3Days

Christchurch to Nelson in 3 days

Driving Tour

If you’re looking for a great road trip itinerary for a long weekend adventure, look no further than this 3-day itinerary from Christchurch to Nelson. Nelson is one of the South Island’s premier tourist destinations and it is the perfect place to spend a few days. We now have a GO Rentals branch located in Nelson which means it’s even easier to travel around the South Island with GO. Whether you are heading to Nelson for a long weekend and then flying off somewhere else, or you fancy a road trip and a flight back, this 3-day itinerary is super-flexible and will take you to some of the upper South Island’s coolest spots.

OK, if you’re ready, let’s hit the road.

Contents

  1. Route map with key locations
  2. Recommended vehicle for this trip
  3. Trip itinerary

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We recommend:

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5 seats
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Trip Itinerary

1Christchurch to Hanmer Springs (134km, 1 hour 42 mins)

The first day of this road trip is pretty easy going and the drive itself will only take you a couple of hours, giving you plenty of time to maximise the day and explore some of the locations along the way.

If you have time, Christchurch is obviously a very cool place to explore before you head off. From punting on the River Avon to zip lining in Spencer Park, Christchurch has a huge range of activities catering to lots of different people.

Take some time to explore some of the tranquil gardens including the Botanic Gardens or head out to the International Antarctic Centre where you can experience an Antarctic storm or take a trip on a Hagglund.

Image of a Haglund parked outside the entrace to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch

Make sure you check out our Christchurch Travel Guide for tips on where to stay, where to eat and what to do and even if you can’t fit them all into this trip, you will get some great ideas for your next New Zealand adventure.

Once you hit the road, there are a couple of places to break up the drive on the trip from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs.

About an hour into the journey, you will come across the small town of Amberley. This is a great little stop-off point to grab a coffee in one of the local cafes which serve the farming and wine-growing community. There are also some great little craft shops or you may even fancy a wander to the beach.

10 minutes further along the road, you will hit Waipara, one of the South Island’s great wine-producing areas famed for some lovely pinot noirs, rieslings and chardonnays. The region has the highest summer temperatures and lower rainfall of any of the New Zealand wine growing regions making it the ideal spot to pick up a bottle or two for your weekend away.

From Waipara, it will take you around 55 mins to get to your resting place for the night – Hanmer Springs.

Exploring Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs is a really cool place and as the name would suggest, it is famous for the natural hot springs found in the town. Whilst this is the biggest drawcard, there are lots of other activities you can get stuck into. Here are three of our favourites:

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa

The springs in Hanmer have been attracting people to the town for over 100 years and they have come a long way in recent times. From the early days of a couple of changing sheds to the modern world-class spa resort you find today, you will enjoy a couple of hours soaking in the variety of hot pools including rock pools, sulphur pools, water jets, luxury space, steam rooms and more. There are even water slides and active areas for the kids (big and small!)

  • Hanmer Forest – Hanmer Springs sits under the towering Southern Alps and is a great place to get out and explore on foot. The Hanmer Forest is home to some of New Zealand’s oldest exotic plants and is rich in flora and fauna. There are a number of walking and mountain biking trails through the forest or for the more energetic, try out the challenging Mt Isobel Track which will take you 5-6 hours return.
  • Hanmer Springs Animal Park – covering 20 acres of stunning alpine landscape, the Hanmer Animal Park offers intimate encounters with a wide range of animals including sheep, lambs, ponies, alpacas, emu, buffalo and llamas. This is a very cool place for families with the opportunity to hand-feed some of the animals and there is also a great little café with outdoor picnic tables.

If you are looking for more inspiration for things to do in Hanmer Springs, make sure you check out our Hanmer Springs Travel Guide – part of our hidden gems collection.

There are plenty of accommodation options in Hanmer Springs and if you are looking for somewhere for dinner on your first night, we would definitely recommend the Monteith’s brewpub located in the heart of town. Great food, great local beer and a great atmosphere make this a must.

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2Hanmer Springs to Murchison (221km – 2 hours 52 mins)

Day two of this road trip and if there is anything you missed out on when you arrived in Hanmer yesterday, you can try and squeeze in one last thing before you hit the road. We’ve got around 3 hours of driving ahead of us and plenty of stops along the way so let’s make the most of it and get to it!

There are a couple of routes you can take to get to your final destination of Murchison today. We have included the time for the longest route above, however, taking a slightly more direct route will save you about an hour. If you are hoping to squeeze in lots of activities in Murchison (and there are a lot to squeeze in), then maybe take the shorter route. If you’re more about the journey than the destination and you love to discover hidden gems, then the longer route might be for you.

No matter which way you go, there are a couple of places you can stop off along the way before the road splits.

If you have not yet had your fill of hot springs, Maruia Hot Springs is located about an hour from Hanmer and is a good place to break up your journey. As the name suggests, you will find more natural hot springs in Maruia, and these are a good alternative to Hanmer.

For those taking the longer route along SH7, SH69 and SH6, a quirky stop off is in Reefton where, for a small donation, you can go and check out Bev’s Doll House – a collection of over 2,000 dolls including a 180-year-old German stone doll and popular contemporary dolls such as the Harry Potter doll collection. We promised you quirky and off-the-beaten-track and that’s what we’re giving you!

Buller Gorge Swing Bridge

Buller Gorge Swing Bridge
The longer route will also take you to the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge and is one of the main reasons for the detour (although it is pretty accessible from Murchison if you don’t fancy the extended route).  There is plenty to do here including zip-lining and jet boating and you could easily spend a couple of hours at the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge.

Hopefully, you will have arrived in Murchison with plenty of time to explore as there is lots to do here.

