The South Island road trip between Christchurch and Queenstown is jam-packed with picture-postcard scenery, from majestic mountain ranges and mirrored lakes to quaint country villages and vast southern landscapes. And there’s no better way to enjoy it all than with a Mighty campervan hire.
Take your time, stop where you fancy, and make the most of New Zealand’s attractions along the way. Soak in the hot springs, test your nerve on a jetboat, or try your luck panning for gold.
With lots to see and do on this incredible South Island road trip, we’ve put together a terrific 8-day itinerary that will take you from the wildlife in Christchurch to the nightlife in Queenstown, with all the best South Island must-do attractions along the way.
Christchurch to Queenstown
Best Time of the Year
- Church of the Good Shepherd
- Lake Tekapo
- Aoraki/Mt Cook
- That Wanaka Tree
- Shotover Jet
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The first day of your exciting 8-day South Island road trip kicks off in Christchurch with the pick-up of your campervan from Mighty Campers! Pick up your pre-booked campervan from our branch at 159 Orchard Road, Harewood where our friendly team will help you get set up and ready for the road.
Before you head out of Christchurch, plan a stop at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve where you can see New Zealand’s iconic Kiwi up close, experience a Māori cultural performance, or watch as the hungry otters have lunch (feeding time is at 1 pm).
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are another great South Island must-do. From the spring blossoms to the cosy conservatories, there’s always something fascinating to see, whatever the time of year. Plan for a picnic in summer or relax with a hot drink and something tasty at the onsite café in the cooler months.
We recommend making the most of your visit to Christchurch with an overnight stay. A great spot to park up is the Amber Kiwi Holiday Park which is conveniently located between the airport and the CBD.
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Distance 225km - Driving Time 2 hours 46 minutes
Wake up bright and early on day two of your Christchurch to Queenstown road trip, because there is lots to do as you travel to the beautiful Lake Tekapo region.
The Ashburton Aviation Museum, just an hour’s drive out of Christchurch, is a treasure trove of fascinating exhibits and memorabilia. The museum is home to over 27 aircraft, including the rare Hawker Harrier.
Lake Tekapo is home to an iconic New Zealand tourist attraction, the Church of the Good Shepherd. Built in 1935, this picturesque church sits near the shores of Lake Tekapo and is a must-see South Island landmark and uber Instagrammable!
Another top must-do in the region is to enjoy a long, hot soak at Tekapo Springs. Each soothing hot pool provides a different view – from the brilliant blue waters of Lake Tekapo to the pine forests and mountain ranges of the surrounding Mackenzie region. Bliss!
After all that soaking and stargazing, you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep at the Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park. The park is set on the shores of Lake Tekapo so you can wake up to some of the best views in the country before heading off on your next adventure.
Lake Tekapo to Aoraki/Mount Cook
Distance 103km - Driving Time 1 hour 9 minutes
As you drive from Lake Tekapo to Aoraki/Mt Cook, you’ll be seeing some of the most stunning scenery the South Island has to offer. Why not enjoy it from a different perspective with a scenic helicopter ride. Choose an experience to suit, from a 25-minute taster to a 90-minute picnic among the peaks!
Make the most of the dark skies of this special part of New Zealand with an evening under the stars at Big Sky Stargazing. Your one-hour tour of the night sky through high powered telescopes is both fascinating and informative, as your guides share their knowledge about the cosmos. Hot chocolate and sweet treats included!
Plan your stay at the White Horse Hill Campground where you can park up your campervan surrounded by stunning alpine scenery. Don’t forget to book online first.
Aoraki/Mount Cook to Twizel
Distance 65km - Driving Time 46 minutes
Whether you’re a serious cyclist or just want to enjoy New Zealand’s scenery at its very best, the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is an unmissable South Island experience. The trail begins at either Aoraki/Mt Cook or Tekapo with both routes meeting at Lake Pukaki. Next, the trail winds through Twizel, the shoreline of Lake Ohau, through Omarama and eventually finishing in Oamaru. You can plan to do the entire trail or choose sections to suit. If you’re carrying your own bikes, don’t forget to organise a bike rack when you book your Mighty campervan. You can also arrange bike hire with a cycle tour provider when you get there.
If you’d prefer to see the sights on foot, there are plenty of great walks in Twizel, including the Twizel Walkway which loops for 9km around the township and takes around 2.5 hours.
Enjoy a relaxing evening at the Twizel Holiday Park on Mackenzie Drive.
Twizel to Wanaka
Distance 142km - Driving Time 1 hour 40 minutes
The drive from Twizel to Wanaka takes just under two hours, so you’ll have plenty of time to stop and take in the sights along the way. Plan a picnic stop at the old stone Lindis Pass Historic Hotel on Old Faithful Road (off SH8) in the Lindis Valley area. The hotel was set up during the goldrush of 1861 and there are still old mine workings and huts nearby – a great stop for those interested in the region’s history.
