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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).