Murchison is a town steeped in history thanks to the combination of forested valleys and fast-flowing rivers which led to a gold rush in the area that brought people from all over the country. Whilst the goldrush came and went, Murchison was one of the few towns to survive and thanks to its location on the Lewis Pass, it welcomes thousands of visitors every year.

The Buller River flows through the area and this provides adrenalin junkies with plenty of activities but there is more to Murchison than just the river. Check out some of our favourite things to do in Murchison:

  • Whitewater rafting – we might as well talk about the main attraction first. Murchison is one of the best places in New Zealand for whitewater rafting thanks to the Buller River – New Zealand’s largest free-flowing river. There are some great options when it comes to rafting in the area from family-friendly to hair-raising grade five rapids.
  • Old Ghost Road Track – Murchison is also the closest town to the Old Ghost Road Track – one of New Zealand’s premium walking and biking trails. The Old Ghost Road Track connects the Upper Buller Gorge to the Mokihinui River on the West Coast and is 85kms of absolute joy. The trail will take you through mountainous valleys and alongside free-flowing rivers.
  • Natural Flames Experience – this is one of the most unique things you can do, not only in New Zealand but across the world. The natural flames experience is the world’s only perpetually burning fire and what makes the experience more unique is that it’s located in a forest. The flames have been burning since 1922 and whilst they are not easy to get to, there is a four-hour trip you can take to witness this phenomenon.

These are just three of our favourite things to do in Murchison but you can discover more in our blog post – 11 of the best things to do in Murchison – including fly fishing, kayaking, jet boating, gold panning and the Maruia Falls.

Maruia Falls

Maruia Falls

The Maruia Falls are the result of a devastating earthquake in the Murchison township in 1929. A landslide in the Maruia Valley diverted the course of the Maruia River, forcing it to cut a new channel over an old riverbank.

The majestic 10-metre waterfall can be heard before it is seen, as it plummets into the deep pools below.

There are quite a few accommodation options in Murchison including hotels, motels, holiday parks and Airbnbs so it’s a good place to base yourself for the night.

3Murchison to Nelson (119km, 1 hour 31 mins)

The final day of this 3-day adventure in the upper South Island will take you to Nelson and it is a wonderful place to explore so let’s get out there and make the most of it.

It’s only about an hour and a half to drive to Nelson so there is always an option to do the drive the night before as you will find more accommodation options in Nelson and it will give you more time on your final day to explore this fantastic region.

If you are planning on staying in and around Nelson for a few days and you can take your time, make sure you squeeze in any last activities in Murchison and then take SH6 north towards Nelson.

Kawatiri Historic Railway Walk
Credit: DOC

Around 30 minutes into the journey, you will find one of the best places for a leg stretch at the Kawatiri Historic Railway Walk which is just after the turnoff from SH63. This is a short, easy walk that will take you on a section of the railway line that used to run from Nelson to Murchison. The walk will take you around 20 minutes one way and will also take you through a rail tunnel that was built in 1923.

From here, it’s about an hour to get to Nelson.

Nelson is an amazing place to explore and if you are looking to spend more time in the area, make sure you check out our 3-day itinerary from Nelson to Abel Tasman. This will provide you with loads of great ideas for exploring the amazing Abel Tasman National Park as you won’t be able to squeeze that into this 3-day itinerary.

There are plenty of things to do in Nelson itself though and hopefully, you have left plenty of time to squeeze in a couple of these activities before you have to drop off your car or head off to catch a plane or the Interislander ferry.

Some of the highlights in and around Nelson itself include:

  • World of WearableArt and Classic Car Museum – this is a museum that has it all going on. The World of WearableArt (WOW) Awards started way back in 1987 in Nelson and has since grown into an event that attracts entrants from around the world and has attracted over 800,000 people to Wellington where the event is now held. The museum, however, remains in Nelson, the birthplace of WOW and it is a great opportunity to discover some of the amazing designs and garments that have graced the event over the past 35 years.
  • Queen’s Gardens – have you really visited a New Zealand destination without a wander around their gardens? Queen’s Gardens in Nelson have been bringing joy to the people of Nelson since 1892 and they are a great reflection of the Victorian era in which they were constructed. For something a little bit different, the Miyazu Garden is a Japanese garden that provides an escape to East Asia with some lovely paths to follow.
  • A visit to the Centre of New Zealand – The Centre of New Zealand is a popular walk with an interesting history as a place that was used as a central point of origin for New Zealand in the 19th Century. Though it’s technically not quite the centre of New Zealand, the walk to the summit of Botanic Hill offers great views of the city and the wider region.

Skydive Abel Tasman

Skydive Abel Tasman
Image credit: https://www.skydive.co.nz/

If you are looking for some adrenalin-fuelled adventure, then Nelson is one of the best places in New Zealand to give skydiving a try. Your dive will take you over the magnificent Abel Tasman National Park and with the option for a 20,000ft skydive, it’s also one of the highest in New Zealand. Check out the guys at Skydive Abel Tasman for great deals on skydiving in Nelson.

Hopefully, this gives you a few ideas for things to do in and around Nelson before you have to head off.

For more inspiration, make sure you check out some of our blogs dedicated to making the most out of your time in Nelson.

Related Blog Posts

We hope you have enjoyed this 3-day road trip from Christchurch to Nelson. If there is anything we have missed off the trip, please let us know as we always love to include tips from our GO Explore fans.

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Toyota Corolla 2021

Compact Auto

Toyota Corolla Hatch

Get a Quote

Seats
5 seats
Large Bags
1
Small Bags
2
Transmission
Auto trans