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Motorhome roadtrips booked

Christchurch to Invercargill Round Trip

1276 km

Total Distance

17 hrs

Est Driving Time

Christchurch to Invercargill Round Trip Motorhome Itinerary

Overview

Much is made of the South Island’s west coast, and it’s true that it is very beautiful, but far too many forget that in the southeast there’s another coastal paradise waiting: from the vibrant streets of Christchurch to the sights and thrills of Queenstown to the chilly streets of Invercargill and the penguins and podocarp forests of the Catlins, this Christchurch to Invercargill (and back) road trip is full of delight and surprises around every new bend in the road. Once you've got your head around the essentials of driving in New Zealand, it'll be time to begin preparing for your southern adventure.

A motorhome rental is a fantastic way to see the region at your own pace, allowing huge flexibility in route and schedule. Pick up a campervan hire in NZ and discover the best of what your journey can bring! #LetsGoMotorhome

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Leg 1 Christchurch to Tekapo

227 km

Total Distance

03 hrs, 00 mins

Est Driving Time

For most of its history Christchurch has had the reputation of being a stately, slightly old-fashioned city; an Antipodean take on England. But the Christchurch earthquake of 2011 changed everything, destroying much of the city’s infrastructure and triggering a massive rebuild effort that has transformed the face of the city into something fresh and wonderful.

Christchurch is still very much a hub for the South Island, and great place to pick up a motorhome and begin your epic New Zealand adventure. 
 
Christchurch

Although the quake had a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of Christchurch’s inhabitants, far from becoming discouraged and giving up, residents have put their heart and soul into rebuilding and refreshing Christchurch. You can see this spirit of innovation and renewal in pop-up bars and cafes, container-based shopping malls and a lovingly crafted cardboard cathedral. But those returning to Christchurch after many years will find that in spite of all the changes, there are somethings that not even an earthquake can alter. Punting down the tranquil Avon River on a warm afternoon is still a sure way to escape the madness of the world and restore a little tranquility to your soul, and of course the Christchurch Botanic Gardens are as lovely as ever. 
 
If you’re bringing the family along, one place you really need to visit is the International Antarctic Centre. From getting a taste of what life was like for early Antarctic explorers to getting up close and personal with adorable Little Blue Penguins, there’s something here to appeal to every age. Even the interactive displays are a great way to learn more about this alien continent, its wildlife and the men and women who strived to conquer it. 
 
When it comes to Christchurch attractions with a broad appeal, one that’s popular with both nature lovers and families is Orana Wildlife Park. This is no run-of-the-mill zoo, but a place where visitors have the opportunity to see exotic animals in a setting that mirrors that of their natural habitat. Take a walk on the wild side through the Lion Reserve, feed a giraffe from your own hand and see a group of gorillas living out their day to day lives - these are just a few of the amazing encounters you’ll have at Orana Wildlife Park. While kids will love this alternative wildlife experience, it’s not just for children. Anyone with a sense of wonder and an appreciation for the glories of the natural world will find in Orana something that will stay with them for years to come.
 
While it could be easy to spend weeks exploring all the secrets this city has in store (there are certainly plenty of things to do in Christchurch) eventually it will be time to pick up your campervan rental in Christchurch and begin your epic journey. 
 
Ashburton

A straightforward hour and a half shot southwest down State Highway 1 will bring you to Ashburton, a large farming town. On sunny days, nearby Lake Hood is a thriving hub for watersports of all stripes - swimming, yachting, boating and waterskiing are all popular pastimes at this idyllic lake, so don’t forget to pack your bathing suit! If you’re one of those who believe that nature and landscapes are all very well, but real joy lies in thrillseeking, Skydiving Kiwis can make your adrenaline junkie dream come true: feel the 200 kph rush of freefall high above the majestic Canterbury plains. It only takes 5-10 minutes of instruction before you’re ready for a tandem skydive - you’ll be taking to the air and plunging back to earth in no time at all.
 
For a more sedate option, the Ashburton Aviation Museum is well worth a visit. Even for those who aren’t aircraft aficionados, this impressive collection manned by passionate volunteers provides a fascinating look into the past. 
 
When you’re ready to move on from Ashburton, it’s less than a two hour drive to the stunning small town of Tekapo.
 
