The northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island is a great spot to spend a few days away from the rat race. Yes, Canterbury is home to more than the Canterbury Crusaders. In Marlborough, it’s sav blanc, seafood and scenery all the way.
Of course you could drive from Christchurch to Blenheim in one day, but to really explore this part of the world, take your time and spend a few days on the road.
Flying into Christchurch and driving into the Garden City, you’d have no idea anything had gone awry over the last few years. In Hagley Park people are sprawled out in the sun; there are sports games and dog walkers.
The CBD is no longer a heap of rubble. There are vast open spaces – a shock for the first-time visitor or those of us who haven’t visited since before the February 2011 earthquake – but that quickly wears off when you talk to the locals. They don’t see the chaos any more. They’ve picked up the pieces and are getting on with life. And there’s still plenty to do in and around the city, with bars and restaurants popping up around town. Set up a base at the Ibis Christchurch and spend a few days exploring before heading north.
These natural springs bubble up in several pools, all at different temperatures, so you can visit at any time of the year. Bring your jandals (for Aussies that’s thongs or flip flops) to hop around in the winter. There’s also a day spa on site, with a menu of cocktail body scrubs – yes mojitos and cosmopolitans – that you’ll want to lick off your skin!
Once you’re scrubbed squeaky clean, check out Hanmer’s local wineries. Marble Point has a brand new restaurant on the edge of the Waiau River with sweeping views to the mountains. Potential brides should book asap! Pegasus Bay Winery also makes for a great lunch spot.
After a long lunch and a few wine tastings under your belt, there’s no point getting back on the road. The Heritage Hanmer Springs hotel has plenty of country charm and is quite close to the Thermal Reserve.
If eating crayfish on the beach and whale watching are high on your to-do list, then spend a night in Kaikoura and tick off both. The coast is windswept and rugged; bring a jacket, but it’s the scenery that will take your breath away.
Nin’s Bin is a local institution – the iconic crayfish truck has been parked permanently on the beach about 15km north of Kaikoura since the 1970s. Crayfish is caught daily and you pay by weight, with an average price of $60. Team that with a bottle of local world-renowned sauvignon blanc. It’s a bit different to your average fish and chips but takes a casual beachside lunch to a whole new level.
Crayfish might be delicious, but the whale watching from Kaikoura is arguably the best reason to stay here. Giant sperm whales live just off the coast and most days they oblige visitors by lazing on top of the water before gracefully diving about a kilometre below to find lunch. These huge whales are known to eat great white sharks and are a sight to behold.
You’ll be up early for whale watching so spend the night before nearby – Manakau Lodge sits in the shadow of Mount Fyffe.
Queen Charlotte Sound
Drive three hours north from Kaikoura, park your rental car at Picton wharf, leave it overnight and take a water taxi to Lochmara Lodge, hidden in Queen Charlotte Sound. If you love to hike, kayak or just sit on a veranda and gaze at nature, you’ll love this eco park. Lush forest covers rugged hills of green down to the sea. Visit the wildlife recovery centre with native birds and explore the glow worm trails after dinner.
Pick up your car and drive back to Blenheim, where flights depart for major airports around New Zealand. If you’ve got time, hire a bike and head out to some of the wineries along The Marlborough Wine Trail.
Hans Herzog Estate hand presses all their wine and a bite to eat outside under the vines is hard to beat. Over at Auntsfield Estate, you’ll see where New Zealand’s original muscat wines were planted. The underground cellar dates back to 1873 and was only recently rediscovered. It’s fascinating to learn how they’re bringing those vines back thanks to an historic collection now being cloned and propagated to replant the vineyard.
For plane spotters, a visit to Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is a must. Sir Peter Jackson’s priceless collection of antique war planes and memorabilia is displayed here in a purpose-built museum. A great way to end your roadtrip, before boarding a modern airplane and heading home!