Road Trip: Queenstown to Christchurch

Doubtful Sound

With crisp clear days and fantastic displays of autumn (fall) colours late April is a perfect time for a South Island holiday. I like my holidays to be a combination of activity and good food so with that in mind my road trip started in Queenstown.

Michelle Helicopter Franz Josef

This trip was made up of a special time with friends and family. My mother joined me for part of the trip as did my husband and one of my daughters.


Fiordland - Based in Te Anau

Over the next three days we were treated to the “Fiordland Great Walk 3-Day Pacakge” with Te Anau based guides from Trips and Tramps. No heavy packs required here as our group of up to 8 walkers were picked up each morning in the van by our guides and returned to our accommodation each afternoon and given a tasty lunch and snacks provided each day by the Wapiti bakery. While I didn’t get to try too many restaurants here Thai Anau got points both for the name and the tasty Thai food. 

Day 1 Routeburn track

While overcast weather meant this was the least impressive scenery of the walks our guides Rohann and Zac were both fantastic , filling us in on interesting stories along the drive and local flora and fauna and allowing plenty of stops along the walk so allow us to catch our breath. 

Day 2 Milford Track

We made an early start and drove out to Milford Sound where we walked the flat end part of the Milford Track , in to Giant Gate Falls and back to Sandfly Point. It is a thrill to say you have walked the Milford Track, even if only a tiny part of it. We were lucky to have a beautiful day after a night of lots of rain so the waterfalls of Milford Sound really came alive and our cruise of the Sound showed it off to its full beauty.

MIchelle and mum at Milford

Day 3 Kepler Track Heli Hike

With clear weather our helicopter ride to Luxmore Hut on the Kepler track was spectacular. From here we walked to the summit , then back down for lunch at the hut.  There was an option to skip the summit and just head down but our group were all up for the challenge. The long downhill descent was challenging on the knees, but even Mum who is in her 70s found it comfortable and Rohann made sure we all made it down together. The Kepler Heli hike has got to be one of New Zealand’s best day walks with such an incredible array of scenery from the sparce rocky mountain peaks to the tussock high country then through mossy Beech forest and limestone formations. 

Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Te Anau Glowworm caves was next . I loved this and having visited Waitomo before I liked this experience just as much if not more. After a cruise across the lake the walk on a path built above an underground river is exciting and on the boat ride you are so close to the glowworms you can almost touch them . 

Fiordland - Overnight Doubtful Sound

From Te Anau we drove the short way to Manapouri and my husband and daughter joined us for the overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound. After a cruise across lake Manapouri and seeing why the locals love to come and waterski and fish here in the summer, we were transported by coach across Wilmot Pass to our boat the Milford Mariner waiting for us in Doubtful Sound.  We shared a quad cabin , cosy and perfectly comfortable. 

The Sound is much larger than Milford and on the overnight cruise we explored most of it, stopping mid afternoon for some kayaking. Some crazy guests like my daughter and husband even went swimming in the 10oC water while I took the dry option of the tender ride to explore the coastline. We ate well at the onboard buffet and next morning after further exploring it was magical when the captain turned off the engines for a few minutes so we could enjoy the silence of this lovely place.  

Kayaking in Doubtful Sound

Queenstown to the West Coast via Haast Pass

After saying goodbye to Mum we had a night in Queenstown with friends and breakfast next morning at my favourite café Bespoke Kitchen. After a night in Wanaka and dinner at the Brownston St food trucks we headed for the Haast Pass stopping to do the short walk to the Blue Pools track on Makarora river the way. We had our fix of crayfish and seafood chowder for lunch at the Craypot in Jacksons Bay right at the very southern point of the west coast road.  
On our way north we walked the circuit round Lake Matheson where if the water is calm the reflections of the mountains on the lake are gorgeous. 

Bridge at Kawarau

Franz Josef Glacier

Next stop was Franz Joseph Glacier where we enjoyed our really spacious one bedroom unit and spa bath at the Aspen Court Motel. Franz is surrounded by lush forest and the rooms look out to the forest and mountains. You can see small glimpses of the glaciers from near town but with the glaciers receding as much as 100m per year due to global warming and erosion of the river track that leads to the glacier face you can no longer walk close to the terminal face so a helicopter ride is the best way to experience the snowfields at the top if the glacier and get a true sense of these incredible glaciers. 
With that in mind next morning my daughter and were lucky to experience another beautiful day for the 30 minute Twin Glacier helicopter ride with Glacier Helicopters, in which we got to spend a few minute on the big flat snowfield atop Fox Glacier. 

Okarito Lagoon

The same day we rented kayaks and explored the wetlands of Okarito Lagoon. 
A few of the restaurants and hotels in Franz remain closed with the covid related downtown in tourists but with the school holiday tourists arriving the SnakeBite Brewery was a lively place to eat. 

Okarito Lagoon

Hamner Springs via the Lewis Pass

Next day we drove to Hanmer Springs via the Lewis Pass and after a long day of driving flopped into the hot springs for a pre dinner soak.
After a good coffee at the Powerhouse café next morning the sculpture walk was an interesting family-friendly flat walk through the forest with carvings of animals to see along the way. 

Sculpture Walk in Hanmer


From here we drove the very lovely ‘Alpine Pacific Triangle’ route to coastal Kaikoura. A walk on the peninsula walkway was a good place to see lots of seals basking on the rocks. 
Splashing out here we spent the night in the luxury of Hapuku Lodge where our host Mike and the team look after all the guests with amazing service and food. The views from our Family Treehouse were gorgeous , with mountains on one side and an across to the sea on the other. 
The next day we did the Whale Watch cruise and saw many Orca and Dolphins.  My advice is to take a sea legs tablet if you are prone to seasickness – it was quite choppy out at sea and my enjoyment was hampered by trying to hold on to my breakfast. 

Hapuku Lodge Kaikoura

Waipara Wine Country and on to Christchurch

On our way to Christchurch  the final stop on the road trip, we picked up some wine from Greystone in Greta Valley near Waipara where they also have a restaurant and one of the Purepod glass cabins so next time I would love to eat here and stay  a bit longer. 
Christchurch was our final destination for a weekend catching up with friends. 
Feeling lucky to have great weather and enough exercise to make up for all the eating and drinking,  the South Island road trip was the perfect Autumn holiday. 

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Michelle Srzich
: 5 May 2022 (Last updated: 6 May 2022)

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