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Leg 2 Tekapo to Queenstown

257 km

Total Distance

03 hrs, 15 mins

Est Driving Time

Isolation is a powerful sensation and one that often isn’t welcome - but when paired with the heart-aching beauty of the country surrounding Tekapo, it turns into a poignant reminder of how untouched this slice of New Zealand is. Stargazing, horse trekking, hot spring soaking… there’s a little something for everyone in this tiny town.

*If you're beginning your trip in Queenstown, find your nearest motorhome rental depot here. 
 
Tekapo

If there’s one image that exemplifies what the town of Tekapo is all about, it’s the rustic Church of the Good Shepherd sitting on the shore of the milky blue Lake Tekapo. This is Tekapo’s most famous attraction, so if you’re planning a visit, try to time it for earlyish morning to avoid the masses of tourists that arrive in busload after busload during the day. You don’t need to be at all religious to revel in the rough hewn majesty of this old stonework church - and even more special than the church itself is its setting. Visitors can gaze out of the church’s specially constructed picture window to see an otherworldly glimpse of lake and mountain magnificence. 
 
The fact that Tekapo is so far from any centres also makes it a world-class destination for stargazing - and when we say world-class, we aren’t messing about. The whole area around the town has been designated as a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, and the nearby Mount John Observatory takes tours for those who want an even clearer view of the heavens. 
 
It’s possible that after the first leg of your journey you’re a bit sore - it’s a decent drive from Christchurch to Tekapo after all. If your muscles feel like they could use a little attention, Tekapo Springs is the place to go. Not only do they have a selection of hot pools to soak your aches away, there’s also a day spa on site so you can indulge in the ultimate pampering while gazing out over the picturesque Lake Tekapo. It’s even a great place for kids, with summertime bringing the world’s biggest inflatable waterslide to Tekapo Springs and the colder months seeing the emergence of an ice skating rink. 
 
For those who’d rather be out exploring this wild landscape, a horseback trek through Mackenzie Country may be just what you’re after. Whether you’re after just a short journey of less than an hour or a huge multi-day odyssey that will carry you right into the heart of the South Island that most people never get to see, this is a very rare chance to fully immerse yourself in the rugged charms of this untamed country. 
 
Twizel

Just 45 minutes down the road from Tekapo you’ll discover the town of Twizel. This quaint little settlement achieved a moderate amount of fame when it starred as the location for the massive Battle of the Pelennor Fields in Kiwi filmmaker Peter Jackson’s third Lord of the Rings movie. Tourism is now a major industry for the town, and if you’re a bit of a movie buff or Lord of the Rings fanatic then you won’t want to miss the OneRing tour that takes you out to the sheep station where the battle was staged. Even if you don’t know the difference between Hobbits and Haradrim, the twilight tour (for adults-only) could still be well worth your while - after all, who’s going to turn down beer, wine and nibbles while watching the sun go down over a gorgeous landscape? 
 
Cromwell

Less than two hours south via State Highway 8 you’ll come across Cromwell, one of the many towns founded in the 19th century to capitalise on New Zealand’s gold rush. These days the town’s treasure lies more in its bountiful stone fruit harvest than actual gold but visitors can still get a taste of those heady days when striking it rich always seemed like it was just around the corner. Take a tour around an old Chinese mining village, or try your luck panning for gold in the river. If gold mining relics aren’t really your kind of thing, there are also quite a few excellent wineries in the area, though if you’re planning to head immediately on to Queenstown, you may want to give these a miss. 
 
Once you leave the old goldfields of Cromwell behind you, there’s less than an hour ahead of you before you arrive at the legendary resort town of Queenstown.
 
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Leg 3 Queenstown to Invercargill

187 km

Total Distance

02 hrs, 30 mins

Est Driving Time

It’s hard to find a corner of the South Island that isn’t beautiful in its own way, but the fact of the matter is that the land around Queenstown stands in a category all of its own. The Remarkables mountain range rises jagged and majestic from the earth while Lake Wakatipu lies spread out, deep and mirror-like, before the town. And that’s not even mentioning the charms of the town itself...

*If you're beginning your trip in Queenstown, find your nearest motorhome rental depot here. 
 
