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A Perfect Picton to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary (via the West Coast)

A view over Picton from the Tirohanga track.

Looking for the perfect Picton to Queenstown road trip itinerary?

Then you’ve come to the right place!

It can be overwhelming trying to plan which route to take from Picton to Queenstown.

That’s where I can help.  

I live in Queenstown and travel up and down the South Island a lot. In this guide, I’m sharing one of my favourite South Island road trips: an 8-day route from Picton to Queenstown via the West Coast.

This route covers some of the South Island’s most dramatic scenery in an efficient, jam-packed itinerary. 

Honestly, the landscapes along this road trip are so diverse, and I doubt there’s another trip in the world quite like it. 

You’ll get to experience golden beaches, lush rainforests, crackling glaciers, snow-capped mountains, and pristine alpine lakes—all in the span of an 8-day road trip.

I’ve got lots of tips for you to make the most of your journey, including the best stops to make along each section of the drive. I’ve also recommended my favourite places to camp or stay at each destination—this itinerary works for all kinds of road-trippers, whether travelling in a campervan or car.

So let’s get to it. Read on for the perfect Picton to Queenstown road trip itinerary!

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links to trusted partners. If you make a purchase through an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I really appreciate your support!

Picton to Queenstown Road Trip at a Glance

🗓 8 Days

🚙 Distance: 1,168km (726 miles)

🛌 Where to Stay: Abel Tasman National Park, Punakaiki, Franz Josef, Wanaka, & Queenstown

⭐️Trip Highlights: Golden-sand beaches, glaciers, alpine lakes, and mountains

Picton to Queenstown Road Trip Map

Picton to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary (via West Coast)

Days 1-2: Abel Tasman National Park

🚙 Drive time from Picton to Abel Tasman National Park: 3 hr 10 min; 173km (107 miles) 

The Interislander Ferry gliding across the ocean in the Marlborough Sounds.

After crossing the Cook Straight on a 3.5-hour ferry ride from Wellington, you’ll reach Picton, the gateway to the South Island!

I recommend booking a morning ferry from Wellington to Picton, because this day is going to be packed with things to do and you’ll want as many daylight hours as possible.

When you arrive in Picton, visit the Picton Village Bakery for a snack (they have great meat pies, sandwiches, and sweet treats). Then it’s time to hit the road for Abel Tasman National Park!

Abel Tasman National Park is known for its calm turquoise waters, lush native forest, soft golden-sand beaches, and coastal hiking trails. 

On Day 1 of this itinerary, take your time stopping at some of the great spots along the drive from Picton to Abel Tasman National Park.

Then on Day 2, you’ll have the whole day to explore Abel Tasman National Park at your leisure (lucky you!).

📍Stops between Picton and Abel Tasman National Park

A view of an emerald-green bay in the Marlborough Sounds from the Cullen Point Lookout along the Queen Charlotte Drive.
Views over the Marlborough Sounds from the Cullen Point Lookout
  • Queen Charlotte Drive: This super-scenic drive hugs the coastline between Picton and Havelock. You’ll get gorgeous views of the Marlborough Sounds along the way. Don’t miss a stop at the Cullen Point Lookout!

  • Havelock: Known as the “Greenshell Mussel Capital” of New Zealand, it would be a shame to pass by Havelock and not sample the local delicacy! Pop in for lunch at the Mussel Pot, where you can feast on a bowl of freshly-steamed mussels in your choice of sauce, with options like garlic, wine and herbs; or a coconutty Thai green curry.

  • Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve: The gorgeous Pelorus River was used as a filming site in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and is a perfect spot for a roadside picnic or refreshing dip. There’s also a fantastic DOC campsite here and some lovely short walks in the forest.

  • Māpua: Māpua is a cute little wharfside town that’s well worth wandering through. Pop into the artisan shops and grab a craft beer and snack at Golden Bear Brewing.

✅ Things to do in Abel Tasman National Park

A close-up view of Anchorage Bay Beach in Abel Tasman National Park, with a small sailboat in the background.
Anchorage Bay in Abel Tasman National Park
  • Day hike along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track! While the entire track takes several days to complete, you can do some awesome day hikes along portions of the trail. My favourite option is to take a one-way water taxi from Marahau to Anchorage Bay, then hike along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track back to Marahau. 

  • Go kayaking! There are great options for kayak tours, or if you’re an experienced kayaker you can also book a freedom kayak rental.

