A Christchurch to Queenstown Road trip is one of the best you can do in New Zealand.
It’s a short road trip, you can do it in 5 hours if you want to visit Queenstown, but there are a lot of places to see on the way. Driving from Christchurch to Queenstown is one of the most underrated journeys in New Zealand!
You can head to Lake Tekapo to marvel at the breathtaking views and go to Mt Cook to see this incredible mountain.
For a short road trip, there are a lot of great places to see!
A Christchurch to Queenstown drive is a great way to see some of the best places in the South Island, and a good starting point if you’ve just arrived in New Zealand.
My itinerary will help you get the most out of this road trip, and enjoy some of the best locations in New Zealand!
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Table of Contents
Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long is the Drive from Christchurch to Queenstown?
The distance from Christchurch to Queenstown is approximately 483 km (300 mi). You can do the drive in 5 to 6 hours non-stop if you want. This is what I did a couple of times I visited Queenstown from Christchurch where I was living.
However, if you’re on a trip, then it’s better to spread the drive out over 5 days so you can see the incredible sights in the area.
Is it Safe to Drive from Christchurch to Queenstown in Winter?
Yes, but you’ll need to take precautions as the weather will be worse and there’s a higher chance of snow.
It’s also better to drive during the day, as there are large stretches of the road where there’s not much visibility when it’s dark. As someone who did the full drive numerous times at night, it’s much easier during the day.
Is it easy to drive in the South Island of New Zealand?
Yes, the roads in New Zealand’s South Island aren’t too difficult to drive. Most of them are largely traffic-free away from the major urban areas and easy to follow.
One thing to consider is that you drive on the left in New Zealand, and that these roads aren’t well-lit. If you’re driving at night, you’ll need to be more vigilant then normal.
Before Setting Off
Before doing any road trip in New Zealand it is important to have everything sorted. You can’t do a road trip without a vehicle, so this is the first thing you need to do. Depending on your numbers and where you plan on sleeping, you have two options.
You can either rent a car or a campervan. If there are a lot of you, a campervan is a good idea. It will save you money as you won’t need to pay for accommodation along the way.
If there are only two or three of you, a car would be cheaper. It would be necessary to pay for accommodation, but it’s not overly expensive in New Zealand, so you won’t be paying over the odds!
The most important thing to remember about driving around New Zealand is that they drive on the left. If you’re from a country that drives on the right, this is the most important thing you need to know.
You also need to consider your driving licence, because you won’t get anywhere if you don’t have one!
If you have a valid English language licence then you can drive in New Zealand without too much trouble! This is as long as you have no traffic infringements and you rent the vehicle less than 12 months before you entered New Zealand!
Things are a little more complicated if you’re not from an English-speaking country! You’ll need a valid translation to be able to drive in New Zealand. Alternatively, you can use an international driving licence to convert to a New Zealand Licence.
Check out my road trip packing list before you set off too. It’s got all the items you might need in case you, god forbid, run into any trouble.
Before doing any road trip in New Zealand, ensure that you have proper travel insurance!
I use SafetyWing to keep me safe on the road, it’s designed for backpackers and adventurous travellers. You never know what can happen on the road. Keep yourself protected against all eventualities! Click here to get a quote!
Why You Should Drive From Christchurch to Queenstown
This epic road trip is a good alternative to doing a full drive around New Zealand’s South Island. You can drive this route via the west coast of New Zealand, but that’s a much longer trip.
You will get to see a lot of beautiful places driving from Christchurch to Queenstown, and the endpoint is a good place to go onto Fiordland and visit Milford Sound.
The South Island of New Zealand has some of the best scenery in the whole of the world such as Lake Wanaka and Lake Dunstan. Without a doubt, the best way to explore this scenery is by car.
You will be able to stop where and when you want, which is much better than being dictated to by someone else’s country.
This is crucial in New Zealand because there are so many places you can stop along the way.
During this drive, you will come across beautiful spots such as Lake Tekapo, get the opportunity to explore the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and climb up the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps if you wish.
While driving on towards Wanaka and Queenstown will take you to some of the best spots in the whole of New Zealand!
I did this road trip numerous times and always enjoyed it!
It may be a short road trip, but it’s one can’t pass up because the scenery and places to visit are out of this world!
Where to Stay Between Christchurch and Queenstown
As this scenic drive takes you through some of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand’s South Island, you’re not short of choice on accommodation!
Whether you want to stay in hostels or hotels, there will be a wide range of both along the way.
