The Ultimate Central Otago Road Trip Itinerary | Apollo NZ
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The Ultimate Central Otago Road Trip Itinerary

9
Days
1160
Kms
9
Stops

A New Zealand road trip by campervan through Central Otago promises unparalleled beauty and unforgettable experiences. Characterised by its breathtaking landscapes, this South Island region is a magnificent medley of sweeping valleys, braided rivers, and rugged mountains.

Exploring by campervan hire allows you to intimately explore at your own pace. You have the freedom to spontaneously detour to boutique vineyards, where you can savour the region's renowned pinot noir, or make an impromptu stop to pick up fresh produce at local farmers markets. Historic gold-rush towns offer a treasure trove of exploration, while the numerous cycling and walking trails provide active adventures. And with the convenience and comfort of a campervan, the scenic vistas of Central Otago transform into your personal backdrop. What better way to wake up each morning?  

But with so much to see and do in this special part of New Zealand, it helps to have a travel plan that takes in the best highlights. That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate Central Otago travel itinerary. Ready to dive in? Let’s get started …

 

Day 1: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Travel time: 3 hours

Distance: 226 km

Kick off your South Island road trip by picking up your camper from Apollo’s branch in Christchurch. It’s nice and handy to the airport, perfect if you’re flying in! 

The trip to Lake Tekapo takes around three hours with plenty to see and do along the way. A worthy detour is the impressive Rakaia Gorge. You may like to take the walkway to the lookout point (about 45 minutes walk).  

Further along the drive, the picturesque town of Geraldine is the perfect spot to stop for lunch and a leg stretch. Browse through the boutique shops, check out the locally produced arts and crafts, and stock up your campervan at the supermarket.  

Once you reach Lake Tekapo, why not head straight to the Tekapo Springs Hot Pools for a relaxing soak while you take in the spectacular surroundings. As the day ebbs, don't miss your chance to capture a photo of the historic Church of the Good Shepherd. Backdropped by the snowcapped ranges and the turquoise lake, this iconic church is a must for your Instagram. 

When you’re ready to park up for the night, retire to the comfort of the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park. Nestled amidst nature, it's the perfect sanctuary for road-trippers to rejuvenate.

 

Image: Miles Holden

 

Day 2: Lake Tekapo to Lake Ōhau

Travel time: 1 hour, 10 mins

Distance: 85 km

It’s a short one-hour drive today, so there’s no hurry to hit the road. Take your time and treat yourself to a cooked breakfast and coffee as you take in the sublime scenery. 

When you’re ready to hit the road, you’ll be travelling west along SH8. And you’ll go from one stunning lake to another (and another!) today. About halfway along your road trip, plan for a picnic stop at Lake Pukaki, the largest in the Mackenzie District. Sitting on the doorstep of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, this spot is yet another that will get your camera clicking. Think turquoise blue waters hugged by snowcapped mountain ranges. To take in the best of the views, head to one of the lookouts along SH 80. 

As you reach Lake Ōhau, it’s time once again to immerse yourself in the sublime beauty of the region. Meandering walking trails around the lake offer ample opportunities to explore and capture panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and serene waters. A popular short walk is the Temple Valley Track which is around an hour return. 

If you’re visiting in winter, you might like to hit the slopes on the Ōhau Ski Fields. The mountain is suitable for all skill levels and, of course, offers some amazing views.

After a day of exploration, retreat to the Lake Middleton Campsite. Tucked away close to Lake Ōhau’s shores, this DOC campsite is the perfect spot to relax and get a great night’s sleep.

 

Day 3: Lake Ōhau to Wānaka

Travel time: 2 hours

Distance: 163 km

It’s day three of your unforgettable South Island road trip, and time to head to the resort town of Wānaka. Along the way, you’ll pass through the township of Ōmarama. A must-see while you’re here is the Ōmarama Clay Cliffs. Formed millions of years ago, these towering pinnacles are separated by narrow ravines, creating an otherworldly atmosphere. It’s a great opportunity to indulge in some creative photography. The cliffs are located on private land, so a donation of $5 per vehicle is requested and can be paid at the donation box at the entry gate.  

