Christchurch to Stewart Island to Christchurch in 10 days

Driving Tour

So, you have a 10 day holiday and you’re planning a trip around the lower South Island starting off in Christchurch. That’s awesome news! We have a great itinerary mapped out for you taking in the rugged road from Dunedin to Invercargill, the magnificent Milford Sound and the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown. Let us take the stress out of the Christchurch to Bluff road trip planning with our suggested stops, driving distance, timings and full guides.

Let us take even more stress out of your hands with a convenient car rental in Christchurch so you can pick up your car and get GOing. We’re not one of New Zealand’s favourite rental car companies for no reason; our service is designed for our customers:

Now enough of our introduction, let’s get planning all the fun stuff!


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Trip Itinerary

1Christchurch to Dunedin (361kms – 4 hours 36 mins)

We suggest you spend the morning here exploring Christchurch but if that’s not enough for you, you can give yourself the whole day here and amend the Christchurch to Bluff itinerary later down the track.

Christchurch Complete Guide


Christchurch is known as the Garden City and with good reason, The Botanic gardens along the tree-lined Avon River is simply stunning and one of the best things to do in Christchurch for Free. Maybe admire the Christchurch Art Gallery or Canterbury Museum for a relaxing morning. There are also many things to do in Christchurch with kids if you need to tire them out before the long drive.
Image of Christchurch post-earthquake with the redevelopment that has taken place

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Timaru (164kms – 2 hours 9 mins)

You will pass through some interesting towns and villages on the whole journey from Christchurch to Bluff, the first being Ashburton and Geraldine if you want a quick look around. Timaru is the first suggested stop and as Canterbury’s second-largest city, there’s plenty to do in Timaru. Stretch your legs on the Caroline Bay walk or marvel at the Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre before looking in the beautiful boutique shops on the main street and grabbing a bite to eat.

Oamaru (87.8kms – 1 hour 10 mins)

We may still have a few miles ahead of us but this next stop will be worth it, we promise. The world’s smallest Blue Penguins (Korora) call Oamaru home and you can try to catch a glimpse on this drive through. They are adorable!

Totara Estate (8.4kms – 10 mins)

Boasted as one of New Zealand’s most important historic buildings, this old Mill House dates back to 1874 and started the multi-billion dollar industry that is the basis of New Zealand’s economy. The estate was a working mill until the mid-1940s and a farm for cattle, sheep and grain and made the first ever shipment of frozen meat from NZ to England in 1882. Now restored by the Historic Places Trust, you can learn about the history and significance in modern New Zealand.

Moeraki Boulders (29.2kms – 22 mins)

Image of the Moeraki Boulders taken by GO Explore fan Shirley RetterGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

It’s always cool to stop and marvel at a natural wonder, we think. So stop, stretch your legs and take a walk through impressive mysteriously spherical boulders formed over 60 million years ago. Two of the Moeraki Boulders were even found to have dinosaur bones which is pretty awesome! Scattered all along the coastline, you could stop for a little swim with an incredible view.

From here, it’s a 76km drive into Dunedin which will take around 1 hour.

2Dunedin and around

Dunedin is awesome all year round and as one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets, you will not be short on things to do. The city is one of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere and often referred to as the ‘Edinburgh’ of the South due its rich Scottish heritage.

Larnach Castle

Image of the front of Larnach Castle and Fountain in DunedinLarnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle so you have to see it! It is probably why Dunedin is often compared to Edinburgh and we think it’s as magnificent as a Scottish castle. Overlooking the Otago Harbour, you could have an elegant high tea or take an interesting tour where you can learn about the scandal of Larnach’s three wives and six children.

Taieri Gorge Railway

Taking off from Dunedin Railway station, you could experience the charm of a historic scenic train ride through the Taieri River Gorge. Taking only 4.5 hours, you will feel like you have stepped back in time.

Speights Brewery Tour

An absolutely must in Dunedin is Speights Brewery. Brewing in this historic location since 1876, Speights Beer should be on the top of your list to try and learn about the history of the brewery.

Royal Albatross Centre

As the site of the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world, The Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head is a pretty spectacular place to visit. Not only that, you can admire the little blue penguins which can also be found on the Otago peninsula!

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Dunedin Castle Tour

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3Dunedin to Invercargill via Catlins Coast (244kms – 3 hours 21 mins)

We think this could be one of the most beautiful drives of the trip. The Southern Scenic Route is an absolute gem that not all tourists know about.

Christchurch to Stewart Island Spotify Playlist

Clutha Country (80 kms – 1 hour 1 min to Balclutha)

The Southland is notorious for being friendly to both locals and visitors so Balclutha is a great stop to explore. As the biggest town in the Clutha Country, you could try your hand at fishing on the Clutha River or strolling through the rolling hills.

