This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.
If you’re planning to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown or from Queenstown to Christchurch, this blog is for you! Here, I’ll tell you about all of the best places to stop and recommended stay time so you can plan the ultimate Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary!
New Zealand is famous for road trips simply because the scenery that you see along the way is so breathtaking! The scenic drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is no exception.
Having spent many months road tripping around the South Island, I drove this route many times. And, it turned out to be one of my favorites!
For this reason, we wanted to lay out all the stunning stops between Christchurch and Queenstown with no specific times or nights to spend in each place. Instead, I’ll make a recommendation and you can plan your own Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary based on the time you have!
Here is the complete guide to driving from Christchurch to Queenstown, an ideal road trip itinerary!
How Long is the Drive from Christchurch to Queenstown?
This actually depends on which way you go! Yep, that’s right, there are two slightly different ways to travel this route. The first goes to Queenstown via Cromwell and the other via Wanaka.
These detours happen in the last 100 kilometers of the road trip so going in either direction means you don’t miss much and almost all of the road trip remains the same either way.
- Distance: 495 Kilometers (307 miles)
- Time: Minimum of 7 hours (5 days ideally)
- Recommended for: Those not visiting Wanaka after Queenstown and don’t mind skipping the Gibbston Valley (you can visit while staying in Queenstown)
The route via Wanaka is the more scenic in my opinion and I really love the drive this way. It also visits Wanaka which is a must-visit town in New Zealand. However, it is slightly longer so if you are already planning on visiting Wanaka after then it could be wise to go through Cromwell instead.
- Distance: 483 kilometers (300 miles)
- Time: 6 hours minimum (5 days ideally)
- Recommended for: Those not visiting the Gibbston Valley while in Queenstown or if you’re going to Wanaka after Queenstown.
The route via Cromwell is the shortest route possible (not by much) and also drives through the Gibbston Valley (one of my stops). This is the route I would usually take simply because I’ve been to Wanaka many times and I usually like to pick up a bottle of wine on my way through the Gibbston Valley.
Either route is beautiful and if you still haven’t decided just wait until you’ve read about each attraction to make the choice.
13 BEST Stops on a Road Trip from Christchurch to Queenstown
Below is our complete list of all the best stops between Christchurch and Queenstown. Starting in Christchurch, I’ll let you know how long the drive to the destination is and how long you should spend there as well as things to do!
This road trip begins in Christchurch, but, were assuming you’re packed and ready to leave, so we won’t include Christchurch as a stop!
Related Read: Use our tips and learn how to get a cheap campervan rental in New Zealand.
1. Rakaia Gorge
- Distance from Christchurch: 87 kilometers (54 miles)
- Time: 1 hour
- How long should I stay: 30 minutes to 4 hours
Rakaia Gorge is the first stop on our Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary. As you leave Christchurch be sure to punch Rakaia Gorge into your GPS or make sure you take highway 77 (not highway 1) out of Christchurch. This is a slightly longer route but it’s much more scenic!
This beautiful gorge is a worthy stop on this list but for me, it’s usually just a quick stop to take some photos and continue. If you have plenty of time then you could stay longer and enjoy some of the activities below.
Things to do at Rakaia Gorge
Jet Boating – Discovery Jet runs jet boating on the Rakaia River. This is a very beautiful place to go jetboating in New Zealand and tours run for either 15, 30, or 45 minutes and prices start from only $45 NZD ($30 USD).
Rakaia Gorge Walkway – The Rakaia Gorge Walkway is a 10.4-kilometer (6.5 miles) track that follows the rim of the gorge and takes around 3 to 4 hours to complete. This isn’t a must-do hike but its a good off the beaten path trail with very few people.
2. Mt Hutt Ski Field
- Distance from Rakaia Gorge: 21.4 kilometers (13 miles)
- Time: 30 minutes
- How long should I stay: For mountain biking or snowsports. For scenic views, 1 hour.
Mt Hutt Ski Field has been voted New Zealand’s best ski field 5 years in a row. I personally love this ski field but do hate the crowds it attracts on weekends.
If you do plan on visiting New Zealand in winter then Mt Hutt is a great place to go skiing (just be sure to visit during the week when it’s not very busy!) You can ski here for relatively cheap and stay in the nearby town of Methven.
In summer the ski field isn’t open except for one day in February. However, you can instead explore the Mt Hutt bike park and enjoy some downhill mountain biking. The bike park has downhill runs for all ages and is a very popular summer activity in New Zealand.
