Cathedral Gully, things to do between christchurch and kaikoura, New Zealand

Things to Do on the Drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura

Last Updated: 5th September, 2023

Welcome to the ultimate road trip guide for exploring the breathtaking drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura! This short adventure up the coast of New Zealand’s South Island is filled with incredible landscapes, charming towns, and unique experiences, making for a memorable journey through the Canterbury region. Here, I have found the best things to do between Christchurch and Kaikoura, so you can plan your perfect road trip!

Kaikoura seal spotting, Things to Do on the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura

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Driving from Christchurch to Kaikoura

The drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura is stunning, and is perfect to make into a memorable road trip! The drive is relatively short (at just under 2.5 hours long), and travels through a variety of landscapes, from golden plains covered in vineyards to magnificent mountain ranges and rugged coastline.

  • Driving Distance: 181 kilometres (112 miles)
  • Driving Time: ~2.5 hours with no stops

The Best Route from Christchurch to Kaikoura:

The most common route is to take State Highway 1 (SH1) north along the coast from Christchurch. This highway is well-maintained and offers beautiful views along the way.

Road Conditions between Christchurch and Kaikoura

The road conditions are generally good, but it’s essential to be careful as the route can be winding, especially as you pass through the Kaikoura Ranges! In recent years, parts of SH1 have been affected by earthquakes and landslides, but most of the road has been repaired and is open to traffic. Before you head off, you can check for any delays or road closures here!

8 Awesome Places to Stop on the Drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura

So now that you know the best way to drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura, let’s make this a memorable and awesome road trip! There is lots to see and do on the drive from Christchurch and Kaikoura, so it is an awesome opportunity to slow down and take in a few of the sights along the way! Here are some of the best things to do between Christchurch and Kaikoura:

1. Enjoy a glass of wine in the Waipara Valley | Waipara

Stopping at Waipara Valley along the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura is an incredible detour into one of New Zealand’s renowned wine regions. This picturesque valley is only 45 minutes north of Christchurch and is the perfect first stop to stretch your legs and take in some of the breathtaking scenery (possibly even while enjoying a vino!)

  • Distance from Christchurch: 58 km
  • Driving time from Christchurch: 45 minutes
  • Recommended Visiting Time: 1-2 hours
Black estate vineyard,Things to Do on the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura
Black Estate Winery

Waipara Valley is filled with several award-winning wineries and is known for producing high-quality wines, in particular Pinot Noir and Riesling varieties. There are some gorgeous tasting rooms and excellent vineyard restaurants to stop at, where you can sample one (or a few!) of the many excellent local wines while enjoying the stunning views!

Best Wineries to visit in Waipara Valley

  1. Greystone Wines | 100% organic wines by one of New Zealand’s top wine producers!
  2. Black Estate | Enjoy their lovely wine and organic, locally sourced food while overlooking their sunny vineyards
  3. Terrace Edge Vineyard and Olive Grove | Organic family vineyard with an excellent tasting room
  4. Waipara Hills | Award-winning food and wine in their gorgeous, sunny courtyard overlooking the vineyards
  5. Waipara Springs Winery | Fabulous wine tasting at their winery cafe, with awesome lunch platters to share

2. Weka Pass Railway | Waipara

The Weka Pass Railway is an awesome place to stop on the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura, for both the kids and the kids at heart! The Weka Pass is a historic railway line located near Waipara, where you can see (and even ride!) one of their old-fashioned steam or diesel locomotives!

  • Distance from Christchurch: 58 km
  • Driving time from Christchurch: 50 minutes
  • Recommended Visiting Time: 30 minutes -2 hours

This incredible train ride begins at Glenmark Station, before travelling over 12.8km of scenic railway line through the unique limestone beauty of the Weka Pass. The train journey begins through flat farmland and past the stunning Waipara vineyards, before climbing up and into the Weka Pass. Here, you can see the incredible limestone of the Pass weathered into unusual shapes – including Frog Rock and Seal Rock. You might also be able to spot seashells and fossils in the walls as you drive by, as this pass used to be underwater!

Location: Glenmark Station, 113 Glenmark Drive, Waipara 7483

3. Look for fossils at Motunau Beach | Greta Valley

  • Distance from Christchurch: 95 km
  • Driving time from Christchurch: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Recommended Visiting Time: 1-2 hours

If you have a little extra time and fancy stretching out those legs with a beach walk, you could take a short detour from the Greta Valley and drive down to the stunning coastal settlement at Motunau Beach! This area is awesome to explore, with scenic coastal walks and Happy Valley Coastal Reserve within short distances of each other!

Motunau Beach is renowned for being a spot to find fossil crabs trapped in boulders – which are thought to be over 5 million years old! So keep your eyes peeled for any funny-looking rocks – there may be a treasure inside!

From the lookout at Motunau Beach, you can also catch a glimpse of the gorgeous Motunau Island. This island is a sanctuary for many different seabirds, including oystercatchers, fairy prions, white-fronted terns, and over 5000 little blue penguins! NZ fur seals also use this island as a lovely and secluded place to rest.