  • Visit Split Apple Rock. Most of the boat and kayak tours in Abel Tasman will go past Split Apple Rock. If you don’t catch a view of it from the water, though, then you can take the short trail to Split Apple Beach to view this famous rock formation.

  • Hang out at Kaiteriteri Beach. The popular Kaiteriteri Beach has soft golden sand and is worth a visit—it’s one of the best beaches on the South Island!

⭐️ Want to try kayaking AND hiking in Abel Tasman? On this awesome tour, you get to do both!

🛌 Where to Stay in Abel Tasman National Park 

There are two main places to stay in Abel Tasman National Park: Marahau and Kaiteriteri. I love staying in Marahau, but some people prefer Kaiteriteri. There’s really no bad choice.

Marahau is located next to tidal beaches, whereas Kaiteriteri is set next to a sandy beach.

Whether you choose to stay in Marahau or Kaiteriteri, here’s where I recommend for camping or accommodation:

Day 3: Punakaiki

🚙 Drive time from Abel Tasman National Park to Punakaiki: 4 hr 45 min / 349km (217 miles)

The stacked rock formations of the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks with the ocean and rainforest-covered hills in the background.
The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks!

On day 3 of your Picton to Queenstown road trip, it’s time to head for the West Coast. 

After experiencing the calm waters of Abel Tasman National Park, the West Coast offers a dramatic contrast. 

While it’s equally beautiful in its own way, the West Coast is wild and rugged.

After leaving Marahau, grab breakfast at Toad Hall in Motueka and pick up some local produce from their shop to enjoy later, too!

Then it’s time to make your way to the wild West Coast.

Tip: There isn’t a supermarket at your next destination, Punakaiki. Nor are there many places to dine out in Punakaiki, so I recommend self-catering. If you need to, do a grocery top-up in Motueka before driving south towards Punakaiki.

📍Stops between Abel Tasman National Park and Punakaiki

A seagull gliding in the air over Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park, a short detour along a drive from Picton to Queenstown via the West Coast.
Beautiful Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park
  • Nelson Lakes National Park: Take a detour to Nelson Lakes National Park to enjoy the fresh alpine air and scenery at picturesque Lake Rotoiti.

    Make sure to walk out on the Lake Rotoiti jetty for a photo-op, and to look for the massive long-fin eels lurking in the water below.

  • Cape Foulwind Seal Colony: After leaving Nelson Lakes National Park, drive towards the West Coast, passing through Murchison and alongside the Buller River on the way.

    When you arrive at the coast, head up to Cape Foulwind for an opportunity to spot New Zealand fur seals.

    The seal colony here is most active between November and February.

  • Enjoy the Scenic Drive to Punakaiki: The coastal drive between Westport and Punakaiki is one of the most scenic roads in New Zealand, and it gets progressively more stunning as you work your way south to Punakaiki.

    With incredible ocean views on one side, and cliffs studded with Nikau palm trees on the other, this drive is truly breathtaking. It’s a real highlight on this Picton to Queenstown road trip!

✅ Things to do in Punakaiki

Kayakers paddling up the tannin-stained Porarari River, with dense jungly forest on both sides of the river.
  • Visit the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks: The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks are the most famous attraction in Punakaiki and are a must-do when you’re here.

    These limestone rock formations resemble—you guessed it—stacks of pancakes! They’re quite remarkable to see.

    Along with the rocks are blowholes, which can be impressive if you time things right.

    To best experience the blowholes in action, visit the Pancake Rocks at high tide.
  • Hike the Porarari River Track: The jungly walk along the Porarari River Track will make you feel like you’re in the Amazon. It’s such a unique place in New Zealand!

    A 1.5-hour out-and-back walk follows the tannin-stained Porarari River on a well-formed track in a lush rainforest. You’ll spot lots of beautiful Nikau palms and can sometimes see kayakers in the river.
  • Explore the Truman Track: Walk along the jungly Truman Track to a beautiful beach cove with a waterfall that drops onto its sands.

    The short walk to get there is a delight, with a lovely path that winds its way down to the beach through the rainforest.

    For the best result, visit the beach at low tide.

🛌 Where to Stay in Punakaiki:

Day 4: Franz Josef

🚙 Drive time from Punakaiki to Franz Josef (with detour to Hokitika Gorge): 3hr 40min; 277km (172 miles)

A view of the Franz Josef Glacier from the lookout at the end of the Franz Josef Glacier Walk.
The view from the Franz Josef Glacier walk

Before leaving Punakaiki, visit any of the Punakaiki attractions you didn’t have time for yesterday.