Although in places such as Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mount Cook, you will struggle to find hotels and may have to settle for cheaper accommodation.
This is a backpacker-focused website and I have listed a few hostels you can stay along the way below. The route contains some of the best hostels in New Zealand.
If you’re not doing the trip in a Campervan, they are great places to stay during this road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown!
|Jailhouse Accommodation||Christchurch||Hostel that’s housed in a former jailhouse that has free parking and a BBQ.|
|YHA Lake Tekapo||Lake Tekapo||A stunning location and good facilities make this hostel a great place to stay!|
|YHA Mt Cook||Aoraki Mount Cook||A stunning location and great facilities make this hostel a great place to stay!|
|Wanaka Bakpaka||Wanaka||An old lodge turned into a hostel with a chilled vibe. Great place to relax and meet new people.|
|Adventure Queenstown Hostel||Queenstown||A great place to meet new people as they run events every night. Spacious and clean rooms too!|
Places to Visit on a Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip
While this 5 day road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown isn’t the longest, there are plenty of places to see on this South Island road trip.
The drive takes you to some of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand’s South Island such as Lake Tekapo and Wanaka. As well as some less well-known spots too!
Below are a few of my recommendations of places you have to include to include on your itinerary!
Christchurch is the starting point for the road trip, but you should spend a few days checking the city out before setting off.
The city centre and the wider area are undergoing regeneration after earthquakes devastated the city in 2011.
Despite this, there are still a lot of things to do in Christchurch!
You can check out Quake City, which lets you know about the earthquakes and the impact they had on the city.
A visit to Port Hills and Lyttelton Harbour is essential for some amazing views! It’s also a good place to do some hiking too!
You can head to the suburb of Sumner, which has great cafes and even better views. Be sure to check out Taylor’s Mistake, which I believe is one of New Zealand’s best beaches.
Christchurch has had a rough time in recent years, but it’s still a great destination with much to see!
Read more: Christchurch Travel Guide
Lake Tekapo is one of the most beautiful places you can go to in New Zealand.
The amazing views across the lake and the surrounding mountains are something to behold! But, as well as the views, there are a few things to do here too!
Lake Tekapo is one of the best places to go stargazing in the world, due to the low levels of light pollution.
You can do a tour of Mt John Observatory if you want to use telescopes to see into outer space!
You can also visit the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is the most photographed building in New Zealand. Once you find it, you’ll understand why!
There is a lot to do at Lake Tekapo and it is a place you have to stop on this drive.
Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook, or Aoraki to give the mountain its Maori name, is somewhere you have to visit while driving from Christchurch to Queenstown.
The mountain is an icon of New Zealand and a magical sight in person.
While climbing Mount Cook should be left to experienced mountaineers, the national park that it inhabits should be explored.
There are plenty of things to do in the area such as hiking and skiing. There are a few tracks that offer amazing views of the park such as the Hooker Valley Track.
One of the things I think is underrated is that Mount Cook is part of the dark sky reserve in New Zealand. This means there’s minimal light pollution allowing you to get a fantastic view of the night sky.
This is the clearest night sky I’ve ever seen, and it’s a spectacular sight to see the stars as clearly as you do.
It’s only a short drive, but Mount Cook National Park is one place you can’t leave off your itinerary!
Queenstown is the final destination on this Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary, and it is without a doubt, one of the best spots to check out when you visit the South Island.
There are so many things to do in Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. If you visit during the winter you can go skiing or snowboarding.
The Remarkables mountain range is nearby and is the perfect place to visit during ski season, as it’s just a short drive from the city centre.
The Nevis Bungy is close by if you fancy throwing yourself off a high ledge, while you can go jet boating down the Kawarau River, play Frisbee golf or just admire beautiful Lake Wakatipu, which is just a stone’s throw away from the centre.
The nightlife in Queenstown is fantastic and you should check it out while you’re there.
A visit to Fergburger is a must too. The burger joint is legendary, which is amazing considering the only one is in Queenstown!
Read more: Queenstown Travel Guide
Wanaka is a beautiful little resort town, which is one of the last stops on a Christchurch to Queenstown self-drive.
I didn’t know much about the place before I visited, but I was blown away by the scenery when I got there!
The town is based around Lake Wanaka, and the breathtaking views it provides. You could spend hours exploring and taking in the scenery in Wanaka.
If you visit during winter, you can also go skiing at Cardrona, which has some of the best slopes in the country!
One place that I think is underrated here is Wanaka Lavender Farm. You can walk through beautiful fields of lavender, see some alpacas and get some great food in the cafe too!
