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Christchurch to Queenstown - The Ultimate Itinerary

Whilst more than 70% of the population live in North Island, New Zealand’s South Island is characterised by its dramatic mountains, its giant lakes and its never-ending maze of hiking trails and nature walks. Remote is one way of describing it. But out of this world beautiful is the only expression that does it any justice. The North may have its big cosmopolitan cities, beaches, parks and surf culture but the South has got just about everything else. In this dreamlike island of contrasts, you’ll find snow-capped mountains, glaciers and ski fields on one hand; and beaches, golden bays and coastline national parks on the other. And we couldn’t think of a better way to venture forth on this journey than in a nippy Spaceship camper! Travelling by campervan will give you so much flexibility, allowing you to wander off, explore or detour at the drop of a hat.

If you’re looking to explore the best of South Island in just 7 short days, here is the ultimate itinerary for your journey from Christchurch to Queenstown. See New Zealand’s highest mountain, walk the paths of ice and rock at Mount Cook National Park, travel back in time to the old world historical Arrowtown, and see the lush carpets of purple and pink as wild flowers frame the shores of Lake Tekapo. If this South Island tour sounds good, pack up your camper and make tracks for our depot in Christchurch.

 

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

 

After loading up your Spaceship camper from our pick-up point in Christchurch, it’s time to set off on your South Island adventure. But not before exploring the South’s second biggest city! Christchurch is a fast-changing place that has long been influenced by its European heritage and history. Not quite as cosmopolitan as Auckland but just as chic in many parts, this city is a cool mix of old English gardens, French colonial buildings and edgy pop up shops. Take some time to explore Christchurch before joining the SH73 and venturing south to Tekapo.

After 2 hours or so along this scenic highway, you’ll come to Geraldine. Known as the “gateway to the Southern Lakes”, it makes a wonderful place to stop. Coffee culture is thriving here so great if you need a quick pick-me-up and then there’s the unbelievable cheese amongst other locally produced goods. Stay overnight here and fuel up on caffeine the next morning for the final stretch to Lake Tekapo. Once you arrive at the lake and park up at your chosen campervan site, there’ll be plenty to do. The lake views are simply mind-blowing and the best way to enjoy the nature around you is on foot. So get your hiking gear on and start exploring. For a spot of golf, head to The Cairns Golf Course and Le Stables or for some much needed relaxation and infinity pools, head to Tekapo Springs at the base of Mount John.

Highlights:

Summer Beach in Christchurch

Talbot Forest Cheese Shop in Geraldine  

Tekapo Springs

 

Packing Essentials:

Bring your hiking / walking gear to explore the Lake Tekapo trails and bring your golf clubs if you want to go to The Cairns Golf Course. For Tekapo Springs, don’t forget to bring your swimsuit / swimming trunks.

lupin

'Lake Tekapo in the Spring with Lupins' by Francis Vallance

 

Tekapo to Mount Cook

 

After spending a night at the lake, it’s time to hit SH8 and SH80 on the U shaped journey to Mount Cook National Park, stopping off at Lake Pukaki to take some pictures. Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki, is the highest mountain in New Zealand and it towers above its sister peaks of Mount D'Archiac, Mount Sibbald, Mount Hutton, The Nuns Veil, Mount Sealy and Fettes Peak. This is a hiker’s paradise and the Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre is a great resource of information when it comes to day hikes and walking routes. If you’re after a once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience to make your trip unforgettable, why not tour the mountain range by helicopter or take a heli hike of the Tasman Glacier?

The Tasman is also fantastic for skiing and snow sports or if you need something that can entertain the whole family, head over to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, a centre which pays tribute to humanitarian and explorer Sir Edmund Hillary. This is a great place to learn more about the Mount Cook region and it features a cool 3D theatre plus a planetarium.

Stay the night in Mount Cook Village and spend the evening stargazing into the clear night sky. Special stargazing tours complete with equipment are available, starting from around $65.00 for adults and $30.00 for children.

Highlights:

Lake Pukaki

Glacier hiking

Tasman skiing

Mount Cook Village

 

Packing Essentials:

Bring your hiking gear to explore the national park on foot and don’t forget to pack your skiing gear for The Tasman. All weather wear is essential as you will be facing the extremities if you decide to check out Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier.

 

Mount Cook National Park

‘Mount Cook National Park’ by Tom Hall

  

auraki to wanaka

 

Take State Highway 8 and head south all the way to Wanaka. On this scenic drive, you might want to stop in the pretty town of Twizel, which sits on the edge of the small but soulful Lake Ruataniwha or you might even be tempted to take a little detour to Lake Ohau for a stroll and a picnic before stopping off in the famous town of Omarama. Omarama is best known for its fishing community and it’s famous for gliding. We call gliding “the sport of kings” here in New Zealand so if you want to try a true Kiwi pastime, take to the skies with Omarama’s gliding club! To try your hand at fishing, head to Ladybird Hill Salmon Farm & Winery where all fishing equipment will be provided for willing visitors. You only pay for what you catch and you can have your fish cooked up in the café within 30 minutes. And as if that wasn’t enough to make your day, you can guzzle some wine over at Ladybird Winery, which happens to be the highest winery in the whole of New Zealand. You must try their Pinots, especially the Pinot Noir which is so legendary that the road (1 Pinot Noir Court) is named after it.