I recommend taking your time this morning to soak in the special scenery in Punakaiki. You won’t see anything else quite like it on this trip, or elsewhere in NZ!

Tip: There are two main places to grab groceries and petrol (gas) today: Greymouth or Hokitika. Out of these two places, I much prefer Hokitika.

📍Stops between Punakaiki and Franz Josef

A swingbridge perched over the electric-blue Hokitika Gorge, which is surrounded by beech forest.
The electric blue Hokitika Gorge is a must-see along this road trip!
  • Hokitika: Hokitika is a cute West Coast town, and it’s well worth a stop here.

    Head out to Hokitika Beach to get a photo of the famous driftwood Hokitika Beach sign, and then wander around town and peek into the artisan shops.

    One thing you can’t miss in Hokitika is the Hokitika Sandwich Company. They make amazing deli sandwiches, stuffed to the brim with local ingredients. 

  • Hokitika Gorge: Now, the Hokitika Gorge requires a bit of a detour, but you absolutely can’t miss this spot when you’re travelling down the West Coast.

    It’s incredible.

    At the Hokitika Gorge, you’ll find a fantastic 2km walking track that follows the electric-blue Hokitika Gorge. The track is surrounded by dense green podocarp forest, and the whole place is like something out of a fairytale.

    Make sure to apply insect repellent before heading out on your walk, because sandflies are prolific here. It’s worth braving sandflies for this place, though, believe me!

✅ Things to do in Franz Josef

  • View the Franz Josef Glacier! It’s retreating at a rapid rate, so don’t miss your chance to see it.

    For a free option, you can do the easy 1.7km (30-minute) Franz Josef Glacier walk, where you can view the glacier from afar. 

    If it’s in your budget, though, then book a helicopter tour to see the glacier from above! This is, hands down, the best way to see Franz Josef Glacier. 

  • Have dinner at Alice May, the best restaurant in Franz Josef. It has a cosy, homey atmosphere and the food is delicious.

    If it’s a clear evening, sit outside in the courtyard to enjoy a meal with epic mountain views in the background.
  • Relax in the Waiho Hot Tubs, which are set amidst lush rainforest and are such a treat after a day of driving and exploring!

🛌 Where to Stay in Franz Josef:

Days 5-6: Wanakā 

🚙 Drive time from Franz Josef to Wanakā: 4+ hours, 294km (182 miles)

Ty from Weekend Path standing at the top of the Roy's Peak hike with Lake Wanaka in the background.

Now, the drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka is one of those routes where Google Maps gets the driving times completely wrong.

Google Maps will tell you that it’ll take about 4 hours to drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka over Haast Pass.

However, the last time I did this drive, it took me about 8 hours with stops along the way. You’ll see what I mean once you’re there yourself! 

There is just SO much to see along this section of your Picton to Queenstown road trip—it’s one of the most scenery-packed sections on this itinerary, which is saying a lot. 

So, on day 5 of your itinerary, get an early start from Franz Josef so you have time for lots of epic stops along the way! 

Tip: if you need to top up your car’s petrol, do so in Franz Josef rather than waiting for the next town (Fox Glacier). There is only one petrol station in Fox Glacier, and I’ve always found the prices there to be extraordinarily high.

📍Stops Between Franz Josef and Wanakā

Lake Matheson reflecting snow-capped mountains and forest in its calm waters.
Lake Matheson from the Reflection Island viewing platform
  • Lake Matheson: On a calm, clear day, mirror-like Lake Matheson reflects views of the surrounding mountains in its serene waters.

    For the best chance of experiencing calm weather, visit Lake Matheson early in the morning. Get there early to complete the 1.5-hour loop walk through native forest, and make sure to stop at the Reflection Island viewing platform for the best views and photo ops.

    The Lake Matheson Cafe is located at the start of the walking track and is a great place to grab breakfast and a coffee before hitting the road for further adventures!

  • Ship Creek: this will be your last chance to view the wild West Coast ocean before heading inland. So, make the most of the opportunity by parking up and stretching your legs at Ship Creek. Take a short stroll along the beach, or explore the two easy walking tracks here.

    Do be warned, though, that sandflies can be prolific at Ship Creek—if you keep moving, they can’t catch up to you, though.

