Road Trip: Picton to Christchurch via Nelson and Golden Bay 7-Day Itinerary

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A road trip from Picton to Christchurch via Nelson and Golden Bay will be a drive you will never forget. Taking a longer way, you will be treated to magical views, gorgeous beaches, and beautiful national parks. You will be amazed by the diversity of experiences on offer in a relatively short journey.

To begin your road trip, take the ferry from Wellington, it is a three-and-a-half-hour journey. Crossings are at fixed times so you can expect to arrive at either lunchtime, late afternoon, or evening. From there it’s just under two hours' drive to your first stop Nelson. The whole road trip equates to roughly 791 kilometres of distance. Along this route, there are numerous things to see and places to stop, which is why we’ve made a list of highlights, so you won’t miss a thing. This guide recommends roughly 7 days to experience all highlights, but you can extend or shorten this itinerary to suit your trip specifically.

Day 1 & 2: Picton to Nelson

Drive from Picton: 2 hours (139km)


After arriving off the ferry in Picton, it is a two-hour drive to Nelson. The oldest European city in the South Island, Nelson boasts a reputation for arts and crafts as well as alluring proximity to national parks and Tasman Bay. It is recommended to spend a couple of days in this sunshine city to experience all it has to offer.

There are a lot of museums and art galleries to explore. Learn about the history of the region in the Nelson Provincial Museum or step back in time at the Founders Heritage Park. Stroll around this replica pioneer village full of character buildings and established gardens.

Walk to the centre of New Zealand. Located in the Botanical Reserve at the start of the Maitai Valley, it got its name from the central survey point in the 1800s. Depending on age and fitness the walk can take 30-60minutes. It is a steep but short walk.

Cycle the Great Taste Trail. This cycle trail showcases the diversity of the region's ecosystems along with vineyards and food experiences.

Visit Cable Bay Adventure Park. This park is packed with adrenaline-filled activities from mountain biking, quad biking, paintballing, flying fox and more!

Or if you would like to get out of the city, take a drive to Nelson Lakes National Park. Lake Rotoiti in St Arnaud is a beautiful place to explore, only a 1 hour and 15 minutes drive from the city centre.

For accommodation, Nelson has a large selection of different stays from award-winning resorts, motels, and lodges to hostels. Make sure you book in advance during the summer season. 

Day 3 & 4: Nelson to Golden Bay

Drive from Nelson: 1 hour 48 minutes (109 km)

After spending a couple of days in Nelson, set off in the morning from Nelson to Golden Bay. It is recommended to stop in Kaiteriteri on the way, only one hour drive from Nelson.


Kaiteriteri allows easy access to gorgeous beaches and the start of the Abel Tasman National Park. Hire sea kayaks or join a water tour to get explore this pristine part of Aotearoa. If you are looking for something more adventurous you can visit Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park or simply relax on the beach with your book.

Takaka - Golden Bay

Just over an hour’s drive away from Kaiteriteri, the town of Takaka is the heart of the Golden Bay area, boasting boutique cafes, and a multitude of artists and their work. After you’ve checked out the galleries, it is recommended to check out Te Waikoropupū Springs, the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand.

Just out of town is the iconic Mussel Inn, a must-visit for craft beer lovers and a wonderful place to soak up the local atmosphere and music scene. There is plenty of accommodation in Takaka, or you can head on from the Muscle Inn to the sleepy town of Collingwood, the gateway to Kahurangi National Park.

For your second night’s accommodation, it is recommended to drive on to the west coast at Wharariki Beach. The holiday park is a great place to stay and has accommodation options for tents and cabins. There is easy access to a glorious stretch of coastline with undisturbed wildlife and a range of walking options leading to Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit. 

Day 5: Wharariki Beach to Murchison

Drive from Wharariki Beach is 3 hours 30 minutes (235 km)

From Wharariki Beach you drive inland to Kawatiri. This route skirts the Kahurangi National Park. This is a good place to stretch the legs and stop for a picnic lunch after the three-hour drive. There is a selection of short walks from 40 minutes to 3 hours return. If you’d rather keep going, Murchison is only another 30-minute drive down the road. This is a great base for whitewater thrills. From jetboating to rafting, there are rivers in many directions and gorgeous scenery to soak in around every corner. As well as some slower-paced walks full of beautiful wildlife and surroundings, like the picture below!

There is a wide variety of accommodations for all budgets from motels to lodges and backpacker hostels to choose from.

Day 6: Murchison to Hanmer Springs

Drive from Murchison: 2 hours 12 minutes (175 km)

In the morning you will drive from Murchison to Hanmer Springs. The drive will take just over 2 hours but allow for time to make stops along the way.


It is a 45-minute drive from Murchison to Maruia. Maruia is an isolated mountain village surrounded by vast untouched wilderness, lakes, and rivers. Check out one of the many walking tracks, visit the Maruia Falls created by an earthquake in 1929 or go for a soak in Maruia’s famous hot springs.

Lewis Pass

A short drive from Maruia, the road will take you through the Lewis Pass, which is an old Māori trading route. If you’re keen on exploring more of this beautiful landscape, there are plenty of both long and short DOC walks in the area.

Hanmer Springs

It is a one-hour drive from Lewis Pass to Hanmer Springs. If you missed soaking in the hot pools in Maruia, make sure you visit the world-famous Hanmer Springs Thermal & Pools. After a lot of sightseeing and activities, soak and relax in the natural hot pools. If you still have some energy, you can embrace your inner child on the hydro slides. 

After your time in the pools, you can explore other activities: forest walks, horse trekking, trout fishing, jet boating or bungy jumping! A lot of the accommodation options are within walking distance from the town centre. Choose between hotels, motels, lodges or camping for your stay in Hanmer Springs.

Day 7: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch

Drive from Hanmer Springs: 1 hour 42 minutes (133 km)

Today is the last day of your trip. From Hanmer Springs to Christchurch it is a 1-hour 45-minute drive. One last stop before you arrive in Christchurch is the Weka Pass, a gorge created by the Waipara River by corroding the soft limestone and mudstone in the area.

Weka Pass

Visit the Weka Pass Historic Reserve where you walk the approximately 40-minute track to see historic Māori drawings. Or catch a ride on the Weka Pass Railway. This is a historic railway using vintage steam and diesel-electric train system. Make sure you book in advance for the train experience. Then it’s only an hour-long drive before arriving in Christchurch for a well-earned rest and taste of cosmopolitan culture.


You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring Christchurch. Visit the International Antarctic Centre and discover a range of immersive experiences to learn about the Antarctic.
Check out the incredible collection of artefacts from Canterbury and around the world at the Canterbury Museum. Or take a stroll around Christchurch Botanical Gardens where you will see some of the country’s most fascinating art and sculptures.

If you are looking for more adrenaline-fuelled activity, visit Christchurch Adventure Park for ziplining, mountain biking and hiking adventures.

After a day of sightseeing, it’s time to embrace Christchurch’s amazing food scene. To help you choose your guide has highlighted some favourite places. If you like Indian food, check out Maharaja, King of Snake if you are looking for Asian fusion or Francesca’s Italian Kitchen to enjoy an authentic Italian meal. 

This road trip itinerary will be one to remember. Happy travels from all of us at _mode.

Updated on October 13, 2022.

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