Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip

Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip (5-Day Budget Itinerary!)

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. Christchurch to Queenstown is one of the most underrated journeys in New Zealand!

You can head to Lake Tekapo to marvel at the views and go to Mount 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 of this road trip, and enjoy some of the best locations in New Zealand!

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Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip

Quick Christchurch to Queenstown Drive itinerary
Distance – 483 km (300 mi)
Time – 5 days
Day 1 – Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: 220 km (137 mi)
Day 2 – Lake Tekapo
Day 3 – Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook Village: 105 km (65.2 mi)
Day 4 – Mt Cook Village to Wanaka: 208.5 km (129.5 mi)
Day 5 – Wanaka to Queenstown: 67.2 km (41.7 mi)

The distance from Christchurch to Queenstown is approximately 483 km (300 mi). It may sound like a lot, but the distance isn’t too big.

If you wanted to do the drive in one go, you could easily do it in 5 hours.

Unless you are keen to get to Queenstown, I wouldn’t advise doing this, as you will miss out on some great places along the way!

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’s 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!

You can book a car or a campervan direct with companies such as Jucy or Wicked but I recommend you look online.

You can use a company such as Rentalcars.com to book your car or campervan. They compare prices from all rental car companies, which means you get an overview of the different prices, which will save you money!

If you’re starting from Christchurch, click here to book your rental car. If you’re starting from Queenstown, click here to book your rental car.

Important info

Lake Wanaka a great to do some New Zealand road trips
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.

Before doing any road trip in New Zealand, ensure that you have proper travel insurance!

I use World Nomads 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!

Essential items you need to pack for a Christchurch to Queenstown Road trip

There are several items on my road trip packing list that you should bring with you on this trip.

Accidents can and will happen. It’s best to be prepared for all eventualities, that is even truer when doing a New Zealand Road trip.

There are stretches on this road trip where you are outside of major towns for a long time.

If you were to break down in one of these places without adequate items or tools, you could be stuck for a while!

Below are a few items you should include to make sure the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is comfortable and goes off without a hitch.

Why you should go on a Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip

Mountains covered in snow above Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown
This road trip is a good alternative to do a full drive around the South Island.

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. 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 mountain 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 Christchurch to Queenstown Road trip takes you through a number of the most places to visit in New Zealand, 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 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!

HostelLocationFacilitiesBook
Jailhouse AccommodationChristchurchFree Parking
BBQ
Cable TV
Book Now!
YHA Lake TekapoLake TekapoFree wifi
Kitchen
Burger Bar
Book Now!
YHA Mt CookMt CookFree Parking
BBQ
Kitchen
Book Now!
Wanaka BakpakaWanakaFree Parking
BBQ
Kitchen
Book Now!
YHA Queenstown LakefrontQueenstownFree Parking
BBQ
Steam Room
Book Now!

Places to visit on a Christchurch to Queenstown Road trip

While it’s not the longest road trip in New Zealand, there are plenty of places to see when travelling from Christchurch to Queenstown.

The drive takes you to some of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand such as Lake Tekapo and Wanaka. As well as some less well-known spots too!

Below are a few of my recommendations of place you have to include to include on your itinerary!

Christchurch

View of Lyttleton Bay

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 is undergoing regeneration after earthquakes devastated the city in 2011.

Despite this, there are still a lot of things to see 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 incredible 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

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is one of the most beautiful places you can go in New Zealand.

The views across the lake and the surrounding area are breathtaking! But, as well as the views, there are 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 at during a Christchurch to Queenstown itinerary.

Mt Cook

Mt Cook

Mt 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 Mt 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 which offer excellent views of the park such as the Hooker Valley Track.

It’s only a short road trip, but Mt Cook is one place you can’t leave off your itinerary!

Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown is the final destination on this road trip, and it is without a doubt, one of the best spots to when you visit the South Island.

There are so many things to do in Queenstown. If you visit during the winter you can go skipping or snowboarding.

The Nevis Bungy is close by if you fancy throwing yourself off a high ledge, while you can go jet boating and play Frisbee golf too!

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

Tree in the water at Lake Wanaka

Wanaka is a beautiful little 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 here!

The town is based around Lake Wanaka, and the views are simply stunning. 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!

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

The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown 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 off. 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 in 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

Bridle Path

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Distance

220 km (137 miles)

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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 incredible scenery.

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 a lot of good scenery if not many places to stop!

Day 2: Lake Tekapo

While day 2 is based around Lake Tekapo, you can swap this with Mt Cook if you wish.

I would recommend spending a full day at least at either Lake Tekapo or Mt Cook. 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 incredible 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

View of the water at Lake Pukaki

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Distance

105 km (65.2 miles)

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Time without stops

1 hour 15 minutes

 

The drive from Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook is quite short, it 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 fantastic views, and you’ll be able to get numerous at Mt Cook too!

Once you get to Mount 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 Mount 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

Lake Wanaka a great to do some New Zealand road trips

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Distance

208.5 km (129.5 miles)

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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 driving from Christchurch to Queenstown 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 on 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.

Once you’re here you have a wealth of things to do, as I mentioned above. Skiing 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

Crown Range

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Distance

67.2 km (41.7 miles)

time icon

Time without stops

1 hour 9 minutes

 

The last leg of the Christchurch to Queenstown Road trip may be the shortest part of the trip, but it is still one of the most scenic.

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 is a lot more scenic.

If you’re driving on a clear you will be rewarded with some fantastic views! I would recommend the Crown Range route, 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,

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 Christchurch to Queenstown Road trip cost?

This Christchurch to Queenstown drive 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 on to the cost of the trip.

The biggest expense will be your vehicle. Renting cars and camper vans in New Zealand aren’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 from Travellers Autobarn, 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, 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!

View above Christchurch

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!

Concluding thoughts

A Christchurch to Queenstown Road trip is one of the best you can do in New Zealand. The trip takes you through some of the most iconic places in the country, and past amazing scenery as well.

It may be a short road trip, but the sights you will see along the way make it one you must do!

Have you done a Christchurch to Queenstown drive? Did you do a similar itinerary to mine or a different one? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Christchurch to Queenstown drive