New Zealand’s South Island is overwhelmed by breathtaking landscapes and unique wildlife encounters. So, if you happen to be in Christchurch and need to head to Kaikoura, we have listed some epic stops for you to enjoy along the way. This way, you won’t just be travelling from point A to point B – you’ll get to experience some truly remarkable and unforgettable places.

Campervan on road in New Zealand

What is the Christchurch to Kaikoura drive distance?

The distance from Christchurch to Kaikoura is about 181 km via State Highway 1, which means you’re looking at around 2 hours and 30 minutes on the road. But why would you want to rush on such a scenic journey? Yes, you could head straight there, but there are so many incredible places to see along the way that you sure don’t want to miss. We’d say take it slow and soak in the sights.

To give you some suggestions, below are 6 amazing stops you might want to check out if you need to rest and unwind for a bit.

What are some places to visit between Christchurch and Kaikoura?

  1. Christchurch
  2. Woodend
  3. Waipara
  4. Gore Bay
  5. Mount Lyford Village
  6. Kaikōura
Quick stats

181km trip distance

day roadtrip

Campervan recommended

road trip map

Stop 1: Christchurch

Christchurch Botanical Gardens

First up, Christchurch! Kick off your journey wandering by the Avon River, right in the heart of the city. Then, take a little time-travel trip at the Canterbury Museum. Need a moment of zen? The Christchurch Botanic Gardens have got you covered. And let’s not overlook the New Regent Street – it’s packed with all sorts of unique shops just wanting to be discovered.

Now, if you’re up for a mini-adventure, the expansive Canterbury plains or the serene Akaroa harbour are just 1.5 hours from the city centre.

Sightseeing #1: International Antarctic Centre

Just a stone’s throw from Christchurch International Airport, there’s this cool place called the International Antarctic Centre. It’s like your very own frosty doorway to the wonders of Antarctica. You’ll get to experience an Arctic storm without suffering from frostbite or go for a wild ride on an all-terrain vehicle. You can even hang out with penguins and see what life is like at Scott Base. And the best of all? A 4D theatre and cinematic ice tour that makes you experience as if you’re in the middle of the icy wilderness in Antarctica.

Sightseeing #2: Heathcote Valley

Hidden away in a valley on the west side of the Port Hills, you’ll find Heathcote Valley. It’s your ticket to the magical Christchurch Gondola. As you climb over valleys, with birds flying below, you’ll be treated to views stretching from the city and Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps and Banks Peninsula. At the top, you can step back in time with the Time Tunnel ride before grabbing a bite at the Red Rock Cafe.

Stop 2: Woodend

On a hot spring day, people head to the sandy beach at Woodend, Canterbury, New Zealand

Alright, next up, we’re heading into the charming little gem that is Woodend. This place is a haven for anyone who loves to be outdoors. Fancy a beach day? Woodend’s got a sandy patch that’s perfect for a short walk, a swim, or even some surfing if you’re feeling adventurous.

More of a picnic person? The Waimakariri River is calling your name. And if you’re someone who can’t resist a good walk or bike ride, there are plenty of tracks to choose from. The best part? You’re surrounded by vineyards and farmland, but you’re still only a short drive from Christchurch.

Sightseeing #1: Woodend Beach

First up, let’s swing by Woodend Beach. It’s more than just a stretch of sand – it’s an outdoor haven. Feel like catching some waves? This is your spot. More into sandcastle-building? There’s plenty of room for that. If you’re up for a bit of exploration, there are walking and cycling tracks readily available for you. And when your tummy starts grumbling, Woodend Township has got some seriously tasty local spots to grab a bite.

Sightseeing #2: Lake Pegasus

Next on the list, we’re off to Lake Pegasus, and trust us – it’s as picturesque as they come. This tranquil, man-made lake is perfect for a leisurely stroll along its beautiful trails, practising your golf swing on a top-tier course, or setting up for a picture-perfect picnic. In the mood for more adventure? The Te Kōhanga Wetlands is a must-see, or you could just make your way over to the beach. With abundant birdlife and stunning vistas, Lake Pegasus really is a little slice of heaven.

Stop 3: Waipara


Next up, we’re off to Waipara, a stunning valley just a short 45-minute drive north of Christchurch. Now, if you’re a wine lover, you’re in for a treat. This place is known for its top-notch pinot noir and riesling. But don’t worry, there’s more to Waipara than just wine – there’s a whole host of things to do. You could check out an olive grove, swing by a nut farm, or even meander through fields of lavender.

Want a bit of a workout? There’s a cycleway that links the wineries together, or you could go for a leisurely walk at the Iron Ridge Quarry Park, home to an art gallery filled with steel sculptures. For something a bit different, why not spend the night in a revamped railway carriage or hop on board the historic Weka Pass Railway? Waipara really does pack a punch.”

