The South Island kicks off spectacularly. The whole northern section is supremely alluring, from the indented bays and secluded hideaways of the Marlborough Sounds and the sweep of golden beaches around Nelson, to an impressive array of national parks, sophisticated wineries around Marlborough and the natural wonders of Kaikoura. In fact, if you had to choose only one area of New Zealand to visit, this would be a strong contender. Most visitors travel between the North Island and the South Island by ferry, striking land at the town of Picton – drab in the winter, lively in the summer and surrounded by the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. Here, bays full of unfathomably deep water lap at tiny beaches, each with its rickety boat jetty, and the land rises steeply to forest or stark pasture.
To the west, the lively yet relaxed city of Nelson is the starting point for forays to wilder spots further north. Some of the country’s most gorgeous walking tracks and dazzling golden beaches populate the Abel Tasman National Park, while yet further north the relatively isolated Golden Bay offers peaceful times in chilled settings with uniformly decent weather. The curve of the Golden Bay culminates in a long sandy bar that juts into the ocean, Farewell Spit, an extraordinary and unique habitat. It borders the Kahurangi National Park, through which the rugged and spectacular Heaphy Track forges a route to the West Coast.
The least visited of the region’s well-preserved areas of natural splendour is the sparsely populated Nelson Lakes National Park, principally a spot for tramping to alpine lakes or fishing, though the nearby Buller River also attracts raft and kayak rats.
South of Picton, you can slurp your merry way through Marlborough, New Zealand’s most feted winemaking region centred on the modest towns of Blenheim and Renwick. A night or two in one of the rural B&Bs and some time spent around the wineries happily balances the more energetic activities of the national parks, and sets you up nicely for a few days of ecotourism in Kaikoura where whale watching and swimming with dolphins and seals are the main draws.
The region’s weather is some of the sunniest in the land, particularly around Blenheim and Nelson, which regularly compete for the honour of the greatest number of sunshine hours in New Zealand.
The Abel Tasman National Park, 60km north of Nelson, is stunningly beautiful with golden sandy beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters and lush green bushland, interspersed with granite outcrops and inhabited by an abundance of wildlife. Deservedly it has an international reputation that draws large numbers of trampers, kayakers and day-trippers from November to March. But don’t be put off. Despite being New Zealand’s smallest national park – just 20km by 25km – the Abel Tasman absorbs crowds tolerably well and compensates with scenic splendour on an awesome scale.
Most visitors come to see the coastline. Some come to hike the Abel Tasman Coast Track with its picturesque mixture of dense coastal bushwalking, gentle climbs to lookouts and walks across idyllic beaches. Abundant water taxis mean you can pick the sections to hike and get a lift back when you’ve had enough. Others come to kayak the spectacular coastline, spending leisurely lunchtimes on golden sands before paddling off in the late afternoon sun to a campsite or hut. Hiking and kayaking can be combined, and you might even tack on sailing the limpid waters or swimming with seals to round off the experience. You can stay in the park, either at one of the DOC huts and campsites, or in considerably more luxury at the ever-increasing number of attractive lodges.
With guided and advanced trip booking you can be whisked from Nelson straight into the park, missing potentially fascinating nights in the surrounding gateway towns. Motueka is best for organizing your own trip, but most kayaks and water taxis leave from tiny Marahau, at the park’s southern entrance. A few trips depart from diminutive Kaiteriteri, where a gorgeous beach tempts many to stay.
The park’s northern reaches are accessed from Takaka where Abel Tasman Drive leads to Wainui, Awaroa and Totaranui, all on the Coast Track.
Since around 1500, Maori made seasonal encampments along the coast and some permanent settlements flourished near the mouth of the Awaroa River. In 1642, Abel Tasman anchored two ships near Wainui in Golden Bay and lost four men in a skirmish with the Ngati Tumatakokiri, after which he departed the shores. Frenchman Dumont d’Urville dropped by in 1827 and explored the area between Marahau and Torrent Bay, but it was another 23 years before European settlement began in earnest. The settlers chopped, quarried, burned and cleared until nothing was left but gorse and bracken. Happily, few obvious signs of their invasion remain and the vegetation has vigorously regenerated.
