The journey from Queenstown to Te Anau encapsulates New Zealand’s scenery at its finest – as you venture along emerald-blue lakes, dramatic mountain ranges, and through charming high-country townships. It’s a route that rewards the curious, encouraging you to stop and spend a while.
While you can drive the 170km trip non-stop in just over two hours, those who slow down and pause to admire the hidden gems along the way are treated to spectacular views, friendly locals, and one-of-a-kind experiences. Here are some of our top towns and spots to enjoy along the way, whether you have a few hours, an entire day, or if you’ve long stopped checking the clock.
At the southernmost tip of Lake Wakatipu, 45 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, lies Kingston, a relaxed lakeside settlement. On your way, stop to admire the unique views of the lake from the Devils Staircase Lookout, then once you arrive in town, park up to enjoy a coffee from The Kingston Flyer, situated in the heritage railway station building.
If you time your visit right, you can ride the rails and experience a throwback to the golden era of train travel aboard the historic Kingston Flyer itself, a steam train journey across the expansive alpine plains that’s run in various forms since 1878. For those with more time, take on the country golf course, go trout fishing or enjoy a half-day hike in the Eyre Mountains – an area known in Te reo Māori as Taka Rā Haka – ‘where the sun dances on the mountain tops’.
If you’ve got a need for speed, the team at Xtreme Off Road will satisfy all your adrenaline cravings – and some! Strap into their all-terrain turbo vehicles for the 4WD adventure of a lifetime. Choose from a half-hour blast around an epic off-road track, or a two-hour tour up Kingston Hill to soak up panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu, the Southern Alps and beyond.
Continue south along SH6 and you’ll come across Garston – a spot to stretch the legs and meet the locals. Coffee Bomb, New Zealand’s most inland food truck, are experts in fuelling thirsty travellers for the journey ahead – their Bacon and Egg muffin is a must-try. After something sweet? Find out what all the buzz is about at Garston Hunny Shop – sample their natural clover, manuka, and thyme honey and take a jar or two home with you. Before you hit the road again, peek into Garston Stables next-door to peruse the selection of antique and furniture, art and collectibles from across the globe.
Adrenaline-seekers will love the remote and rugged terrain of Welcome Rock, an exhilarating 27km biking and hiking trail built by hand. Venture off-grid and you’ll soon get that away-from-it-all-feeling, as you’re surrounded by giant tussocks, beechwood forest, panoramic views and well, nothing else! Rest up after your trail adventure and catch a spectacular sunset or sunrise or with a stay in their rustic farm-style huts – complete with luxe outdoor bathtubs to rest and relax in.
Originally a major railway junction with lines departing to all four points of the compass, you’ll find remnants of Lumsden’s rail heyday dotted throughout town – including vintage locomotives and wagons. In the restored station building lies a quaint information centre and the Five Finger Co-op, a collective of locally-made arts and crafts – pick up a hand-made treasure to brighten up your home, wardrobe, or to give as a gift.
Lumsden is also full of delicious spots to grab something to eat and drink and experience classic Southern hospitality. From the 1950’s-themed Americana café Route 6, to small-batch coffee roastery Roar, and the locals-favourite Bafe Bakery, you won’t leave town hungry. Bafe’s mouth-watering pineapple lump slice is a true taste of Kiwiana, and makes for a perfect road trip snack!
If you’re keen to see the sights on two wheels, then the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail includes plenty of show-stopping scenery – and has well-and-truly earned its place as one of New Zealand’s 23 Great Rides. Hire a mountain bike or e-bike from one of the town’s rental outfits (you can also begin your journey in Kingston or Mossburn) and hit the trails. Ride the entire 186km track in 3-5 days or choose a smaller section for a day ride – you’ll enjoy endless mountain vistas, glacial-carved lakes, sparkling rivers, and the beauty of Southland’s rural heartland.
Whether you’re a novice or experienced angler, a guided flyfishing experience with Fiordland Fishing Guides is the perfect introduction to the vast fishing opportunities on offer in and around Te Anau. With expert local knowledge and handy hints for landing the perfect catch, try your luck at trout fishing in Fiordland’s crystal-clear waters.
Te Anau surrounds
You’ve almost reached your destination – but first, stop off at the Te Anau Lion Lookout Point for some sweet, sweet scenery. Gaze across to the high-country landscape and the Kepler and Murchison mountain ranges – you’ll be rewarded with plenty of photo opportunities as you soak up the 360-degree views.
Now it’s time to head to Lakefront Drive and check into your luxurious room at Radfords on the Lake. What adventures await in Te Anau and Fiordland? That’s a story for another day…
Looking for more road trip inspiration? There’s even more itineraries over at Fiordland NZ – and if you’re looking for some tunes to enjoy the drive with, then tune your speaker to this Great Kiwi Roadtrip playlist full of classic songs. Driving down the highway in the warmer months? Then this Kiwi Summer collection is full of catchy Kiwi bangers from New Zealand artists.