Queenstown to Dunedin, New Zealand driving holiday: The Southern Scenic Route

New Zealand seems created for driving holidays. The scenery is spectacular, the roads wind their way from alpine mountain ranges to windswept coastlines and the place is full of charm.

For our journey, we start in Queenstown and follow the Southern Scenic Route, which traverses through the south-west of the island to Invercargill and then through The Catlins to Dunedin.

Queenstown is a prime tourist destination but getting out of town is just as amazing. Before joining the Southern Scenic Route, I drive the opposite direction heading to Glenorchy near the head of Lake Wakatipu. Why? Because it's the inland equivalent to Victoria's Great Ocean Road, rising and falling with the hillsides and twisting and turning like a serpent snaking its way along the water's edge.

Then it's back to Queenstown and, in the other direction, it's just as epic as it follows the southern arm of Lake Wakatipu on Highway 6 direct to Invercargill but first a detour to Milford Sound and the drive is simply staggering, with an ever-changing landscape that flows through temperate rainforests, passes paddocks littered with spring lambs bouncing on velvet green grass, carves its way along valleys cut by glacial fiords millions of years ago, climbs and descends mountain ranges where clouds form and then dance from their peaks in the winds, and burrows through the middle of a perilous alpine pass through a one-way tunnel.

The run along the southern coast to Invercargill highlights the ferocity of the winds that sweep up from Antarctica as hedgerows designed to shelter sheep from the blustering gales have grown almost sideways and look as if expertly coiffed by a hairdryer.

The Catlins is New Zealand's best-kept secret. While it doesn't have the snow-capped mountains or glacial lakes of the west coast, it is equally stunning, even more secluded and linked by some of the greatest roads on the planet.

The run from The Catlins to our final destination of Dunedin is fairly straightforward in comparison to the rest of the Southern Scenic Route, mostly consisting of dual carriageway on the national highway.

But the city has an exclamation point to make before we complete this great driving adventure. And it's the Otago Peninsula, which separates the harbour from the Pacific Ocean and includes a couple of brilliant roads.

The first is the Highcliff road that runs along the spine of the peninsula, traversing its ridge past Lanach Castle before cascading down the hills towards the seaside village of Portobello. The second is Portobello Road which, while much slower and therefore less challenging, is no less spectacular as it runs along the water's edge all the way back to Andersons Bay near the city.


Seriously, no matter where you start and stop, and in which direction you take, New Zealand's south island is a driver's paradise.

There are countless hire car companies offering vehicles suitable for all types of driving holidays, from campervans to small cars and a small selection of luxury or sports cars for those with a little more cash to splash. And most hire car companies cater for one-way trips without penalties.

When renting a car to drive the spectacular Great Southern Route, Andrew Maclean recommends:

For a family drive: The Hyundai Santa Fe is a flexible seven-seat SUV that is spacious, comfortable and crammed with all the latest conveniences, including sat nav - so you don't get lost. Read Drive.com.au's full review

For an adventure: If you want to get a bit further off the beaten track - deeper into the bush or onto the beach - you'll need a genuine four-wheel drive, and the Toyota Prado is a more than capable choice. Read Drive.com.au's full review

A sporty drive: If you really want to engage with the landscape, then a Ford Mustang convertible will immerse you in it while offering an enjoyable machine to drive through the bends. Read Drive.com.au's full review

Drive editor Andrew Maclean travelled to NZ courtesy of Tourism New Zealand.