There is a plethora of ways to explore the Abel Tasman National Park – no matter what combination of activities you’d like to try, there’s almost bound to be an operator who’ll oblige. Relatively few people tramp the Inland Track, and most are keen to stick to the Coast Track, with its long golden beaches, clear water, spectacular outcrops and the constant temptation to snorkel in some of the idyllic bays. Unsurprisingly, the coast is where you’ll find most of the accommodation, ranging from beachside campsites to swanky lodges. Water taxis take you virtually anywhere along the coast and as far north as the lovely beach at Totaranui. They usually give a commentary along the way, though there are also dedicated cruises, some visiting the seal colony on the Tonga Island Marine Reserve and Split Apple Rock, a large boulder that has split and fallen into two halves, like an upright neatly cleaved Braeburn.
The intricate details of the coast are best explored by kayak, either on a guided trip or by renting kayaks and setting your own itinerary. Better still, combine kayaking with walking a section of the Coast Track. Water taxi drop-offs and guided kayaking are banned in the section of park north of Totaranui, making this a much quieter area to hike and hang out.
Occupying the northwestern tip of the South Island, GOLDEN BAY curves gracefully from the northern fringes of the Abel Tasman National Park to the encircling arm of Farewell Spit, all backed by the magnificent Kahurangi National Park. With bush-clad mountains on three sides and waves lapping at the fourth, Golden Bay’s inaccessibility has helped foster the illusion that if it is not a world apart it is certainly otherworldly.
Wainui Bay, just east of the main town of Takaka, is most likely the spot where Abel Tasman first anchored, guaranteeing his place in history as the first European to encounter Aotearoa and its fierce inhabitants. The apparently isolating presence of Takaka Hill keeps today’s bayside communities from growing virally, though the area has attracted a cross section of immigrants, alternative lifestylers, craftspeople, businessmen and artists, which goes some way to explaining the population’s perceived spirit of independence. The area has been particularly popular with German-speakers who now constitute ten percent of the five thousand or so residents. Sunny, beautiful and full of fascinating sights, Golden Bay deserves a couple days of your time and has a knack of inducing you to stay longer.
North of Collingwood the road skirts Ruataniwha Inlet, and, after 10km, passes The Innlet. The road now follows the coast 11km to Puponga, at the northern tip of the South Island, where you can stay at the excellent Farewell Gardens Motor Camp. Around 2km on is Puponga Farm Park, a coastal sheep farm open to the public; check out the visitor centre.
From the Puponga Farm Park, there are great views right along Farewell Spit – named by Captain Cook at the end of a visit in 1770 – which stretches 25km east, often heaped with tree trunks washed up from the West Coast. The whole vast sand bank is a nature reserve of international importance, with salt marshes, open mudflats, brackish lakes and bare dunes providing habitats for over a hundred bird species: bartailed godwit, wrybill, long-billed curlew and Mongolian dotterel all come to escape the Arctic winter, and there are breeding colonies of Caspian terns, and large numbers of black swans. Sadly, the unusual shape of the coastline seems to fool whales’ navigation systems and beachings are common.
Short walks head to the outer beach (2.5km) and the inner beach (4km); both provide good views of the spit, which is otherwise off-limits except on guided tours from Collingwood.
The huge expanse of Kahurangi National Park encompasses 40,000 square kilometres of the northwestern South Island, between the wet and exposed western side of the Wakamarama Range and the limestone peaks of Mount Owen and Mount Arthur. Over half New Zealand’s native plant species are represented, as are most of its alpine plants, and the remote interior is a haven for wildlife, including rare carnivorous snails and giant cave spiders.
