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New Zealand has so much to offer with wonderful vineyards, beaches, wildlife, geothermal pools and hip urban cities. If you are short on time and only have a week to explore then we have created a perfect itinerary that covers all of these highlights. The road trip starts and ends in two large cities that both have airports – Wellington and Christchurch.
Here is our suggested 7 day / 1 week road trip itinerary:
Wellington to Christchurch road trip route
You can start this road trip after flying into Wellington airport, or after completing this 7 day north island Auckland to Wellington road trip >
Note: We did this Wellington to Christchurch 1 week itinerary during the summer months (summer is November – March) so the driving conditions and activity availability will be slightly different in winter.
Car hire for Wellington to Christchurch road trip
Public transport is pretty poor between cities in New Zealand, and many attractions are usually a drive out of town, so for that reason we would recommend hiring a car or campervan for your road trip.
You can pick up your hire car / campervan as soon as you arrive at Wellington airport. We personally recommend JUCY rentals or Apex rentals for excellent service, or use rentalcars.com to compare different prices from all the rental car companies in New Zealand.
From our own experience we do not recommend Omega Rental Cars for car hire (filthy car, very poor customer service and unauthorised payments coming out of our account months after our trip finished) – please avoid them!
FURTHER READING: New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors >
Wellington to Christchurch one week road trip itinerary
Day 1: Wellington
Your road trip starts in Wellington which was named “the coolest little capital in the world” by Lonely Planet. Wellington is a compact harbourside city surrounded by hills with an excellent craft beer/coffee/restaurant scene, heaps of nature and lots of museums and galleries for culture lovers.
Day 1 will be your first full day in Wellington after arriving in the city the day before (so you will need to book 2 nights accommodation).
Things to do in Wellington:
Wellington’s most famous street with a bohemian and eclectic mix of cafés, tattoo shops, international restaurants, bars, galleries and trendy independent shops.
Weta Workshop is a special effects and prop company based in the suburb of Miramar, known for their work on the Lord of the Rings films. They offer a variety of behind the scene tours – check out their website for more details or book onto a Weta Workshop movie tour >
Wellington has an amazing craft beer scene and on this half day tour you get to visit three of the city’s top breweries and sample their beers. Book a half-day brewery tour >
Wellington Cable Car
New Zealand’s only running funicular railway runs between the main shopping street – Lambton Quay, and Kelburn – a suburb in the hills overlooking the city and harbour. At the very top you’ll find the botanic gardens, Cable Car Museum and Zealandia wildlife sanctuary. Book a Zealandia by Day Tour >
Te Papa museum
New Zealand’s famous national museum has some excellent exhibitions – a perfect activity if it is a cold and rainy day in Wellington!
Wellington accommodation for 2 nights
BUDGET – The Dwellington
Highly rated hostel with chef’s style kitchen, cinema room with Netflix, games room and outdoor areas.
MID RANGE – Rydges Wellington
Centrally located hotel with swimming pool, award-winning restaurant and views of Wellington’s harbour.
LUXURY – Sofitel Wellington
Stylish accommodation with rooms having vintage-inspired gold and bronze coloured decor and rain shower, plus views of the hillsides and Botanic Gardens.
CAMPERVAN SITE – Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park
Holiday Park located in Lower Hutt – 15km from central Wellington. Spacious grounds with BBQ area, communal kitchens, private spa and Sky TV room.
Check out these other recommendations for accommodation in Wellington!
Day 2: Wellington to Picton
Wellington > Picton: 3 hours 10 minutes
Today you will take your vehicle onto the ferry to cross the Cook Strait to reach the south island for the next overnight destination – Picton.
There are two ferry companies – the Interislander and Bluebridge, and both make 3 crossings to Picton a day with the earliest leaving Wellington at 8am. Facilities are different depending on which ship you board but generally you’ll find bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, lounges and outdoor viewing decks. On some you can even book your own private cabin. Be sure to book your ferry ticket well in advance especially in summer – book an Interislander Ferry Ticket between Wellington and Picton >
Picton is a small seaside town located near the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound with a pretty seafront filled with cafés and restaurants serving delicious freshly caught seafood. It is a great place base for exploring the sounds on a boat cruise or kayaking tour, or if you have a few extra days – hiking the famous Queen Charlotte Track.
