Top of the South Itinerary

6-7 DAYS

1067 km


  • Marine Wildlife
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Thermal hot springs


Discover the diversity of Christchurch before heading north to Kaikoura for some dolphin and whale watching. Go to the charming town of Murchison for a thrilling jet boat ride.

Next stop, wine country. Enjoy a sauvignon blanc or two, and relax in the breathtaking Marlborough Sounds. Explore the artisan haven of Nelson and the world-famous Abel Tasman National Park. On the way back to Christchurch unwind in the natural thermal pools and spas of Hanmer Springs.

    Day 1: Christchurch to Kaikoura

    see playful dolphins up close
    Christchurch - Canterbury
    Dolphin spotting, Christchurch - Canterbury

    Von Sara Orme

    Christchurch - Canterbury


    Get up close to marine wildlife in this coastal town


    • By car: Christchurch to Kaikoura 
    • By car: SH1 - 3 h | 203 km
      Inland - 4 h 30 m | 330 km
    • By : SH1 route is only open Fri - Mon, 7am - 6pm

    Recommended experiences in Kaikoura

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    Start your journey exploring the stunning gardens and parks of New Zealand's "garden city" before heading north to Kaikoura. Few places in the world can boast of such natural wonders as those offered in Kaikoura. Take time to experience giant whales, playful dolphins and marine birds up close.

    Day 2: Kaikoura to Marlborough via Murchison

    Savour wine with a view
    Weinberge, Marlborough

    Von Mike Heydon



    World-famous sauvignon blanc & one-fifth of NZ's coastline.


    • By car: Kaikoura to Murchison
      4 h 30 m | 287 km
    • By car: Murchison to Blenheim
      2 h 30 min | 162 km

    Recommended experiences in Marlborough

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    Journey inland towards the charming town of Murchison. Take a break and get your adrenalin pumping with a Buller Canyon jetboat ride or cross the country's longest swingbridge and see the raging water from above.

    After Murchison, travel north to Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine growing region and home of sauvignon blanc. This is the perfect place to enjoy the world-famous wine and dine on ocean fresh seafood. Explore the Marlborough Sounds with a walk or bike ride through native forest or meet the local wildlife on a boat cruise.

    Day 3: Blenheim to Nelson

    Explore a region of creativity
    Great Taste Trail, Nelson, Nelson

    Von Dean McKenzie



    Vineyards and unique artisan culture.


    • By car: Marlborough to Nelson
    • By car: 1 h 40 min | 118 km

    Recommended experiences in Nelson Tasman

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    Nelson is a town bursting with creativity. Visit the studios of local artists and the World of Wearable Art Museum where art meets fashion. In the afternoon take time to sample Nelson's selection of local craft brews or hop on a bike and follow the Great Taste Cycle Trail through the region's vineyards.

    Day 4: Spend the day in Abel Tasman National Park

    Refresh yourself in nature
    Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson

    Von Fraser Clements



    Secluded golden sand beaches and native forests.


    • By car: Nelson to Kaiteriteri
      1 h 10 m | 65 km
    • By : Nelson to Marahau
      1 h 20 min | 78 km

    Abel Tasman National Park

    Explore this coastal paradise by land or by sea.

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    Enjoy the coastal drive from Nelson to the secluded golden sand beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park. Explore the stunning landscapes by foot, bike, kayak or boat and refresh yourself in this welcoming environment. 

    Day 5: Nelson to Hanmer Springs

    Soak up the view
    Christchurch - Canterbury
    Hanmer Springs, Christchurch - Canterbury

    Von Miles Holden

    Christchurch - Canterbury


    Natural thermal waters in a resort town


    • By car: Nelson to Hanmer Springs
    • By car: 4 h | 300 km

    Recommended experiences in Hanmer Spring

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    Take your time as you drive from Nelson to Hanmer Springs, a destination for relaxation and refreshment. Soak in the natural hot springs or discover outdoor activities such as forest walks, mountain bikinghorse trekking and trout fishing before returning to Christchurch, just 2 hours away.

    Day 6: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch

    Discover Christchurch in spring time
    Christchurch - Canterbury
    Walking the Port Hills, Christchurch - Canterbury

    Von Julian Apse

    Christchurch - Canterbury

    Christchurch - Canterbury

    New Zealand's "Garden City" – take your time to explore.


    • By car: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch
    • By car: 1 h 45 min | 134 km

    Recommended experiences in Christchurch

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    Driving south from Hanmer Springs returning to the vibrant city of Christchurch. Take a leisurely punt down the Avon river and the famous botanic gardens that gave this city its name as New Zealand's "Garden City". 

    Alternative Route

    Re-opening December 2017

    The Kaikoura section of State Highway 1 is due to re-open in December 2017, allowing travel from Kaikoura, via the South Island's east coast to Marlborough and beyond. This route offers another way to explore the spectacular Canterbury, Marlborough and Nelson regions. 

    Start Planning your Trip to New Zealand

    Explore other South Island itineraries

    Southern Scenic Itinerary →

    Alpine Lakes Itinerary →

    Nature and Heritage Itinerary →

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