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New Zealand’s south island has so much to offer, but if you are short on time and only have a few days to explore then we have created a perfect itinerary that covers many highlights. This packed 5 day Christchurch to Dunedin itinerary includes trendy cities, turquoise lakes, mountains, amazing nature, quirky museums, excellent beer and great outdoor walks. The road trip starts and ends in two large towns that both have airports – Christchurch and Dunedin.
Here is our suggested Christchurch to Dunedin 5 day road trip itinerary:
Christchurch to Dunedin road trip route
Christchurch to Dunedin 5 day road trip itinerary
Day 1: Christchurch
The road trip starts with 1 full day to explore the south island’s largest city Christchurch, known for its English influences and some of the oldest buildings in New Zealand. As you only have one day, spend it wandering around the city centre, or if you prefer you could take a day trip out of the city to visit nearby scenic places such as Akaroa.
Things to do in Christchurch city
Enjoy a boat ride along the River Avon on a 30-minute Edwardian-style punting tour. Book a punting tour >
This cardboard cathedral was a temporary replacement for the original cathedral which was damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, it is the only cathedral in the world made substantially of cardboard tubes.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
This large 21 hectare park has several different gardens, a conservatory complex, gift shop and visitor centre.
Little High Eatery
Sophisticated food court housed in an open space building open from 7am everyday until 10pm. Food options include sushi, Chinese dumplings, pizza and Venezuelan BBQ.
New Regent Street
Pedestrian mall lined with pastel coloured buildings and one of the city’s most photogenic spots with excellent bars and restaurants.
Explore the sights of the city with a full-day hop-on and hop-off vintage tram ticket. You can also enjoy a 4-course fine dining meal onboard. Book a vintage tram tour or 4 course dinner tour >
Stay 1 night in Christchurch:
BUDGET BACKPACKER – The Old Countryhouse Christchurch
Highly rated hostel located a a 20 minute walk from downtown Christchurch with both dorms and private rooms, speedy WIFI and spa/sauna.
MID RANGE – Quest Christchurch Serviced Apartments
Spacious studios and apartments a 3 minute walk from Cathedral Square featuring private balcony, kitchen and laundry facilities.
LUXURY – Colombo in the City
Modern motel located just 6 minutes’ walk from Christchurch’s city centre with cooking facilities and balcony.
LUXURY – Rydges Latimer Christchurch
Highly rated hotel located in the centre of Christchurch. Facilities include a fitness centre, sauna and onsite restaurant.
CAMPERVAN – Christchurch TOP 10 Holiday Park
Holiday Park located on the outskirts of central Christchurch with indoor heated swimming pool, private spa, BBQ and games/TV rooms.
Day 2: Christchurch to Tekapo
Christchurch > Lake Tekapo: 3 and a half hours
Check out of your Christchurch accommodation and head to the next stop of the Christchurch to Dunedin road trip – Lake Tekapo! We recommend you take the more scenic route to Tekapo via State Highway 77 west of Christchurch and make a stop at Rakaia Gorge for stunning views of the crystal clear blue river.
On the drive to Tekapo you will pass through the cute town of Geraldine where you can browse many arts and crafts shops, enjoy a snack at one the many bakeries/cafes or visit the Geraldine Vintage Car & Machinery Museum. There is also a farmers’ market every Saturday morning selling homegrown produce and handmade products.
The drive from Geraldine to Lake Tekapo takes an hour – check into your Tekapo accommodation as soon as you arrive and then spend the afternoon enjoying activities in this pretty lakeside town.
Lake Tekapo is famous for its glacier fed bright turquoise lake, and also for its colourful lupin flowers which bloom in November and December.
If you enjoy hiking then there are a variety of scenic short walks in the local area that last between 1 hour to 4 hours long – a list of tracks are available on the Mackenzie website.
If you want a more relaxing afternoon then head to Tekapo Hot Springs thermal hot pools located on the edge of pine forest, with beautiful views of the Lake. Book a single day pass for the hot pools >
If it is a clear night we recommend going Stargazing. Lake Tekapo has very limited light pollution which makes it one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Take a trip to the top of Mt John and visit the observatory, or book this Dark Sky Project’s Crater Tour in Tekapo. Alternatively you can view the stars whilst enjoying a soak in Tekapo hot springs in a floating hammock.