The Catlins (186kms – 2 hours 33 mins to Tokanui)

There is a faster route from Dunedin to Invercargill but you will miss out the beauty of the Catlins, don’t make the same mistake most travellers make. As a remote and rugged area, you will find a lot of natural landscapes to stop and admire along the route:

Curio BaySome tree fossils here along the petrified forest are over 180 million years old, how cool is that? You could also be lucky enough to see a small population of rare yellow-eyed penguins that nest nearby! Surfing is the most popular sport here so why not give it a go, it’s pretty quiet so not many people will see any nose dive mistakes.
Image of the petrified forest at Curio Bay on the Catlins coast

Slope PointStand on the edge of New Zealand’s most southerly point and know the only thing in between you and the Antarctic is a few uninhabited islands – it’s a pretty cleansing feeling! Don’t forget to submit a pic to our GO Snap Happy comp!

Cathedral CavesOnly accessible at low tide, it is worth a 30 minute venture through the forest and beach to see these magnificent 30 metre high caves!

Waikawa The biggest township to stop in, you can see many displays and information about the early European settlers. Stock up on road trip snacks for the final stretch of 60kms to Invercargill which will take you around 50 minutes.

From Tokanui which is midway along this stretch, it’s another 60kms to Invercargill which will take you around 50 minutes.

4Invercargill to Stewart Island (28.1kms – 25 mins plus a 1-hour ferry crossing)

You’ve almost made it from Christchurch to Bluff! Base yourself in Invercargill to explore New Zealand’s southernmost city today before catching the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island. There are between 2 and 3 ferry departures a day from Bluff so check the website and decide on your time so you can pick out the best things to do in Invercargill before you go.

As the home of New Zealand’s only indoor cycling velodrome and the finest golf course, Oreti Sands, you could get stuck into some cool sports whilst here.

If a relaxing morning is what you are after then try a stroll around the rose garden in Queens Park or the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, which is New Zealand’s largest pyramid structure!

The area is also now recognised as New Zealand’s “Classic Motoring Capital” due to the local star Burt Munro setting land speed record in 1967 in the film ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’. Peruse at one of the many vintage car collection museums or if you are lucky enough to be here in November you could see the Burt enthusiasts race through the Southland.

Stewart Island/Rakiura

‘The land of the glowing skies’ in Maori, Stewart Island is referred to as New Zealand’s third island. The Rakiura National Park makes up over 80% of Stewart Island and is an amazing place to explore the unspoilt wilderness and natural habitats.

Aurora Australis
Calling all keen hikers! See the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights) by hiking to a wild hut to spend the night marvelling at the sky.

Kiwi spotting

The best wildlife you will absolutely want to see here are the Kiwi birds! Keep your eyes peeled on the beach to see them eating sandhoppers on the beach!


Image of Stewart Island showing a sandy beach and lush treesGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity


If you don’t book an overnight hut then we recommend heading back to Invercargill for the night, there are plenty of options for grabbing a drink and you must try the famous Bluff oysters.

5Invercargill to Milford Sound via Southern Scenic Route (296kms – 3 hours 57 mins)

Now that we’ve completed the Christchurch to Bluff leg, it’s time to make our way back on an equally beautiful route.

After a fantastic day exploring Stewart Island/Rakiura yesterday, it’s time to hit the road again and get back on the Southern Scenic Route as you head north into Fiordland country. There is a more direct route to Milford Sound but this is a trip of discovery, it’s about the road less travelled and it’s about adventure so let’s stick to the Southern Scenic Route which only takes about half an hour longer anyway!

Tuatapere (80.3kms – 1 hour 4 mins)

Image of the Percy Burn Viadcut, TuatapereThis town is most famous for being the start of a 3 day epic hike into the wilds of western southland including a visit to the Percy Burn Viaduct, the largest remaining wooden viaduct in the world. We haven’t timed for a 3 day hike in this itinerary but it’s still an excellent stop with a rich saw milling history.

Clifden (12.5kms – 10 mins)

What would a cool road trip be without a stop to see a suspension bridge? Uncool we say! This impressive wooden bridge stretches over the Waiau River and is the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand.

Manapouri (66.9kms – 52 mins)

Fancy a kayak stop? Lake Manapouri is an awesome place as New Zealand’s second deepest lake! If water sports are not your bag then take a stroll around the lakeside path for an amazing view.

Doubtful Sound

There’s no doubt in our minds that you should stop at Doubtful Sound. It is a truly unspoilt natural beauty that most tourists will miss out. Jump on a boat cruise and thoroughly enjoy being so remote in one of our favourite places on earth.

Image looking down onto Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, New ZealandGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

If you have extra time then we couldn’t think of a better way to explore here than a night cruise so you can stargaze whilst out on the water. Honestly, it will blow you away!

