Christchurch to Nelson Drive: Your Scenic South Island Road Trip Itinerary

Christchurch to Nelson Drive

New Zealand's South Island isn't just pretty; it's jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Picture the towering Southern Alps and the golden beaches of Abel Tasman. This island packs a punch, and it’s just begging for you to discover its hidden gems on an epic road trip.

You’ll kick off the first day of your New Zealand roadie in the Garden City. Stroll through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens before enjoying an icy experience at the International Antarctic Centre. Take a seat on the Christchurch Gondola for panoramic city views at the summit. After seeing all the city's fantastic sights, you’ll head north to Nelson, revealing a rugged coastline, lush vineyards and stunning national parks.

First, you’ll need to rent a set of wheels from RaD Car Hire in Christchurch or Nelson. So, fasten your seatbelts - your Christchurch to Nelson road trip awaits. 

How long is the drive from Nelson to Christchurch? 

Depending on the route, the drive to Nelson will take between 5 and 6 hours. Remember, these are just estimates and travel time may vary due to traffic conditions, weather and sightseeing detours!

Your route options: Inland over Lewis Pass or along the east coast via Kaikoura? 

The inland route via Lewis Pass takes you along State Highway 7 and clocks in at just over 5 hours. This route promises stunning scenery of snow-capped peaks and verdant valleys. Pause at Hanmer Springs and soak in rejuvenating geothermal pools, soothing your tired muscles. The scenic coastal route via Kaikōura unfolds its magic over almost 6 hours. Keep your eyes peeled for playful dolphins, majestic whales and soaring albatrosses. And make sure you stick around to try their local speciality - crayfish.

Can’t decide? Do the loop!

Channel your inner explorer and dive into the best of both worlds with a scenic loop. Follow our itinerary for a New Zealand exploration destined to be etched in your memory for life. Let your Christchurch to Nelson adventure begin.

Day 1: Christchurch to Kaikōura 

Trace State Highway 1, with Pegasus Bay glittering under the sun to your right. Arrive in Kaikōura, a seaside gem where marine life frolics just offshore. Spot cheeky dolphins from your window, or get up close and personal with majestic giants on a whale-watching tour. Afterwards, indulge in fresh, local seafood at a harbourside restaurant. 

Day 2: Kaikōura to Blenheim

Nestle yourself in the heart of Marlborough's sun-drenched vineyards in Blenheim. Hop on a wine tour and let your tastebuds sing with award-winning Sauvignon Blancs at local wineries like Cloudy Bay Vineyard. For thrills beyond the sip, soar through history at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. Witness World War I and II aircraft close-up or take an aerial tour to enjoy exceptional views in a Boeing Stearman.

Day 3: Blenheim to Picton

Cross over to Picton, the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds - a labyrinth of emerald islands and hidden coves. Lace-up your boots for a leisurely hike on the Queen Charlotte Track, or conquer the trails on a thrilling mountain bike ride. 

Day 4: Picton to Nelson

Wander through eclectic art galleries, where local artists breathe life into the Nelson City Centre. Stroll through the Queen's Gardens and browse the many restaurants offering delicious food. As the sun dips below the horizon, walk barefoot on Tāhunanui Beach, just a short drive away, letting the golden sand warm your toes.

Day 5: Discover Abel Tasman National Park 

Abel Tasman National Park awaits. Golden Bay shimmers beneath dramatic vistas, calling you to explore its sun-kissed shores and hidden coves. Snorkel in crystal-clear waters, kayak amidst towering cliffs, or hike to secret waterfalls to discover nature's best-kept treasures. 

Day 6: Explore Nelson Lakes National Park 

Head to this scenic national park to engage in the thrill of mountain biking as you navigate through rugged terrains, where every turn reveals panoramic vistas of snow-capped peaks and pristine lakes. Or, take it easy on one of the serene nature walks, winding through ancient beech forests and along the shores of tranquil alpine lakes. Head to the jetty extending over the glacial waters of Lake Rotoiti - one of the most Instagrammable spots in the broader Nelson Tasman region.

Day 7: Motueka to Murchison

Venture north to Motueka, a charming town where outdoor adventures beckon. Kayak along the Motueka River, feeling the cool spray on your face as you navigate gentle rapids. For thrill-seekers, Buller Canyon jet boating promises a heart-pounding ride through rugged canyons. Heading south will bring you to Murchison, the gateway to the Kahurangi National Park. Delve into the region's gold rush history with a gold panning session, searching for nuggets hidden in the riverbed. 

Day 8: Murchison to Punakaiki

In Punakaiki, you’ll be awestruck by the renowned Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Witness the power of the ocean sculpted into limestone masterpieces, where waves crash dramatically and water geysers erupt. Wander along the Punakaiki Cavern Track, immersing yourself in lush rainforests and otherworldly limestone formations.

Day 9: Punakaiki to Lewis Pass

Bid farewell to the coastal wonders of Punakaiki and traverse picturesque roads, absorbing the amazing views along the West Coast. Head west at Coal Creek and pass the small settlement of Springs Junction to reach Lewis Pass. Explore the surrounding walking tracks, offering glimpses of native flora and the serene Maruia Springs. 

Day 10: Lewis Pass to Hanmer Springs

On Day 10, wind through valleys carpeted with lush greenery and past snow-capped peaks piercing the clouds. Soak in the rejuvenating waters of the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools, letting the mineral-rich water melt away your travel fatigue. For those seeking thrills, conquer the bungee jump off the high bridge and feel the rush of white-water rafting, mountain biking or jet boating.

Day 11: Hamner Springs to Christchurch 

With sun-kissed skin and a refreshed spirit, return to Christchurch via Waipara to enjoy a final wine tasting. Savour the local food, stock up on souvenirs and reflect on your epic South Island adventure. As you return to the beautiful city of Christchurch, let the memories of incredible New Zealand wildlife, amazing walks and geothermal wonders continue to resonate, ensuring that your time in New Zealand remains an unforgettable chapter in your travel story. 

Make memories that last a lifetime with RaD Car Hire 

Ready to embark on your own Christchurch to Nelson road trip? RaD Car Hire has your wheels covered! Choose from a fleet of reliable vehicles, perfect for navigating every curve and corner of this unforgettable road trip. With flexible rental options and friendly service, RaD makes exploring New Zealand attractions a breeze.

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