Christchurch to Blenheim via Kaikoura

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Christchurch to Waipara

Heading north to Kaikoura on SH1 from Christchurch via Waipara, you will travel on the short motorway that crosses the Waimakariri River and then you are officially out of Christchurch. Even though you are on the main north road (SH1) you will need to reduce speed as you pass through little townships. There are passing bays but mostly the road is single lane each way.

After you come off the short motorway just north of Christchurch, you will pass several beach townships - you won't actually see the beaches or coast but it is just a short drive off the main highway. Look out for Woodend, Waikuku and Leithfield beaches.

The largest towns between Christchurch and Kaikoura are Amberley and then further north Cheviot (which is north of Waipara). If you need to stock up or refuel, these are reliable places to do so. Smaller towns may have limited services. Amberley is one of the points that the Inland Scenic Route meets SH1 - the other being south of Ashburton.

Wairau ValleyWairau Valley

The road north to Kaikoura is pretty and you'll drive through farmland and then north of Amberley the vineyards of the Waipara Valley. You can stop and sample and shop at several of the wineries. A constant feature of the drive is the view of mountains ahead and to your left - the Southern Alps (also known as the Main Divide) dominate this landscape. You will also cross several braided rivers carrying water from the mountains to the sea - the Waimakariri, Ashley, and Waipara rivers are all beautiful and great places to pull over.

At Waipara, you can turn inland and take SH7 to Hanmer Springs and the West Coast via the Lewis Pass. We will be heading north to Kaikoura on this trip

See and Do

  • Take the Waimakariri Culture trail - this takes you around a number of arts and crafts businesses in the area and is a relaxing way to spend a day
  • The Ultimate Challenge Centre north of Christchurch has obstacle courses as well as a cafe

 Eat and Drink

  • Stop at Pukeko Junction cafe near the Leithfield Beach turn off
  • Try the local brew at Brew Moon Brewery Cafe before Amberley
  • Stop and sample the wine at the Mud House winery or any of the other many wineries in the region

Stop Awhile

  • Woodend Beach Holiday Park - just north of Christchurch is a good place to stay particularly for families
  • There is a campground at Amberley Beach, just a short drive from Amberley township

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Waipara to Kaikoura

Old WharfOld Wharf

North of Waipara, you will be very aware of the Kaikoura Ranges rising up in front of you. There are many wineries you can visit here but make sure you have a designated driver!

Many of the places you will pass through and which show up on a map will just seem like a road sign, so don't assume if you see a name on a map, there will be anything substantial at that place - Spotswood is a prime example. It's for this reason that we advise you stock up in larger towns and cities.

The road from Waipara to Kaikoura is very pretty as you cross the Hurunui and Waiau rivers but the road is winding and often narrow. Look out for passing bays and places to pull over if you have a queue of traffic behind you.

As you head closer to Kaikoura the road becomes very winding as you cross the Hundalee range, which stretches from the

Conway river until Oaro just before you hit the Kaikoura coast. There are passing bays on this hilly, winding piece of road but also look out for the wide hard shoulders that you can pull over on to let vehicles behind pass you without having to stop. Also there are slow vehicle bays and if you have vehicles behind you, make sure you use these bays.

At the top of the Hundalees you enter the Kaikoura district and soon after you will see the Pacific Ocean ahead of you. After Oaro the road meets the coast and then follows it as you travel to Kaikoura township. See the Kaikoura section below for more information on this region.

See and Do

  • Visit the Twin Rivers Gallery in Cheviot
  • If you have time, take a detour to Gore Bay - take the road to the right at Dommet

Eat and Drink

  • Stop at the Mainline Station Cafe in Dommet. This is a really quaint building that was the mainline station in a past life
  • There are several cafes to stop for refreshments in Cheviot
  • Stop at the Roadhouse Cafe in Parnassus

Stop Awhile

  • Pull over and enjoy refreshments at St Annes Lagoon just north of Cheviot
  • There is a lovely rest area next to the Waiau River just south of Parnassus

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Kaikoura

KaikouraKaikoura

This section includes the Kaikoura coast from where the road first meets the coast south at Oaro until Mangamaunu Bay north of Kaikoura.

The Kaikoura coast is wild and beautiful - the colours are vivid and it's a great drive whatever the weather. This is one of our favourite New Zealand coastal drives. It's spectacular because the road is squeezed between the sea (Pacific Ocean) and the native bush-clad and often snow-capped mountain ranges.

The top speed on the coast road up to Kaikoura is 80km/hr. There are lots of places to pull over and just soak up the view. Just after the road hits the coast, there is an information kiosk about camping on the Kaikoura coast and this is worth a look if you are new to the area.

Kaikoura TunnelKaikoura Tunnel

There are several coastal campsites with easy access to the beach. This area is busy in summer so it will pay to book ahead.

