5Days

Nelson to Christchurch in 5 days

Driving Tour

With five days off, we’ve got the perfect road trip itinerary that will allow you to explore the top of the South Island with plenty of time for exploring some of the best that New Zealand has to offer. From sandy beaches to whitewater rafting to wine tasting – this five-day road trip has a bit of something for everyone and it all kicks off in Nelson. Located at the northern tip of the South Island, Nelson is home to GO Rentals’ newest car rental branch and we are excited to help people to get the most out of their New Zealand adventure. So, let’s get you started on your five-day roadie.

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

If you do have a bit more time or you want to hang around Nelson for an extra day, you can always tag on a day in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Exploring the Abel Tasman National Park (59km, 58 mins)

The Abel Tasman National Park is one of New Zealand’s most popular National Parks and for good reason. Renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs and world-famous coastal track, it’s a great place to spend a day or longer.

If you only have a day to explore, we recommend a couple of activities:

  • Kayaking – getting out on the crystal clear waters that surround the Abel Tasman National Park is a great way to explore the region. There are a number of operators that offer either self-guided or guided kayaking tours.
  • Boat and walk – the Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and whilst the track is 60km in length and would take you 3-5 days to walk it, there are some great options to get a boat in Mārahau that will drop you off partway along the track and you can then walk pack along the coastal track.

Of course, it is also a stunning place to kick back and simply relax on one of the beautiful sandy beaches, so you have a number of options open to you if you want to spend a day in the Abel Tasman before hitting the road.

Whenever you decide to head off, the road to Murchison will take you around an hour and a half with some options to stop off along the way.

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 which 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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Thrillseekers Jet Boat & Quad Bike

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3Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (134km, 1 hour 42 mins)

Day three of this five-day itinerary will take you from Hanmer Springs to Christchurch 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.

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, rieslings 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.

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Discover Christchurch Tour

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Exploring Christchurch

Your destination for the third night of this trip is Christchurch – the Garden City. Christchurch is the biggest city on the South Island and is a great place to spend time, no matter how long you have got. We have allocated a day to spend exploring Christchurch as part of this five-day road trip and we have picked out three of our favourite things to do in the Garden City:

  • Christchurch Botanic Gardens – Christchurch is not known as the Garden City for no reason. Found in the heart of the city, The Botanic Gardens are host to a wide variety of exquisite gardens across the 21-hectare property. This includes the Rose Garden, Magnolia Garden, Woodland Garden, their conservatories and more.
  • International Antarctic Centre – Christchurch is home to the International Antarctic Centre, an award-winning attraction that explores all the mysteries of the Antarctic. One of the most popular activities is the Hagglund Ride, a snow vehicle that negotiates an Antarctic-like obstacle course. Another is the Antarctic Storm which allows visitors to experience what a storm in the Antarctic is really like!
  • Punting on the River Avon – Christchurch has a very English feel to it and there is nothing more quintessentially English than punting. In a lovely flat-bottomed boat, a friendly guide will take you and your family on a tour of the beautiful Avon River.

Image of the Antigua Boat sheds in Christchurch where you can go punting on the River Avon

These are just three of our favourite activities in Christchurch, however, the city is packed with amazing things to do including taking a gondola ride, exploring the Orana wildlife park, visiting one of the museums in the city or taking a short trip to the Port Hills or Akaroa.

You can learn more about Christchurch and the things you can do when you are visiting the city in some of our blog posts or 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

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4Christchurch to Kaikoura (289km – 2 hours 26 mins)

You will have some time to explore Christchurch on day four of this road trip before you have to hit the road as we start to make the journey north back towards Nelson. Your destination for today is Kaikoura – a small town located on the east coast of the Upper South Island and it’s going to take you around two and a half hours to make the drive.

Your route up the east coast will hug the coastline and if you didn’t get a chance to stop off in Amberley or Waipara on the way down from Hanmer Springs, you will pass through both places on your way north so it could be a good chance to grab some morning tea or take a stroll on the beach.

