Great news – you have 3 days off and you have decided to go and explore the Abel Tasman National Park – this is going to be a pretty awesome road trip but hopefully we have some little gems for you to stop off at on your way as it’s going to be a pretty long drive to Nelson. This is what New Zealand road trips are all about so there’s not time for hanging about – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Christchurch to Nelson (415kms – 5 hours 6 mins)
There are a whopping 415 kms between you and Nelson so it’s time to hit the road early as you have over 5 hours of driving ahead of you today. There are two ways to get to Nelson from Christchurch which means twice the fun on this road trip. We’re going to take you the more direct route on the way there across the Lewis Pass and up SH65 where you will drive through some of the most amazing scenery you’re ever likely to see. We have a few little stop offs planned on this route to break up the day so buckle up and away we go.
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Amberley (46.4kms – 44 mins)
Although you are only just under an hour into your road trip, Amberley is a great little stop off point to grab a coffee in one of the local cafes which serve the farming and wine growing community. There are also some great little craft shops or you may even fancy a wander to the beach.
Waipara (11.9kms – 9 mins)
Carry on north for another 10 minutes and you will come across Waipara, one of the South Island’s great wine producing areas famed for some lovely pinot noirs, reislings and chardonnays. The region has the highest summer temperatures and lover rainfall of any of the New Zealand wine growing regions making the ideal spot to pick up a bottle or two for your weekend away.
From Waipara, you will take the road west towards Hanmer Springs but sadly that stop off will not be part of this road trip. Be sure to look it up on one of our many other itineraries though as it is well worth a visit.
Maruia Springs (137kms – 1 hour 36 mins)
Although the chance to visit Hanmer Springs will have to wait for another day, Maruia Springs offer a really good alternative and if you can spare an hour, is a great place to relax and unwind although you may not want to get back in the car afterwards! If soothing hot pools are not your thing, there is also some amazing fishing to be had in Maruia Springs with an abundance of blue-ribbon trout in the many streams that criss-cross the area. A good opportunity to catch yourself some supper!
Murchison (97.1kms – 1 hour 5 mins)
From Maruia Springs, we turn north at Springs Junction and head on to Murchison, the gateway to the Kahurangi National Park. It’s unlikely you will have the time on this trip for a full on tramp, but with lots of walking tracks in the area, you may be able to manage a 1 hour leg stretch. One thing Murchison does really well is whitewater thrills from rafting to kayaking to jet boating. The water runs fast around these parts and if you love some adrenaline fuelled action, this is the place for you.
From Murchison it’s a further 125kms to Nelson which should take you just over an hour and a half.
Mapua (124kms – 1 hour 32 mins)
As you head in towards Nelson, a great little detour and a good spot to grab some dinner is in Mapua.
Mapua is a very picturesque village situated on a wharf on the Abel Tasman coastline. With a huge range of shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes, this makes the perfect stop off for an afternoon beverage or dinner and maybe some retail therapy before you land for the night in Nelson. From the Jellyfish Café and Bar to Forest Fusion Functional Art, there is lots to see and do in Mapua as well as taking in the lovely surroundings.
World of Wearable Art Museum
If you set off in good time this morning and you arrive in Nelson at a decent time, the World of Wearable Art (WoW) Museum is a New Zealand institution in its own right. The first ever show was held in Nelson in 1987 and has since grown (and moved to Wellington where it is currently held). The museum displays some of the supreme winners of the shows. Whether you’re interested in clothes and fashion or not, this is an important slice of New Zealand’s culture – one that you should not miss.
2Exploring the Abel Tasman National Park (59.7km – 1 hour from Nelson)
From Nelson, you’ll have an early start to head off to gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. The roads are windy so make sure you allow enough time to drive the relatively short distance of 60kms. Once you get to the park there are so many activities to choose from it really is up to you how you plan your day – these are some of our top tips:
Cruise and water taxi – if you’re after a fairly relaxed, laid back day, there is no better way to see the park than on a cruise of in a water taxi. The crystal clear waters of the Abel Tasman are a sight to behold to getting out on the water is a must.
