This is an itinerary for the northern part of the south island. You can combine this itinerary with our main southern island loop. There are many places to stop listed under each day, and it is not always possible to do all of the longer walks in one day.
Day 1: Christchurch to Hokitika
Drive time: 3:05
- Pick up your rental vehicle and stop by the Countdown supermarket near the airport if you want to pick up food.
- Head towards the west coast via Porter Pass. Porter Pass is a steep pass that often gives rental campervans a run for their money, but does not have great views.
- Stop at Castle Hill. Castle Hill contains limestone rocks that resemble a castle about 10 minutes from the carpark. 30 minutes for the stop.
- Stop at Cave Stream and go for a short walk to the lava tube cave. The cave has a stream running through it, and you will get wet going in the cave. Bring a flashlight, and you will shortly reach a ladder that goes up to a cavern. 30 minutes for the stop.
- Take a photo at the Waimakariri River lookout. The Waimakariri River is a braided river that often changes course.
- You will then come to Arthur’s Pass. The pass is a low-level pass, and most of the hikes involve going straight up. The pass is a great place to see Kea. Kea are attracted to shiny objects and are often spotted in carparks.
- Stop at Devil’s Punchbowl for a 1-hour walk to the 131-meter waterfall. You will see a lot of waterfalls in your time in New Zealand, but this one is above average. 60 minutes.
- Stop one last time near Arthur’s Pass at the Otira Viaduct Overlook. It is a quick photo op and kea are often spotted here. 5 minutes.
- Check out the town in Hokitika. It has a great beachfront that often has food trucks and fun downtown. The free museum is worth a visit if you have a couple of minutes. It is also a good activity if happen to be in town on a rainy day.
- Watch the sunset from the beach. When you are on beaches on the west coast keep an eye out for greenstone/jade.
- Visit the glowworm dell in Hokitika after dark. The dell is an unassuming sidecut in the day but comes to life at night.
Day 2: Hokitika to Westport
Drive time: 2:00
- If you did not have time to explore the town and beach yesterday, give it a visit.
- The Hokitika Gorge is 30 km in the wrong direction, but the water is unbelievably blue. If you have the extra time, it is worth a detour and will probably take 1:45-2:15.
- Head north out of Hokitika to Greymouth. If you are looking for a photo op, stop at Shipwreck Point.
- Continue to Point Elizabeth and go for a walk on the Point Elizabeth Walkway. The out and back walk to the viewpoint takes 1.5-2 hours and has excellent ocean views. The trees along the trail are stunning.
- Stop at Moutukiekie Beach Walk. The walk is only accessible two hours on either side of low tide. The entrance is kind of hard to find, but chances are you will not see anyone else in the area. It is not a good swimming beach.
- Stop at Punakaiki otherwise, also known as Pancake Rocks. There are several walks in the area. It is touristy, and there are a lot of people, but for a good reason. Many people drive from Greymouth just to see the rocks.
- Make a stop at the Truman Track for a walk through the woods to a rocky outcropping and beach. Blue penguins are often spotted here around dawn and dusk.
- An optional hike that takes about two hours is the Fox River Caves. You follow an old gold mining trail to a series of limestone caves. Bring a torch with you and explore the stalagmites and stalactites in the caves. This is off the main tourist trail, and you will probably have the caves to yourself.
- Make a final stop at Cape Foulwind. It is a 2-hour roundtrip walk past the fur seal colony to the lighthouse. You can also shorten the walk and not do the entire thing.
- Look for locally roasted Kawatiri Coffee around Westport.
Day 3: Westport to Nelson Lakes
Drive time: 2:10
- Stop for a quick photo of the Buller Gorge at the Kilkenny Lookout. 5 minutes.
- The Buller Gorge Swingbridge is a privately owned swingbridge and loop walk. It cost $10 to go across New Zealand’s longest swingbridge. I have been on enough free New Zealand swingbridges that I have felt the need to pay to cross one, but I have talked to people that have enjoyed it.
- Stop a the Maruia Falls Lookout. The 15-minute walk brings you to a large waterfall, not the tallest one, but impressive none the less.
- Stop in Murchison and take the steep Skyline Track to a viewpoint over the valley and the surrounding rivers. There is a good sized free swingbridge here.
- Stop at Lake Rotoroa for your obligatory pier photo. This is one of the most popular New Zealand piers found on Instagram.
