7Days

Nelson to Queenstown

Driving Tour

Our new branch in Nelson has made road tripping in the South Island even easier. This 7-day itinerary will take you from Nelson at the northern tip of the South Island all the way to Queenstown in the lower South Island. In between, we will take you to some of the most popular tourist destinations on the South Island as well as some off-the-beaten-track locations that are found on the roads less travelled.

This 7-day itinerary is the perfect way to spend a week exploring the South Island and will hopefully tick all your boxes when it comes to things to do in New Zealand, from bungy jumping to wine tasting to whale watching. Ready to GO?

Contents

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

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Ford Everest Titanium 2021

4WD SUV

Ford Everest Titanium

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Seats
5 seats
Large Bags
4
Small Bags
6
Transmission
Auto trans

Trip Itinerary

1Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park

The first day of this road trip will be spent in and around Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park. After picking up your rental car from our Nelson branch, conveniently located in the airport terminal in Nelson, it’s time to hit the road and get out to explore this beautiful part of the country.

The first thing we recommend is 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 before we have to hit the road and start heading south.

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).

Nelson Complete Guide

2Nelson to Hanmer Springs (300km – 4 hours 6 mins)

After a day spent exploring the Abel Tasman national park, it’s time to hit the road again in your new GO Rentals hire car. Backtracking on yourself a bit, you’ll be heading back towards Picton before taking the road south towards Blenheim and the famous Marlborough region.

Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Track (134km – 1 hour 52 mins from Nelson)

For those adventurous souls out there who love nothing more than strapping on a pair of hiking boots and heading off into the unknown, the Queen Charlotte Track offers you the perfect opportunity to explore rural New Zealand. Dominated by a bush-clad shoreline, the track takes you on an amazing journey through the Marlborough Sounds and the 70kms of track will energise even the most active.

For those of a less active disposition, the Sounds are famous for the greenshell mussels which are found in abundance so why not treat yourself to a fantastic lunch.

Image showing the green lipped mussel beds located in Havelock in Marlborough, New Zealand

Wine tasting and much more

Marlborough is a world-famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through. 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! Wine tours by bike offer bike hire or guided tours which helps as they will transport you back to Blenheim.

Image showing the vines at a vineyards located in Blenheim, Marlborough, one of the world's most famous wine growing regions

If wine is not your thing, there are also lots of microbreweries in the region so this is the perfect place to stock up for the road trip ahead.

Kaikoura – Swim with the dolphins (157 km – 2 hours 9 mins)

Heading away from Blenheim, take the road south heading towards Christchurch. A great stop off on the way is Kaikoura which is a whale watcher’s delight. Not only that, this is a great opportunity for you to take a dip and swim with the dolphins at the right time of the year – this must be on a few wish lists so let’s get it ticked off!

Cellar View Café and Restaurant

As you head down from the magnificent wine tasting region of Marlborough you will hit Kaikoura. This is one of New Zealand’s best locations for seeing marine life including whales and dolphins. It is also the home to the Cellar View Cafe and Restaurant. This place serves up some pretty amazing dishes matched only by the stunning views out to the pacific. It’s easy to let an afternoon drift by, enjoying the delicious food and admiring the endless view. Nice.

Swimming with dolphins

GO Play partner Encounter Kaikoura offers a brilliant opportunity to get in the water in the south Pacific and swim with these amazing animals with tours operating three times a day.

It’s not just dolphins that pass through the waters around Kaikoura though and if you time things right, there is also the chance to see various species of whale as well as seals and birds.

Image of two kayakers with the dolphins in the waters around KaikouraGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

From here it is a relatively short trip to your resting place for the night, Hanmer Springs (130km – 2 hours 6 mins)

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Whale Watch Kaikoura Whale Watching

GO Play Discount Card

3Hanmer Springs

After an awesome day of road tripping down from Nelson, 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 surrounding areas.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa

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.

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

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!

Shopping

After a couple of days off the beaten track exploring the Abel Tasman and Marlborough Sounds, we know some of you will be missing the shops and Hanmer is just the place to see to your needs. With a fantastic range of boutique outlets including the quirky ‘Up the Garden Path’ and ‘Wink’, we’re sure you’ll find the retail therapy as relaxing as a trip to the thermal pools.

Monteith’s Brewery Bar

If you’ve not managed to sample the delights of one of New Zealand’s favourite beers, fear not! Although it may not offer the full brewery tour experience, The Monteith’s brewpub in Hanmer is certainly a great place to go and try your favourite Monteith’s ale and relax and unwind. Situated right in the heart of the town, there is a great vibe to match the great beer so whatever you have been up to during the day, this is a great place to end your night. Our top tip is the Monteith’s Southern Pale Ale. When in Rome as they say!

4Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (134km – 1 hour 55mins)

After a lovely day relaxing in Hanmer, you’ll be ready to reacquaint yourself with your GO Rentals dream machine and a short-ish journey awaits you to the South Island’s largest city – Christchurch.

Christchurch Complete Guide

The Garden City

Image of the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch in Autumn with orange leaves on the trees and groundGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

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’re 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 will 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.

Image of Christchurch post-earthquake with the redevelopment that has taken place

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

Heading out of Christchurch, a stop-off at Lyttelton is well worth the detour and it’s a great place to grab some breakfast if you’re out nice and early. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – there is 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 start the next leg of your road trip.

Akaroa (81.3km – 1 hour 29 mins from Christchurch)

Located 75km south of Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great stop off as you head down towards Wanaka. 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). If you didn’t have time in Kaikoura, GO Play partner Black Cat Cruises offer a great trip out of Akaroa Wharf to swim with the rare Hectors’ dolphins which are only found in these waters. Take the plunge!

Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (280km – 4 hours 10 mins from Akaroa)

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

From Lake Tekapo, it’s a 200km trip to Wanaka which will take around 2 hours and 40 mins.

6Wanaka

Although Wanaka offers many of the same adrenaline-fuelled adventures as your final destination of 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 Rasberry 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 your 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

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.

Image of the interior of Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka

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.

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Shotover Canyon Swing

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7Wanaka to Queenstown (68.6km – 1 hour 12 mins)

So, the final day of your adventure has arrived and a short drive awaits you. Arriving in Queenstown with only 1 day to explore can be quite daunting as there is so much to do whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or you’re looking for a relaxing last day but fear not – we have pulled together our top three things to do for adventure and relaxation (we know, you can thank us when you drop the car off!)

Queenstown Complete Guide

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:

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) Shotover Jet – reaching 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

Image of someone taking a dive of the platform of a bungy jump in Queenstown New ZealandGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

Something a bit more…relaxing

We know that jumping off mountains and flipping jet boats is not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s more to Queenstown than adrenaline-fuelled adventure. Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:

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

2) Skyline gondola – take 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) Arrowtown (22.1km – 22mins) – head out in your new GO Rentals hire car and check out this small town which was at the heart of the NZ gold rush. There are lots of nice shops, bars and places to eat as well as relaxing walks.

Image of the high street in Arrowtown, New Zealand

Nightlife

At the end of a busy day, Queenstown is a great place to unwind with a huge range of bars to suit everyone. Depending on the time of year, you’ll either be welcomed into a roaring fire or sit out enjoying the sun setting over Lake Wakatipu.

If you have more time or our top three don’t float your boat, we’ve also got some more top tips over on our Queenstown page so check them out.

Related Blog Posts

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Ford Everest Titanium 2021

4WD SUV

Ford Everest Titanium

Get a Quote

Seats
5 seats
Large Bags
4
Small Bags
6
Transmission
Auto trans