This is such a great road trip that we are super jealous that you are even thinking about it! 3 days from Queenstown to Mt Cook Village for us means exploring the best bits of the South Island – adventure activities, the great outdoors, the Southern Alps, walks, mountain biking, great food, delicious wine…the list goes on! Our itinerary gives you an overnight stay in Wanaka on your way up but you may well decide to head straight up to Mt Cook Village on day 1 – there are loads of suggestions for things to do when you get there so whether it’s one full day, two full days or anything in between, there’s loads to do on this trip so we had better get GOing!
- 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 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 Mt Cook Village (206kms – 2 hours 17 mins)
After a busy first day in action-packed Queenstown and Wanaka, it’s time to hit the road and head for the hills! It’s only just over 2 hours to drive to Mt Cook Village so we recommend an early start to your day to give you as much time as possible when you arrive to Mt Cook Village. Heading out of Wanaka, there are some great stop off on the way up to Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Your journey north will take you towards Twizel and over the Lindis Pass – a spectacular drive where you will often see snow down to the roadside throughout much of the year. If you’re making this drive in the winter months, be sure to check the conditions of the road before heading out as things can get a bit precarious and the weather can soon close in up above 900m.
Twizel (140kms – 1 hour 35 mins from Cromwell)
Twizel will be your final stop off point before you head into the Mt Cook National Park where you will spend your second night of your trip. The town was purpose built in the 1960s to provide homes for workers on the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme and it now offers a great base for people looking to head off into the National Park. There are a good range of shops here to stock up on goodies for the rest of your journey into the National Park.
Your journey from Twizel takes you up the shoreline of Lake Pukaki with some stunning views of the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mt Cook which will leave you breathless. It’s a further 63.9kms from Twizel to Mt Cook Village which should take you just under an hour.
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
This is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular National Parks (and we have some amazing ones!) so spending the day here is going to be one you never forget. There is so much to see and do in the park so choosing your activities carefully to maximise your time here is going to be crucial. We recommend planning your day when you arrive on Day 3 leaving yourself the whole day today to take it all in and soak up that fresh mountain air. With so much to do here, we have pulled together some of our personal favourites:
It kind of goes without saying that the walking in these parts is pretty special. With walks to suit every degree of fitness, explore the national park’s rich flora including the Mount Cook ‘lily’, the world’s largest buttercup.
Skiing and snow sports – obviously this is an activity for the winter enthusiasts but many descend on Mt Cook Village as the winter sports down here are pretty awesome! There’s plenty for those who are not into skiing through from snowshoeing to climbing so there is plenty to do down here in the winter months.
Scenic flights and heli-hiking – If you have a few dollars to spare we can definitely recommend taking a scenic flight around these parts. For something extra special, try one of the ski-planes which can land up on the Tasman Glacier – now that is cool! For those true adventurers, you can also take a helicopter ride to go hiking or even ski the virgin snow up high on the mountains.
Best of the rest – no matter what you’re into, chances are you can do it down here from fishing to golf, cycling to horse trekking and lots in between. You can visit the official Department of Conservation website for more ideas of things to do in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Whether you’re a sporting enthusiast, adventure junkie or a nature lover, this place is a truly special location to spend a day and night.
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This part of the world also gives you the perfect opportunity to get involved in our GO Snap Happy competition – just send us your best photos for the chance to win back the cost of your car hire – how good is that?!!
3Mt Cook Village to Queenstown (262 kms – 3 hours)
Hopefully you had a pretty full day yesterday but with only a 3 hour drive back to Queenstown ahead of you today there is still plenty of time to explore this morning before heading off. There is nothing quite like the fresh alpine air to invigorate you so get out and enjoy it – it won’t be long before you’re back at your desk and thinking back to how good this trip was so soak it all in.
After exploring the National Park all morning, it’s time to head off back to Queenstown which will take you a slightly different way once you cross the Lindis Pass with a couple of new stop offs for you before you arrive in Queenstown.
Cromwell (202kms – 2 hours 13 mins)
Located on the shores of Lake Dunstan, the town has a modern feel but in fact has a rich history dating back to the 1800s and the gold rush. You can get a feel for what the town would have been like by taking a trip through Old Cromwell Town – a feature attraction for tourists that’s a fascinating look back in time.
Arrowtown (47.6km – 37 mins)
The small historic village, a short 20-minute drive from Queenstown, is bursting with activity and includes a collection of beautiful old heritage buildings and miners’ cottages. The beauty of Arrowtown is that the heritage buildings are more than mere monuments of a time gone past – they’re still used for commerce and you get to experience life before the modern days.
A number of hiking tracks start and end at Arrowtown so, if you feel like a walk, head to the Information Centre to find out more about these tracks.
From here it’s only a 20 minute drive back to Queenstown bringing to an end this pretty awesome road trip. We hope you have had an amazing time and you are left with some fantastic memories and some great snaps. Don’t forget, if you have any great photos submit them to our GO Snap Happy competition and if you found any hidden gems on your road trip, let us know on our GO Explore Facebook page.
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