Te Anau (21.7kms – 18 mins)

There is one final stop off before we get to Milford Sound and the picturesque township of Te Anau is a good place to base yourself for the night as accommodation options down at Milford Sound are limited. Take a walk to find the glow worm caves and marvel at the tiny bright lights!

For those who may be staying in a Milford Sound lodge for the night, it’s another 118kms which will take you just short of 2 hours so make sure you leave plenty of time.

6Milford Sound

Hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. Getting up early is highly recommended so you can see all of this most spectacular fjord carved out by glaciers during the ice age (that’s a long time ago by the way!).

Here are some of our favourite ways to explore Milfird Sound:

Boat Cruise

The best way to explore this stunning area is by getting out onto the water, you will for sure be ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ as soon as you set off on a cruise. You will see spectacular waterfalls, some of which are over 1,000 meters high, incredible mountains and glaciers.

Night cruise

Just like in Doubtful sound, you can book an overnight cruise to get the best stargazing experience. Try and book ahead and get a boat with an underwater observation so you can get up close and personal with the marine life. You may even be lucky enough to see a whale which sometimes makes its way into the fjords!


There’s nothing like getting close to the water and paddling your own way around. Kayaking in Milford Sound is one of the most awe-inspiring places in the World.

Check out our Southland GO Play partners for discounts so you can see this natural wonder for cheaper!
Image of a couple in a kayak on the waters in Milford Sound

Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory
With a unique underwater environment and a rare species of black coral, there’s so much to learn about the ecological systems. Check out Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory to be astounded by the marine life here.

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Doubtful Sound Day or Overnight Kayak

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7Milford Sound to Queenstown (287 kms – 3 hours 43 mins)

We could spend weeks marvelling at Milford Sound but unfortunately (or fortunately) it is time to head towards the South Island’s largest city – Queenstown.

Amazingly, your route back to Queenstown will still be on the Southern Scenic Route which you have been on since you left Dunedin on the Christchurch to bluff part of your journey, pretty cool!

It will take around 4 hours to get into Queenstown so if you set off early you will have time to explore a bit of the city!

8Queenstown to Wanaka (68.6km – 1 hour 12 mins)

It’s only a short drive ahead of you today so you will have plenty of time to get involved in some activities in and around Queenstown but you’re going to have to pick your activity wisely from the action-packed to the more sedate – here are some of our top tips:

Adrenaline fuelled adventure

For those who have headed to Queenstown for adrenaline-fuelled adventure, these are our highlights of things to do in a day:

Image showing the AJ Hackett, Nevis Bungy Jump near Queenstown, New ZealandGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

1) AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy – Australasia’s highest bungy at 134m, this is not for the faint-hearted – 8.5 seconds of freefall will have you screaming like a lunatic!

2) Skippers Canyon Jetreaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Shotover Canyon is sure to get your pulse racing. The 360-degree spins will get you closer to the wall than you feel comfortable with!

3) Coronet Peak ski resort (in season)fantastic resort for pros and beginners alike, Coronet Peak is a GO Rentals favourite in the winter where lots of fun can be had on and off the slopes.

Something a bit more…relaxing

Jumping off bridges or hurling down mountains not your thing? We get it! Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:

1) Ben Lomonda 4-hour walk giving you some awesome views of Queenstown, the lake and surrounding mountains.

2) Skyline gondolatake the gondola up Bob’s Peak and enjoy some award-winning cuisine and some amazing views. If you want to get down a bit quicker, the luge is a lot of fun!

3) Wine tastingThe Central Otago region is famous for producing world-leading Pinot Noirs – this one is not for the driver but passengers can enjoy sampling some fine wines from the region before hitting the road

Wanaka and around

Rob Roy Glacier
If you fancy a stretch of the legs there are over 750km of walking tracks in and around Wanaka whether you want a short stroll or a full day hike. About an hour’s drive from Wanaka is Rob Roy Glacier, an ideal entry point to the Mt Aspiring National Park. From the Raspberry Creek car park, you will find a stunning walk up the valley that brings you outstanding views of Rob Roy Glacier. It’s about a 4 hour round trip so this one is not for the faint hearted.

Puzzling World
A 1.5km of passages in the ‘Great Maze’ is a great place to get lost for a few hours with small kids and big kids alike. With a few weird and wonderful illusions like water running uphill (what’s that all about?!), this makes for the perfect start to any day.

Wanaka Beerworks
Take a rest from all the driving with a well earned beer. Sample local beers and ales as you learn how they are made, it’s actually harder to get right than you think. Grab a few bottles for the rest of your trip!

