Why not try this New Zealand South Island 8 Day Road Trip that we did in January 2023? You’ll see many of the highlights of the South Island in quite a short time. This is a summary with suggestions of places to stay, eat, see and approximate distances etc. A thank you to our daughter-in-law and son who were a huge help in planning this for us. I’ve posted quite a few photos but not too many, as it will be far better for you to see everything for yourselves and create your own memories!
P.S. Since we did this trip, I have become more and more homebound because of a bad hip. I’m about to have a hip replacement op. Are you in perhaps in the same boat? Well you can ‘armchairr’ travel this trip and then do it later?!
Dunedin to Moeraki: 76 kms 1 hr
You will head north up the East Coast on Route 1. Moeraki itself is a pretty little village to stroll around in. Sadly we were not able to have crayfish at The Fish Wife Cafe. It was closed due to staff shortages. Try your luck – apparently really worth it.
We had brunch at Moeraki Boulders Cafe. Edible but not excellent.A short walk to the Boulders, which we thought rather overrated.
Moeraki Boulders to Darfield: 270 kms 3 hrs 15 mins
Still on Route 1 heading north. We spent the night there with friends who live on a small holding.
Christchurch as a stop over would be good if you are wanting to explore this interesting and attractive city.
Christchurch to Kaikoura: 180 km 2 hr 30 mins
We had lunch with friends at their home in Christchurch and then headed north, still on Route 1, as we were keen to see the seals at Ohau Point. Somehow we missed the turn off – disappointing, as apparently it’s a wonderful place to view quite big colonies of them. You will head further north up the east coast. As you near Kaikoura, the scenery becomes more and more dramatic, with the sea on your right, many tunnels and huge rocky cliffs on your left – with big metal traps to catch falling rocks!
Kaikoura is an attractive small town and we had an excellent meal at The Pier Hotel, https://www.thepierhotel.co.nz/, which had been recommended by our airbnb. I had the crayfish that we’d hoped to have in Moeraki. Be sure to book in advance! We were lucky to get a table, only because we got there at 5.30 pm.
Make time for an easy stroll on the beach as you will see one or two seals on the rocks.
Kaikoura to Kekrengu: 60 km 45 mins
We hadn’t been able to get accommodation in Kaikoura, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Our Airbnb, Wairewa (meaning ‘lake’), run by Donna, was delightful; it was up on a hill out of Kekrengu village, in beautiful countryside. https://www.airbnb.co.uk/
Kekerengu to Picton, Marlborough Sound:100 km 1 hr 15 mins
Longer if it is raining and your’e a cautious, sensible driver – that’s my husband!
It’s a spectacular drive, still on Route 1, especially as you get closer to Picton. The road winds its way between forested mountain slopes. We were interested to see though that it was mostly pine plantations. At Blenheim, a winelands area, you will turn inland slightly, on Route 62, but then continue north on Route 1 to Picton. This is about as far north as you can go by road on South Island. From there, it becomes a very broken coastline.
Short detour to Waikawa
As we were early for our cruise, we decided to take a short drive out along the road from Picton to Waikawa and then a bit further along. The scenery is jaw-dropping, with precipitous drops down to Queen Charlotte Sound on the left (which is part of Marlborough Sound) and the forested mountain rising up very steeply on the right. Here the trees all looked genuinely indigenous and we could see loads of huge healthy looking cycads. Alarmingly, big chunks of the tarred road had broken off in places. Be prepared to feel a bit anxious! Amazingly, there are many homes built on the steep slopes.
We drove back to Waikawa and had lunch at The Jolly Roger – which wasn’t very jolly or very nice! Then back to the E-Ko Tours office in Picton to catch our cruise.
E-Ko Tours: https://www.e-ko.nz/
Dolphin and Wildlife Tour to Motuara Island Sanctuary: 4 hrs
Be sure to book in advance.
Their slogan is “Adventures for the soul” – love it, and it certainly was for us. It was a fantastic experience, even though it was raining the whole time.
