DriveLife has partnered with BMW New Zealand to showcase some of the amazing landscapes, roads and attractions in New Zealand aboard BMW’s vehicles. We have taken to the roads in a range of models with different drive systems to fully experience the dynamics, capability and efficiency of these offerings over long distances and in varying circumstances.
Every BMW model tested in our series so far has featured an electric powertrain – which comes at a time of considerable sales growth of these vehicle types both from BMW and in the industry – but this time we’re at the helm of the BMW X7, which is powered by a turbo diesel.
Justification for this vehicle type comes down to the charging options on our chosen route to Milford Sound. While charging infrastructure is undoubtedly growing in New Zealand, the options to plug in a vehicle in this stunning wilderness are still limited. Once things evolve and more charging options emerge, BMW will surely be back to this part of the world in its latest electric model, and we look forward to trying it.
That said, this latest X7 and its diesel powerplant is loaded with technology to enhance its efficiency, including a 48-volt mild hybrid system that adds additional power and torque while recuperating kinetic energy during coasting and braking.
The seven-seater X7 has extreme long-range, making it the perfect vehicle to take on this adventure, and a rated fuel consumption of just 8.2 litres per 100km. That is notable considering the vehicle’s size and footprint.
Our fourth and final trip for the series begins in Dunedin, heading South on State Highway 1. Along the way, we stop at Alexandra, Queenstown, Milford Sound and Invercargill. The main feature was the breathtaking Milford Sound, but also what it was like to get there and back on our X-Factor Weekend.
Vehicle – BMW X7 xDrive40d
This trip was going to be interesting as the BMW X7 xDrive 40d, with its range of 1300km per tank, meant we should be able to do the entire trip of 1102km on a single tank of diesel. Our job was to put this to the test in some of the most remote parts of the country.
It’s clear when you climb into the BMW X7 that this is a luxury vehicle. The dash is clean and minimalist, with the large sweeping LCD covering the driver’s information display and central console. The gloss black wood-effect trim inserts are beautiful, and much preferred over solid gloss black. This finish helps to avoid dust and fingerprints. The central console has great storage spaces, inside the console with two cup holders and a phone wireless charging pad. Additional space is available under the armrest that opens in the middle.
The room in the X7 is great. Tall drivers won’t have any problems getting comfy, especially with the multiple-seat adjustments. Being a tall driver, I especially loved the adjustable section of the seat which pulls out to support your legs. It’s a brilliant feature for those long drives. The rear seats have great legroom, which does get reduced when the 3rd row is used, but it still leaves tons of space. Entry into the 3rd row is easy with a touch of a button, though, like most 7-seaters, this row is more suitable for younger passengers.
Range and fuel tank size are key factors when looking at luxury seven-seaters, and the X7 delivers in a big way on this score. As well as its big range capability, the X7 has an 80-litre fuel tank, so you’ll be set to cover big distances. It also helps that under the bonnet is one of the most efficient diesel engines available in the New Zealand market.
Our X-Factor Weekend vehicle is the standard base-spec model with black sapphire metallic paint, BMW Individual Merion leather, black high gloss interior trim and 22” alloy wheels. There was no additional equipment specified for this car, which retails for $184,200.
Day 1 – Friday – Dunedin to Queenstown
Our weekend began in Dunedin, where we collected the BMW X7. We set up, packed up and got on the road heading South on State Highway 1. Our first stop was to be the town of Alexandra, 188km away. The road south is nice and a great start to the weekend. As we turned inland onto State Highway 8, the landscape and surroundings started to go from flat and wide to mountainous.
Alexandra is a town in the Central Otago district and today owes its prosperity to orchardists and winemakers. But its history started as a gold mining town that you can retrace at the local museum.
We stopped for lunch at Industry Lane Eatery, and it did not disappoint. We ordered the GF garlic prawn slaw salad and the chicken burger. We would advise avoiding the main lunch rush, but either way, the food is worth the wait. This was my second time there, and the first visit left me with the same satisfied feeling when I was finished.
This is a town you can find yourself easily relaxing in, taking in some of the wineries or cafes, and just enjoying the passage of time.
The town is located within the valley, surrounded by mountains, with many biking trails around the town, and some great views of the entire valley from the Alexandra lookout point on Little Valley Road.
Back in the BMW X7 it was 33km down State Highway 8 and we arrived in Cromwell, located on the shores of Lake Dunstan where the Kawarau River joins the lake. Cromwell was established during the Otago gold rush like Alexandra and is now more known as one of the sub-regions of the Central Otago wine region. It’s also famous for its wide range of fruit, especially its cherry farms.