Stay 1 night in Lake Tekapo:
BUDGET – Lake Tekapo YHA
New modern hostel located on the lakefront with spacious communal areas, private rooms and dorms, and an on-site burger bar.
MID RANGE – Lake Tekapo Village Motel
Resort featuring studios, two-bedroom apartments and a penthouse suite with lake views within a short walk of shops, and restaurants.
LUXURY – Peppers Bluewater Resort
Luxury apartments in a wood-panelled building with most featuring a balcony and stunning mountain or lake views
CAMPERVAN SITE – Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park
Holiday Park with views of Lake Tekapo with communal lounge, BBQ area and kitchens.
If you have a spare day or two and can add more time onto your itinerary, then we would recommend spending at least one night at Mount Cook Village after leaving Lake Tekapo. The scenery is epic here and you can enjoy some amazing walks in the national park. Check out our things to do in Mount Cook guide >
Day 3: Tekapo to Oamaru
Lake Tekapo > Oamaru: 2 hours 30 minutes
Check out of your accommodation and drive towards the town of Oamaru via Twizel. We recommend you make a stop at the Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre on State Highway 8 and purchase some delicious and fresh salmon sushimi from the gourmet food shop.
You’ll then drive through the Lindis Pass into the Mackenzie Basin, before passing through the small towns of Omarama and Twizel. In Omarama you can enjoy a private hot tub experience with views of the mountains, or visit one of the nice gift shops.
At Omarama turn onto Highway 83 towards Oamaru. On this route you will drive past spots such as Lake Benmore and also the Elephant Rocks – a collection of large weathered limestone rocks that apparently look a lot like Elephants (we don’t know – we haven’t been!).
Arrive into Oamaru around early afternoon, check into your hotel and then enjoy some of the following things to do in this small coastal town:
Victorian Precinct (Harbour Street)
Harbour Street is New Zealand’s best preserved Victorian commercial streetscape and is filled with cute shops, galleries, cafes, bars, breweries and restaurants. On Sunday mornings there is a farmers market and a coal-fired steam and vintage diesel train runs half hour trips for tourists.
This awesome museum features an interesting collection of retro-futuristic sci-fi art, movies, sculpture and sound and is our top thing to do in Oamaru. The infinity light room through The Portal is really amazing and hopefully you won’t find too many instagrammers hogging it! Read more about our trip to Steampunk HQ >
New Zealand’s award-winning Whitestone Cheese is made in Oamaru, and the factory offers guided tours to give guests a behind the scenes look at their cheese making process. There is also a cafe serving cheese platters and a gift shop onsite. Book a guided tour >
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
At sunset you can observe the world’s smallest penguins arriving home from their day at sea and returning to their nests – cute! During the summer months, evening Blue Penguin viewing can be as late as 9pm, whilst in the winter it can be as early as 5:30pm. Book a Blue Penguin Colony Evening Viewing Ticket >
Stay 1 night in Oamaru:
BUDGET – Oamaru Backpackers
Recently renovated hostel with each room having a different theme. Amenities include a lounge with views over Oamaru Harbour, kitchen, outdoor spaces and free parking.
MID RANGE – Oamaru Motor Lodge
Spacious and comfy apartments with cooking facilities and outdoor seating areas.
LUXURY – The Old Confectionery
Modern apartments (some with sea views) located in a beautifully renovated Heritage building.
CAMPERVAN SITE – Oamaru TOP 10 Holiday Park
Large holiday park within walking distance of town with BBQ areas, hot showers, laundry room and communal kitchen.
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Day 4: Oamaru to Dunedin via Moeraki Boulders
Oamaru > Moeraki Boulders: 30 minutes
Moeraki Boulders > Dunedin: 1 hour
Check out of your hotel and drive 30 minutes south to Koekohe Beach, where you’ll find the Moeraki Boulders. If you are an early riser this would be a great spot for sunrise – we did try it ourselves but found some large tour buses also had the same idea, so just a warning it won’t be a peaceful experience!
