The Drive from Picton to Christchurch

One of the most fascinating drives in New Zealand taking you through the Marlborough Wine area to the home of seals and whales and on to Christchurch...

Off the ferry we leave Picton on Route One heading south. Along the drive not too far out of town places of interest we spot include a Welsh pony farm and the Totara Grove Alpaca Farm. The hills begin to fade away and the open plains of the new world's number one cold-climate wine region opens up before us. You will also find, in the right season, cherries ripe for picking. Paula finds it hard to pass a cherry stand. If you wish to hang out a bit in the region turn left at Tuamarina a few kilometres prior to Blenheim. The road winds through an expanse of vineyards that leads to a DOC camp located on the ocean edge with a pleasant beach area.

Continuing along Route One, after Tuamarina, you cross the Wairau River. Just past the river we recommend turning right at Spring Creek on Rapaura Road for an exploratory trip through the Marlborough wine country. Over sixty wineries are available to check out plus the Makana Chocolate Factory is a wonderful incentive to travel this route.

Tour along the Rapaura Road and side roads until reaching Route 6 adjacent to the Nautilus Estate. Turn left through Renwick and then continue on Route 6 back toward Blenheim. After Renwick, past the airport, it is a good idea to take Jackson’s Road to the Allan Scott winery for a special treat of great food and top wines. Grab a bottle of their exquisite sauvignon blanc for that special occasion this summer.

On to Blenheim via Route Six (Middle Renwick Road becomes Nelson Street.) The Information Centre is on Route One with plenty of parking for large vehicles.
Blenheim is a large community for New Zealand and has everything you may require.

If you plan to arrive in the region in February try to get to the Wine Marlborough Festival the largest wine event in the country. You will need to book ahead. For the best cafe in town try Figaro's at 8 Scott Street in the middle of town. Joe and crew will take very good care of you with Supreme Coffee and delectable food.

Leaving Blenheim enroute to the fabulous East Coast of the South Island Route One cuts through the Awatere region. The drive from here to Kaikoura is about two hours traveling along the most scenic coastal region on the entire East Coast.

The drive from Blenheim to Kaikoura that began in the wine region now turns into barren wind swept hills before reaching the East Coast. Along the way you will pass New Zealand's only salt works at Lake Grassmere, eighteen hundred hectares of water where salt water is pumped in and evaporation takes place to create nearly 40,000 tons of salt annually. Visitors are invited to stop by on Tuesdays and Fridays at 1:30pm for a guided tour. A giant mountain of salt is very evident as you pass by.

Just past Lake Grassmere take a left to discover the Marfells Beach DoC Camp tucked along the beach at Clifford Bay. One of our favourite spots to spend quality time.

Continuing south on Route One you will come upon The Store Cafe at Kekerangu, forty-five minutes south of Blenheim, judged the best cafe in Marlborough. Great place to enjoy the scenery and also a place to park overnight by the ocean.

From here the rocky coast begins. Stop to experience a close encounter with the many seals lying about on the rocks during the day. Several good over night stopping places along this coast also. This is the crayfish coast where you will find a couple of stands that offer tasty lobster for lunch.

The town of Kaikoura is on a peninsula overlooked by majestic mountains. Very deep and plankton rich sea at its doorstep provides the habitat for marine mammals and sea
life. The town of Kaikoura offers great cafes and art galleries. Be sure to see the paintings of Brett Pettit at the Pacific Allure Gallery next to the Aroma Cafe the best place to have good coffee and a meal in Kaikoura.

Just before driving into the main downtown area you can turn left toward the Whale Watch building where a large parking area is available for camper vans and easy access to the main town and the beach. If you elect to go into the downtown area not too far on the left is a large car park by the Information Centre. Be sure to explore all the way to the coastal turn around and a large seal colony that sometimes uses the road as their bed. Along the way you pass the main docks where very fresh seafood is available.

Kaikoura's early whaling history is featured at the Museum. One of the country's top festivals is held here, the Kaikoura Seafest. Have a look at one of the Kaikoura Information sites for the particulars or check out the website. Leaving Kaikoura south don't miss driving up the hill to the Kaikoura Winery claimed to be the most scenic winery in New Zealand where the view is worth the visit.

Two routes south possible after leaving Kaikoura, one is to continue along Route One passing through Cheviot and on to the junction of Route Seven at Waipara. Route Seven continues west to Hanmer Springs and over the Lewis Pass to the West Coast. An exciting trip on its own but we will cover that at another time. Off Route One one of the best places to spend the night in this region is to turn left out of Cheviot to Gore Bay where two campgrounds on a beautiful surfing beach are located.

The alternate route south from Kaikoura is Route 70 that winds through the countryside for 72 kilometres to the town of Waiau. There is a spectacular view of the Waiau River at the top of the hill just before dropping down into the Waiau Valley. Another 23 kms along you turn right on Route Seven and enter the town of Culverden where the Red Post Restaurant provides top quality food and drink. It is 17 kms to the town of Hurunui and the location of the historic Hurunui Hotel. One of our favourite places to stay overnight is along this section of road, the Balmoral Reserve, a large expanse of well maintained park-like area containing large trees for shade plus water and toilets are available. The local committee maintains this area and only ask $5.00 for the night. A real surprise along this route is at Waikari, the Rocking Frog Cafe and Gallery. Well worth a stop.

It is twenty-seven kilometres from Waikari to the junction of Route Seven and Route One at Waipara. From here it is 47 kilometres to the outskirts of Christchurch. Passing through the town of Amberley you will find one of the top restaurants in the country, the Norwester’ Cafe. For the best place to stay the night in this area take the road left to Amberley Beach. A very large reserve has been set aside with electric hookup, water and toilets available. Plenty of room and very comfortable.

This is the Waipara wine region with the place to stop and see what is on offer is Pukeko Junction just past the Leithfield turnoff on Route One. A wine shop, gallery and restaurant combination that offers some great deals on the local wines, good food and local art on display. To visit one of the top winery’s in this region have a look at Pegasus Bay right off Route One.