The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown along Highway 8 takes around six hours, but if you do it right, it should take much longer. There are some beautiful stops that will make you want to linger as long as you can. An alternate (and longer) route to Queenstown takes you along the coast to Dunedin and down to the southern portions of the south island, but I will be focusing on the Highway 8 route here.
Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki
I didn’t hear much about these lakes when I was planning my trip, but they are both very beautiful, and you can easily spend a whole day taking in their sights and lazing around their shores. Their waters can seem unnaturally blue, and the mountains in the distance complete the perfect picturesque setting. Keep an eye out for the small zip-lines along Lake Tekapo’s shore. They are good for a few fun rides, and the scenery cannot be beaten.
The Clay Cliffs are another unheralded attraction, but they are definitely worth a stop. Catching the cliffs at the right time of day will accentuate their subtle colors and dramatic shapes and curves. The views into the valley below are equally as impressive. Make sure to walk to the end of the gravel road where you can get up close and personal with the cliffs. There is a small opening that runs between some of the spires that make you feel like you are Indiana Jones.
Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park is another great stop that can be accessed along Highway 8. The village is a fairly far distance off of the main road, so plan to spend at least one full day visiting the park. You can typically catch a glimpse of Mount Cook from the western side of the island, but the only way to get up close and personal with the mountain is to head up to the village. I did not get a chance to visit this spot, but it is definitely somewhere I would love to see next time I’m in New Zealand.