  • Thunder Creek Falls: This 28m (92ft) high waterfall is a must-see along Haast Pass. Park in one of the designated spots along the highway, and make the 2-minute easy walk through the forest to see this impressive waterfall.
  • Fantail Falls: Named after the native New Zealand bird called the fantail (piwakawaka), this fan-shaped waterfall is a beauty. There’s an offroad carpark here, so park up and enjoy the picturesque 5-minute walk to the falls.
  • Blue Pools: The Blue Pools are a must-see along today’s drive, so make sure you allocate enough time for a stop here!

    As their name suggests, the Blue Pools are stunning glacial-blue pools of water located along the Makarora River.

    Accessing the Blue Pools requires an easy 30-minute (one-way) walk through native forest and over a couple of swing bridges.

    Some people like to swim in the Blue Pools, but I should mention that they’re always icy cold! There are also usually sandflies present down by the pools, so come prepared for that. 

✅ Things to do in Wanakā

Three beer glasses sitting on a table at b.effect Brewing Co in Wanaka.
My idea of a perfect day in Wanakā – a hike followed by a craft beer!
  • Visit the famous Wanakā tree. I like walking to it from town along the lakeside path.

  • Wander through the Wanakā Lavender Farm. The lavender is in bloom from December to February, and they also have seasonal gardens, a cute shop, and friendly farm animals year-round.
  • Watch a movie. The iconic Cinema Paradiso has comfy sofa seats and freshly-baked cookies available at intermission.

  • Eat delicious food. Grab a bite to eat at the Wanakā food trucks (Burrito Craft is my go-to), Big Fig, or Red Star Burgers.
  • Play disc (frisbee) golf. There are two courses in Wanakā—Lismore Park (18 baskets) and Eely Point (9 baskets). You can get discs from Outside Sports or Vortica Sport in town.
  • Sip on craft beer. Sample Wanakā’s craft beer scene at either b.effect Brewing, Ground Up, or Rhyme x Reason.

🛌Where to Stay in Wanakā

Days 7-8: Queenstown

🚙 Drive time from Wanakā to Queenstown: 1hr 15 min; 75km (47 miles)

Views over Lake Wakatipu and the Queenstown Gardens from the top of the Skyline Gondola.

The one-hour drive from Wanakā to Queenstown may be short, but it sure is stunning. There are some great stops to make along the way but for the most part, you’ll just want to get to Queenstown!

Note: Some campervan companies prohibit their vehicles from being driven over the Crown Range Road, which I’m recommending here. If this applies to you, take the alternate (and equally scenic) route from Cromwell to Queenstown instead!

Before embarking on today’s drive, pop into Curbside for a delicious bagel and coffee (their halloumi bagel is divine).

📍 Stops on the Drive from Wanakā to Queenstown

The historic Cardrona Hotel along the drive between Wanaka and Queenstown via the Crown Range Road.
  • Cardrona Hotel: This historic hotel is a must-see for a quick photo op. It’s also lovely to grab a beverage and snack here to enjoy inside or outside in their beautiful garden. 
  • Crown Range Road: The Crown Range Road is a scenic stretch of highway between Cardrona and Queenstown, known for its steep and winding terrain and beautiful views. In the summer months, you can often spot lupins along this road, too.
  • Arrowtown: Shortly after descending from the Crown Range Road, take a slight detour to adorable Arrowtown. This historic gold-mining town is a must-visit when you’re in the Queenstown area! Go for a stroll along the river and down Buckingham Street. After wandering around, grab a craft beer and lunch at Slow Cuts or the Fork and Tap.

✅ Things to do in Queenstown

The TSS Earnslaw boat in Queenstown parked up on Lake Wakatipu at the Walter Peak Station, with snow-capped mountains in the background and autumn foliage in the foreground.
  • Go hiking! Here are some good hiking options:
    • Frankton Track to the Queenstown Marina (2.5 hours return; easy)
      • Tip: At the marina, grab brunch at the Boat Shed or a beer from Altitude Brewery before turning around to walk back to town.
    • Queenstown Hill Summit (1.5 hours return; moderate-hard) 
    • Ben Lomond Track (6 hours return; hard) 
  • Drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy for a day trip. Don’t miss stopping at Bob’s Cove along the way—it’s a goodie.
    • Hiker’s Tip: if you’re a keen hiker, then I recommend driving past Glenorchy to the start of the Routeburn Track to do a day hike to either Routeburn Flats or Routeburn Falls. This is one of my top hiking trails on the South Island.
  • Wander through the beautiful Queenstown Gardens. There’s a great disc golf course in the gardens, too; hire discs from the ice skating rink or at Small Planet Sports.
  • Go wine tasting in Gibbston Valley. Mt Rosa and Kinross are my top two wineries in the area.

