Driving in South Island, New Zealand

January 15, 2016 , In: TRAVEL

Driving in South Island, New Zealand is a dream. Google reckons the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown should be six hours with a few, quick stops. But if you’re driving in the daylight and have any appreciation for beauty, you have very little chance of sticking to a ‘few, quick stops’.

Twelve hours – that’s how long Cameron and I took to get to Queenstown. We doubled the driving time and didn’t mind because we were too busy having our minds blown and breaths taken away by majestic landscapes.

We doubled the driving time and didn’t mind because we were too busy having our minds blown and breaths taken away by majestic landscapes.


New Zealand is so picturesque that you can literally ‘shoot blind’ with your camera and end up with an image worthy to be on a postcard or your Facebook cover photo.

One thing that made my experience of South Island more exciting was not looking through heaps of photos before going. I saw a few from the accommodation websites I booked but I was ready to be surprised with a friend’s words in my head – ‘New Zealand is like Tasmania on steroids’.

Tasmania is one of my all-time favourite places so I could only imagine…

New Zealand is so picturesque that you can literally ‘shoot blind’ with your camera and end up with an image worthy to be on a postcard or your Facebook cover photo.


Here are my photos from driving around the South Island with my Love. At the end, I write down Cameron’s tips for driving in New Zealand as he did it all by himself, conquering 1,800 kilometres in five days.

From Christchurch to Queenstown

Rangitata River

Rangitata River

Yasoda on a journey

Friendly stranger Yasoda and his horse Rasa Raj on their journey from one end of South Island to the other

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

Lindis Pass

Lindis Pass

Roaring Meg

Roaring Meg

Field PoppiesWildflowers

Drive New Zealand wildDrive New Zealand Drive New Zealand wildflowers

From Queenstown to Milford Sound

The wonders of Milford Sound are revealed in another post. But here are some photos from our drive as we met the sunrise. It took us just under four hours from Queenstown to Milford as we were the only ones on the road for the most part (started the drive at 3:27am).

To Milford Hillside Lake

From Queenstown to Fox Glacier

Queenstown to Fox Glacier

On the road from Queenstown to Fox Glacier

Old schoolhouse Summer

From Franz Josef to Christchurch

Franz Josef West Coast Beach Rd, Ross Racing truck :)

Why take a photo of a truck? Well, this was a special one – part of our driving entertainment! We were in awe of the tenacity and skill of this driver as he went through bends and narrow roads like a boss. My husband was literally cheering for the driver!

The mountains Rocks

New Zealand Driving Tips from Cameron

Follow the recommended speed signs in yellow. They are pretty accurate. If in Australia, you can still safely do 80km when 60km is recommended, 25km recommended in New Zealand means that is the wisest, safest speed for you. The slowest recommended speed we saw was 15kmh – you can imagine what the road was like!

Be ready for one-lane bridges. They are everywhere. So much so that we got excited when we saw a two-lane bridge in the West Coast. Cameron says it’s always good to slow down as if you’re going to stop. He reckons the more challenging single-lane bridges are the really long ones where you might struggle to see the end. But we survived with no dramas so all good!

Single-lane bridge sign

People are mostly kind, be kind too. No one likes to be stuck behind a slow driver but fortunately, many people will pull over to the side of the road to give way to you. If you’re the slow driver, please do the same when it’s safe. You’ll see signs saying, ‘Traffic behind you? Let them pass.’

Always add at least an hour to what Google Maps says if you’re on a tight schedule. This is especially true when driving from Christchurch to Queenstown and Queenstown to Fox Glacier where there are long stretches of bendy roads. A speed limit of 100kmh doesn’t mean that’s how fast you’ll actually be going all the time.

Don’t get distracted. Cameron and I had a helicopter flight for 2:50PM in Fox Glacier and we were driving from Queenstown. We left at 9AM, giving us about 6 hours to reach our destination which was 4 hours away. Did we get there with heaps of time? No – we almost missed our flight! We stopped for brunch at Cardrona Hotel and it was so interesting that we spent almost an hour there without noticing. After that, we made no more stops. Luckily, Cameron is an excellent and safe driver (and there were straight roads where he could overtake).

Stop and enjoy. Although twelve hours on the road seems like a long time, it didn’t drain Cameron because of our frequent, long stops. He and I got to take in the beauty around us, take photos and walk around.

Stock up on food and drink. We had a variety of food to keep us going and many bottles of water within reach. This was especially wise because we started our drive on Christmas Day, with almost all shops closed for the day.

