Dunedin to Nelson

Driving Tour

This is an absolute doozy of a road trip. Heading all the way from Dunedin in the far south up to Nelson at the top of the South Island with a week to do it. Whether you’re a first-timer to New Zealand or maybe you have decided to pick up one of our awesome relocation deals, this road trip is going to be jam-packed with amazing places to visit, things to do and Instagram moments at every turn.

This is a trip between the newest additions to the GO Rentals family – Dunedin and Nelson and we look forward to welcoming people to our newest branch at Nelson Airport.

So, let’s strap into your awesome GO Rentals hire car and hit the road!


  1. Route map with key locations
  2. Recommended vehicle for this trip
  3. Trip itinerary

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Trip Itinerary

1Dunedin to Queenstown (282kms – 3 hours 41 mins)

We’re going to kick off this road trip in style with a pretty stunning drive west across to Queenstown – the adventure capital of New Zealand. First up, however, let’s take some time to explore historic Dunedin.

For many, Dunedin is a place that gets missed off the tourist trail and it’s such a shame because it’s an absolute gem of a city. It’s full of history and has strong Scottish roots dating back to the 1850s when it is believed the settlers first arrived. We recommend spending the morning right here in Dunedin and checking out some of the following:

Toitu Settlers Museum

A fascinating museum that chronicles the social history of the city including its people, their relationships, art, fashion, culture, transport and more.

Larnach Castle and Dunedin Railway Station

Larnach Castle is New Zealand's only castle
Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle

Larnach Castle is actually one of the only castles in New Zealand dating back to the 1870s, carefully preserved and restored to the time of its creation. It also has magnificent gardens to explore. The Dunedin Railway Station is one of the most photographed railway stations in the country thanks to its exquisite Flemish style facade. It also often hosts exhibitions and galleries too.

Otago Peninsula

If you’re a lover of the outdoors and wildlife, a trip to the Otago Peninsula is a must. The opportunity to see colonies of Hoiho (Yellow-Eyed Penguin) and Royal Albatross can be experienced nowhere else in the world which makes it all the more special.

Moeraki Boulders

Made of a unique type of mudstone, the Moeraki Boulders are large spherical-like rocks that sit on the shores of the quiet Moeraki Boulders Beach on the East Coast just north of Dunedin. They are pretty mystical and you can be left wondering how they got there and how they got to be so round.

Dunedin Complete Guide

After a morning exploring Dunedin, it’s time to hit the road and head on to Queenstown. It’s a stunning drive and we’ve got a couple of great little stop-offs along the way.

Roxburgh (152kms – 1 hour 52 mins from Dunedin)

Approximately 150kms into your journey you’ll probably feel the need to stretch your legs and the small little town of Roxburgh is a great place to do exactly that. That’s because Roxburgh has a number of great walking trails for you to stroll including the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail. It is also home to the Roxburgh Dam, the first hydro dam built on the Clutha River. This has a great lookout point with great views to admire and appreciate. There are also plenty of places to eat in Roxburgh including Jimmy’s Pies, famous throughout the country.

Cromwell (72kms – 54 mins from Roxburgh)

I nice photo of Cromwell
Another great little town to discover, just under an hour’s drive from Roxburgh is Cromwell, an iconic former gold mining town that’s since been reinvented as the stone fruit capital of New Zealand. You’ll find no shortage of things to do here including walking through the Heritage Precinct, visiting the Gold Mining Centre, going on an orchard tour or even watching some racing at the Highlands Motorsport Park if dates coincide. The wineries in the region aren’t too shabby either!

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Arrowtown (47kms – 39 mins from Cromwell)

Image of the high street in Arrowtown, New Zealand

If you’ve managed to keep to schedule with the previous two stops then you can reward yourself with a final stop in Arrowtown, a short little detour off the Arrow Junction that’s well worth your time.

Similar to both Roxburgh and Cromwell, Arrowtown has strong roots from the Gold Rush Era, much of which can still be seen today. The main street of this quaint little town is a great tribute to the period with restored European and Chinese buildings from the time. Autumn is an especially nice time to visit as the tree-lined street turns a beautiful amber courtesy of the leaves all around.

