Queenstown Loop via Mt Cook, Punakaiki & the Glaciers
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Get caught up in the many things that Queenstown has to offer. From bungy to canyoning to jetboating to skydiving, there is plenty for the adventurer, as well as no shortage of things to do for the more easy-going traveller as well. Great all-day activities include a trip up to Glenorchy for the Fun Yak Safari. Milford Sound is just a short flight away.
Queenstown to Mt Cook
Depart Queenstown and the beautiful shores of Lake Wakatipu. Continue past the wineries of the Gibbston Valley, following the scenic, desert route alongside the Kawarau River to the town of Cromwell. Stop by one of the local fruit standsfor some ice cream, sought-after for being made while you wait from frozen berries and fruit of your choice. Then continue north, heading over the scenic Lindis Pass, to finally come 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. From Omarama, follow the route to the stunning and imposing Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak.
Mt Cook to Christchurch
First up, head to Lake Tekapo, the most well-known and 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. 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 the huge extinct volcano – 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.