Fill up with petrol. This sounds too obvious but this was one of the first things one receptionist told us before going to Milford Sound. She said to fill up with petrol in Te Anau which was two hours away (118km from Milford Sound). As you reach Te Anau, you’ll see a sign saying this is the last petrol stopfor the next 200+ kilometres. We saw a similar sign in Fox Glacier too.

Make sure your hire car is in perfect condition. The air conditioning of our car was not working but we realised it too late because we started the drive with the windows down. Yes, to take in all the goodness of country fresh air. Fortunately, the weather was mostly lovely during the rest of our trip so fresh air kept us well-ventilated and happy. On really hot or rainy days though, you will wish the air conditioning just worked so make sure your hire car is all good.

With our hire car

Hire Car Details


Apex Car Rentals – One of the few who still had cars available (they had two left) as we booked two days before! We picked it up on Christmas Day, we freaked out beforehand because when we called on the day, the answering machine said they were closed. But they weren’t. I guess it’s to keep the employees working on Christmas a bit happy (or less unhappy), not having to answer calls.


101NZD/day – There are apparently companies who hire cars out from $40-60 a day but when we went to two of those, they said they were booked out months ago. So if you want a better deal, book ahead! Cameron and I only decided to do the trip two weeks before going so that wasn’t possible for us.


We brought our own GPS which saved us $8/day and we didn’t have to pay extra for their insurance because our Southern Cross Travel Insurance covered car hire excess of up to $7,000.

Driving in New Zealand was fantastic and I can’t wait to do it again! This verse from Romans chapter 1 was in my heart as God’s handiwork blew me away:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.


As you admire creation in New Zealand, I pray you are drawn to the Loving Creator.

With love,



Monday Escapes Thank you to Allane and Ting for this round-the-world link-up! 


Questions and comments

    • Sha
    • June 22, 2016

    Everything looks beautiful! I’ll be sure to take note of the driving tips when I’m there next time…:)

  1. Reply

    Such stunning photos. I love a road trip – I think it’s the best way to see everything, especially stopping all the time for breaks and photo ops! We’re thinking of NZ late next year, so this is so exciting to see your adventure too! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    • Reply

      Thanks for hosting #MondayEscapes, so happy to have found it! Looking forward to your stories & photos when you do your drive! Someone suggested to us to fly to Queenstown instead of driving down, good thing my husband knew better ☺️

    • Kate
    • June 12, 2016

    Great photos! #MondayEscapes

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

    • Ruth
    • June 7, 2016

    Rachel, I can see why it took you 12 hours to reach your destination. This is what I call an epic drive. I totally understand why all these reminded you of the verse in Romans chapter one. I get one of those moments once in a while.

      • rjoyrojas
      • June 7, 2016

      Thank you, Ruth! You’re right – epic is a good word for it :) I do love seeing how little I am in God’s magnificent, vast creation.

    • globallocavore
    • June 7, 2016

    WOW! Oh my goodness no wonder you couldn’t help pulling over. The landscape is stunning. Your photos are truly lovely!

      • rjoyrojas
      • June 7, 2016

      Thanks! Good to know we’re not too crazy 😉 Hope you can enjoy the drive too if you haven’t been yet!

  2. We’ve been considering making a trip to New Zealand and these pictures definitely help move it towards to the top of the travel bucket list! We have a toddler so a 12 hours drive isn’t really in the cards for us, but I’m sure we could try breaking it up and seeing a little less :) #MondayEscapes

      • rjoyrojas
      • June 7, 2016

      That’s great, Nicole! :) Yes, breaking it up into overnight stops would be ideal. If I had known, we would’ve done the same. I would drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo or Lake Pukaki, enjoy those areas and then keep driving the next day. :) Would be so cool to see how your toddler would respond to all the beautiful sights!

  3. Reply

    How beautiful is New Zealand!! I’ve never been but wow your pics sure make it enticing! #MondayEscapes

  4. I had to check out your post because of the beautiful purple flowers!!! Those were some amazing pictures!! #MondayEscapes

      • Rachel
      • June 6, 2016

      Well, I’m glad the wildflowers pulled you in 😉 They are amazing! We were so happy seeing them by the road in little clumps and then we saw this field — incredible!

  5. Reply

    stunning photos! #monday escapes

      • Rachel
      • June 6, 2016

      Thanks, Tanja! It’s the magic of New Zealand – makes it hard to take a bad photo!

Rachel Herweynen

Teaching Principal

Alive because of Jesus. My husband Cameron and I have the privilege of living and working in a remote indigenous community, our home, Gäwa on Elcho Island, Australia. What a joy to not only be principal and teacher but also granddaughter, mother, aunty, child and mother-in-law. Above all, always daughter of the King.

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