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From Arrowtown, it’s only a short 20-minute drive to Queenstown, your resting place for the night.

2Queenstown and around

To put it simply, there’s not much that Queenstown doesn’t offer as a holiday destination. Great scenery, incredible food and wine, adventures, thrills and spills – the list goes on.

Sadly we can only spare one full day in Queenstown in this itinerary to make the most of it so you’ll have to be selective. That’s why we’ve done the selection for you with our top highlights that offer a bit of everything for your visit below:

The wild and wondrous

As promised, we’ve chosen to cover a range of experiences from the wild to the wondrous. In most cities, you’d be lucky to get one or the other but Queenstown gives you both!

AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy
1) AJ Hackett Bungy – The pioneers of the Bungy Jump have 3 different locations to choose from (if you’re brave enough). The 3 options are The Kawarau Bridge, The Ledge and Nevis (the highest in NZ at 123 metres). Ooph!
2) Skyline Gondola – For great views (without the thrill) you can’t beat a peaceful ride on the Skyline Gondola looking over the city and the Wakatipu Basin. You’ll reach a summit of 450 metres by the end of the journey, the views from which are simply unforgettable.
3) Skiing (seasonal) – Queenstown has some fantastic slopes all within close proximity to the town centre. This includes the likes of The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Treble Cone. It has a great festive atmosphere during the ski season too which is great to enjoy.

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AJ Hackett Bungy Jump

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Some more great ideas

Those three were just to get you started and we’ve got three more cracking options below.
4) Queenstown Hill – a 3-hour walk to the peak of Queenstown Hill through an amazing pine forest is a great way to get your fix of nature. There’s also a great sculpture near the summit to grab a few selfies too.
5) Jet Boating – One of the biggest and most successful tourist attractions is the jet boats in Queenstown with a number of operators offering rides at ridiculous speeds with equally ridiculous manoeuvres. Awesome fun!
6) Kiwi Birdlife Park – You can also enjoy amazing animal encounters at the Kiwi Birdlife Park, one of the highest-rated places in the city. The Kiwis are the main stars but they also do a great conservation show during the week and have many other native species of bird too.


Queenstown has a thriving nightlife with over 150 cafes, bars and restaurants to choose from. It’s a great place to be able to unwind, especially given how active you’re likely to be throughout your day of adventuring. Everything from busy clubs to quiet wine bars and late-night coffee can be found so you’re completely covered!

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Queenstown Complete Guide

3Queenstown to Wanaka (68.6km – 1 hour 12 mins)

A short drive awaits your third day of this South Island adventure and although Wanaka offers many of the same adrenaline-fuelled adventures as Queenstown, from snowboarding to mountain biking, it’s also the perfect place to relax and chill out by the side of the lake.

Rob Roy Glacier

If you do fancy a stretch of the legs, however, 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 trip to Wanaka is just not the same without a trip to Puzzling World and it’s a definite favourite of the GO Rentals team. With 1.5km of passages in the ‘Great Maze’, it’s a great place to get lost for a few hours and act like a big kid as you race your mates to the four corners and back to the middle. It’s also really funny when someone gets themselves lost! Throw in a few weird and wonderful illusions like water running uphill (what’s that all about?!) and this makes for the perfect start to any day.

Wanaka Beerworks

Beer fans take note! For something a bit different, why not have a drive out to the Wanaka Beerworks where you can sample the local beers and ales as well as take a tour and find out about the history of beer making (it’s actually harder than you think!). Make sure you take home a sample selection to keep you going throughout 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 car

This small classic movie theatre located in Wanaka is a real find. With comfy old sofas and 3 seats in an old Morris Minor, this is a truly quirky place to spend a few hours unwinding. There is a cafe and bar serving delicious meals before, during or after the movie, homemade ice cream and some world-famous hot cookies baked fresh for every intermission. Expect a warm and friendly welcome from the staff to boot.

Mercure Oakridge Resort

After another full-on day, it’s great to relax and unwind and there’s no better place than the Grand Mercure Oakridge resort where you can make the most of the heated outdoor rock pools and spa complex. We’ve heard this sort of thing goes down really well with the ladies so why not treat the special one in your life to a day pass (you can always take the beer tour!) or even better, splash out and stay the night. Win-win.

