10 Days in the South Island Day 1

The spectacular snow capped Kaikoura rangesThe spectacular snow capped Kaikoura ranges

10 Days in the South Island Day 1 - Our adventure begins!


It's early August as we (Dave and Kim, and friends Dave and Paula) fly into Christchurch, the starting point for what would prove to be an amazing 10 days in the South Island.

We purposely chose August for our trip, because we believe that the stunning South is at it's best at this time of the year. 

A fur seal lazing in the sun near Kaikoura

Snow capped peaks, roaring fires in the pubs and bars, and a seemingly endless variety of postcard shots can be expected on any trip at this time of the year, and we were not to be disappointed.

Beginning in Christchurch, our adventure would take us north along State Highway 1 to Kaikoura, then on through Blenheim and the Marlborough region, to Nelson.

From there we would make our way along State Highway 6 to the wild west coast, and the villages of Punakaiki and Franz Josef.

And finally, the charms of the southern lakes awaited, with the vibrant, lakeside resorts of Wanaka and Queenstown.

A winter wonderland north of Christchurch
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1) You can view our route map at the bottom of the page. You can zoom in and out for more detail.

2) Want to take the same route as us? Feel free to hire a car and use this itinerary as a guide, or fill out the form at the bottom of the page to talk to one of our local experts. We can put together a fully packaged self drive tour for you.

3) Place your cursor on a picture for a description of the picture.

4) There is much less traffic in New Zealand than in many other countries, and the roads are well sealed, so driving is easy, as long as you drive to the conditions. In winter, "grit trucks" patrol the highways and when there is snow or ice about, they drop fine grit onto the roads to improve grip.

Day 1 Christchurch to Kaikoura

snow on the ranges north of Christchurch

Around 9 am we picked up our car from Go Rentals and headed north out of Christchurch.  The staff at Go Rentals were really friendly and helpful, and we can highly recommend them. They have a large range of cars and at this time of year we prefer to hire a 4wd as they are a bit safer in winter conditions. This time we chose a Hyundai Santa Fe, which would prove to be comfortable, spacious, and easy on the fuel.

If you leave from Christchurch airport, the route north on State Highway 1 is well signposted. Just follow the "Picton" signs.

After a few kilometers on the motorway out of Christchurch, the road narrowed slightly and we started to pass some wineries and the newly created town known as Pegasus.

Before long, the surrounding mountains revealed a covering of snow, and as we made our way further north, the snow became much thicker and was soon covering the rolling hills and fields as far as the eye could see. Absolutely beautiful!

Whale off the Kaikoura coast

The seaside town of Kaikoura is around 2 to 2.5 hours drive from Christchurch. But if you are like us, it will take longer because you will be constantly slowing or stopping to take pictures.

Around half way between Christchurch and Kaikoura, the small town of Cheviot is a good place to stop for a cuppa and a toilet break.

Refreshed, we were soon back on the road, taking in the amazing scenery.

Around 30 minutes south of Kaikoura, near Goose Bay, the coastline reveals itself, and if you have never been this way before, prepare yourself for some awesome scenery. State Highway 1 hugs the coast from here into Kaikoura, wedging you between the mountains and the ocean.

Through the clouds on our left we could see traces of snow on the peaks, and to the right hand side we began to see our first New Zealand fur seals, perched precariously on the rocky outcrops that adorn this stretch of coast.

Relaxing at Kaikoura. A New Zealand fur seal near Kaikoura.Relaxing at Kaikoura. A New Zealand fur seal near Kaikoura.

Kaikoura is best known as the whale watching capital of New Zealand, and there are some really good tours available. You can also swim with the dolphins. The conditions along this part of the coast support a wide range of marine life, and if you are fortunate enough to take one of the tours, it's possible to see whales, dolphins, seals, and several species of birds.

Although a whale watch tour was not on our list this time, we have been on them before, and they are great. Best to go in the morning though, before the wind and the ocean swell increase.

You can learn more about them here.

We arrived in Kaikoura around mid day and checked into our motel, the Anchor Inn. Over the last 10 or 15 years we have stayed here numerous times, and we keep coming back, because the water front location cannot be beaten.

Can you see me? Seal pup at Kaikoura

The rooms are always clean and comfortable, and our two bedroom family apartment gave us plenty of space, and a kitchen. Our hosts, Paul and Lyn were great, and did everything they could to make our stay enjoyable, including booking dinner for us at the nearby Pier Hotel.

There is a wide range of accommodation in Kaikoura, but we always like to stay on the Esplanade, as apart from the views, it's close to the town center.

We headed out along the Esplanade to the seal colony at Point Kean and there they were! Fur seals, old and young, only meters from the walkways and car park.

This is probably the most accessible seal colony on the South Island, and you can usually see the seals without even leaving your car.

Stunning Kaikoura

Much better though to hop out and have a walk along the decking and the paths that lead around the point.

One particularly cheeky pup took great delight in staring up at us from under the board walk with the most adoring eyes you could imagine.

Just remember though that these are wild animals and they can, and sometimes do, bite!

After visiting the seals, we take the two minute drive to the lookout above the seal colony.

The views over Kaikoura, the mountains and sea are breath taking. And at this time of year, with the snow around, this has to be one of the most picturesque places on the planet.

The Anchor Inn Kaikoura

It's time then to head back to the Anchor Inn for a few hours rest before dinner.

All refreshed, we head off to the Pier Hotel around 6.30 pm. Since our last visit a few years back, the hotel has undergone extensive renovations, which take advantage of its water front location.

The bar and dining area offer beautiful views of the bay, and the roaring fire welcomes us inside, on what is a chilly night.

After a couple of drinks at the bar, we sit for dinner.

Wow, what a meal. We decide to share an entree of lightly battered New Zealand whitebait, which proves a good choice. These tiny fish, no more than a few centimeters in length, are a perfect appetizer.

The dining area at the Pier Hotel Kaikoura

Our main meals are something special. Two of us have a rich, thick seafood chowder, which is "awarded" by us as best ever. We also try the New Zealand green lipped mussels, and a crackly pork dish (the "Hog Roll") with apple sauce, served on a bed of mash potato. Both are delicious.

We must remember to thank Paul and Lyn from the Anchor for the recommendation. We will certainly be back to the Pier.

After dinner it's back to the Anchor Inn for a well earned rest. Tomorrow the adventure continues, and if our first day is anything to go by, our 10 days in the South Island are going to be something very special.

Continue to Day 2

10 Days in the South Island Day 1 - Full Route Map

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