Christchurch to Nelson via Kaikoura route planner

Ever seen a whale in the wild? This is your chance. Combine the ultimate wildlife experience with relaxing hot springs and world-class wineries on this unforgettable road trip.

- Minimum Length: 705km
- Minimum Duration: 2 days
- Start: Christchurch or Nelson
- Finish: Nelson or Christchurch

Christchurch 

Driving north from Christchurch you will be surrounded by the rolling hills of Canterbury’s wine region, the Waipara Valley. As the country’s fastest growing wine region there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy a long lunch – or follow the North Canterbury Food & Wine trail to sample more local flavours and meet the passionate people who create them.

Hanmer Springs

Camera How hot do you like your hot pool? Hanmer Springs serves up everything from 28 to 42° C.

How hot do you like your hot pool? Hanmer Springs serves up everything from 28 to 42° C.

Camera How hot do you like your hot pool? Hanmer Springs serves up everything from 28 to 42° C.

How hot do you like your hot pool? Hanmer Springs serves up everything from 28 to 42° C.

Turning inland toward the Southern Alps you will reach New Zealand’s premier alpine spa destination of Hanmer Springs. Set amongst a backdrop of forests and mountains, what better way to unwind and rejuvenate than a long soak in the thermal pools or a soothing massage at the award winning Spa.

Kaikoura

From here, the drive to the township of Kaikoura will wind along the rugged east coast where the majestic Southern Alps come crashing down into the Pacific Ocean. Try and spot seals from your car window or take in a fresh feed of crayfish or mussels from a roadside caravan.

Camera Whale watching in Kaikoura

Whale watching in Kaikoura

Camera Whale watching in Kaikoura

Whale watching in Kaikoura

Kaikoura itself is a place where eco-tourism meets Maori culture; this ocean is a rich habitat for marine mammals and seabirds, and guided tours with a cultural twist are offered by local Maori. Get close to the action with whale watching, swimming with the dolphins or seals, albatross viewing or seal kayaking.

Our tip: Take a walk

If you've got some downtime or you're not one for boating, pack a picnic and do the Shoreline Walk to see seals and seabirds.

Blenheim

Camera Sauvignon Blanc and green shell mussels in Marlborough.

Sauvignon Blanc and green shell mussels in Marlborough.

Camera Sauvignon Blanc and green shell mussels in Marlborough.

Sauvignon Blanc and green shell mussels in Marlborough.

As you continue north, make sure you celebrate your arrival in the Marlborough wine region with a glass of world-class Sauvignon Blanc matched with the other local delicacy, greenshell mussels. You may find a chauffer-driven wine tour gives you the perfect day out.

Our tip: Take the train

Need a rest? You can do this journey by rail. The Coastal Pacific train, which runs daily between Picton and Christchurch (with a stopover in Kaikoura), is a train lover’s dream with 22 tunnels, 175 bridges and spectacular scenery the whole way.

Picton

The charming port town of Picton, with its waterfront cafes and heritage buildings, makes for a delightful side trip. Popular activities around here include boat trips around the Marlborough Sounds, fishing, kayaking and walking or mountain biking the Queen Charlotte Track.

Nelson

Camera Kayaking in Abel Tasman, National Park.

Kayaking in Abel Tasman, National Park.

Camera Kayaking in Abel Tasman, National Park.

Kayaking in Abel Tasman, National Park.

When you're ready to tear yourself away from the vineyards of Marlborough, drive on over the hills and you’ll soon be in the sunny Nelson Tasman region.

It’s easy to succumb to Nelson’s creative charms; this seaside city is home to a substantial artistic community and is blessed with a plethora of galleries as well as delicious restaurants and enticing golden-sand beaches. And if you're a Lord of the Rings fan, you can pick up your 'one ring' replica from Jens Hansen, the goldsmith who made the original ring for the films.

Hidden gem: World of WearableArt and Classic Cars 

New Zealand’s unique World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum brings together amazing works of art in fashion and car design. Be sure to stop in for a look.

National Parks 

You’re on the doorstep of three National Parks – Abel Tasman, Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes. Ask the locals where to go – they will happily share their favourite spots.

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a favourite kiwi hike, and it’s easy to see why – the coastal views are remarkable. You may also like to hike or mountain bike on the Heaphy Track - New Zealand’s longest Great Walk.

Where to next?

Once you've explored some of the Nelson region's stunning wilderness, you migh like to head south along the West Coast. Explore the rugged beaches, enjoy the laid back Coaster hospitality and visit the famous Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.

A 2 day, 705km road trip
Christchurch to Hanmer Springs 90 minutes
Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura 90 minutes
Kaikoura to Blenheim 90 minutes
Blenheim to Nelson 90 minutes
Nelson to Motueka 45 minutes
Motueka to Golden Bay 70 minutes

Discover the South Island for yourself

The South Island is the perfect place for an epic road trip. We've created some amazing journeys, and you're behind the wheel! So book your road trip adventure today and experience these spectacular routes for yourself.