Things to do in Picton:
Queen Charlotte Sound Mail Boat Cruise
Scenic afternoon cruise onboard a working mail boat delivering post and groceries to the local residents, with a stop at Ship Cove. Book a mail boat cruise or read our Delivering post on the Picton Mail Boat Cruise blog post >
Dolphin watching and island wildlife sanctuary cruise
Take a scenic journey through the sounds whilst looking out for dolphins, then head to Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary for a 1 hour nature walk. Book a wildlife cruise >
Bob’s Bay Reserve
Secluded beach located a 30 minute walk from Shelley Beach near Picton town that is great for picnicking or swimming. You can take the lower or upper track to get there, but the latter has incredible views of the sounds.
Seafood Odyssea cruise
This is one for foodies! Take a three hour cruise on the Queen Charlotte Sound whilst sampling local Sauvignon Blanc and seafood dishes such as Regal Salmon, Greenshell Mussels and Cloudy Bay Clams. Book a seafood cruise >
Picton accommodation for 1 night
BUDGET – Piwaka Lodge
Highly rated hostel with private rooms/dorms situated in the heart of town opposite the supermarket.
MID RANGE – Bay Vista Waterfront Motel
Motel located on the waterfront with all apartments having full kitchen facilites and some having a patio with panoramic views. Located a 5 minute walk from local restaurants in the marina.
LUXURY – Picton Beachcomber Inn
Hotel overlooking Picton Harbour with outdoor pool, on-site restaurant and some rooms with a spa bath and balcony.
CAMPERVAN SITE – Picton TOP 10 Holiday Park
Holiday Park located 1km from the town centre with solar-heated swimming pool, BBQ facilities, spa, kitchen and free WIFI.
FURTHER READING – Ultimate New Zealand bucket list – top 50 things to do
Day 3: Picton to Blenheim
Picton > Blenheim: 25 minutes
Continue onwards on your Wellington to Christchurch road trip and take a short 25 minute drive to Blenheim, which is the main base for reaching many wineries in the Marlborough region. Blenheim is the sunniest town in New Zealand and one of the great wine making regions of the world – 75% of the country’s wine is produced here.
Things to do in Blenheim
Enjoy a day sampling award winning wines at cellar doors on a Marlborough wine tour. Check out the Marlborough wine trail and plan your own journey, or avoid drink-driving and book onto a half day wine tour or a full day wine and gourmet tour >
Cycling and wine tour
If you like cycling then you can take a guided bike and wine tour of Marlborough visiting 5-6 wineries. The tour starts at 9.30am so you will need to leave Picton early to arrive in time. Book a Full-Day Guided Biking Wine Tour >
Tip: If you are visiting Blenheim during the month of February, be sure to time your visit to coincide with the annual Marlborough Wine and Food Festival!
Also if you happen to be visiting Blenheim on a Sunday then check out the Marlborough Farmers market to pick up some gourmet delights to pair with your bottle of local Kiwi wine.
Not a wine fan?
If wine really isn’t you thing then you can skip the overnight stay in Blenheim and book an extra night in either Wellington, Picton, Kaikoura or Hanmer Springs depending on which of these places have the most activities you want to do!
Blenheim accommodation for 1 night
BUDGET AND CAMPERVAN – Spring Creek Holiday Park
Holiday park with cabins, chalets and powered campervan sites. Facilities include swimming pool, BBQ, TV room, showers, kitchens and laundries.
MID RANGE/LUXURY – Chateau Marlborough
Luxury self-contained suites with on-site swimming pool, bar and spa.
MID RANGE/LUXURY – Marlborough Vintners Hotel
Boutique hotel surrounded by vineyards in the heart of the Marlborough wine region, with hot tub, fitness centre and restaurant and bar showcasing local wines.
Day 4: Blenheim to Kaikoura
Blenheim > Kaikoura: 1 hour 50 minutes
Check out of your Blenheim accommodation and head onwards down the east coast to the next overnight stop – Kaikoura. Here are a couple of suggestions of places you might like to stop off at on the way there.
