Picton to Christchurch via Nelson and Golden Bays – 7 Days
The top of New Zealand’s South Island is a mecca of gorgeous beaches, small generous communities, wonderful produce and easy driving. Taking the time to go the long way to Christchurch means some trickier roads, but also provides magical views of less populated areas. It’s one of the most rewarding places in a road trip with such a diversity of experiences on offer in a relatively short journey.
Catching the ferry from Wellington is a three-and-a-half-hour journey. Crossings are at fixed times so you can expect to arrive at either lunch time, late afternoon or evening. From there it’s just under two hours by car or campervan to Nelson.
The oldest European city in the South Island, Nelson boasts a reputation for arts and crafts as well as an alluring proximity to national parks and Tasman bay. It’s easy to spend a day in this sunshine city. For indoor activities, there are museums and a multitude of cafes, bars and shops to enjoy. If outdoor activities are more your thing, cycling the Great Taste Trail showcases the diversity of the region's ecosystems along with vineyards and food experiences. Ending the day with a night at Kaiteriteri allows easy access to gorgeous beaches and the start of the Abel Tasman National Park hiring kayaks or joining a water tour is a great way to get a taste of this pristine part of Aotearoa. This is also the spot to base yourself if you prefer more luxurious accommodations, you can even helicopter in and out of the park.
Just over an hour’s drive away, the town of Takaka is the heart of the Golden Bay area, boasting boutique cafes, and a multitude of artists and their work. After you’ve checked out the galleries, you might like to check out Te Waikoropupū Springs, the largestfreshwatersprings in New Zealand.
Just out of town is the iconic Muscle Inn, a must visit for craft beer lovers and a wonderful place to soak up the local atmosphere and music scene. There is plenty of accommodation in Takaka, or you can head on from the Muscle Inn to the sleepy town of Collingwood, the gateway to Kahurangi National park and the bird sanctuary of Farewell spit.
Wharariki to Murchison
Next stop is a taste of the west coast at Wharariki Beach. The holiday park is a great place to stay and has accommodation options for camper vans, tents and cabins and provides easy access to a glorious stretch of coastline with undisturbed wildlife and a range of walking options.
From here you head inland to Kawatiri. This route skirts the Kahurangi National Park and the historic railway trail is a good place to stretch the legs and stop for a picnic lunch after the three-hour drive. If you’d rather keep going, Murchison is only another half an hour down the road. This is a great base for white water thrills. From jetboating to rafting, there are rivers in many directions and gorgeous scenery to soak in around every corner. As well as some slower-paced walks full of beautiful wildlife and surrounds, like the picture below!
It’s only a 45 minute drive next morning to Maruia, but here you’re right on the edge of yet another National Park and have incredible access to walking tracks, lakes, and Maruia’s famous hot springs.
Driving on for another hour and a half gets you to Hamner Springs and if you haven’t already, it's definitely time to stop and relax in some hot springs. During summer the outdoor pools are perfect for kids, and in winter, you might get the luxury of soaking in hot water while snow falls around you.
One last stop before you hit Christchurch is the Weka Pass. The unique limestone beauty of this area is a historic reserve. You can walk the approximately 40 minute track to historic Maori drawings, or catch a ride via the vintage steam and diesel-electric train system. Then it’s only an hour-long drive before arriving in Christchurch for a well earned rest and taste of cosmopolitan culture.