Sightseeing #1: Weka Pass Railway

The Weka Pass Railway is more than just your typical train ride – it’s a trip down memory lane through New Zealand’s rich history. You’ll be cruising through the striking limestone landscapes of the Weka Pass, catching sight of ancient Maori rock art, and maybe even discovering hidden fossils in the cliffs. And Frog Rock and the chorus of bird species you’ll come across on the journey? Just the cherry on top! Trust us, this railway adventure is one for the memory books!

Sightseeing #2: Torlesse Wines

Named after Charles Torlesse, an early resident of Canterbury, Torlesse Wines is one of Waipara’s oldest wineries that really does honour his legacy. Here, most grapes are hand-harvested, and they don’t mix the different vineyard components until the final blend. So grab a glass, take a sip, and soak up the history.

Stop 4: Gore Bay

Gore Bay

Finished with the beauty of Waipara? Great, your next stop could be the ruggedly appealing Gore Bay. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill beach – it’s a chill spot with holiday homes and a camping ground adding to its character. Ideal for those peaceful morning strolls by the Pacific.

Up for some adventure? There’s a local walking track ready to be explored, or you could take in the sights from the Cathedral Cliffs viewpoint. Got some extra time? Consider dropping by the scenic Manuka Bay or visit the quaint town of Cheviot. It boasts a cool stone church and some really good places to eat.

While many visitors might just breeze through this area, those who pause and take it all in will find its subtle allure.

Sightseeing #1: Cathedral Cliffs

These aren’t just any cliffs – Cathedral Cliffs are like massive artwork crafted by Mother Nature. Rain and time have worked together to shape these impressive 2-million-year-old rock formations into something truly amazing. Each pillar has its own lifespan, some for a few years, others for decades. But the cycle of creation and erosion continues, making this place a must-see.

Sightseeing #2: Gore Bay Beach

Next up, swap the city hustle for some chill time at Gore Bay Beach. You can stroll along the rocky shore, admire the striking rock formations, or enjoy a picnic while watching surfers catch the waves. It’s only a quick 500m drive from downtown Gore Bay, making this beach a perfect escape spot.

Stop 5: Mount Lyford Village

Mount Lyford Village

Now, for this one – we have to say that this is a detour you won’t regret. Just a few hours’ ride, you’ll find yourself at Mount Lyford Village. This place is bursting with fun. You could be tearing down the tracks at Mt Lyford Alpine Resort or simply kicking back, soaking up those stunning Canterbury views.

And the best part? It’s got something for everyone – whether you’re all about the thrills or prefer the chill. Trust us, you won’t find a dull moment in Mt Lyford.

Sightseeing #1: Mount Lyford Alpine Resort

If you’ve decided to make a stop here at Mount Lyford Village, our first suggestion for you to check out is the Mount Lyford Alpine Resort. It’s a hidden treasure for ski buffs in New Zealand. You’ve got 20 km of slopes and views from Mt Terako that’ll make your jaw drop. And the snow? Don’t mention it – those south-easterly storms can stir up a unique snowfall, turning the resort into your very own winter wonderland.

Sightseeing #2: Mount Lyford Adventure Park

Next, head off to Mount Lyford Adventure Park. If you’re a mountain lover, this place is your dream playground. Spread across three stunning peaks, this family-run park is a buffet of outdoor fun – mountain biking, hiking, skiing, skating – you name it. You can roam 27km of trails with views that’ll take your breath away, or kick back in a wood-fired bathtub at Lake Stella Mountain Retreat. Just remember, you’ll need a mountain access pass each time you visit.

Stop 6: Kaikōura


Of course, last on our list is Kaikōura – a place that’s buzzing with marine life. It’s the perfect spot to catch sight of fur seals, take on thrilling whale-watching adventures, and experience the gorgeous views of the rugged Seaward Kaikōura Range. And while you’re here, do yourself a favour and visit the Fyffe House – it’s a neat little slice of local history. Oh, and one more thing – don’t even think about leaving without trying the town’s famous crayfish. It’s too tasty to pass up.

Sightseeing #1: Point Kean Viewpoint

Once you’re in Kaikōura, do yourself a solid favour and head over to the Point Kean Viewpoint. Part of the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, this spot is seriously impressive. You’ll be treated to awesome ocean views, catch sight of marine wildlife, and stumble upon some historical sites. The trail starts a bit steep, but it soon turns into a chill stroll where you’ll come across rock formations, sunbathing seals, and local birds.

Sightseeing #2: Kaikōura Museum

Next up in Kaikōura, step back in time at the renowned Kaikōura Museum. It’s packed with exhibits that bring the area’s natural, social, and cultural history alive, showcasing its special bond with the sea. Don’t miss the “New Normal” exhibit – it provides an insightful look into the aftermath of the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. Here, history isn’t just shown – it’s shared in a way that’ll engage anyone, no matter their age.

Have a few ideas in mind already?

Kick-start your adventure with us! Travellers Autobarn Christchurch is conveniently located near the airport, making it easy to get on your way — north or south.

Looking for other amazing travel ideas on New Zealand’s South Island? Check out our South Island Road Trips, packed full of itineraries and tips.

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