Top of the South: Christchurch → Picton

How Long:

7 days


For whale watching in Kaikoura or exploring the Abel Tasman National Park, summer offers the best chances for favourable weather and wildlife sightings.

Must do:

  • Splash out on a Kaikoura whale tour or indulge in the famous local seafood
  • Take a well-earned spa day at Hanmer Springs.
  • Stop at one of the many Waipara Valley wineries
  • Surf the waves at Westport
  • Hike the Abel Tasman National Park in Nelson

Nestled beneath the South Island's Southern Alps, this beautiful part of the world offers so much to do. Whether hiking amidst ancient beech forests and alpine meadows or around famous Rotoiti and Rotoroa Lakes, sampling exceptional wines, whale watching or sampling Nelson's culture, adventure beckons at every turn.

Day 1: Christchurch – Kaikoura (180 km - 2.5 hours)

Christchurch to Kaikoura is a spectacular scenic drive along the coast, with potential stops at Waipara Valley vineyards for wine tasting (you could easily spend a few days here) or the coastal town of Cheviot.

Plan to arrive in Kaikoura in the afternoon and enjoy seafood delicacies or embark on a whale or dolphin watching tour. There are lots of accommodation options here: make sure you have your permits for freedom camping as the local bylaws are pretty strict. That is a great spot on Whaleway Station Road and you can grab a great paint and bite to eat at the Strawberry Tree on the main road.

Day 2-3: Kaikoura – Punakaiki (365 km - 5hrs)

This journey takes you on one of the beautiful drives cross country, past Hanmer Springs. If you can afford an extra day, take a detour to Hanmer Springs thermal park for a spa day and a well-deserved scrub after a few nights in your self-contained campervan. Punakaiki is a small but bustling town where you can explore the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.

Day 4-5: Punakaiki – Murchison (150 km - 2 hours)

So much to see and explore on this stretch of highway that follows the Buller River. If surfing is your thing, head to Westport where the waves are often pumping. The town is a great pitstop for restocking your essentials. Murchison is known for its outdoor adventure activities and stunning natural landscapes. Stop at Buller Gorge for thrilling experiences like jet boating, or take a leisurely walk along the river.

Day 6: Murchison – Nelson via Nelson Lakes National Park (150 km - 2 hours)

Nelson Lakes National Park is known for sparkling lakes and alpine scenery. There are plenty of day or overnight hikes, but you’ll need some planning and camping permits before you take off. Take a short hike around Lake Rotoiti or Lake Rotoroa.

Nelson has a vibrant arts scene and a gorgeous waterfront. From here you can embark on multi day hikes through Abel Tasman National Park. Some campsites and huts must be booked in advance, so plan accordingly.

Day 7: Nelson — Picton (150 km - 2 hours)

Make the most of your morning in Nelson, with a leisurely stroll through the Queen's Gardens. Or visit a local craft brewery for a tasting session before heading to Picton to catch the ferry. This is a short and scenic drive and Picton has lots to offer, so leave time if you want to explore the historic port.

Use the time on the ferry to plan for the next stage of your journey. Wellington can be busy at peak rush-hour, so factor this in. See you in the Capital. (Make sure you check out our North Island itineraries.)

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