The boat cruises leisurely between islands in Marlborough Sound, eventually arriving at Motuara Island, which is a pristine and protected wildlife sanctuary. We had a brief glimpse of Hector dolphins, as well as seals and many sea birds and then on the island saw the New Zealand robin, wood pigeon and Bell bird. The guides were excellent.
Picton to Motueka: 155 km 2 hr 30 mins
We weren’t able to get accommodation close to Picton and in any case we prefer the smaller places. You’ll head west from Picton on Route 6 to get to Motueka, inland for a while and then following the coast more or less on Route 60. We found the Airbnb, Dave’s ‘Hidden on High’, https://www.airbnb.co.uk/, which was a very convenient stop over for our early cruise the next day. It was also rather nice to spend 2 nights in the same place! It is right in town, but no ‘easy walk’ to a restaurant, so we opted to just have a snacky supper in our room. There is a communal kitchen which we could also have used. We had our own en suite bathroom. It is a well run enterprise. Our en-suite room was clean and comfortable.
Motueka to Kaiteriteri Beach, Tasman Sea: 12.5 km 15 min
We had a coffee before our cruise, at the Waterside Cafe, right on beautiful Kaiteriteri beach.
Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle Full Park Scenic Cruise: 4 hrs
Be sure to book in advance. https://www.abeltasmanseashuttles.co.nz/
Although the scenery of the Tasman sea is beautiful, it was a bit disappointing for us from the wildlife perspective. We didn’t see much and there was no accompanying patter, as there was with E-Ko Tours. This is understandable given that the emphasis is on it being a shuttle service, people getting on and off from different hikes in the area. It was still worth it though – some really beautiful unspoilt beaches. The boat wasn’t crowded and you’re bound to meet some interesting people.
There are plenty of other options for the more energetic – and younger – e.g kayaking Brochures are available for cruises as well as walks/hikes in the area. Being birders ourselves, we were very happy to see some very tame oystercatchers.
We had lunch at the Waterside Cafe – my panacotta dessert was exceptional!
There are a few shops there at the beach, and we stocked up on snacky things for another supper in our room.
We had time to spare and so did a short walk up a hill from Kaiteriteri beach to Kaka Point – yet another beautiful secluded beach.
Then if you still have time, take a drive to Stephen’s Bay from Kaiteriteri and do the short walk to Cook’s Cove – obviously where James Cook is said to have landed.
St. Stephen’s Bay to Motueka: 11 km, 13 min
Motueka to Murchison: 130 kms, 1 hr 45 mins
You’ll double back from Motueka to pick up Route 6 again, to travel in a southwesterly direction towards the west coast and Westport. Hidden on High Dave had said that it was a gorgeous drive to Westport and it certainly was. especially after Murchison.
We had breakfast at Murchison, right in town. It was adequate but ‘nothing to write a book about’ as my husband would say! We had thought of having a look at Murchison Falls but somehow missed that!
Murchison to Westport: 100 km, 1 hr 20 mins,
But give your selves extra time if you like to take lots of photos – like me!
You weave your way through the spectacular Buller Gorge, criss-crossing the Buller river many times. The roads in New Zealand are generally excellent, as was this stretch of the M6.
Our Airbnb was at 35 Domett Street, Westport. https://airbnb.com/ It wasn’t anything special but it didn’t matter as we were hardly there. You might prefer to book somewhere out of the town center – we weren’t able to find anything like that. Again make sure you start looking for accommodation well in advance of your trip, especially if it is peak season.
Domett Street, Westport to Mokihinui: 40 km, 30 mins
We drove north up the West Coast a bit in the afternoon. It was disappointing. It no doubt gets better the further north you go, but can’t guarantee that!.
Mokihinui to Carter’s Beach: 48 km, 40 min
We had dinner at Donaldo’s right on the beach. I’d got wise by now and booked. https://donaldoscafe.co.nz/ Our main meals were both excellent; D had a chicken pizza and I had a prawn/shrimp cocktail as a mains. My citrus and berry tart for dessert was a bit disappointing though.
