17 April, 2020
Last updated on 01 September, 2023
Posted by Spaceships Crew
The New Zealand’s South Island is characterised by its dramatic mountains, its giant lakes and its never-ending maze of hiking trails and nature walks. Out of this world beautiful is the only expression that does it any justice. This Christchurch to Queenstown drive takes you to amazing places and best photo opportunities you'll ever come across.
The North may have its big cosmopolitan cities, beaches, parks and surf culture but the South has got just about everything else. In this dreamlike island of contrasts, you’ll find snow-capped mountains, glaciers and ski fields on the one hand; and beaches, golden bays and coastline national parks on the other. Travelling by campervan will give you so much flexibility, allowing you to wander off, explore or detour at the drop of a hat.
Road trip to the adventure capital of the world
There's one good reason to go for a road trip to Queenstown. Is it Fergburger? Yeah, that is a yummy reason to go but we were referring to the fact that Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. There are so many ways to get an adrenaline rush in Queenstown. But there's only one way to get a big discount on attractions like bungy jump, ledge jump or the awesome catapult.
Christchurch to Queenstown: drive in 7 days, see heaps
You can drive from Christchurch to Queenstown in 6 hours, but that's not much fun. A road trip is about seeing amazing sceneries, stopping often, hiking and doing all kinds of fun stuff. If you’re looking to explore the best of South Island in just 7 short days, here is the ultimate itinerary for your journey from Christchurch to Queenstown. Drive your campervan along this route and see the amazing sights of the South Island.
After loading up your Spaceship camper from our depot close to Christchurch airport (only 2km from the arrivals hall), it’s time to set off on your South Island adventure. But don't leave Christchurch immediately. They city has a lot to offer. Take some time to explore Christchurch before joining the SH73 and venturing south to Tekapo.
After 2 hours or so along this scenic highway, you’ll come to Geraldine. Known as the “gateway to the Southern Lakes”, it makes a wonderful place to stop. Coffee culture is thriving here so great if you need a quick pick-me-up and then there’s the unbelievable cheese amongst other locally produced goods. Stay overnight here and fuel up on caffeine the next morning for the final stretch to Lake Tekapo.
Once you arrive at the lake, use the free camping app to find your campervan site, there’ll be plenty to do. The lake views are simply mind-blowing, and the best way to enjoy the nature around you is on foot. So get your hiking gear on and start exploring. Stay overnight here and fuel up on caffeine the next morning for the final stretch to Lake Tekapo.
Summer Beach in Christchurch
Talbot Forest Cheese Shop in Geraldine
'Lake Tekapo in the Spring with Lupins' by Francis Vallance | Flickr
Lake Tekapo to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
After spending a night at the lake, it’s time to hit SH8 and SH80 on the U-shaped journey to Mount Cook National Park, stopping off at Lake Pukaki to take some pictures. Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki, is the highest mountain in New Zealand and it towers above its sister peaks of Mount D'Archiac, Mount Sibbald, Mount Hutton, The Nuns Veil, and Mount Sealy and Fettes Peak.
This is a hiker’s paradise, and the Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre is a great resource of information when it comes to day hikes and walking routes. If you’re after a once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience to make your trip unforgettable, why not tour the mountain range by helicopter or take a heli hike of the Tasman Glacier?
The Tasman is also fantastic for skiing and snow sports or if you need something that can entertain the whole family, head over to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, a centre which pays tribute to humanitarian and explorer Sir Edmund Hillary. This is a great place to learn more about the Mount Cook region, and it features a cool 3D theatre plus a planetarium.
Stay the night in Mount Cook Village and spend the evening stargazing into the clear night sky.
Take State Highway 8 and head south all the way to Wanaka. On this scenic drive, you might want to stop in the pretty town of Twizel, which sits on the edge of the small but soulful Lake Ruataniwha or you might even be tempted to take a little detour to Lake Ohau for a stroll and a picnic before stopping off in the famous town of Omarama.
Omarama is best known for its fishing community, and it’s famous for gliding. We call gliding “the sport of kings” here in New Zealand so if you want to try a true Kiwi pastime, take to the skies with Omarama’s gliding club! To try your hand at fishing, head to Ladybird Hill Salmon Farm & Winery where all fishing equipment will be provided for willing visitors. You only pay for what you catch, and you can have your fish cooked up in the café within 30 minutes.
And as if that wasn’t enough to make your day, you can guzzle some wine over at Ladybird Winery, which happens to be the highest winery in the whole of New Zealand. You must try their Pinot, especially the Pinot Noir which is so legendary that the road (1 Pinot Noir Court) is named after it.
From Omarama, take the final leg onto Wanaka. The resort town of Wanaka is defined by its stunning lake and snow-capped mountains, and here, you will be in the gateway to the spectacular Southern Alps. By night, the resort town comes to life with elegant restaurants and burger joints, cocktails bars and alehouses, so you’ll find plenty to do.
