Christchurch to Nelson Loop

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Wineries, wildlife and adventure on the Christchurch to Nelson loop

11 Days 1400 km

Highlights

  • Kaikōura
  • Marlborough wineries
  • Abel Tasman National Park

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Experience a blend of history, adventure, wildlife and the spectacular outdoors on this 11-day loop from Christchurch to Nelson and back.

Travel through the Garden City and Akaroa, then up to Kaikōura for whale watching and on to the world-famous Marlborough wine region.

Explore Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park, see the rugged West Coast and relax in the thermal waters of Hanmer Springs before heading back to Christchurch.

Day 1: Explore Christchurch

Highlights

  • Punting on the Avon
  • Christchurch Gondola
  • International Antarctic Centre
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Discover the best of Christchurch

Top experiences in Christchurch

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There’s so much to see and do in Christchurch join a guided half day tour or hire a bike from Chill Explore and explore the inner city cycle paths. The Christchurch Tram is a fun way to get around and you can learn about the region’s seismic history and post-quake rebuild at Quake City. Enjoy the beautiful Avon River with the famous Punting on the Avonv then ride the Christchurch Gondola high into the Port Hills for panoramic views. Travel in a Hägglund snow mobile and feel the chill of an Antarctic storm at the International Antarctic Centre or have an up-close wildlife adventure at Orana Wildlife Park where you can hand-feed giraffes and travel through a lion habitat. Finish the day with Ko Tāne, an interactive Māori cultural experience at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Stay centrally at Amber Kiwi Holiday Park, or Tasman Holiday Parks just outside town.

Day 2: Akaroa

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A little piece of France on the Canterbury coast

Highlights

  • Akaroa
  • The Giants House
  • Wildlife cruise

Learn about Akaroa

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Just 90 minutes from Christchurch is the tiny French-style coastal settlement of Akaroa.

History tells of a French whaling captain who had planned a French colony here, but the Treaty of Waitangi was signed before he could establish it. The newly-arrived French settlers stayed anyway and nearly 200 years later their influence remains. Browse Akaroa’s galleries and boutique stores and stop for lunch at one of the French-inspired eateries.

Don’t miss The Giants House – a garden of international significance with incredible sculptures and mosaics.

Akaroa Harbour is famous for its marine life, like penguins, fur seals and the endangered Hector’s dolphin. Take an Akaroa Harbour Nature Tour with Black Cat Cruises, or go sea kayaking to see these creatures up close.

You could stay in Akaroa or head back to Christchurch ready to travel north in the morning.

Day 3: Christchurch to Kaikōura

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Marine animals and whale watching in Kaikōura

Highlights

  • Whale watching
  • Crayfish
  • Marine adventures

Learn about Kaikōura

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From Christchurch, head north to Cheviot and out to the surf beach at Gore Bay for a short walk to the impressive Cathedral Cliffs. Then it’s just an hour to Kaikōura, with its array of activities and delicious food experiences.   

Experience the world-famous Whale Watch Kaikōura, book an albatross encounter or a dolphin tour, and see fur seals while swimming or kayaking. Back on land, you can work up an appetite on mountain bike trails(opens in new window) that include rugged coastline and mountain ranges. 

Kaikōura is a foodie paradise with exceptional local seafood, a gin distillery and breweries to try. Don’t miss iconic crayfish caravan Nins Bin – this 50-year-old family business is the place to go for the freshest seafood. Or do it yourself on a fishing tour and have your catch filleted and bagged to cook back in your campervan. Stay at Kaikōura Top 10 Holiday Park(opens in new window) and be sure to watch for dolphin pods cruising past the beach.

Day 4: Kaikōura to Blenheim

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A day in the world-famous Marlborough wine region

Highlights

  • Marlborough wineries
  • Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
  • Marlborough Sounds cruise

Discover Blenheim

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Blenheim is in the heart of MarlboroughNew Zealand’s biggest and best-known wine region thanks to the famous sauvignon blanc wine made here and enjoyed around the world. Make the most of your time here with a guided wine tour by bike or choose a part or full-day tour by shuttle.

Aviation buffs will love the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, which has one of the world’s largest private collections of Great War aircraft and artefacts.

