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Kaikoura is ready for business again – time to plan your trip


It’s been just over a year since a powerful magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck New Zealand’s South Island close to Hanmer Springs. The quake caused major damage to a number of towns in the South Island, however, hardest hit was Kaikoura.

For the past 12 months, the town has had limited access. SH1 north and south of the town were blocked by large slips, meaning a much more circuitous route was needed to get in and out of town.

Well, good news is on the way.

It was announced this week, one year on from the earthquake, that SH1 north and south into Kaikoura will be opening up from December 15. This comes as a huge boost to the town and all the local businesses who rely on the busy summer crowds who flock to Kaikoura for the beautiful landscape, spectacular marine life and the amazing raised seabed. There is also a brand new surf beach in the town which promises to draw even more visitors to this wonderful seaside town.

You can see more from the announcement on the Kaikoura NZ Facebook page:

Out of disaster comes opportunity

For a town that relies on tourism, the earthquake hit Kaikoura hard. Instead of resting on their laurels, the local businesses got to work rebuilding and adapting. Despite a 50% drop in visitor arrivals and spend, the town is slowly but surely getting back on track.

In typical Kiwi fashion, new opportunities have come out of this natural disaster including:

  • Uplifted seabed creates new geology, science and education tourism
  • New shared cycleway/walkway between Okiwi Bay and Mangamaunu
  • Applying for UNESCO world heritage status
  • Investigate becoming a World Geopark
  • Explore development of another DoC Great Walk between Kaikoura-Molesworth Station-Hanmer Springs

Talk about triumphs out of adversity – good on you Kaikoura and everyone who has made all of this possible!

Getting to Kaikoura

Whilst SH1 will be open both ways from December 15, there will still be a lot of on-going roadworks taking place to fully rebuild the highway. Travel will only be possible during the daytime for safety reasons and caution is urged at all times whilst travelling on the road.

The drive up the east coast of the South Island from Christchurch to Picton is a spectacular one and one we would definitely recommend. The opening of the road is not going to significantly reduce the travel time compared to the alternative route via the Lewis Pass, however, for those who are not in a rush anyway, it really is one of our most beautiful drives.

If you are planning a trip to Kaikoura between now and December 15, you can still get from Christchurch to Kaikoura on the weekends. SH1 south of Kaikoura is open on a Saturday and Sunday for the next two weeks and then will resume Friday-Monday opening in the build-up to the grand reopening on December 15.

The alternative route

It is expected that SH1 will be busy through the peak summer season and New Zealand Transport estimate that the drive time from Christchurch to Picton will be around 5.5 hours using SH1.

The alternative route via the Lewis Pass is still a good option for travellers looking for a different experience. We recommend making a stop off in Kaikoura to experience the wonderful attractions there before heading inland and taking state highways 63, 6, 65 and 7 through the Lewis Pass. You can find out more about this alternative route in our blog. This route is still expected to take around 6.5 hours from Christchurch to Picton and allow more time for the detour to Kaikoura.

Driving safely

We are encouraging all our customers picking up in Christchurch or catching the ferry across from Wellington to Picton to add Kaikoura into your travel plans. Your journey down SH1 will take you through the beautiful Marlborough region and on to Kaikoura where you will have some amazing opportunities to observe some unique marine life.

For all those travelling via SH1, we do urge absolute caution. Our customers’ safety is our primary focus here at GO so we ask that you pay close attention to all speed limits, warning signs and the workforce who will be working to bring SH1 back to full use. There will be lots of speed restrictions in place and it is important to stick to these – they are there for a reason and that reason is your safety. Allow extra time to get to your destinations and enjoy the journey rather than thinking about simply getting from A to B.

Kaikoura needs your support!

Now for some of the fun stuff. Kaikoura needs you. If you are planning a trip to the South Island this summer, add Kaikoura to your road trip itinerary. They are looking to recover from a 50% drop in visitors this year and with lots of great new attractions as well as the amazing activities that are back up and running, why would you ever miss it off your plans?

Things to do in Kaikoura

Kaikoura is jam-packed with things to do but here are some of our highlights:

1.      Whale Watch Kaikoura

Whale Watch Kaikoura


Encounter the world’s largest toothed predator, the Giant Sperm Whale. Watching these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat is available all year round. Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of our exclusive GO Play partners so you can save 5% when you rent your car with GO.

2.      Dolphin Encounter

Encounter Kaikoura


For many, the opportunity to swim with dolphins is too good to miss. Encounter Kaikoura, another of our exclusive GO Play partners, offers you just that chance. Swimming with dolphins is one of the most exhilarating activities you can do in New Zealand so make sure you head to Kaikoura this summer and see for yourself.

3.      Seal Swim

Seal Swim Kaikoura


As well as swimming with dolphins, there’s also a chance to get in the water with NZ fur seals in the shallow waters of the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula. The marine life in Kaikoura is truly amazing and one of the best places in the country to get up close and personal. Book your trip with Seal Swim Kaikoura and use your exclusive GO Play card.

If you are looking for a great place to stay in Kaikoura, the Bella Vista Motel is also a valued GO Play partner and they offer a 10% discount to GO Rentals’ customers. Boom!

If you are looking for road trip itineraries that head through Kaikoura, make sure you check out our Trip Planner and look at our itineraries from Christchurch and Wellington.

For all the latest news and to plan your journey between Picton and Christchurch, keep an eye on the official New Zealand Transport website:

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GO Play activities in this area

  • 5% Off

    Whale Watching Cruises

    Whale Watch Kaikoura is New Zealand’s only vessel based whale watching company offering an exciting up-close encounter with the world’s largest toothed predator, the Giant Sperm Whale. Watching these beautiful creatures in their natural environment is available all year round.

    Whaleway Station Road, Kaikoura. Tel : 03 319 6767

  • 10% Off

    Dophin Swim Cruises

    Kaikoura is a picturesque place, famous for the spectacular marine life that inhabits the coastline including whales, dolphins, albatross, penguins, fur seals and orca. Dolphin Encounter specialises in providing an exhilarating experience of swimming or watching wild dusky dolphins in their natural environment.

    96 Esplanade, Kaikoura. Tel : 03 319 6777