This New Zealand itinerary showcases the northern half of the beautiful South Island, a region which has so much to offer. If your time is limited to 10 days, this itinerary could be for you.
This itinerary takes you to the South Island's largest city, Christchurch. Often referred to as the "Garden City", Christchurch has over 700 parks.
You will also visit the beautiful Tasman region, home to the Abel Tasman National Park, the steaming hot pools of Hanmer Springs, the stunning scenery and sea life of the Kaikoura Coast, and the lovely village of Punakaiki on the rugged West Coast.
1) You can view your interactive route map at the bottom of the page
2) 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 about a fully packaged self drive tour.
3) Place your cursor on a picture for a description of the picture.
Day by day - click on each day for more detail, then when you finish just click on your browsers back button to return here
Day 1 - Arrive Christchurch
Day 2 - Explore Christchurch, the Garden City
Day 3 - Christchurch to Hanmer Springs
Day 4 - Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura
Day 5 - Kaikoura to Nelson
Day 6 - Explore Nelson & The Tasman
Day 7 - Explore Nelson and The Tasman
Day 8 - Nelson to Punakaiki 7 West Coast
Day 9 - Punakaiki to Christchurch
Day 10 - Fly home
Day 1 Christchurch
Today you arrive in Christchurch, the South Island's largest city, with a population of 370,000.
Often referred to as the "Garden City", Christchurch has a very "English" feel, as reflected in it's architecture, numerous parks and gardens, and the Avon River, which runs through the city center.
If you are walking along the Avon, keep an eye peeled for the huge trout that inhabit the river. It's hard to believe that they can be seen in the middle of a large city.
Where can I hire my rental car?
If you need a rental car or camper van, we can help. Our prices are market leading and we have access to all the major rental companies.
Check out our great range and low prices here.
Where to stay in Christchurch
From Christchurch airport to the city center takes about 20-30 minutes drive.
If you are staying near the airport, the Sudima comes highly recommended, and is only 5-10 minutes walk from the airport.
We have stayed at the Airport Gateway Motor Lodge a few times. Nice clean rooms, around 10 minutes drive from the airport, and a great restaurant for breakfast (try their "eggs benedict" - yummy!).
Another favorite of ours is Pavilions on Papanui Road. It's about 20 minutes from the airport, close to lots of restaurants, and about 10 minutes walk from the city center.
And for a bit of luxury, the Heritage, in Cathedral Square in the city center, is highly recommended. We love the old world charm, high ceilings, and spacious rooms.
Need to search for Christchurch accommodation?
You can read customer reviews, and search through a huge range of Christchurch accommodation by clicking here.
Day 2 Christchurch
Today you are free to explore Christchurch.
There is plenty to do in Christchurch.
Highly recommended are:
We know you will enjoy the "Garden City" as much as we always do.
Day 3 Christchurch to Hanmer Springs
Today your Top of the South New Zealand itinerary takes you north from Christchurch to the thermal pools of Hanmer Springs (1.5 hours drive).
The trip takes you past lots of wineries and through typical rolling New Zealand countryside. As you near Kaikoura the road finds its way to the coast, and some awesome views.
Hanmer Springs is a lovely alpine village, and is well known for it's thermal pools, spa, and water park.
We love visiting the pools. Set in natural surroundings, and of varying temperatures, a soak is a very relaxing way to spend a few hours.
And if you are fortunate enough to be there in winter, the snow covered hills provide a beautiful backdrop.
If you are looking for something a little more indulgent, the spa offers a range of treatments including facials, hot stone therapy, and massages!
The adjoining water park is a great family friendly venue with waterslides and wading areas for the kids.
Other activities in Hanmer Springs include bungy jumping, mountain biking, jetboating, golf, mini golf, and hiking.
You can search for activities an Hanmer Springs, and read those ever important customer reviews by clicking here.
Hanmer Springs accommodation
Hanmer has a wide range of quality hotels.
