5-Day Road Trip Itinerary: Christchurch to Queenstown Drive
Christchurch and Queenstown are 2 of the most alluring locations in all of New Zealand. Both offer stunning natural beauty, adrenaline-pumping adventure and some of the nation’s best restaurants and bars.
These cities sit 481.8km apart, with Christchurch on the west coast and Queenstown on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The perfect way to explore the heart of New Zealand’s South Island is to arrive in Christchurch, rent a car and set out on a road trip between these destinations.
With so much to see between Christchurch and Queenstown, you can't possibly make this a straight-line trip. That's why we've assembled a complete guide, with all the top destinations you simply have to check out, when you drive from Christchurch to Queenstown.
Be sure to nab your Enterprise rental car to take as your trusty companion on this epic Christchurch to Queenstown drive.
How long does it take to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown?
A non-stop drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is 481.8km, and should take just under 6 hours to complete. Of course, driving for 6 hours straight is unsafe and with so many amazing places to stop along the way, there's no excuse not to turn this drive into a full-blown, 5-day road trip covering 647km of road.
Christchurch to Queenstown: A 5-Day Itinerary
The good news is that you can have buckets of fun on this road trip any time of year. On the one hand, the icy water of the South Island is most bearable in summer, but its world-famous ski slopes are open in winter.
In addition, the Alpine Lavender Farm between Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook National Park is only in operation from December to May. If you decide to make this drive in the winter, remember to ensure you have some snow chains in tow (available from Enterprise for $79 per rental).
New Zealand South Island 5-Day Road Trip Itinerary
Arrive in Christchurch
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo (stop-overs at Rakaia Gorge and Geraldine)
Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook National Park (stop-over at Alpine Lavender Farm)
Mount Cook National Park to Wanaka (stop-over in Twizel and Omarama)
Wanaka to Queenstown (stop-over in Arrowtown)
Christchurch to Queenstown Overnight Stays
To get the most out of this road trip, we advise a minimum of 4 overnight stays. If any location particularly takes your fancy, you can easily tack on an extra night or 2.
Christchurch – 1 night
Lake Tekapo – 1 night
Mount Cook - 1 night
Lake Wanaka - 1 night
Arrive in Queenstown
Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch
Whether you're an international visitor who's just touched down in Christchurch or a local looking for an amazing road trip, you simply must spend a minimum of 1 night in Christchurch. The largest city in New Zealand's South Island is chock-full of incredible things to do, see and eat.
Things to do in Christchurch
While in Christchurch, be sure to partake in the following activities:
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Christchurch Botanic Gardens is home to a stunning collection of the most gorgeous flora you'll find in all of New Zealand. It's an essential stop-over on any trip to Christchurch.
The famous Christchurch gondola is one of the city's most popular attractions for good reason. It offers unparalleled panoramic views from the Southern Alps to the Canterbury Plains and the Pacific Ocean.
International Antarctic Centre
Unless you have the world's southernmost continent on your bucket list, the International Antarctic Centre is probably as close as you'll ever come to visiting the ice-covered continent. It offers experiences including the chance to get up close and personal with penguins, a storm dome and a 4D theatre.
Christchurch food and accommodation
Christchurch is home to a bevy of exceptional restaurants, including:
5th Street – One of the most acclaimed restaurants in all of Christchurch, 5th Street features a versatile menu of delicious dishes. It has items to accommodate vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free eaters.
Barberra – Barberra offers a contemporary menu with Polynesian influence to deliver taste of modern New Zealand. It's certainly worth dropping in before you leave Christchurch.
La Luna – Located in Rangiora, about a 30-minute drive outside Christchurch, you'll find La Luna is well worth the trip owing to its stunning menu and welcoming atmosphere. Plus, it gives you a chance to explore the gorgeous Canterbury region on your drive over.
Here are a few options for places to stay in Christchurch:
Commodore Airport Hotel – The Commodore Airport Hotel is a great option for those who want to settle in as soon as possible. With free parking and access to an extensive fitness centre, it's a great choice for your Christchurch accommodation.
The George Christchurch – The George Christchurch offers a unique, homely atmosphere as well as stunning views of the famous Hagley Park. It even boasts a 1-to-1 staff-to-guest ratio, so you can rest assured all your needs will be attended to.