The park’s extraordinary landscapes are best seen by walking the Heaphy Track (78km; 4–5 days), which links Golden Bay with Kohaihai Bluff on the West Coast. One of New Zealand’s Great Walks, it is appreciably tougher than the Abel Tasman Coast Track, though it compensates with beauty and the diversity of its landscapes – turbulent rivers, broad tussock downs and forests, and nikau palm groves at the western end. The track is named after Charles Heaphy who, along with Thomas Brunner, became the first European to walk the West Coast section of the route in 1846, accompanied by their Maori guide Kehu. Maori had long traversed the area heading down to central Westland in search of pounamu for weapons, ornaments and tools.
The western end of the track is over 400km by road from the eastern end, so if you leave gear at one end, you’ll have to re-walk the track, undertake a long bus journey, or fly back to your base at Nelson, Motueka or Takaka. Track transport only runs from late October to mid-April: in winter everything becomes more difficult, requiring taxis to reach trailheads.
The east coast end of the track starts at Brown Hut, 28km southwest of Collingwood. Golden Bay Coachlines run there from Nelson (departing 6.45am; $55), Motueka (8am; $45), Takaka (9.15am; $33) and Collingwood (9.35am; $24). From the west coast end of the track, you’ll arrive at the Kohaihai shelter, 10km north of Karamea. Even with the best connections you’ll need to spend nights in both Karamea and Nelson before returning to Takaka. The operators listed below provide services that can help avoid this.
0800 128 735,
trekexpress.co.nz. You’ll have to base yourself in Nelson, but they’ll run you from there to Brown Hut, pick you up at Kohaihai Shelter several days later, then run you back to Nelson that evening ($110).
03 525 9576,
heaphytrackhelp.co.nz. Takaka-based Derry Kingston will deliver your car to Karamea ($290 plus fuel costs). He then walks the track, meeting you partway to give you the keys.
0800 150 338,
remoteadventures.co.nz. Flying also gives you the chance to return to your car the same day you finish. This outfit will pick up in Karamea and fly to Takaka ($170/person).
Download DOC’s Heaphy Track brochure, or buy one at an i-SITE. It includes a schematic map that is satisfactory for hiking, though it is helpful to carry the detailed 1:150,000 Kahurangi Park map ($19).
03 528 9054,
naturetreks.co.nz. Guided walks along the track – and elsewhere in the park – are admirably handled by this ecologically caring operator, who run five-day trips ($1595).
Along the route, there are seven huts that must be booked and paid for year-round (Oct–April $30.60; May–Sept $15.50; book online at
doc.govt.nz), with heating, water and toilets (mostly flush). All except Brown and Gouland Downs have cooking stoves, but you need to carry your own pots and pans. There are also nine designated campsites that also must be booked (Oct–April $12.30, May–Sept $8.60) and are mostly close to huts, though you can’t use hut facilities. There is a two-night limit in each hut or campsite. Take all provisions with you, and go prepared for sudden changes of weather and a hail of sandflies.
Ninety percent of hikers walk the Heaphy Track from east to west, thereby getting the tough initial climb over with and taking it relatively easy on subsequent days.
(17km; 5hr; 800m ascent). A steady climb all the way along an old coach road, passing the Aorere campsite and shelter, and Flanagans Corner viewpoint – at 915m, the highest point on the track.
(7km; 2hr; 200m ascent). It’s a very easy walk across Perry Saddle through tussock clearings and down into a valley (passing the famed pole strung with used tramping boots) before crossing limestone arches to the hut. This is a great little eight-bunk hut (no cooking facilities) where you might hear kiwi at night.
(5km; 1hr 30min, 200m descent). Crossing Gouland Downs, an undulating area of flax and tussock.
(12km; 3hr; 400m ascent). Cross the grassy flatlands, winding in and out of small tannin-stained streams as they tip over into the Heaphy River below.
(12.5km; 3–4hr; 700m descent). If you have the energy it is worth pressing on to a haven of nikau palms – but sadly also less welcome sandflies.
