Best driving route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Learn via which cities and towns you should drive and how long it takes to drive on the best driving route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.

This driving route starts on Memorial Avenue immediately after you leave Christchurch airport. It is approximately 220 km (137 mi) from Christchurch airport to Lake Tekapo.

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Driving at about 80 to 100 km/h (50 to 62 mph) – the maximum speed limit on highways in New Zealand is 100 km/h (62 mph) – it would take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes to 3 hours to drive from Christchurch to Tekapo.

This drive could take slightly longer if you incorporate several stops or if the weather conditions do not allow you to drive at the maximum possible speeds.

You’ll pass through several towns and along farmland (wide open grass fields), and as you get closer and closer to Tekapo, the scenery will start to become mountainous.

Note: For ideas on what you could do or see between Christchurch and Tekapo, you can take a look at the activities listed for Day 1 through Day 4 in the article South Island 9-day itinerary: Mountain scenery.

How to get to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch

While there are several ways to get to Christchurch, the quickest way is to fly to Christchurch airport whether on a domestic flight or an international flight.

Once you are in Christchurch, rent a car and then take State Highway 1 toward Timaru so drive south. For more detailed driving directions from the airport, see Driving directions from Christchurch airport later in this article.

You’ll pass several towns on your way down south such as Rolleston, Dunsandel, Rakaia, Ashburton, Hinds, and Rangitata before reaching the junction of State Highway 1 with State Highway 79.

Lake Tekapo and mountains with snow in winter on the South Island of New Zealand

Lake Tekapo and mountains with snow in winter

The scariest part of this section of the drive will be driving on the Rakaia bridge – the longest bridge in New Zealand – and the Rangitata bridge.

Whether you choose the direct route or an alternative route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, you cannot avoid crossing bridges.

If you’re someone who is used to driving on the right side of the road in your own country, you might be afraid to drive too close to the center line of the road when driving on the left side of the road in New Zealand.

Well, on the two aforementioned bridges, you won’t have much space to move your car away from the center line (you’d otherwise scrape the car on the brick walls of the bridges), so things can get a bit scary for you when crossing these two bridges.

Once you get off the Rangitata bridge and have passed the welcome sign for Rangitata, start looking for a large green sign on the left side of the road because the upcoming junction can easily be missed. Go right on State Highway 79 at the junction.

Once you’re on State Highway 79, you can follow the signs to Geraldine. Before reaching Geraldine, you’ll reach a junction with the Inland Scenic Route 72. Go left on this road, and cross the one-lane bridge.

In Geraldine, there is also a tricky junction that you can easily miss. Once you’ve passed the petrol station on the right side of the road and are driving on the main street in Geraldine, start looking for a green sign on the left side of the road with Mount Cook written on it. Go right at the junction onto State Highway 8.

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From Geraldine, drive on State Highway 8 to Fairlie. This part of the route is not only straight and flat in some places but it also has several winding roads that go up and down a few rolling hills.

Once you see a red sign for a café, you’re not too far from Fairlie. Take the tight bend at the top of the hill and go left down the hill toward Fairlie.

Once you reach Fairlie, you’ll see another green sign indicating a junction ahead. Go right at the junction, and then you’ll be on your way to Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook.

The road is pretty straight and flat until you reach Burkes Pass where it climbs and then stays relatively high as a good indication that you’ve reach the High Country. After Burkes Pass, it is a 10-minute drive to Lake Tekapo.

You can extend this scenic drive by driving from Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki and then onward to Mount Cook National Park. Note that there are several routes that lead to Mount Cook from Christchurch.

And if you want to drive further on to Queenstown, check out the Christchurch to Queenstown article for the exact driving times from city to city.

If you want to know what the distances between cities on the South Island of New Zealand are and what approximate driving times would be, you can make use of the South Island driving distances page.

Driving info for best route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Driving distance: 220 km (137 mi)
Driving time: 2.5 – 3 hours
Road type: Sealed (paved) highways
Road condition: Very good; smooth driving
Best time to drive: Morning
What you’ll see: Towns, farmland, hills, and mountains
How to drive: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo driving directions

The following 5-minute video gives you an idea of what to expect on this scenic drive and what’s considered the best – and quickest – driving route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo where scenery and driving times are concerned.

Driving directions from Christchurch airport

Driving from Christchurch airport is pretty easy because the airport is situated on the northwestern edge of Christchurch city, so you won’t have to deal with too much traffic, busy city roads, or one-way streets.

If you pick up a rental car at Christchurch airport, when you drive off the car rental parking lot where most of the car rental companies have their cars, you go must go right.

At the end of the road, there is a roundabout. Go straight ahead at the roundabout onto Memorial Avenue and drive until you pass a junction with set of traffic lights and a McDonald’s on your left before reaching the next roundabout, which will be at a junction with State Highway 1.

At the roundabout, go right onto Russley Road, which is part of State Highway 1. If you are looking at signs, follow the signs that lead to cities south of Christchurch, such as Timaru, Alexandra, and Dunedin.

Note that they are currently working on the road at the junction of Memorial Avenue and Russley Road to create an overbridge at this junction. The old roundabout has temporarily been changed into a larger roundabout where you have to go left first before you can go right.

Once you are on Russley Road, continue driving on it. You will pass a couple of traffic lights along the way. After crossing railway tracks, you should see a small shopping mall on your right, and then reach a set of traffic lights at a large intersection. You must go right at the intersection onto State Highway 1.

Once you are on this section of State Highway 1, you will drive through Templeton on your way to Rolleston. Just keep driving on State Highway 1 and start following the directions given earlier in this article.

Driving directions from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

You can click here to see a map displaying the direct and shortest driving route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. There are also three alternative routes you can follow to go from Christchurch to Tekapo. They are explained below.

Alternative driving route 1 takes you from Christchurch via Temuka and Fairlie to Lake Tekapo. It is approximately 241 km (150 mi) long, and you avoid going through Geraldine, which also means that you would avoid driving on a one-lane bridge. The route is not very scenic; you’ll see mostly flat land at first and then farmland and woodlands before reaching Fairlie. See map.

Alternative driving route 2 takes you from Christchurch via Darfield, Geraldine, and Fairlie to Lake Tekapo. This driving route is 251 km (156 mi) long and somewhat more scenic than alternative route 1. You will have to cross a one-lane bridge over the Raikaia river and then the one-lane bridge before reaching Geraldine. Since this driving route runs partly along scenic route 72, you can expect it to be pleasant on the eyes. But just like the direct route, alternative route 2 has several winding sections. See map.

Alternative driving route 3 takes you from Christchurch via Timaru, Waimate, and Omarama to Lake Tekapo. This is the longest alternative route at 413 km (257 mi), but it is the least winding. Just like alternative route 1, it is not very scenic at first, but once you are driving toward Omarama, you can expect to start seeing mountains and lakes. This route goes past Benmore Dam, and once you reach Omarama, you are not far from Ahuriri Valley and Lindis Pass. On this route you can expect to cross five bridges but no one-lane bridges. See map.

 

Note: Roads can be changed or get closed. The information presented here was accurate when it was gathered.

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