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Southern Alps road trip

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This classic New Zealand road trip keeps the Southern Alps in your sights, amidst idyllic rural scenes, surreal blue lakes and rivers.

Along the way are world-class wineries, diverse hiking and cycling trails, and enough extreme activities to satisfy the most serious of adrenaline junkies. What’s more, there are Britz depots in both Christchurch and Queenstown, so this trip can be completed one way.

ON THE ROAD

Christchurch:  The South Island’s major gateway, Christchurch is a welcoming city and a convenient departure point for the exciting road-trips that lead in almost every direction. Immerse yourself in its dynamic vibe by visiting its arty centre, suburban hotspots, parks, gardens and beaches, before hitting the open road in your Britz campervan

Travel

6 days


Route

Christchurch to Queenstown

642km


Best Time of the Year

All year round

Highlights

  • Christchurch
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
  • Wanaka
  • Arrowtown
  • Queenstown

The Journey

Days

1 2 3 4 5 6

Day 1
Christchurch to Geraldine

Distance 167km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 mins

Head west towards the Southern Alps on SH73 to join Inland Scenic Route 72 towards Methven to make the most of mid-Canterbury’s rural, riverside and gently rolling scenery. Geraldine – the Cheese & Pickle Capital of NZ – is a pleasant overnighter, with unpretentious shops, nice cafes, a friendly pub and leafy holiday park.

SIDE TRIP: Peel Forest

If you’re feeling impatient to explore the foothills of the Southern Alps, take the detour off SH72 to Peel Forest Park, 22km north of Geraldine. This precious native forest remnant features a peachy campsite, and walks ranging from easy strolls to a hike up Little Mount Peel summit (1311m). Nearby is one of NZ’s best rafting rivers, the Rangitata, with family-friendly trips through to freaky grade five escapades. If that doesn’t float your boat, check out the equine excursions for all-comers offered by Peel Forest Horse Trekking.  

Day 2
Geraldine to Tekapo

Distance 89km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 mins

SH79 winds through increasingly hilly terrain as it heads to rural Fairlie, a welcoming introduction to the legendary Mackenzie Country. SH8 leads over Burkes Pass to a basin of golden tussock and surreal turquoise lakes, the star of which is Tekapo with its famously photogenic lakeside church. Don’t miss Mt John summit (drive or walk) for one of NZ’s best lookouts. After dark, Mt John Observatory offers mind-boggling tours of the night sky.

Day 3
Tekapo to Aoraki/Mt Cook

Distance 103km - Driving Time 1 hour 30 mins

Continuing on SH8, Aoraki/Mount Cook will loom ever larger (weather permitting) as you sidle around pretty Lake Pukaki. Get even closer to NZ’s highest mountain on day hikes from Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre, or swoop around its slopes on a scenic flight. White Horse Hill campground, in a splendid alpine setting, welcomes campervans.

Day 4
Aoraki/Mt Cook to Wanaka

Distance 206km - Driving Time 2 hours 45 mins

There’s no let-up in scenic splendour as SH8 cuts through the flats and climbs over Lindis Pass. After Tarras, take SH8A and SH6 to Wanaka, an energetic town with an insatiable appetite for the great outdoors. Explore Mount Aspiring National Park on day hikes to Rob Roy Glacier or Aspiring Hut. Mt Iron is a shorter option closer to town, and handy to Puzzling World, a fun place to exercise your brain.

Day 5
Wanaka to Arrowtown

Distance 56km - Driving Time 1 hour

Drive over the short but view-filled Crown Range road, stopping at the Cardrona Hotel for a slice of gold mining heritage. Catch a serious case of gold-rush fever in Arrowtown, a total charmer with visitor attractions in spades. Compared to neighbouring Queenstown, it a quiet base for adventures around the Wakatipu area, such as cycling, bungy jumping and winery tours. Arrowtown Holiday Park is a spruce, modern affair.

Day 6
Arrowtown to Queenstown

Distance 21km - Driving Time 20 mins

Frequently lauded as one of the world’s best mountain resorts, Queenstown lives up to the hype with a buzzy centre and beautiful lakeside setting. It also offers a bamboozling array of activities within easy reach including hiking and cycling trails, golf courses, wineries, and iconic must-do’s such as the TSS Earnslaw lake cruise and Skyline Gondola. It’s also campervan heaven, with plenty of campsites and reserves near the town centre.

SIDE TRIP:  Central Otago

Venture through the wine-soaked Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell, Clyde and Alexandra, an appealing trio of towns in Central Otago. This region is steeped in yet more fascinating pioneer history, sweetened with luscious stonefruit and spiced with world-class pinot noir. Savour it on a walk such as Flat Top Hill, or a cycle ride along Roxburgh Gorge or the Otago Central Rail Trail. There are numerous free campervan sites in the region, too.  

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

To return to Christchurch without retracing your steps, take SH6 and SH8 to Cromwell and Alexandra, then SH85 through the beautiful Manuherikia Valley to the Maniatoto Plain. Oamaru and Timaru on the east coast are both pleasant pit stops en route north via SH1 to Christchurch. The total journey from Queenstown is 564km/8 hours.