With its vibrant colours and cool temperatures, Autumn is the perfect time for embarking on a road trip. Queenstown's central location makes it the perfect place for exploring the South Island. From charming Central Otago towns to the breathtaking natural wonders of Fiordland, get ready to experience the beauty of autumn with a weekend road trip.
Here are 10 destinations you have to check out.
Nestled amidst the Southern Alps, Wanaka is the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Take a stroll along the stunning shores of Lake Wanaka to view the Wanaka Tree — a partially submerged tree in the shallows of the lake. If you enjoy autumn foliage, head north of the town and walk along the Clutha River for one of the most picturesque walks in the region.
For an adrenaline rush, there are plenty of places to mountain bike in the region. Before you leave don’t forget to hike up Roy's Peak for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. If you’re looking for family-friendly activities, visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm or go fishing for salmon at Hook Wanaka for a lake-to-plate experience.
Step back in time with a visit to Arrowtown, a historic gold rush village. Take a stroll along Buckingham Street, lined with heritage buildings and delightful shops. Discover the Chinese settlement and learn about the area's gold mining history. Get into the gold rush spirit by hiring a gold pan, heading to the river, or experiencing a sluicing tour.
Autumn is the perfect time to immerse yourself in the stunning colours of the Arrow River, which meanders through the town. Treat yourself to a delicious meal at one of the cozy eateries, such as the charming Fork and Tap.
Located on the shores of Lake Te Anau, this scenic town is the gateway to the magnificent Fiordland National Park. You can carry on to Manapouri and take a boat trip to Milford Sound, where you'll witness cascading waterfalls and towering fjords.
While in Te Anau, explore the Te Anau Glowworm Caves and marvel at the twinkling lights created by these enchanting creatures. Indulge in fresh local cuisine at the Redcliff Café, known for its hearty soups and delectable seafood.
Just a few hours' drive away from Queenstown is the otherworldly beauty of Lake Tekapo, a destination that will take your breath away. The turquoise-coloured lake, framed by snow-capped mountains, is worth the trip alone. But if you’re looking for more to do, take a moment to relax at the Tekapo Springs, where you can indulge in soothing hot pools with panoramic views of the lake and surrounding landscapes.
For stargazing enthusiasts, Lake Tekapo is renowned as one of the best places in the world for observing the night sky. Head to the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, a picturesque stone church on the lake's edge, to watch the stars or book a guided night tour.
Situated at the head of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is a paradise for nature enthusiasts. Take a leisurely drive along the scenic Glenorchy-Queenstown Road, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and vibrant autumn foliage. Adventure seekers can enjoy horse trekking or embark on a jet boat ride. For a tranquil escape, visit the nearby Paradise, a serene valley known for its stunning landscapes and Lord of the Rings filming locations. Don’t miss a photo at the iconic red Glenorchy shed while in town.
Located in the heart of Central Otago, Cromwell is renowned for its vineyards and fruit orchards. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the region's vineyards, such as the popular Mt Difficulty or Carrick Winery, for a wine-tasting session. Don't miss visiting Old Cromwell Town, a historic precinct showcasing the area's gold mining heritage. Savour a sumptuous meal at the Stoaker Room, a smokehouse and outdoor kitchen serving up delicious meats and locally sourced food.
Embark on a journey to the spectacular Mount Cook National Park, home to New Zealand's highest peak. Marvel at towering Aoraki/Mount Cook, surrounded by glaciers and turquoise lakes. Explore the Hooker Valley Track, a picturesque hiking trail leading to a stunning glacial lake.
Head towards the charming village of Cardrona, known for its beautiful alpine scenery and historic charm. Stop by the iconic Cardrona Hotel, a heritage building serving locals and travellers since the gold rush era. Enjoy a hearty pub meal and soak up the cozy atmosphere. For outdoor enthusiasts, Cardrona Alpine Resort offers thrilling skiing and snowboarding during winter and mountain biking trails during autumn to enjoy.
Venture to the sunny town of Alexandra, in Central Otago's heart. Famous for its orchards and vineyards, Alexandra is a food and wine lover's paradise. Explore the Alexandra Clock, a landmark that chimes a tune every hour and takes you across the historic Shaky Bridge. Alexandra is also a great place to explore by bike. Hire a bike from town or take your own and cycle the 12km trail alongside the Clutha River to Clyde.
Stroll along the picturesque riverfront and enjoy the stunning views of the Clutha River. Indulge in a wine-tasting experience at nearby vineyards, such as Shaky Bridge, and savour the region's unique flavours.
Finally, embark on a scenic drive to Twizel, a small town surrounded by stunning mountain ranges and pristine lakes. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the picturesque Lake Ruataniwha, known for its crystal-clear waters and tranquil surroundings.
Adventure enthusiasts can explore the nearby Ben Ohau Range and get involved in hiking the 3-hour loop walk for views of grasslands and beautiful mountains. There are also plenty of trails for mountain biking. Twizel was a major location for The Lord of the Rings. Check out a local tour to visit the scenic locations and learn about the film.
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Autumn in Queenstown opens up a world of possibilities for unforgettable road trips. From the tranquil shores of Lake Wanaka to the historic charm of Arrowtown and the breathtaking beauty of Te Anau and Mount Cook National Park, each destination offers a unique experience.
Whether you're an adventure seeker, a nature enthusiast, or a food and wine lover, these locations within a few hours of Queenstown are worth checking out. Pack your bags, hit the road, and immerse yourself in the vibrant autumn hues of this breathtaking region.
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