Things to do at Mt Hutt
Go skiing or snowboarding – NZ Ski runs the mountain and during the winter season (end of May to September) you can ski here all day every day! For lift passes and more info, you can check out the NZ Ski website.
Mt Hutt Bike Park – If you’re a downhill mountain biking enthusiast or just want to give it a go, the Mt Hutt Bike Park is perfect. They have family-friendly runs and also expert runs.
Adventure balloons – Hot air ballooning is something I have always wanted to do but never had the chance too. Near Mt Hutt in Methven, you can enjoy a scenic balloon ride with views of the Southern Alps!
Where to stay at Mt Hutt
The closest town to Mt Hutt Ski Area is Methven. From Methven, you can reach the top of the skifield in around 30 minutes.
3. Lake Tekapo
- Distance from Mt Hutt: 180 kilometers (111 miles)
- Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
- How long should I stay: 1 night at least so you have a full day to explore.
Lake Tekapo is a stop you can’t miss it on your road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown. The lake literally shines blue and is one of the bluest lakes in New Zealand.
Lake Tekapo is also a great place to spend one night on your road trip. There isn’t that much to do at Lake Tekapo but it’s a very beautiful place to visit home to a few cool activities.
My personal recommendation is to spend one night in Lake Tekapo. That should give you enough time to arrive, enjoy the town, and then do some exploring the next day before driving to Mount Cook. Obviously, if you have more time an extra night wouldn’t be a waste at all!
Things to do in Lake Tekapo
Tekapo Hot Springs – The Tekapo Hot Springs are the perfect place to relax after a long day on the road. Located outside from the springs you can enjoy amazing views of the stars and relax. You can book your ticket here in advance.
Go stargazing – Because Lake Tekapo is located in the only dark sky reserve in the Southern Hemisphere there has never been a better time to go stargazing. There are lots of stargazing tours that take you to the Mt John Observatory!
Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd – This is probably the most famous church in New Zealand. The church is worth a visit but it is a little over touristic.
See the Lupins – If you happen to be visiting Lake Teko between mid-November and early January then you will be lucky enough to see the Lupins (beautiful flowers) in full bloom.
Where to stay in Lake Tekapo
There are lots of accommodation options in Lake Tekapo but they do book up fast. Be sure to book at least a few weeks in advance (but the sooner the better.) Some hotels I recommend are:
Lakefront Backpackers – A great budget hostel that’s very clean and social.
Lake Tekapo Village Motel – Comfortable studio and 1/2 bedroom apartments. Really good for those who like to cook.
Mantra Lake Tekapo – Three and two-bedroom luxury apartments. Amazing place if you can afford it.
If you have a campervan or Motorhome then the Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday Park is a good option. You can book directly on their website.
4. Lake Pukaki and the road to Mount Cook
- Distance from Lake Tekapo: 50 kilometers (31 miles)
- Time: 1 hour
- How long should I stay: 30 minutes
As you leave Lake Tekapo and head towards Mount Cook you’ll think you’ve seen the bluest lake in New Zealand…that is until you see Lake Pukaki.
Lake Pukaki is, in my opinion, the bluest lake in New Zealand and as you head towards Mount Cook you can enjoy its amazing color and views.
Of course, this is just a scenic stop so enjoy the lake, take some photos and continue onto Mount Cook National park.
If you’re driving from Christchurch to Queenstown in one day then skip Mount Cook and continue on to highway number 6!
Things to do near Lake Pukaki and the Mount Cook Road
Take the Mount Cook road photo – The Mount Cook road photo is one of the most famous photo locations in Mount Cook. If you want to know where and how to take it, then check out our Mount Cook road photo guide!
Pullover and explore Lake Pukaki – As you drive on the road to Mount Cook past Lake Pukaki there are lots of places you can pull over and enjoy the lake.
5. Mount Cook National Park
- Distance from Lake Pukaki: 60 kilometers (37 miles)
- Time: 1 hour
- How long should I stay: 1 or 2 nights
Mount Cook National Park is my favorite place in New Zealand. This entire park is simply breathtaking and a must-visit on your road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown!
There are so many amazing things to do in Mount Cook National Park that if you really want to explore the park you’ll need to stay the night. My recommendation is to stay two nights if you have the time. That way, you can enjoy a few of the best hikes listed below.
In Mount Cook, the only place to stay is in Mount Cook Village. Here you can find a visitor center, a small shop, as well as a few restaurants. However, it is very limited so stock up on supplies in Tekapo before arriving.
