Christchurch to Kaikoura - Road trip secrets

Secret spots from a kiwi who knows the road - hidden gems await on the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura.

Once you have navigated the outskirts of Christchurch you will be able to “open up the taps” on the northern motorway.  Remember, our NZ traffic officers have a 10km speeding tolerance, however at holiday times this can reduce to 4kph, so speeding is not wise.

The journey into the North Canterbury province starts proper when the feeder roads from the satellite towns of Rangaoria and Woodend are behind you.  Rural Canterbury is one of the power houses of New Zealand agriculture, and as you near Amberley you will see farms becoming larger with less surrounding farm homes and larger tractors!. 

Secret 1Amberley has several nice cafes but the highlight of the town is a Cobb cottage dating from the early 1880’s. It is on the Christchurch side of town and is set off the west side of the road. It is kept in period and is a true step back in New Zealand history and heritage. A must visit and it is free.

Tracking north from Amberley,  a small unique micro climate exists in Waipara,  where the seaward low hills block the cool sea breeze, which raises the local temperature significantly in summer. Here you will find several wineries that can tempt your pallet.  

Secret 2:  North of Waipara you will soon come to a small settlement called Greta Valley.  If you have time turn right - at the school and take the Motunau Beach Road.  It will take you no longer than fifteen minutes but you will pass through an isolated farming valley that is quite unique,  and then you will arrive at a very scenic sea side beach community.   It is a spot where a few kiwi’s have hide away homes.  No shops – just a beach and driftwood!

Secret 3:  A short drive north of Greta Valley settlement and you will come to a large- ish bridge crossing the Hurunui River.  Turn tight left once over the bridge onto Ethelton Road.  This is a deserted road that runs beside the river.  If you stop you can hear the river whilst having a roadside picnic,  – but what is amazing is in season you will see fruiting apple, pear and plumb trees that date from a bygone error right on the road side.  In the old times horse bound travellers would follow the river and they would snack on fruit as they passed.

Secret 4:  Travelling north again you will soon come upon Cheviot.  It  is a small rural supply town that has a few lovely cafes, an antique shop however  one of this towns secrets is on the south side of the town.  Taking a right hand turn will lead you on a three minute oak tree lined drive to a historic recreation ground. This ground still hosts summer cricket games. Nowhere in New Zealand will you  find a finer historic cricket ground, surrounded by one hundred year-old mature trees.  A fantastic spot for a picnic and truly an undiscovered gem.

Secret 5:  Driving north again you will come to a bridge crossing the Conway river. This is a fine trout fishing river. Just on the south side of the bridge an underpass will take you down to the river.  This will provide you with a perfect hideaway for a rest, however  the secret is across the river.  A tunnel protrudes from the cliff on the opposite side of the river, which seems very out of place and makes for interesting viewing.

The next point of interest being crayfish stalls on the roadside at Goose Bay.  It is a fantastic spot to stop and enjoy the sea views and it is also here and northward that you can view Seals sunbathing on the rocks.

Kaikoura is well known for its Whale Watching, Seal Swimming and Dolphin Watching.  What is a hidden gem is the modest historic hotel at 1 Avoca Street. The Pier Hotel. It serves good seafood ( of course ),  but it is the old rooms , adjacent the sea that are the find.  At night you can hear the waves on the rocks, and an old balcony provides breakfast whilst watching the sunrise. 

Take your time in Kaikoura. It is a very rare place ecologically,  and the eco tourism opportunities in one location are unparalleled.

SECRET 6:  Before arriving in Kaikoura,  check  The best deals bar none are available on this site for Kaikoura ,and operators drop specials on if they are not full. Beware in high season to book in advance to avoid disappointment as some trips can be booked out for days in advance.