As you continue on, the next highlight is the Lindis Pass. At its summit, pause to take in the views; the sweeping tussock landscapes bathed in golden hues create an ethereal ambience. 

Once you arrive in Wānaka, there’s plenty to see and do. If you’re keen on a walk, you’re in luck with over 750 km of tracks and trails to explore. A good short walk option is the Waterfall Creek Track. The 2.5 km track starts at the western end of Roys Bay and winds along Lake Wānaka’s western shores.

If you’re looking for a hidden gem a little further out, plan a trip to the Makarora River’s Blue Pools. One of the South Island’s secret spots, the pool is filled with pure glacial water from the nearby mountains. A 3 km walking track takes around an hour (return) to walk and leads through open flats with mountain views, across swing bridges, and through cool beech forest.

Tonight, unwind at the Wānaka TOP 10 Holiday Park. Its handy location provides easy access to Wānaka’s attractions while offering a peaceful retreat for the night.

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 4: Wānaka to Cromwell

Travel time: 45 minutes

Distance: 54 km

Today it’s another short and sweet drive, so enjoy a sleep-in and an indulgent breakfast before you pack up and hit the road. 

You’ll be heading along SH6 today to the charming township of Cromwell. Renowned for its fabulous fruits, Cromwell is also known as the ‘fruit bowl of the south’. 

Cromwell has a history dating back to the gold rush days of the 1800s. Old gold mining sites in the area include Bannockburn and Bendigo, where you’ll find ruins of miners’ cottages. Dive into its history at the Cromwell Heritage Precinct.

Keen to sample some Central Otago wine? Cromwell offers a treat. Being in the heart of the Central Otago wine region, the town boasts several vineyards and cellar doors where you can savour some of the finest pinot noirs in the world. 

As dusk approaches, park up and enjoy an evening of relaxation at Cairnmuir Motor Camp

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 5: Cromwell to Queenstown

Travel time: 1 hour

Distance: 66 km

The next leg of your journey takes you from quiet Cromwell to the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown. Best of all, you’ll be travelling via the historic, charming village of Arrowtown. But first, as you head out of Cromwell on your Queenstown road trip, make a stop to admire the dramatic Kawarau Gorge. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can throw yourself off the Kawarau Bridge attached to a Bungy! 

Next, it’s on to Arrowtown. This pretty township sits along the Arrow River which attracted gold miners from around the world during the gold rush of 1862. You can still try your hand at panning for gold today, or visit the Chinese Settlement which was once home to the hopeful miners who flocked to the region. 

Arriving in Queenstown, you’ll discover a range of attractions for every taste. If you head to Bob's Peak, aside from the incredible views, you can enjoy a ride on the Skyline Luge – a fun, gravity-fuelled adventure. 

On Lake Wakatipu, consider trying out the adrenaline-pumping jet boating or opt for a more relaxed lake cruise to appreciate the surrounding scenery. 

Queenstown's streets are great for shopping, with boutiques offering everything from local crafts to contemporary fashion. And when hunger strikes, the town has a diverse dining scene, with options ranging from fine dining to casual eateries.

Tonight, put your feet up at the Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park. The park's quiet setting is ideal for those looking to relax after a day of activities, and its handy location ensures you're never far from the action.

 

Day 6: Queenstown to St Bathans

Travel time: 2 hours

Distance: 145 km

Leaving the buzz of Queenstown behind, your next destination is the historic town of St Bathans. En route, a stop at the Clyde Hydroelectric Dam offers a glimpse into the impressive engineering feats New Zealand has achieved. The dam harnesses the natural flow of water for sustainable energy. 

A bit further on, Bannockburn is known for its gold mining past and present-day vineyards. And for a sweet pitstop, take a small detour through Alexandra. Here, you can pick some of the region's fresh fruit and complement it with a scoop (or two) of delicious ice cream.