Things to do in Mount Cook National Park
Hooker Valley Track – The Hooker Valley Track is the most popular hike in Mount Cook National Park. The trail only takes 3 hours to complete and is breathtakingly beautiful!
The Tasman Lake Viewpoint – This viewpoint is the best place to visit at sunrise. It’s only a 15-minute walk from the Tasman Glacier parking lot and offers stunning views of the Tasman Glacier, surrounding mountains, and floating icebergs!
Spend a night at the Mueller Hut – The Mueller Hut sits high above the valley and is a very beautiful place to spend the night. It takes around 6 hours to reach the hut in winter and 5 in summer. The hut needs to be booked in advance in the summer months but is considered one of the best alpine huts in New Zealand.
Scenic flight of Mount Cook National Park – This was one tour I’ll never forget! We did a 35-minute scenic flight over Mount Cook and the surrounding mountains and glaciers (including Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier).
Where to stay in Mount Cook National Park
There is very limited accommodation in Mount Cook National Park. So, if you want to stay there in the summer you need to book your hostel or hotel ASAP. Some places to consider are:
Aoraki Court Motel – Another great hotel in the village. It’s actually got the best reviews in Mount Cook Village so you know it’s a great choice!
The Hermitage Hotel Mount Cook – This is one of the largest hotels in the park. It features amazing views of the mountains and has its own restaurant (that’s really tasty!)
White Horse Hill Campsite – If you’re in a campervan or have a tent then the White Horse Hill Campsite is a great option. You can’t book in advance as it’s first come first serve but only costs $15 NZD per night.
If all the accommodation in Mount Cook is booked up or for more info, check out my Mount Cook accommodation guide. It lists other places to stay nearby.
6. Omarama Clay Cliffs
- Distance from Mount Cook: 100 kilometers (60 miles)
- Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- How long should I stay: 1 hour
As you say goodbye to Mount Cook and begin your journey south you’ll pass a little-known attraction called the Omarama Clay Cliffs. These cliffs were formed 2 million years ago by melting glacier ice. These days you can explore the cliffs on foot and enjoy the unique formations.
To get to the cliffs, simply keep driving towards Omarama from Mount Cook until you reach Quailburn Road. Once on this road, you must drive on an unsealed road for around 20 minutes to reach them. It costs $5 per car to enter the cliffs. The fee is paid via an honesty box system so be sure to have the correct change.
There are signs pointing you in the right direction but to be safe, check out our Omarama Clay Cliffs guide for more info on the location of the cliffs.
UPDATE: Please note, due to a flood in the area the clay cliffs are currently closed as the road undergoes repairs. A date for reopening is currently unavailable.
7. Omarama Hot Tubs
- Distance from Omarama Clay Cliffs: 15 kilometers (9 miles)
- Time: 15 minutes
- How long should I stay: 1 hour or overnight in Omarama
Another really cool attraction near the Omarama Clay Cliffs is the Omarama Hot Tubs. These hot tubs are located in the town of Omarama and consist of many different private hot tubs with amazing views.
In summer, the hot tubs are best visited at sunset or night when temperatures cool, however in winter, spring, and autumn you can enjoy them all day long.
This is another quick stop as you make your way from Mount Cook Village to either Wanaka or Cromwell, however, if you’ve had enough of driving for the day you can also spend the night in the town of Omarama.
Where to stay in Omarama
Omarama TOP 10 Holiday Park – If you’re in a campervan or motorhome then the top 10 is a great choice. They also have private cabins at affordable prices. Powered sites must be booked directly on their website.
Dunstan Downs High Country Sheep Station – This is a real working Merino Wool farm. It’s family-owned and operated and although the accommodation is basic, it has typical friendly NZ customer service.
Sierra Motel and Apartments – This motel rents studio and 1/2 bedroom apartments. Great for families or those who like a little more room and their own kitchen.
8. Lindis Pass
- Distance from Omarama Clay Cliffs: 33 kilometers (20 miles)
- Time: 30 minutes
- How long should I stay: 30 minutes
Lindis Pass is an attraction you’ll have no choice but to visit as it’s the only way south from Mount Cook. At the pass, there is a small parking lot and here you can pull over and enjoy the breathtaking views. However to get a better look, be sure to hike up the hill (pictured above and below) as the views are even better.
There is no official trail up Lindis Pass but you can just walk up the hill from the viewing platform. For more info check out our guide to Lindis Pass. In this blog, we tell you where to hike and show you more photos of the pass.
This is another shortstop and there is nowhere to stay in this area. Once here, you must continue on to either Wanaka or Cromwell to reach your end destination, Queenstown.
