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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop 

10 days from Christchurch to Christchurch

Visit the less explored upper South Island, home to amazing wildlife, including whales in Kaikoura and the delightful seal colony in Abel Tasman National Park.  In Blenheim, you’ll sample the region’s best known export, the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc before heading south to the West Coast and Punakaiki Rocks.  You return to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass National Park, an amazing place to discover natural New Zealand including the cheeky Kea which is regularly seen in the park.

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 This suggested tour costs from per person (twin share, low season) (get instant quote here)
 10 days/9 nights from Christchurch to Christchurch
 Accommodation suggested on this tour is: Motels (Can be customised? YES )
 Rental car insurance included: Fully inclusive with variable excess/deductible
 Rental car inclusions: GPS navigation, unlimited kms, airport/ferry terminal fees, additional drivers
 Tour pack: Includes detailed driving instructions, maps, guide books and much more
 This tour can be customised to suit you precisely - just request here

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Wine, Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand
Kea bird, Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
 

Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - at a glance (See detailed itinerary)

Day 1: Arrive into Christchurch today
Accommodation: Bella Vista Christchurch

Day 2: Pass through the North Canterbury countryside to Kaikoura
Accommodation: Anchor Inn Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 179 kms / 111 miles : 2.5 hours

Day 3: Drive via the coastal road before reaching the vineyards of Blenheim
Accommodation: Bella Vista Blenheim
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 116 kms / 72 miles : 1.4 hours

Day 4: Discover the delightful wines of Marlborough on a half day wine tour
Accommodation: Bella Vista Blenheim

Day 5: Travel via the beautiful Queen Charlotte Drive to the idyllic Abel Tasman National Park
Accommodation: Ocean View Chalets
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 184 kms / 114 miles : 2.8 hours

Day 6: Explore Abel Tasman National Park on a cruise and walking adventure
Accommodation: Ocean View Chalets

Day 7: Pass between two national parks as you travel to the wild West Coast
Accommodation: Hydrangea Cottages (Self check in required)
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 286 kms / 177 miles : 3.6 hours

Day 8: Head inland and drive over the Otira Viaduct to Arthur's Pass National Park
Accommodation: Arthurs Pass Alpine Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 138 kms / 86 miles : 1.8 hours

Day 9: Explore the many walks within the park or visit the fascinating rock formations of Castle Hill
Accommodation: Arthurs Pass Alpine Motel

Day 10: Depart Christchurch today

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 128 kms / 80 miles : 1.6 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 1

Day 1 - Arrive into Christchurch today

Private transfer Christchurch airport to your accommodation

On arrival you will be met by a private driver and delivered to your Christchurch accommodation.

Your tour documentation pack and support

Once you touch down in New Zealand your detailed tour pack will be hand delivered by one of our trusted representatives. The pack contains everything you need for the duration of your stay. It will include a comprehensive, printed and bound version of your itinerary as well as clear driving instructions and maps for each leg of your journey. It also contains all the reservation details for your accommodation and activities - along with relevant brochures and information. While in New Zealand we offer 24 hour support - details on how to contact us at any time will be well documented.

Welcome to Christchurch City

Known as New Zealand's garden city, Christchurch is a vibrant metro area. Encompassing a large green belt, it is known for its wide tree lined avenues and lush gardens. Take the double decker hop on/hop off bus for an easy way to see the sights, or ride a historic tram across town to the renowned botanic gardens and the cardboard Transitional Cathedral.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Christchurch Gondola

In the Heathcote Valley, just fifteen minutes from the heart of Christchurch city, ride the Christchurch Gondola for nearly a kilometre to the collapsed rim of an extinct volcano - which exploded six million years ago.  Take in the panoramic 360-degree views of the central city, Lyttelton Harbour, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury Plains and the distant peaks of the Southern Alps.  Wander the summit complex and choose one of many nature walks or visit the Time Tunnel - a dramatic reconstruction of the history of the Port Hills and Christchurch.

Your accommodation: Bella Vista Christchurch

The Bella Vista Motel and Apartments, Christchurch, offer accommodation in a great range of comfortable modern units with excellent facilities.
Bella Vista Christchurch

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 2

Day 2 - Pass through the North Canterbury countryside to Kaikoura

Choose from our great range of late model rental cars for your driving holiday

Today you’ll take to the road for your New Zealand Self Drive holiday, so take a look through the great selection of late model vehicles available and take your pick.  To help you on your way GPS is included with all rentals.