- Continue to the Nelson Lakes National Park visitor center and decide on a hike to do for the rest of the day. Nelson Lake National Park is a favorite among New Zealanders since there are a fraction of the foreign tourists as in Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks.
Day 4-6: Nelson Lakes to Abel Tasman to Cape Farewell to Nelson
Total drive time: 5:30 split among the three days if you go to Cape Farewell
All of the other days are listed out by day, but there is a lot of things to do in this area depending on your interests. Lodging can be scarce and expensive between Takaka and Cape Farewell if you are visiting in the high season. Going as far as Able Tasman and spending 2-3 days there is a great plan, not a lot of people venture the entire way to Farewell Split and the tip of the south island. Those that do are rewarded with great beaches and views. I am listing the sites from Nelson Lakes to Cape Farewell. Since you backtrack to get to Nelson save some of the sites for the return car trip.
- Take route 6 north and make a quick stop at Hope Saddle and walk the five minutes to the viewpoint
- Stop by Nelson Honey to get some decently priced manuka honey and treat yourself to ice cream.
- Stop at Spooners Tunnel a 1.35 km railroad tunnel that has been converted into a walking/biking path. The tunnel is perfectly straight and rather chilly inside.
- Hop Farm Brewery does not have a taproom, but they do have a roadside stall that frequently has liters of 100% grape juice f0r $5.
- Stop by Waimea Winery, Rimu Grove Winery, or Brightwater Vineyards for a tasting if beer is more of your thing stop by Hop Federation Brewery.
- Kaiteriteri Beach sports golden sand and is one of the most popular beaches in the Nelson area. You will not have the beach to yourself
- The southern entrance to Abel Tasman National Park is here. The park is home to the famed Abel Tasman Great Walk. The entire walk is 51 km, but a host of water taxi companies provide access to and from various points. I strongly recommend spending a day or two on the walk. Some companies allow you to kayak one way and walk the way back. You can also be dropped off to walk back to your car, walk to a pickup point, or walk one of the middle sections of the track. It is also possible to access the National Park from the northern entrance. If you do not want to use a water taxi, Coquille Bay is a lovely beach that is about an hours walk along the trail.
- Stop by the Riwaka Resurgence where the Riwaka river emerges from a cave under Takaka Hill. It is a 10-minute walk, and the chilly water is crystal clear.
- Heading over Takaka Hill and stop at Hawkes Lookout. Across the street is the entrance to Ngarua Cave. There are tours of the cave hourly, and the cave has a $20 entrance fee. The cave has traditional cave features along with moa skeletons but does not have glowworms.
- Stop by Harwoods Hole for a 90-minute roundtrip to a 170-meter deep hole which leads to a cave system. The last bit of the walk does involve some scrambling over boulders. You can also take a side trail to the Gorge Creek Lookout which helps put the size of the hole in context.
- Stop for a quick photo at Harwoods Lookout.
- Take the one-hour roundtrip walk to Wainui Falls. You get to walk over another free suspension bridge.
- There are some excellent walking options from the northern entrance to Abel Tasman beach including the 45-minute walk to Anapai Bay and the 20-minute walk to Goat Bay, which is great for swimming.
- Te Waikoropupu Springs or Pupu Springs is the largest cold water springs in the southern hemisphere. It is also some of the most transparent water in the world. I recommend making this a stop since it is different than the many other sights that you will see in New Zealand. It is not called a “blue hole,” but looks like many of the ones in the Pacific Islands.
- Farewell Spit is a sand spit that separates Golden Bay from the Tasman Sea. There is a 2.5 km loop walk that provides access to Tasman Sea beaches and Golden Bay beaches, a must on a nice day. Fur seals and little blue penguins are frequently spotted on the southern end of the Tasman Sea beach.
- Walk 30 minutes to Pillar Point. There is a lighthouse at the point, but it is a bland modern lighthouse. The highlight is the sweeping views from near the lighthouse.
- Stop by Cape Farewell and walk 10 minutes to the most northerly point of the south island.
- Wharariki is a stunning beach with walls of rock surrounding it. The white sand is inviting, but it is not a good swimming beach.
- If your day six ends in Nelson, make sure that you visit one of Nelsons ~10 breweries.
Day 7: Nelson to Blenheim/Renwick
Drive time: 2:20
- Stop at the Pelorus Bridge. Pelorus Bridge has several 20-30 minute walks in the area. It is also a filming spot from the Hobbit. When it is hot outside the crystal, clear green water is a great swimming hole.