Moeraki bolders are unusually large and spherical boulders that were formed about 65 million years ago. Each boulder weighs several tonnes and is up to two metres high and are an amazing natural phenomenon. Read more about our visit to see the Moeraki Boulders >
After taking a million photos of yourself sitting inside these rocks continue onwards on your journey to Dunedin. Stop off at Karitane beach – a peaceful and sandy beach popular with surfers, and head to the Puketeraki Lookout for excellent views.
Before you check into your Dunedin accommodation, swing by Baldwin Street – officially the world’s steepest street! We recommend parking your car at the bottom of the hill 🙂 Read more about our visit to Baldwin Street >
After checking into your accommodation enjoy a stroll around town and check out some of Dunedin’s gorgeous heritage buildings, museums, botanic garden or the vibrant street art scene. Dunedin is a city well known for its Scottish and Maori heritage, Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and a rather large student population (so therefore an excellent drinking destination).
Dunedin Brewery tours
If you are a beer fan there are two breweries in town that offer factory and tasting tours – Speight’s and Emerson’s. We did these two tours in one afternoon, and although we enjoyed both of them, we thought the Emerson’s tour and bar were a much better experience (also the restaurant at Emerson’s was really good!). Read about our brewery tours at Speight’s and Emerson’s >
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Stay 2 nights in Dunedin:
BUDGET – On Top Backpackers
Hostel with both private rooms and dorm situated in the heart of Dunedin City, just a minutes’ walk from The Octagon. Amenities include a cafe and bar, pool tables, kitchen and BBQ facilities.
MID RANGE – The Victoria Hotel Dunedin
Spacious studios and apartments with private balconies and 2 on-site restaurants.
LUXURY – The Chamberson Hotel
Beautifully decorated boutique hotel situated in a heritage-listed building in the centre of Dunedin.
CAMPERVAN SITE – Dunedin Holiday Park and Motels
4 star holiday park with free unlimited wifi, laundry, BBQ area and TV room.
Day 5: Dunedin
Today is the final day of the Christchurch to Dunedin road trip and we recommend exploring the picturesque Otago Peninsula with its green rolling hills, walking trails, historic castle and beautiful beaches.
Otago Peninsula is one of the best places in New Zealand for wildlife and just a short scenic drive from Dunedin city centre. Here you can see yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, sea lions and many other aquatic birds. Book an Otago Peninsula Natures Wonders Wildlife Tour >
As well as having excellent wildlife, the Otago Peninsula has some stunning beaches! Head to Sandfly Bay – a wide windswept beach where you might spot yellow-eyed penguins (the best time to see them is in the evening).
Larnach Castle is also a must do when visiting the peninsula. Larnach is New Zealand’s only castle and boasts beautiful gardens, grand architecture and a scandalous history. Book a Larnach Castle and Gardens Admission Ticket >
Car hire for Christchurch to Dunedin road trip
Public transport is pretty poor between cities in New Zealand, and many attractions are usually a drive out of town, so for that reason we would recommend hiring a car or campervan for your road trip.
You can pick up your hire car / campervan as soon as you arrive at Christchurch airport and return it at Dunedin airport. Use rentalcars.com to compare different prices from all the rental car companies.
From our own personal experience we would not recommend Omega Rental Cars for car hire at all (dirty car, poor customer service and unauthorised payments coming out of our account 9 months after our trip) – avoid these guys!
Other New Zealand itineraries
- Christchurch to Nelson drive itinerary – 8 day round trip
- Queenstown itinerary – the perfect 5 day itinerary
- Wellington to Christchurch road trip – 7 day itinerary
- Christchurch to Queenstown road trip – 1 week itinerary
- Auckland to Rotorua 5 day round trip itinerary
- Auckland to Wellington road trip – 7 day North Island itinerary
- Auckland itinerary – perfect 1, 2 or 3 days in Auckland
Check out our other New Zealand blog posts:
- How to spend a day in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
- Things to do on Waiheke Island: the ultimate guide
- The 10 best day trips from Auckland, New Zealand
- Things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand
- The best day trips from Queenstown, New Zealand
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