Explore the best stops on the drive from Christchurch to Tekapo. Choose from one of two routes and plan your ideal road trip.
Christchurch is the largest city in New Zealand’s South Island. It is a popular tourist destination and the South Island city most people will fly into.
Aside from being home to lots of interesting attractions and activities, it’s also a great starting point for a drive to Tekapo and beyond.
Like Christchurch, Tekapo is a must for any South Island itinerary!
In this lovely little alpine town you’ll find a beautiful lake, a famous stone church and some amazing hot pools… but you’ll need to get there first.
To help you make your decision, we’re going to outline both to give you an idea of what’s on offer.
SH 1 and State Highway 79: The most direct route when travelling from Christchurch to Tekapo
Distance: 231 km
Approx. drive time: Around 3 hours without stops (though you’ll want to make plenty.)
The drive from Christchurch to Tekapo has a lot to offer so we suggest you take your time and soak up the sights.
Along the way, you’ll get to visit vineyards, museums, and an animal park if you choose to.
Choose this route, or skip further down this article to see an alternative route that takes you further inland.
This route, however, tends to be the most popular option as it’s the most direct.
Selwyn Aquatic Centre
On the way out of Christchurch, pop into Selwyn Aquatic Centre if you’re travelling as a family.
You’ll find five swimming pools there, including a leisure pool with a lazy river and a toddler area. That means there’s something for everyone!
And as it’s an indoor venue, it’s perfect if the weather isn’t playing ball.
71 Broadlands Drive, Rolleston 7643, Christchurch
Straight 8 Estate
Next up, we have Straight 8 Estate which is known for its award-winning wines – in particular, rosé, riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir.
Even better, the vineyard dog will often come to greet you!
Unfortunately, you’ll need a designated driver if you decide to enjoy drinking on-site.
Or you can buy a bottle or two from the shop there, and then enjoy them once you reach Tekapo.
2321 Main South Road, Burnham
On this route, you’ll be treated to scenic views of the Canterbury Plains.
The plains start not long after the Straight 8 Estate, so be prepared to make some photo stops!
This area is made up of several rivers and agricultural land, with everything from wheat to sunflowers being grown here.
In fact, over 80% of the country’s crops, grains, and seeds are produced in this region.
As you make your way from Christchurch to Tekapo you’ll cross the Rakaia River.
After you’ve driven over the Rakaia Bridge, we recommend stopping off before the holiday park to appreciate the views.
The Rakaia River is one of the largest braided rivers in the country and is rather impressive.
You won’t need to spend a lot of time here, as a quick photo stop is enough, but it’s definitely worth seeing.
Next up we’ve got the town of Ashburton which is located between two major rivers – The Ashburton River and the larger Rakaia River.
It serves the surrounding farming district, and as such, you’ll find plenty of facilities here.
In this town, there are a variety of shops, art galleries, quirky pubs, and an i-SITE visitor centre.
However, it’s the museums that steal the spotlight as there are several of them.
These include the:
You probably won’t have time to visit all of them if you’re just passing through, so pick one or two that interest you the most.
If you’re an artsy crafty sort, we recommend stopping off at Waipuna Studio.
There, you’ll find a variety of handcrafted goods and artwork. Although the studio is only small, there’s a lot to see.
Not only is Waipuna Studio a great place to wander around, but it’s the perfect spot for picking up a unique souvenir or two. This way, you’ll be supporting the local artists too.
1004 Hendersons Road, Hinds 7773
The scenic route we mention later in this article (State Highway 77, 72 and 79) connects up after this point, taking you through Geraldine and the rest of this itinerary.
Whatever route you choose, the following stops will be the same.
After Waipuna Studio, make sure you stop off in the country town of Geraldine. There, you can visit some of the many boutique stores, art galleries and quirky cafes.
A short walk from the town centre will also take you through an ancient podocarp forest (at the Talbot Forest Scenic Reserve and Peel Forest).
The Geraldine’s Farmers’ Market is also worth checking out if you’re passing by on a Saturday.
Lastly, Geraldine marks the start of the UNESCO International Dark Sky Reserve, so look up at the nightsky if you’re there overnight.
Skipton Animal Park
If you’ve got some spare time (and animal lovers in the car), then we’d recommend heading to Skipton Animal Park.
This is one of the family-friendly highlights on this drive as you can get up close and personal with a range of animals.
In fact, you can even hand-feed a variety of species including donkeys, alpacas, wallabies and fallow deer.
During your time here, you’ll also get to see miniature horses, kune kune pigs, chinchillas and rabbits, among others.
And even better, this is an affordable stop, so there’s no need to blow your budget.
1891 Fairlie-Geraldine Highway RD 17, Fairlie
Whilst you’re driving from Christchurch to Tekapo you’ll want to stop off in Fairlie.
Often referred to as the ‘Gateway to Mackenzie County’ this scenic town is a big hit with those travelling through.
For starters, you’ll want to head to Fairlie Bakehouse for their delicious pies!
Each one is handmade and there are a variety of flavours to choose from including smoked chicken with mushroom, pork belly and apple pie with crackling, creamy hearty vegetable, and tender beef steak. They also make delicious sausage rolls and sweet treats too.
During your time in this town, history-buffs should also visit Fairlie Heritage Museum.