🚌🍷 This hop-on, hop-off wine bus is a great way to visit some wineries at your own pace. 

  • Enjoy a relaxing cruise on the lake. The TSS Earnslaw is my favourite Queenstown lake cruise, especially when paired with the epic BBQ lunch option.
  • Visit Milford Sound on a tour. If you aren’t heading to Milford Sound after Queenstown, then consider taking a tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound (don’t drive yourself on a day trip from Queenstown—it’s too far).  

✈️ 🏔 For time-pressed travellers, I recommend this fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

  • Enjoy brunch at Vudu or Bespoke Kitchen, or grab a takeaway pastry from Fergbaker.
  • Have dinner at Tanoshi, the Cow, Blue Kanu, or Margo’s. Or try a “world-famous” Ferburger, because when in Queenstown…

🛌 Where to Stay in Queenstown

Where to Hire a Car or Campervan for your Picton to Queenstown Drive

A small green and purple Jucy campervan in New Zealand that says, "find your happy" on its left side.

🚙 Car Hire: I use and recommend Rentalcars.com to find car rentals in New Zealand. They make it easy by comparing prices on all the top car hire companies in NZ.

Important Note: If hiring a car from the North Island to take onto the Interislander or Bluebridge ferries, just make sure to read the fine print about whether or not you’re allowed to take the car on the ferry. Some companies have restrictions around this.

🚐 Campervan Hire: Below are my 3 favourite campervan companies in New Zealand. They offer great value for money and I love their wide range of campervan models!

>> JUCY (depots in Auckland, Christchurch & Queenstown)
>> Spaceships (depots in Auckland & Christchurch)
>> Travellers Autobarn (depots in Auckland & Christchurch)

I also recommend using Motorhome Republic to compare prices on New Zealand’s top campervan companies.

Note: There are no major campervan companies in either Wellington or Picton, so if campervanning is your goal, then I recommend starting your road trip in Auckland or Christchurch.

Best Time of Year for a Picton to Queenstown Road Trip

You can technically do this road trip year-round, but I recommend taking your trip between November through the end of April/beginning of May (Spring through Autumn in NZ).

While you can still road trip on the South Island in the winter months (June through September), you’ll risk encountering icy roads, and you won’t easily be able to go hiking in alpine areas around Wanakā and Queenstown.

Alternate Picton to Queenstown Itinerary Ideas

If you have more than 8 days for your road trip, then I recommend the following options for extending your trip:

  • Wine lovers should consider adding a night or two in Blenheim after arriving in Picton. The Marlborough Region is famous for its sauvignon blanc, and it’s fun taking a wine tour here.

🚲 🥂 I absolutely love this self-guided bike-to-wineries option in Blenheim! 

  • After Abel Tasman National Park, you could head to Golden Bay for two nights. There are so many amazing places to visit in Golden Bay, including Pupu Springs, Wharariki Beach, and the famous Mussel Inn.
  • Spend an extra day or two in Queenstown!  
  • Head down to Te Anau for 2 nights, and do a day trip drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound on your second day there.
    • For the Te Anau option, I’d change up this itinerary on Day 7 to drive from Wanakā to Te Anau, then head back up to Queenstown to stay there afterwards.
  • After Queenstown, head north to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo, then drive up to Christchurch for your return flight.

  • If you’d prefer to travel from Picton to Queenstown on a more direct route, then you could drive from Picton to Christchurch via Kaikōura. Then follow my Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary!

Thanks for Reading my Picton to Queenstown Road Trip Guide!

Jac from Weekend Path sitting on the Skyline gondola with a view over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu in the background.

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful. 

If you have any questions about this trip—or about travelling around NZ in general—please leave a comment and I’ll reply as soon as possible!

2 Comments

  1. Very well written Blog and a great help with planning the entire trip. Looking forward to doing most of it during our visit (from Los Angeles) this February.

    1. Hi! Thanks so much, I’m so glad you found the blog helpful! Hope you have the best time on your NZ trip 🙂

      Cheers,
      Jac

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