Be sure to book one in the center of the village. That way you don't need to worry about driving.
Our favorite is Tussock Peak Motor Lodge.
Day 4 Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura
Today you travel from Hanmer Springs to one of the scenic highlights of your trip.
Kaikoura (2 hours drive) is located seaside on a large crescent shaped bay. The Kaikoura ranges touch the sea here and make for an amazing backdrop, particularly in the colder months when they are snow capped.
Kaikoura is well known for it's sea food, scenery, seal colonies, and whale watching.
The whale watching trips are well run, and offer a close up view of whales, dolphins, and seals. The cruise is best undertaken in the morning, before the winds and seas rise.
The trips are great fun. The captain encourages you to spot the whales, and as soon as someone does, it's a rush back to your seat as the captain speeds off in the direction of the whales!
On our last trip we saw several whales, dolphins, and penguins. Have your camera ready!
These are several roadside seal colonies close to town. The first, at Ohau Point, is on the main State Highway 1, around 25 kilometres North of Kaikoura.
From the roadside parking area you can see the seals basking a few meters below.There is also a walking track into the forest to a waterfall and pool where the seals sometimes gather to frolic.
The second colony is at Point Kean, a couple of kilometers along the waterfront from the Kaikoura town center.
There are lots of seals at both locations, and although you can get very close, for safety reasons it's best to stay at least 10 meters away.
Also popular here is the "Seal Swimming Tour".
Seeing Kaikoura's beautiful marine wildlife may prove to be one of the highlights of your New Zealand itinerary.
The place to stay in Kaikoura
Kaikoura has lots of places to stay.
Our favorite is the lovely Anchor Inn, which is on the Esplanade, across the road from the ocean. Nice clean rooms and amazing ocean views.
You can search for your ideal Kaikoura hotel here.
Days 5, 6, & 7 The Tasman Region
Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to sunny Nelson (3 hours drive) in the Tasman region.
Nelson is known as the sunniest place in New Zealand, and is a bustling city of 50,000. It is the gateway to the world famous Abel Tasman National Park, which is about 1 hours drive from Nelson.
The park offers a range of activities and is accessed via the sea side village of Marahau.
With family in the area, it's one of our most cherished spots in New Zealand, and over the years we have immersed ourselves in the lifestyle there. Catching local scallops, whitebait and flounder. Hiking in the Abel Tasman . Cruising on Tasman Bay. It's just a wonderful place to chill out and enjoy nature.
Around the headland, the pretty coastal village of Kaiteri has a beautiful beach, and a large camping ground opposite the ocean. There is also a petrol station and a few restaurants.
Around an hour from Marahau, over the Takaka Hill, is the Golden Bay region, including Farewell Spit. At over 30 kilometres in length, Farewell Spit is one of the world's longest recurved sand-spits. The area is home to over 90 varieties of birdlife, and because of the shallow nature of the water, is a regular site of whale strandings. Eco tours to the spit are available and are really good fun. You travel on the beach in purpose built all wheel drive vehicles, and last time we went we stopped off to roll down the sand dunes.
Along the way you drive through the township of Takaka, a haven for artists and filled with craft shops. It's an interesting place to have a wander and maybe buy some unique kiwi souvenirs.
Another interesting attraction on the way to Golden Bay is Pupu Springs. Reputed to have the clearest spring water in the world, the springs discharge up to 14,000 litres per second through eight interconnected vents. The water has a constant temperature of only 11.7 degrees, and because of this, divers are permitted only short stays in the springs.
Other things to see and do in Nelson include winery tours, a visit to the World of Wearable Arts, and the Nelson Lakes National Park.
Here are a couple of our favorites
Full Day Guided Cycling Winery Tour And Lunch - click here
Full Day Astrolabe Kayaking Eco-tour - click here
Full Day Abel Tasman Hiking Tour With Cruise - click here
Search for more things to do in Nelson and the Abel Tasman
You can search through a range of activities by clicking here.
