Road Trip Through the Heart of NZ: Queenstown to Christchurch

New Zealand’s South Island is home to gorgeous scenery, including the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps, sparkling lakes and rivers, and stunning lookouts. If you’re planning a Queenstown to Christchurch road trip, there are plenty of amazing sites to see along the way. 

How long is the drive from Queenstown to Christchurch?

The road distance from NZ’s Adventure Capital to the Garden City is about 480km - 6 hours. You can technically drive there in a day, but it’s much more enjoyable to plan breaks along the way so you don’t get too tired.

Check out our Queenstown to Christchurch road trip itinerary for the best must-see experiences along your drive.

Queenstown to Christchurch Map.

Queenstown to Christchurch Map

Planning Transportation, Accommodation & More

Road trips are the perfect way to enjoy this scenic route across New Zealand. However, before you begin your epic road trip across New Zealand via State Highway 8, it’s important to plan ahead. Why not hire a car so you can go at your own pace and stop as much as you like? We have plenty of affordable car hire options in Queenstown for you to choose from. If you’re taking your road trip from Queenstown to Christchurch in winter, you should have snow chains on hand in case you need them. 

Decide where you’d like to stay in each town during your road trip, and book your accommodation well in advance. Check the forecast so you know what to pack, too. Whether you plan to spend your time mountain biking, walking in nature, or soaking in hot tubs, make sure you’ve got the proper clothing and gear to stay comfortable.

Omega customer with Luxurry SUV.

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars

Exploring Charming Towns and Countryside

You’ll love exploring the South Island, from admiring the Remarkables Mountain Range to spotting thousands of sheep dotting the countryside. Before you embark on the scenic drive from Queenstown to Christchurch, it’s important to plan out your stops so you can rest and have meals along the way.

To give you a great framework for making the most of your holiday, we’ve put together this three day itinerary of the best places to see on your South Island road trip – including small town attractions and natural wonders.

landscpe view of Cromwell with mountain ranges in the background,

Photo Credit: Tourism New Zealand


Day 1: Queenstown to Lake Tekapo (approx. 4 hours drive)

For the first day of your Queenstown road trip itinerary, you’ll leave the beautiful Queenstown resort town and Lake Wakatipu behind and head to Lake Tekapo. Allow plenty of time to visit all the interesting sites along the way!

Check out Arrowtown

Stop at the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown, located on the Arrow River. Explore the old buildings and visit the Lake District Museum to learn about the town’s rich history.

Main strip of Arrowtown.

Photo Credit: Tourism New Zealand

Stop at the Crown Range Scenic Lookout

Check out the stunning views of the Kawarau River and surrounding mountains as you drive along the Cardrona Valley Road.

Visit Gibbston Valley Winery

If you enjoy a beautiful, quality glass of wine, you’ll love touring this vineyard in this famous wine region of New Zealand.

Wine cellar at Gibbston Valley.

Photo Credit:

Visit Cromwell

Make a stop at Cromwell, a picturesque historic gold mining town located on the shores of Lake Dunstan.

Skate park at Cromwell ovelooking mountain range on a sunny day.

Photo Credit:

Stop at Lake Wanaka

Hike up Roy’s Peak for views of Lake Wanaka, or check out Puzzling World’s huge maze and optical illusion rooms.

outside photo of puzzling world on a sunny day.

Photo Credit: Tourism New Zealand

Check out the Omarama Clay Cliffs

As you continue your drive toward Lake Tekapo, stop at the Omarama clay cliffs to walk along the trail and take in this spectacular natural wonder. 

Visit High Country Salmon Farm

If you’d like to try your hand at catching a fresh salmon or just want to have a delicious seafood meal, check out this spot.

Family feeding salmon at High Country Salmon Farm.

Photo Credit: Tourism New Zealand

Explore Lake Tekapo

When you arrive at Lake Tekapo, you’ll definitely want to visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd. Check out Mount John Observatory (which is located in a dark sky reserve) to see if you can spot the southern lights.


Day 2: Lake Tekapo to Mt. Cook (approx. 1.5 hours drive)

On your second day driving from Queenstown to Christchurch, explore Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki, and its surrounds. If you enjoy outdoor adventures, you’ll love the majestic Mount Cook National Park, home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain.

Hooker Valley at Mount Cook National Park.

Photo Credit: Tourism New Zealand

Stop at Mt. Cook Village

Take a break at Aoraki Mount Cook Village and have a coffee at the Hermitage Hotel before checking out the stunning hikes in the area.

Walk the Hooker Valley Track

Once you leave the town centre, explore this famous walking track for incredible views of Aoraki within walking distance of the holiday park.

Experience Aoraki from above

For a truly memorable experience, go for a scenic flight to view the scenery from the air.


Day 3: Mt. Cook to Christchurch (approx. 4 hours drive)

On the last day of your drive, you’ll spend just a few hours making your way to your final destination. 

Stroll along the Rakaia Gorge Walkway

Take this short walk overlooking the Rakaia River for amazing views of the beautiful blue river.

Visit Akaroa

Akaroa, located on the Banks Peninsula, was NZ’s only French settlement, and is home to beautiful heritage buildings and the scenic Akaroa Beach.

Two people looking at the landscape enjoying a beautiful day at Akaroa,

Photo Credit: Tourism New Zealand


Arriving in Christchurch: Wrapping Up Your South Island Adventure

If you’re ready to start planning, check out our Omega rental car options. You can even pick your car up in Queenstown and drop it off when you arrive in the city centre. Remember to regularly check weather and driving conditions during your Queenstown to Christchurch road trip so you stay safe. 

Toy car on a map.

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars

Thinking of where you’ll go next? Why not head toward the west coast to Milford Sound or Mount Aspiring National Park? Or travel up to Nelson, Picton, or Blenheim, where you can hire an Omega car to keep exploring!