7Days

Dunedin to West Coast to Dunedin

Driving Tour

After lots of hard work throughout the year, you’ve finally earned yourself a 7-day holiday and have chosen to explore the idyllic wonder that is the South Island of New Zealand. You’ve also decided to start and end the trip in Dunedin but everything in between is up for grabs! Well, look no further as we’ve done the legwork for you putting together this great little itinerary that takes you to the rugged West Coast and back. With so many highlights (and a fair few miles) to cover we’ll waste no more time and crack into it!

If you’re still in the planning stage of your trip, make sure you check out the great deals on hire cars in Dunedin – we’re not one of New Zealand’s favourite rental car companies for no reason!

Contents

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

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Trip Itinerary

1Dunedin to Queenstown (263kms – 3 hours 34 mins)

The drive to Queenstown on Day 1 is one that takes a few hours but instead of hitting the road immediately, we think it’s a good idea to ease into it by spending the morning having a look around Dunedin first.

It’s a city that’s brimming with fascinating history and heritage that will give you some great insight before the adventure begins – here are some of our top tips:

History and Heritage

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum
1) Toitu Settlers Museum – A great facility that chronicles the social history of the city and wider region covering the people, art, fashion, transport, culture and more.

2) Larnach Castle – The only castle that was ever built in New Zealand, Larnach Castle is a great tribute to the Victorian Era, exquisitely restored and set amongst beautiful grounds and gardens.

3) Dunedin Railway Station – The most photographed railway station in New Zealand can be found in Dunedin and when you see it yourself you’ll realise why that’s the case. Its Flemish inspired design is an architectural marvel.

Dunedin Complete Guide

As well as its fascinating history, Dunedin is also known for its amazing scenery and there are plenty of ways to appreciate it with a few additional options below:

4) Otago Peninsula – If you’re interested in some natural history you can’t do better than the Otago Peninsula, brimming with animals and wildlife including the magnificent Royal Albatross.

5) Signal Hill – The best views of the city can be enjoyed from the summit of Signal Hill at an elevation of 1,000ft. This takes around 90 minutes from the middle of town.

6) Dunedin Botanic Gardens – One of the oldest botanic gardens in the country, the Dunedin Botanic Gardens has served its people and guests for over 150 years.

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Elm Wildlife Safari

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After your pleasant morning activity in Dunedin, it’s officially time for the road trip to begin with the first destination being the tourist mecca that is Queenstown.
It’s a good idea not to rush the first day of driving too much so we’ve included a couple of great stops along the way.

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

Just under 2 hours into your drive you’ll have a good opportunity to take a break at a quaint little town called Roxburgh. It’s a town that’s home to the impressive Roxburgh Dam, the first of its kind that was built on the mighty Clutha River. There are some great walking tracks in and around this including the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and Clutha Gold Trail giving you a chance to stretch your legs. Otherwise, you can grab a bite to eat and appreciate the view from the lookout point over the dam.

Cromwell (72kms – 54 mins from Roxburgh)

Shot looking down from Cromwell
Just an hour’s drive from Roxburgh there’s another great little town called Cromwell. Named after Oliver Cromwell, it’s a former gold mining town that is also now considered the stone fruit capital of New Zealand. There are plenty of things to keep you busy during your stopover including getting photos at the Heritage Precinct, going to the Gold Mining Centre, exploring the orchards and even enjoying some motorsport at the Highlands Motorsport Park.

Arrowtown (47km – 39 mins from Cromwell)

Another great little stop if you’ve got the time is Arrowtown, a slight detour off the route to Queenstown but only 39 minutes from Cromwell. Like many small towns in the region, it too has a strong history in gold mining with some wonderful old heritage buildings and miner’s cottages to see. It’s an especially great place to visit in the autumn as the main street of the town turns a beautiful amber colour from all the falling leaves around.

From Arrowtown, the journey to Queenstown is a mere 20km which takes around 20 minutes. After checking into your lodgings it’ll probably be close to dinner time and you’ll have no shortage of cafes, bars and restaurants to choose from. We recommend one of the many great options with views out across Lake Wakatipu so you can catch the extraordinary sunset as you dine.
Queenstown also has great nightlife so you can party the night away but be sure to save some energy for Day 2 as it’s a real cracker!

2Queenstown and Around – Wanaka (67kms – 1 hour 7 mins)

As we mentioned earlier, Queenstown is nothing short of a tourist mecca to which we’ve allocated the best chunk of a full day in order to get the most out of your experience.

There’s not much that the city doesn’t offer to be honest from great scenic views to incredible food and wine, adventure tourism, shopping, pampering – the list goes on.

