Epic Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary

Close your eyes and imagine for a second driving through a land that time forgot. Where majestic mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and lush valleys combine to create a wonderful tapestry of nature’s best work. This is what you’ll experience on a Christchurch to Queenstown road trip. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is more than just a road trip. It’s an unforgettable window into the very essence of the South Island of New Zealand. During it, you can experience everything from adrenaline-pumping, you-have-to-have-a-screw-loose-to-try-them activities like bungee jumping and zorbing to tranquil moments of reflection and introspection that can be life-changing.

From Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook National Park, the South Island of New Zealand is the gift that keeps giving. So grab your travel planner app and channel your sense of adventure because we’re about to take you on a South Island road trip of a lifetime!

What is the Distance Between Christchurch to Queenstown?

The distance between Christchurch and Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island is about 480 km (300 miles) when travelling along the most direct and best route of State Highway 1 and State Highway 6.

DriveDistanceEstimated Drive TimeWhere to Stay
Christchurch to Geraldine138 kms (86 miles)1 hour 40 minutesGeraldine
Geraldine to Lake Tekapo88 kms (55 miles)1 hour 4 minutesLake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook National Park104 kms (65 miles)1 hour 11 minutesMount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park to Lake Pukaki41 kms (25 miles)30 minutesLake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki to Ōmarama56 kms (35 miles)37 minutesŌmarama
Ōmarama to Lindis Pass34 kms (21 miles)25 minutesLindis Pass
Lindis Pass to Wānaka80 kms (50 miles)57 minutesWānaka
Wānaka to Arrowtown55 kms (34 miles)50 minutesArrowtown
Arrowtown to Queenstown20 kms (12 miles)21 minutesQueenstown
Estimates only; times will vary based on traffic and road conditions

If you were to do this drive non-stop, it would take about six hours to complete the journey.

How Long is the Drive from Christchurch to Queenstown?

If you plan to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown on the most direct route you could easily do it in a day. However, we don’t recommend doing this, as we believe you should spend some quality time at many of the island’s main attractions to really appreciate them.

Subsequently, it is worth taking a minimum of 1 to 2 days to complete this New Zealand scenic drive. That way, you will be able to take your time to revel in its scenic majesty and also visit some of the charming small towns you will encounter along the way.

Should you intend to return to Christchurch it would be a good idea to perform a loop on your way back by driving south from Queenstown to Invercargill, before making your way up the east coast to your original starting point.

If you do this, you will be able to visit places like Timaru, Oamaru, Dunedin, Milton and Gore. Schedule in at least 7 days for an extended adventure like this.

Best Time of Year to Drive from Christchurch to Queenstown?

New Zealand’s South Island is somewhere you can visit all year round. However, if you are planning a road trip, the best time of year to do it would depend on what’s on your Christchurch to Queenstown itinerary and what kind of experiences you are looking for.

For many people, the summer months of December to February are the most appropriate time for their road trip. The weather is warm, and the days are long, allowing you to enjoy the stunning scenery fully. 

You can engage in outdoor activities like hiking, water sports, and basking in the sunshine. However, be prepared for larger crowds, especially in January, the peak of the tourist season.

For this reason, consider doing your Christchurch to Queenstown drive during the spring or autumn – also known as the shoulder seasons.

Spring in New Zealand runs from September to November. It is a time when the landscape comes back to life with the thawing of winter. It’s a great time to see waterfalls at their peak flow and enjoy mild weather. Just be aware that some hiking trails may still have snow or be muddy, and September can still be quite chilly. 

Autumn takes place between March and May. The weather is still pleasant at this time of year, with crisp mornings and mild afternoons. But the main drawcard is that the trees turn vibrant shades of red and gold, creating a stunning backdrop for your journey. 

In both seasons, the tourist crowds start to thin out, providing a more peaceful experience to enjoy your South Island road trip.

The winter months of June to August are obvious times to go if you’re a fan of snow and winter sports. During this period, the Southern Alps are covered in snow, and you can hit the slopes in several ski resorts from Christchurch to Queenstown.

Just be aware that, at this time, driving conditions can be challenging – especially if you are in a campervan – so make sure your vehicle is equipped for winter driving and have contingency plans for occasional road closures due to weather. Local knowledge is critical, so consult with the tourist information centres and visitor attractions.