Queenstown
 
Queenstown’s setting is almost mythic in its scenic beauty but of course the town itself has a stellar reputation to match its surroundings. Known internationally as the Adventure Capital of the World, this is a place that allows you to push yourself to the limit or indulge in first-class relaxation - which option you take is entirely up to you. Whether you’re shooting down the ski slopes of Cardrona or Coronet Peak, relaxing with a fine beverage in one of Queenstown’s numerous boutique bars or throwing yourself into a yawning ravine with only a rubber cord to save you, this is a place that will treat you to the vacation experience of your dreams. In fact, many choose to start their journey here, flying in to Queenstown airport before picking up a campervan hire in Queenstown and heading on to explore the rest of the lower South Island.
 
So how did Queenstown attain its reputation as the Adventure Capital of the World? It’s a combination of quality and variety when it comes to thrillseeking experiences that makes this town so exceptional. Whether you’re an old hand at the adrenaline junkie business or just keen to try something that’s a little bit out of your comfort zone, Queenstown has something for you. There are many ways to get your heart racing in this town, but one of the most iconic Queenstown adventure activities has to be bungy jumping. Queenstown provides quite a number of bungy options for you to choose from, but there are a couple that stand out from the bunch. The Ledge is unique in that it’s one of the only spots in the country where you can do a Night Bungy. Fancy a vertiginous plunge into utter darkness? This is the place for you.

The other site that’s worth your consideration is the Nevis Bungy. This is the highest bungy jump in the country, offering intrepid thrillseekers more than eight full seconds in freefall. With so much time to get used to the feeling of falling, Nevis bungy jumpers have the chance to actually appreciate their surroundings and enjoy the sensation of soaring through empty space. Of course, if that’s not quite high enough for you, skydiving is another popular option - this is the perfect way to combine unparalleled scenic views with adrenaline spiking thrills. Even if you’re an adventurer who’d rather remain more or less at sea level, Queenstown has plenty to offer you. Jetboating, river surfing, white water rafting… there’s more than enough here to sate your appetite for excitement.
 
It’s not always easy bringing kids along on a motorhome holiday, but no matter what the Queenstown weather is like, there is plenty to keep them entertained. One particular favourite for families (and anyone else who has fallen in love with this country’s unique wildlife) is The Kiwi Birdlife Park. This is your chance to get a close look at New Zealand’s reclusive national animal - the adorable, fuzzy, long-beaked kiwi bird. These birds are nocturnal creatures, but thanks to custom built kiwi houses which turn day into night, you can see what these birds get up to when they’re out and about. Don’t forget to ask the staff when feeding time is - this is always a highlight for the kids. It’s not just kiwis that you’ll find at the park though - dozens of native bird species call this place home, as well as the Tuatara: an ancient reptile that was roaming the podocarp forests of New Zealand since a time when the land was still attached to Gondwanaland. 
 
If the kids are getting a bit restless and just need to do something to burn off a little excess energy, Alpine Aqualand in the Queenstown Events Centre is well worth checking out. If you’re around on a Sunday, this is a particularly attractive choice as kids will be treated to special activities and even a giant inflatable obstacle course for four hours from noon.
 
Sometimes all you’re looking for from a vacation spot is just the ability to relax and forget about all your worries in a fun and/or serene environment - and in this regard, Queenstown certainly doesn’t disappoint. Thanks to the steady stream of wealthy international tourists that come through the town, the restaurants and bars here are almost uniformly of a very high standard. Whether you’re hunting for some of the finest cuisine that money can buy or just looking for something that will fill your belly and make your tastebuds happy, there’s a place for you in Queenstown. From some of the nation’s best burgers at Fergburger to the sumptuous and stylish offerings of Botswana Butchery, this is a town that knows how to do excellent food. 
 
This is also a fantastic destination for party animals. Queenstown’s nightlife certainly is something special. Those who have yet to frequent an ice bar (that’s right - the whole interior of the bar is carved from ice) absolutely have to try this, for the novelty value if nothing else. There are also many different places where you can relax with a fine beverage (be it a cocktail, beer, wine or spirit) in a low key environment. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little louder and more social, head along to one of Queenstown’s nightclubs and you’ll soon find yourself dancing the night away surrounded by people from all over the globe.
 