Speight’s Ale House

A perfect place to grab a bite to eat is at the Wanaka Speight’s Ale House. A traditional Kiwi experience awaits along with the full range of Speight’s ales. Highly recommended come the fish and chips served in a traditional paper bag washed down with a pint of Speight’s Summit Lager – delicious! You wanted the full-on Kiwi experience – it doesn’t get much more Kiwi than that.

4Wanaka to Christchurch (427km – 5 hours 51 mins)

Heading out of Wanaka you will first head east before taking SH8 up towards Lake Tekapo. This is a day to really give your new GO Rentals car a run on the winding roads of Canterbury to your final destination of Christchurch and by the end of the day, you will have no doubt come up with a name for your faithful beast.

Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (200km – 2 hours 40 mins from Wanaka)

The view from the top of Mt John looking down over Lake Tekapo
The view from the top of Mt John looking down over Lake Tekapo

Stargazers all over the world know Mt John and Lake Tekapo, in the Aoraki/Mount Cook Mackenzie region, as one of the absolute best places to look at the stars (and even catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights – Aurora Australis).

Lake Tekapo is also famous for its unique turquoise colour, as well as its beautiful starry nights – if you can park here for the night, you will not regret it. Mt John, just above the Tekapo township, 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 (yes, you read that right).

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

Located 75km south of Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great stop off as you head north towards Christchurch. This village is located on the Banks Peninsula within a harbour of the same name and 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).

The final leg of the journey today will take you 81.3kms to Christchurch via Lyttelton.

On the approach to Christchurch, a stop off in Lyttelton is well worth the detour and it’s a great place to grab some dinner if you’re arriving late in the evening. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – there’s a great road over to Lyttelton which offers you some fantastic views looking down to the city and the harbour as well as down to the Southern Alps – a great way to end this leg of your road trip.

Christchurch Complete Guide

5Christchurch to Hanmer Springs (134 km – 1 hour 55 mins)

Day 5 of your road trip brings you to the largest city on the South Island – the Garden City. Spend the morning and early afternoon exploring this beautiful city – some of the GO Rentals team highlights are below.

The garden city

Christchurch is a great destination for skiing in New Zealand

Christchurch was named number 2 on the New York Times’ top 52 places to visit in 2014 and there are plenty of reasons for that. Following the earthquakes of 2010-11, the city has now emerged as a vibrant city with plenty to see and do. Known as the Garden City, Christchurch has an abundance of parks and gardens including the gorgeous botanical gardens. Add into this mix the tranquil Avon River and you can see why people rave so much about the city.

Eat | Drink | Shop

Christchurch is a vibrant place for eating and drinking whether you are looking for 5-star opulence or a backstreet café. Re:START is an outdoor retail space opened in late 2011 made from shipping containers. Scattered with a mix of premium brands and homegrown products, Re:START is a quirky experience that tells of the city’s resilience and ability to come back following the destruction of the earthquakes. Located within Re:START you’ll also find Quake City, a multi-media attraction that tells the story of the earthquakes that hit Christchurch and the Canterbury region.

Check out the several Gap Filler projects that volunteers have created to temporarily “activate” sites left empty by the earthquakes – you’ll be able to see some unique and really creative work that is proof of Christchurch’s charm and resilience.

Leave yourself enough time for the next leg of your journey – a 134km journey to Hanmer Springs which should take you a couple of hours. It will be well worth it when you get there we promise!

6Hanmer Springs to Picton (286kms – 4 hours 4 mins)

After a busy few days driving up from Queenstown, a day in Hanmer is just what the doctor ordered. Surrounded by the beautiful Southern Alps with crisp alpine air, relax and unwind in the award-winning thermal pools or simply enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Hanmer Village and its surrounding areas.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa

Image showing the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs just North of Christchurch, New Zealand

The thermal pools and spa complex in Hanmer have been soothing peoples’ aches and pains away for the best part of 125 years and all those who have been before you can’t be wrong! Relax in one of 15 open-air pools or try out one of the 3 aquatherapy pools. Families and children are catered for too since a recent redevelopment has added three waterslides and a lazy river to keep even the liveliest of kids entertained.