(8km; 2–3hr; 100m ascent). It is possible to get from Lewis Hut to the track end in a day but it is more enjoyable to take your time and stop at the Heaphy Hut, near where you can explore the exciting Heaphy rivermouth: its narrow outlet funnels river water into a torrid sea, resulting in a maelstrom of sea and fresh water.
(16km; 5hr; 100m ascent). This final stretch is a gentle walk through forest down the coast until you reach Crayfish Point, where the route briefly follows the beach. Avoid this section within an hour of high tide, longer if it is stormy. Once you reach Scott’s Beach, you have only to climb over Kohaihai Bluff to find the Kohaihai Shelter car park on the other side – and hopefully your pre-arranged pick-up from Karamea.
The huge expanse of Kahurangi National Park encompasses 40,000 square kilometres of the northwestern South Island, between the wet and exposed western side of the Wakamarama range and the limestone peaks of Mount owen and Mount Arthur. over half New Zealand’s native plant species are represented, as are most of its alpine plants, and the remote interior is a haven for wildlife, including rare carnivorous snails and giant cave spiders.
The park’s extraordinary landscapes are best seen by walking the Heaphy Track (78km; 4–5 days), which links Golden Bay with Kohaihai Bluff on the West Coast. one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, it is appreciably tougher than the Abel Tasman Coast Track, though it compensates with beauty and the diversity of its landscapes – turbulent rivers, broad tussock downs and forests, and nikau palm groves at the western end. The track is named after Charles heaphy who, along with Thomas Brunner, became the first european to walk the West Coast section of the route in 1846, accompanied by their Maori guide Kehu. Maori had long traversed the area heading down to central Westland in search of pounamu for weapons, ornaments and tools.
The small town of KAIKOURA, 130km south of Blenheim and 180km north of Christchurch, enjoys a spectacular setting in the lee of the Kaikoura Peninsula, wedged between the mountains and the ocean. Offshore, the sea bed drops away rapidly to the kilometre-deep Kaikoura Canyon, a phenomenon that brings sea mammals in large and varied numbers. Whale watching and swimming with dolphins are big business here, and the presence of expectant tourists has spawned a number of eco-oriented businesses offering swimming with seals, sea kayaking and hiking.
Kaikoura got its name when an ancient Maori explorer who stopped to eat crayfish found it so good he called the place kai (food) koura (crayfish). Maori legend also accounts for the extraordinary coastline around Kaikoura. During the creation of the land, a young deity, Marokura, was given the job of finishing the region. First, he built the Kaikoura Peninsula and a second smaller peninsula (Haumuri Bluff). Then he set about creating the huge troughs in the sea between the two peninsulas, where the cold waters of the south would mix with the warm waters of the north and east. Realizing the depth of Marokura’s accomplishment, the god Tuterakiwhanoa said that the place would be a gift (koha) to all those who see its hidden beauty – and it is still known to local Maori as Te Koha O Marokura.
The Ngai Tahu people harvested the wealth of the land and seas until Te Rauparaha and his followers decimated them, in around 1830. The first Europeans to settle were whalers who came in the early 1840s, swiftly followed by farmers. The trials and tribulations of their existence are recorded in the Kaikoura Museum and the more evocative Fyffe House. Kaikoura ticked on quietly until the late 1980s when whale watching really took off and put the place on the tourism map. Since then it has steadily expanded, becoming more commercial, though without losing its small-town feel.
The Marlborough Sounds are undeniably picturesque, a stimulating filigree of bays, inlets, islands and peninsulas rising abruptly from the water to rugged, lush green wilderness and open farmland. Large parts are only accessible by sea, which also provides the ideal vantage point for witnessing its splendour. The area is part working farms, including salmon or mussel farms, and part given over to some fifty-odd reserve areas – a mixture of islands, sections of coast and land-bound tracts. The Sounds’ nexus, Picton, is the jumping-off point for Queen Charlotte Sound where cruises and water taxis provide access to the undemanding, varied and scenic Queen Charlotte Track. Heading west, Queen Charlotte Drive winds precipitously to the small community of Havelock, New Zealand’s green-lipped mussel capital, before exploring the spectacular vistas of Pelorus Sound and perhaps taking the backroads or a boat to view the rich swirling waters of French Pass.
