Road trips are simply fantastic. Where better to take one than through New Zealand’s many scenic South Island routes?
Whether you’re driving alone, accompanied by friends or on a romantic jaunt, road trips are fantastic adventures that leave you with memories for a lifetime. Even little mishaps like a flat tyre or getting lost aren’t enough to sour a trip. If anything, they can add a little more flavour.
Every country has a particular stretch of road that makes for a dreamy road trip, but very few offer variety quite like New Zealand. The country is full of natural wonders to admire while you leisurely cruise by. The spectacular South Island spoils you with great road trip options, as every turn offers something unique. To help make your choice a little easier, we’ve put together three of New Zealand’s best South Island road trips.
These routes each provide something interesting and can be enjoyed either as a romantic outing, a journey of self-discovery, or an adventure with your favourite friends.
Queenstown to Milford Sound
Milford Sound immediately brings to mind vivid pictures of Mitre Peak and sheer cliffs, though many people fail to appreciate that it’s not just about the destination, but also the journey.
The drive from Queenstown to Milford is considered by many to be the very best New Zealand has to offer and has been voted on many occasions to be one of the best road trips on earth. A particularly impressive portion of the drive is the last two hour stretch between Te Anau and Milford.
During this unforgettable journey, you’ll witness everything from spectacular views of snowy mountains to dense rain forest and the fabled mirror lakes. The ride will take you up majestic mountain ranges and let you cruise down through snowy valleys, whilst the end of the trip will deposit you at the doorstep of the eighth wonder of the world.
The entire road trip only takes four hours if you do it in one go, but you can take up to three days if you take your time. There’s no need to worry about food, as there are lots of towns to stop in for a great bite, mingling with the locals and getting a comfortable nights rest. Oh, and don’t forget to go for a hike whenever you have the chance. Fiordland National Park and Mirror Lake are both wonderful hiking choices.
Queenstown through Lindis Pass to Tekapo
This trip isn’t as long as the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, but it sure is stunning. The route will take you along the main inland highway of New Zealand’s South Island, from Cromwell up to Omarama. Along the way is the opportunity to detour past Lake Wanaka and Lake Pukaki before arriving at Lake Tekapo. This provides multiple opportunities to park the car and take some of the most scenic photographs imaginable. The view at Lindis Pass itself is spectacular. The drive between Queenstown and Tekapo takes roughly three hours, during which you’ll be enchanted by the beauty that surrounds you.
Queenstown to Glenorchy
This particular route is popularly referred to as ‘The road to Paradise’ and the name certainly does it justice. The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy will take you by gorgeous Lake Wakatipu before sending you in the direction of Paradise. Yes, the name of your destination is actually Paradise and one that fits perfectly. Paradise is just on the outskirts of Glenorchy and is guarded by picturesque snow-capped mountains. You’ll also pass by the same ancient beech forest and rivers that were used for some of the most beautiful scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies, including the location for Isengaard.
So, those are our top picks for the three best South Island road trips. However, before you head out to explore these roads for yourself, be sure to make use of the tips provided below.
Tips for a New Zealand Road Trip
- Get car insurance: Fortunately, finding a great deal on car insurance in New Zealand isn’t difficult. You can easily get an insurance quote for an idea of how much it will cost.
- Check the car before taking off: It’s best to have your car looked over at a garage before taking off on a long drive. This way, you can significantly reduce the chances of a breakdown in the middle of nowhere.
- Enjoy the trip with someone: Road trips are best enjoyed with others, so take along a friend or two.
- Stay in touch with people back home: If your trip is a long one, try to keep people back home updated of your whereabouts.
- Use apps: There are lots of apps you can use to ensure your trip goes smoothly, including weather apps and maps. Google Maps is a good choice, as it will show you in real time exactly where you are and much more.
- Make room for camping: Your road trip is the perfect opportunity to enjoy some camping and experience New Zealand’s gorgeous outdoors at night.
Most importantly, stay safe during your road trip. Don’t drink and drive or text whilst driving. If you are driving slowly, pull over when safe to let people pass you. And finally, don’t forget to have a great time in Kiwi country!