Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip

New Zealand’s South Island is home to incredible natural beauty, offering visitors endless activities and spectacular views.

Hire a Pegasus rental car in Christchurch and gear up for an unforgettable South Island road trip towards Queenstown. Armed with the ultimate Christchurch to Queenstown itinerary, you’ll have endless photo-worthy opportunities. Along your road trip, you’ll discover stunning beaches, lush national parks, extraordinary snow-capped mountains and formidable glaciers.

Packing for the local weather

While planning your Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary, pack accordingly based on local temperatures and planned activities. Pack lightweight and breathable clothing for warmer weather with layering options. Bring water and windproof outerwear, and warm clothing, including thermal layers. Don’t forget essential outdoor gear like sturdy hiking shoes, sunglasses, a hat, and swimwear. 

Browse our range of rental cars, plan your Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary and make sure you have your travel insurance ready. Then, strap in and see what’s in store for you and your family on this incredible road trip across New Zealand’s South Island!

Your itinerary: Nine days of exploring…

The direct distance from Christchurch to Queenstown is 360 km, via State Highway 1. However, we think there is plenty of opportunity to spread that journey out and enjoy multiple stops along the way! 

Here is a list of our 9 recommended checkpoints for an amazing Kiwi road trip:

  • Christchurch: A City of Art, Nature and History
  • Christchurch to Tekapo: Uncover the Beauty of Akaroa and Rakaia Gorge
  • Tekapo: A Dream Destination for Nature Lovers and Stargazers
  • Tekapo to Wanaka: Journey through the Heart of the Southern Alps
  • Wanaka: A Lakeside Wonderland
  • Central Otago: Visit Vineyards and Climb Roy’s Peak
  • Places of Interest Between Wanaka and Queenstown
  • Milford Sound: Discover a Majestic Fiord
  • Queenstown: Experience the Ultimate Thrill and Beauty of New Zealand

Day 1 – Christchurch: A City of Art, Nature and History

The first day of your Christchurch to Queenstown road trip begins in the Garden City. Christchurch has enough to keep you busy all day if you’d like! In the city centre, you’ll find picturesque street art and the famous Christchurch Botanical Gardens. Whilst the city is still rebuilding after the 2011 earthquakes, you’ll still find plenty of local activities.

Lyttelton and Sumner

After leaving Christchurch, follow the coastline towards the seaside suburb of Sumner and take in amazing views of the volcanic hills of the Banks Peninsula. Then, head south to the small port of Lyttleton. Also known as the “Gateway to Canterbury” by colonial settlers, it is a popular destination for cruise liners.

Day 2 – Christchurch to Tekapo: Uncover the Beauty of Akaroa and Rakaia Gorge

You’ll find a few different routes between Christchurch and Tekapo, but if you’re up for a bit of adventure, a detour to Akaroa will not disappoint.


Take the scenic road that winds along the crater’s edge and be rewarded with incredible views of the harbour. Akaroa has a deep French/English history and offers a variety of activities, such as biking and kayaking. Cruise around the volcanic harbour to see dolphins and other wildlife.

You’ll find some fantastic eateries and markets along the waterfront. If you want to take a break from the hot temperatures, find a shady spot to enjoy pastries and coffee from a local French bakery.

Rakaia Gorge

Two hours from Akaroa along State Highway 75 will bring you to Rakaia Gorge. Here, you can go jet boating on the Rakaia River or trek The Rakaia Gorge Walkway. The walking distance is 10 km, and it takes 3 to 4 hours to complete. 

As you continue towards Tekapo, be prepared for the uphill winding road. A vehicle with plenty of horsepower, such as a Premium SUV, will serve you well! Our customers love to hire cars with a higher ride height and plenty of luggage space. This type of vehicle offers access to more expansive views and provides extra comfort on a Queenstown road trip.

Spectacular mountain views on the drive from Christchurch to Tekapo. Photo credit – Pixabay.

Day 3 – Lake Tekapo: A Dream Destination for Nature Lovers and Stargazers

From Rakaia Gorge to Lake Tekapo, the distance is 170km along State Highway 79 and State Highway 8.

Once in the township of Lake Tekapo, you will enjoy breathtaking views of the Southern Alps along with the impressive turquoisecoloured Lake Tekapo. Lake Tekapo gets its colour from rocks so finely ground by glaciers that it is the consistency of flour. 

Along the lakeshore is the eye-catching Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1935 for pioneer families. To this day, the Church of the Good Shepherd holds worship services and is a popular venue for weddings and other celebratory services.

Wander along Lake Tekapo to enjoy the incredible scenery of Aoraki/Mount Cook. Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect location for stargazing.

Take a quick dip in Lake Tekapo, or at least get your toes wet. During winter, the lake’s waters can get pretty chilly. But, come summertime, temperatures at the lake can be quite pleasant for a refreshing swim. 

