Great news – you have 5 days off and you’ve 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 no time for hanging about – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
Book a vehicle for this trip
1Christchurch to Hanmer Springs (134kms – 1 hours 45 mins)
Although there are a whopping 415 kms between Christchurch and Nelson, we’re going to ease you into this fantastic 5 day road trip with a relatively short first day to Hanmer Springs where you’ll get the chance to relax your way into this road trip.
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, rieslings and chardonnays. The region has the highest summer temperatures and lower 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.
Hanmer Springs (77.8km – 55 mins)
With such a short day of driving today, you should arrive in Hanmer with plenty of time to explore. Surrounded by the beautiful Southern Alps with crisp alpine air, relax and unwind in the award-winning thermal pools or simply enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Hanmer Village and surrounding areas.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa
The thermal pools and spa complex in Hanmer has been soothing peoples’ aches and pains away for the best part of 125 years and all those who have been before you can’t be wrong! Relax in one of 15 open air pools or try out one of the 3 aquatherapy pools. Families and children are catered for too since a recent redevelopment has added three waterslides and a lazy river to keep even the liveliest of kids entertained.
Wai Ariki Farm Park
If getting crinkly is not your thing, there are plenty of other attractions in Hanmer and one of the best is the Wai Ariki Farm Park. Offering a hands-on experience, Wai Ariki is home to some weird and wonderful animals which are sure to keep kids and adults amused for the morning. The Tibetan Yak are a particular favourite!
Although you have only just headed off on this epic kiwi adventure, we know some of you love a bit of retail therapy. With a fantastic range of boutique outlets including the quirky ‘Up the Garden Path’ and ‘Wink’, we’re sure you’ll find the shopping as relaxing as a trip to the thermal pools.
Monteith’s Brewery Bar
If you’ve not managed to sample the delights of one of New Zealand’s favourite beers, fear not! Although it may not offer the full brewery tour experience, The Monteith’s brew pub in Hanmer is certainly a great place to go and try your favourite Monteith’s ale and relax and unwind. Situated right in the heart of the town, there is a great vibe to match the great beer so whatever you have been up to during the day, this is a great place to end your night. Our top tip is the Monteith’s Southern Pale Ale. When in Rome as they say!
2Hanmer Springs to Nelson (300kms 3 hours 40 mins)
Maruia Springs (78.1kms – 1 hour)
Although you have only just left Hanmer Springs, 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 your rental 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.
3Exploring 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.
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.
Use your GO Play card here
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.
4Nelson to Blenheim (114 kms – 1 hours 35 mins)
Another relatively short day of driving ahead of you today and an exciting trip to one of the world’s most famous wine regions Marlborough. You have a bit of time this morning before you need to head off so take the time to explore Nelson as there are loads of cool things to do.
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.
5Blenheim to Christchurch (309 kms – 3 hours 56 mins)
After a great evening sampling wine in Blenheim, it’s time to make the trip back down to Christchurch. It’s quite a drive from Blenheim so make sure you leave plenty of time to make the trip which will take you around 4 hours.
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.
Use your GO Play card here
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 5 day adventure. If you have the time, try and squeeze in some exploring in Christchurch. Check out our top 5 things to do in Christchurch for some ideas. 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.