We’ve whittled it down to a few of our favourite highlights to help make your decision-making and planning a little easier!

Wild and Wonderful

We start off with the wild and wonderful and Queenstown is a place that really takes these things to the extreme as you’ll soon discover!
AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy
1) AJ Hackett Bungy – How can we not include bungy jumping? The real question is, do you have the stomach for it! There are 3 different options to choose from that include The Kawarau Bridge, The Ledge and Nevis (which is the highest in NZ with an 8-second freefall!

2) Skyline Gondola – For those who prefer something a bit more relaxed you can enjoy some wonderful views on the Skyline Gondola. This takes you to a height of 450 metres where you’ll appreciate just how beautiful Queenstown and the surrounding areas look from above.

3) Skiing – If you’re an avid skier and/or snowboarder you’ll already know about the great slopes that Queenstown has to offer. The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone – are all world-class and attract visitors from all over the globe. The Queenstown Winter Festival that kicks off the ski season is an epic one to get to as well!

Some more great activities in Queenstown

Enjoyed the first three and hungry for more? We hope so because here they come!

4) Queenstown Hill – There are a lot of great walks to do in Queenstown and one of the best is the hike to the peak of Queenstown Hill. It’ll take you around 3 hours to do and there’s some great natural flora and fauna to appreciate along the way, as well as a few sculptures too!

5) Jet Boating – The jet boat is an ingenious Kiwi invention that has become a tourism phenomenon. At speeds of 90kmph, you’ll speed across shallow streams, rivers and gorges narrowly missing the cliffs alongside. The manoeuvres the drivers pull off are mind-blowing, to say the least.

6) Kiwi Birdlife Park – Another different type of experience you can have is with some of our incredible native animals at the Kiwi Birdlife Park. It’s one of the highest-rated attractions in Queenstown where you can have close encounters with Kiwi as well as other native species of bird.

Wanaka (67km – 1 hour 7 mins from Queenstown)

After a full day of action, we recommend leaving Queenstown in the late afternoon to arrive at Wanaka, an idyllic place built around the stunning Lake Wanaka. This will make your drive to Franz Josef Glacier tomorrow a little easier and is a lovely place to spend an evening in itself with plenty of great places to eat and unwind.

Lake Wanaka

Image of the iconic tree in Lake Wanaka
Iconic tree in Lake Wanaka

You would’ve all seen the magnificent photos of Lake Wanaka (probably featuring the lone tree of Lake Wanaka) but to see it in person, especially at sunset and sunrise is something else in itself. Depending on what time you arrive in Wanaka, you’ll want to do one, if not both of these. There’s a great little walkway that you can follow from the Wanaka town centre to get great views of the lake. There are some great photo opportunities too including the lone tree of Lake Wanaka, the Wanaka Wharf, the Lake Wanaka Lookout, Bremner Bay, the Wanaka War Memorial and more.

3Wanaka to Franz Josef Glacier (286kms – 3 hours 50 mins)

As the sun rises on Day 3 of your epic road trip, we definitely recommend setting out as early as you can to give you as much time to explore the glacier and the surrounding attractions.

It’s a good 3+ hours of driving which some may be fine to do in one go having had a bit of time on our roads. Equally, if you’d like a break, we’ve got you covered!

Knights Point Lookout (169km – 2 hours 15 mins from Wanaka)

Halfway between Wanaka and Franz Josef Glacier, you’ll have a great opportunity to stop and take in some fantastic coastal scenes at Knights Point Lookout. Perched on the edge of a steep cliff you’ll see the wild untamed forests on the faces of each side with a thin strip of coastal sand below. To the left, you’ll also enjoy the sight of the sea battered rock formations a short distance from the mainland. There’s ample parking as well as a small green space with its own monument. All in all, it’s a lovely little unexpected treasure to discover.

Exploring the Franz Josef Glacier (117 km – 1 hour 35 mins from Knights Point Lookout)

Having arrived at Franz Josef Glacier you’ll be keen to get exploring and rightly so. The glacier itself was first explored by Austrian born Julius Haast in 1865. Since then it has been advancing and retreating (on average more of the latter) so now is definitely a good time to catch it.
Image of people on a guided walk on the Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
There is a range of ways to explore the glacier which will be influenced by the type of experience you’re after and the size of your wallet. These range from independent walks to heli-hikes. Whatever option you go for, you won’t be disappointed by the stunning sights that await. One tip before you go however is to pack for all weather as conditions can change quickly on the glacier.

