Some Great South Island Road Trips

When it comes to scenic road trips, nowhere offers as many in one relatively compact area as the South Island of New Zealand. While the South Island is normally associated with alpine regions, made famous in the Lord of the Rings movies, it is also a place of rugged, wild landscapes on the West Coast, and long, golden beaches. So if you’re looking for a range of road trip experiences,  organise your NZ car rental and head South. Here are a few routes to follow:

  • If you pick up your rental car in Christchurch, why not head across the island towards the West Coast? Christchurch to Hokitika is a 248-kilometre drive that you can comfortably manage in one day. This road journey through the iconic Southern Alps includes Arthur’s Pass, the most famous mountain pass road in the country. Even though this trip might not look too long in terms of kilometres, the scenery and photo opportunities along the way mean you should allow plenty of time to stop frequently and take it all in.
  • Once you’re on the remote West Coast, there’s plenty to see on your next road trip. The coastal road from Punakaiki (about an hour north of Hokitika) to Lake Wanaka, is a journey of just over 500 kilometres so you’ll want to give yourself a few days to do it. The highlights of this beautiful stretch include Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks, Lake Matheson, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, Pancake Rocks, Thunder Creek Falls, and Haast Pass. One of the most popular ways to make this a multi-day trip is to spend a night or two in Fox Glacier or Franz Josef. These towns have world-famous glaciers as well as excellent hiking trails and plenty of adventure sports and other activities.
  • If your journey down the West Coast ends in Wanaka then you’re in the heart of Central Otago. Here, there are a number of short and sweet trips for you to do. For example, Queenstown to Glenorchy is just 45 kilometres alongside the shores of Lake Wakatipu but what a 45 kilometres it is! Locals call Glenorchy the “Gateway to Paradise”, and if you’re travelling there from Queenstown, there are wonderful vantage points to take in, including the lake, the Remarkables and the Southern Alps. Once you arrive in Glenorchy, enjoy a walk on the foreshore or take on the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” If time permits travel on to Paradise, along the Dart River and towards Mt Aspiring National Park.
  • Here’s another short road trip in the Central Otago region – Queenstown to Wanaka. Just over an hour but on the way you’ll travel over New Zealand’s highest main road – the Crown Range, which peaks at just over 1100 metres. If you’re driving this road in winter, take your time and carry snow chains as the road is usually covered in snow. In summer, the road is fine for any vehicle and there are plenty of stops including the famous ‘Bra Fence’ and the Cardrona Hotel, possibly the most photographed pub in New Zealand.
  • If you want to head as far south as you can, then the Catlins to Invercargill journey is the only way to go. In this region, the landscape changes all the time and is home to rare wildlife including the Yellow-Eyed Penguin, which is thought to be the rarest penguin breed in the world. Places to stop include Mclean Falls, Slope Point, Cathedral Caves, Purakaunui Falls, Curio Bay, and Nugget Point. This trip is worth taking your time over and there are lots of places where you can stay overnight.

There are plenty more South Island road trips you can do, including the golden beaches dotted along the top of the island in the Nelson/Tasman region. For more inspiration and ideas, a good New Zealand car rental company will point you in the right direction.