If you’re planning a break in Dunedin and are keen to explore the wider region, then we’ve got a great 4-day itinerary for you. Our awesome road trip will take you on a very pleasant loop north up to the beautiful Lake Tekapo and back. There are some amazing sights and attractions to take in on the way with routes, distances and driving times all covered too. So without further ado, let’s get adventuring!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Dunedin to Oamaru (112km – 1 hour 28 mins)
With your hands behind the wheel of your hire car picked up in Dunedin, you’ll be keen to get yourself underway. The first day of driving is a relaxing one up the coast and is made even easier by a nice little detour along the way. It’s also one of many natural wonders you’ll encounter during your travels.
Moeraki Boulders Beach (75km – 1 hour from Dunedin)
The Moeraki Boulders Beach is only an hour’s drive from Dunedin and is named after the very feature that draws crowds from far and wide. What makes the Moeraki Boulders so special is their size (up to 2 metres wide) and almost perfect spherical shape they have. They are presumed to be the result of concretions exposed by shoreline erosion but they still hold an air of mystery about them.
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony/Oamaru (113km – 1 hour 30 mins from Dunedin)
Having arrived in Oamaru, the eyes of animal lovers will light up at the sight of this as this small South Island town has its own Blue Penguin Colony!
The Blue Penguin Colony has been around for nearly 30 years and is an amazing conservation and ecotourism attraction. They sit on an idyllic spot on the coast and have 10+ nesting boxes which the penguins call home. Visitors absolutely love seeing the Blue Penguins which are technically the smallest penguins in the world at only 30cm tall. A great thing to do is go to an evening viewing where you’ll be able to witness the penguins returning from a day of fishing against the setting sun.
Also in Oamaru, if you happen to be a fan of popular culture, you’ll want to make time for Steampunk HQ – a museum dedicated to the Steampunk genre. Oamaru is known for its Victorian Precinct which is why the museum was established here in the first place. It’s the perfect backdrop and home for Steampunk and you’ll enjoy all the collections, books and movie memorabilia they showcase and maybe pick up a cool little souvenir or two.
2Oamaru to Lake Tekapo (177kms – 2 HOURS 14 mins)
With a photo collection that includes the Moeraki Boulders and the Blue Penguins of Oamaru, you’re already off to a great start. The good news is that it’s going to get even better when you arrive at the picturesque, Lake Tekapo.
Lake Tekapo is an exquisitely tranquil place which will rival the most beautiful you’ll encounter anywhere in the world. While you could easily arrive and just stare out onto the lake with its amazing backdrop of the Southern Alps and the Church of the Good Shepherd, there’s also plenty of other things to do as well. Here are just a few tips to get you started:
1) Walking – We begin with an obvious one as the best way of taking in the beautiful surroundings. What makes it even easier is that there are a number of great walking tracks here that you can follow. The first to mention is the Cowans Hill Walkway that takes around 1-2 hours to the summit of Cowans Hill. For something slightly more advanced you can go for the Mt John Summit Track that takes around 90 mins. Both offer spectacular views of the whole region from great vantage points.
2) See the lupins – If your trip happens to fall between the months of November – February you’ll be able to see the extraordinary lupins in all their glory. They absolutely flourish in these parts, especially in and around the lake, and their shades of pink, purple and violet hues are mesmerising. Your photos will also benefit from a new definition of “pop”!
3) Mt John University Observatory (seasonal) – Lake Tekapo not only has beautiful scenery on the ground but incredible scenery above. That’s because the region is known as a Dark Sky Reserve due to its remarkably clear evening skies. The best place to experience the best of this is at the Mt John University Observatory. They run tours where they’ll point out all the planets and stars in the sky and give you the chance to see them with their great telescopes too.
4) Best of the rest – That’s just the tip of the iceberg really as there are loads of other great things to do like visiting Tekapo Springs, going fishing, playing a bit of golf – even jet boating too!
