This region offers an embarrassment of riches. Queenstown is New Zealand’s year-round adventure playground, and an ideal location to start a self-drive holiday. In addition to the mind-boggling choice of outdoor pursuits, you’ll also discover destination spas and award-winning wineries. Not far away, the quaint lakeside town of Wanaka offers a gentler pace of life than Queenstown, yet retains equally beautiful scenery and an abundance of things to see and do. Then there’s the historic city of Dunedin, pretty coastal towns and villages, natural wonders and the rare wildlife and dramatic coastlines of the Otago Peninsula.
If your holiday checklist is packed full of high-octane adventures, then Queenstown is your place. In a beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and nestled among the towering Remarkables, it’s known as the adventure capital of the world - and with good reason. Try your hand at whitewater rafting, jet boating along the Dart River, mountain biking, and skiing in the winter. Take a helicopter ride for a secluded picnic lunch high up in the mountains with fabulous views, and visit the surrounding wineries for a taste of the local vintages.
Queenstown is the gateway to Fiordland and the beautiful Milford and Doubtful Sounds – both a must-see - and Arrowtown, a former Gold Rush settlement, is nearby, with its historic buildings and boutique shopping.
The scenic lakeside town of Wanaka is around a 90-minute drive from Queenstown and may be more relaxed but is also an action-packed adventure destination: thanks to its dramatically blue lakes and surrounding landscapes, this is one of New Zealand’s top spots for boating and swimming, as well as skydiving, and like its more famous neighbour, it’s also popular for winter sports. The nearby Mount Aspiring National Park is spectacular: take a scenic flight over its rugged wildness and glacial valleys.
Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula
The historic and characterful university city of Dunedin is the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail, which combines 150km of cycling and walking tracks through stunning scenery, and the city stretches around a long and beautiful harbour, which is sheltered by the stunning Otago Peninsula. Considered one of the world’s finest examples of eco-tourism, the peninsula offers world-class wildlife encounters: it is home to wildlife including a colony of one of the world’s rarest penguins and the only mainland breeding colony of albatrosses, as well as rare New Zealand sea lions, wild dolphins, and a variety of rare marine birds.
Oamaru, on the east coast, has an array of unique and diverse attractions, from a colourful historic precinct featuring a 19th-century streetscape to a blue penguin colony - see conservation in action and watch the world’s smallest penguins waddle in from the sea each evening.
Coastal Otago is rugged and beautiful, and you shouldn’t miss one of New Zealand’s most bizarre yet iconic natural wonders, infused with Maori legend - the Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach - and sample some fresh seafood in the picturesque fishing village.