Running nearly the whole length of the South Island, the Southern Alps are never more stunning when liberally dusted with a coating of snow. Keep their peaks in your sights on this road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown, which dishes up bucket-loads of amazing scenery as well as opportunities to ski New Zealand.
An energetic city that’s big on outdoor activities, Christchurch is the perfect introduction to the alpine adventures that lie temptingly close across the Canterbury Plains. It also has heaps of outdoor sports stores, making it a great place to get extra gear including toasty NZ wool socks.
If skiing in New Zealand is at the top of your hit list, make a beeline for Methven, gateway to Mt Hutt ski resort that bustles with bunnies come wintertime. Once you’ve got that out of your system, keep trucking south via Geraldine, the ‘Cheese and Pickle Capital of NZ’.
Cross Burkes Pass into Mackenzie Country and go camera-crazy over its golden tussock, stone church, and turquoise Lake Tekapo. Walk or drive to the summit of Mt John for a simply staggering view of the snowy Southern Alps. After dark, the Mt John Observatory offers mind-boggling tours of the night sky.
If the weather is kind, Aoraki/Mount Cook will loom ever-larger 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. Camp at White Horse Hill campground at the foot of the alps (you might need those woolly socks!).
Eyeball yet more amazing scenery as you drive over Lindis Pass. High adventure meets über-cool in Wanaka, gateway to glorious New Zealand snow at Cardrona and Treble Cone ski fields. In town, don’t miss the walk up rocky Mt Iron (240 m), and Puzzling World, one of NZ’s craziest attractions.
The Crown Range road is one of the country’s most dramatic drives, so be prepared to pull over for photos. Over the hill, Arrowtown is super-cute, rich in gold mining history, and makes a great base to take in bungy jumping, wine trails, and awesome winter vistas.
Fit, buff, and beautiful, Queenstown is one of the world’s favourite winter wonderlands. The Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski fields are both close to town, and there’s backcountry, cross-country, and heli-skiing, plus a fun snowpark. For grand views of Queenstown snow, take the TSS Earnslaw lake cruise or ride the Skyline Gondola.
Return to Christchurch via Cromwell, Clyde, and Alexandra, a sweet trio of towns in heart of Central Otago. Hire bikes to ride the Roxburgh Gorge or Otago Central Rail Trails, or head up Alexandra’s Flat Top Hill for a fantastic two-hour loop walk offering eye-popping views.
The Otago Central Rail Trail sticks with you for much of the way from Alexandra to Palmerston, following SH85 through the beautiful Manuherikia Valley to the Maniatoto Plain. There are plenty of interesting places to stop – look out for the 1880’s stone Chatto Creek Tavern, slightly crazy Naseby, and art deco Ranfurly.
This historic old port town has a wonderful Victorian precinct lined with limestone buildings full of shops and cafes. It also has Steampunk HQ, a science-fiction-inspired hall of gothic horrors. Nearby at the Blue Penguin Colony, the world’s cutest penguins toddle up the beach to their burrows come dusk.
Continue to Christchurch via Timaru to round off your winter road trip.