3Days

Nelson to Christchurch

Driving Tour

You’ve got a long weekend and you have decided to have a South Island adventure – how exciting! Whilst Nelson and the surrounding area is a destination you could easily spend three days exploring (check out our Nelson to Abel Tasman three-day round-trip itinerary), it’s good to hit the road and see some more of this beautiful country on some of the roads less travelled. This three-day itinerary is going to take you from Nelson to Christchurch with a couple of really cool overnighters on the way. Sound good? Let’s GO!

Contents

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

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Trip Itinerary

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

The first day of your road trip is going to take you from Nelson to Murchison which is a drive that will take you around an hour and a half. We’re very excited to be bringing our awesome fleet of rental cars and award-winning customer service to Nelson and our latest branch will open at Nelson Airport in October 2022, giving you more options when it comes to renting a car in Nelson and adding to our six existing branches.

Once you have picked up your rental car at the airport, we do recommend spending a few hours in and around Nelson before you hit the road. There is so much to see and do in the region and you will find plenty of helpful resources if you plan on staying in the area for longer further down this itinerary.

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 hit the road. 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

Nelson Travel Guide

After spending the morning in Nelson, it’s time to hit the road to give yourself time to get stuck into some activities in Murchison today.

Your drive will take you down SH6 and is a very pleasant and scenic drive as you wind yourself through the upper South Island. You will pass through a number of small towns along your way and there are a few nice walks and lookout spots along the way if you want to stretch your legs.

Kawatiri Historic Railway Walk
Credit: DOC

One of the best places for a leg stretch is the Kawatiri Historic Railway Walk which is just before the turnoff to 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 the Kawatiri Historic Railway Walk, it’s another 30 minutes to Murchison.

Hopefully, you will arrive in Murchison with plenty of time to explore the area and book some activities. We have detailed some of our favourite things to do in Murchison on day two of this itinerary, however, you might be able to squeeze in a couple of things on day one depending on when you leave Nelson.

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Abel Tasman Aquataxi Water Taxi Trips

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

Day two of your adventure is going to start out in Murchison and finish up in Hanmer Springs but before you hit the road, it’s time to have some fun in Murchison. You may manage to squeeze in some of these activities on day one but if not, you will have plenty of time for exploring Murchison today as there is a quicker route than the one we have suggested above if you need to save time.

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.

There is plenty to see and do in and around Murchison. 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.

When you have had your fill of activities in Murchison, it’s time to hit the road. Depending on how much time you have, you can take the more direct route along SH65 and SH7 to Hanmer Springs which will take you just over two hours or take the slightly longer route via SH6, SH69 and SH7 and this will take you just under three hours.

Buller Gorge Swing Bridge (15km, 13 mins)

The longer route will first take towards the West Coast and the main reason for taking this extra detour is the opportunity to swing by the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge (See what we did there?!). There is plenty to do here including zip-lining and jet boating and you could easily spend a couple of hours here. It is not that far from Murchison so if you were short on time, you could always take a trip out there on day one if you want to take the more direct route to Hanmer Springs.

Reefton (69.5km, 55 mins)

Another potential stop off on the longer route is in Reefton and it definitely ticks all the quirky boxes. Bev’s Doll House is 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. Check that Bev is home, and, for a small donation, she’ll show you her impressive collection.

Maruia Hot Springs (59.4km, 45 mins from Reefton or 97km, 1 hour 12 mins from Murchison)

Taking the more direct route will save you about an hour but if you do have time, the Maruia Hot Springs are worth a stop off on your way. They are located on SH7 just after Springs Junction so no matter which route you take, you will pass Maruia Hot Springs.

Depending on how long you hung around in Murchison and how many detours you made on your route, you should arrive in Hanmer Springs with some time to explore the area and decide on the things you want to get done today and before you head off for Christchurch tomorrow.

You can check out some of our favourite things to do in Hanmer Springs on day three, however, one thing you will be in need of is some food and refreshments and that’s something we can help with. Hanmer Springs has some cool places to eat and drink, however, one of our favourites is definitely 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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3Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (134km, 1 hour 42 mins)

The final day of your three-day South Island road trip from Nelson to Christchurch will take you on the final leg into the Garden City which will take you just under two hours. This should leave you with plenty of time to explore Hanmer Springs before you have to hit the road for the final time.

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.

The drive to Christchurch is a really pleasant drive and there are a couple of places to stop off if you want to break up the journey or grab a bite to eat. Just under an hour into your journey, you will hit Waipara, one of the South Island’s great wine-producing areas famed for some lovely pinot noirs, reislings and chardonnays. The region has the highest summer temperatures and lover 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.

Carry on for another 10 minutes and you will hit Amberley, 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.

Exploring Christchurch

Your final destination on this three-day road trip is the Garden City of Christchurch and you will hopefully have some time to explore this wonderful city before you have to drop off your rental car and catch a flight back home.

Christchurch is a place packed with things to do and if you do have more time, it’s a great place to base yourself for a few days. 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.

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.

Christchurch Complete Guide

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Toyota Corolla 2021

Compact Auto

Toyota Corolla

Get a Quote

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