Well this is pretty exciting – a 5 day mini-break and a trip to Fiordland! First up on this little adventure however is a trip to the far south and one that we all love. Stewart Island, one of THE best places to get back to nature and hopefully you have opted to spend a night on the island as there is nothing quite like it and knowing there is nothing but sea between you and Antarctica – pretty cool. Anyway, time to hit the road south and your resting place for the night, Invercargill. Let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Queenstown to Invercargill (187kms – 2 hours 22 mins)
If you have never experienced Queenstown then we highly recommend taking a few hours to explore and get involved in some of the adrenaline fuelled activity this town is famous for – after all, it’s not known as the adventure capital of the world for no reason. Here are a few of our favourite things to do in and around Queenstown whether you are looking for thrills, spills or something a little more laid back.
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) 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.
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Hopefully that will have set you up nicely for a fantastic long weekend and now it’s time to hit the road. The road south to Invercargill is littered with small rural towns and the best place to pit stop on your way down is at Kingston.
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Kingston (46.8kms – 42 mins)
Located at the tip of Lake Wakitipu, Kingston is a great place to make a quick stop off on your way down and will break your journey up nicely. Kingston is home to the Kingston Flier, a vintage steam train and a great place to go and take photos. Although the train no longer runs, it’s a great place to go and check out some of New Zealand’s rail heritage. There are also some great walks around Kingston and on the shore of Lake Wakitipu so take your time and stretch the legs.
From here, it’s a further 140 kms to Invercargill which will take you around an hour and 40 minutes.
Invercargill and around
It’s a relatively short drive from Queenstown to Invercargill so you should have plenty of time when you arrive to explore Invercargill. Here are some of our highlights:
Queens Park – undoubtedly one of the main highlights of a visit to Invercargill is Queens Park. There is a beautiful rose garden, glorious rhododendrons and azaleas, a Japanese garden as well as tree lined walkways. There’s also an indoor winter garden and plenty to keep the kids entertained with a play area and animal enclosures.
Southland Museum and Art Gallery – located in Queens Park, the Southland Museum and Art Gallery is located in the largest pyramid in the Southern Hemisphere which is one of the biggest reasons to visit and tick that off your list! The gallery does have regular displays including a live tuatara display and a roaring 40s gallery and is worth a visit.
Invercargill Water Tower
Described as an architectural treasure, this beautiful Victorian structure stands proudly on Doon Street. Originally built as a way of managing the pressure of the city’s water supply system, the tower is now used as a backup should there be any issues with the main water supply. It’s definitely worth a look and is a great photo opportunity for our GO Snap Happy competition.
Burt Munro Challenge – for those of you who have not seen the movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’, give it a whirl before you take the trip south to Invercargill. Burt dedicated his life to motorcycles and set a number of New Zealand land speed records before heading to the Utah Salt Flats to fulfil a lifelong goal where he managed to set world records on three separate occasions including the fastest time on an Indian motorcycle that still stands today. The Challenge takes place in November each year so if you’re around these parts at that time of the year then get yourself down.
Bluff Hill – for a gentle stroll and a fantastic place to head at sunrise or sunset, head to Bluff Hill. Providing amazing views over the Foveaux Strait and the Southland Plains, the hill rises 265m from the sea and on a fine day, you can see over to Fiordland. It’s a great place to recce the area and make a plan for the next couple of days.
Invercargill is a great place to grab some food with some tasty local dishes to tantalise your taste buds. Local food specialities include oysters from Bluff and blue cod so enjoy a nice meal out before your trip over to Stewart Island tomorrow.
2Invercargill 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 determine how many ferry crossing 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 crossing go down to 2 or sometimes 1 a day so be sure to check the website for more information.
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’re 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’re 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.
For those who are not quite as adventurous but still fancy a stay on the Island, Halfmoon Bay at Oban is the only settlement on the Island and offers a number of accommodation options from hotels to lodge retreats so something for every budget. We can highly recommend a stopover on the Island and keep everything crossed for you that you get a clear night as the star gazing will blow your mind!
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.
3Stewart Island to Milford Sound via Southern Scenic Route (325kms – 4 hours 47 mins plus a 1 hour ferry ride)
After a fantastic day exploring Stewart Island/Rakiura yesterday, it’s time to hit the road again and hit 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.
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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 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.
5Milford 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 head back to 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.
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. If you arrive back in Queenstown in good time, there is always the opportunity to get involved in any of the activities you may have missed out on day one before it’s time to bring this epic adventure to an end.
We hope you have had an amazing time and crammed in as much activity as possible – there is so much to see and do down here that you could spend 5 years never mind 5 days exploring and still not see it all. If you stumbled on any hidden gems on your trip, let us know via our GO Explore Facebook page and we can make sure we add them in for future adventurers!