So, you want to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown? Good for you, you little adventurer, you. It is a seriously stunning beautiful drive and a really great way to see a more diverse range of New Zealand’s countryside. The drive will take you through towns, past stunning lakes, winding roads through farmland and ethereal mountains. I love a good road trip and, honestly, this one is pretty special.
The right route
There are a few different ways you can drive, but we got the hot tip from a local on the easiest, fastest and most scenic way to go and followed that. The route we took is highlighted in blue on the Google Maps screenshot below.
The drive took us south through Ashburton then west out to Geraldine and on to Tekapo. We made a stop at Lake Tekapo to take photos and explore because it was jaw-droppingly beautiful! We also used the stop here as a rest break for Matt, who was driving, and as a chance to top up with fuel and grab the ever-essential road trip snacks.
We continued down south to Twizel and Omarama then onto to the Lindis Valley and Cromwell before reaching Queenstown. The whole drive took us around 5 1/2 hours and it was dead easy. We didn’t even have a GPS, we just followed the directions from a local and kept following the signs.
Hiring a car
We looked at a few different car companies before choosing one. Cost of car hire and fuel consumption were the biggest factors for us in deciding who to go with.
In the end, we went with Go Rentals. We chose them because they offered the cheapest rate we could find. The hire also included unlimited kilometres, which is something to be aware of when booking. Some car rental companies will charge you additional fees for every kilometre you do over a set amount and, if you’re doing a lot of driving, that could end up really costly. So do your research before you book!
We booked a sardine tin on wheels a.k.a a Yaris. If budget isn’t a factor for you, or if you’re travelling with your kids, you could definitely look at booking a 4wd or bigger car. For us, travelling as a couple on a budget, the Yaris was just fine. Fuel in New Zealand is pretty expensive, so we were keen to go with a smaller car so it would be cheaper to fill up and, hopefully, use less fuel.
We didn’t book a GPS as they were ludicrously expensive, almost as much as the actual car hire itself! Instead, we relied on directions from locals and pre-loaded Google Maps on my phone before we went out for the day. If you don’t already know about that little trick, it turns out that as long as you pre-load it while you have access to the internet, the map will still work on your phone once you lose internet access. Genius! Thanks, Google Maps! We did, however, fork out for snow chain hire as you are required to carry them and we knew we’d be going up to the snowfields.
Watch our Skiing the South Island video!
Places to stop along the way
While you can certainly drive all the way from Christchurch to Queenstown without stopping, you’d be crazy to do so. There are a lot of great places to stop and photograph but, most importantly, it’s important you take breaks while you’re driving because tired drivers cause accidents! Remember guys, safety is sexy! Ooh la la!
I’d definitely recommend stops at these places:
- There’s a right-hand turn at Rangitata onto the Rangitata-Orari Bridge Highway. This is a great spot to pull over on the side of the road and get some good photos. Don’t let the word ‘highway’ turn you off, we saw one or two cars drive by while we were stopped. Oh, and lots of gorgeous cows!
- It is not safe to stop on the Orari Bridge, but you should definitely try and hold your breath the whole way across and see how far you get. We got this fun little tip from a local and barely made it halfway.
- A stop at Lake Tekapo is essential. If you stop at only one place make it here. It’s a great halfway point in the drive and you’ll get some pretty incredible photographs! It might be a good idea to pack a thermos full of tea or coffee and a muffin or fruit and make this a morning tea stop.
- For more incredible photographs, pull over at Lake Pukaki. This place will take your breath away! It’s one of my favourite Lakes.
- For lunch, you absolutely MUST stop at Omarama and have a really delicious kebab from the Love Shack. It’s a super cool little food van that sits between the service station and the Olive Grove Cafe. Deb, who runs it, is just lovely and makes everything on site herself. The food is SO GOOD! I honestly had the best falafel kebab of my entire life there. She’s a genius!
Need some inspiration to visit Lake Tekapo? Watch this…
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.