Prepare for a deep southern journey that will fill your memory with mountain scenery and unique eco experiences. Braided rivers are a feature of the drive to Oamaru, where you’ll see Moeraki’s weird spherical boulders. In Dunedin you’ll discover albatrosses and historic architecture.
The Catlins region, on the way to Invercargill, is a chance to meet the creatures of the wild south. Make the ferry crossing to Stewart Island for a close encounter with kiwis, then cruise Milford Sound before you kick up your heels in Queenstown. Mount Cook and glacial lakes are highlights of the return journey to Christchurch.
The South Island’s largest city, Christchurch is an entertaining mixture of refined lifestyle and cultural excitement. The tranquil Avon River meanders through the city and adjacent Hagley Park, historic buildings house a lively arts community and restored trams make it easy for visitors to get around. Visit heritage sites, museums and art galleries, and enjoy the highly developed restaurant scene.
The route to Christchurch is about as straight and flat as roads get in New Zealand. On a clear day, the Southern Alps provide outstanding scenery. The town of Rakaia sits on the southern side of the Rakaia River, and it’s ‘the salmon capital of New Zealand’. The Rakaia bridge spans 1.8 kilometres of one of the world's best examples of a 'braided' river system.
Ashburton, which sits between the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers, is a large town that serves the local rural community. It has about six museums and some excellent craft galleries. Trout fishing is the local obsession, and the skifields of Mt Hutt are an easy drive away.
Your trip south is straight and flat. It’s worth taking the loop road to Geraldine to visit the gourmet cheese factory and vintage car museum. Rafting in the Rangitata Gorge is another possibility. Just before Timaru you’ll drive into Temuka, a town that produces high quality pottery – look for the factory shop if you’d like a useful souvenir.
Timaru is a small but beautifully formed city. The historic walk will introduce you to many of the heritage buildings. Enjoy the boutique brewery, botanic gardens and the park at Caroline Bay, which has an aviary and a maze. Timaru also has the third largest public art gallery in the South Island and an excellent museum – the Richard Pearse (kiwi pioneer aviator) exhibit is particularly good.
River crossings are a feature of the journey south. If you enjoy fly fishing, you could make this trip last a long time. Just beyond the town of Hook, take a detour to Waimate to see the museum and an original thatched cottage – it was made from a single tree. In summer the Waimate District is overflowing with delicious berry fruits.
The town of Oamaru has a population of around 12,000 and an impressive heritage. Many of the elegant historic buildings were made from the local sandstone. Visit the Harbour-Tyne area - the best-preserved collection of historic commercial buildings in New Zealand. You should also check out the penguin colony, the museum and the pretty public gardens.
Start in Christchurch
Christchurch city promises an eclectic mix of historic elegance and contemporary culture. As the gateway to the South Island, it's a must on any itinerary.
End in Oamaru
Penguins are a reason to stay a while in Oamaru. At sunset, little blue and yellow-eyed penguins waddle ashore to get comfortable for the night.