From Omarama, take the final leg onto Wanaka. The resort town of Wanaka is defined by its stunning lake and snow-capped mountains and here, you will be in the gateway to the spectacular Southern Alps. By night, the resort town comes to life with elegant restaurants and burger joints, cocktails bars and ale houses so you’ll find plenty to do before you hit the hay in your camper.

Highlights:

Gliding in Omarama

Ladybird Hill Salmon Farm & Winery

Wanaka nightlife

 

Packing Essentials:

Pack some smart / casual clothing for the evening in Wanaka. Dress code is mostly casual wherever you go so no shirts and formal attire required – just something to change into from your daywear. 

 

Wanaka

‘Lake Wanaka #1’ by Ghislain Mary

 Wanaka to arrowtown

 

Before you leave Wanaka, make sure you’ve had a chance to taste its award-winning ice cream. Pure New Zealand Ice Cream has snapped up, not one, but three awards and can be bought from various cafes around the town. Your journey will continue south, this time on the picturesque Cardrona Valley Road and Crown Range Road which will take you to Arrowtown. But if you’re not ready to move on just yet, feel free to take a little wander through the Central Otago District; take a detour down State Highway 6 and State Highway 8 instead and explore the trio of towns best known for their tipple. Kawarau Gorge, Cromwell and Clyde are steeped in history but most visitors come here to taste the world famous Pinot Noir. You can also hike through the Flat Top Hill Conservation area or hire a bike and explore the Roxburgh Gorge trail.

If you’re saving your energy for Arrowtown, make sure you get there in good time so you can make the most of the daylight and do a spot of sightseeing. Wander the historic streets and learn more about the town’s rich mining past at the Lakes District Museum. Or to get more hands-on with the town’s historical gold mining roots, visitors can try their hand at gold panning down the Arrow River. This is a short-visit activity with gold pans for hire and experts on hand to show you how to successfully pan for gold – this is great fun if you don’t mind getting your toes wet!

You can finish your day with a spot of shopping on Heritage Buckingham Street where you’ll find some interesting local stores before hunting down a cosy little spot for some food and drink.

Highlights:

Central Otago wine region (optional)

Gold panning in Arrowtown

Shopping Arrowtown

 

Packing Essentials:

Bring some cycle-safe clothing for the Roxburgh Gorge biking trail and don’t forget a change of clothes in case you get wet panning for gold in the Arrow River.

Arrow Town

   

arrowtown to queenstown 

From Arrowtown, it’s a short drive to your final destination of Queenstown so there’s plenty of time to take a little detour. We recommend taking your camper west to Glenorchy; this small settlement is totally remote and offers the most breath-taking views of the snow-capped Alps and Lake Wakatipu. But Glenorchy is best known for being the film setting for Lord of The Rings and you can take a guided tour of the area to visit the filming locations for Middle Earth, Isengard, Amon Hen, Lothlorien Forest, Ithilien and The Misty Mountains!

From Glenorchy, take the 45 minute drive to Queenstown along the shores of Lake Wakatipu (this stretch of the journey is such a treat) and park up your Spaceship for the next 2 days in one of the many campervan parks. Choose from Lakeland Park Christian Camp, Frankton Motor Camp, Arrowtown Born of Gold Holiday Park, Shotover TOP 10 Holiday Park, Queenstown Holiday Park Creeksyde, Lakeview Holiday Park or Kingston Holiday Park and then venture into the city to do some sightseeing. Don’t miss the pretty Queenstown Gardens, Kiwi Birdlife Park, the Underwater Observatory or Queenstown Bay which overlooks Wakatipu – and be sure to take the Skyline Gondola up to Bob’s Peak for the most incredible views! At the top, you’ll find an observation deck, a bike park, a zip wire assault course, a bungee jumping ledge and a choice of walking trails. There’s also a fantastic restaurant at the top too so you can dine out with a panoramic view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu below you. When it comes to nightlife, you won’t be disappointed either and you’ll find everything from cosy wine bars to hip boozers, theatres and live performances to kiwi pubs playing live music, and of course a great choice of nightclubs so you can dance into the early hours.

On your final day, make sure you head to the lake so you can make the most of the city’s water sports, which make up some of the city’s most popular activities. Home to New Zealand’s largest stand up paddle board, you will be able to experience the sport of paddle boarding like never before. The water sports centre also hires out single kayaks and double kayaks, two seater aqua bikes and easy to use pedal boats. To get wet and wild, river sledging down the rapids of the Kawarau River is a must – no experience is required and it’s suitable for anyone who can swim. For something much less strenuous, you can hop on a relaxing cruise of the lake or hop on a tour bus to soak up the views of the entire city. Winos can take a little trip to the nearby Gibbston Valley for an afternoon of wine tasting and shopping fanatics can take to the lanes of Remarkables Park Town Centre.

Spend the final night in beautiful Queenstown in your cosy Spaceship camper before heading back to our campervan drop-off centre in Christchurch.

Highlights: 

Views of the Southern Alps

Glenorchy Lord of the Rings Tour

Lake Wakatipu

Watersports in Queenstown

River sledging down the Kawarau River

Gibbston Valley wine tasting

Packing Essentials:

Bring a good camera if you go on the Glenorchy Lord of the Rings tour and pack plenty of swimwear or clothes that you don’t mind getting wet for all the water sport activities on the lake.