Carter’s Beach to Tauranga Bay: 9 km 7 min
Tauranga Bay is an absolutely stunning beach from where you can walk to Cape Foulwind lighthouse. It’s about 3.4km one way and should take about 60-75 minutes. We only did a short walk that evening. Be sure to take binoculars and cameras with you – we regretted not bringing these. The path is excellent and extensive rewilding has gone on in the area, with huge success. Schools and local communities have been involved.
There are informative boards at intervals along the way to the lighthouse, telling the visitors all about this as well as the wildlife one can expect to see. It was such a gorgeous evening – not a whiff of ‘Foulwind’! Our slowish, shortish walk suited us perfectly! You’ll see plenty of birds, and seals lazing on rocks far below the path. We were thrilled to see a fantail right next to the path.
Westport to Punakaiki via Charlestown: 56 km 50 min
(and a short drive from Tauranga Bay to Westport.)
Which included possibly the BEST 3 SHORT WALKS YOU’LL EVER DO IN YOUR LIFE?!
- Walk 1: Tauranga Bay towards Cape Foulwind Lighthouse:
The weather was still glorious, so we decided to go back to Tauranga Bay from our airbnb, but this time armed with binoculars and a good camera. And it was so worth it. We could see the seals so much better and lots of seal pups, some suckling, others a bit lost, clambering over rocks and bleating for their mothers. And we saw quite a few birds as well, including the strange Weka. These birds walk rather than fly and can be seen snuffling about under the shrubbery. We walked a bit further this time, just until we could see the lighthouse. We had another full day’s driving and sight-seeing ahead of us.
The drive down to Punkaiki travelling south down the west coast on the M6 is also breathtakingly beautiful and dramatic, especially on a lovely sunny day, like we had.
We stopped at the Pancake Cafe in Paparoa National Park for brunch, aptly named as it is directly opposite Pancake Rocks. The food was excellent. D had a 3-tiered bacon pancake and I had Hollandaise eggs.
- Walk 2: Pancake Rocks and Blowholes circular walk.
Fortified by our meal, we set off on this easy circular walk. As we had now come to expect, the path was excellent, but with a few narrow step sections, you couldn’t manage in a wheelchair. There are ooh and aah moments around every turn of the path. The rock formations are astounding and the water down below a turquoise that defies belief. The Blow Holes weren’t blowing hard as, of course, when it’s a lovely day, they won’t!
Punakaiki to Arthur’s Pass Village, via Greymouth: 140 km 1hr 50 mins
More beautiful coastline to Greymouth on the M6. Here you will turn inland onto the M7 for a short distance before turning left onto Route 73, to head south east to the Pass. Mountains came into view, getting ever larger and a few patches of snow on some, even though it was mid summer.
We actually stopped a short distance from Arthur’s Pass Village at The Stagecoach Inn, which was where we were booked in for the night. If you’re wanting a unique and amusing experience and your’e not too critical about anything to do with your stay, this place it for you! It’s in the area of Otira, just at the start of Arthur’s Pass. https://otirahotel.co.nz/ We had hoped to stay in the village but it is very small and everything was fully booked. Again, a reminder to try and book long in advance if you want the best choice of accommodation, as there is not an awful lot on offer.Our timing was good, arriving at 2.20pm, just in time to check in.
- Walk 3: Bridal Veil’s Falls: 1.4 kms
Again, I chose a short walk, as for us, we’d already walked quite a lot! I found this site helpful: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/ It was so lovely; the excellent path (as always) winds up and up through an unspoilt beech forest up to the falls, where there is a table with benches to sit and admire them. They are not hugely impressive but definitely worth seeing. We saw some lovely birds too; South Island robin, a chaffinch, a grey warbler, and a silver eye.
Altogether, we’d done close to 8 kilometers on these 3 walks, which for us is quite enough!