GPS navigation system

Use the latest GPS technology as you tour New Zealand. Your portable GPS features a simple touch screen interface with automatic route calculation and turn-by-turn voice-prompted directions including street name announcement. The automotive-grade GPS unit is easy to use and has multiple language options.

Christchurch to Kaikoura

The drive north from Christchurch to Kaikoura takes you through the rolling hills of North Canterbury's major wine region, the Waipara Valley. Allow time for a detour and visit Hanmer Springs for a dip in the mineral hot pools. Continue on and cross the Hawkswood Range before descending to the spectacular Kaikoura coastline - where the road hugs the ocean for the last leg of the drive.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

New Zealand's only marine based whale watching company, Whale Watch Kaikoura offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime up close encounter with the giant sperm Whale. You are also likely to encounter New Zealand fur seals, dusky dolphins and albatross. Depending on the season you may also see pilot, blue and southern right whales as well as migrating humpbacks. Often orcas can be spotted here and the world's smallest dolphin, the Hectors, is sometimes seen.
You'll be taken out in modern catamarans specifically designed for whale watching - featuring large passenger cabins and outside viewing decks. Passenger numbers for each tour are kept below the vessel carrying capacity to ensure your tour experience remains a personal one.

Your accommodation: Anchor Inn Motel

The Anchor Inn is a luxury motel superbly located on the Kaikoura waterfront with most rooms enjoying magnificent sea and mountain views.
Anchor Inn Motel

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 179 kms / 111 miles : 2.5 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 3

Day 3 - Drive via the coastal road before reaching the vineyards of Blenheim

Kaikoura to Blenheim

Heading north from Kaikoura, the road hugs the shore for approximately 50 kilometres and offers many opportunities to view the native wildlife such as seabirds and New Zealand fur seals. One of the best seal watching locations is Ohau Point (25km north of Kaikoura), where you can observe the adults on the shoreline and the pups frolicking in the waterfall, just a short walk from the road (signposted). As you drive you will have turquoise waters of the South Pacific Ocean to your east and to the west the towering Kaikoura Ranges. Crossing the dry hills of the Marlborough ranges you head towards Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine producing region. Blenheim sits right at the heart of Marlborough and is ideally located to enjoy an afternoon sampling the local produce. A great way to do this is to take a guided wine tour with Sounds Connection Wine Tours.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Hobbit Barrel Run Kayak Trip

Immerse yourself in Sir Peter Jackson's 'The Hobbit' when you take this Hobbit Barrel Run River Kayaking trip. Journeying down the Beautiful Pelorus River you'll see actual filming locations including the rocks where Bilbo Baggins stood, the place where the dwarfs exited the barrels and the exact location where Kili was shot. Not just for Lord of the Rings fans, this spectacular kayaking trip will enthral anyone wanting to experience the beauty of New Zealand's rivers.

Your accommodation: Bella Vista Blenheim

In a quiet location, close to town you are staying in the heart of Blenheim, surrounded by the world famous Marlborough wine growing area and just a few minutes’ walk from a wide variety of restaurants & bars.
Bella Vista Blenheim

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 116 kms / 72 miles : 1.4 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 4

Day 4 - Discover the delightful wines of Marlborough on a half day wine tour

Sounds Connection Half Day Wine Tour

An afternoon among the vines! Be immersed in the Marlborough wine country with the Sounds Connection half day wine tour. You'll be collected from your accommodation and taken through three or four hand-picked wineries to taste the award-winning produce this region is known for. You'll also hear about the history of winemaking in Marlborough as well as learning the unique processes each winery goes through. A lunch stop is not included in this tour so we do advise you have something to eat prior to this activity. 

Your accommodation: Bella Vista Blenheim

In a quiet location, close to town you are staying in the heart of Blenheim, surrounded by the world famous Marlborough wine growing area and just a few minutes’ walk from a wide variety of restaurants & bars.
Bella Vista Blenheim

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 5

Day 5 - Travel via the beautiful Queen Charlotte Drive to the idyllic Abel Tasman National Park

Blenheim to Abel Tasman National Park via Queen Charlotte Drive

Take a short drive to the small port of Picton where the interislander ferry connects with Wellington. A bustling seaside destination, Picton is well equipped with shops, cafes - and is also the starting point for the famous Queen Charlotte Walk. You’ll travel along Queen Charlotte Drive, traversing the length of the Marlborough Sounds coastline. Magnificent views are abundant - so be sure to make time to stop and enjoy the scenery as you go.