And for those who don’t mind a quick detour, the Raincliff Historic Reserve is just a 20-minute drive away. There you’ll find memorable walking trails and ancient Māori rock paintings.
Burkes Pass is a quirky old-time village that you just have to see!
It is home to one of the oldest union churches in the country, several heritage walks and shepherd huts.
‘Three Creeks‘ is a must-see when passing through – and it’s sure to catch your eye. This rather unique general store is home to retro collectables, artwork and furniture.
You’ll also find a 1950s service station and classic cars just outside.
It feels like something that would be more at home in the US, making it all the more fun to stumble across.
2119 State Highway 8, Burkes Pass 7987
Pro tip: The on-site coffee cart is a great place to refuel.
You’ve made it to Lake Tekapo – one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. Congrats!
Now, where to start?
First of all, take some time just to appreciate the area’s beauty and take some photographs. The best way to do this is by hitting up some of the nearby hiking trails and there are plenty to choose from.
Also, head along to the lakefront to see the iconic Church of the Good Shephard and the neighbouring sheepdog statue.
Lake Tekapo is also famous for its gorgeous lupin flowers that bloom between November and February. Not only that, but this area is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect place to do some stargazing.
Oh, and let’s not forget the stunning hot pools – Tekapo Springs!
State Highway 77 + 72 + 79: A scenic detour when driving between Christchurch and Tekapo
Distance: 260 km
Approx drive time: Around 3 hours 20 minutes (without stops – but again, you’ll want to allow more time.)
This is the more scenic route when travelling from Christchurch to Tekapo. It takes you further inland, through some beautiful spots including the Rakaika Gorge and Mt. Hutt, making it a fantastic road trip option.
Considering you’ll be going out of your way, this drive doesn’t actually take much longer than the direct route.
Another reason to choose the scenic route is that it’s often much quieter – and you’ll be treated to breathtaking mountain views!
As an added bonus, it reconnects part-way through the itinerary we’ve just mentioned, giving you the best of both worlds.
So, what are you waiting for?
Windwhistle is a small farming settlement about an hour out of Christchurch.
Although it doesn’t sound like much, the scenery here is gorgeous.
One of the highlights there is the walk to Washpen Falls which takes around 2 hours for the return journey.
If you’re planning to do this walk then you’ll want to leave Christchurch early, allowing yourself plenty of time for other stops along the way too.
While in the area, we also suggest heading to Benlea Farm as they offer fantastic guided farm tours (and accommodation too, if you have time to spend the night).
In our opinion, Rakaia Gorge is one of the highlights on this route.
It’s undeniably beautiful with its turquoise waters, steep cliff faces and striking mountain backdrop.
The best way to appreciate it is to hike the Rakaia Gorge Walkway. However, you’ll need to allow about three hours for this walk and not everyone has the time for this.
If not, just walk part of the track and you’ll still be treated to epic views from a variety of lookout points. Within 45 minutes you’ll make it to a wonderful viewing platform – just turn around at that point if you’re short on time.
Keep an eye out for the historic Rakaia Gorge Bridge too. Built between 1880 and 1882, this one-way bridge is still an important structure, connecting surrounding farms, towns and the Mount Hutt ski field.
There’s even a jet boating experience in the area, which is perfect for adventure lovers.
Mount Hutt is one of the best places to visit along this road trip and you’ll soon see why! Aside from its breathtaking beauty, Mt Hutt is also one of the best ski resorts in New Zealand.
Boasting a number of runs, designed to suit skiiers and boarders of all experience levels, this is the perfect place for winter sports.
Both skiing and snowboarding are extremely popular here, so if you’re looking to try something new – this is the place!
Offering first-time packages, child-care services and lessons, and rentals, you won’t be short of amenities.
There’s also a sightseeing pass if you’d prefer to just take the chairlift and admire the views.
The first thing that will catch your eye about Methven is its jaw-dropping mountain backdrop.
The views here are spectacular as it’s located right near Mt Hutt. This makes it a popular destination for outdoor and winter sports.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you can head up in a hot air balloon, hit the forest bike park, enjoy a swim in the hot pools (choose from the family-friendly or adult’s only pools at Opuke) or tackle the slopes if you’re there during winter.
Aside from the variety of things to do, Methven is also known for its relaxed atmosphere and delicious food. This makes it a must-visit on this road trip route!
At Violinos offers the ultimate music adventure located along the Methven Highway. It’s home to unique handcrafted instruments, a beautiful garden, and giant games such as checkers and Connect 4.
Those who have musical knowledge can play more intricate songs on the instruments here.
However, even if you can’t play an instrument it’s a neat place to visit, especially with children as you can just wander around, enjoying the environment.
629 Methven Highway, Winchmore 7776
At this point you’ll connect up with the above itinerary from Geraldine onwards, so you’ll still get to see some of the highlights from the first route we shared.
As you can see there are lots of awesome places to visit if you’re travelling between Christchurch and Tekapo.
The route you take is completely up to you and should be decided based on your interests and timeframe.
For those who want a direct route, take SH 1 and State Highway 79.
If you’d prefer a more scenic drive, then you’ll want to take the State Highways 77, 72, and 79.
Either way, you’ll have plenty of sightseeing options as the latter option joins up with the direct route anyway.