This journey is aptly named the 'Heritage Trail' of New Zealand, with much of the area well preserved from its early settler days, including the gold rush era of the mid to late 19th century. It also offers fantastic opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography and its beautiful and varied terrain is perfect for hiking, biking, walking and skiing.
Christchurch to Akaroa
Arriving in Akaroa, not only will you be blown away with how quaint and picturesque it is, you'll actually question whether you're in New Zealand or somehow ended up in France! You haven’t gone mad, the town has preserved its French & English heritage. In 1838, a French whaler is said to have bought the land from Maori, but by the time he and other French and Germans returned to settle there, the Treaty of Waitangi had superseded his deal; despite this, the settlers decided to stay.
It's best to walk around Akaroa to take in the charm of the French inspired architecture, street names and cuisine. Other highlights include sea kayaking, sailing, cycle tours, 4WD trips to the penguin colony, swimming with dolphins and numerous walking tracks. Here’s a wee gem - check out Barrys Bay Cheese, the last remaining cheese factory from the late 1800’s, as they make cheese from recipes of the early English settlers (Mon-Thurs, during October to May). Spoil yourself with a stay at Akaroa Cottages, part of Heritage Hotels Boutique Selection set amidst a picturesque 12 acres of privately owned land, with gorgeous outlooks over the water and bush.
Do you like eating salmon or fishing for it? Make Rakaia your destination, the Salmon Capital of New Zealand! You'll first cross over the longest bridge in the southern hemisphere at 1.8 kilometres. If you feel like a little exercise, there's always the Rakaia Gorge Walkway. Check out Temuka, also with an abundance of salmon and fishing, as well as stoneware pottery and the birthplace of the first person in the world to fly - Richard Pearse!
Timaru is well known for roses, with the prized rose garden boasting over 1,200 varieties. It's also famous for Mt Horrible, loved by ardent rock climbers with its 30 or so rock climbing routes.
Oamaru to Dunedin
Steeped in history, Oamaru's impressive and well-preserved limestone architecture dates back to its prosperous days of gold mining, quarrying and timber milling in the 19th century. The Victorian precinct of Harbour/Tyne Streets is a must. At sunset, position yourself to watch the delightful little blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins waddle ashore to find accommodation for the night! Steampunk is an eclectic display of re-designed industrial parts as inventions and gadgets - it’s very quirky and is easier experienced than explained!
Dunedin, the Scotland of New Zealand, offers so much. Experience a magic train trip through the Taieri Gorge with Dunedin Railways, with breathtaking and ever-changing scenery and great photo opportunities. Olveston Historic Home is a beautiful home of 35 rooms, built for a wealthy merchant family between 1904-7; with no heirs to continue living there, the house and all its furnishings and art were gifted to the city of Dunedin in 1966 as museum. Of equal significance are Lanarch Castle built in 1871, St Paul's Cathedral, the Railway Station, Speight's Brewery and many others. Give your lungs and legs a work out by walking up 'the steepest street in the world', Baldwin Street, as recognised by the Guinness Book of Records. Be sure to explore the Otago Peninsula for fur seal and penguin colonies, dramatic cliffs and nesting albatross at Taiaroa Head.
Dunedin to Cromwell
You'll now head inland, following state highways 87, 85 and 8 at which point you'll follow the Clutha River to Cromwell. Along this journey you will experience some of the most majestic scenery you will see, and an area that celebrates its gold mining past. Clyde was one of the main gold mining settlements of Central Otago and today still proudly showcases its heritage stone buildings and cottages. The Clyde Dam is the largest concrete dam in New Zealand and feeds into the Clutha River and Lake Dunstan. Capture the beauty of the area by cycling one of the many cycle trails. Bike It Now offers six different cycling tours, including the very popular Otago Rail Trail, and as well as assisting self-guided tours and bike hire, they’ll even service your own bike if needed.
Head to Cromwell and visit its historic village, which in the 1980-90s was partly relocated/reconstructed to make allowance for the Clyde Dam Power Station and resulting Lake Dunstan that flooded the valley below. Cromwell is also a hive of activity with its abundance of fruit laden orchards and vineyards – yum!
Arrowtown and Queenstown
You'll now travel through the Kawarau Gorge to Queenstown, alongside the Kawarau River, with more stunning and dramatic scenery, vineyards and remnants of its gold mining heritage, including miner’s huts! Gibbston Valley is dotted with great vineyards and home to the world first commercial bungy jump centre, at the historic Kawarau Bridge.
Arrowtown is a living historic settlement, first established in 1862 and with more than 60 of the original buildings and cottages built by the early settlers still in existence. Arrowtown is a must-see for its historic quaintness, charm and authenticity; there’s nothing else quite like it.
Queenstown itself is one of the mega tourist spots of New Zealand, greeting thousands of local and foreign tourists daily. There are many adrenaline pumping activities on offer from bungy jumping, paraponting, hang gliding, jetboating, rafting, skiing, hiking, mountain biking to the more relaxed cycle trails and walks including around Lake Hayes. Put yourself in the fantastic hands of Southern Discoveries for their Spirit of Queenstown Scenic Cruise on Lake Wakatipu and experience farm life of Mt Nicolas Farm; a family run merino sheep farm producing fine wool exclusively for Icebreaker clothing brand.
Queenstown to Christchurch
You'll now drive over the Crown Range to Wanaka. Stop at Cardrona, a popular snow skiing destination and the Cardona Hotel that was established in 1863 and still going strong. It’s particularly magic on a cool winter's day with the roaring fire to keep you toastie. Wanaka is right on the Lake's edge where ski fields, water activities and mountainous terrain abound the whole area.
Your journey continues with a spectacular scenic drive though the Lindis Pass to the Mackenzie Basin, a sparsely populated area with tussock covered mountains, snow topped for many months of the year and right to the roadside in winter, the Southern Alps to the West and stunning turquoise coloured lakes. Your camera will be in overdrive! Tekapo is buzzing with activity all year round with Mt Cook as its backdrop and the quaint ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’ perched on the edge of Lake Tekapo basking in its beautiful surrounds.
Continuing on State Highway 79, you now start to head back to Canterbury towards Mt Hutt and its world-renowned ski field, serviced by the local town Methven. On Mt Hutt on a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Southern Alps to the west. In just under two hours driving, you’ll arrive back in Christchurch where you can reflect on an amazing trip.