Leaving Christchurch, you head down the main south road towards Ashburton and then Geraldine - it's very straight but a good road with plenty of passing bays. If you want to take a less busy and slightly less monotonous route, then go via Thompson's Track to Geraldine and bypass Ashburton.
To take Thompson's Track, turn right after the Rakaia River bridge. The Rakaia Bridge is the longest bridge in New Zealand and takes you over one of the many South Island braided rivers. It's the same turn off as for Methven, but then follow signs to Mount Somers and Mayfield.
Thompson's Track is a relatively straight road (as it the alternative route via Ashburton) and although the scenery is not as spectacular as some New Zealand routes, it is certainly pretty. You pass deer, cattle and sheep farms and have the Southern Alps rising up on your right (as you head south). The lack of traffic makes it a stress free drive. Just before Mayfield you join up with the Inland Scenic Route, (which will take you back to SH73 and then on to Amberley on SH1 if you drive back the other way).
Alternative Route - Stay on SH1 and pass through Ashburton. Just after crossing the Rangitata river (the second bridge), take a right on SH79 towards Geraldine.
This is a good place to stop if you need a break and it has a post office, bank with ATM, public toilets.
Stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables at the farm produce store near Geraldine
Geraldine Holiday Park
From Geraldine, you turn right towards Fairlie and Aoraki/Mount Cook. As you leave Geraldine the road becomes more windy and you start to climb as you head towards the Southern Alps. You then enter Mackenzie District (also known as Mackenzie Country).
The next town is Fairlie which has cafes and banks as well as ski stores. It's a good place to stock up before you go skiing. You then go up Burke's Pass and as you come down, you suddenly will see the most spectacular view of the lakes with the southern alps behind.
The first lake you come to is Lake Tekapo - the water is an icy blue and you will often see the snow-capped mountains behind it reflected in the lake water. The lakes in this region provide hydro-electricity for the country. The next lake on the main road is Lake Pukaki, which has a fantastic view of Aoraki/Mount Cook on a fine day, and it is just breathtaking when you drive around the corner and first see it.
There are 2 lakes to the right off the main road - they are Lake Alexandrina and Lake McGregor, which are both beautiful and worth a visit if you have time for the detour. To get to Lakes Alexandrina and McGregor, take a right where you see the Mount John Observatory sign, just a little outside Lake Tekapo.
Back to the main road, there is free camping around Lake Pukaki - you enter just before the Lake Pukaki dam and drive through the pine trees. There are no facilities but waking up to a view of the beautiful powder blue lake with the snow capped majesty of Aoraki/Mount Cook rising up in the distance was magical when we camped there. The lake was so still that the mountains were reflected in the lake. It was a great place to spend some time.
Just across the Lake Pukaki is the visitor centre - there are public toilets here as well as rubbish (garbage) and recycling bins. Not far beyond this is the turn-off to Aoraki/Mount Cook and Glentanner. Check that both the road to Glentanner and the one between Glentanner and Aoraki/Mount Cook are open - there is a large blue sign giving information on this after you turn in. The road runs up the western side of Lake Pukaki until you get to Glentanner.
Mount Cook village is surrounded by the mountains and is worth a visit but if you want to look out over great scenes rather than being enclosed by them, you might want to stay somewhere like Lake Pukaki where you look over the lake towards the mountains - a magical sight in the morning when you look across the pale blue waters at the snow-capped mountains rising up.