For anyone looking to enjoy the unique coastal scenery of the South Island, travelling from Christchurch to Dunedin by car is an absolute must. State Highway 1 winds along the coast almost the entire way there, so you spend the entire journey with the sea on one side and beautiful rolling hills and plains on the other.
This wonderful trip showcases the two environments that sustain New Zealand the most – its ocean and its farmland. It’s a straightforward, simple drive, with so many great little places along the way where you can explore the wonderful countryside. Read on for where to stop between Christchurch and Dunedin – our top 8 places.
Christchurch – So Much To See And Do
Starting your journey in Christchurch, be sure to allow a day or two to explore the emerging post-quake Garden City and its surrounds. An array of entertaining tourist destinations including the Orana Park Complex, the Antarctic Centre, Willowbank Wildlife Park, the Gondola will be more than enough to keep you busy for the day. Need more check out our top 10 things to do in Christchurch here.
Or enjoy exploring a little further afield from atop the Port Hills or out on the Banks Peninsula with towns such as Akaroa, Diamond Harbour and Little River full of local food and cultural delights.
Ashburton – Coffee Break
After having made the most of all Christchurch has to offer its time to hit the road and head south on State highway 1 towards Timaru. Stop in Ashburton for some great coffee at The Somerset Grocer and Deli on Burnett Street and wander about the Ashburton Aviation Museum or the beautiful Trotts Gardens for some fresh air and to stretch the legs.
Peel Forest – Slight Detour
Taking it off road for a bit Peel Forest is well worth the detour. Explore the over 700 hectares of scenic reserve on foot via one of the many well-formed tracks, spot the occasional wild pig or Red Deer if you are lucky, or just enjoy the stunning native forest, impressive waterfalls and birdlife as you go.
Peel Forest is home to impressive Kahikatea and Totara, and Matai native tree specimens as well as an array of native birds including the Fantail, Bellbird, Tomtit, Grey Warbler, and the Kereru – New Zealand’s native woodpigeon. There is also a Department Of Conservation campsite at Peel Forest if you want to stay overnight and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Timaru – Relaxing Overnighter
When you get to Timaru it’s the Caroline Bay Beach you will want to visit first. Check out the Rose Garden, mini golf, aviary and amazing boardwalk or just head over to the beach for a paddle in the water or to wander along the sand.
Grab a coffee or lunch at the nearby Purple Lizard Café on Stafford Street to refuel and get ready for some culture and history. Heading out with the team at Te Ana for a Maori Rock Art Tour is one of our top things to do when in Timaru. Experience the historic rock art of the local Ngāi Tahu tribe guided by their very own ancestors, stop by the Maori Rock Art Centre and make your own, hold a Moa bone and learn about the conservation efforts.
For the evening’s entertainment book a tour at the Kiwi Observatory and observe the night sky through large telescopes and be informed by the knowledgeable guides. Tours start at 7pm in the winter months and around 9 pm across the summer, a donation is required – $15 per person is acceptable, the Observatory is located on Kiwi Drive.
Oamaru – Half Way Point
Take an early morning walk along the Centennial Park Walkway on the western side of Timaru before taking to the road again with Oamaru as the destination.
Marking roughly the half-way point on the journey, Oamaru is a great little town with a fantastic mix of history, culture and nature. The Victorian Precinct is full of interesting shops and boutiques, as well as art studios and the Steampunk Museum.
The original buildings are beautifully kept, and make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There is also a busy main street with lots of restaurants and cafes, and in the evening, you can gather at special locations (The observation point along Waterfront Road, the S Hill Walk or the Oamaru Lookout Point) to watch the hordes of little Blue Penguins come to shore to rest for the evening.
Moeraki – Boulders Anyone?
Home to the famous Moeraki Boulders, just south of Oamaru is Moeraki. It’s worth stopping to check out these mysterious well-rounded stones. Formed deep within the earth over millions of years, the stones rise to the surface as the sand is slowly worn away by the ocean.
Some of the stones are almost perfectly spherical, and a huge draw to thousands of tourists every year. Head down the coast to ‘Fleurs Place’ for a quiet coffee and delicious seafood lunch while overlooking the water.
After lunch take a drive along Lighthouse Road and try and spot some Yellow Eyed and Blue Penguins. Sea birds and seals can be seen on the rocks alongside the Moeraki Lighthouse.
Karitane – Its Beach Time
A visit to Karitane Beach is a great little stop to stretch the legs and get some fresh air. Try the Huriawa Pa Walk if you’d like something a bit more than just a stroll along the beach and enjoy superb views and even learn a little history about the area.
The Huriawa Peninsula walk is a 2.4 km loop track which takes about 45 minutes, park up at the Domain on Barvas Street.
Back on the road, take a short detour at Waitati and stop by the Orokonui Wildlife Ecosanctuary for some close encounters with some of New Zealand’s wonderful wildlife and native forest. Take a guided walking tour (choose from 1 hour or two hours options) or just wander about on your own and see if you can spot the Takahe, Tuatara, Otago Skinks, Kaka or Bellbirds.
Dunedin – You Have Arrived!
The southernmost city in New Zealand, Dunedin is full of historic stone buildings and a vibrant youth culture due to the local university that draws in students from all over the country. Famous attractions include NZ’s only castle – Larnach Castle, Olveston Historic Home, the Otago Museum and the amazing Albatross and Gannet colonies located on the Otago Peninsula.
If architecture interests you then swing by the Otago University for a quick glimpse into the past with some interesting architecture and buildings, the First Church is also worth a look along with the historic Railway Station buildings.
If it’s the birds you have come to see then its best to head out on the Otago Peninsula. The Royal Albatross Centre is located near the tip of the peninsula roughly 30 kilometres from central Dunedin. Take a tour and see the world’s only mainland breeding colony of Albatross, Little Blue Penguins, some sea lions, fur seals and even the endangered Yellow Eyed penguin.
The road from Christchurch to Dunedin is a fantastic coastal journey that allows you to see the best of the region as you travel. Enjoy some of New Zealand’s most amazing coastal scenery and wildlife along the way and make the most of your Christchurch to Dunedin road trip.