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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.