Dunedin to Queenstown via Mt Cook, Lake Tekapo, Punakaiki and the Glaciers
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Dunedin and Otago Peninsula
Explore the abundant wildlife on the Otago Peninsula. At the farthest point on the peninsula is the renowned Albatross Colony. Fur seals, sea lions and penguins can also be found on the peninsula (tour suggested). Historic Larnach Castle & Gardens is another exceptional stop on the route. Dunedin is now best known as a university town, but historically was the most prosperous city in New Zealand. The city is one of definite Scottish influence – view the Robert Burns statue at the Octagon. Also check out the historic railway station, said to be the most photographed building in the country. The Registry Building on the University of Otago campus is another frequently photographed attraction.
Dunedin to Omarama
Depart the fine harbourside city of Dunedin, heading up a beautiful coastline to the fascinating Moeraki Boulders. Continue northward, visiting the historic town of Oamaru. From here, turn inland, heading into the brown-and-gold landscape of Central Otago, finally coming to the small town of Omarama. Although small, Omarama is famous as one of the best sites in the world for glider flights, and once hosted the world championships. Head to the airfield if you’d like to go for a flight of your own.
Omarama to Lake Tekapo
Heading north from Omarama through the desert-like country of southern Canterbury, its amazing to consider that only a narrow mountain range separates you from the dense rainforests of the West Coast. Visit the alpine Salmon farm near the town of Twizel (the highest-altitude salmon on Earth!), and continue up to the striking blue of Lake Pukaki. Make the detour up to Mt Cook township, and take a walk to soak up the best views of New Zealand’s highest peak (Aoraki/Mt Cook!). Back at the car, return to the main highway and continue to Lake Tekapo, the most stunning of New Zealand’s glacial lakes. Visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake shore, and consider taking part in some of the great activities available in town.
Lake Tekapo to Christchurch
From Tekapo, follow the road leading out of the mountains to the vast Canterbury Plains, and on to Christchurch. Christchurch continues to recover from significant earthquake damage and increasingly boasts new sights and attractions for visitors. At the edge of the city is the Canterbury Museum, the Botanic Gardens, and Hagley Park, where you can enjoy punting along the Avon river. The International Antarctic Centre, near the airport, is another major Christchurch attraction, interesting for adults and kids alike. The Port Hills – formed by the crater of an extinct volcano that exploded six million years ago – offer great views back over the city.
Christchurch to Punakaiki
Today, drive to the mountains, then continue to the wild, remote West Coast of the South Island. Driving your way first through the beautiful Canterbury Plains, you’ll soon come to the steep mountains of the New Zealand Alps. Wind your way through extraordinary scenery as you make your way through Arthur’s Pass National Park. Continue to the amazing pancake rocks of Punakaiki. You can take these in on a leisurely stroll from the roadside. Those wanting a little more can go horseriding on the beach and view them from another angle, as well as taking in much more on Punakaiki’s wonderful scenery. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy an expert guided tour taking in local flora and fauna.
Punakaiki to Franz Josef
From Punakaiki, make the drive south, past Greymouth to the coastal town of Hokitika. Here, you’ll find loads of pounamu (greenstone) and craft shops – along with plenty of places to eat whitebait, the tiny fish for which this area is justly renowned. Continue south to Franz Josef Glacier. Combine a glacier hike with a heli flight, or take a scenic flight above it all. Alternatively, head out for a kayak trip on Lake Mapourika.
Franz Josef to Wanaka
Today’s spectacular route leads from the dramatic green wilderness of the West Coast to the drier climate that pervades on the east side of the New Zealand Alps. Head south down the coast to the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre at Haast, then turn inland toward the mountains, following the winding Haast Pass Highway as it weaves up a narrow valley between towering mountains. Thundering roadside waterfalls line the route, and you’ll also find the striking and vivid Blue Pools a pleasant 30 minute walk from the roadside. Continue past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, passing the charming lakeside town of Wanaka.
Wanaka to Queenstown
From Wanaka, first stop is Cromwell. This is orchard country, with apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries all grown in abundance. Take a few minutes at one of the local fruit stands for some of the local fruit ice cream. Continue from Cromwell along the scenic, desert route alongside the Kawarau River toward Queenstown, passing the wineries of the Gibbston Valley and Kawarau Bungy. A short detour leads to the historic village of Arrowtown, where gold was discovered in Arrowtown in 1861. The town is one of delightful old cottages and fine avenues of trees, making it an excellent place for a coffee. Stroll the historic streets before continuing to Queenstown – with possible diversions to Kawarau Bungy or a local winery en route.