4. Stop for Coffee and Cake | Cheviot

Cheviot is the largest town on the coastal route between Christchurch and Kaikoura, and – at the halfway point of the drive – a perfect place to stop for those road-trip refreshments!

  • Distance from Christchurch: 112 km
  • Driving time from Christchurch: 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Recommended Visiting Time: 1 hour

We love to stop at Cheviot along our drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura! It has some charming cafes to visit for a (much-needed) coffee, as well as a range of interesting art galleries and boutique shops.

coffee and cake in cheviot, Things to Do on the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura

Best Cafes in Cheviot

  1. Number Eight Cafe | A charming country cafe offering fabulous coffee and fresh, local produce, as well as a stone grill menu!
  2. The Cheviot Tea Rooms | Classic kiwi cabinet food and awesome coffee in a cosy setting
  3. Cheviot Trust Hotel | Relaxed pub with a licensed family restaurant, serving up hearty pub meals

5. See the Magnificent Cathedral Gully | Gore Bay

This is one of the ultimate ‘hidden gems’ of the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura, and should be on your road trip bucket list! Just a 10-minute detour along a side road from the charming town of Cheviot will take you to the coast, with magnificent scenery that you could expect in Bryce Canyon!

  • Distance from Christchurch: 120 km
  • Driving time from Christchurch: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Recommended Visiting Time: 1 hour
gore bay, Things to Do on the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura

Gore Bay

The road winds its way along the serene Jed River, before emerging at the coast by Gore Bay. This stunning bay is incredibly peaceful, with a rocky beach and gentle waves. Gore Bay is considered to be one of New Zealand’s safest surfing beaches, and is perfect for surfers of all skill levels!

Cathedral Gully

This lookout is one of the highlights of Gore Bay, and definitely a spot to check off your bucket list. From the viewpoint right beside the road, you can get an incredible view over the cliffs and down into Gore Bay. Cathedral Gully is an impressive sight, made from layers of sandstone and siltstone that have been eroded over thousands of years into towering pillars. Make sure to bring your camera for this awesome photo opportunity!

cathedral gully, Things to Do on the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura

Gore Bay Tourist Drive

If you are keen to step off the beaten track, (or off the highway) then you could plan to include the Gore Bay Tourist Drive in your trip planning! This gorgeous scenic route in the Hurunui District takes you from Domett to Cheviot, looping past the incredible Cathedral Gully and Gore Bay. It is 21km long, and takes around 30 minutes to drive without breaks.

6. Have a picnic at St Anne’s Lagoon | Cheviot

  • Distance from Christchurch: 117 km
  • Driving time from Christchurch: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Recommended Visiting Time: 30 minutes

St Anne’s Lagoon is a small and peaceful reserve just a few minutes north of Cheviot, and is a beautiful place to stop and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. This is a well-maintained sanctuary, looked after by the Hurunui District Council, and includes a few picnic tables and a public toilet.

7. Go Seal Spotting on the Kaikoura Coastline | Goose Bay

After a windy section of highway through the hills, you will finally emerge onto the stunning Kaikoura coastline! The first glimpse of the sea is always so exciting, with the bright blue of the Pacific Ocean shining through the lush forests.

  • Distance from Christchurch: 160 km
  • Driving time from Christchurch: 2 hours 5 minutes
  • Recommended Visiting Time: 30 minutes
nz fur seal, Things to Do on the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura

The highway passes the small settlement of Oaro and begins to follow the rugged coastline. Here, there are several rest spots, where you can park the car and clamber onto the rocks for a little bit of seal spotting! This area is home to the New Zealand fur seal, and you should be able to catch a glimpse of these locals as they sunbath on the rocks along the coast. Keep your eyes peeled – they can be very camouflaged along the rugged beach!

8. See the Maori Artwork at Raramai Point | Kaikoura

Kaikoura has a rich cultural heritage that is deeply intertwined with the traditions and stories of the indigenous Māori people. Centuries ago, the Māori were drawn to this area by its abundant marine life, which served as a plentiful source of sustenance. To celebrate this history, several traditional Maori artworks have been placed along the coastline, stretching from Oaro to Clarence.

  • Distance from Christchurch: 167 km
  • Driving time from Christchurch: 2 hours 10 minutes
  • Recommended Visiting Time: 20 minutes

At Raramai Point, just north of the Raramai Tunnel, is a rest stop with a beautiful example of Maori artwork. The pou (a carved wooden post) identifies this as a place of cultural significance to the Maori people. It depicts Te Ruahikihiki, who was a chief at Omihi pa. Raramai Point also contains an intricate vapour-blasted design of dolphins in the concrete, celebrating the presence of these marine animals in the area.

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Thank you for reading my post on the best things to do between Christchurch and Kaikoura! It is one of my favourite drives in New Zealand, and wonderful to make into a full day roadtrip!

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