Day 2: Drive to Lake Tekapo
Once you've finished exploring Christchurch, you're ready to set off on your road trip. The first leg of the trip will see you heading to Lake Tekapo. This isn't the most eventful drive, but there are a couple of must-see destinations along the way.
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo driving distance
If you're driving straight from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo on State Highways 1 and 79, it should take just under 3 hours for you to chew up the 226km.
Our recommended stops will add approximately 10 minutes, plus the time you choose to spend there.
Your first stop on the drive to Lake Tekapo is Rakaia Gorge. Spotting this beautiful gorge necessitates taking State Highway 77 rather than Highway 1 from Christchurch. The drive should take just over 1 hour.
The views at Rakaia Gorge speak for themselves. The land stunningly parting to frame the snow-capped mountains is truly a sight to behold. Meanwhile, the pure blue water of the Rakaia River is an excellent taster of what you'll find at Lake Tekapo.
There is a range of hikes available at Rakaia. The full Rakaia Gorge Walkway will take around 3 hours to complete, and if you aren't in a rush it's well worth the time. You can also simply follow the walkway until you feel like turning around and carrying on with your trip.
All that walking is probably going to make you very hungry. Set out for another hour of driving on Inland Scenic Route 72 and make a stop in Geraldine.
This delightful small town has a population of around 3,000 people and is home to lovely venues such as The Barker's Foodstore and the Geraldine Cheese Company. For sit-down meals, The Village Inn and Royal India are excellent choices. No matter where you stop in Geraldine, you're likely to find some delicious artisanal bites to keep you going until Lake Tekapo.
Spending the night in a venue like the Four Peaks Motel is also an option, but we wouldn't deem it essential.
Arrive in Lake Tekapo
After another hour or so of driving, you'll find yourself in Lake Tekapo. It's hard to miss – the stunning lake that gives the township its name is one of the most beautiful in the entire country, and the smattering of lupins you'll notice as you approach (if you're visiting in summer) is similarly distinctive.
Lake Tekapo is a truly enchanting place, and there's enough to keep you entertained for a week if you choose to stay there. However, assuming you want to make it to Queenstown with some expediency, we've allotted just 1 night in our Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary.
The first thing you'll want to do in Tekapo is take a walk along the shoreline. In warmer months, you can rent a paddleboard or kayak on-the-spot to take for a go around the lake. Keep in mind the water of Lake Tekapo is derived from the snow of the surrounding mountains, so your swim will be invigorating, even in summer.
Another must-see landmark is the historic Church of the Good Shepherd. A sunset snap of this location might be the most Instagrammable moment of your whole road trip. Tekapo is also home to world-famous hot pools and stargazing – and you can even do both at the same time thanks to Tekapo Springs.
Lake Tekapo food and accommodation
For a bite to eat, check out the Greedy Cow Café and Blue Lake Eatery. When it comes to accommodation, there are a range of similar venues offering resort atmospheres and, of course, stunning views. Some of the most popular options are The Godley Hotel and Peppers Bluewater resort.
Day 3: Drive to Mount Cook National Park
You probably won't want to leave Lake Tekapo, but you've got a road trip itinerary to complete. Don't worry, as there's plenty more to explore in the Canterbury region.
Pro tip: make sure to fill up before you leave Lake Tekapo, as you'll have to wait a long while before your next chance to refuel. Bring plenty of snacks for the road as well.
Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook Driving Distance
Driving the 104km between Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook National Park will take you approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes via State Highway 8 and State Highway 80.
Our recommended stops are completely on the way and will require no detours or change of direction.
Alpine Lavender Farm
Okay, this might be the most Instagrammable moment of your road trip. The Alpine Lavender Farm is just what it sounds like – an expansive field of lavender set in an incredible mountainous backdrop.
It has a stunning gift shop and even offers delicious lavender-flavoured ice cream. Once you pay for entry, you're free to spend as long as you like dawdling through the stunning farm.
The Alpine Lavender Farm is open from the beginning of December to the end of March.