Cromwell is also home to a very special automotive enthusiast attraction, Highlands Motorsport Park. Highlands is a world-class facility with experiences to match, offering multiple ways to experience the international race circuit at speed – from supercars to U-Drive Race Cars. Highlands has a 650m outdoor go-kart circuit with single and tandem karts and is home to the National Motorsport Museum, as well as the famous Loo with a View. If you like cars it’s something you can’t just drive by.
When we arrived in Queenstown it was late in the afternoon, so we checked into our hotel, the Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa. It’s an amazing hotel in the heart of the city centre. Once we had refreshed, it was time to head out to dinner, where we had reservations at Flame Grill, the ultimate steak house in Queenstown.
Day 2 – Saturday – Milford Sound
Saturday morning and the big day to Milford Sound was upon us. All of the guides say to leave plenty of time to travel the 287km from Queenstown to the Sound. Google has outlined it as a 3-hour and 47-minute drive. This might be the case, but they say to leave plenty of time if you have booked a cruise, which we had. Our cruise was for 12:15 so we left Queenstown at 7am, leaving us just over 5 hours to do the trip. Later we found that this was cutting it way too close.
The thing you realise as you head on on any trip to the South Island is that the landscape is pretty amazing. This is amplified many times over when you go to Milford Sound. Even after we left Queenstown, we drove down State Highway 6 along Lake Wakatipu and within the first 30 minutes of our drive, we had stopped 3 times to take photos.
This is primarily the reason why they say to leave a lot of time for the drive to the Sounds, as it’s not about traffic or the conditions, it’s about how many times you want to stop to take photos. I am sure you thinking, John, surely when you have taken a couple of photos of a lake and a mountain you can just tick it off and get on with the drive? And I guess you would be right, however, this drive didn’t just have the same scenery; it has lakes, mountains, rivers with mountains, valleys, forests with mountains, grasslands within mountains, a mirror lake, waterfall from snow-capped mountains, a valley of lupins. It’s a bit like the journey to the promised land… it has everything. And every couple of kilometres you find yourself wanting to stop again and again for more photos.
As we made our way down Route 6, we turned off onto Route 94 which would take us to Milford Sound. I watched the time as we navigated our way past Te Anau, a cute little town right on the edge of Lake Te Anau, and worth the visit if you have a longer trip planned. We had plenty of photos of mountains, and the grassland valley which looked just like some art gallery painting. I started to feel like the time to get to the end of the road and the cruise ship would be tight. So I decided to bypass any further stops and get to the destination. We could stop off on the way back to take any photos we missed out on.
As you close in on Mount Christina you notice the temperature starting to drop as the air feels like it is full of moisture. The road winds its way up into the mountain until you reach the Homer Tunnel. Like any man, I love driving through tunnels; I think it’s a ‘kid with big machinery’ thing. But this tunnel is very different; the inside is more like a mine shaft than a tunnel. It’s a one-way tunnel with traffic lights on both sides and takes about 5 minutes to cycle from one side to the other. The tunnel itself is 1.2km long and it’s natural with bare chiselled rock walls and water running down through the mountain. It is also very dark inside, with some lighting throughout the tunnel. But once you are in a line of cars, it’s easy to see the route through. I thought the tunnel was perfectly fitting for its location; it felt raw and natural making the anticipation for the destination that much more exciting.
Once out of the tunnel, it was a 20-minute drive to the end of the road, and with 40 minutes until our cruise was due to depart, I thought we had timed it perfectly. Little did I know that at the end of the road, there was a car park for all of the visitors taking cruises. Let’s just say that the challenge that faced all of us was that it felt like there were 500 cars and only 200 car parks. We circled the car parks with all the other cars also waiting for parks, and again and again and again. Time was running out, and we finally got one after 20 minutes of circling, so we quickly parked up and then we ran. We also didn’t know that the car park is a 10-minute walk from the car park to the ferry terminal. That meant we made it just in time to see our ferry pull away from the dock.
It was very stressful and you could see that all of the other visitors who had been fighting for the park were also stressed and exhausted. Ironic really as the Milford Sound is showcased as one of the most beautiful relaxing and picturesque places you can visit. Thankfully the cruise operators were aware of the challenges and rebooked us on the next ferry cruise which was an hour later. This goes to show that even with the time we felt like we had in reserve, it was not enough. So if you do this leg of the trip, give yourself a lot of time to enjoy it, so that it’s not a stressful race to the end. Fred had the same experience when he last visited here, driving a BMW M235i.
Once we got on the ferry it was clear we were in a magical place; as soon as the ferry departed from the small terminal, it felt like we were a long way from civilisation. Our cruise was with Southern Discoveries, it was 2hrs down and out to the end of the Milford Sound and it included lunch.
Photos of the Sound don’t do it any justice at all; it is breathtaking. The Sound is so peaceful and smooth, with towering mountains on either side. There are multiple waterfalls and endless angles for beautiful landscape photos. This is what it means and feels to be in another world.
