On the road between Christchurch and Queenstown, you travel through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and indeed in the World. This journey of just under 500 kilometres should take about six hours, but if you stop at each beautiful vista to take photos it will take a lot longer!
Leaving the Garden City of Christchurch, you will head south through the farmlands of the Canterbury Plains, through the rural towns of Rolleston, Burnham, with its Military Camp, and Dunsandel. A short side trip here will take you to the take-off area for Hot Air Ballooning over the Canterbury Plains for a never-to-be-forgotten adventure. Rakaia, the salmon capital of New Zealand, has a long 1.8 km bridge over the 'braided' Rakaia river below. Ashburton has a museum that tells of man's triumph over the tussock country of the Plains, that is now lush farmlands. There are five other museums here, offering focus on vintage rail, aviation and cars. Trout and salmon fishing are local activities. Inland, towards Mt Hutt, is Methven, where you find an Alpine & Agriculture Encounter, that details life in the mountains and on the Plains, and the challenges of making a living on these lands. At Orari, you leave State Highway One (SH 1) and head towards the mountains and Geraldine. Stop and explore the vintage car and machinery Museum there if you have time.
The next town, Fairlie marks the beginning of the MacKenzie country, named after a sheep Rustler from long ago, whose statue is found in the Fairlie town centre. One of the country's largest vintage wagon and carriage collections is to be found there. It is also the base for skiing in the winter, on the fields of Mt Dobson. Soon you will join SH 8, and you will travel through the rolling countryside you will start seeing the most spectacularly coloured lakes and canals. The water is turquoise as it is thawed glacier water and contains rock flour. The first Lake you will come across is Lake Tekapo, with the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shore and a magnificent view of Mt Cook in the distance overlooking the lake. Here also is the statue to the shepherd's best friend, his sheepdog. Tekapo offers alpine and subalpine trekking, both on foot or horseback and astronomy tours.
Aoraki (Mt Cook)
At the next town, Pukaki, is the turn-off to Mt Cook. At Mt Cook Village are a multitude of things to do, starting with a visit to Sir Ed Hillary Museum, and including Glacier Kayaking or Skiing, and Heli-skiing. When you have seen all the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park has to offer, continue the drive to Twizel, in the heart of Lord of the Rings Country. Lake Ruataniwha has a world-class rowing facility, and cycling is also catered for in this area with the Alps2Ocean cycle trails. On to Omarama, where you can visit a salmon farm, or see the clay cliffs. Enjoy a picnic or swim in the Ahuriri River just under the bridge. You are now travelling through the Lindis Pass road, which some claim to be the most picturesque of the journey. Look out for the old Lindis Hotel ruins, before dropping down to Tarras where SH 8a will take you to Wanaka with its scenic lake and amazing biennial air shows- Warbirds over Wanaka.
Gold Rush Country
Back to SH 8 and follow the shores of Lake Dunstan until you reach Cromwell. The original town of Cromwell lies at the bottom of Lake Dunstan, but many of the older buildings were moved and can now be seen in 'Old Cromwell Town'. As a gold rush town, Cromwell has a history dating back to the mid 1800s, when gold diggers came to search for their fortunes in the rivers of the area. Since then, the building of the Clyde Dam, downriver, has meant the flooding of the valley and old township. Cromwell is now the centre of a fruit and wine growing area and is a great place to get the most delicious fresh fruit in season. As you leave Cromwell behind you are heading into the Kawarau Gorge and on the far side you will see the Goldfields Mining Centre. Head past Roaring Meg, the small hydro-electric station in the Gorge and look out for the Kawarau Suspension Bridge. Here you will see Bungy Jumpers leaping off the famous Bridge at the home of modern Bungy Jumping. Just down the road you will see the outskirts of Queenstown overlooking Lake Whakatipu and above the town, the beautiful Remarkables.
Hot Air Ballooning - Adult from $395 Child from $320 (3-4 hour flight)
Ashburton Museums - Entry by donation, charges for extras
Methven Alpine & Agriculture Encounter - Adult $12.50 Child $7.50
Fairlie Heritage Museum - Adult $6
Tekapo Horse Treks - Adult from $45 Child from $35
Earth & Sky Observatory Tours - Adult from $95 Child from $55
Sir Edmund Hillary Museum, Mt Cook - Adult $20 child $10
Mt Cook Tasman Glacier Skiing - 2 days from $975 pp
Mt Cook Glacier Kayaking - from $250 pp
Mt Cook Heli-skiing - POA
Alpine Guided Mt Cook Package - from $5900
Lord of Rings Tours Adult - from $89 Child from $59
Omarama Salmon farm feed fish - free
Clay Cliffs - $5 per car
Warbirds over Wanaka - Adults from $60 Child from $10
Old Cromwell Town - free
Goldfields Mining Tour - Adults $25 Child $10
Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jumping with AJ Hackett - from Adult $205 Child $155
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