From the Christchurch maui branch, it’s an easy drive north to the top of the South Island, with beautiful coastal scenery along the way to take your breath away. From wildlife sightings in Kaikoura follow the epic epic coastline into Blenheim and the Marlborough Sounds then around onto Nelson with even more picture perfect beaches, vineyards, cycle trails, galleries and arts and crafts. This is truly a seven day treat for your all your senses.
Christchurch to Christchurch via Marlborough/Nelson
Best Time of the Year
Anytime of the year
- Nelson Lakes
- Golden Bay
- Abel Tasman
Christchurch to Kaikoura
Distance 181km - Driving Time 2.5 hours
Kaikoura is world-renown for whale watching tours, but there is plenty of other wildlife to see including dolphins, seals and seabirds. With plenty of options from simply observing on a cruise to swimming with dolphins or going on a kayak tour - encounters with wildlife are endlessly available with the likes of Encounter Kaikoura and Whale Watch Kaikoura. Be sure to sample sample some of the local delicacy, crayfish, at the roadside Kaikoura Seafood BBQ, or at the historic Pier Hotel – perfect at sundown.
Kaikoura to Blenheim
Distance 128km - Driving Time 2.5 hours
With all your wildlife watching ticked off the list it's onto Wairau Valley, with its 35-odd cellar doors. Most have restaurants and picnic areas to laze away an afternoon and if you don’t feel like driving you can be toured around on a mini-bus or cycling the vines could be more your cup of tea. A key attraction is Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, which displays a collection of World War One aircraft - this really shouldn’t be missed.
Blenheim to Nelson
Distance 115km - Driving Time 1.45 hours
Staying on SH1 to reach Nelson you will end up going through Picton. Well known as the Interislander ferry port, the town offers so much more with its trim foreshore park and harbour outlook, town walks, and ready access to the labyrinthine Marlborough Sounds. It’s a great spot to explore the Queen Charlotte Sounds from - cruises can easily be combined with a kayak, hike or bike ride along the Queen Charlotte Track. At Havelock, join SH6 to Nelson, be sure to stop at Pelorus Bridge for nature walks, river swimming, and home-baked goodies at the cafe; book ahead for the popular DOC campsite if you did want to stay here for the night. Further along you will hit Nelson, on the shores of Tasman Bay. There is a great holiday park at Tahunanui Beach and so much to see and do in the region with its active art scene, Founders Heritage Park as well as boutique shopping and craft galleries, and great eating and drinking establishments, especially if craft beer tickles your fancy.
Nelson to Motueka
Distance 60km - Driving Time 1 hour
The roads between Nelson and Motueka are lined with attractions, including wineries, Höglund Art Glass, Rabbit Island recreation reserve and the Moutere Highway with its artisans, fruit stalls and historic pub. Close to Abel Tasman National Park, Motueka has a pleasant high street and coastal walkway, along with an exceptional Top 10 that hires bikes to cruise the predominantly flat Great Taste Trail, a dedicated cycleway stretching across the region.
Only an hour’s drive from Motueka over the Takaka Hill is Golden Bay, a quiet and idyllic region carpeted with farms and bush, and lined with sandy beaches. Both Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks can be accessed from the bay; other reasons to visit are beaches such as Pohara and Wharariki, the crazy Canaan Downs, Takaka town, the Mussel Inn brewpub, and Farewell Spit, an otherworldly duneland with fascinating stories to tell. You could very easily be blown away and feel like staying on for a couple of days - there are some brilliant campsite options here but be sure to book ahead if during the peak summer period.
Motueka to Nelson Lakes
Distance 86km - Driving Time 1.15 hours
Take the Motueka Valley Highway to Kohatu and onward to St Arnaud, the quiet alpine village on the edge of Nelson Lakes National Park. The park’s two glacier-formed lakes – Rotoiti (‘little lake’) and Rotoroa (‘long lake’) – are fringed with dense beech forest and surrounded by bald peaks. It’s a dramatic and beautiful scene indeed, which can be surveyed from DOC’s Kerr Bay campsite (powered sites, hot showers, laundry), or explored on easy nature walks or day-hikes such as the highly memorable Mt Robert Circuit.
Nelson Lakes to Hanmer Springs
Distance 219km - Driving Time 2.45 hours
This long but scenic leg begins westwards on SH63, before following SH6 past Murchison and heading south on SH65 towards Springs Junction. From there, SH7 heads through Lewis Pass, passing significant forest reserves on its way through the Southern Alps.
The small resort town of Hanmer Springs nestles into a basin, 10km off the highway. Its Thermal Pools & Spa are a pleasure-seekers’ paradise, with open-air pools, fun slides and day spa facilities. Conical Hill Lookout offers panoramic views of the leafy town and countryside, throughout which are hikes, horse trekking, mountain biking, jet boating and bungy jumping. There are a couple of great holiday parks in the area to overnight stay.
Hanmer Springs to Christchurch
Distance 133km - Driving Time 2 hours
It’s a pretty drive on SH7 through to SH1, which it meets at Waipara, thus closing your loop. With luck you’ll have time left for another cellar door visit before the final drive south back into Christchurch.