Mt John

If you’re in the market for a climb, be prepared for a steep walk and steamy temperatures as you hike through pine forests and tussock fields. The total hike time is around 1.5 hours.

If you’d rather drive, the scenic journey takes 15 minutes. However, to access, drivers will need to pay a fee of approximately $8. At the peak, you can enjoy panoramic views and on a clear day, you can see Aoraki/Mount Cook. After dark, head to the Mt. John Observatory to view the night sky through 16″ optical telescopes.

Hungry? Tekapo will not disappoint with options of locallymade on-tap ales, scrumptious pasta, steak and pizza at the Tin Plate.

Occasionally, you will see snow on the road during winter in Lake Tekapo. Securing snow chains with your rental car from the Christchurch branch can be a valuable extra. Or you could hire a 4WD Wagon for extra security and safety in icy conditions and during the ski season.

The stunning turquoise coloured Lake Tekapo. Photo credit – Pixabay.

Day 4 – Tekapo to Wanaka: Journey through the Heart of the Southern Alps

Be sure to start early to make the most of the day! A recommended stop would be Twizel, where the scenic route provides numerous viewpoints of beautiful Lake Pukaki – the bluest lake in New Zealand. 


Twizel is located on the edge of Lake Ruataniwha, named after Ruataniwha, a Maori Chief who drowned during the sinking of a canoe during the 12th century. The small town was developed in the 1960s to provide a hometown for the employees working on the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme. Now it serves as a popular destination for various outdoor sports, including mountain biking, mountain climbing, fishing, hiking, kayaking, skiing and horseback riding.

With access to the nearby rivers, canals and Lake Ruataniwha, you enjoy a spot of salmon and trout fishing. If fishing isn’t your thing, but you enjoy eating fish, the local salmon farm can provide you with various smoked or fresh salmon.

Spending the night in Twizel also allows you to visit the Dark Sky Reserve, which runs from Geraldine and spreads to Mount Cook National Park.

Mount Cook

The drive to Mount Cook National Park is unbelievably scenic, offering a panoramic view of turquoise lakes and the surrounding mountains. At 3,724 metres, Aoraki/Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain.

Mount Cook National Park has a range of day hikes to suit all fitness levels. The three-hour return Hooker Valley Track is the most popular hike in Mount Cook National Park, boasting spectacular scenery, including views of the Tasman Glacier. The Tasman Glacier is also a great spot for snow sports.

If you want to stay to explore the park, you’ll need to stay at Mount Cook Village, where you’ll also find a visitor centre, a small shop, and a few restaurants. Mt Cook Village is located in the heart of the national park and is the starting point for the walking trails. If you’ve travelled by campervan, the White Horse Hill campground is also located in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

Clay Cliffs

A trip to the Clay Cliffs is a must. You can explore the tall pinnacle-shaped rock structures formed around 2 million years ago due to melting glacier ice. 


If you enjoy soaring the skies, check out gliding in the neighbouring town of Omarama. Located at the southern end of Mackenzie Basin, it is a go-to destination for glider pilots who enjoy the updrafts and clear blue skies. If you want something more relaxing, head to Omarama Hot Tubs, where you can soak the day away.

Day 5 – Wanaka: A Lakeside Wonderland

From Omarama to the resort town of Wanaka, the distance is 123 km. The drive will take approximately 1.5 hours along State Highway 8.

A wildly popular loop that offers excellent views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea is the Mt Iron track. You can walk up to Mount Iron’s peak, a rocky knoll carved by glaciers that extends above the countryside, to take in the 360-degree views. The walk is suitable for all ages.

Off the lakeshore grows the famous Wanaka TreeNew Zealand’s most photographed tree. The Wanaka tree is complete with a backdrop of the Southern Alps and is an excellent place for a picnic and to view the sunrise and sunset.

Why not rent some bicycles and head to Dublin Bay through the pathways around the lake? It is an easy, scenic ride, exclusive to pedestrians and cyclists.

Running parallel to Lake Wanaka is the beautiful Lake Hawea. Just a short drive from town, Lake Hawea boasts legendary fishing spots and is a prime destination for kite surfing, paragliding and windsurfing.

Feed the farm animals at the Wanaka Lavender Farm and check out the bizarre Puzzling World. Both make a fun day out for the whole family.  

At the end of your day of sightseeing, you can enjoy good food and a variety of atmospheres in the local restaurants. We highly recommend the Big Fig.

Lone Tree of Wanaka. Photo credit – Mariamichelle.

Day 6 – Central Otago: Visit Vineyards and Climb Roy’s Peak

Tour Central Otago’s most famous wine region with your fuelefficient rental car, and enjoy wine tasting along the way. Stop by Gibbston Valley Winery & Restaurant for a tour and to sample their award-winning Pinot Noir.

The climb up Roy’s Peak will reward you with amazing views of the region, including Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park. However, with its 11 km strenuous uphill climb, the track holds greater allure for those with a higher level of physical fitness. If you decide to tackle it, equip yourself with sturdy shoes and trekking poles. A good rule of thumb is to plan on the hike taking five hours for the round trip.