Wanaka has decent nightlife too, so it’s worth visiting a few bars while you’re here!
It may be a small town, but there is a lot to do in Wanaka regardless!
Example Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary
This journey isn’t the longest, but there are stretches where you will be on the road for long periods at once.
This itinerary is not set in stone. It should be used as a guide to base your trip. You can skip or visit different places if you wish, it’s entirely up to you!
My itinerary lasts for five days, this is a good amount of time to see all of the major sights between Christchurch and Queenstown.
If you wish to extend or shorten the road trip, that is entirely up to you!
Day 1: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
220 km (137 miles)
Time without stops
2 hours 50 minutes
The first day of the Christchurch to Queenstown Road trip is the longest at 220 km (137 mi) as you head toward Lake Tekapo.
The trip takes around 2.5 to 3 hours, but that does depend on which route you take.
You have two choices.
You can either go along State Highway 1, which will take you through Ashburton and on towards Geraldine before reaching Lake Tekapo, or you can take the longer, yet more scenic route along State Highway 77 past Darfield towards Mount Hutt.
I recommend you take State Highway 77. This route is much more scenic than going through Ashburton. You can stop at the Rakaia Gorge after going through Glentunnel, which has some stunning scenery.
The Rakaia Gorge Walkway is worth checking and has some amazing views of the surrounding area. It also gets you out of the car for a few hours!
Geraldine is a good place to stop before you reach Lake Tekapo. There are several cafes and a supermarket, so you can get some lunch and stock up on supplies before you arrive at Lake Tekapo.
I’m not going to lie, there isn’t an awful lot to see on this leg of the road trip. The best places to see are very much after this section.
However, driving through the Canterbury Plains is a nice experience. The plains are lovely and there is plenty of spectacular scenery if not many places to stop!
Day 2: Lake Tekapo
While day 2 is based around Lake Tekapo, you can swap this with Mount Cook if you wish.
I would recommend spending a full day at least at either Lake Tekapo or Mount Cook National Park. There is a lot to see and do in both places.
Of course, if you have more time, you can spend a full day at both!
If you decide to spend a full day at Lake Tekapo, there is a lot to do as I mentioned above. I would advise packing some hiking boots, so you can explore the area around the lake.
There are numerous hiking trails allowing you to soak in the spectacular scenery in the area. The Mt John circuit is a good one to do.
You can also unwind at the hot springs in Lake Tekapo if you’re not feeling up to hiking.
One thing I would recommend visiting Mt John Observatory if you’re interested in stargazing. You’ll learn about space and get the chance to use a telescope to peer at some faraway galaxies!
Day 3: Lake Tekapo to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
105 km (65.2 miles)
Time without stops
1 hour 15 minutes
The remainder of the Lake Tekapo to Queenstown drive sees you stop at Mt Cook National Park next. It’s a short drive and only takes 1 hour and 12 minutes without stopping, but it is one of the most scenic in the whole country!
To get to Mt Cook Village, you have to follow State Highway 8 and then switch onto State Highway 80, as you meander your way around Lake Pukaki.
One of the best things about the drive is that you will hug the edge of Lake Pukaki for the majority of the drive.
This makes for some breathtaking views with the lake in the foreground and snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps in the background, and you’ll be able to get numerous at Aoraki Mount Cook too!
Once you get to Mt Cook Village, there are a lot of things to do. As you can imagine, there are numerous hiking trails you can do.
Mt Cook is a serious undertaking, so I wouldn’t do it unless you are an experienced climber.
You can also do helicopter tours and glacier tours which will give you some incredible views of the mountain.
Getting to Mt Cook Village early is a good idea so you have time to explore the surrounding area and take in its beauty.
Day 4: Aoraki Mount Cook National Park to Wanaka
208.5 km (129.5 miles)
Time without stops
2 hours 29 minutes
The drive on day 4 will take you from Mount Cook Village back past Lake Pukaki towards Wanaka.
One of the best things about this drive is that you get to drive past Lake Pukaki twice!
If you didn’t get the opportunity to make the most of it the day before, you can now!
Once you’re past Lake Pukaki you will come to the town of Twizel, which is one of the stranger places to visit in New Zealand.
The town was never intended to be a permanent residence, and the houses in the town reflect this. It’s a cool place to look around for 30 minutes or so before you head on.
After Twizel, you will come to Omarama, a small town at the junction of Highway 8 and 80. From here you can head to see the Paritea cliffs which are constantly being exposed by the active Osler fault line.
