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New Zealand Road Trip

Updated on December 1, 2011
Milford Sound
Milford Sound | Source

By Marissa Thompson

New Zealand is known as one of the world’s most beautiful countries. It’s often a hot spot destination for young travellers who are up for action-packed adventure. But what if jumping out of planes and off of cliffs out of your own free will isn’t your cup of tea? Well if you enjoy snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear lakes and don’t mind a few windy roads and random rain clouds on a clear day that last all of about three minutes, then New Zealand is the perfect place for a road trip, that is, if you can get used to driving on the left hand side of the road. But don’t worry about that; the car you rent will most likely have a friendly reminder next to the steering wheel telling you to stay on the left!

Yes, New Zealand is a small country, but don’t be fooled by its population and land mass. If you only have a few days for a road trip, you’re not going to have enough time for both islands, so I would recommend you set base in the South Island. While the North has the beautiful Bay of Islands and Coromandel, the South Island is home to Queenstown and Milford Sound, two destinations you don’t want to miss.

100% Pure New Zealand

New Zealand Road Trip: Christchurch to Milford Sound

Below is a road trip that I recommend you do. You will need five to six days to complete the road trip, but of course if you have less time you may need to shorten your journey. If you must, I suggest starting at Queenstown instead of Christchurch. You can always take a few hours out of your day and drive from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, two places you shouldn’t miss. But if you do have the time, Christchurch is a great place for your journey to begin.

Christchurch, known as the Garden City and New Zealand's second largest city, is a good place to start your travels. It has some of the oldest architecture in the country, and it often reminds people of Britain. If the weather is nice, take a stroll along the Avon River or enjoy a relaxing gondola ride. Take the Tramway around the city, and make sure to head over to the gorgeous Botanical Gardens to get your senses stirring. You should also check SOL square for a hip, funky and artistic scene with great nightlife.

The next city on your road trip is Wanaka, a six hour drive from Christchurch that offers stunning lake and mountain views. But before you get there, don’t forget to stop off and have a picnic at Lake Tekapo. You won’t be disappointed after taking photographs of its stunning scenery of snowy mountains reflecting off the turquoise blue water. Drive another five minutes down the road and you’ll see beautiful views of Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, from Lake Pukaki. These lakes are quick stops on your road trip, but one look at the views and you’ll know why they’re destinations you won’t want to miss.

The landscapes at Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki are hard to follow, but surely enough Lake Wanaka stacks up to the game. If going in the winter, Wanaka is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. But if you’re there any other season of the year, park the car and ride a bike along the many trails surrounding this quaint town. Then grab some fish and chips in town and take it down to the water. Before you leave, make sure you visit Puzzling World. Just make sure you leave getting lost to its Great Maze and not on the road!

Drive just a little over an hour and you’ll reach Queenstown, New Zealand’s most popular tourist destination. Pull over at the lookouts and enjoy the breathtaking views of the city from the top of a mountain. Queenstown is best known for its adventure sports like skydiving, bunjy jumping and jet boating. But for more low-key travellers, hop on a scenic cruise on Lake Wakatipu or ride a gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak and enjoy dinner with stunning views. And if you like burgers don’t leave Queenstown without having one at Fergburger. With American-sized portions and plenty of toppings, you may even have to go a couple of times!

Next on the list is Milford Sound, a world-renowned natural wonder (see picture at top of page). It will take a couple hours driving through Fiordland National Park to reach the destination, so take lots of snacks and water with you. And don’t forget to take a break and stop at the many lookout points throughout your drive. It’s all part of the fun! On your way there pull the car over at Mirror Lake and the giant snow glacier. And don’t worry too much if the forecast calls for rain- the more wet the more waterfalls! When you reach Milford Sound take a walk along one of the many trails or hop on a cruise along the sound and enjoy the serene scenery. Just don’t forget to bring along your coat as it tends to get windy. Then grab a coffee at the cafe and enjoy the drive back for a perfect end to your road trip.


New Zealand Road Trip - Tana Umaga and Petra Bagust

On their televised road trip, Super Rugby and All Blacks rugby union legend Tana Umaga and Petra Bagust cover the area known as the Alpine Pacific triangle - an amazing region which is full of contrasts. Departing from Christchurch on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island, Petra travels north up the coast to Kaikoura and inland to Hanmer Springs. Meanwhile Tana stops in at a rugby club which has produced many All Blacks rugby players, and continues on to a wine region, the Waipara Valley.

Route: Christchurch -- Kaikoura -- Hanmer Springs -- Waipara


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    • M A Williams profile image

      Mike 6 years ago from New Hampshire

      Thanks for your comment tpr2.

      I loved the movie Boy and that commercial is an absolute classic!

      I actually live in the North Island at the moment so I've done quite a few road trips here. A road trip around the East coast is very good, taking in the beach towns and Cathedral Cove. Any road trip up north, taking in the Bay of Islands is excellent too.

    • tpr2 profile image

      tpr2 6 years ago from Auckland

      Howdy Maw

      I love that video of the kid and god, it's a classic. Very kiwi.

      Nawt evun.

      Eat sum ice creams do some bombs....

      Did you watch the movie Boy?

      When will you be doing the North Island road trip?

      We have some great spots to visit up here as well, some don't even make the tourist maps.

    • M A Williams profile image

      Mike 6 years ago from New Hampshire

      Thanks for the comments sid_candid and travelespresso.

      I'd recommend the train for a winter South Island trip, it's fantastic.

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Nice hub MAW. You have captured the essence of NZ on this road trip with your lovely writing. The South Island is a very easy place to drive around - unless its mid winter.

    • sid_candid profile image

      sid_candid 7 years ago

      Nice Hub on New Zealand Road Trip. Hope this heaven on earth one day.