You'll get plenty of time to peek at Lake Pukaki as you drive from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook, as State Highway 80 hugs the length of the lake. It's a gorgeous sight which helps the trip go by in a flash, and there are plenty of opportunities along the way to stop over and drink in the scenery even more.
The most popular place to stop along this route is Peter's Lookout, which is just a 4-minute drive from the Alpine Lavender Farm.
Arrive at Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park is one of the most revered hiking locations in the southern hemisphere. There's a reason we featured it on our guide to 5 unmissable national parks in New Zealand. Any walk you take will offer stunning views of this incredible mountainous location.
Some of the top hikes available at Mount Cook include:
Hooker Valley Track – This 2-3 hour hike is 10.6km long and has an easy-moderate difficulty level. It features some exhilarating swing bridges and you can even dip your toes into a glacial lake.
Sealy Tarns Track – For a more advanced hike, take on the Sealy Tarns track. This 3-hour hike is also known as the "Stairway to Heaven" and consists of over 2,000 steps. It's hard work, but the stunning views are well worth it.
Kea Point – If your holiday is more about relaxation and less about doing an Edmund Hillary impersonation, the 2.7km Kea Point walk should be more your speed. Don't worry, it still offers views to take your breath away.
Mount Cook National Park food and accommodation
Camping is a popular option in Mount Cook National Park. The White Horse Hill campground is a beautiful location nearby to some of its most iconic trails. The Glentanner Holiday Park is more out of the way (about 18 km outside the park entrance) but boasts superior amenities.
Mount Cook village has a number of hotels to choose from. The Aoraki Alpine Lodge is an affordable option with a communal lounge room and kitchen. If you're willing to spend a bit more, the Hermitage Hotel is well-worth the price.
Mount Cook National Park doesn't have many options for purchasing food or drinks. There are no supermarkets in the park, so you should come well-prepared with any supplies you need. The Hermitage Hotel does have on-site eateries you can take advantage of.
Day 4: Drive to Wanaka
Once you've had your fill of the natural beauty on offer at Mount Cook National Park, you're ready to head off to Wanaka.
Mount Cook to Wanaka Driving Distance
Driving straight from Mount Cook National Park to the township of Wanaka will take around 2 hours and 20 minutes without stops. You'll use Highways 80, 8 and 8A to get through 206km of South Island country.
Taking out the time to make our recommended stops will add around 50 minutes to your trip.
Twizel is one of the more curious locations you'll find on New Zealand's South Island. Originally built to house workers for the Upper Waitaki Hydroelectricity Scheme, the town was designed in a "Scandinavian style" which emphasised walking over cars. The idea was for the town to be reverted to farmland when the Scheme finished, but this never came to pass.
The result is an offbeat town with strange features like above-ground telephone loops and entirely prefabricated homes. Approximately 45 minutes out of Mount Cook National Park, it's the perfect place to stop over for lunch at venues like the Hydro and Poppies.
Around 25 minutes from Twizel is the township of Omarama. It's easy to fill up your car and pass right through Omarama, but there are a couple of detours that are essential for a complete Christchurch to Queenstown road trip.
The Omarama clay cliffs are a beautiful attraction you need to see to believe. There's a 30-minute walk that offers a stunning view of the entire cliff section, which was used as a filming location in the 2020 remake of Mulan.
Before setting back out on your trip, pay a visit to the Omarama hot tubs. This stunning location is the perfect place to relax in style while taking in the gorgeous landscape.
Arrive at Lake Wanaka
From Omarama, it will take you around 1 hour and 20 minutes to arrive at the township of Wanaka, but you'll see the titular lake long before then. This relaxed town has a range of great places to eat and is built around a beautiful lakeside beach. It's also home to the famous Wanaka tree, also known as #ThatWanakaTree.
If you're planning a winter road trip, ditch the lake swim for some time on the snow at incredible ski resorts like Cardrona and Treble Cone.
Wanaka is home to some pretty impressive hiking trails of its own, including:
Rob Roy Glacier Track – This stunning track offers unparalleled glacial views you simply cannot miss out on. Be warned, this moderate-hard walking track isn't exactly a stroll in the park and will take 3-4 hours to complete.