Before you leave Wanaka, make sure you’ve had a chance to taste its award-winning ice cream. Pure New Zealand Ice Cream has snapped up, not one, but three awards and can be bought from various cafes around the town. Your journey will continue south, this time on the picturesque Cardrona Valley Road and Crown Range Road which will take you to Arrowtown.
But if you’re not ready to move on just yet, feel free to take a little wander through the Central Otago District; take a detour down State Highway 6 and State Highway 8 instead and explore the trio of towns best known for their tipple. Kawarau Gorge, Cromwell and Clyde are steeped in history, but most visitors come here to taste the world-famous Pinot Noir. You can also hike through the Flat Top Hill Conservation area or hire a bike and explore the Roxburgh Gorge Trail.
If you’re saving your energy for Arrowtown, make sure you get there in good time so you can make the most of the daylight and do a spot of sightseeing. Wander the historic streets and learn more about the town’s rich mining past at the Lakes District Museum. Or to get more hands-on with the town’s historical gold mining roots, visitors can try their hand at gold panning down the Arrow River. This is a short visit activity with gold pans for hire and experts on hand to show you how to successfully pan for gold – this is great fun if you don’t mind getting your toes wet!
You can finish your day with a spot of shopping on Heritage Buckingham Street where you’ll find some interesting local stores before hunting down a cosy little spot for some food and drink.
Central Otago wine region (optional)
Gold panning in Arrowtown
Historic streets of Arrowtown
Arrowtown to Queenstown
From Arrowtown, it’s a short drive to your final destination of Queenstown, so there’s plenty of time to take a little detour. We recommend taking your campervan west to Glenorchy; this small settlement is totally remote and offers the most breathtaking views of the snow-capped Alps and Lake Wakatipu. But Glenorchy is best known for being the film setting for Lord of The Rings and you can take a guided tour of the area to visit the filming locations for Middle Earth, Isengard, Amon Hen, Lothlorien Forest, Ithilien and The Misty Mountains!
From Glenorchy, take the 45-minute drive to Queenstown along the shores of Lake Wakatipu (this stretch of the journey is such a treat) and park up your Spaceship for the next 2 days in one of the many campervan parks. Choose from Lakeland Park Christian Camp, Frankton Motor Camp, Arrowtown Born of Gold Holiday Park, Shotover TOP 10 Holiday Park, Queenstown Holiday Park Creeksyde, Lakeview Holiday Park or Kingston Holiday Park and then venture into the city to do some sightseeing.
Don’t miss the pretty Queenstown Gardens, Kiwi Birdlife Park, the Underwater Observatory or Queenstown Bay which overlooks Wakatipu – and be sure to take the Skyline Gondola up to Bob’s Peak for the most incredible views! At the top, you’ll find an observation deck, a bike park, a zip wire assault course, a bungee jumping ledge and a choice of walking trails. There’s also a fantastic restaurant at the top too so you can dine out with a panoramic view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu below you.
When it comes to nightlife, you won’t be disappointed either and you’ll find everything from cosy wine bars to hip boozers, theatres and live performances to Kiwi pubs playing live music, and of course a great choice of nightclubs so you can dance into the early hours.
Activities in Queenstown
Can't decide which of the awesome activities to do in Queenstown? Just make sure you also head to the lake so you can make the most of the city’s water sports, which make up some of the city’s most popular activities. Home to New Zealand’s largest stand-up paddleboard, you will be able to experience the sport of paddle boarding like never before. The water sports centre also hires out single kayaks and double kayaks, two-seater aqua bikes and easy-to-use pedal boats.
To get wet and wild, river sledging down the rapids of the Kawarau River is a must – no experience is required and it’s suitable for anyone who can swim. For something much less strenuous, you can hop on a relaxing cruise of the lake or hop on a tour bus to soak up the views of the entire city. Winos can take a little trip to the nearby Gibbston Valley for an afternoon of wine tasting and shopping fanatics can take to the lanes of Remarkables Park Town Centre.
Spend the final night in beautiful Queenstown in your cosy Spaceship campervan before heading back to our campervan drop-off centre in Christchurch.
Views of the Southern Alps
Glenorchy Lord of the Rings Tour
Watersports in Queenstown
River sledging down the Kawarau River
Gibbston Valley wine-tasting
Dutch TV show '3 Op Reis': Christchurch to Queenstown
If you want to see more than just the beautiful photos and tips on this page, then check out the videos made by Dutch TV show '3 Op Reis'. They also travelled from Christchurch to Queenstown and created awesome footage, which was broadcast on Dutch television in February and March 2017.
Dutch TV show '3 Op Reis' in New Zealand
More road trip inspiration on South Island
The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is just one of the many awesome road trips you can do in New Zealand. Check out this list of the best road trips in New Zealand to get more travel inspiration. All routes and tips have been created/curated by the Spaceships Crew and fellow Space Travellers. It'll help you to plan the best road trip ever. New Zealand has so much to offer. Enjoy.