New Zealand's South Island is full of incredible and diverse landscapes with picture-perfect views around each and every corner .
A trip to New Zealand is about getting out on the open road and taking in the scenery that will make your jaw drop. Whether that's on a guided adventure bus tour, or on your own four wheels, you're bound to leave New Zealand blown away by some truly epic drives. Experience braided rivers, snow-capped mountains, rugged and windswept coastline and sun-bleached white sand beaches. You'll pass through small towns and get to know what Kiwi hospitality is all about. New Zealand begs to be explored on a road trip - and below we've suggested our 5 favorite drives on the South Island.
1. Queenstown to Glenorchy
Queenstown - the Adventure Capital of the World. It's an epic little resort town surrounded by mountains and situated on the intensely blue Lake Wakatipu. It's a bloody great spot, and likely however you arrive (be that by plane or car or bus), you'll be wowed the views. Take any road out of Queenstown, and you'll enjoy it - but, we reckon the drive from Queenstown to little ol' Glenorchy at the head of the lake (filming location of Top of the Lake) is hard to beat.
It's a short hours drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy, and one that features incredible views all the way. The winding road follows the shores of Lake Wakatipu, passing picturesque bays with insanely clear water. You'll stop quite a few times on the way - taking photos of Cecil Peak, Walter Peak and countless other mountains. In the winter, these are covered with snow - and the contrast on a clear day between the blue sky, the white snow-capped mountains, the grayish brown tussock and the blue water is simply incredible.
The 9 Day South Island Explorer tour spends time in Queenstown.
2. Wanaka to Raspberry Creek Road End
Wanaka is Queenstown's smaller next door neighbor. It's similar to Queenstown in many ways (situated on a lake, surrounded my mountains, adventure sports on offer, etc), and has the added bonus of getting more hours of sun throughout the day. The drive from Queenstown to Wanaka over the Crown Range is stunning enough in and of itself, but one of our favorites is the drive from Wanaka to the end of the road at Raspberry Creek Car Park.
Leaving Wanaka, you'll follow the lake for 15 minutes or so, passing Glendhu Bay campground and the turnoff to Treble Cone ski-field on the way. The tar-seal ends after Treble Cone, and you finish the drive on a gravel road surrounded by green farmland dotted with thousands of sheep and cattle. The green farmland is complimented by views of the towering mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park. It's the quintessential NZ view - sheep, roaring rivers and snow-capped mountains.
The road ends at the Raspberry Creek Car Park. You can turn around here, and drive an hour or so back to Wanaka - or if you're inclined (and you should be) - head off on a day walk. You could walk through native bush to the fantastic Rob Roy Glacier, or through more farmland as far as the backcountry Aspiring Hut.
3. South Island's South Coast
You're likely not going to end up here, unless you set off to - and you should. The South Coast of the South Island is a stunning area that is far too often overlooked by visitors to the country.
About two hours south of Queenstown, you have the seaside town of Riverton. Type Riverton into your GPS, and head south by way of Tuatapere (New Zealand's sausage town). You'll follow Lake Wakatipu as far as Kingson, and from here you pass through dairy farmland en route to Rivertown.
Just prior to Riverton, you'll reach the sea. Turn off your GPS now, and let your eyes lead you down whichever backcountry road appeals to you most. You'll pass green seaside farmland, rugged beaches and areas of regenerating native bush. Consider setting up camp at the Colac Bay campground for the night (it's free!), and fall asleep to the sounds of the sea after feasting on fresh Blue Cod and Chips from the local tavern.
Continue on the next day to Curio Bay and the Catlins. You'll come across seals, more stunning beaches and once you arrive at Curio Bay - you might just see Dusky Dolphins and Yellow-Eyed penguins. Perfect.
Not sure you want to drive yourself, check out our 3 Day tour from Queenstown to the Catlins.
4. Te Anau to Milford Sound
The well-trafficked road from lakeside Te Anau to Milford Sound is often pegged as one of the best drives in the world. Drive this road in rain or shine (but hopefully not in snow!), and you'll understand why.
The road cuts through native bush, passes mirror lakes and towering, snow-capped mountains. Rain is measured in meters in Fiordland, so don't be surprised if it's raining on your drive. Don't let this deter you, it's equally impressive in rain or in sun, and during or after times of heavy rain the views are topped off with dozens and dozens of waterfalls coming down sheer rock faces from high in the mountains.
Likely one of the most scenic parts of the drive is just before you enter the 1,200 metrer long Homer Tunnel. As you sit at what must be one of the world’s most remote traffic lights (look out for the pesky Keas), you realize you’re sitting in a massive, glacier carved amphitheater with towering rock cliffs all around you.
5. Greymouth to Westport
The road up New Zealand's West Coast (State Highway 6) - essentially all the way from Wanaka through to Nelson - is incredible. It's a massive drive that takes in everything from the arid tussock land of the mountains around Wanaka through to dense subtropical rainforest and glaciers on the West Coast. The entire drive is stunning, but the highlight has got to be the drive from Greymouth to Westport.
This drive has also been ranked one of the best in the world, and features the wild Tasman Sea on one side and the snow-capped Southern Alps on the other. There are windswept beaches, walks through native bush and dozens of photo ops along the way. Consider breaking up the journey with a night in Punakaiki, and after checking out the pancake rocks that make this small settlement so popular, fall asleep to the sound of the the wild surf of the Tasman Sea.
After you leave New Zealand, we reckon you'll have just as hard a time as we did picking your favorite drives, as the South Island is littered with stunning views around every corner. It's a place made for Road Trips.