While you can make this trip in a single day, why rush? The area has more to offer than what can be seen from the driver’s seat.
Day 1: Christchurch
Take your time to explore the newly developed central city. Enjoy lunch at the newly developed Riverside Market where there is something for every palate.
Enjoy a walk through the botanic gardens or visit Quake City. Based in central Christchurch, this museum explores what happened during the Canterbury earthquakes. It relives stories of heroism, hope and loss.
Accommodation Recommendation: The Establishment 50 Clyde Rd, Ilam.
Day 2: Geraldine
When leaving the city, exit State Highway 1 as soon as possible and enjoy the Inland Scenic Route 72 instead. This takes you off the straight roads and into more scenic driving.
Two hours into your drive you will reach Geraldine, a quaint village and a great opportunity to stop and take a break. Home to Barker’s of Geraldine, here is your chance to taste world-class jams, chutneys, syrups and condiments. They have a great café on-site to grab a bite for lunch
Pop across the road to Talbot Forest Cheese and taste their great cheeses. Our favourite is the cumin gouda.
For a chance to stretch your legs, browse through the delightful local shops. For something slightly longer try the Riverside Walk, located right in the heart of Geraldine. This is an undulating track with an easy gradient. The trail winds along the Waihi River taking in the Rhododendron Dell and native bush. This walk takes around 30 minutes. Start behind the War Memorial on Talbot Street, across the road from the Library/Service Centre.
Accommodation Recommendation: The Vicarage www.thevicaragegeraldine.co.nz
Day 3: Lake Pukaki
Although it might be a bit early in the morning, you will pass The Brewery Café about 7km out of Geraldine. It’s worth popping in to try some of their hand crafted beers or get some to enjoy later in the day.
Next stop Fairlie, home of the Fairlie Bakehouse. If you haven’t already heard of this phenomenon, it’s worth stopping for their pork belly and apple pie alone. Delicious and well-known right throughout NZ. Don’t be put off if there is a queue, the staff are great and it moves really quickly. If shopping is your thing, there are also some great boutiques, all within easy walking distance to have a look through.
Out of Fairlie, follow the State Highway 8 signage for Lake Tekapo. There is a great if unassuming art gallery in Kimbell on the left-hand side of the road. Keep your eyes open as it’s a blink and you will miss it kind of place.
Burkes Pass township is before the pass itself, which is at 709m above sea level. The town is tiny, with an interesting collection of vintage garage decor. Grab a coffee at Three Creeks and have a look around at the curiosities and hand-made wooden furniture.
Often the weather on this side of the pass is bleak. After driving over the pass itself you will emerge into brilliant weather and open skies of the Mackenzie County. Soon you will find yourself on the shores of Lake Tekapo. A quick detour past the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd is well worth it. Take a stroll across the footbridge for some great scenic shots.
If you didn’t fill up at the Farlie Bakehouse, try Kohan for excellent Japanese and great views. Although be warned the atmosphere here can be lacking, the food is worth it. Otherwise you could try Blue Lake Eatery.
Thirty minutes later you will arrive at Lake Pukaki. The lesser known of the glacier lakes but just as spectacular as Lake Tekapo. Try and get here in daylight to catch the sun setting on Aoraki/Mt Cook, a truly majestic experience.
Accommodation Recommendation: Lakestone Lodge
Day 4: Mount Cook
After spending the night with Mt Cook in your sights, you are going to want to get a closer look. It’s a 60km drive from Lakestone Lodge to the national park. Once there you will have your choice of walks – we recommend the Hooker Valley, an easy gradient walk of around 10km with dramatic views. Its an out and back trail that reaches the Hooker Glacier via three different swing bridges.
If you haven’t bought a picnic with you then check out the Old Mountaineers Café in the village.
If a helicopter flight is in your budget its well worth the spend with options of landing on the Tasman Glacier, heading all the way over to the West Coast with views of the Tasman Sea, a snow landing or circling Aoraki/Mt Cook. The weather is generally better on this side of the mountains so you are more likely to be able to get calmer skies than you would on the west coast.
If choppers are not your thing then spend the afternoon exploring another trail such as the short walk to the Tasman Glacier or look through the information centre. This is run by the Department of Conservation and a treasure trove of information.
Back at the lodge, you may realise by now that it is located in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and is one of the best places in the world to see the stars. They run star tours from $75 per person, take about an hour, you get to lie back in a hammock with a mulled wine and best of all you don’t even need to leave their premises.
Accommodation Recommendation: Lakestone Lodge
Day 5: Wanaka
This morning you can look forward to the spectacular drive over the Lindis Pass, the dramatic pass that links the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago. At 971m above sea level you will have some amazing vistas of tussock covered mountains often with a sprinkling of snow on the tops.
There is no cellphone reception or services between Omarama (30 minutes into your drive) and Tarras so if you are low on fuel at the start of your drive you may want to top up in Twizel.
Tarras is home to Shrek the sheep who gained a lot of weight over 6 years by hiding out when shearing was taking place. It’s a great place for a coffee stop.
Then onwards to Wanaka, home of the Wanaka Tree – surely the most photographed tree in New Zealand. Take a walk along the lake front or hire a bike to discover this for yourself. Then treat yourself to ice cream at Patagonia right in Central Wanaka.
If you love adventure, you can’t pass up an exciting jet boat ride on the Matukituki River where you will whizz across the amazing braided river system.
Accommodation Recommendation: Wanaka Haven
Day 6: Queenstown
If you take your time leaving Wanaka late morning, a great spot to grab a bite to eat is the historic Cardrona Hotel. Its one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels and on a good day, brunch in their beer garden can’t be beaten. If the sun isn’t shining you can cosy up inside in front of one of the log fires instead.
Soon you will tackle the Crown Range, the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude of 1121m above sea level. There are some epic views from this road so take it slowly and give yourself permission to take a lot of photos. If you are travelling this road between May and September you may want to carry chains or at least check the NZTA website https://www.journeys.nzta.govt.nz/traffic for road closures.
The detour into historical Arrowtown is worth it. Originally built to cater to the gold rush in 1862, this charming town has around 70 buildings from that area with some great eateries from more modern times to enjoy.
Not to be missed are the wineries of Gibbston Valley on the approach to Queenstown. Our pick is Amisfield with its fabulous Bistro is a must as you go right past it on the way out of Arrowtown and there are plenty more to discover on your own.
In winter, Queenstown is the party capital of NZ. It doesn’t matter when you find yourself here though as the views are always amazing and there is always something on – its worth doing a quick google search before you travel to see if there is something on that is worth heading to.
You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options in Queenstown. You definitely want to try one of the plethora of cocktail bars such as Eichardt’s Bar on the waterfront before you head out for dinner itself the for dinner you can’t go past Rata for some amazing Kiwi cuisine.
Accommodation Recommendation: Hulbert House
Day 7 Queenstown
Take this time before you leave to experience the best of what Queenstown has to offer in terms of adventure – jet boats, bungy jumping, zip lining. Or just take it easy, stroll around the centre, book in for a massage or for the best views available enjoy a ride in the gondola. A relaxing option is a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw, an authentic steamboat.