Queenstown is the type of place that could easily capture your heart and keep you there forever - but there’s far more to see and do ahead of you, so eventually you’ll have to tear yourself away from this beautiful location. Don’t mourn too much though - the wonders in store on your journey ahead will more than make up for leaving this remarkable place behind.
 
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Leg 4 Invercargill to Dunedin

244 km

Total Distance

03 hrs, 15 mins

Est Driving Time

There are a few different ways to get from Southland’s capital to the university city of Dunedin but one is arguably superior to all others. To make the most of your first leg of the journey, take the route that curves in line with the southeastern coast, passing through the world renowned scenery of The Catlins before striking north to make a beeline for your final destination.

*If you're beginning your trip in Dunedin, find your nearest motorhome rental depot here. 
 
Invercargill

Invercargill is one of the southernmost cities in the world, retaining the old world charm of a simpler time. Those hunting for things to do in Invercargill before hitting the open road have a few options open to them. Racing buffs can pop into E Hayes and Sons Hardware to see the original Indian Scout motorcycle that Burt Munro (immortalised by Anthony Hopkins in The World’s Fastest Indian) rode to set a land speed record on the salt flats of Bonneville in 1967 at 68 years old. For those partial to a brew or two, a tour of the Invercargill Brewery is a must. Grown from a father/son operation based in a garage, the brewery has now produced an award winning range of southern brews - the tour is a good couple hours of tastings, behind the scenes peeks and great stories. If you want to get out and enjoy some fresh air, Queens Park is the perfect place for it - the gorgeous garden surroundings and seasonal colours will enthrall those with a penchant for green spaces.
 
The Catlins

When you’re ready to head on from Invercargill, take Scott Street out of town until it joins up with the Gorge Road Invercargill Highway. A little over half an hour out of town you’ll pass through the small town of Fortrose with its giant Pukeko statue - this marks the beginning of your journey into The Catlins. What exactly are these famous Catlins? The Catlins is a wild and beautiful stretch of country characterised by rugged coastlines and dense primeval rainforests - you won’t want to rush your journey through this region; take your time, and you’ll discover hidden treasures strewn along the way. 
 
Curio Bay

Curio Bay is one such treasure: take a short southward detour to find a fossilised forest of trees that date back to the Jurassic period - these are trees that were alive when New Zealand was still part of Gondwanaland. The forest is best viewed at low tide from a viewing platform that’s about 5 minutes walk from the car park. As if this ancient wonder wasn’t enough, if you’re lucky you can spot rare yellow-eyed penguins in the late afternoon as they waddle ashore after a day at sea. If you’re planning for a summertime trip, make sure to take the short walk to Porpoise Bay where endangered Hector’s dolphins can often be seen frolicking in the surf. 
 
Purakaunui Falls
 
Purakaunui Falls, about an hour onward from Curio Bay, is also well worth a visit - the tri-tiered waterfall is one of the most recognisable icons of the region, and was even featured on a postage stamp back in the 70’s. 
 
When you finally manage to tear yourself away from The Catlins, Balclutha awaits. This tranquil town is the perfect spot to stretch your legs and grab a coffee before you take State Highway 1 northward to complete the last leg of the day, a pleasant hour’s drive up to Dunedin.
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Leg 5 Dunedin to Timaru

197 km

Total Distance

02 hrs, 30 mins

Est Driving Time

This leg of your journey is nothing if not diverse. You have the opportunity to visit New Zealand’s only castle, take a chocolate factory tour, spot fur seals and yellow-eyed penguins at the foot of a 19th century lighthouse and even find yourself in a man-made tropical rainforest. 

*If you're beginning your trip in Dunedin, find your nearest motorhome rental depot here. 

Dunedin

The journey up to Timaru isn’t long or demanding so make sure you investigate some of the things to do in Dunedin before you head on your way. This is a university city (the institution in question being the University of Otago, a place that trains New Zealand’s brightest young medical students) and boasts some of the most well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian architecture in the southern hemisphere - it even has New Zealand’s only castle. Larnach Castle is well worth a visit; this imposing Victorian mansion and its surrounding grounds are open to the public during business hours. You’ll need to book ahead for a guided tour of this supposedly haunted castle, but if you’re just wanting to have a look around you can just turn up, pay the moderate admission price and enjoy the atmosphere of this stately edifice and the beauty of the Larnach Castle Gardens, one of only five gardens in New Zealand to be declared a ‘Garden of International Significance’. 
 