Though the Queen Charlotte Track is primarily for hikers, mountain bikers can ride the whole thing in a day or two. There are two steep ascents but it is not overly technical, and with pack transfers and abundant accommodation you won’t need to lug heavy panniers. Most of the track is open to bikers year-round, though the northern quarter (Ship Cove–Camp Bay) is off-limits from December to February.
Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company operates a three-day Freedom Bike Ride with bike rental, transfers and comfortable accommodation at Punga Cove and Portage Resort.
Alternatively you can rent a mountain bike and organize your own trip, either camping or staying in cheaper accommodation.
Cook Strait ferries from Wellington arrive in Picton, a small harbour and tourist town sandwiched between the hills and the deep, placid waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. Many people stop only for a coffee, looking out over the water before pressing on, but Picton is the best base for exploring the Queen Charlotte Track, serviced by several water taxis, and a good spot for getting into the Sounds on cruises and kayak trips. The town itself has a few noteworthy attractions and it also makes a decent base for exploring the wine region around Blenheim, half an hour’s drive to the south.
There was a European settlement in the region as early as 1827 when John Guard established a whaling station, but Picton itself didn’t come into being until the New Zealand Company purchased the town site for £300 in 1848. Picton flourished as a port and service town for the Wairau Plains to the south but predominantly as the most convenient port for travel between the islands.
The 35km Queen Charlotte Drive between Picton and Havelock is a picturesque and spectacular backroad sliding past the flat plain at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound and climbing up the hills overlooking Pelorus Sound before descending to SH6 and Havelock itself. It is a slow and winding drive, but you may want to take it even slower by stopping to wander down to a couple of sheltered coves or up the Cullen Track (a 10min walk yields spectacular views). With water taxis providing convenient access to fabulous out-of-the-way spots, it may seem a little perverse to try to see the Marlborough Sounds by car. Doubly so when you start weaving your way around the narrow and twisting roads – don’t expect to average more than 40km/hour, but ultimately it is well worth the effort as the views through the ferns to turquoise bays are magical.
Around 18km west of Picton, a narrow road heads north to Anakiwa, the southern end of the Queen Charlotte Track. Here you’ll find a wharf used by water taxis taking hikers back to Picton, Anakiwa Lodge and Anakiwa Backpackers.
Picton is a pretty spot, but you’ve barely touched the region’s beauty until you’ve explored Queen Charlotte Sound. This wildly indented series of drowned valleys encloses moody picturesque bays, small deserted sandy beaches, headlands with panoramic views and cloistered islands, while grand lumpy peninsulas offer shelter from the winds and storms, and solitude for the contemplative fisherman or kayaker. For a taste of these labyrinthine waterways, take one of the many day-cruises from Picton, but to really appreciate the tranquil beauty you’re better off kayaking round the bays or tramping the Queen Charlotte Track. The relatively calm waters of the Sounds also give the opportunity for scuba diving, checking out the rich marine life of the huge wreck of a Soviet cruise ship.
The Queen Charlotte Track (71km one-way; 3–5 days; year-round) is a stunningly beautiful walk partly tracing skyline ridges with brilliant views across coastal forest to the waters of Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru sounds. It is broad, relatively easy going and distinguished from all other Kiwi multi-day tramps by the lack of DOC huts, replaced by some lovely accommodation. Access and egress is generally by boat from Picton. Water taxis can transport your bags to your next destination each day. Boats call at numerous bays along the way, so less ambitious walkers can tackle shorter sections, do day-hikes from Picton or take on the track as part of a guided walk.
