You could easily fly from Wellington to Christchurch but, as we do tend to love a little road trip, we took the ferry and did the 330km drive over a long weekend instead. The scenery along the east coast was breath-taking and I am told it gets more beautiful throughout the South Island. The roads fluctuated between straight for miles then hairpin bends which kept me on my toes! Here is what we got up to in Christchurch as well as a few of our favourite stops along the way, not in geographical order.
#1 Queen Charlotte Sound
This is kind of compulsory if you do the 3-hour ferry crossing along the famously windy Cook Strait to the South Island. Sea legs also compulsory! We took the Bluebridge ferry and were really impressed with the views and the facilities on board the ‘Strait Feronia’ vessel. There was a cinema room, restaurant, private cabins, a parents room with changing facilities, full size bath, feeding chairs, ride on toys and non-stop kids movies. The viewing decks and platform up top gave ample opportunities to enjoy the views of the Queen Charlotte Sound before docking at Picton. Our crossing was particularly choppy on the way there, but the return journey a few days later was super smooth. We’re really looking forward to seeing Milford Sound next!
#2 Hanmer Springs
Hanmer Springs is a small town southwest of Kaikoura, built on and around natural hot springs (aka a fault line). There are plenty of outdoorsy things to do in Hanmer but we went there exclusively for the outdoor thermal pools. The soothing sulphur pools and relaxing rock pools, all at a range of temperatures were absolutely divine, once you got over the eggy sulphur smell. There are also private saunas, steam rooms, a lazy river, waterslides and kids adventure areas. We spent the entire day here with friends, taking it in turns to look after Sophia who decided this weekend that she didn’t like water…..seriously?! We managed to inch her in bit by bit throughout the day and she got over it. This is the absolute perfect place to unwind with the beautiful weather and clear mountain views making it idyllic- apart from the screaming child!
About a third of the way between Picton and Christchurch, with an incredible mountain backdrop, is Kaikoura, meaning ‘meal of crayfish’. Whale watching is really popular here and you will find a few fresh crayfish stalls on the roadside as you approach this coastal town. Crossing the bridge at Lyell Creek will lead you to the stony beach where you can stretch your legs and fend off the seagulls as you eat your fish and chips. We stopped here twice and ate at two of Trip Advisor’s top 10 Kaikoura restaurants: Coopers Catch and Dexarelli’s Pizzeria, which was literally the best pizza we have ever tasted-something to do with the buckwheat base. Delicious. This was a very picturesque pit stop with lots of choice of restaurants before the sparsely populated inland roads.
#4 Ohau Stream Walkway & Waterfall and Ohau Point Seal Colony
About a 5-10 minute walk from the coastal road is another opportunity to stretch your legs in the direction of a beautiful waterfall and rockpool. During the breading season the young seal pups travel upstream and bathe here and can be found frolicking in the water. Sadly we were a bit early in the year for this but saw the seals and their pups at the seal colony on the beach, just a few minutes drive further. Sophia was mesmerised by the water and soaked by the spray! We took her in the baby carrier as the track is not suitable for buggies.
Blenheim, in the Marlborough wine region, comprises mainly of pristine vineyards and quaint cellar doors where you can sample the Sauvignon Blancs which this region is popular for. We recognised many of the names of the vineyards from the supermarkets back in the UK. It’s funny to think that a bottle of Sauv Blanc that I enjoyed in Woking probably originated in Blenheim!
In Christchurch there is a lot to see and do amidst the rebuild. Lots of construction work is still underway and the city really is taking shape again. Places to visit include: the Bridge of Remembrance, Shipping Container Mall, New Regent Street, the Botanical Gardens as well as Christchurch Farmer’s Market, where we tasted Hummingbird Coffee. Take a tram tour through the city and be sure to pay Margaret Mahy Family Playground a visit- recently built and fun for all the family. Apparently many an adult was caught testing out the helter skelter slides and flying foxes on CCTV just after the playground was built! One of the most moving sights in Christchurch was the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial, located beside the Cardboard Cathedral, to mark the 185 lives lost in the 2011 earthquake. The sign beside the chairs reads ‘a temporary exhibit because life is temporary’. The baby car seat, the wheelchair, the wing-backed chairs and bar stools all symbolise individual lives lost. Each chair has been painted pure white twice as an act of remembrance and slowly but surely the city is beginning to be rebuilt around their memory.