Note: If you’re traveling this route via Cromwell, skip the next three stops as they are via the Wanaka route.
- Distance from Lindis Pass: 82 kilometers (51 miles)
- Time: 1 hour
- How long should I stay: 1 or 2 nights
Wanaka should be on everyone’s New Zealand South Island itinerary. This small town shares many similarities with Queenstown and is home to a range of must-do activities and attractions.
To really get to know Wanaka as a visitor you will need to spend at least one night here. My personal recommendation is for two nights. This will allow one day to hike one of the awesome nearby hiking trails and another to check out the town before making the trip to Queenstown.
So, regardless if you’re visiting Wanaka on your way from Christchurch to Queenstown or if it’s your next destination, be sure to spend a little time here!
Things to do in Wanaka
Hike Roy’s Peak – If you’re going to do one hike in Wanaka then Roy’s Peak is a great choice. Yes, it attracts large crowds but it’s just so beautiful!
Visit the Wanaka Tree – This is a very short visit that can be walked to from town. The tree is and isn’t amazing but you may as well be the judge for yourself! If you want my opinion, check out our Wanaka Tree review.
Diamond Lake Trail – For those who don’t think they can manage Roy’s Peak the Diamond Lake Trail is a much shorter trail. Although the views are not as good, they’re still beautiful.
Wanaka Lavender Farm – If you’re in Wanaka in summer then the Wanaka Lavender Farm is a great stop. Here, the lavender bloom is amazing and the farm also has lots of animals you can interact with.
Isthmus Peak – Isthmus Peak is a very similar hike to Roy’s Peak, however, it doesn’t attract large crowds. So, if you want a Roy’s Peak alternative, Isthmus Peak is it!
Where to stay in Wanaka
Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park – If you’re traveling in a motorhome or after a budget accommodation then the Top 10 Holiday Park is a great choice. Good location, facilities, and very affordable. Please note, powered sites must be booked directly.
Wanaka Backpackers Bothy – These are dorm-style rooms that are perfect for budget travelers or backpackers, they offer clean and comfortable stays, and beds start at $32 NZD. It’s located right in the center of Wanaka, right across from Wanaka Lake.
Club Wyndham Wanaka – Top-rated hotel with amazing facilities that include a large pool. The rooms here are luxurious but the prices are very reasonable.
There are tons of places to stay in Wanaka. You can check out all of the available hotels and hostels in Wanaka online.
10. Cardrona Ski Field
- Distance from Wanaka: 24 kilometers (15 miles)
- Time: 30 minutes
- How long should I stay: If you’re just driving up for the view an hour is fine, but if you want to ski or mountain bike, a few days is best.
In the winter Cardrona is one of the best ski fields in New Zealand. In the summer, Cardrona becomes one of the best downhill mountain bike parks in New Zealand. This means just about all year round there’s something awesome to do here.
If you’re visiting in either season you may want to spend more time on the mountain and you can either visit from Wanaka (which is slightly closer) or Queenstown. However, on your way to Queenstown you can also stop here for a few hours of fun and to check out the amazing views. The best part is that it costs nothing to come for a look!
This is another short stop-off point but if you are wanting to stay close and ski, snowboard, or downhill mountain bike there are a few hotels nearby to accommodate you.
Where to stay near Cardrona
Until Cardrona builds its planned ski resort hotel these are the three closest accommodation options to the ski field.
Cardrona Hotel – The Cardrona Hotel is a beautiful hotel with lovely rooms. It sits right at the entrance to the ski hill and is also part of a historical attraction.
Waiorau Homestead – This is a local bed and breakfast with a very homie feel. Fantastic personal service and beautiful rooms.
Valley Villa – Valley Villa is a spacious home that can sleep 4 people. It’s perfect for small groups or families!
11. Crown Range
- Distance from Cardrona: It’s about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) to the first viewpoint
- Time: 20 minutes
- How long should I stay: 15 to 30 minutes
The Crown Range Road is New Zealand’s highest main highway and if you’re coming from Wanaka to Queenstown it’s a road you’ll have to take. In winter, the road can be daunting and it’s recommended you carry snow chains.
However in summer, it’s an easy drive down into the Wakatipu Valley. Along the way be sure to stop and take in the views. There are a few main viewpoints with one being right at the start as you begin to descend and another about a third of the way down the first hill.
From these viewpoints, you can just see Queenstown sitting on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. This was the first view I ever got of Queenstown and it was one to remember!
