Photo Essay: Queenstown to Christchurch

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I've said it before, but I'll say it again: New Zealand's South Island is stunning. STUNNING. From beaches to glaciers to rainforests to snowy mountains, this island really does have it all.

There are many great drives you can do on the South Island, from the drive between Queenstown and Milford Sound, to the Southern Scenic Route from Dunedin to Invercargill. But another of my favorites (scenery-wise) is the drive up the middle of the island — from Queenstown to Christchurch.

South Island

Queenstown to Christchurch by bus

I've done this 8-hour journey twice by bus, and highly recommend it. It's a great way to see a lot of New Zealand without having to drive yourself (and is also usually a lot cheaper than renting a car!). Both InterCity and Naked Bus run this route for reasonable prices.

Here are some of the things you can expect to see on that drive:

The trip will have to begin early – you'll have to rise with the sun over The Remarkables in Queenstown.

Queenstown, New Zealand

If you're traveling during the right time of year, you'll be greeted by the snow-covered Southern Alps in many directions once you hit the road.

South Island

South Island

And you'll of course see plenty of New Zealand farmland along the way.

South Island

In the town of Cromwell, expect a break at Mrs. Jones' orchard, where you can buy fresh fruit, healthy snacks, and tasty ice cream.

Mrs. Jones', Cromwell, New Zealand

Mrs. Jones' in Cromwell

A stop in the lakeside town of Wanaka should definitely be included. Be careful, though, because you may not want to leave here.

Wanaka, New Zealand

Wanaka, New Zealand

Lake Wanaka

If you're able to pull yourself away, you may also see nearby Lake Hawea in the Southern Lakes District.

Lake Hawea, New Zealand

Lake Hawea

Once in Central Otago, you'll traverse the Lindis Pass before approaching the town of Omarama, a world-class gliding location.

Lindis Pass, New Zealand

Lindis Pass

Past Twizel, the next major point of interest will be Lake Pukaki, where the oddly-blue water will certainly catch your eye.

Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

Lake Pukaki

At the far end of Lake Pukaki lies New Zealand's tallest peak – Mount Cook.

Mount Cook, New Zealand

Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook

Mount Cook, New Zealand

Mount Cook at the end of the road

Get your fill of the mountains here, though, as they won't be so close much longer.

South Island

After Mount Cook, the next note-worthy stop will be at Lake Tekapo, where the little stone Church of the Good Shepherd is one of the most-photographed buildings in New Zealand.

(And, in the spring, you can also find incredible fields of blooming lupins here!)

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Church of the Good Shepherd

You'll likely make a meal stop here at Lake Tekapo. My advice? Bring a sandwich or snacks on the bus with you so you can spend some time walking along the lake instead of standing in line at the lone cafe.

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Lake Tekapo

From Lake Tekapo, it's off into the rolling Canterbury Plains.

Canterbury Plains, New Zealand


Here, enjoy the rural scenery – and the crazy cloud formations I've seen here more than once.

South Island

Crazy clouds!

The sun will likely begin to set before you reach Christchurch, which is why I recommend doing this journey from south to north. The mountainous scenery during the first part of this trip is definitely the part you don't want to miss!

Have you done the Queenstown-to-Christchurch route before? If not, would you subject yourself to 8 hours on a bus for this scenery?



  • Melissa says:

    SO gorgeous! 🙂 I love this country! 🙂

  • Leah says:

    This made me happy and sad at the same time. It brought back so many wonderful memories. I loved this drive so much. Thanks, Amanda.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      You’re welcome — for making you happy, not the sad part!! I really loved this drive, too. NZ has so many beautiful corners to see.

  • Erik says:

    Amanda, you are killing me here. Absolutely killing me 🙁

  • John says:

    Wow the photos are absolutely breathtaking! Is there something about the South Island that forms those picture perfect clouds you seem to have in almost every photo?

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, John! And I have no idea about the clouds. But I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed how perfect they are! I tell people here in Ohio that we just don’t have clouds like NZ does, and they look at me like I’m crazy!

  • Ryan Brown says:

    Wow, such stunning scenery. Everyone from the Stray bus trip I was on was headed down there, I was pretty jealous I couldn’t go. I’ll be exploring a little bit of the South Island in February, so excited. i need to find the Church of the Good Shepard, looks amazing. And the Alps, well, actually everything looks unbelievable! What is your favorite place along the drive to stop at?

