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Road Trip New Zealand: Go Queenstown and Wānaka

We've teamed up with Tourism New Zealand to rev the ol’ explorer engine and remind you why a road trip anywhere in Aotearoa is always a fantastic idea. Ready to get out there? In this edition, we’re shining the spotlight on all the goodies that Queenstown, Wānaka, and Central Otago offer. Let's go!

We’ve teamed up with Tourism New Zealand to rev the ol’ explorer engine and remind you why a road trip anywhere in Aotearoa is always a fantastic idea. Ready to get out there? In this edition, we’re shining the spotlight on all the goodies that Queenstown, Wānaka, and Central Otago offer. Let’s go!

While there are as many ways to see Queenstown and Wānaka as there are activities to raise your heart rate in the region, we’ve got two absolute favourite road trip itineraries to share.

Take your time and choose your own adventure as you journey at your own pace from one amazing South Island experience to another.

6-day, 182 km: The Ultimate Central Otago Adventure

Start with a couple of days exploring Queenstown’s multitude of activities, adding a side trip to the idyllic lakeside town of Glenorchy. Next up, commit a day to tour the wine-lovers holy grail around Central Otago; bike the Otago Central Rail Trail to best soak up the ambience of Otago wine country.

Rebalance in breathtaking Wānaka, where stillness, peace, and reconnection with nature await. Return to Queenstown for one last hurrah (spa, maybe?) before flying home.

Pro tip: There are currently non-stop flights to Queenstown from four Australian cities. Plus, Queenstown has the largest inventory of campervans, cars, and accommodation offerings in the area, making it an ideal touring start and endpoint.

Ziptrek Ecotours Zipline Tours Source:
Ziptrek Ecotours Zipline Tours

6-day 357 km: The Scenery Extravaganza

Kick off this eye-candy exploration with a day each in Queenstown and Wānaka. Next, head south to Te Anau and Milford Sound, the “8th wonder of the world” (Rudyard Kipling quote). Lakeside Te Anau, gateway to Milford Sound, offers glowworm caves, watersports activities, and a bird sanctuary.

Milford is a trip highlight. It’s hard to beat cruising to see towering karst limestone cliffs and abundant waterfalls, with dolphins frolicking in the wake. Fly back to Australia from Queenstown.

Top five things to do on the way

Wānaka ©MickeyRoss
Wānaka ©MickeyRoss

Ah man, only five? Are you kidding? The fifty best things in Central Otago we could do, on the clock and under 90 seconds. But – if you insist – read on for our top five (ish) things to do in Queenstown and Wānaka.

  • Being outdoors is the best way (in our opinion) to absorb the enchanting vibes of Queenstown and Wānaka, with hiking our go-to method to get amongst it. Scenic tracks are perfect for short trips; backcountry trails get you immersed in flora and fauna. Our pic, Rob Roy in Wānaka and Ben Lomond in Queenstown.
  • Water-based action is a local must-do thanks to Lake Wānaka, Lake Wakatipu, plus raging rivers to conquer. Jetboat, paddleboard, kayak, raft. Or, for a more relaxing experience, visit the lush spas and hot pools in the region. Heaven!
  • We wouldn’t be talking Queenstown if we didn’t mention the thrills. It is the home of adventure, after all. Whether you choose to jump off it, jump out of it, climb up it, walk along it, or whizz past it is up to you, but there are adventure activities for every kind of daredevil.
  • It’s nearly ski season (hurrah) and New Zealand’s blue-sky days convince you that the universe has your back. With four ski fields across Queenstown and Wānaka, you get to ski, board, sledge or sashay across the slopes.
  • Soft, sweet, rich and with a hint of upfront fruitiness. Not the result of a week’s vacay in Central Otago (although maybe), but how the local Pinot Noir tastes. Grab a bottle with one of the delectable dining experiences in Queenstown and Wānaka or go all-in at Central Otago vineyards and cellar doors.

Get Inspired

Cardrona Distillery, Wānaka ©Miles Holden
Cardrona Distillery, Wānaka ©Miles Holden

Saying Queenstown and Wānaka are inspiring is like saying double rainbows are ‘nice’. When mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, and other superlatives are used to describe both places, you know they are more than just their ridiculous good looks. And, both destinations complement each other like a fine Otago Pinot Noir paired with delectable Kiwi lamb shanks.

For moments of stillness and rejuvenation, Wānaka delivers. Find your Zen when you hike, ski, board, explore, and listen to all the waiting mountains have to offer.

Queenstown, famed as the home of adventure, knows how to take you from 0 to 100 in 60 seconds. Whether it’s a wild thrill, a wet thrill, or its thrilling scenery, Queenstown captivates every visitor. Point in case: UK artist Passenger wrote a song about his desire to get back to Queenstown!

Driving in New Zealand: The Essentials

Queenstown road
Queenstown road

Driving NZ and AU is pretty similar. You’re on the left and can travel on your Aussie license. The key difference on the roads, however, is their windy nature. Good job it’s so damn gorgeous you’ll frequently be stopping (safely) for snaps and selfies.

The New Zealand ski season opens in June, and navigating the winter road conditions can seem a little hairy to someone who’s used to wearing a jumper to the beach in ‘winter’. Renting snow chains is a legal requirement for some routes.

If you’re heading to the Cardrona, Coronet Peak, Remarkables or Treble Cone ski fields, ensure you’ve added snow chains to your rental car booking. Read this handy guide.

Are you a Travel Advisor?

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Join Tourism New Zealand’s Australian Trade Team on a virtual road trip throughout New Zealand, in collaboration with the Queenstown and Wānaka Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs).

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