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If you’re feeling a bit more energetic, we highly recommend hiring a sea kayak for the day and heading out into the park. You’ll be amazed at what you can see over the side of the kayak as you peer down into the depths of the sea. Park up (is that even a saying for a kayak?!) on a secluded beach and enjoy a spot of lunch – spectacular.
Cruise and walk – the best of both worlds if you want to get out on the water as well as waking through this beautiful national park. Take a cruise and get dropped off deep into the park before following the route back along the rugged coastline.
If you don’t fancy a drive all the way into the Abel Tasman National Park, there are loads of other things to do in the area. One of our favourites is to visit the Boulder Bank:
The Boulder Bank
The Boulder Bank is another spectacular example of the South Island’s natural wonders. The 13km long bank is one of the very few of its type in the world so you are in the presence of something very unique. It has been formed from large granodiorite boulders that have been moved by wind, water and tide to form the spectacular line in front of you.
The lighthouse was made in Bath (England) and shipped in parts to New Zealand, then assembled in 1861.
You can access the bank by turning off SH6 and driving along Boulder Bank Drive, 7km north of Nelson.
Then of course you cannot forget that Nelson is the microbrew capital of New Zealand with many independent breweries making some fantastic kiwi beers round these parts. Whatever you choose to get up to round these parts, you’re in for a cracking day. Nelson is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand and even in the colder months, the sun will often be shining so make the most of it and have a blast.
3Nelson to Christchurch via Blenheim (423 kms – 5 hours 29 mins)
The journey back is going to take you down the east coast on the South Island through the famous Marlborough wine region. There are some great stop off on this leg of the road trip making sure you have an awesome last day. It’s 423 kms back to Christchurch but this is one of the great drives and one you will not forget.
Havelock (73.5kms – 1 hour 1 min)
The first stop off of the day will be at Havelock. We’re hoping it is not too early in the day to get involved in sampling the area’s most famous resident – green lipped mussels. Havelock describes itself as the green lipped mussel capital of the world – we’ll leave it up to you to decide but we are a bit partial to them when we are down in these parts.
Blenheim (41kms – 33 mins)
Marlborough is a world famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through. There are plenty of wineries who will gladly take you through their wide range of vinos from a fruity pinot noir to the flagship wine of the region, Sauvignon Blanc. There are some famous vineyards down here like Cloudy Bay but we recommend sampling some of the more boutique wineries – a great way to get around is on a bike although be careful if you have a few vinos on the way as you may get a bit wobbly! Wine tour by bike offer bike hire or guided tours which helps as they will transport you back to Blenheim.
Obviously this is a trip for the passengers and not the driver but make sure you purchase a couple of bottles so your driver doesn’t feel left out – it will be a nice way to thank them for driving you on this 900 km road trip!
Kaikoura (129kms – 1 hour 37 mins)
A great stop off on the way south back to Christchurch is Kaikoura which is a whale watchers delight. Not only that, this is a great opportunity for you to take a dip and swim with the dolphins at the right time of the year – this must be on a few wish lists so let’s get it ticked off!
Swimming with dolphins
GO Play partner Encounter Kaikoura offers a brilliant opportunity to get in the water in the south Pacific and swim with these amazing animals with tours operating three times a day.
It’s not just dolphins that pass through the waters around Kaikoura though and if you time things right, there is also the chance to see various species of whale as well as seals and birds.
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Cellar View Café and Restaurant
Kaikoura is one of New Zealand’s best locations for seeing marine life including whales and dolphins. It is also the home to the Cellar View Cafe and Restaurant. This place serves up some pretty amazing dishes matched only by the stunning views out to the pacific. It’s easy to let an afternoon drift by, enjoying the delicious food and admiring the endless view. Nice.
From Kaikoura, it’s 181 kms to Christchurch which will take you around 2 and a half hours and brings to an end this epic 3 day adventure. We hope you have had a blast and fitted in loads of activities along the way. We know you must have some awesome pictures from your road trip so make sure you enter our GO Snap Happy competition of send them in to our GO Explore Facebook page.