Peter Yealands Estate
Located a 30 minute drive from Blenheim, this epic vineyard is so big that you can take a self guided drive around the Peter Yealands Estate. The grounds are gorgeous with thousands of rows of vines, ocean views and some of the friendliest free roaming chickens we have ever met! The award-winning Cellar Door hosts complimentary wine tasting sessions, and cheese picnic hampers are available to purchase and eat in the picnic spots within their grounds. Address: Corner of Seaview and Reserve Roads, Seddon 7285
The Store is a lovely beachside cafe with an outdoor garden and amazing coastal views. Located halfway between Blenheim and Kaikoura it is a perfect stop if you want to grab some coffee, breakfast or lunch (breakfast dishes are served until 1pm, and lunch dishes from 11am onwards). Address: 5748 State Highway 1, Kekerengu, Marlborough
Kaikoura is a rugged coastal town known for its abundant wildlife and its sperm whale population. Check into your accommodation and spend the afternoon either out on the ocean, or taking a drive/walk around the local area.
Things to do in Kaikoura:
Whale and dolphin watching
Get up close up to giant sperm whales or watch/swim with hundreds of friendly dusky dolphins on a cruise with stunning coastal alpine scenery. Book a whale watching tour or a dolphin encounter >
Kayak with seals
Go kayaking around the peninsula whilst fur seals weave and dive around you! Book a Seal Kayaking Adventure >
Point Kean Seal Colony
Head to this wildlife reserve with awesome rock formations to watch fur seals lazing around on the rocks. This is a great spot to go to at sunset and handily located right next to a car park. Note: keep a good distance from the seals as to not disturb them.
Kaikoura Peninsula walkway
Take a 3 hour hike along a walkway with superb coastal vantage points high up on the cliffs, before taking a path down to the coast to walk along the beach and view the seals splashing about in the sea.
Kaikoura is home to some of the best seafood in the whole of New Zealand and we recommend a visit to the legendary Kaikoura Seafood BBQ stall for some freshly caught crayfish, lobster, scallops or whitebait fritters. Another popular seafood stall further down the coast is Nin’s Bin, which also sells similar seafood dishes.
If you are self catering then there are a few large supermarkets in town, otherwise have dinner and drinks at one of the many restaurants in town. Coopers Catch is great for budget fish and chip meals!
Kaikoura accommodation for 1 night
BUDGET HOSTEL – Dolphin Lodge
Affordable private rooms and dorms in a central location, with views of the coastline and the mountain ranges, plus garden, deck and hot tub.
MID RANGE – Kaikoura Boutique Hotel
Boutique Hotel housed in a historic 1880s building just 10 minutes walk from Kaikoura town.
LUXURY – Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses
Very expensive luxury hotel with ocean views, outdoor pool and a restaurant. Rooms have a spa bath, fireplace, balcony and rain shower.
CAMPERVAN SITE – Kaikoura TOP 10 Holiday Park
Holiday Park with heated swimming pool (seasonal), spa and BBQ facilities, and convenience stores and restaurants opposite the park.
Day 5: Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs
Kaikoura > Hanmer Springs: 1 hour 50 minutes
Continue with your Wellington to Christchurch road trip and head onwards to the small alpine town of Hanmer Springs for an afternoon of adventure or just pure relaxation!
Things to do in Hanmer Springs:
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools
This is the largest naturally heated thermal pools in New Zealand with 15 outdoor pools, a spa and waterslides set among landscaped gardens and alpine forest. You could easily spend most of the day here relaxing! Book a Hanmer Spring Thermal Pools Day Pass >
Speed along the Waiau Gorge on an exciting 30-minute jet boat adventure travelling across just centimetres of water with fun 360 degree spins! Wheeeeeee!!! Book a Jet Boat tour >
Explore the mountain landscapes of Hanmer Springs on a 2-hour Quad Bike safari, either on your own bike or riding in tandem. Book a Quad Bike Safari >
White water rafting
Adventure lovers will love riding the grade 2 rapids of the Waiau Gorge on a 2-hour white water rafting expedition. Book a White Water Rafting Tour >
Conical Hill and Heritage Forest walk
Take a short uphill walk through forest to the top of Conical Hill for stunning views of Hanmer Springs. For a list of other local hikes, visit the DOC website >
If you are self catering then there is a small Four Square supermarket in town, otherwise have dinner in the the Monteith’s Brewery Bar or at one of the restaurants in town serving Asian or European cuisine.
Hanmer Springs accommodation for 1 night
BUDGET – YHA Kakapo Lodge
Centrally located hostel with private rooms/dorms, large communal kitchen and dining room, TV lounge, deck, garden and BBQ area.
MID RANGE – Settlers Motel
Centrally located boutique motel with studio and apartment accommodation (some with private back patio).