Cinema Paradiso

Image showing the inside of Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka New Zealand with old sofas and a seat made out of an old carA truly unique cinema experience with old comfy sofas, homemade ice cream, hot cookies and meals before, during and after the movie. I couldn’t think of a better activity to relax after a long drive.

Mercure Oakridge Resort
Another excellent un-wind activity for your road trip is a pool and spa complex, yes please! Make the most of the heated outdoor rock pool and sip on a cocktail or beer from the bar and truly relax, after all this is a holiday! The rooms are great too if you fancy a luxury stay.

9Wanaka to Mt Cook Village (206kms – 2 hours 17 mins)

You will want to set off early to make it to Mt Cook and have lots of time to venture!

Lindis Pass

Your journey north will take you over the Lindis Pass which is a famous NZ view where you can see snow throughout most times of the year.

Twizel (140kms – 1 hour 35 mins)

Twizel will be your final stop-off point before you head into the Mt Cook National Park where you will spend the final night of your trip. The town was purpose-built in the 1960s to provide homes for workers on the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme and it now offers a great base for people looking to head off into the National Park. There is a good range of shops here to stock up on goodies for the rest of your journey into the National Park.

Your journey from Twizel takes you up the shoreline of Lake Pukaki with some stunning views of the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mt Cook which will leave you breathless. It’s a further 63.9kms from Twizel to Mt Cook Village which should take you just under an hour.

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (63.9kms – 58 mins)

Spending a day here is something you won’t forget in a hurry. As one of the most beautiful National Parks, you should plan your day to maximise the spectacular views and fresh mountain air:

Walking it kind of goes without saying that the walking in these parts is pretty special. With walks to suit every degree of fitness, explore the national park’s rich flora including the Mount Cook ‘lily’, the world’s largest buttercup.Mt Cook Lily

Skiing and snow sportsobviously this is an activity for the winter enthusiasts but many descend on Mt Cook Village as the winter sports down here are pretty awesome! There’s plenty for those who are not into skiing though from snowshoeing to climbing so there is plenty to do down here in the winter months.

Scenic flights and heli-hikingIf you have a few dollars to spare we can definitely recommend taking a scenic flight around these parts. For something extra special, try one of the ski planes which can land up on the Tasman Glacier – now that is cool! For those true adventurers, you can also take a helicopter ride to go hiking or even ski the virgin snow up high on the mountains.

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Alpine Jet Alpine Safari

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Best of the restno matter what you’re into, the chances are you can do it down here from fishing to golf, cycling to horse trekking and lots in between.

Whether you are a sporting enthusiast, adventure junkie or a nature lover, this place is a truly special location to spend a long weekend.

This part of the world also gives you the perfect opportunity to get involved and enter our GO Snap Happy competition – just send us your best photos for the chance to win back the cost of your car hire – how good is that?!!

10Aoraki/Mount Cook to Christchurch (330kms – 3 hours 53 mins)

Your Christchurch to Bluff round trip is coming to an end but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in some awesome sights on your last day so make sure to set off early.

Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (107kms – 1 hour 13 mins)

Image of the observatory on Mt John in Canterbury, New Zealand with views looking out towards Lake Tekapo

If you are a stargazing fanatic then you will have heard of Mt John at Lake Tekapo, it’s the best observatory for looking at the stars and Southern Lights! Mt John is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world, home to 6 telescopes, including New Zealand’s biggest telescope, which can observe 50 million stars each clear night!

Not only that, Lake Tekapo is a pristine turquoise colour so an incredible visit during the day.

Akaroa (280km – 4 hours 10mins from Lake Tekapo)

Akaroa is a lovely stop off as you head towards the big city as it is considered “the most French town” in New Zealand, as it was the only French settlement in the country. Spend some time exploring the small town and then head to the harbour for the best fish and chips meal of your life (at least that’s Akaroa’s claim so you be the judge and let us know). Black Cat Cruises, a GO Play partner offer an awesome opportunity to swim with the rare Hector’s dolphins which are only found in these waters – a must if you have never done this type of thing before.

Akaroa features on our best places within a drive of Christchurch because we think it’s so awesome.

Lyttelton (77.5km – 1 hour 18 mins from Akaroa)

Image of Lyttelton harbour which is located just outside of Christchurch, New Zealand

Well worth the detour to grab some dinner in a beautiful thriving village. There are lots of chic bars and cafes to choose from and the harbour offers a relaxing walk with stunning views.

From here it’s only another 18kms into Christchurch where your 10-day adventure will come to an end.

We hope our trip planner has given you as much inspiration as possible. We love being more than just a car hire company, we want our customers to make memories and experience the best of a country, that’s why we continue to share the best tips in our GO Explore blog. So if you have found some hidden gems, let us know via our GO Explore Facebook page and we can make sure we add them in for future adventurers!

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