Self-Driving in New Zealand

I often get asked, what is the best way to see New Zealand? And I recommend always renting a car and driving through the countryside. One of the unique and fun facets of New Zealand is the mountainous drives featuring beautiful coasts, green valleys, small quirky towns, and locals that you get to meet when you stop. One of the most popular drives goes along the South Island, heading north on Highway 6 through Haast Pass. Below are some of the stops I made and what you can expect.

But first, how hard is it exactly to drive on the left side of the road? My answer: Rather easy in New Zealand. The speed limits are tame, the highways are only two lanes, and cars are few and far between. So take your time, enjoy the view, and make plenty of stops. As long as you stay on the left-hand side, you are good to go.

Headed out of Queenstown, you can choose from 2 routes. For those who haven’t driven on the left-hand side or want a more direct route, head north via Cromwell, which runs through the valley. And for those feeling a bit more adventurous and ready to conquer the roads, take the more scenic Crown Ranges exit. You will head straight up the mountain but will be rewarded with stunning views. You will also drive through Cardrona, which hosts the second-oldest pub in New Zealand. Your first stop is about an hour outside Queenstown, at Wanaka. In this fantastic town set on Lake Wanaka, you can grab a coffee or bite to eat. I suggest fish and chips at Lake Bar.

Queenstown New Zealand self drive Laura

Wanaka is the last of “civilization” for quite some time, so stock up here if you feel you might need anything for the journey. As you head north, there are a few spots worth noting. First, Blue Pools. This is about a 30-minute return walk featuring beautiful blue glacier-fed waters. And next, Fantail Falls, which is about 20 minutes return. I found this stop very beautiful.

If you are feeling hungry and adventurous, about 10 minutes after the Haast Pass bridge, look for a sign for Curly Tail Whitebait. Drive down a gravel pathway, and you will find a small shack with one man cooking up patties for about $10NZD. It is a pretty bland white fish, but certainly an experience! (And the best price you will find anywhere.)

New Zealand self drive food stops
Curly Tail Whitebait

If you have been making good time, take a pit stop at Monro Beach at Lake Moeraki. This is at least a 1+ hour return, but it includes a beautiful rainforest walk opening up to an amazing beach. Penguins nest here, and while you may not see them as sightings are rare, please respect their environment. (Also, be ready for the pesky sandflies!) And if you enjoy salmon, stopping at the Salmon Farm is a must. It is a large pink building on the left—you can’t miss it! Next up, glacier country!

New Zealand self drive South Island stops
On the way to Monro Beach

Enjoy the drive!