Christchurch is a rapidly developing city. Being the largest city in the South Island—with a population of 375,000 people—there is plenty of excitement within the city to keep one’s self occupied. However, it is always nice to have a change in scenery every now and then (those with a wandering heart will understand). The best Christchurch-getaway can be reached within half a day and offers a source of relaxation and stunning nature.
The 480 km journey to Queenstown seems to fly by when driving through some of the most stunning landscape in all of the South Island. The first part of the journey is through Mackenzie Country—which formerly was a sheep farming area and has now turned into a major tourist attraction in New Zealand. Also the largest basin in New Zealand, Mackenzie Country is home to the town of Lake Tekapo. This small town of only 370 residents offers one of New Zealand’s most popular and pure lakes.
The most popular spot in Lake Tekapo is The Church of the Good Shepherd. The view of the lake and the church offers stunning photo opportunities, so much so that it is extremely rare to capture this scene without getting a herd of tourists in the photo as well.
After leaving Lake Tekapo, the journey to Queenstown is halfway finished. The rest of the journey is just as stunning, with views of Mount Cook—the tallest mountain in New Zealand, Lake Hawea—which lies in a glacial valley, Lindis Pass—which is an important connecting point between Mackenzie Country and Otago, and numerous waterfalls and rivers.
Queenstown itself is the adventure capital of the world; it is home to the original bungee jump along with opportunities to jetboat, parasail, zipline, skydive, and mountain bike. But these adventure sports can be quite pricey. Luckily, Queenstown is also home to some of the most scenic walks in the world—and all of them are free.
The most difficult walk in Queenstown in the Ben Lomand trek, with the peak of the Ben Lomand mountain being the goal destination.
At 1,748 meters, this climb is no easy feat; at the bottom of the Skyline Access Road to the summit of Ben Lomand, the journey can take well over four hours, not forgetting that it is about another four hours to return to the original starting point. It is also possible to take the Gondola up part of the route, which will save quite a fair bit of time and energy. Stopping at the Gondola view point is necessary no matter what, as the iconic view of Queenstown can be experienced from the observation deck.
From the Gondola to the summit of Ben Lomand is the most challenging as it is a constant uphill trek from the next 2-3 hours.
However, the pain from the climb becomes secondary to the breath-taking views that are present the entire way. Once at the Ben Lomand Saddle, it is a steep climb up the ridge of the mountain and in many places requires climbing on all fours to not fall of the edge.
However, there is no better feeling than reaching the summit of this mountain; instantly a panoramic view of Mounts Earnslaw and Aspiring, along with the famous Lake Wakatipu come into sight. While often faced with sub-zero temperatures at the top, it is difficult to leave this unique view.
However, Ben Lomand is not the only trek in Queenstown that offers picture-perfect views. Only a ten minute drive from Queenstown, a much flatter and easier walk is present at Lake Hays. This 8km trek offers sightings of Tuis and Pukekos, a reflective lake view of the surrounding hills, and the perfect tire swing to watch the sunset behind the overlooking mountains.
Another scenic point is found 45km from Queenstown; Glenorchy is a small settlement near the northern end of Lake Wakatipu and offers peace and tranquility from the overwhelming bustle of tourists in the city center of Queenstown.
The most famous point in Glenorchy is the old red boat shed, which is often the iconic picture associated with the local news broadcasts on television.
Behind this boat shed lies the most beautiful pier, one in which pictures do not even do it justice.
With so much diverse adventure available in such close proximity to Christchurch, it is difficult to run out of things to do or see. And for the wandering heart, the journeys always offers new hidden gems to discover each time this scenic path is taken.