LUXURY – The St James Premium Accommodation
Studio accommodation with mountain views and balconies or patios, located a few minutes walk to the thermal pools and restaurants.
CAMPERVAN SITE – Hanmer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park
Beautiful and modern holiday park with wood fired hot tubs and free BBQ areas. Located just a 5 minute walk from town and the thermal pools.
Day 6: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch
Hanmer Springs to Christchurch: 1 hour 50 minutes
Check out of your accommodation and either enjoy a morning of more Hanmer Springs activities or continue onwards towards Christchurch.
Christchurch is the south island’s biggest urban city known for its English heritage and some of the oldest buildings in New Zealand. In 2011 a huge earthquake destroyed many of the historic buildings in the city centre – the damage is still visible today but the city has slowly been re-inventing itself.
Check into your accommodation and spend the afternoon exploring the attractions in the city centre.
Things to do in Christchurch city centre:
Free walking tour
This 2-hour free guided walking tour runs twice a day at 11.30am and 2pm and takes you on a gentle loop walk around the city visiting all the main highlights. Book your free place on Green Kiwi Tour’s website >
The cardboard cathedral replaced Christchurch’s original cathedral which was damaged in the 2011 earthquake. It is the only cathedral in the world made substantially of cardboard and was designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.
Huge 21 hectare park is located in the city centre and has more than 10 different gardens, conservatory complex, gift shop and visitor centre.
Enjoy a boat ride along the River Avon on a 30-minute Edwardian-style punting tour. Book a punting tour >
Explore the sights of Christchurch with a full-day hop-on and hop-off vintage tram ticket. You can also enjoy a 4-course fine dining meal onboard. Book a vintage tram tour or 4 course dinner tour >
Christchurch accommodation for 1 night
BUDGET – Jailhouse Accommodation Christchurch
Highly rated hostel inside a renovated historic prison with private rooms/dorms. Facilities include cinema room and free off-street parking, and is located a 20 minute walk from the city centre.
MID RANGE – Colombo in the City
Modern motel located a 5 minute walk from the city centre with kitchen facilities and balcony.
LUXURY – Hotel Montreal
Elegant hotel located in the city centre with suites featuring a kitchenette and balcony.
CAMPERVAN SITE – Christchurch TOP 10 Holiday Park
Holiday Park located just outside Christchurch city centre with indoor heated swimming pool, BBQ facilities, spa and TV room.
Day 7: Christchurch and surrounding areas
Today is the final day of the Wellington to Christchurch road trip. Take a drive out of the city and explore some of the surrounding areas on a day trip from Christchurch:
Akaroa is a small town with charming colonial architecture remnant of the French and British settlers who founded the area. You can reach Akaroa by car in an hour and a half, or book onto a shuttle bus from Christchurch (there are a handful of companies that offer this service). Activities in Akaroa include a harbour nature cruise, kayaking or swimming with dolphins!
Take a gondola to the top of Port Hills for amazing 360-degree views of Christchurch and the surrounding mountains. At the top is a souvenir shop, cafe and ‘Time Tunnel experience’. Book a Christchurch Gondola ride >
The TranzAlpine Train
If you have some cash to splash you can take the scenic TranzAlpine train over to the west coast and back again taking in epic views of the Southern Alps. The return journey starts at 8.15am and returns to Christchurch at 6.30pm and fares are around $378 NZD for a return ticket – read more about the journey and book online >
Go for a hike on the Godley Head Loop Track
This easy 3 hour walk features beaches, coastal views and WWII remains, and starts at Taylors Mistake Beach – a 30 minute drive out of Christchurch city centre. Read more about the walk on the DOC website >
Where to next?
The evening marks the end of your 1 week Wellington to Christchurch road trip in New Zealand.
Alternatively you could take the TranzAlpine scenic train to Greymouth, pick up another rental car and explore the west coast – heading south to Franz Josef, or up north to Abel Tasman National Park and Nelson.
Check out our other New Zealand blog posts:
- Things to do on Waiheke Island: the ultimate guide
- Christchurch to Nelson drive itinerary – 8 day round trip
- Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand
- A day trip to Milford Sound, New Zealand
- Auckland to Rotorua 5 day round trip road trip
- The 10 best day trips from Auckland, New Zealand
- The best day trips from Queenstown, New Zealand
- 20 New Zealand food and drinks items you need to try
- Visiting the Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth
Watch our New Zealand South Island video
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