Note: If you decided to go through Cromwell, then your Christchurch to Queenstown itinerary begins again here.
- Distance from Crown Range: 57 kilometers (35.4 miles)
- Time: 45 minutes
- How long should I stay: 30 minutes to stretch legs or 1-2 hours if doing an activity.
Cromwell is a small local town nestled on the shores of Lake Dunstan. To be honest, it’s not much of a touristic town but with the beautiful Lake Dunstan and a few other quirky attractions, it’s worth a quick stop on your way through for a bit to eat and to stretch your legs.
You could also spend a night here, although you may as well make the hours drive onto Queenstown (especially if you’re short on time.)
Things to do in Cromwell
Get a photo with the oversized fruit – As you drive into Cromwell you won’t miss the oversized fruit sculptures on the side of the road. Pullover and grab a photo because, why not?
Jet Boat on the Kawarau River – The Kawarau River and gorge is a crazy place to go jetboating. This river is epic and surrounded on both sides by cliffs and rocks.
Pan for gold in the Goldfields Mining Center – This region was known for having the largest gold rush in New Zealand. At the Goldfields Mining Center, you can learn about the gold rush or join a gold panning tour.
13. Gibbston Valley
- Distance from Cromwell: 35 kilometers (22 miles)
- Time: 30 minutes
- How long should I stay: 1 hour to do a tasting
The Gibbston Valley is Otago’s most famous wine region. Before grapes were planted here it was thought they wouldn’t grow well enough to make amazing wine. However, the region now produces some of the best Pinot Noir in the world.
The most famous of the wineries in this region is the Gibbston Valley Winery. These guys pioneered the region and were the ones who broke all the odds to produce high-quality Pinot Noir in this odd climate.
At this winery, you can try 5 different wines for $15. If you’re the designated driver then you can head over to the cheese factory attached to the winery and try an assortment of cheeses, cold meats, and relishes! However, there are lots of other Gibbston valley wineries you can visit.
You made it! What a road trip Christchurch to Queenstown is! If you’re wondering what to do in Queenstown and where to stay in Queenstown then you’re in luck! We have around 40 blogs about Queenstown you can check out on our Queenstown page here!
Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip Itineraries
There are many ways to make the journey from Christchurch to Queenstown or the other way from Queenstown to Christchurch. So, to make things a little easier in your planning stage, here are a few examples of road trip itineraries.
1. Christchurch to Queenstown in 6 days
This 6-day itinerary will give you enough time to hit all of the highlights and in my opinion, is a great road trip itinerary. This road trip can also be done from Queenstown to Christchurch by reversing it.
- Day 1 Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: Visit Rakaia Gorge and explore Lake Tekapo
- Day 2 Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook: Visit Lake Pukaki, go on a short hike in Mt Cook.
- Day 3 Mount Cook: Explore Mount Cook National Park
- Day 4 Mount Cook to Wanaka: Visit the Clay Cliffs, hot tubs, and Lindis Pass
- Day 5 Wanaka: Hike Roys Peak or Isthmus Peak, relax in Wanaka.
- Day 6 Wanaka to Queenstown: Visit the lavender farm then drive to Queenstown.
2. Christchurch to Queenstown in 3 days
If you only have 3 days you can still enjoy this itinerary by skipping Wanaka and instead, heading straight to Queenstown via Cromwell.
- Day 1 Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: Short stop at Rakaia Gorge, explore Lake Tekapo.
- Day 2 Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook: Visit Lake Pukaki, do a short hike in Mount Cook.
- Day 3 Mount Cook to Queenstown: Visit the clay cliffs, hot tubs, Lindis Pass, and the Gibbston Valley.
For more info check out our favorite New Zealand road trip itineraries here.
Renting a Car or Motorhome
Well, as with any web search, the best way to get the cheapest deal is to use large 3rd party search engines that look at every company available and deliver the prices to you.
For motorhomes and campervans, the best website is Motorhome Republic. They’re like Skyscanner but for motorhomes and campervans!
For rental cars, you can’t go past DiscoverCars Bailey and I always use them all over the world and haven’t had an issue to date!
We also have a few companies that give our readers discounts and are very reputable companies in the rental game in New Zealand. The first is Mad Campers, a budget campervan company that started the first 1 person campervans in NZ. They also have great two-person campervans too!
Thanks for reading!
Regardless if you stop at all the places mentioned above or only some, I can guarantee you will have an unforgettable experience. On this short route, you hit a few of my favorite places on New Zealand’s South Island.
I hope you found this post helpful and please if you have any questions just leave them below!