Wai Ariki Farm Park

If getting crinkly is not your thing, there are plenty of other attractions in Hanmer and one of the best is the Wai Ariki Farm Park. Offering a hands-on experience, Wai Ariki is home to some weird and wonderful animals which are sure to keep kids and adults amused for the morning. The Tibetan Yak are a particular favourite!

After a day spent relaxing in Hanmer, we recommend hitting the road in the early afternoon for the 4-hour drive north to Picton. We recommend taking the coastal road north up SH1 which passes through Kaikoura. Here you will see some of the devastations from the earthquake that closed off Kaikoura for 12 months. If you have the time, Kaikoura is a great spot for whale watching and swimming with dolphins.

Wine tasting and much more (257kms – 3 hour 34mins)

Marlborough Vineyard
Marlborough is New Zealand’s premier wine-growing region

Marlborough is a world-famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through to Hanmer Springs. There are plenty of wineries that will gladly take you through their wide range of vinos from a fruity pinot noir to the flagship wine of the region, Sauvignon Blanc. There are some famous vineyards down here like Cloudy Bay but we recommend sampling some of the more boutique wineries – a great way to get around is on a bike although be careful if you have a few vinos on the way as you may get a bit wobbly (Note – this is not for the driver – passengers only)! Wine tours by bike offer bike hire or guided tours which helps as they will transport you back to Blenheim.

From Blenheim, it’s just a short hop to Nelson where you will spend the last night of this 7-day road trip before returning your rental car tomorrow.

7Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park

The final day of this road trip will be spent in and around Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park. Before dropping off your rental car from our Nelson branch, conveniently located in the airport terminal in Nelson, it’s time to hit the road for one last time and get out to explore this beautiful part of the country.

If you have the time before you have to fly out, we highly recommend heading to the Abel Tasman National Park. Whilst it’s a place you could spend a whole week, we are giving you one day to explore this stunning region but there is still plenty you can pack into your day.

Abel Tasman National Park (60km, 59 mins)

Split Apple Rock-Kaiteriteri Kayak-Nelson

The roads are windy so make sure you allow enough time to drive the relatively short distance of 60kms. Once you get to the park there are so many activities to choose from it really is up to you how you plan your day – these are some of our top tips:

  • Cruise and water taxi – if you’re after a fairly relaxed, laid-back day, there is no better way to see the park than on a cruise or in a water taxi. The crystal-clear waters of the Abel Tasman are a sight to behold so getting out on the water is a must.
  • Sea kayak – if you’re feeling a bit more energetic, we highly recommend hiring a sea kayak for the day and heading out into the park. You’ll be amazed at what you can see over the side of the kayak as you peer down into the depths of the sea. Park up (is that even a saying for a kayak?!) on a secluded beach and enjoy a spot of lunch – spectacular.
  • Cruise and walk – the best of both worlds if you want to get out on the water as well as walk through this beautiful national park. Take a cruise and get dropped off deep into the park before following the route back along the rugged coastline.

If you don’t fancy a drive all the way into the Abel Tasman National Park, there are loads of other things to do in the area. One of our favourites is to visit the Boulder Bank:

The Boulder Bank

Image of the unique Boulder Bank in Nelson The Boulder Bank is another spectacular example of the South Island’s natural wonders. The 13km long bank is one of the very few of its type in the world so you are in the presence of something very unique. It has been formed from large granodiorite boulders that have been moved by wind, water and tide to form the spectacular line in front of you.

The lighthouse was made in Bath (England) and shipped in parts to New Zealand, then assembled in 1861.

You can access the bank by turning off SH6 and driving along Boulder Bank Drive, 7km north of Nelson.

Wainui Falls

The Wainui Falls are located inside the Abel Tasman National Park and are 20-metre waterfalls, a welcome reward at the end of an easy bushwalk. The hike takes about one hour (return).

However you choose to spend your last day in and around Nelson, it’s a great place to explore and we are excited to be bringing our award-winning customer service and huge selection of rental cars to the upper South Island.

Nelson Complete Guide

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