    • DangerousBiz says:

      February down there should be great! It’s probably pretty crowded now anyway, so it might be better that you’re waiting.

      As for my favorite stop during this drive… that’s tough to say!! Lake Tekapo is beautiful, but Wanaka is also really nice.

  • Shannon says:

    Ok! Wanaka for me!

    I can’t go anywhere, I got on the volunteer list for Helen Keller Institute:D

    Maybe I’ll just teleport the institute there! 😛

  • David says:

    Amanda -Nice work. I have done this drive sevaeral dozen times for work… It gets better each time. As for the clouds…they are caused by the prevailing westerly winds that cross the sea and slam into the mountains. The resulting foehn effect is what gives the region much of its landscape and character. The mountains, glacial lakes and braided rivers made the plains. I really can’t imagine living anywhere else.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks so much for explaining the clouds, David!! I knew there had to be an explanation, because I always notice them when I’m there. And lucky you to call that area home!

  • Sooo breathtaking! Nothing compares to NZ in terms of scenery, it seems.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Nothing that I’ve seen so far! But really, as far as variety goes, I think you’d be hard pressed to find another country that has it all like NZ does!

  • Road trip!! Seriously, I want to road trip here. NZ is so top of my list these days. 🙂

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Road tripping in NZ is great. I’d love to take a couple of months and road trip from the very north to the far south. One day… 😉

  • Anna says:

    It is breathtaking and stunning. I didn’t know that New Zealand is so beautiful and picturesque!

  • Rebecca says:

    I did the this route from North to South (CHC->QT) with my family. And since I had lived in NZ the longest (and it was my sisters first time to a right side driving country!), I drove the whole way. I loved being able to stop where ever, so I don’t think I would do this on a bus and while the last hour was pretty painful (we got a late start too, even though it was summer), I loved it, though we did a slightly different route. One of the few places in NZ were you can take a variety of routes and still end up in the same place!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’ve never done this route in a car, but would definitely like to someday! But when in a car, it’s so easy to turn a 6-hour trip into a 10-hour one by making tons of stops! Lol (and yes, I’m guilty of this!).

  • Katherina says:

    Lovely view, I agree. I really pictured myself with a small vineyard between mountains!

  • Kristy says:

    Thanks for posting about your trip – as a kiwi who’s just come back from traveling with a group of cool, random tourists through Southland – looking at your photos is just like being there! I’m basking in the NZ LOVE expressed here too!! I’m on my big OE this year…off to Melbourne, US, UK and Europe to see THOSE wonders.

    Nothing yet beats the Canterbury sky-scape for me…it’s in my blood!

    Hope you ALL get to come here – it’s also a beautiful trip in the middle of winter 🙂


    • DangerousBiz says:

      I love that you, as a Kiwi, share in the NZ love! Often you guys are far too modest about how awesome your country is. 😉

      Enjoy your OE experience! I love that New Zealanders encourage that sort of thing. I wish the U.S. did!

  • 50+ and on the Run says:

    I’ve made that exact drive–thanks for the great pix to remind me why I have to return! Got great honey at Mrs. Jones place.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I bought some yummy chocolate-covered fruit at Mrs. Jones’. Yummm. And believe me, these photos make ME want to return, too!

  • Michael says:

    Amazing photos. Each of them looks like a postcard. Maybe time to get in this business?! 🙂


    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Michael! I certainly wouldn’t mind having some of my photos turned into postcards if the opportunity ever arose!

  • Funny.. we must have taken a detour route last week. It look nothing like this! Lol

  • Andrew says:

    Great photos. I know we stopped in Cromwell, but if it is where I think it is. It was pouring down rain and it was only a few minutes for a bathroom break. Wanaka was not my favorite place on the trip, but the lake and mountains were pretty.
    I definitely enjoyed my bus journeys in NZ, but would have enjoyed having our own car more I think.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      If you can have a car to travel around NZ, it’s definitely the ideal way to go, because then you can make as many stops as you like! But generally I’ve been happy using buses, too, when I haven’t been able to avoid a rental car.

  • Wow, your photos are gorgeous! The mountains of New Zealand never fail to take my breath away, and you’ve captured them beautifully here. Great tip about driving this route south to north– I agree that the mountainous scenery isn’t something to miss!

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