The track passes through some grassy farmland and open gorse-covered hills, but both ends of it are forest reserves. There are a number of detours off the main track, including a short walk from Ship Cove to a pretty forest-shrouded waterfall, a scramble down to the Bay of Many Coves, or a foray to the Antimony Mines (where there are exposed shafts – stick to the marked tracks). To do the whole track in three days, get an early start from Ship Cove and plan to hike to Camp Bay. From there you have a fairly long day to Portage, then a relatively easy finish.
In July 1972, Marlborough County Council Livestock Instructor, S.G.C. Newdick, wrote “Vineyards: in regard to these, as there is a glut on the market of grapes there does not appear to be any likelihood of vineyards starting up in Marlborough in the foreseeable future.” In the intervening years Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc single-handedly put the New Zealand wine industry on the world map, and made the Marlborough Wine Country the largest wine region, with almost sixty percent of the national grape crop.
Many wineries go all out to attract visitors, using distinctive architecture, classy restaurants, art and gourmet foodstuffs. The profusion of weekend visitors from Nelson, Wellington and further afield has spawned a number of smart B&Bs throughout the district, trying to out-luxury one another. If this is what you’re after there’s little need to bother with Blenheim itself, particularly since most of the vineyards are closer to the small, equally unremarkable town of Renwick, 10km to the west.
In the early 1970s, BLENHEIM, 27km south of Picton, was a fairly sleepy service town set amid pastoral land: now it is a fairly sleepy service town completely surrounded by some of the most fecund and highly regarded vineyards in the land. It is also much visited and as a result has developed a passable café culture, but most of the attractions of note are beyond its rather conservative town limits.
The gravel plains that flank the Wairau River around the towns of Blenheim and Renwick form some of New Zealand’s most prized wine country. The region, sheltered by the protective hills of the Richmond Range, basks in around 2400 hours of sunshine a year, making it perfect for ripening the grapes for its esteemed Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes also grow well (guaranteeing tasty bubbly), as do olives, used for light golden olive oils.
The thriving city of Nelson, set on the coast in a broad basin between the Arthur and Richmond ranges, is beguiling. Low rent and rise, it is not much to look at, but its location – supremely placed for accessing Golden Bay, and Abel Tasman, Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes national parks – warm sunny climate, access to good beaches and a cluster of worthwhile wineries in the hinterland are powerful lures to tourists, painters and potters alike, all drawn by the sunlight, the landscape and the unique raw materials for ceramic art that lie beneath the rich green grass. All this makes the city one of the most popular visitor destinations in New Zealand. You can even do an Abel Tasman day-trip from Nelson using early buses, which give you enough time for a water taxi ride and a few hours’ walking along the Coast Track.
Within central Nelson itself the Suter Gallery and the lively Saturday Market are good diversions, but you’ll soon want to venture further, perhaps to Tahunanui Beach or the suburb of Stoke for the fascinating World of WearableArt museum.
The Nelson Arts Festival (twelve days in mid-Oct; w nelsonfestivals.co.nz) includes theatre, music, readings and street entertainment, much of it either free or costing just a few dollars. The city also hosts the Nelson Jazz & Blues Festival (eight days from Jan 2; w nelsonjazzfest.co.nz) at various venues around the city.
Nelson is one of the oldest settlements in New Zealand. By the middle of the sixteenth century, it was occupied by the Ngati Tumatakokiri people, some of whom provided a reception committee for Abel Tasman’s longboats at Murderer’s Bay (now Golden Bay), where they killed four of his sailors.
By the time Europeans arrived in earnest, Maori numbers had been decimated by internecine fighting and the nearest pa site to Nelson was at Motueka, though this did little to prevent land squabbles, culminating in the Wairau Affray in 1843. Despite assurances from Maori chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, that they would abide by the decision of a land commissioner, the New Zealand Company pre-emptively sent surveyors south to the Wairau Plains, the catalyst for a skirmish during which Te Rangihaeata’s wife was shot. The bereaved chief and his men slaughtered 22 people in retaliation but the settlers continued their land acquisition after numbers were boosted by a wave of immigrants from Germany.
Saturday morning should involve a pilgrimage to the renowned Nelson Market (8am–1pm), which takes over Montgomery Square. Artists are flushed out of their rural boltholes and stalls groan with hand-dipped candles, turned wooden bowls, bracelets made from forks and all manner of produce from the crafts community. Food stalls with mounds of fruit, endless varieties of fresh bread and fish, Thai and vegetarian dishes, preserves, coffee and cakes sustain you while you browse.
Two glacial lakes characterize the Nelson Lakes National Park, around 120km southwest of Nelson, Rotoiti (“little lake”) and Rotoroa (“long lake”), nestled in the mountains at the northernmost limit of the Southern Alps. Both are surrounded by tranquil mountains and shrouded in dark beech forest and jointly form the headwaters of the Buller River. Tramping (see Nelson Lakes hikes) is undoubtedly the main event and you could easily devote a week to some of the longer circuits, though the short lakeside walks are also rewarding.
The park’s subalpine rivers, lakes, forests and hills are full of birdlife, but it has offered little solace to humans: Maori passed through the area and caught eels in the lakes, but the best efforts of European settlers and gold prospectors yielded meagre returns. Now, recreation is all.
A great part of Nelson’s charm lies on its doorstep, particularly the excellent wineries to the west. Here the vines appreciate the combination of New Zealand’s sunniest climate and either the free-draining alluvial gravels of the Waimea Plains or the clay gravels of the Moutere Hills. Wineries are interspersed with the studios of a number of contemporary artists working in the Nelson region, many of whom exhibit in their own small galleries, showcasing ceramics, glass-blowing, woodturning, textiles, sculpture, installations and painting.
Almost everywhere of interest is located on or just off the much straightened SH60, which runs north from Richmond towards Motueka through rural scenery and sea views. A couple of kilometres north along SH60, the Moutere Highway cuts left for Upper Moutere, while Redwood Road turns right past the Seifried winery and on to the picture-book-pretty Rabbit Island, one of Nelson’s most popular beaches.
You can sample the best of the region on an extended drive from Nelson to Motueka, but there’s enough on offer to warrant spending a couple of leisurely days. Equip yourself with the Nelson Wine Guide, Nelson Great Beer Trail, Nelson’s Creative Pathways and Nelson Potters leaflets, all free and available from visitor centres. A few kilometres further north, Motueka is the most practical base and provides the easiest access for trips into the Abel Tasman National Park.
The 130km between the coast and the brooding Seaward Kaikoura Range from Blenheim to Kaikoura is one of the most spectacular coastal roads in New Zealand. It is best to allow plenty of time for frequent stops along the gorgeous stretches of coastline. Around 20km south of Blenheim a sign points inland towards Molesworth Station and Hanmer Springs.
Lake Grassmere, 50km south of Blenheim, is a vast shallow salt lake, which annually produces 70,000 tonnes a year of table salt. Cyclists may want to overnight 20km south of the salt works at Pedallers Rest Cycle Stop.
From Lake Grassmere, you’re now following the coast, with grey gravel beaches all the way and accessible at various points. Almost 90km out of Blenheim, the rocky Kekerengu Point juts out and makes a great place to watch the crashing waves while stopping in at The Store for a bite to eat.
South of Kaikoura, it’s a two- to three-hour run down SH1 to Christchurch with relatively minor points of interest along the way. The road initially follows a 20km stretch of delightful rocky coastline then ducks inland through farming country for most of the rest of the way. Hikers should consider putting three days aside for the Kaikoura Coast Walk, while wine drinkers will want to stop at the hamlet of Waipara, 130km south of Kaikoura, where paddocks full of vines announce one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing viticultural regions. Thanks to its long warm days, combination of alluvial gravels and limestone clays, and protection from cooling sea winds, the area produces quality wines, particularly Pinot Noirs and Riesling. As a wine destination it is very much in its infancy: a dozen places offer tastings and several have restaurants, but there isn’t much else.