10 Most Scenic Drives On The South Island Of New Zealand

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 IslandMy favourite road trip plan out of the 5 I designed!

What’s the best way to travel around New Zealand?

St Peter's lookout on the Twizel-Mount Cook scenic drive on the South Island of 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

Scenic drives on the South Island of New Zealand
Lindis Pass in Winter

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

Roads And Viewpoints New Zealand 19
Lake Wanaka seen from the neck that connects it to Lake Hawea

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

Roads And Viewpoints New Zealand 12
It kind of looks like Hawaii, don’t you think?

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

Lake Pearson Autumn 3
Lake Pearson

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

Marlborough Sounds 1
Queen Charlotte scenic road

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

Roads And Viewpoints New Zealand 21
Gandalf guiding us through the windy roads

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 

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway 7
Seaward Kaikoura range

This eastern coast road is not only stunning because of the natural landscapes but because of wildlife you’ll see along the way. Baby seal pups squashed to a bloody pulp in the middle of the road is such a pleasing sight.

The Peregrine falcons swooping down from up on high, landing neatly, eating their flesh and picking out whats left of their juicy eye balls, yellow eyed penguins being pestered by overzealous tourists and marooned whales make, what only can be described as, a great family fun day out……… Just kidding (to an extent) you may unfortunately see a few dead seals but most of them are alive and well; and they are so cute and fuzzy (from far away). 

The recent earthquakes and storms have done a considerable amount of damage to this stretch of road and whilst maintenance teams are doing their best to fix it, it will no doubt still take several years.

One of the best highlights on the east coast used to be a small pool where seal pups would grow and play before moving to the sea. This unfortunately has now been destroyed. The seals, and their pups, however are still there but you’ll just have to look harder for them.

8. Te Anau – Milford Sound scenic drive

Milford Sound 1
Gertrude Valley in its Winter coat

If you combine mountains, rivers, rainforest 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

Lake Pukaki Mount Cook National Park 5
Insanely blue lake Pukaki on the way to Mount Cook

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

Glenorchy Scenic Drive 3

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!

More New Zealand travel resources

Marta
Marta

Hi! I am the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.

2 Comments

  1. 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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *