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Christchurch to Kaikōura: Plan your next South Island road trip

Create the perfect itinerary travelling from Christchurch to Kaikōura. Whether you’re planning a quick road trip (and just want a few places to stretch your legs), or you’re wanting to really take your time, this guide will help you plan out your preferred stops.

New Zealand is full of fantastic places to visit and the best way to see them is by taking a road trip.

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island so is a popular tourist spot for travellers, particularly those first arriving down south.

However, the coastal town of Kaikōura is just a 2.5-hour drive away and is just as beautiful (if not even more so). Known for its abundant wildlife and whale sightings, this isn’t a place that you want to leave off your New Zealand itinerary.

We highly recommend you make the drive from Christchurch to Kaikōura, where you’ll come across plenty of spots to visit along the way.

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State Highway 1: Best Route When Travelling From Christchurch to Kaikōura

If you’re travelling from Christchurch to Kaikōura then you’ll be driving along State Highway 1.

There are lots of fantastic places to visit along the way so make sure you allow plenty of time to see the best sights.

Whether you’re looking to spot whales from the shoreline or head to a winery, there’s something for everyone on this beautiful scenic drive.

Two couples enjoying a snack in front of Nin's Bin.
Though Kaikōura is a popular destination, there’s plenty to do on the way there too. Photo credit: Graeme Murray.

Christchurch to Kaikōura via State Highway 1

Distance: 181 km.

Estimated total driving time: 2.5 hours without stops (but you’ll want to make plenty of those).

The drive from Christchurch to Kaikōura is incredibly scenic as you’ll pass by dozens of charming wineries and stunning beaches.

The road itself is relatively flat and easy to drive along, although be cautious during the winter as roads can be icy.

With all that said, these are our favourite stops and attractions between Christchurch and Kaikoura. We suggest you pick your favourites, creating a personalised itinerary.

Places to Visit on Drive from Christchurch to Kaikōura

1. Visit The Pines Beach

If you’re a fan of beaches, like us, then The Pines Beach should be the first stop on your trip from Christchurch to Kaikōura.

The actual town is also called The Pines Beach (which we’ll admit, is a bit confusing), but both are located in the same place so it doesn’t matter which location you plug into your navigation.

As the name suggests, the beach backs onto a forest so you’ve got the best of both worlds. It’s also one of the quieter beaches along this route, so is the perfect place to relax and take in the views.

Just be prepared for some windy weather conditions and rug up warm.

Beach Road, Kaiapoi

A huge wave formation ready to crash on shore.
Photo credit: Mark Rasdall.

2. Explore the Beaches Further Up the Coast

Further up the coast, you’ll come across some more beautiful beaches.

You can take your pick from Pegasus Beach, Waikuku Beach, and Woodend Beach so you won’t be short of options. If you’ve got the time you can even walk along the shore and visit more than one as they’re all connected.

Woodend Beach is the closest to Christchurch, however, Pegasus and Waikuku are a lot more scenic. Like The Pines Beach, these two spots are relatively quiet and offer stunning views.

The surf beaches here are relatively calm too so feel free to take a dip but be sure to swim between the flags if lifeguards are about.

If lifeguards aren’t present, only swim if you’re confident there are no rips and that you’re within your personal capabilities. It’s always better safe than sorry.

Woodend Beach: Woodend Beach Road, Woodend Beach, Canterbury 7691

Pegasus Beach: Tiritiri Moana Drive, Pegasus, Canterbury 7691

Waikuku Beach: Waikuku Beach Road, Waikuku Beach, Canterbury 7691

Tourists enjoying the white sands of Waikuku Beach.
Waikuku Beach. Photo credit: Wildman NZ.

3. Amberley

On your trip from Christchurch to Kaikōura, we’d recommend stopping off at Amberley. This charming town is known for its boutique stores, craft shops, and vibrant cafés, making it a great place to wander around.

If you can time your visit with lunchtime or ‘brunch’ then even better, as the food here is fabulous. This area prioritises local produce and you can tell.

During your stop off in Amberley, you can also head to the beach, visit Chamberlain Park, or explore Amberley House.

Although this place is only small, you’ll find a surprising number of things to do here.

An Anglican Church in Amberley.
Holy Innocents Anglican Church in Amberley.

4. Take a Detour to Māori Rock Art & Weka Pass Walkway

Although this spot isn’t technically located on State Highway 1, it’s worth taking the short detour to visit.

If you drive up to Weka Pass Road you’ll come across the Weka Pass Walkway. This trail is a 90-minute return walk that will take you to a limestone outcrop.

Once there, you’ll get to see incredible Māori rock art that dates back hundreds of years. It’s quite the experience so make sure to take your camera along.

Just keep in mind that the walk is relatively steep, so be sure you’re equipped with water and good shoes.

Timpendean Road, Waikari 7483

An ancient Maori Rock Art in Weka Pass Walkway.
Photo credit: Young Geologists New Zealand.

5. Enjoy a Glass of Wine in the Waipara Valley

As you head back onto State Highway 1, you’ll come to the scenic Waipara Valley. This beautiful area is most famous for its fine wines, making it a must-visit whilst driving from Christchurch to Kaikōura.

Interestingly, the vineyards here are the fastest-growing in the country, so naturally, you’ll find a wide range of wines to taste.

Luckily, there are plenty of vineyards to choose from including Greystone Wines, Muddy Water Wines, and Terrace Edge Vineyard & Olive Grove.

No matter which one you choose you’ll have a fantastic experience so make sure you allow plenty of time here.

Because you deserve to kick back for a while!

Pouring a glass of Greystone White Wine.
Photo credit: Greystone Wines.

6. Stop By Cheviot

Cheviot is one of the largest towns on this coastal route. It is situated about halfway been Christchurch and Kaikōura, so it’s the perfect place to stretch your legs if you’ve not made many stops to this point.

With scenic walking trails, a variety of boutique stores and quaint art galleries, it’s a great place to explore.

Aside from wandering around and taking a look at the shops, there are plenty of other things to do in Cheviot. We recommend walking to Manuka Bay, visiting the Cheviot Museum, and exploring the Cheviot Domain.

Plus, if you head to the Cheviot Domain between September and November, you’ll enjoy seeing scores of gorgeous daffodils.

Cheviot tea rooms since 1981.
Photo credit: Cheviot NZ.

7. Enjoy the Views from Gore Bay

If there’s one place you can’t miss during your road trip from Christchurch to Kaikōura, it’s Gore Bay!

It’s just a 10-minute drive from Cheviot and is a great spot for surfing, walking and simply relaxing. With its cliff-edge backdrop (known as Cathedral Gully), relatively calm waters, and stunning surroundings, this place has so much to offer.

Considering this place is undeniably beautiful, it’s surprising you don’t encounter more crowds here. However, that’s always a good thing and we’re not complaining!

If you’ve got enough time, we recommend stocking up on snacks in Cheviot and heading here for a picnic.

Gore Bay Road, Gore Bay, Cheviot 7381

Overlooking view of Gore Bay from the green mountaintops
Photo credit: Visit Hurunui.

8. Relax at St Anne’s Lagoon

As you continue along the State Highway to Kaikōura you’ll come across St Anne’s Lagoon.

Another quiet spot, this is a great place to relax and spend some time in nature. You’ll get to kick back by the edge of the lagoon, listen to the birds chirping and feel the wind blow through your hair.

Like Gore Bay, St Anne’s Lagoon is a great spot for a picnic but if you’ve eaten already you’ll still want to stretch your legs here.

There are also toilets at the site but they are very basic, so just keep that in mind. Ideally, Cheviot is a better spot for a toilet stop.

Parnassus Road, Cheviot 7381

A glassy lake surrounded by trees in Cheviot.
Photo credit: Cheviot NZ.

9. Take a Detour to Hanmer Springs for Some Hot Pool Fun!

If you’ve got some extra time on your hands then we recommend taking a detour out to Hanmer Springs!

This place is famous for its hot pools, so make sure you head to Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa [discount below]. Whether you’re looking to relax in the rock pools, head to the spa or take on a waterslide, there’s something for everyone there.

You’ll also find plenty of other things to do in this town like visiting the local animal park, heading out on a quad bike safari, or exploring the area on a Hanmer Rocket.

We’d also recommend grabbing some tasty treats from The Lolly Pot and The Fudge Shop.

Hanmer Springs is one of favourite stops on this itinerary so we really encourage you to include it on your road trip if you can.

Pro Tip: If you have a little more time up your sleeve, we definitely suggest spending the night in Hanmer Springs.

A baby girl with her father hidden behind her riding an inflatable raft.

10. Check Out the Haumuri Bluff Walk

During your road trip from Christchurch to Kaikōura, we recommend hiking the Haumuri Bluff Walk! It’s one of the best Kaikōura walks with a moderate difficulty.

It’s a free trail that offers stunning views of New Zealand’s coastline, but the majority of it can only be completed at low tide. During the course of your walk, you’ll spot fossil-filled pebbles on the shoreline and old train wreckage, littering Mikonui Beach.

The Haumuri Bluff Walk is 12km in total and takes between 4 and 5 hours so it’s likely that you won’t have time to do the full trail. However, even if you’ve only got a spare hour (near low tide) we still recommend walking part of it.

The views are spectacular and you’ll often get to see seals too!

26-12 Te Keepa Road, Oaro 7374

11. Spot Marine Life at the Kaikōura Marine Resting Area

If you’re a big fan of wildlife like us, then you’ll want to stop at Kaikōura Marine Resting Area.

This viewpoint is one of the best places in New Zealand to spot fur seals, and you’ll see a lot of them!

Also, if you’ve got binoculars, make sure you bring them with you. From this viewpoint, you’ve also got a great chance of seeing whales and dolphins.

Although the wildlife-watching opportunities here are fantastic, the spectacular views alone are worth the stop.

In fact, if you only manage to stop at a couple of the places in this guide, make sure the Kaikōura Marine Resting Area is one of them.

Oaro 7374

Fur seal pointing its nose upwards in Kaikoura.
A New Zealand fur seal in Kaikōura. Photo credit: Sy.

12. Look for Wildlife at the Marine Reserve North of Goose Bay

As you continue past Kaikōura Marine Resting Area and Goose Bay, you will soon reach this marine reserve.

At this point, you’re just a 15- minute drive from Kaikōura so your road trip is nearly over. In this case, last is certainly not least though.

This marine reserve is another fantastic place to spot fur seals bathing in the sun or splashing around in the water. The views of the Pacific Ocean are also beautiful, making this place a must-visit.

Again, have your binoculars at the ready in case you spot whales and dolphins.

Peketā 7374

A fur seal resting on its belly.
Photo credit: Mike Locke.

As you can see there are plenty of places to visit on your journey from Christchurch to Kaikōura!

Whether you’re looking to relax on a beach or take a scenic walk along the coast, this road trip offers something for everyone.

Have you ever driven from Christchurch to Kaikōura?

If you have, we’d love to head about your favourite spots along the way!

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