For those who are crazy for chocolate, Dunedin’s Cadbury World is sure to appeal. Take a 75 minute guided tour for the full experience including a look at the manufacturing process (samples included of course!) or if you’re pressed for time, there’s a shorter 45 minute option that runs on weekends and public holidays. Either way, you’ll come out with a new appreciation for Cadbury’s creamy confections, not to mention a satisfied sweet tooth.

The Otago Museum is also a popular choice for visitors to Dunedin - far from being just a dusty collection of antiques, it features a living tropical forest complete with a mini-ecosystem: exotic butterflies, birds, fish and turtles all inhabit this little slice of the tropics. At a constant 28 degrees, it’s fair to say that this is Dunedin’s hottest attraction.
 
Katiki Point

Eventually though, it will be time to leave the city behind and continue your journey north. You’ll be travelling close to the coast for much of the way, passing breathtaking white sand beaches and giving you the perfect opportunity to see some of New Zealand’s unique coastal wildlife up close. You’ll definitely want to stop at Katiki Point, about an hour and a half out of Dunedin: yellow-eyed penguins and fur seals can be seen on the rocks around the 19th century Katiki Lighthouse and just around the corner are the Moeraki Boulders, a group of unusually large and spherical rocks that Maori legends claim are the debris from the wreck of an ancestral sailing canoe. 
 
Oamaru

Just a short jaunt from Moeraki is the town of Oamaru. History buffs will love the Victorian precinct, while those with a more whimsical bent should check out Steampunk HQ, an innovative display of retro-futuristic sci-fi art, movies, sculpture and immersive light and sound experiences - the light based mind trickery of the Time Portal is a particular highlight.
 
At this point it may well be time to treat yourself to a delicious meal. If you have a hankering for fine cuisine, just 20 minutes north of Oamaru is the award winning Riverstone Kitchen, a luxurious restaurant that has a strong focus on growing many of its own ingredients and sourcing from local producers. If you’re planning to have dinner there, booking is strongly recommended. When your appetite has been sated, cross the Waitaki River for a scenic 45 minute drive along the coast to Timaru.
 
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Leg 6 Timaru to Christchurch

165 km

Total Distance

02 hrs, 30 mins

Est Driving Time

Your travels are almost at an end but before it’s time to hand over the keys to your motorhome rental, there are a few incredible experiences waiting for you. You may have a head for history, enjoy playing in the surf or just love a good carnival - whatever the case, there’s sure to be something special for you on this last leg.

*If you're beginning your trip in Christchurch, find your nearest motorhome rental depot here. 
 
Timaru

Timaru is the second largest city in the Canterbury region and serves as a gateway to some of the most gorgeous locations in all of the South Island. For an incredible glimpse back into the far past, take a tour to discover ancient Maori rock art. Booking ahead is essential, but it’s well worth the forward planning as you’ll be provided with a rare look at lives and culture of the area’s earliest inhabitants. Monstrous taniwha of Maori legend, majestic moa and the intimidating pouakai (giant eagle) all feature in these paintings which date back 700 to 1000 years past. All money raised from tours of the site go toward the conservation of these taonga (cultural treasures). 

If you don’t have time for the 3 hour tour, pop down to Caroline Bay, the most popular beach in the South Island. Encompassed by a well kept park, this is a much loved swimming spot. The park also hosts an annual carnival in the summertime, a traditional family friendly affair with rides, games and free concerts.

While Caroline Bay is a great place to be if the sun’s out, when the weather isn’t quite so kindly the South Canterbury Museum is a much better option. Some of the highlights include relics from early Maori moa hunters and a replica of the aircraft designed and built by local aviator Richard Pearse - it’s believed that he may in fact have beaten the Wright brothers to a successful manned flight in the early 20th century.
 
From Timaru it’s a straight shot up State Highway 1 across the Canterbury plains back to Christchurch, the place where your journey began. Even though your travels are over (for now!) there’s no doubt that the memories of your trip will linger with you for many years to come, and may even inspire you to once more book a campervan hire in the South Island and strike out along the winding roads of God’s Own Country.
 
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Recommended Supplies

  • Bathing suit
  • Comfortable walking shoes

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