So you’ve hit the South Island for a week long holiday 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. Let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Queenstown 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.
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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.
2Wanaka to Franz Josef (285km – 4 hours 53 mins)
After a day 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!
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’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!
4Franz 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!
5Greymouth to Christchurch (348km – 4 hours 23 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 before ending up in your final destination for the night in Christchurch – it is going to be a big day of driving and a pretty epic road trip!
Formerly the Blackball Hilton Hotel (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.
Hanmer Springs (137kms – 1 hour 42 mins)
It will take you just under 3 hours to get here from Greymouth but it’s well worth spending a couple of hours relaxing and unwinding in the thermal pools of Hanmer Springs. 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 if you get the chance, this might be a great place to stop for lunch. Our top tip is the Monteith’s Southern Pale Ale. When in Rome as they say!
Christchurch (134km – 1 hour 55 mins)
You still have a few kms to get under your belt before the end of this day but it will be well worth it when you arrive in Christchurch where there are some great restaurants and places to grab a drink and reflect on your trip so far. You will be arriving pretty late into Christchurch but you will have the full day tomorrow to explore to relax and have a good night – you have earned it!
6Christchurch and around
After a full on day in the car yesterday travelling across from the West Coast, it’s time for a more relaxing day and the chance to explore the South Island’s largest city.
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’re 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 will 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.
7Christchurch to Queenstown (483kms 5 hour 45 mins)
So the final day of this South Island adventure has arrived and we have saved a big drive for the last day in true road trip style. The journey back down to Queenstown is going to take 5 hours 45 minutes without any stops so make sure you leave plenty of time if you have to get the hire car back as there is a lot to see and do on the way and the scenery is spectacular.
Heading out of Christchurch, a stop off at Lyttelton is well worth the detour and it’s a great place to grab some breakfast if you’re out nice and early. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – there is a great road over to Lyttelton 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 start the next leg of your road trip.
Akaroa (81.3km – 1 hour 29 mins from Christchurch)
Located 75km south of Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great stop off as you head down towards Wanaka. This village is located on Banks Peninsula within a harbour of the same name and is considered “the most French town” in New Zealand, as it was the only French settlement in the country. Spend some time exploring the small town and then head to the harbour for the best fish and chips meal of your life (at least that’s Akaroa’s claim so you be the judge and let us know). If you didn’t have time in Kaikoura, GO Play partner Black Cat Cruises offer a great trip out of Akaroa Wharf to swim with the rare Hectors’ dolphins which are only found in these waters. Take the plunge!
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (284km – 3 hours 42 mins from Akaroa)
Stargazers all over the world know Mt John and Lake Tekapo, in the Aoraki/Mount Cook Mackenzie region, as one of the absolute best places to look at the stars (and even catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights – Aurora Australis).
Lake Tekapo is also famous for its unique turquoise colour, as well as its beautiful starry nights – 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).
From Lake Tekapo it’s a 256km trip to Queenstown which will take around 3 hours and will bring to an end a pretty awesome road trip. We hope you have had a blast and uncovered some hidden gems along the way – if you think there’s something that we should really add into this itinerary then drop us a line on our GO Explore Facebook page and let us know what we have missed and why we need to share it with other travellers.
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