Best Stops on a Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip

Knowing when to start your Christchurch to Queenstown road trip is one thing. But determining where to go is another thing entirely.

Much like the north, New Zealand’s South Island is packed with so many sites and attractions it can be difficult to know where to start!

But don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Here are our suggestions of the best stops on a Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip:

Geraldine (1 night)

Your first stop on your Christchurch to Queenstown road trip should be the charming town of Geraldine, about 138 km away from the starting point.

Surrounded by rolling hills and framed by the Southern Alps, this idyllic destination promises visitors a delightful blend of natural beauty, cultural richness and plenty of outdoor adventures. 

Visitors can explore the town’s vibrant arts and crafts scene, with numerous boutique shops showcasing the work of talented local artisans. The town is also renowned for its delicious food offerings, ranging from fresh farm produce to mouthwatering baked goods. 

Be sure to check out Barkers of Geraldine for a delightful meal – an institution for foodies. If you fancy wetting your whistle, Humdinger Gin is an excellent local distillery that offers tastings during their tours.

The Peel Forest Park is a must-visit destination for those wanting to adventure outdoors, offering hiking trails through ancient native forests. Travellers can also indulge in white-water rafting or horse trekking in the countryside.

If you are into aviation, you should also enjoy the fascinating collections on display at Rangitata Island Aerodrome, featuring a range of aircraft and aeroplane-related memorabilia.

Lake Tekapo (1 – 2 nights)

When devising your Christchurch to Queenstown itinerary, visiting Lake Tekapo should be one of the first activities you pencil in.

NZ Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary - Lake Tekapo

Situated within the Southern Alps, this breathtaking glacial lake is renowned for its unparalleled natural beauty, boasting crystal-clear, turquoise waters that are simply mesmerising. The backdrop of snow-capped peaks, including the iconic Mount Cook, provides an awe-inspiring vista perfect for photographers and nature enthusiasts.

Visitors to Lake Tekapo can explore the quaint town with the same name. Here, you’ll find cosy cafes, charming shops, and the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, a picturesque place of worship that overlooks the lake.

You can also relax and unwind at the nearby Tekapo Springs, which offers hot pools for relaxation and stargazing in outdoor hot tubs with breathtaking night sky views. Thanks to its designation as an International Dark Sky Reserve, the area offers an ideal opportunity to witness the Southern Hemisphere’s celestial wonders. It’s worth scheduling a night to take it all in.

Mount Cook National Park (1 night)

From Lake Tekapo, you’ll notice the imposing silhouette of Aoraki (Mount Cook), New Zealand’s highest peak. It is located within the Mount Cook National Park, about 103 km away and is well worth detouring from the best route on the Christchurch to Queenstown drive.

Boasting some of the most dramatic alpine scenery you’ll ever encounter, day visitors to Mount Cook National Park can explore a range of activities, from hiking the numerous trails catering to all skill levels to taking guided glacier walks and scenic flights to witness the awe-inspiring landscapes from above. The Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s largest, is a prominent attraction, offering boat tours amid icebergs in the glacial terminal lake.

Like at Lake Tekapo, stargazing is another highlight, as the park is also part of the International Dark Sky Reserve. There are also visitor centres that provide valuable insights into the park’s unique ecosystems and cultural history.

For those wanting to stay a night or two, accommodation options at the park range from campsites to upscale lodges, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in this pristine wilderness.

Lake Pukaki (1 – 2 nights)

One of the best stops between Christchurch and Queenstown is undoubtedly Lake Pukaki, a natural wonder that leaves visitors in awe of its captivating beauty. This stunning glacial lake is renowned for its striking milky-blue waters, fed by the meltwater from the surrounding Southern Alps – making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and photographers.

NZ Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary - Lake Pukaki

The lake’s shoreline offers countless opportunities for relaxation, picnics and snapping Insta-worthy shots, with the iconic Aoraki providing a stunning backdrop. It’s also a popular spot for water activities such as fishing, boating, and kayaking, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquillity of this pristine alpine environment.

In addition, Lake Pukaki is a gateway to adventure, with opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and stargazing being plentiful. You should also check out the Lake Pukaki Visitor Center, which provides insights into the region’s geology, history and indigenous Maori culture.