Isthmus Peak – Want an even greater challenge? The Isthmus Peak hike will take 5-7 hours and sits firmly in the "hard" category of tracks. However, the 360-degree views of Lake Wanaka, Lake Hāwea and the Southern Alps on offer are sure to soothe your tired legs.
Mount Iron Loop Track – If you're keen on a more low-key hike, this far more manageable walk offers still-impressive views, but is much easier on the knees and takes just an hour and a half.
Wanaka food and accommodation
Wanaka is home to some exceptional restaurants. Treat yourself to modern tapas at Kika, shoreside bistro stylings at Alchemy and stunning Italian classics at Francesca's Italian Kitchen.
Camping is a great option in Wanaka, with powered and unpowered campsites available at the Top 10 Holiday Park. You can also check out the conveniently located and aptly-named Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park. For a more luxurious stay, consider the Edgewater Hotel or Oakridge Resort.
Day 5: Arrive in Queenstown
After you've spent a night (or 4) in Wanaka, you're ready to head off to Queenstown. The adventure capital of New Zealand is the perfect place to cap off your road trip.
Wanaka to Queenstown driving distance
A straight-line drive from Wanaka to Queenstown will take you around 1 hour and 10 minutes via Cardrona Valley Road and the ultra-scenic Crown Range Road. The total distance for this drive is 68.5 km.
Some car hire companies will not allow you to take vehicles like camper vans on the Crown Range Road due to its dramatic incline, so check the fine print in your rental agreement before you depart. In this case, take State Highway 6 for a 111km trip you can complete in just over an hour and a half.
We suggest just 1 stop on the way from Queenstown to Wanaka. While it's technically a detour, it will barely add any driving time to your trip.
Since it doesn't take too long to get from Wanaka to Queenstown, and there's just so much to do when you do arrive at your final destination, we recommend just a single stop along the way.
Arrowtown is a stunning historic gold mining town. It doesn't require much planning to have an amazing time there. A stroll down Buckingham Street is a great way to drink in the atmosphere and explore some charming little shops.
If you're feeling peckish, be sure to stop in at Amisfield or Little Aosta. Since you're about to enter a more urban area in Queenstown, take the opportunity to explore natural offerings like Tobins Track as well.
Arrive in Queenstown
Congratulations, you've made it! Whether you want to get your adrenaline pumping, do some shopping or just relax in one of the most beautiful locations in all of New Zealand, you're in the perfect place.
We can't possibly cover everything there is to do in Queenstown here. Here are just a few key stops to consider while you're in town:
Enjoy stunning city views on the Queenstown gondola.
If you're on a winter road trip, don't miss the chance to hit the slopes in one of the top skiing destinations in all of New Zealand.
Drink up the best vino the South Island has to offer with wine tours from groups like Alpine and Altitude.
Dance the night away in sub-zero temperatures at the Ice Bar.
Soak up a spa day in style at Onsen Pools, which boasts incredible views of the Shotover River Canyon.
A day trip to Glenorchy, one of the principal filming locations of Lord of the Rings, is simply unmissable.
And, of course, it wouldn't be a visit to Queenstown without a bungy jump! The commercial bungy jump was born at the Kawarau Bungy Centre overlooking the Kawarau River. What better place to take the leap of faith?
Queenstown food and accommodation
When it comes to grabbing a bite to eat, the world-famous Fergburger is essential. Other great options are the ultra-sustainable Sherwood or the carnivore's delight, Flame.
Queenstown is home to some truly amazing hotels, including the jaw-dropping Kamana Lakehouse, the ultra-boujee Rees Hotel and the homely Hotel St Moritz. If you're worried your bank balance might be a little bit too meagre at this point in the trip, there are also loads of beautiful campgrounds to check out in the area.
And that concludes the ultimate Christchurch to Queenstown road trip. It might seem like a massive venture right now, but it'll go by in a flash, so make sure you savour each and every moment.
All that's left to do is sort out your travel arrangements and, of course, your transport. Enterprise Car Rentals has a wide range of vehicles you can browse at our Christchurch Airport branch. Our easy-as-pie booking system means you can get started on your trip in no time.
Got even more time to spend exploring New Zealand's South Island? Be sure to check out our guide to the Ultimate 14-Day South Island Road Trip.