How to drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook

From the interesting mixture of lifestyle and culture in the historic city of Christchurch to the highest peak in Australasia, this road trip will be a unique experience of rural communities, picturesque lakes, museums and breathtaking scenery.

Christchurch – Ashburton

  89 km (56 miles)
Approximately 1.25 hours
Road Conditions: Motorway – State Highway

Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city, and it has an entertaining mixture of refined lifestyle and cultural excitement. The serene and beautiful Avon River winds through the city and the adjacent Hagley Park which holds historic buildings and house a lively arts community. Restored trams make it easy for the many visitors to get around; don’t forget to visit heritage sites, art galleries, museums and to enjoy the urban restaurant scene.

The roads in New Zealand are notorious for being windy, but the route to Christchurch is about as flat as you’re going to get, and on a clear day the Southern Alps provide a breathtaking backdrop to your drive. Rakaia, a small town that sits on the southern side of the Rakaia River is known as the salmon capital of New Zealand. The Rakaia bridge spans 1.8 kilometres of one of the world’s best ‘braided’ river systems.

Sitting between the Rangitata and Rakaia rivers is Ashburton, a large town that provides for the local rural community. You’ll find some excellent craft galleries as well as six museums. Try your luck at a bit of trout fishing, a local passion or head up to Mt Hutt and spend a day on the skifields.

Ashburton – Timaru

  77 km (48 miles)
Approximately 1 hour
Road Conditions: State Highway

Located between the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers is Ashburton, a large town that provides and serves the local rural community. Fly fishing is very popular in this area, as are the skifield’s of Mt Hutt, an easy drive away. In the town centre, you will find craft galleries and six museums that showcase the history of this town.

If you take the loop trip you will find yourself in Geraldine, a trip worth taking as you can visit their local gourmet cheese factory and vintage car museum; it’s also possible to enjoy rafting in the Rangitata Gorge. Before you arrive in Timaru you’ll pass through the town of Temuka, a place that produces high-quality pottery – just keep an eye out for the factory shop for a souvenir.

  Timaru – Lake Tekapo

105 km (66 miles)
Approximately 1.25 hours
Road Conditions: State Highway

Although Timaru is small, it is beautifully formed. Take the historic walk that will introduce you to the city’s many heritage buildings, or enjoy a stroll through the botanic gardens and the park at Caroline Bay that has an aviary and a maze. Don’t forget to visit the museum, where you can see the Richard Pearse exhibit (a kiwi pioneer aviator that’s been thought to have been the first man to fly).

As you head west on your journey you will be taken to Pleasant Point, a small town famous for its custard squares and its fascinating railway museum. Make sure you check out the historic sights in the town of Fairlie before you enter Mackenzie Country, a region named for a legendary Scottish sheep rustler who once roamed the local area.

A must visit for all travellers to this area is Lake Tekapo, with its settlement at the southern end of the lake. The lake is exquisite, an opaque turquoise colour that is caused by fine rock particles held in suspension. There are a number of activities you can do here, including bike riding, horse trekking, fishing, skiing and kayaking. The sheepdog statue and the Church of the Good Shepherd make for brilliant photos.

Lake Tekapo – Mt Cook Village

  104 km (65 miles)
Approximately 1.25 hours
Road Conditions: State Highway

A must visit for all travellers to this area is Lake Tekapo, with its settlement at the southern end of the lake. The lake is exquisite, an opaque turquoise colour that is caused by fine rock particles held in suspension. There are a number of activities you can do here, including bike riding, horse trekking, fishing, skiing and kayaking. The sheepdog statue and the church of the Good Shepherd make for brilliant photos.

Next on the list is the journey to Mt Cook on a road that takes you through high country tussocks to the beautiful Lake Pukaki. You’ll be on the edge of the lake for most of your trip up the Tasman Valley to Mount Cook Village.

The Aoraki Mount Cook National Park showcases the highest peak in Australasia (Mount Cook at 3755m). This region appeals to mountain climbers, hikers and those wishing to experience stunning scenery. Visitors to the park are provided with a number of avenues to make those special memories, from aerial sightseeing to heli-skiing and hiking, and a variety of walking trails. Take a moment to enjoy the huge windows and breathtaking views of Mt Cook Scenic highlights from the bar of the local hotel.