Ōmarama (1 night)

Nestled in the heart of the Waitaki Valley, Ōmarama is a small town surrounded by rugged beauty. It offers a serene retreat for those searching for relaxation and outdoor adventures.

Due to its proximity to the Ahuriri Conservation Park, the town provides a good base for hiking, mountain biking and birdwatching. The nearby Benmore Dam and Lake Benmore are popular spots for fishing and water sports.

For those with a love of aviation, Ōmarama is renowned as the gliding capital of New Zealand, offering thrilling glider flights over the expansive Mackenzie Basin, where you can enjoy sweeping panoramic views of the Southern Alps and vast plains.

The town also boasts several hot pools and spa facilities, perfect for unwinding after a day of exploration. For kids, there is also an excellent, fully-fenced playground, replete with big tyres, a wendy house and a large sandpit.

Lindis Pass (1 – 2 nights)

One of the more remote and captivating destinations you can visit on your Christchurch to Queenstown road trip is Lindis Pass. Taking you from Mackenzie Basin to Central Otago, this stunning pass swathes through dramatic alpine terrain and expansive landscapes. 

NZ Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary - Lindis Pass

As you traverse it, you’ll immerse in a breathtaking panorama of tussock-covered hills, snow-capped peaks and pristine valleys.

Visiting Lindis Pass is a unique experience, especially for those who appreciate the raw beauty of nature. The pass is known for its challenging and winding roads, making it a popular route for road trips and motorcyclists seeking an adrenaline rush. 

The drive offers numerous opportunities to pull over and take in the awe-inspiring scenery, with photo-worthy vistas around every bend.

The pass also serves as a gateway to outdoor adventures, with hiking trails, fishing spots and opportunities for wildlife spotting in the surrounding Lindis Conservation Area. During winter, you should only attempt this road with snow chains on your 4WD vehicle’s tyres – and definitely not in a campervan.

Wānaka (1-2 nights)

Wānaka is a serene and picturesque destination surrounded by the Southern Alps and stunning Lake Wānaka. This charming town is known for its laid-back atmosphere and offers a perfect blend of outdoor adventure and relaxation.

Visitors to Wānaka can enjoy various activities, from hiking and mountain biking in the nearby Mount Aspiring National Park to water sports such as kayaking and paddleboarding on Lake Wānaka’s crystal-clear waters. 

The lake’s beaches are perfect for sunbathing and picnicking, while its shores offer some of the best spots for capturing the iconic ‘Wanaka Tree’ in photographs.

Wānaka is also a hub for winter sports enthusiasts, with nearby ski resorts like Treble Cone and Cardrona providing world-class skiing and snowboarding experiences during the colder months.

Additionally, the town boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene, excellent dining options and a welcoming community – making it one of the best stops on a Christchurch to Queenstown road trip.

Arrowtown (Few Hours)

Before arriving in Queenstown, pop into Arrowtown,  a charming and historic gold rush-era settlement that retains its heritage buildings, cobblestone streets and a delightful old-world atmosphere.

NZ Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary - Arrowtown

Visiting Arrowtown offers a glimpse into the past, with the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement showcasing the town’s Chinese immigrant history. Elsewhere, the Lakes District Museum provides further insights into the region’s fascinating history.

The town is close to the stunning Arrow River, making it an excellent spot for fishing, water activities like kayaking and canoeing and strolling along the riverbanks on the Arrowtown River Walk. Additionally, the surrounding hills offer hiking, mountain biking, and gold panning opportunities.

If you love food, Arrowtown is renowned for housing some of the best cafes and restaurants in the whole of the South Island.

Beyond Queenstown

Whilst in Queenstown, consider driving out to Milford Sound.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is a natural wonder comprising stunning fjords, waterfalls and sheer cliffs that will take your breath away.

Perhaps the best way to explore it is on a boat cruise through its pristine waters, where you’ll witness the majesty of Mitre Peak and the stunning Fiordland National Park. Have your camera at the ready, as you’ll want to take thousands of photos!

More Tips for Road Tripping Christchurch to Queenstown

  • Even in summer, the weather on New Zealand’s South Island can turn quickly, especially in the late afternoon and early evening. So it is worth bringing warm clothes with you to counter the temperature change.
  • Snow chains are mandatory when driving in winter, as roads are prone to ice, snow and avalanches. Also, take a mobile phone with GPS location on it and a working torch with spare batteries with you.
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