Independent walks

There are numerous walking trails you can take which give you great viewpoints of the glacier from all sorts of different angles. A nice easy one is the Sentinel Rock track which is a short 10-minute walk from the carpark. If you’re after something a little more involved, then the Ka Roimate O Hine Hukatere walk lasts 40 minutes and leads you to the terminus (or end) of the glacier.

Guided walks

If you’ve come all this way, however, chances are you’ll want to step foot on the glacier. It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say you’ve done and something that’s rarely possible elsewhere in the world. Guided tours are the way to go in this respect where you can go as (or join) a small group with an experienced guide with equipment provided. These can be booked in the town of Franz Josef itself with half-day hikes or longer climbs offered. Armed with your crampons and ice picks you’ll feel like Sir Edmund Hillary himself and get some great photos along the way. The other great thing is that one of the most reputable guides, Franz Josef Glacier Guides, is a GO Play partner which means our customers get a 10% discount which is pretty cool!

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Franz Josef Glacier Guided Walks

GO Play Discount Card

Heli-hikes

Heliservices NZ Franz Josef Helitours

For those who have saved a little more money in the budget, you’ll have the opportunity to consider a heli-hike. The main advantage of the heli-hike is, of course, the view from the helicopter, but also the fact that you get to set foot on a section of the glacier that is higher up. The ice at this altitude is much purer which is a great fact to be able to tell your friends. You’ll also be able to discover deep blue ice caves, seracs (ice ridges) and eye-popping ice formations. Some heli-hikes will also allow you to add an option to fly over and around Aoraki Mount Cook, the highest peak in the country.

Other things to keep you busy in Franz Josef Glacier

Skydiving
If the thrill of bungy jumping and/or jet boating in Queenstown left you wanting even more adrenaline then you’ve got the option to trump that with skydiving in Franz Josef. The good people at Franz Josef Skydive offer two jumps at heights of 13,000ft and a higher one still at 19,000ft. You’ll be falling down towards one of the most scenic places in the world with the spectacular glacier and Mount Cook itself as your backdrop. Once again, this attraction is a GO Play partner which gives you a $15 discount off the 13,000ft and a $30 discount off the 19,000ft. Wicked!

Glacier Hot Pools

The Glacier Hot Pools at Franz Josef. Image credit: Glacier Hot Pools
The Glacier Hot Pools at Franz Josef. Image credit: Glacier Hot Pools

Once you’re finished, there’s no better way to relax than in the soothing waters of the glacier hot pools, right in the middle of an alpine rainforest. It sounds like something from a fantasy film and just about is when you see it in person. The pools are located in the Franz Josef township on Cron Street and are open between 11am – 9pm, all year round. There’s no better way to feel those aches and pains melt away and is another provider where our customers enjoy a 10% discount!

3Franz Josef Glacier to Greymouth (173kms – 2 hours 15 mins)

Day 4 starts and includes one of the easiest and most pleasant driving days on tour with the final destination of Greymouth only 2 hours away. Even though it’s a short drive there are still a few great stops along the way.

Lake Mahinapua (125km – 1 hour 40 mins from Franz Josef Glacier)

The first stop is a real pearler and a good one to prepare a picnic for. Lake Mahinapua, near Ruatapu, was once a coastal lagoon but now sits as a beautiful lake just off the coast. The waters are surprisingly warm here (especially for the West Coast) making it a great place to have a swim. Families love Lake Mahinapua as there are shallow wading areas for the young ones and a jetty to jump off for the older ones. There’s also some great birdlife to spot including black swans, mallard ducks and even the odd white heron or fernbird.
If you want to spend a bit more time you can try one of the short walks or the 2-hour Mahinapua walkway which has boardwalks that take you through the wetlands along a historic logging tramway!

Hokitika (12km – 12 mins from Lake Mahinapua)

Image of the word Hokitika spelt out in sticks on the beach at Hokitika
Hokitika, just around the corner from Lake Mahinapua, is a great place to stop as one of the bigger towns on the West Coast. Amongst other things, it is a major centre for the working of greenstone (jade) in New Zealand. There are a number of shops in the middle of the township where you can get some great souvenirs or even carve your own which is a great little experience. They also have the West Coast Tree Tops Walk (a fantastic experience) and the National Kiwi Centre where you can have your encounter with Kiwi, Tuatara, Freshwater Eels and more if you haven’t already had the chance.

Greymouth (39km – 31 mins from Hokitika)

Greymouth is the largest town on the West Coast with nearly 50% of the residents of the region living here. It’s a nice and easy place to put yourself, halfway into the trip as it has everything you need to restock and recharge. This includes the popular Monteith’s Brewery (a famous NZ brewery) which you can visit for a tour and tasting. It’s also got a number of other great attractions which we’ve highlighted below.

