Queenstown to Christchurch via Mount Cook

You will see mountain landscapes in every direction on this itinerary. After the excitement of Queenstown, Arrowtown will seem beautifully quaint and calm. Explore old gold mining sites and enjoy one of the many excellent cafes.

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Day 1: Queenstown - Arrowtown

47 mins
Steamer, Queenstown, New Zealand.

The alpine resort of Queenstown is exciting, sophisticated and fantastically scenic. It's the home of adventure, and activities include bungy, jet boating, horse trekking, rafting and river surfing. It’s also a destination for luxury experiences – gourmet food and wine, spa treatments and leisurely games of golf.

It’s not far to Arrowtown, and you have a choice of two routes. The slightly longer, but potentially more scenic route takes you over the historic Shotover Bridge and through Arthur’s Point. The shorter, more conventional route runs past the airport and then around Lake Hayes.

Total distance: 44 km.

Day 2: Gibbston - Omarama - Mt Cook Village

Driving time: 3 hrs 13 mins
Mt Cook, New Zealand.

The vineyards of the Gibbston area are the first temptation on your journey. Then stop and admire the Roaring Meg power station in the Kawarau Gorge. The restored heart of Cromwell is a treasure for visitors, or take a detour to the old gold workings of Bannockburn. Lake Dunstan is a fine place for a picnic before you launch yourself into the beautiful Lindis Pass – just magic when there’s snow around.

You’ll know you’re in Omarama when you see the giant merino sheep statue. This area’s unique geography has made it a magnet for gliding enthusiasts. The northwesterly wind blows steadily to form the famous Northwest Arch, a thermal that can take the glider pilots to 10,000 metres. Scenic soaring can be arranged.

Twizel is a well-placed base for mountain climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, horse trekking and hiking. It’s also a place to spy on the rarest wading bird in the world - the Black Stilt. If you don’t have the time to catch your own salmon, the local salmon farm sells it – fresh or smoked.

The road to Mt Cook hugs the edge of Lake Pukaki. The exquisite opaque turquoise colour of this lake and others in the area is caused by fine, glacier-ground rock particles held in suspension. The landscape is a mixture of high country tussock, farmland and snow-capped mountains.

Total distance: 268 km.

The Aoraki Mount Cook National Park includes the highest peak in Australasia (Mt Cook - 3755m). The region attracts mountain climbers, hikers and scenery fanatics. Heli skiing, heli hiking and aerial sightseeing provide visitors with amazing memories. A variety of walking trails begin in or near Mount Cook Village - most take only a couple of hours. In the bar of the local hotel, huge windows provide a perfect view of Mt Cook.

Total distance: 268 km.

Day 3: Mt Cook Village - Lake Tekapo - Christchurch

Driving time: 3 hrs 51 mins
Sealy Tarns Track, Mount Cook, New Zealand.

The road to Lake Tekapo takes you down the Tasman Valley to beautiful Lake Pukaki. The opaque turquoise colour of this lake and others in the area is caused by fine, glacier-ground rock particles held in suspension. At the southern end of the lake you’ll turn left and drive through golden tussock land to Lake Tekapo.

The settlement of Lake Tekapo is at the southern end of the lake. Fishing, kayaking, bike riding, horse trekking and skiing are some of the things you can do. The Church of the Good Shepherd and the sheepdog statue are great photo opportunities.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Fast-changing and funky, Christchurch is the South Island's largest city. Old English gardens contrast with pop-up bars and container-based shopping malls in this enduring centre, which is rebuilding itself after a damaging earthquake in February 2011. Favourite activities include punting down the Avon River, biking in the Port Hills, visiting Sumner Beach, or taking a day trip out to the French colonial settlement of Akaroa.

Total distance: 331 km.

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Read our detailed guide to Queenstown