Where to stay in Nelson and the Tasman Region
Abel Tasman accommodation
The Abel Tasman National Park is around 1 hours drive from Nelson. The closest accommodation to the park is in the villages of Marahau (at the park entrance), and Kaiteriteri (around 5 kilometers drive).
You can search for accommodation in those locations here.
For something special, why not try the famous Awaroa Lodge. Located right inside the park, and accessible only by water taxi, this beautiful eco-lodge is something special. Check it out here.
The town of Motueka (known locally as "Mot") is around 20 minutes
drive from the park, and has a good range of accommodation. You can
search through the range and read reviews here.
Because of it's size, Nelson has a wide range of places to stay.
If you want to look over the sparkling waters of Tasman Bay, the Tahunanui area has several choices.
You can search through the range of Nelson accommodation here.
Golden Bay accommodation
You can find your perfect Golden Bay accommodation (including Takaka, Pohara and Collingwood) here.
Day 8 Nelson to Punakaiki and the West Coast
Today you head down State Highway 6 to the spectacular and rugged west coast, and the small village of Punakaiki (3.5 hours drive).
Located in Paparoa National Park, Punakaiki is known for it's Pancake Rocks and blowhole, and it's a beautiful spot to stop and chill out.
The layered rock formations were formed over millions of years and actually resemble stacks of pancakes.
The blowholes are best seen when the seas are rough, and are spectacular when in full flow.
The rocks and blowhole are easily accessible via a sealed walkway off the highway in the middle of the village.
There are lots of walks in the area, and just north of the village on the highway, is a small cavern where you can see glowworms.
There's lots of information about Paparoa National Park on the Department of Conservation website which you can access here.
Apart from a great tavern and a couple of cafes and restaurants, there are no shops or petrol stations in Punakaiki. If we need supplies we always make sure to stock up in the town of Westport, around 45 minutes drive North of Punakaiki.
Where to stay in Punakaiki
Although Punakaiki is quite small, there are a range of places to stay, with a couple of good motels, numerous holiday homes, and backpacker lodges.
We have two favorites:
1) the Rocks Resort, which is absolute beach front, and has a great restaurant (a perfect spot to sit and watch the sun setting over the ocean), and
2) Wave Watchers cottage, on the beach and fully self contained. Stunning location and fully equipped with everything for self catering.
In clear conditions you can see the Southern Alps across the bay. When we stay we always take the opportunity to take a walk on the beach. On a nice day it's a good spot for a picnic lunch.
You can search the range of Punakaiki hotels here.
Day 9 Punakaiki to Christchurch
Today your Top of the South New Zealand itinerary takes you through the spectacular Arthur's Pass to Christchurch (4 hours drive).
On your journey you actually travel through two passes, Arthur's Pass (920 metres) and Porter's Pass (942 metres).
The Otira Gorge below Arthur's Pass is an amazing feat of engineering, and at one point the road is covered by an open tunnel to protect it from rocks and water.
The 440 metre long Otira Viaduct bypasses the worst of the old road, and can be viewed from the nearby lookout.
Why not take the train?
The journey to Christchurch can also be undertaken by train from Greymouth.
The TranzAlpine train journey has been described as "one of the great train journeys of the world" and is a wonderful, relaxing way to finish your trip if driving is not for you.
The four hour journey takes you over viaducts, across raging rivers, and through tunnels, before heading across the Canterbury Plains into Christchurch.
The photo opportunities from the Tranzalpine are stunning.
There are various motels close to Christchurch airport. If you have an early morning flight it probably makes sense to choose one of those.
The closest one is the Sudima, which is around five minutes walk.
You can read about it and others here.
Day 10 Christchurch to Home
Unfortunately all good things must end, and today you fly home.
We hope that you have enjoyed your Top of the South New Zealand itinerary and hope that it has inspired you to visit this stunning part of New Zealand.
To learn more about the regions in your Top of the South New Zealand itinerary click here
Top of the South Route Map