1) Brunner Mine Site Walk – This is a great little 1-hour loop track that explores an abandoned mine which was one of the earliest industrial sites in the country dating back to the 1860s. Has some great interactive displays.

2) Shantytown Heritage Park – A great time capsule heritage attraction to experience awaits at Shantytown Heritage Park which has faithfully recreated a 19th Century town with buildings, stores, gold panning and its own steam train!

3) Greymouth Breakwater – Greymouth has a great little spot called the Greymouth Breakwater which is a walkway that extends out towards the sea. A beautiful place to be especially at sunset.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks (45kms – 40 mins from Greymouth)

The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
If you’re interested in a very satisfying optional side trip then we fully endorse the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks as a great option. The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks are an incredibly unique limestone formation that is estimated to be around 30 million years old. They stand tall from the coast and resemble grey pancakes stacked on one another, hence the name “Pancake Rocks”. It’s a natural attraction that’s been popular for years and one that’s well maintained with paths leading to some great spots and even greater photos! Very much worth the detour and easy enough to fit into the schedule.

5Greymouth to Hanmer Springs (214km – 2 hours 44 mins)

Having got a great dose of the coast it’s time to head back inland towards the other side of the island for the route back to Dunedin. Even though we’re now towards the end of the road trip it doesn’t mean we’re near the end of the adventures!

There are heaps of great things to do in today’s final destination so you won’t want to dilly dally too much in the morning before getting away. Because it’s a short drive of under 3 hours, there’s really only a need to stop once along the way at a special place we’ve highlighted below.

Reefton (78km – 1 hour from Greymouth)

The town of Reefton is an hour from Greymouth and is lucky enough to have the picturesque Inangahua River run through it. Reefton also has a unique claim to fame being the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to receive electricity, way back in 1888 from the Reefton Power Station which still exists today. It’s a pleasant town to stroll around with its many quaint buildings and stores. There’s also an art gallery, boutique cinema, distillery and the famous Bearded Mining Company – a recreated mining hut in the middle of town!

Hanmer Springs (138km – 1 hour 47 mins from Reefton)

Hanmer Springs is a wonderful little alpine village that has drawn people from far and wide for over a hundred years. With the stunning Southern Alps as its backdrop, you’ll be able to relax and unwind in the renowned thermal pools which it’s named after or just enjoy the village and surrounding areas and attractions themselves.
Before we get into that, let’s focus on those pools!

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa

Image showing the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs just North of Christchurch, New Zealand
The Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa complex has been the first choice of retreat for people for the best part of 125 years. It has no less than 15 open-air pools to choose from and 3 aquatherapy pools. It’s a great one if you’re travelling with a family as there are also waterslides and a ‘lazy river’ to keep even the most energetic kids entertained. With all the action and excitement over the first 5 days, you may have a few aches and pains that need soothing and this is definitely the place to do it.

Wai Ariki Farm Park

For a slightly different type of experience, the Wai Ariki Farm Park offers a great alternative as another family-friendly attraction. It’s an involved and interactive farm park with some weird and wonderful animals that’ll charm and amuse you all. Our favourite is definitely the Tibetan Yak but you’ll no doubt find a favourite of your own.

Hanmer Springs Attractions

In recent years, Hanmer Springs has also developed another type of experience by way of adventure tourism. Better still, they have all the main thrills covered. From bungy jumping and jet boating to quad biking and river rafting. It’s like a little mini Queenstown in that respect but with fewer crowds and general hustle and bustle making things just a little bit easier. They’re also a GO Play partner which means discounts for our customers for many of the above attractions!

6Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (134kms – 1 hour 52 mins)

Day 6 sees you see the tranquillity of Hanmer Springs for the equally serene Garden City, otherwise known as Christchurch.

Easily the largest city on the South Island, Christchurch has plenty to offer and given the drive’s less than 2 hours, we recommend heading there in one trip to give you more time to explore and enjoy what’s there.

Christchurch and Around

Image looking down from the Christchurch Goldola
Christchurch was named the “Garden City” because of the high number of parks it has including the iconic Christchurch Botanic Gardens. This is definitely a must-see attraction that kicks off our list below but as you’ll see, there’s a great variety of things to choose from.

1) Christchurch Botanic Gardens – How many other places can you find a glorious 21-hectare park in the middle of the city? That’s exactly what you’ll find in Christchurch with their Rose Garden alone containing over 250 varieties! Simply splendid.

2) Punting on the Avon – You may have thought this could only be done in Oxford or Cambridge but punting is very much a tradition on the beautiful Avon River in Christchurch too! The tree-lined river is beautiful and the knowledgeable boatmen have lots of great facts to share.

