Planning the ultimate South Island adventure? We’ve got just the road trip idea. Beginning in Christchurch with stops along Kaikoura, Blenheim and Marlborough with our final destination being Wellington, this gorgeous drive is best done over a few days (or a week) so you can best savour everything the South Island has to offer. From Christchurch, pick up your hire car at Christchurch Airport or Christchurch Downtown and begin your trip by exploring the largest city in the South Island.
Enjoy a slow start to your adventure by exploring the variety of attractions and activities that Christchurch has to offer. From a kaleidoscope of dining options to gorgeous botanic gardens, street art to retail therapy, this ever-evolving city is brimming with endless options for exploration. If you’ve ticked off the highlights on your first day or would prefer a relaxed start to your holiday, we recommend an afternoon of punting on the Avon River or exploring the city centre on board a Christchurch tram. With all-day hop-on, hop-off tickets, you can enjoy this city at your own pace. In the evening, find yourself at the Terrace, a stunning riverfront spot lined with restaurants, bars and clubs to where you can grab a delicious bite to eat or sip on cocktails as you watch the world go by.
From Christchurch, enjoy an easy 90-minute drive in your rental car to Hanmer Springs, a picturesque alpine village renowned for its natural hot pools and gorgeous views. Savour your first lux break here and indulge at the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa where you soak the day away or treat yourself to a relaxing spa day. After a day of pampering, stroll the main street and enjoy a dose of retail therapy with an abundance of boutique shops, cafes and eateries ready to greet and treat you.
After a day of indulgence, make your way over to Kaikōura. Just two hours from Hanmer Springs, this coastal town is the best place to experience wildlife encounters of all kinds. The town is also known to be the spot for tucking into a plate of crayfish and it lives up to its name in the Maori language with, 'kai' meaning food and 'kōura' meaning crayfish. Whether you’re here for a day trip or a fun stop along your way, we’re certain you’ll enjoy the stunning landscape and environment that surrounds you.
Book in for a morning or afternoon of whale-watching or a dolphin encounter where you can swim with the dusky dolphins or watch them show off their acrobatic skills from the comfort of a boat. If you have more time on your hands, explore the town on foot with a variety of breathtaking coastal walks including the Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway, Fyffe-Palmer Track, Puhi Puhi Reserve and Hinau Track.
From Kaikōura, enjoy a scenic coastal drive to the sunny town of Blenheim. Located in the heart of Marlborough, it is framed by mountains and perfectly balances its gorgeous setting with an array of cafes, restaurants, wineries, bars, shops, artisan food outlets that will thrill any foodie. Blenheim is where Sauvignon Blanc is abundant and the little town is also the producer of 75% of New Zealand wines with over 30 wineries within driving distance of the town. If you’re visiting over the weekend, the Marlborough Farmers’ Market is a must-add to your list where you’ll be able to sample and savour produce from local growers and producers.
Aside from being an epicurean’s dream, Blenheim is brimming with culture, history and natural beauty. Make a pit stop at The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and the Marlborough Museum or wander the gardens, parks and museums including the Upton Oaks Garden, Japanese-themed Harling Park, Riverside Park, Seymour Square. For those with a bit more time on their hands, visit the Wither Hills Farm Park where you’ll discover a range of walking and mountain biking tracks just moments from Blenheim’s centre.
From Blenheim, it’s just a short 20-minute drive to the seaside town of Picton where you’ll be greeted by incredible water views and a seafront setting dotted with cafes and restaurants serving up some of the best seafood. This gorgeous town is also home to a number of galleries, an aquarium and a floating maritime museum, offering something for everyone. If you’re looking to really soak yourself in nature and get away from it all, enjoy a day hike along the Queen Charlotte Track or for those who prefer something a little more laidback, enjoy a boat cruise through Marlborough Sounds where you’ll discover secluded bays, marine reserves and island sanctuaries home to native wildlife.
From Picton, you can catch a ferry to Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.
Strong coffee, world class beer, gourmet restaurants, dance, theatre and museums - Wellington truly has it all. This city is also rich in character and history, making it the ideal wrap up to your journey through the East Coast Highway. While you’re here, be sure to visit Te Papa museum and witness the best views of the city via the Wellington Cable Car. Film buffs and fans of Lord of the Rings will also be thrilled to discover the Wētā Cave, a must-see spot filled with artefacts from the world of film. For those keen on exploring the goodies from the culinary capital of New Zealand, we recommend heading to Courtenay Place or Cuba Street to get amongst it all. If you find yourself just wanting a relaxing day by the water, pop over to Oriental Bay for a leisurely swim, stroll or picnic by the water.
There’s plenty to see and do across New Zealand and exploring it by car is such a great way to get a taste of it all. If you’re looking to explore the South Island via the East Coast Highway, book to pick up your hire car at Christchurch Airport or Christchurch Downtown and soon you’ll be on your way!