Whilst Kaikoura might be small, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in things to do. In fact, one of the hardest decisions you will have to make is deciding which of the amazing things in Kaikoura you can squeeze into your itinerary. Here are three of our favourites:

  • Whale watching – Kaikoura is New Zealand’s premium destination when it comes to whale watching thanks to the Sperm Whales that live off the coast. This is your chance to watch some of the most magnificent and mesmerising creatures in the world.
  • Dolphin Encounters – as well as being famous for whale watching in New Zealand, Kaikoura is also a great place for dolphin encounters – dusky dolphins to be more precise. You can watch them from the boat or you can dive into the water and swim with them a definitely bucket-list item to tick off your list.
  • Crayfish – if you have never tasted the delights of crayfish before, then there is no better place in New Zealand to give it a try. Not only is it a speciality of the region, but Kaikoura itself translates from Māori to mean “Eat Crayfish”.

Kaikoura is absolutely packed with things to do and these are just three of our favourites. The wildlife in the area is abundant and as well as whales and dolphins, there is also the opportunity to see albatrosses and seals. Kaikoura has a great museum as well as some really nice coastal walks so there is a bit of something for everyone so hopefully, you will leave as much time as possible to cram everything in.

Lavendyl Lavender Farm

Lavendyl Lavender Farm Kaikoura

A visit to the Lavendyl Lavender Farm is an easy and relaxing way to spend a peaceful few hours. The gardens are incredible in full bloom and there are also tea rooms to enjoy and plenty of lavender products that make great gifts for your friends and family back home.

There are plenty of places to stay in and around Kaikoura and some great places to eat out so it’s a great place to base yourself for an overnight stay.

If you are looking for more ideas of things to do in Kaikoura, make sure you check out our blog post – 11 things to do in Kaikoura – where you will find more inspiration.

5Kaikoura to Nelson (251km – 3 hours 21 mins)

The final day of this five-day adventure will take you from Kaikoura to Nelson and will take you just under three and a half hours. That should leave you plenty of time to make the drive and also include a couple of stop-offs along the way to break up your journey.

Blenheim (128km, 1 hr 37 mins)

The drive up SH1 up the east coast of the upper South Island is a delight. The road hugs the coastline all the way up to your first major stop off of the day at Blenheim. The drive will take you just over an hour and a half from Kaikoura and you may find yourself stopping off at a couple of places along the way. A good place to stop off around 30 minutes before you arrive in Blenheim is at Lake Grasmere.

Lake Grasmere is pretty cool. If you are visiting during the summer months, this shallow lake develops small pools that turn a deepening colour of pink as a result of natural salt production in the area. You will also find large white mounds appearing in the summer creating an alien-like landscape – pretty cool!

After leaving Lake Grasmere, it’s just a short hop to Blenheim where we recommend spending a few hours in New Zealand’s premier wine-growing region. With over 20,000ha of vines (around 2/3 of the national total), it’s no surprise that Marlborough has become one of our most popular tourist destinations for Kiwis and internationals alike.

Whilst Marlborough is a wine-lovers destination it offers so much more than an opportunity to sample some of New Zealand’s finest wines. Complimenting the huge range and variety of wines available in the region, Marlborough is also home to some exquisite local food, especially seafood.

The main attraction in the area, however, is the wine and there are plenty of opportunities and options when it comes to exploring the local wineries.

Wine Tours by Bike

Wine Tours by Bike

With 14 vineyards located within 5km of their base, Wine Tours by Bike is one of the best ways to enjoy the beautiful Blenheim area whilst sampling some of New Zealand’s best wines.

Spend an afternoon relaxing in beanbags, nibbling on cheese platters, indulging in gourmet food and tasting beautiful wines.

Havelock (44km, 34 mins)

After spending a few hours in Blenheim, it’s time to hit the road with one last stop before you hit Nelson. Havelock is a small town located on the shores of the Pelorus Sound and it is famous for one thing – greenshell mussels. They even go as far as calling themselves the “greenshell mussel capital of the world” and this is the best place in New Zealand to sample this amazing seafood delicacy.

There are some lovely walks in the area if you have the time. Havelock is a former gold mining town and has a number of quaint colonial buildings and a number of galleries that are worth exploring.

From Havelock, it will take you about an hour and a quarter to get back to Nelson where you will finish this five-day round-trip adventure. We hope you have enjoyed this tiki tour of the upper South Island. We’d love to hear about your trip and whether we missed anything off the itinerary that we need to add and if you have any amazing photos, please share them so we can add them!

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