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8Days

Wellington to Queenstown

Driving Tour

So, you’ve arrived in the capital of New Zealand with only 8 days to get yourself to Queenstown in the South Island. We’re hopefully going to give you some great ideas for some cool and off the beaten activities as we guide you on your adventure from North to South so buckle up and enjoy the ride! Let’s GO!.

Contents

  1. Route map with key locations
  2. Recommended vehicle for this trip
  3. Trip itinerary

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Trip Itinerary

1Wellington

It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see. Once you’ve picked up your GO Rentals car, there’s no hurry to leave so take your first day to explore this diverse and multicultural city.

Museums

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.

Amazing views

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.

Image of the Wellington Cable Car taking people from Lambton Quay to the top entrance of the Botanic GardensGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

Coffee culture

Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) and visit the cool one-of-a-kind 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).

Weta workshop

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-the-scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.

Now that you’ve explored New Zealand’s capital, it’s time to drive to the ferry terminal and catch the Interislander ferry. Wave goodbye to the North Island as your journey continues to the spectacular south.

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2Picton to Nelson (134km – 1 hour 52 mins)

The Snout Track

The Interislander ferry will leave you in Picton, the starting point for your South Island adventure. That’s where you’ll be able to dust off the hiking boots and have a true Kiwi experience by venturing into the great outdoors with a 3.5 hour return hike to awesome views of Queen Charlotte Sound – a good introduction to what the South Island has to offer. From the Snout Track car park, walk along the gravel road to reach the track, then follow the signs to the Snout Head.

The Boulder Bank

Image of the unique Boulder Bank in Nelson The Boulder Bank is another spectacular example of the South Island’s natural wonders. The 13km long bank is one of the very few of its type in the world so you are in the presence of something very unique. It has been formed from large granodiorite boulders that have been moved by wind, water and tide to form the spectacular line in front of you.

The lighthouse was made in Bath (England) and shipped in parts to New Zealand, then assembled in 1861.

You can access the bank by turning off SH6 and driving along Boulder Bank Drive, 7km north of Nelson.

Wainui Falls

The Wainui Falls are located inside the Abel Tasman National Park and are 20 metre waterfalls, a welcome reward at the end of an easy bush walk. The hike takes about one hour (return).

3Nelson to Hanmer Springs (300km – 4 hours 6 mins)

After a day spent exploring the Abel Tasman national park, it’s time to hit the road again in your new GO Rentals hire car. Backtracking on yourself a bit, you’ll be heading back towards Picton before taking the road south towards Blenheim and the famous Marlborough region.

Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Track (134km – 1 hour 52 mins from Nelson)

For those adventurous souls out there who love nothing more than strapping on a pair of hiking boots and heading off into the unknown, the Queen Charlotte Track offers you the perfect opportunity to explore rural New Zealand. Dominated by a bush-clad shoreline, the track takes you on an amazing journey through the Marlborough Sounds and the 70kms of track will energise even the most active.

For those of a less active disposition, the Sounds are famous for the greenshell mussels which are found in abundance so why not treat yourself to a fantastic lunch.

Image showing the green lipped mussel beds located in Havelock in Marlborough, New Zealand

Wine tasting and much more

Marlborough is a world famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through. 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.

Image showing the vines at a vineyards located in Blenheim, Marlborough, one of the world's most famous wine growing regions

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.

Kaikoura – Swim with the dolphins (157 km – 2 hours 9 mins)

Heading away from Blenheim, take the road south heading towards Christchurch. A great 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

As you head down from the magnificent wine tasting region of Marlborough you will hit Kaikoura. This 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.

Image of two kayakers with the dolphins in the waters around KaikouraGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

From here it is a relatively short trip to your resting place for the night, Hanmer Springs (130km – 2 hours 6 mins)

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4Hanmer Springs

After an awesome day road tripping down from Nelson, 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 of 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 entertained.

Image showing the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs just North of Christchurch, New Zealand

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!

Shopping

After a couple of days off the beaten track exploring the Abel Tasman and Marlborough Sounds, 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’ve not managed to sample the delights of one of New Zealand’s favourite beers, 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!

5Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (134km – 1 hour 55mins)

After a lovely day relaxing in Hanmer, you’ll be ready to reacquaint yourself with your GO Rentals dream machine and a short-ish journey awaits you to the South Island’s largest city – Christchurch.

The Garden City

Image of the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch in Autumn with orange leaves on the trees and groundGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

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.

Image of Christchurch post-earthquake with the redevelopment that has taken place

6Christchurch to Lake Wanaka (427km – 5 hours 51 mins)

Heading out of Christchurch, a stop off a 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 (280km – 4 hours 10 mins from Akaroa)

Image of the observatory on Mt John in Canterbury, New Zealand with views looking out towards Lake Tekapo 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 200km trip to Wanaka which will take around 2 hours 40 mins.

7Wanaka

Although Wanaka offers many of the same adrenaline fuelled adventures as your final destination of 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 however, 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.

Puzzling World

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 your 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.

Wanaka Beerworks

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.

Cinema Paradiso

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.

Image of the interior of Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka

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.

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8Wanaka to Queenstown (68.6km – 1 hour 12 mins)

So, the final day of your adventure has arrived and a short drive awaits you. Arriving in Queenstown with only 1 day to explore can be quite daunting as there is so much to do whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or you’re looking for a relaxing last 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!)

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) Shotover 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!

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

Image of someone taking a dive of the platform of a bungy jump in Queenstown New ZealandGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

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.

Image of the high street in Arrowtown, New Zealand

Nightlife

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.

If you have more time or our top three doesn’t float your boat, we’ve also got some more top tips over on our Queenstown page so check them out.

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Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rental 2WD SUV Hyundai Tucson Rental Car

2WD SUV

Hyundai Tucson

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Seats
5 seats
Large Bags
3
Small Bags
4
Transmission
Auto trans