Our ‘Off the beaten path’ series is all about seeing more on your adventure holidays to New Zealand. Kiwi cities are beautiful, but if you hire a rental rental car and explore some of the countryside as well, you’ll be swept off your feet by the sheer bounty of exciting, memorable things to do.
If you are planning on visiting Christchurch, use this itinerary to help you make the most of your NZ road trip, beginning here.
Just under two hours south of the Garden City you’ll find your first stop, Air Rangitata, and a unique charter flight. This company offers numerous aerial tours around the South Island, but its hour-long Canterbury Plains trip is the ultimate way to soak in the local region, which is the largest plain in the country and where you have been driving.
Just a few minutes further south and you’ll be in the agricultural town of Geraldine, a great place to stop for lunch and to witness mid-Canterbury from the ground. If you are physically fit and want a thrill, Big Rock Canyons’ Kaumira Canyon is nearby. This is a full-day experience, combining abseiling, cliff jumping, zip lining and swimming, starting from the Geraldine Visitors Centre.
Tekapo is a small tourist hub about an hour from Geraldine, sitting adjacent to a stunningly beautiful lake with the same name. The water here comes down from glaciers in the Southern Alps, picking up incredibly fine rock flour as it goes. Why is this relevant? This combination of forces gives Lake Tekapo a brilliant turquoise colour like you may never have seen before, making it a defining natural highlight of this entire road trip.
Speaking of defining natural highlights, detour off the main highway just past Pukaki and travel for nearly 40 minutes. You’ll weave your way up into the mountains, a breathtaking journey that brings you to the Mount Cook National Park, and the sight of the eponymous mountain (the tallest in NZ). You’ll find numerous hikes here, such as Glencoe Walk (30 minutes return), Bowen Bush Walk (10 minutes return) and the Red Tarns Track (two hours return). Each of these offer a mixture of scenery, from lush natural bush to expansive vistas that feature the Hooker Glacier and Mount Cook itself.
Back on the main road, it’s just 30 minutes to the alpine community of Omarama, where a great lunch can be found as well as plenty of possum fur and merino wool souvenirs. You have a few options here for fun: You could stop to try the local ski fields and heli flights, or even turn off the main road for a scenic detour. Kurow is very close, which makes for an ideal place to stay overnight to enjoy the triplet lakes of Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki. If you’re on a budget, we recommend Kurow Holiday Park, as it has free-to-use canoes for the lakes, and affordable rates.
When you continue your journey, pull into Cromwell to stretch your legs after the hour and 20 minutes’ drive here. Not only is this another spectacular lake town, but its surrounds are positively blanketed by a booming wine and fruit industry. There are loads of vineyards and orchards located in very close proximity, so be sure to drive around a bit and grab a few samples to gorge on later.
Before long you’ll be in the famous holiday hot spot of Queenstown, and completing this itinerary planner. But your time in Aotearoa is far from over – spend a few days in this small piece of paradise and you’ll find jet boats, bungy jumping, skiing/snowboarding, lake cruises, world-famous eateries and so much more.