermal pools.
Monteith’s Brewery Bar
If you made it too late to Greymouth to catch the Monteith’s Brewery tour, fear not! Although it may not offer the full brewery tour experience, The Monteith’s brew pub in Hanmer is certainly a great place to go and try your favourite Monteith’s ale and relax and unwind. Situated right in the heart of the town, there is a great vibe to match the great beer so whatever you have been up to during the day, this is a great place to end your night. Our top tip is the Monteith’s Southern Pale Ale. When in Rome as they say!
Christchurch Complete Guide
10Christchurch (134kms – 1 hour 55 mins)
So, the journey is nearly at its end but hopefully you have left enough time to explore the delights of Christchurch before you drop the car back off and head off home (or maybe even on your next adventure). With so many things to do both in Christchurch and the surrounding areas, make sure you check out our Christchurch section for great ideas if you are staying in this area longer.
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International Antarctic Centre
If you do have to drop the car off and you’re heading to the airport, one thing we can definitely recommend is the International Antarctic Centre which is located a stone’s throw from the airport. Wrap up warm and experience a true Antarctic storm in the specially designed room which even features a snow slide before heading off to see the cutest little penguins you will have ever seen in the penguin encounter. Finish your visit off with a hagglund ride and you can be sure this will be a trip not to forget. Brrrrrr.
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