6-Day self-drive tour of the South Island during winter – Part 2

Decide which airport to fly to for a New Zealand winter holiday with the help of this 3-part series for setting up a self-drive itinerary to see snow.

Have you ever considered taking a 6-day winter break to head down to the South Island of New Zealand, but did not know where to go to drive and see the best mountains with snow?

In this 3-part article series I will set you up with a driving plan for seeing some of the most impressive and beautiful mountains in New Zealand during winter.

In part 1, we talked about which months would be best to visit the South Island for a road trip in winter and touched on things like busyness and the arrival of snow.

In this second part, we will talk about which airport to fly to on the South Island for your self-drive winter tour.

If you are flying to the South Island, you have one of two options to start your self-drive winter tour:

  1. Christchurch
  2. Queenstown

Starting your South Island road trip in Christchurch

While there has been a lot of fear from tourists for visiting Christchurch due to the now uncommon earthquakes that take place in the city, you can rest assured that Christchurch airport is still a great airport to start your South Island self-drive winter tour.

On the road in winter on the South Island of New Zealand

On the road in winter on the South Island of New Zealand

Here is why…

Christchurch airport is the largest airport on the South Island of New Zealand. And unlike Dunedin, Queenstown, or Invercargill, most international flights land at Christchurch airport.

So if you are living outside of New Zealand, it should be possible to fly directly to Christchurch and avoid Auckland, which has the largest airport in New Zealand.

There are a lot of rental car companies at Christchurch airport, so your selection of rental cars is greater than in any other city on the South Island.

In addition, it is a breeze to hop onto State Highway 1 from Christchurch airport, and completely avoid driving anywhere in or near Christchurch city centre on your way to the mountains.

And if you are getting off a long-haul flight and want to rest before starting your 6-day self-drive winter tour, there are several hotels and motels near Christchurch airport you could choose from.

Starting your South Island road trip in Queenstown

The other option for starting your South Island holiday is to fly to Queenstown airport. Queenstown does not have a very large airport, but you can still easily start your South Island winter self-driving tour there.

If you are flying to New Zealand from any other country that is not Australia, you may not be able to fly directly to Queenstown, but would have to book a domestic flight to get to Queenstown airport by air after you have arrived in New Zealand via Auckland or Christchurch.

Nonetheless, because Queenstown itself has been experiencing a tremendous growth in the last couple of years, it should be relatively easy to book a rental car at Queenstown airport.

And don’t forget to rent snow-chains and know how to fit them on the rental car, because you might need them for the 6-days self-drive tour suggested in this 3-part article series.

Making the most of your South Island winter holiday

Since winter can be a hazardous time to drive in New Zealand, especially when the roads are covered with ice or snow, you may want to try to minimize the amount of time you spend driving on the road.

To minimize driving, I would suggest you arrive at either Queenstown or Christchurch airport, and arrange with the car rental company to have your return location be different from your pickup location.

Waitaki District sign at the top of Lindis Pass in winter on the South Island of New Zealand

Sign at the top of Lindis Pass in winter on the South Island

So if you arrive in Christchurch, drop the car off in Queenstown and fly home from there. And if you arrive in Queenstown, drop the car off in Christchurch and fly home from there.

If you do not have the option to fly directly home from Queenstown, please remember that you can always book a domestic flight to either Auckland or Christchurch and then fly back home with your regular air carrier.

This should allow for more time to see the sights, rather than having to rush to catch a flight on your last day.

Considering that the winter driving tour suggested in this article drives from Christchurch to Queenstown or from Queenstown to Christchurch, you would have to drive through Lindis Pass, which may or may not be closed depending on the weather.

If you do not want to run the risk of not being able to drive through Lindis Pass, you could either fly to Christchurch and spend 6 days visiting the winter tour sights North of Lindis Pass or fly to Queenstown and spend 6 days visiting the winter tour sights South of Lindis Pass.

In any case, restricting the self-drive tour to either North or South of Lindis Pass would allow for a more relaxed trip and you would have ample time to see all of the gorgeous winter scenery without having to hurry to the next place.

Needless to say, I would recommend this option and have sometimes chosen this option myself. And do not worry that you won’t have enough to do in 6 days, because there is a lot to see and experience.

In part 3 we will talk about where to drive to enjoy beautiful and scenic winter scenery on your self-drive winter tour of the South Island.


Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.



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