As you arrive in Wānaka, you’ll find another of the top places to visit in New Zealand, the famous Wānaka tree. This hardy willow is possibly one of the most Instagrammed trees in the country. The solitary tree is just a stone’s throw from the shore and seems quite out of place jutting from the lake’s waters. Visit in the ‘golden hours’ of dawn or dusk for the best photo op.
Roy’s Peak is another very popular spot in Wānaka and guarantees jaw-dropping views. Plan a full day for this walk though, the 16km return track takes around 5-6 hours to complete – but we promise, the views are worth it!
After all that sightseeing and walking, you’ll be ready for a comfy night in your campervan. Grab a gourmet burger from Red Star Burger Bar and park up at the Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park.
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Wanaka to Arrowtown
Distance 55km - Driving Time 50 minutes
From one breathtaking South Island town to the next! As you depart Wanaka on your way to Arrowtown, take note that Mighty campers are not permitted along Crown Range Road. The best route is along SH6 which will take you through Cromwell. This South Island township is renowned for its summer fruits, so plan a photo stop at the famous fruit sculpture, and if you’re passing through in summer, treat yourself to some of Cromwell’s delicious cherries. Be sure to also swing by the Cromwell Heritage Precinct to see gold-rush era buildings that have been restored into quaint shops and cafes, the perfect picnic stop right next to Lake Dunstan. Cromwell is also home to some of the best Central Otago wineries, so be sure to call into a tasting room or cellar door to pick up a bottle for the road.
From Cromwell, carry on along SH6 until you reach the charming township of Arrowtown. The town sits along the Arrow River which attracted gold miners from around the world during the gold rush of 1862. You can still try your hand at panning for gold today, or visit the Chinese Settlement which was once home to the hopeful miners who flocked to the region.
For a welcoming overnight stay, book in the Arrowtown Holiday Park on Centennial Ave.
Arrowtown to Queenstown
Distance 19km - Driving Time 20 minutes
Fancy an adrenaline-fuelled adventure? You’ll find plenty of options on this section of your South Island road trip. Our top recommendation? You can’t beat the thrill of a ride on the famous Shotover Jet. It’s the ultimate blend of incredible scenery and unforgettable excitement! There’s an onsite café too, so you can relax with a coffee and lunch afterwards.
To top off the day, make your way to Queenstown Hill. This 1.5km walk through a lush pine forest takes around 2-3 hours and will reward you with sweeping views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the mountain ranges beyond. The starting point is by the small car park off Belfast Terrace in Queenstown, not far from the city centre.
You can’t visit Queenstown without trying a famous Fergburger – bring a big appetite! Savour your burger with a glass of wine as you put your feet up for the night at the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park.
From wine tours and boat cruises, to shopping and nightclubs, Queenstown has so much to see and do that we highly recommend staying for at least a second night.
- Top up your Instagram feed with some snaps from the Queenstown Gardens Trail.
- Take a scenic cruise along beautiful Lake Wakatipu.
- Discover the tastes of Queenstown with a gourmet wine and food-paired lunch.
- Help support the locals and bag yourself a great souvenir from the Queenstown Arts ‘n Crafts Market – every Saturday on the lake front at Earnslaw Park.
Your last stop on your incredible 8-day South Island adventure is to drop your campervan off at Mighty Campers’ Queenstown branch on Lucas Place in Frankton. While you’re there, have a chat with the friendly team about planning your next New Zealand itinerary – there are plenty more to be had!
Frequently asked questions about driving from Christchurch to Queenstown
How long should you go to Queenstown for?
- With so much on offer in this beautiful region of New Zealand, you’ll want to take your time to see and do as much as possible. We recommend allowing at least 4-5 days to experience the best of Queenstown and its surrounding townships – but the longer the better!
Is it safe to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown?
- Absolutely! In fact, the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is a destination in itself. And the best way to enjoy it is in a Mighty campervan so you can take your time, stop along the way, and travel in comfort.
Can you sleep in a campervan whilst driving in New Zealand?
- Yes! Travelling New Zealand by campervan is one of the best ways to see this amazing country and all it has to offer. New Zealand has plenty of fantastic campgrounds as well as some great freedom camping sites.
Time to embark on your own South Island road trip?
A campervan trip from Christchurch to Queenstown is a classic Kiwi road trip. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of it:
- Make sure you carry ample food, water, and other supplies for a comfortable trip.
- If you’re travelling in winter, take warm clothes as the South Island can get very cold.
- Check that the roads along your route are safe for campervans (all roads in this itinerary are sealed).
- Download the thl Roadtrip app for great tips on travelling around New Zealand. Talk with a knowledgeable Mighty team member about renting a motorhome for your next road trip today!