New Zealand is one of the best countries in the World for a road trip. If you are sucker for beautiful views like me though, then be prepared to hire a professional driver, who will take you around these scenic drives on the South Island.
You will probably sit in the car glued with your nose to the window and stare at the views for hours at the time and scream every 15 minutes to stop the car so you can snap a photo. Luckily, I have a boyfriend who did the job for free.
If I wanted to include all the scenic roads on the South Island in this post I would probably end up writing a book, so to make it more readable, I decided to narrow them down to only 10. Most of these roads feature on my New Zealand 2 week travel itinerary for the South Island. My favourite road trip plan out of the 5 I designed!
What’s the best way to travel around New Zealand?
Travelling in your own vehicle is the best way to see New Zealand. Since I spent over a year exploring this beautiful country I have invested into my own car. However if you are coming here on short holidays renting is the way to go.
Rent a motorhome
Road trips are meant to be spent outdoors and nothing will get you closer to that than hiring a campervan for the duration of your travel across New Zealand. Motorhome Republic is an awesome search engine for campers and motorhomes. Depending on your budget you can go as basic or as luxurious as you like.
Rent a car
If however an idea of camping makes you cringe and you like the comfort of a hotel room, you can just rent a compact car. For that option I highly recommend Discover Cars.
I hope you find my New Zealand posts useful. If you do I’d appreciate if you use the affiliate links above if making any bookings. It won’t cost you anything extra, in fact it will save you time and money!
1. Lindis Pass
The main inland “highway” on the South Island of New Zealand that connects Christchurch with Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki, Wanaka and Wakatipu is a sight to behold.
This entire stretch of road is spectacular but one location stands out more than any other – The Lindis Pass – a beautiful viewpoint of the tiny road dwarfed by the surrounding mountains.
The drive from Lake Wanaka to Lake Pukaki should only take around 2 hours. That is two hours continuous driving. If you were to stop every time you saw an amazing view this journey is going to take a hell of a lot longer.
2. Haast Pass
Located in Mount Aspiring National Park, the Haast Pass joins the coastal town of Haast with the mountains of Wanaka and Queenstown. This breathtaking journey is a must do for every keen driver.
Just be warned….. This road WILL test your vehicle, make sure to take some extra supplies 😉 and a camera with full battery and an empty memory card.
3. West Coast scenic drive
Do you know those bags on aeroplanes that are designed to throw up in? Take some of these if you plan on driving on the west coast. It’s like driving on a roller coaster, sort of, except you’re probably going faster, it lasts hours and hours and your chances of vomiting are much higher.
Sounds great I know!!!! But driving through whats known as “Glacier County” is a once in a lifetime experience.
4. Arthur’s Pass
The road that connects Christchurch with Hokitika and Greymouth is a windy mountainous stretch of road that passes through, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful national parks in New Zealand – Arthur’s Pass.
As you drive along the Bealey River you will be surrounded by the peaks to your left and right. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road.
Arthur’s Pass Village is a great place to stop for lunch or even a night as there’s plenty to see and do there including The Bealey Spur Track, Avalanche Peak and the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall.
5. Marlborough Sounds – Queen Charlotte scenic drive
Has anybody heard of that level on Mario kart called Rainbow Road? Well that’s a doddle compared to this monster. It’s like driving down an overcooked piece of spaghetti wrapped around a fork. It’s honestly a joke how windy it is and even more of a joke is how stunning it is.
6. Crown Range scenic road
The mountain pass taken by the fellowship of the ring …pssssshhh…. simple compared to the Crown Range road.
The main road that connects Queenstown and Wanaka offers breathtaking views around every corner, which is a huge bonus if you have an overheating car like I did.
You can wait for it to cool down whilst admiring the views from the multiple viewpoints along the way. Central Otago, the region that Queenstown and Wanaka lie in, is home to some of the best hikes on the South Island of New Zealand.
7. Blenheim – Kaikoura
This eastern coast road is not only stunning because of the natural landscapes but because of the wildlife, you’ll see along the way. Seal colonies can be watched near Okiwi Bay beach, and seal pups hang out near Ohau Point lookout.
When you drive along this stretch make sure to slow down! Seal pups often travel upstream, where they hang out and play during the day. Too many fall victim to speeding drivers. Slowing down will only cost you an extra minute or two, but it might save lives.
The recent earthquakes and storms have done a considerable amount of damage to this stretch of road but New Zealand government has gone through considerable efforts to bring it back in a new and improved state.
8. Te Anau – Milford Sound scenic drive
If you combine mountains, rivers, rainforests and roads then you get the journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound. From the moment you leave Te Anau you will be cut off from the civilisation (no phone reception) but instantly connected to the surrounding nature.
Make sure to leave early as the viewpoints along the way get pretty crowded with the tourist buses. After all, Milford Sound is the top attraction in all of New Zealand. Here’s more photos of Milford Sound that’ll inspire you to go.
In the winter look out for weather reports. The crazy windy drive can sometimes be closed due to snowfall and you might have to carry snow chains with you. Don’t forget to make a stop for a short trek to lake Marian or Gertrude Saddle – a couple of my favorite day hikes in NZ.
9. Twizel – Mount Cook NP scenic drive
Do you need that perfect picture from your kiwi holiday to make everyone jealous after coming back home? I suggest you take a drive to Mount Cook National Park, but test your breaks before you do, because you will be slamming on them every few minutes to stop and take a photo.
The icy blue lake Pukaki and the highest mountain of New Zealand, where sir Edmund Hillary practiced before climbing the Everest, will certainly make your jaw drop.
This scenic drive leads to the trailhead of the Mueller Hut – one of many incredible alpines huts that you should stay in whilst you’re in New Zealand.
10. Queenstown – Glenorchy scenic road
And now, last but not least – the road that leads to Paradise, both literally and figuratively speaking. This little gem that connects Queenstown and Glenorchy runs along the pristine waters of lake Wakatipu.
It is by far my favorite scenic drive on the South Island because it has that added bonus of leading to Paradise.
The aptly named place just outside of Glenorchy, surrounded by magnificent snow-capped mountains rivers and ancient beech forests served as a backdrop to the infamous Isengard in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Instead of orcs though, you’ll probably encounter loads of sandflies, so make sure to take some repellent with you. Don’t let those suckers spoil the view!
Proud to say I’ve done all these when I lived at home, and they’re all fantastic. I still think that the drive down SH1 from Chch to Tekapo is amazing too, the roads might be straight but the lakes and the views are gorgeous.
The Marlborough Sounds area has the most amazing concentration of super-twisty motorcycle roads anywhere. If you’re a keen rider, grab a map and get riding!
Hi Allison. That’s great! Yes the Marlborough Sounds are full of serpentine roads and full of bikers too. Gotta be careful on those roads. Driving past Tekapo and up Mt John observatory is awesome too!