3) Christchurch Gondola – Like a number of cities in New Zealand, Christchurch has its own Gondola and like those other examples, it’s a fantastic experience. Taking you to the summit of the Port Hills some 500 metres high, you can enjoy magnificent views of the harbour and city.

Some more great activities in Christchurch

Not a bad start to our list you must admit and here are a few more to keep you going!

4) Orana Wildlife Park – One of the more unique attractions in New Zealand has to be the Orana Wildlife Park, the only open range park in the city. It’s the closest thing you can get to a safari in this country with its own gorillas, white rhino, giraffes, orangutans and lions!

5) International Antarctic Centre – For an experience that’s the polar opposite of a safari, the International Antarctic Centre is a great facility that gives you a great impression of what life is like at the bottom of the world. It even includes a recreated Antarctic storm experience for those who can stand the chill.

Image of a Haglund parked outside the entrace to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch

6) Christchurch Trams – Even though you’ll have your GO Rentals car to get from A to B you should also make time to take a ride on one of the iconic trams. There are 17 different stops in and around the city and you can get day-long tickets which means you can hop on and hop off anytime you please.

Quake City

In 2010 & 2011, the city of Christchurch suffered a number of earthquakes, the latter of which saw 185 people lose their lives. Quake City is an exhibition that pays tribute to those victims and to all the heroes that emerged from the emergency service responders to ordinary locals who went above and beyond. The stories which came from the tragedy are extremely moving and the exhibition does a great job of telling those and describing all the reconstruction efforts that are still in progress.

Christchurch – Ashburton (89km – 1 hour 15 mins from Christchurch)

Given your final destination for tomorrow is Dunedin, we recommend spending your last night in Ashburton after your day of fun in the Garden City. It’s only an hour’s drive away and will take a bit of the edge off an otherwise lengthy final day’s drive. There are some nice places to stay and eat and the Ashburton River is a nice sight to see as well.

7Ashburton to Dunedin (273kms – 3 hours 32 mins)

Your final day on the road is a reasonable one at just over 3 and a half hours but like most drives in New Zealand, it’s extremely pleasant with some great places to stop along the way. You’ll want to set off reasonably early to make the most of them of course, but by now you’ll realise the benefits of doing so.

Timaru (77km – 1 hour from Ashburton)

Timaru is a pleasant port city and a nice spot to take a break on your drive down the coast. It’s actually the second-largest city in the Canterbury Region (after Christchurch) with its Caroline Bay a popular spot for holidaymakers in the summer. Timaru also has some great architectural sights like the Sacred Heart Basilica (built in 1911) and the Timaru Council Building. They’ve also got the South Canterbury Museum, Aigantighe Art Gallery and Botanic Gardens too!

Oamaru (86km – 1 hour 6 mins from Timaru)

Another hour down the road you’ll find the similarly named, Oamaru, another great town to have a nosey. Oamaru is about half the size of Timaru but certainly has plenty to offer despite this. One of the unique traits about the town is that it has a strong Victorian influence with its Victorian Precinct. This consists of predominantly large stone buildings from the era wonderfully restored with all sorts of shops, cafes and restaurants. It is also home to SteampunkHQ, a museum dedicated to the genre of Steampunk! It’s a great interactive experience with all sorts of collections and memorabilia from the comics, books and movies you love.

Moeraki Boulders Beach (38km – 31 mins from Oamaru)

The mystical Moeraki Boulders
The Moeraki Boulders are a natural unique phenomenon that simply can’t be missed on your final day on this road trip. They are legendary across New Zealand and chances are you might have seen photos of them across the internet before. The boulders themselves are large, almost perfectly spherical rocks that sit quietly on the shores of Moeraki Boulders Beach. Some of them are fairly sizeable which is why they’ve captivated locals including the first Maori settlers for centuries. There are several theories about how they formed but we prefer to keep the mystery and mystique intact as we feel that makes them all the more special. A great opportunity to get some fun photos with creative poses as many people have.

Dunedin (76km – 1 hour from Moeraki Boulders Beach)

From the Moeraki Boulders Beach, Dunedin, your final destination, is only a 1-hour drive away, thus concluding your epic 7-day road trip.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this itinerary as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together. As you can see, there are some incredible highlights along the way covering a wide variety of sights, attractions, encounters and memories you’ll create and keep.

We’ve got plenty of other itineraries too in a Trip Planner database so don’t forget to check those out for more inspirational ideas!

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Toyota Rav4 2021

Intermediate 4×4

Toyota Rav 4

Get a Quote

Seats
5 seats
Large Bags
3
Small Bags
4
Transmission
Auto trans