Mother Nature was having a very good day when she came up with the South Island of New Zealand.
The landscape is blessed with a rugged coastline, verdant valleys, turquoise lakes and snowcapped mountains. Its beauty is breathtaking, and if that isn’t enough, let’s throw in some world-class food and wine, adventure activities, and charming and historic towns.
The best way to take it all in is by road. On a self-drive road-trip you are in complete control of where you go, what you see and do, and how long you stay. Much of the best of the South Island is easily accessible by road from the city of Christchurch — either as a day trip or as part of an extended South Island road trip. Christchurch car hire is a breeze and you’ll be on the road in no time.
Here are four amazing Christchurch road trips.
The three-hour, 218-kilometre drive from Christchurch to the coastal town of Kaikoura forms part of the longer 450-kilometre Alpine Pacific Touring Route that continues on to Hanmer Springs. A highlight is the stretch of State Highway 1 (SH1) that hugs the coastline leading into Kaikoura.
Kaikoura is famous for its marine wildlife. Sperm whales, fur seals and dusky dolphins are all found here. So too are lots of different species of sea birds, including the elusive albatross. Once you arrive, there are plenty of ecotourism activities to plunge into, including kayaking, nature cruises and flightseeing.
Another thing Kaikoura is famous for is crayfish. Grab some fresh crayfish from one of the seaside caravans and enjoy a seafood feast on the beach. Nins Bin is a local legend.
A section of SH1 was closed for a year following a major earthquake in November 2016. Ongoing road works close SH1 from time to time, so check the New Zealand Transport Agency website before you head off.
The picture postcard township of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula is an easy 90-minute scenic drive from Christchurch. Akaroa sits on the shores of a deep blue harbour — the crater of an extinct volcano flooded by the sea.
The harbor is home to pods of curious and playful Hector’s Dolphins, the world’s smallest dolphins. A two-hour cruise with Akaroa Dolphins is one of the top things to do in Akaroa. The French street names and tricolors decorating shop fronts are nods to Akaroa’s distinction as the only New Zealand town to be settled by French colonists.
A short distance from town is Hinewai Reserve — a privately owned nature reserve that is open to the public. It offers 20 kilometres of walking trails, which are perfect for stretching the legs or doing a spot of birdwatching before you drive back to the city.
Someone has to step up to the role of designated driver for this option, but you’ll be rewarded with an amazing day out. At just under an hour’s drive from Christchurch, the Waipara Valley is also home to some of New Zealand’s finest wineries. Around 40 boutique wineries offer a plethora of cellar door and dining options.
With its manicured gardens and ornamental lake, not to mention its award-winning wines, Pegasus Bay is a stand-out stop. The hatted restaurant here is a great option for an upscale lunch.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
A four-hour drive across the Canterbury Plains and the Mackenzie region, via stunning Lake Tekapo, will bring you to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. As the name suggests, its home to New Zealand’s highest mountain
Activities and accommodation are based around Mount Cook Village. Adventure activities include hiking the 3/4-hour Hooker Valley with its three exciting swing bridges. From September to May, Glacier Explorers runs boat trips to the Tasman Glacier. More sedate activities include stargazing. The crisp clear skies over the national park are perfect for losing yourself in the Milky Way.
Be sure to make a stop at the pretty stone Church of the Good Shepherd by Lake Tekapo. It’s not hard to see why this is one of New Zealand’s most photographed locations!
Need Christchurch car hire?
Discover Car Hire makes the process of hiring a car in Christchurch so easy. Enter your travel dates in the search box and browse the available options, which range from compact and economy-size vehicles, right up to luxury sedans and even minivans.
Unlike many other travel destinations around the world, renting a car in Christchurch is affordable all year-round — with no one month being significantly more expensive than any other. The cheapest time of the year to rent a vehicle in Christchurch is August when prices for an economy car start from AUD $26.80 per day. That’s around 15% cheaper than the yearly average.
If you are planning to do all four of our suggested road trips, you’ll need a vehicle for at least six days. That takes into account overnight stays in Kaikoura and Mount Cook Village, so that you can really immerse yourself in the landscapes and enjoy some of the local attractions we’ve mentioned. Roadside Assistance is included in the cost of your Christchurch car hire.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of amazing Christchurch road trips? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, Louise has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. Louise also has a passion for her home state and loves exploring regional Victoria.