Arriving in St Bathans, you're immediately transported back in time. The rustic Vulcan Hotel stands as a testament to the town's gold rush days, offering tales of history and perhaps, a few ghost stories. Stroll around and discover more historic buildings, painting a picture of life during the gold mining era. 

After soaking in the town's rich history and beauty, set up for the night at the St Bathans Domain Campsite. As a freedom camping spot, it allows you to be close to nature and truly enjoy the peace and quiet of this historic haven.

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 7: St. Bathans to Oamaru

Travel time: 2 hours

Distance: 173 km

Setting out from St. Bathans, your South Island road trip continues to unfold with a mix of historical sites and natural wonders. First up is Ranfurly, where a canvas of Art Deco architecture offers a glimpse into the town's vibrant cultural heritage. 

As you continue your drive, make sure to stop at the Moeraki Boulders. These intriguing spherical stones, scattered along the shoreline, have been a point of wonder and fascination for both locals and visitors alike.

Upon reaching Oamaru, a diverse array of sights and experiences await. Dive into the world of retro-futurism at the Steampunk Museum, where art and science-fiction merge in curious displays. 

For a taste of local delicacies, Whitestone Cheese provides not just an array of cheeses, but also a window into the artisanal cheese-making process. 

As evening approaches, wander down to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony to witness the delightful spectacle of these small penguins returning ashore. 

Lastly, a stroll through the Victorian Precinct is a must. Its well-preserved buildings echo tales of Oamaru's rich past, now housing boutique shops, galleries, and cafes.

After a day rich in exploration and discovery, the Oamaru TOP 10 Holiday Park offers a comfortable place to rest.

 

Day 8: Oamaru to Timaru

Travel time: 1 hour

Distance: 86 km
 

It’s day eight, and today your travels take you to Timaru. Along the way consider a detour to the Takiroa Māori Rock Art site and the nearby Elephant Rocks. Before leaving the region, visit the cellar door of River-T Wines, a boutique vineyard near the Kurow township.  

Once you reach Timaru, make a beeline for Caroline Bay. First, pick up some fish and chips, then park up your camper by the beach and enjoy lunch surrounded by the scenic backdrop. After lunch, explore the township or take a peaceful stroll through the botanic gardens.

Art enthusiasts can revel in the collections at the Aigantighe Art Gallery, which houses both local and international artworks. And if you’re feeling thirsty, a tour of the DB Draught Brewery introduces you to the art of beer-making, complete with tasting sessions.

After a day of exploration, park up at the Timaru TOP 10 Holiday Park. This welcoming base is the ideal spot to enjoy the final night of your New Zealand road trip.

 

Day 9: Timaru to Christchurch

Travel time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Distance: 162 km
 

It’s the last day of your South Island road trip, so be sure to hit the road early to pack in as much as possible in Christchurch

Once you reach the city, there are a few key spots worth checking out. Start with a stroll through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Located in the central city, they showcase an impressive collection of flora, both native and exotic. If time permits, a punt ride on the Avon River which runs through the gardens is a serene way to experience the area. Nearby, Cathedral Square stands as a testament to the city's resilience and history. 

If there's time left, pop over to New Regent Street. This colourful and historic street is lined with unique shops, cafes, and provides a vibrant setting for a quick coffee or snack.

The final item on your South Island travel itinerary is to head over to Apollo’s Christchurch branch to drop off your camper. 

 

 

Ready to explore Central Otago?

Phew, that’s a lot of awesomeness packed into nine days. And there’s no better way to make the most of everything on offer than to travel by motorhome. With an Apollo campervan hire, there’s no need to book motels, plan where to eat, or worry about finding bathrooms as you travel. All you need to do is choose from Apollo’s great range of campervans and you’re all set. 


Ready to hit the road? Take the first step and book your Apollo campervan online today.

 

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