- Havelock is the green lipped mussel capital of New Zealand. The Mussel Pot is a great spot for cheap mussels done a variety of ways.
- Heading out of Havelock stop at Cullen Point Lookout. The lookout is a quick 10-minute walk with great views of the sound.
- If you are looking for a longer walk, a section of the Queen Charlotte track is a great choice. You can either start at Anakiwa or take a detour to Portage. The road is now paved, but windy and full of amazing views.
- If you are hankering for a jetty picture, make a quick stop at the Groves Arm Jetty. 5 minutes.
- Stop at Governors Bay for a 10-minute walk to a great sandy beach.
- If you bypassed Havelock for lunch, Picton is another good spot.
- Head out of Picton and stop at Rarangi Beach. Take the short trail to Monkey Bay with great views of Cloudy Bay. Unfortunately, the winery of the same name is not located here. After you are done with Rarangi, continue down the road to Whites Bay. Take the 20-minute Pukatea Loop walk and visit Whites Bay. The bay is a great beach to take a dip in and is off most tourists radar.
- End the day in Blenheim or Renwick. It is time to taste wine.
Day 8: Blenheim/Renwick
Drive time: 0
Today is a great day to taste wine. My preferred way to drink wine in the region is via bicycle. Blenheim is a lot nicer city and has a lot more going on in it, but Renwick is right in the middle of the bicycle track. If bicycles are not your thing, there are many other wine tour options.
- Cloudy Bay- Amazing grounds and an impressive tasting room. Try their aged Sauvignon Blanc. Paid tasting.
- Brancott Estates- Great tasting room and views. Wide range of wines, Paid tasting.
- Villa Maria- Wide range of wines to taste. Good reds that are not grown in the region. Free tasting.
- Whitehaven- They have one of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs in the country. Free tasting.
- No. 1 Family Estate- They only do bubbles and only offer a couple of wines to taste. Free tasting
- Hans Herzog- They produce a wide range of red wine styles. Many are not typical to New Zealand. Paid tasting.
- Gieson- A large winery that offers a lot of choices to taste. Paid tasting.
- Moa Brewery- Located on the Renwick wine loop. Solid beers, pints are a better value than tasting trays.
- Renaissance Brewery: Located in Blenheim town so not ideal for incorporating in a wine tasting loop, but the beer is better than Moa.
Day 9: Blenheim to Kaikoura
Drive time: 1:45
- Heading out of town stop a Yealand Winery, nothing like starting your day with a little wine tasting. The winery does free tastings and has a bargain wine bin where ten bottles only cost $60. They also have a drive through the vineyard and babydoll sheep that do a lot of the “mowing” but are too short to eat the grapes.
- Stop at the Ohau Point Seal Colony along SH 1. There are viewing platforms along the road, and you can get a view of the seals. 5-20 minutes.
- Get lunch at the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ for some great place for cheap fresh seafood.
- Visit the Kaikoura Peninsula. The peninsula is an excellent place to see seals sunbathing. There is also a great walk loop walk along the coast and up on the bluff. 10 minutes to 2 hours.
- Kaikoura whale tour. This is a touristy thing to do, but it is a lot of fun. There is only one licensed tour boat operator to look at the whales. You can frequently get a discount on Bookme, and during the high season, you might need to book ahead.
Day 10: Kaikoura to Christchurch
Drive time: 2:30-3:00
- Take a detour to Gore Bay and wander along the beach. There is a rough track from Gore Bay to Motunau Beach. 10 minutes to 2 hours.
- Stop at Cathedral Gully for a quick photo opp of the eroding cliffs. 5 minutes.
- Stop for lunch at a brewery or winery
- Brew Moon: Good beer and good pizza.
- Pegasus Bay Winery: Not cheap, but good food and wine. Reservations needed in the high season.
- Black Estate Winery: About the same price as Pegasus Bay Winery. Reservations may be needed in high season for lunch.
- Mt Beautiful Two Rivers Winery and Cafe: The setting is not as idyllic as the other two wineries on the list, but the food is good and a lot more reasonable prices.
- If you are into birds, stop by the Brooklands Lagoon on your way into Christchurch. The lagoon is a great spot to watch waterbirds with many bird hides available.
- If you have extra time head through Christchurch to Barnett Park, there is a valley in the park and at the head, up a flight of stairs is one lava cave, and on the west side of the valley, there is a larger cave. Some good walks in the area include Sumner Promenade, Taylor’s Mistake Walk, and Godley Walkway.