After the cruise, it was time to work our way back down Route 94. It’s worth noting that Milford is a very small town, there are a few lodges if you choose to stay the night, but the town is no more than 20 buildings and an airport for sightseeing planes and helicopters. If you do want to stay overnight at Milford you need to book accommodation very early as there are limited options and availability, and they get booked quickly.
As we made our way back, we stopped for photos at two noteworthy places that we saw on our way, which were Mirror Lake and the Lupin fields. The lupin fields were amazing; a large open area between mountains where lupins have blossomed as far as the eye can see. It’s worth a stop, but it can be hard to get photos without lots of other visitors in the way.
The second place was Mirror Lake, which is as it sounds. It’s a collection of small lakes surrounded by long grass which helps the body of water to remain very still. This leaves a glass-like reflection over the lake, which creates some stunning photos. I only managed to get one photo here, capturing a duckling that had decided it was his time to shine and swam right across the lake, breaking up the perfect reflections.
After all the stops and the cruise, the rest of the day’s travel was a bit low-key. The trip from Milford to Invercargill was less than what it was to return to Queenstown, but regardless, it was a big day of driving for anyone choosing to do it by road in and out on the same day. We got into Invercargill at 8 pm that day, where we stayed the night at The Langlands. It’s a brand-new hotel with a contemporary style. Thankfully the BMW X7 was a comfy ride and even after the big day we didn’t feel too drained or stiff.
Day 3 – Sunday – Invercargill
Sunday was the day of rest, after such a big driving the day before, and we decided to engage in some local sightseeing around Invercargill.
Queens Park in Invercargill a great public park in the heart of the city. It covers 80 hectares and includes gardens, wildlife habitats, and sports areas and was founded in 1856. Highlights of this New Zealand Garden of National Significance include a stunning rose garden, a rhododendron dell, an azalea garden, a Japanese garden, bush paths through a selection of native plants, rock and herb gardens, and a stumpery. You can also find the statue honouring Burt Munro, the world’s fastest Indian, near the main entrance.
One place to check out for any automotive enthusiast is the Bill Richardson Transport World Museum. Bill Richardson spent decades restoring vintage vehicles, and now his family has combined his collection to create a world-class experience. This is the largest private automotive museum of its type in the world, boasting more than 300 spectacular classic vehicles.
For those who love to shop, Invercargill Central is the place to go. This is a newly redeveloped indoor and outdoor shopping mall that also includes a Reading Cinema.
Day 4 – Monday – Nugget Point Lighthouse – Dunedin
The last day was an easy drive with one major stop at Nugget Point Lighthouse. We have travelled to a few lighthouses throughout the X-Factor weekends, including 4 of the more famous lighthouses out of the 23 active lighthouses in New Zealand.
As we left Invercargill the weather turned on us; it was awful. Strong cold winds and heavy rain. We thought that this would turn out to be the worst day to visit a lighthouse that sticks out into the South Pacific Ocean.
As the morning went on and the further we travelled down the Southern Scenic Route road, the weather started to clear, as patches of sun started showing and we held our breath that it would be clear skies by the time we reached Nugget Point.
The Southern Scenic Route road is well worth it. The time difference in travel is not huge, but the landscape you travel through is stunning. Made even more as the sun kept trying to burst out from behind the dark clouds. Do not second-guess any of the viewpoint stops along the way… make the time to stop and check out the view.
Nugget Point Lighthouse is a small lighthouse perched on the tip of the coast, a very picturesque view as you walk along a winding gravel path to the lighthouse and viewpoint. Once you get to the lighthouse you can see that the left and right sides of the cliff have two extreme environments, one is full of life, flowers, bushes and wildlife, and the other side is rock, battered by the harsh South Pacific winds.
Below the lighthouse, there is a beautiful formation of slate, which appears to be carved into the earth in straight lines. It is hard to see, but you can hear that these are home to many seals and other wildlife.
As we left Nugget Point, it was a short drive along Kaka Point Road to get back on State Highway 1 heading for Dunedin, less than 100km away.
Once back in Dunedin, I saw that the BMW X7 still had over 1000km, as we filled up once, I thought this was extremely efficient. The whole trip 1180km trip had been completed on just over 1 tank of diesel. My own Range Rover Sport has the same size diesel engine, but only gets 700km to a tank.
BMW X7 xDrive40d – Our Thoughts
The BMW X7 is a bit of a beast, a huge 7-seat family car, comfy and practical, all while being as efficient as a regular sedan or hatchback. 1300km range from a single tank is amazing and puts it dead centre if you’re looking for an everyday vehicle that ticks all of the boxes.
Be sure to check out our previous DriveLife X-Factor Weekends, with links to each one listed below.