The hotel is crazy! The owner and staff all seemed very eccentric to us, and the interior is stuffed with the most bizarre decor you will ever see! And out in the yard too, the assortment of items jumbled everywhere is mind-boggling.
The ‘dinner’ left a lot to be desired too. My hoki fish and chips was pretty tasty – not the ‘mud pie’ for dessert though. D had a toasted sandwich – there was not a big choice! Neither of us slept too well in the too soft bed and too much light coming in the window through the skimpy lace curtains.
Arthur’s Pass to Akoroa (Banks Peninsula): 215 km 3 hrs (excluding stops)
Arthur’s Pass is very scenic and somewhat dramatic but not so much that one felt nervous driving through it. You will continue travelling south east on Route 73.
Then you travel through the Cheeseman Ski area, which of course is also mountainous and once again, completely different to anything we’d seen before. D was very patient with me, stopping for me to take photos innumerable times.
Look out for Route 75, which is the main road heading to the Banks Peninsular. Little River is a pretty village on this route and a good place for a break. We had an excellent brunch at the Little River Cafe. The hash browns were the best I’ve ever tasted – the chef’s ‘secret ingredient’ is rosemary! There is also a touristy shop adjoining the cafe, full to the brim with tempting beautiful crafts and paintings etc.
We arrived in the gorgeous picturesque lakeside/estuary village of Akaroa just after 2 pm.
One tends to have negative notions about motels, but the Tresori was excellent, very central and everything within walking distance. There is a strong French influence in Akaroa and it was a delight exploring it. We walked along the shore up to the small lIghthouse, before having dinner at Bully Hayes. Again I had booked just to be sure of a table. www.bullyhayes.co.nz It was good! D had 3 mini burgers and I had a salad as a mains and a creme brulee for dessert.
Pohatu Penguins tour: https://www.pohatu.co.nz
If you love wildlife, this is for you – it was inspiring! What a privilege to see these adorable diminutive white-striped penguins. They are the second smallest penguins after blue penguins. First there is a beautiful drive, up and down the hills above Akaroa, to the farm at Pohatu inlet, where it all happens. Our guide was excellent and we had commentary all the way there.
We saw the penguins being fed – how wonderful!
Also, we were lucky enough to see some of the ones that had been nursed back to good health being released back into the inlet from where they will go out to sea. Then we walked along the lake shore to a hide where you try and spot these diminutive birds ‘swimming wild’ through binoculars or the guide’s telescope! They are like tiny black specks on the vast expanse of water.
These penguins are under threat for various reasons and so a band of wonderful people are giving them a helping hand. They have even provided a good number of nesting boxes. In good times, the birds would dig burrows but when the ground is dry and hard, this is very hard work for them. There were a couple of burrows, but the ground was seemd very hard, so the poor little penguins must have had a job to dig it out! We loved that the parent birds that are being nurtured all have names!
It was a late arrival back in Akaroa – 11pm! They even offered lifts back to your accommodation, but we declined and walked back to our motel – me wishing we’d accepted as I was tired – and when I looked at my pedometer it was not surprising as I had walked a total of 13,358 steps and 9.35 kms in the course of the day!
Akoroa to Dunedin: 412 km 5 ½ hrs
Homeward bound. We left early at 7.45 am for the long journey back to Dunedin. We’d hoped to stop somewhere for brunch near Timaru. Be warned, there don’t seem to be a lot of options! We’d hoped to do Nosh restaurant, but Google maps couldn’t find it – or the cafe I found in Omaru! It was pouring with rain. And we were getting crosser and crosser! We gave up and went on to Boulders Cafe which was where we’d had our first meal on the first day of our tour. It was a good meal and a good place to end our tour – a lovely sea view.
We were back in Ravensbourne, Dunedin just before 3pm. What a wonderful New Zealand South Island 8 Day Road Trip – why not give it a go?!
If you want a laugh, go to my ‘Tripped’ post, about my glacier experience in Franz Josef in 2008! https://footeloosefancyfree.com/frozen-foote-at-the-foot-of-franz-josef-glacier/