You can see the beautiful Marlborough Sounds from Picton, just 20 minutes away, with a trip on the Mail Boat Cruise or enjoy a cruise and lunch on the water.

Back in Blenheim you can stay centrally at Spring Creek Holiday Park or next to the beach at Rarangi Campsite just outside town.

Day 5: Blenheim to Nelson

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Explore vibrant Nelson

Highlights

  • Greenshell mussels in Havelock
  • Centre of New Zealand walk
  • Nelson wineries and craft breweries

Learn about vibrant Nelson

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On the road to Nelson is Havelock(opens in new window), known as ‘the greenshell mussel capital of New Zealand’. Browse its galleries, head out on the water for a Greenshell Mussel Cruise(opens in new window), see how the residents of the remote Pelorus Sound live with a day on the Pelorus Mail Boat or jump on a water taxi or shorter cruise.

Nelson(opens in new window) is a vibrant town and on the doorstep of some of New Zealand’s most beautiful outdoor spots. It has plenty of walks and hikes(opens in new window) to choose from, like the iconic Centre of New Zealand Walk(opens in new window) or explore by bike on one of Kiwi Journeys'(opens in new window) many tours, such as the popular Rabbit Island day trip.

Meet local artists on a gallery tour, try paddle boarding at Tahunanui Beach and enjoy dinner at one of the many cafés, craft breweries (opens in new window)or wineries(opens in new window). There’s a wide range of campgrounds and holiday parks but be sure to book ahead.

Day 6: Abel Tasman National Park

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Experience the beauty of Abel Tasman National Park

Highlights

  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Kaiteriteri Beach
  • Paddle a waka

Learn about Abel Tasman National Park

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Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park but one of its most popular thanks to its untouched golden sand beaches, waterways and native bush.

On the way, stop at Kaiteriteri with its stunning turquoise water beach and take part in the unique cultural experience of paddling a waka (a traditional Māori canoe)  with Waka Abel Tasman. You can access the Abel Tasman from Kaiteriteri or nearby Marahau in the south, and from Golden Bay and Totaranui in the north. There are plenty of tracks to choose from, ranging from a couple of hours through to several days and tour operators offering guided walks and kayaking, or even skydiving and canyoning.

Abel Tasman AquaTaxi can get you closer to the more remote spots. Head back to Nelson for the night or book a spot in Moutere (home to New Zealand’s oldest pub) or one of the campgrounds along the coast.

Day 7: Nelson to Murchison

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Natural wonders and history in Murchison

Highlights

  • Jetboating
  • Natural Flames Experience
  • Fly fishing

Go for gold in Murchison

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Head inland on SH6 to Murchison, regarded as ‘the white water capital of New Zealand for the number of rivers surrounding it, including the mighty Buller. The former gold-mining town still has many of its original buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Jump on board the Buller Canyon Jet for a high speed adventure on the water or try fly fishing with a local guide(opens in new window).

Murchison is also where you’ll find the incredible sight of flames dancing on the forest floor – join The Natural Flames Experience to see this phenomenon up close and experience a working deer and sheep farm.

There is also river rafting, mountain biking and scenic and historical walks(opens in new window) to enjoy, such as the Maruia Falls Track, or the Kawatiri Historic Railway Walk, complete with eerie train tunnel to explore.

Day 8: Murchison to Punakaiki

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Natural wonders in Punakaiki

Highlights

  • Buller Gorge
  • Pancake Rocks
  • Bush walks

Digest the beauty of Punakaiki

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Travel through the Buller Gorge and out to the West Coast, known for its wild coastline and mining heritage.

Stop for the night at Punakaiki, where bush-clad hills lead down to amazing coastal rock formations. Explore Paparoa National Park, where you’ll find the famous Pancake Rocks and spectacular blowholes, as well as cave rafting(opens in new window). The walks range from the short Truman Track (30 minutes return) to the Pororari River Track and Fox River Caves Track (both three hours return), or thePaparoa track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, which is a 2-3 day hiking and mountain biking track. 

Book a spot at Punakaiki Beach Camp(opens in new window), just 700m from the Pancake Rocks and close to the Punakaiki Cavern with its glow worms and stalactites.

Day 9: Punakaiki to Lewis Pass