It offers a fantastic day out and a great chance to relax, stretch the legs and take in more than a few breaths of fresh country air.
3Lake Tekapo to Wanaka (201kms – 2 hours 24 mins)
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any prettier the next part of this road trip takes you to Wanaka, home to another fantastic body of water, Lake Wanaka. But before you get there, you’ll pass a couple of noteworthy places that are certainly worth the stop.
Twizel (57km – 39 mins from Lake Tekapo)
Twizel is a great place to stock up on some supplies for the rest of your journey. The town was actually built in the 1960s to provide homes for workers at the Upper Waitaki Power Station. Now, people use it as a base to explore the Mount Cook National Park and to get the last few things they need.
We definitely recommend stopping by the local salmon shops like High Country Salmon and the Mt Cook Alpine Salmon shop where you’ll find the best salmon in the country, bar none.
Omarama (87km – 1 hour from Lake Tekapo)
Another great place to stop, for slightly different reasons, is Omarama. Omarama has a unique geographical feature by the way of its clay pinnacles, formed by the active Osler fault line. This has exposed the clay and gravel cliffs and created the unique pinnacles as they are today. They almost look like something from another planet so it’s well worth a glance.
Lake Wanaka (201km – 2 hours 24 mins from Lake Tekapo)
You would’ve no doubt seen the amazing photos of Lake Wanaka (mostly featuring its famous tree) but as good as those photos are, they don’t quite beat seeing it in the flesh. Much like Lake Tekapo, there are also plenty of other things to do in Wanaka including our handpicked options below:
1) Paddleboarding – There are plenty of great water activities to try on the pristine waters of Lake Wanaka including Stand-Up Paddleboarding. There’s a little bit of a learning curve but not a huge one and it’s loads of fun.
2) Scenic Flights – The best seat in the house is always the highest seat in the house and they don’t get much higher than when you’re aboard a scenic flight. The views from above will simply take your breath away and is well worth the time and expense.
3) Wildwire Wanaka – If you’re feeling adventurous, then you could certainly do worse than Wildwire Wanaka, a rock-climbing obstacle course like no other. There are 3 different climbs to test your skills on including the highest that is 450 metres!
3Wanaka to Dunedin (276kms – 3 hours 26 mins)
Your final leg of the journey sees you complete the loop back to Dunedin. The final drive takes you just under 4 hours so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to complete it.
You’ll also want to save yourself a bit of time to have a look around the city which is a fantastic place to visit and explore before you have to return your hire car. We’ve included a few great examples below that we’re sure you’ll enjoy but you’ll find plenty more to discover yourselves too!
History and Heritage
Dunedin is a city that’s brimming with history and heritage, much of which can be experienced very easily. A lot of this can simply be witnessed in its architecture like the fine example at the Dunedin Railway Station, the most photographed of its kind in the country thanks to its Flemish inspired design. Another fascinating place to visit is Larnach Castle and Gardens which is the only castle in New Zealand that’s been wonderfully restored to its original time period of the 1870s. The Gardens themselves are reason enough to pay this one a visit as well.
Dunedin Complete Guide
Another great place to take your rental car out to before returning it is the Otago Peninsula. Known as one of the most scenic pieces of coastline in New Zealand, the Otago Peninsula is defined by its rolling hills, clifftop vistas and its bird and marine life that are abundant there. This includes the likes of the magnificent Royal Albatross which actually has its own centre that visitors can get to and see the birds from a safe and observable distance.
So, that brings to a close this 4 day adventure in and around Dunedin and up to Lake Tekapo. Hopefully, we’ve given you a few good ideas to of things to do on this route which we feel is a real cracker. We hope you are able to visit soon and invite you to share any ideas you have to via our GO Explore Facebook page so we can pass them on to your fellow travellers!
Book a vehicle for this trip
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- 5 seats
- Large Bags
- Small Bags
- Auto trans