There are 2 short tunnels on the coastal road as you approach Kaikoura - don't be surprised if drivers toot their horn as they pass through the tunnels - it's a bit of a kiwi tradition.

Just before Kaikoura, consider taking a detour to South Bay - it's a nice beach. There is also a nice beach on the Esplanade if you drive through the town centre towards the peninsula. Kaikoura is well known for its crayfish and there are many cafes, restaurants and coast caravans that have fresh crayfish.

As you leave Kaikoura township, you head inland for a short time before heading back to the coast at Mangamaunu Bay which is a favourite spot of surfers. You can drive across the railway line into Mangamaunu Bay by going straight as the main road veers left to follow the coast.


See and Do

  • Take a tour of the limestone caves - ask at the Caves Restaurant just south of Kaikoura township
    Have a swim at South Bay or on the waterfront at the Espanade in the township
  • Fish off the old wharf - head into the township and along the Esplanade towards the Peninsula
  • Visit the seal colony on the peninsula - there's no charge or admission - the seals are just there for the viewing
  • Take an international award winning 'Whale Watch tour - Kaikoura is world famous for these tours. It is simply breath-taking watching the majesty of a whale surfacing close to you. This is a must see-and-do!
  • Take the Albatross Encounter - Kaikoura is the "albatross capital of New Zealand" and there are up to 14 species of albatross that can be seen. This is a must for keen ornithologists
  • Go surfing at Mangamaunu Bay or just sit and watch others surfing or take a walk along the beach and collect drift wood

Eat and Drink

  • Stop at Caves Restaurant and Bar - the fish is delicious and they do a hearty cooked breakfast as well
  • Have a meal at Why Not Cafe on the main road in Kaikoura township
  • Look out for restaurants and cafes serving crayfish caught locally - some have giant crayfish outside so you can't miss them

Stop Awhile

  • Stop at one of the rest areas on the Kaikoura Coast and just soak up the atmosphere
  • Stay at Peketa Beach campsite - this is this right on the seafront so you can have your dinner while listening to the waves crashing on the shore
  • Stay at the Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park - this is in the township and close enough to walk to most amenities
  • Free camping is available at Mangamaunu Bay for self-contained vehicles - pull up next to the beach and fall asleep to the waves crashing on the shore

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Kaikoura to Blenheim

Taylor River BlenheimTaylor River Blenheim

This section deals with the road north from Kaikoura - from Mangamaunu Bay to Blenheim. The road follows the coast for quite some way and you will see seals on the rocks as you drive past, particularly at Ohau Point.

The coastal road north of Kaikoura (like the southern coastal road) has lots of places you can just pull up and take in the views or have a picnic. Make sure you have read the Coastal Camping Information boards before stopping overnight, though.

The road leaves the coast at Kekerengu and then about 75 km north of Blenheim you enter Marlborough, a province well known for its wineries and vineyards which you will see all alongside the road. You will travel through Ward and Seddon before heading over the winding hills to the Wairau Plains and Blenheim.

You will pass the pink salt at Grassmere Salt Works before Seddon and you can take the road out to Marfell's Beach where there is a DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite. On a clear day you get views of the North Island.

In Blenheim, take time to stock up on food, water and fuel. You can then choose to go north on SH1 to Picton and catch the ferry to the North Island. Alternatively you can head west towards Nelson on SH6. You can also head to the West Coast on SH63 (off SH6 at Renwick Town).

See and Do

  • Stop at Ohau Point (about 25 km north of Kaikoura) or the rest area just north to view seals at rest and play. It's amazing that you get such a great view of such beautiful wild animals from the side of the road
  • Take a bush walk at the Ohau Scenic Reserve or Okiwi Bay Walking Track a bit further north
  • Take a river rafting tour on the Clarence River
  • Take a look at the historic bridge over the Awatere River (just north of Seddon). This is a one lane bridge with a railway bridge overhead that was operational until not too long ago

Eat and Drink

  • Have crayfish - the local delicacy - stop at one of the caravans on the coast (about 20 km north of Kaikoura township) selling crayfish like the iconic Nin's Bin
  • You must make a stop at The Store at Kekerengu, about 60km north of Kaikoura. Not only is the food delicious but the setting is really special. On a sunny day sit outside and look out over the ocean or take a stroll down to the beach.
  • There is a classic wine trail that starts just outside Blenheim and there are many wineries to visit and sample the wares, including Montana

Stop Awhile

  • Waipapa Bay Holiday Camp - this camp is close to a crayfish bin so if you stay here, make sure you have a crayfish treat
  • There is short term free-camping available for self-contained campervans at Kekerengu. Ask at The Store. You can drive down from the carpark at The Store
  • Stay at Marfell's Beach DOC campsite. The facilities are modern and clean.
  • Stay at Blenheim Top 10 Holiday Park. There is on-site bike hire which is a good option if you are planning on going on the wine trail

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