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Dublin: 10°C Sunday 18 April 2021

My Best Road Trip: a journey through the lakes and glaciers of Middle Earth

Glaciers, lakes, beaches and sounds, South Island, New Zealand has them all and we drove 2,962km to see them.

Source: Google Maps

  • Each week, TheJournal.ie/DoneDeal motoring mag will feature a reader’s best road trip. If you’d love to see your top trip featured, email us on bestroadtrip@thejournal.ie

MY BEST ROAD trip was driving through Middle Earth, New Zealand’s South Island.

Who: Tara Povey, Where is Tara, Dublin, Ireland

Route: Christchurch to Akaroa in New Zealand

Distance: 2,962km

Time: 18 days

When: March 2016

Vehicle: 2003 Nissan Sunny

Source: Tara Povey

New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places on this earth. Home of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit. I was born there but raised in Ireland. I’ve been back a few times, but the last time was six years ago. So this year myself and my boyfriend decided to take an 18-day road trip around the South Island of this beautiful country. We had a wedding to be at over there anyway, so it was the perfect excuse.

We were after the cheapest rental we could get, so we ended up with a 2003 Nissan Sunny that cost €350 for 18 days (between the two of us). It was automatic, as are the majority of cars in New Zealand. If you’re after a manual you’ll have a hard time finding one.

Source: Tara Povey

Our little Sunny did us well. We had no problems. Though, I’ll admit it took a while to change gear and was quite slow going uphill. But overall it survived and so did we. I was quite sad to leave it by the end of the trip.

The roads in New Zealand are great and, most of the time, no one is on them. They drive on the same side of the road as us (left), so it’s handy. You won’t find any big motorways on the South Island at all. None. I hadn’t driven in a year and I found New Zealand was the perfect place for me to get back into it. The only thing I will say is that you’d need to be confident with narrow, steep, winding roads. If you get vertigo while driving along the contours of a valley, you may find some routes difficult.

Source: Tara Povey

The Route

Day 1 – Pick up Car in Christchurch. Drive to Hanmer Springs.
Day 2 – Leave Hanmer Springs. Drive to Nelson.
Day 3 & 4 – Nelson. Visit Happy Valley and Cable Bay.
Day 5 – Drive to Takaka and Wharariki Beach. Arrive at Pohara.
Day 6 – Drive to Lake Rotoiti and Murchison. Arrive in Westport.
Day 7 – Leave Westport and drive to Hokitika.
Day 8 – Visit Hokitika Gorge and Franz Josef. Arrive Fox Glacier.
Day 9 – Helicopter to Fox Glacier. Visit Mirror Lake. Drive to Wanaka.
Day 10 – Short drive to Queenstown.
Day 11 – Day in Queenstown. Visit Arrowtown.
Day 12 – Leave Queenstown and drive to Te Anua and Te Anua Downs.
Day 13 – Drive to Milford Sound and then back to Te Anua Downs.
Day 14 – Leave Te Anua Downs. Drive to Dunedin. Stay the night.
Day 15 – Drive to Christchurch along the “scenic route”.
Day 16 – Drive to Akaroa. Have fish & chips by the harbour.
Day 17 – Friend’s wedding in Akaroa.
Day 18 – Drive back to Christchurch. Drop car back.


Hanmer Springs: these natural hot springs are the perfect place to spend a day. We spent about four hours trying all the different pools and their new waterslides (try the super bowl).

Wharariki Beach: this place is absolutely gorgeous. However, it is prone to the odd mini-sandstorm. I recommend not freshly applying sunscreen, I ended up looking like a human sandcastle.

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Source: Tara Povey

Lake Rotoiti: I recommend going early to avoid meeting several tour buses in the parking lot and make sure you look in the water, PLENTY of eels.

Hokitika Gorge: the turquoise waters here are an incredible sight.

Fox Glacier: the helicopter flight to the glacier was incredible. You land at the top and even have time for a snowball fight.

Milford Sound: my boyfriend is a geologist so he was very excited about this. The drive to this place is as stunning as the place itself.

Source: Tara Povey


If I’m being honest, Queenstown isn’t really that great. It’s beautiful in winter. But in the summer, it’s just a very touristy little town on a lake. Wanaka and Arrowtown have a lot more charm. We really wished that we had allowed more time in Wanaka and less in Queenstown when we were on our trip.

So there you have it. That was my road trip of the South Island and it was an incredible trip. We met some great local people by staying in AirBnB apartments and our little Nissan Sunny had clocked up a fair few miles by the time we got it back to Christchurch!

Read: Reader routes – my best road trip

Read: Latest motoring news

About the author:

Melanie May  / https://www.melaniemay.com

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