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?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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37 Comments on “Photo Essay: Queenstown to Christchurch

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  1. 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!

      Definitely a very special part of the country!

    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.

      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.

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

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