From here you will head through the beautiful Lindis Pass, which has some jaw-dropping views, and on towards Wanaka.
Wanaka is arguably the most picturesque town in New Zealand. Its backdrop on Lake Wanaka makes it even more scenic and you’ll want to make sure you get your shot of the famous Wanaka tree!
As I mentioned above, once you’re here you have a wealth of things to do. Visiting during ski season is a good option during winter while hiking the numerous trails is a good idea when the temperature is warmer.
Day 5: Wanaka to Queenstown
67.2 km (41.7 miles)
Time without stops
1 hour 9 minutes
The last leg of the Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary may be the shortest part of the trip, but it’s arguably the most scenic drive of all.
You have two options when it comes to the route you take into Queenstown.
One way is to go straight to Queenstown via State Highway 6A and Cardona and through Arrowtown.
The other option is to go along State Highway 6 via Cromwell. This way may be slightly quicker, but the first route via Cardona and the Crown Range Road is a lot more scenic.
That said, you can stop at beautiful Lake Dunstan, if you want to see some more spectacular scenery.
If you’re driving on a clear you will be rewarded with some fantastic views! I would recommend Crown Range Road, but it’s up to you.
If you’re in a rush, it may be best to go via Cromwell, whereas if you have more time, the Crown Range is the way to go.
Once you get to Queenstown, there are a wealth of things you can do.
From bunny-jumping to skiing to hiking, Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of New Zealand and you will certainly not be short of things to do.
Just relaxing and admiring the views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains is enjoyable after this drive!
If you have the time, you can see Queenstown in 3 days. This will allow you to get as much out of this beautiful place as you can!
How Much Does a Queenstown to Christchurch Road Trip Cost?
This is one of the cheaper road trips you can do in New Zealand.
Compared to driving along the West Coast, it is much cheaper. This is due to the shorter distance between Christchurch and Queenstown.
Of course, you can make the road trip cheaper or more expensive depending on what you do. If you decide to do numerous tours, that will add to the cost of the trip.
The biggest expense will be your vehicle. Renting cars and camper vans in New Zealand isn’t too expensive, but they still cost a fair bit.
One way to reduce the expense is to travel with more people so you can split the cost of the vehicle and fuel between you.
Here’s a link to a fuel cost calculator, which will be useful for planning this trip. Using the fuel price data from a Google search for “petrol prices New Zealand,” input the figure into the calculator and you’re set.
Using an average fuel price of $2.32 per litre, your fuel expenses for the trip would come to $156.87. This is reasonable considering the distance and if you’re travelling in a group, the cost per person will be minimal.
If we stipulate that food and drink cost an average of $20 a day, over five days that equates to $100. Again, between a group of 3 to 5 people, it isn’t expensive.
Adding in the cost of a few tours, and the rental price for a car and you would be looking at a price of between $130 to $180 per person.
This is a rough estimate and shouldn’t be taken at face value. The cost depends entirely upon what vehicle you rent, where you eat, what tours, if any, you do, and the amount of fuel you use.
Prices will and can vary depending on all of this.
Tips to save money
- Some hostels in New Zealand charge extra to use their WiFi. Most of the hostels along this route didn’t but, if that’s the case, then finding a library or McDonald’s etc, will allow you to use free WiFi.
- Cook your food as much as possible! This is a great way to save money. It’s more convenient to just buy food, but the costs soon add up. If you cook as much as possible and use pasta and rice as your staple ingredients you’ll save a fair bit of money! Here are some road trip food ideas you can use when you’re on the road!
Need a Rental Car?
I use Rentalcars.com whenever I need to rent a car. They offer the most comprehensive listings of rental cars on the web. Plus, their deals are often cheaper than if you went straight to the supplier!
Looking For More Road Trips?
Wellington to Auckland Road Trip – Travel up the North Island on this amazing drive!
South Island Road Trip – A giant trip that takes you all the way around the incredible South Island!
West Coast of New Zealand Road Trip – Discover the beautiful west coast of the South Island with this epic drive!
Auckland to Queenstown Road Trip – A longer trip you can do if you’re based in the North Island
Auckland to Christchurch Road Trip – If you feel like another adventurous road trip between the two islands, this is the one to do!
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Tom is a travel addict who first left England to spend a year Down Under. Not satisfied with this, he then went to New Zealand, about as far away from home as he could get. He is now planning his next adventures in Europe and Canada while maintaining this blog. Check out the about me page to learn more!