Day 7 – Places of Interest Between Wanaka and Queenstown

Gold Rush Towns of Central Otago

As you follow the Crown Range Road on your road trip towards Queenstown, stop at the Cardrona Hotel for a glimpse into New Zealand’s gold rush era and stay for a meal. Continue to Cromwell on the shores of the beautiful Lake Dunstan to view historic buildings, shop for local produce and explore the cafés and shops. Arrowtown is another quaint historic gold-mining town dating back to 1862. Stroll along the charming high street lined with restaurants, gift shops and cafes or enjoy a picnic by the Arrow River. Queenstown is just a 20-minute drive away.


Glenorchy is a 45-minute drive from Queenstown and is a favourite spot for outdoor adventurers. Glenorchy is a rustic town with mountain ranges, farmland and a beech tree forest. With so many wonderful views, it is a go-to spot for photographers and was featured in The Lord of the Rings trilogy!

Lake Wakatipu

The uniquely shaped Lake Wakatipu forms a tide that rises and falls every twenty-five minutes. It is a popular attraction due to its crystal clear water. Visitors can book a cruise aboard a vintage steamship or a catamaran to view the famous Remarkables mountain range. Loads of visitors flock to The Remarkables ski field in the winter. During the spring and summer months, you can enjoy hiking trails and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.

When you arrive in Queenstown, you’ll be treated to more scenery and outdoor activities, such as bungee jumping, hiking, scenic flight tours and boat cruises on Lake Wakatipu. A cruise to Bob’s Cove, along Glenorchy Road, is chockfull of stunning scenery, providing a different perspective of Queenstown that can’t be seen by foot.

As you drive to Queenstown, take the time to immerse yourself in the captivating visual splendour surrounding you. We recommend you include a detour to Milford Sound on your drive from Christchurch to Queenstown.

Endless views on the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy. Photo credit – Vladka Kennet.

Day 8 – Milford Sound: Discover a majestic fiord

Milford Sound is just over an hour from Wanaka and around three hours from Queenstown. This popular tourist destination is named the “8th Wonder of the World. It is known for its ink-dark waters, steep fiord cliffs covered in foliage and a collection of eye-soothing mountain peaks complete with cascading waterfalls.

Boat cruises are worth putting on your itinerary — choose from day or overnight tours. If you’re more adventurous at heart, plan on a diving or kayaking trip.

Do you enjoy learning about marine life? Milford Sound has an underwater observatory where you can enjoy viewing black coral, sea anemones and starfish, just to name a few.

The Fiordland National Park was established in 1952 and covers over 1.2 million hectares. It has a variety of plants and animals and a diverse landscape, including mountain ranges, lakes and even rainforest environments. The journey from Queenstown to the park takes about 4.5 hours. You’ll enjoy a lovely drive and plenty of opportunities for photos along the way, and the views get better as you inch towards Milford Sound. The trip will offer other highlights, such as the Chasm and Mirror Pools.

Day 9 – Queenstown: Welcome to the Adventure Capital of New Zealand!

With so many activities on offer, planning specifics for your Queenstown visit is crucial. Once you arrive, jump aboard the Skyline Gondola — the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a fun way to reach Bob’s Peak and marvel at the most incredible lake views. If you’re searching for a thrill, jump on the Luge for an exciting gravity-fueled downhill ride. Or get your adrenaline rush at the MTB bike park.

Did you know that Queenstown is the bungy jumping capital of the world? Harness up to a bungee from the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge and plunge 43 metres down to the Kawarau River. Advanced bookings are recommended.

Another spot to visit in Queenstown is Skipper’s Canyon — a scenic drive on a narrow, curvy road that drops vertically to the Shotover River. Once home to gold prospectors, Skipper’s Canyon is an awe-inspiring trip. However, we don’t recommend you drive along this unsealed road. You can find plenty of local operators to take you up the canyon, so all you need to do is admire the views!

While in Queenstown, you’ll have ample choices for refreshments and meals, including the ‘world famous’ Fergburger, home of the best burger in New Zealand.

And naturally – after enjoying your legendary Christchurch to Queenstown drive, we are more than happy to shuttle you to Christchurch Airport. Full airport transfers are part of the service we are pleased to provide!

Queenstown’s breathtaking scenery. Photo credit – Pixabay.

Ready for an epic week and a half?

This epic road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown on the South Island provides adventure and scenery. From turquoise lakes to snow-covered peaks and vast landscapes, you’ll enjoy the best hikes, wine, food, ski fields and adventure activities New Zealand has to offer. We know you’re going to love this journey between Christchurch and Queenstown. Think of Pegasus for all your New Zealand road trips on the South or North Island, where you’ll experience superb rates and first-class service.

Travel article courtesy of Pegasus Christchurch branch.