Continue through the small port town of Havelock, home to a variety of cafes and restaurants. The highway between Nelson and Picton crosses the pelorus river, and at this junction you’ll find the famous pelorus bridge. From here there are a number of forest walks - the most popular - a 30 minute loop through beech, rimu, and totara forest. Traverse Tasman Bay passing through Motueka to arrive on the outskirts of Abel Tasman National Park.

Your accommodation: Ocean View Chalets

The Ocean View Chalets are situated on a 50-acre farmlet, slightly elevated and nestled along the bush line with panoramic sea views. Great access the National Park and close to the friendly Marahau village.
Ocean View Chalets

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 184 kms / 114 miles : 2.8 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 6

Day 6 - Explore Abel Tasman National Park on a cruise and walking adventure

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park, known for its coastal hiking track has an abundance of golden beaches, inlets and private lagoons. The park has a mild climate and is a special place to visit at any time of the year. Enjoy a scenic cruise through the sounds or take a kayaking tour around it’s many sheltered bays. Enjoy the melodious birdsong and get up close to some of the park’s many animal residents, including native bats, geckos, birds and marine mammals  - fur seals and dolphins.
 

Seals, Beach Cruise and Walk Including Picnic Lunch

Experience the best of Abel Tasman on this combined beach cruise and walk tour. You will first take a cruise into the Tonga Island Marine Reserve, where you will pause to watch the antics of the Resident Fur Seal Colony. After landing at the historic Tonga Quarry Beach, take a two hour, fifteen minute walk over forested land and around the spectacular Bark Bay Estuary - renowned for its cascading waterfalls. You will then region the cruise at the sheltered golden cove on Medlands Beach.

Your accommodation: Ocean View Chalets

The Ocean View Chalets are situated on a 50-acre farmlet, slightly elevated and nestled along the bush line with panoramic sea views. Great access the National Park and close to the friendly Marahau village.

Meals included: Lunch

Ocean View Chalets

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 7

Day 7 - Pass between two national parks as you travel to the wild West Coast

Abel Tasman to Punakaiki

The drive today takes you along the Buller Gorge and offers some wonderful scenery as you follow this magnificent river. The town of Murchison is a quiet place and a great lunch stop. Underneath its sleepy farming facade is an adventurers paradise with white water rafting, kayaking, 4WD trips and some great trout fishing.
The first major town (by this regions standard) is Inangahua and a small museum tells of the earthquake that hit the region in 1968 leaving 70% of the buildings damaged or inhabitable. Further along the river one of the must stop places is Whites Creek and New Zealand's longest swing bridge. Crossing the river you get magnificent views of the gorge and once on the other side there are short bush walks, jet boat rides and some of the historic gold mining remnants.
The port town of Westport is the largest on the Northern West Coast. A history of gold mining, logging, fishing coal mining gives the town a hard working feeling. And to reward the hard workers the town has an extraordinary amount of pubs.
There are plenty of activities here such as caving, bush walks and surfing but one of the most popular is to take a trip to Tauranga bay and the seal colony. Just 15 kilometres south at Cape Foulwind (named by Captain Cook for the difficult sailing conditions and not the smell of the seals!), you will find a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals. A well marked and easy 10 minute walking track takes you to colony where you can see the creatures lazing around or swimming in the ocean.
The spectacular West Coast coastline guides you to Paparoa National Park and to Punakaiki where a walk along the paths around the pancake rocks is a must. Please note there is no supermarket facilities in Punakaiki.

Your accommodation: Hydrangea Cottages (Self check in required)

On the South Island's rugged West Coast rests a slice of Kiwi heaven just waiting to be explored. The Hydrangea Cottages offer secluded, spacious and stylish accommodation within a stone's throw of one of New Zealand's most treasured and spectacular coastal landscapes - the Pancake Rocks.
Hydrangea Cottages (Self check in required)

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 286 kms / 177 miles : 3.6 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 8

Day 8 - Head inland and drive over the Otira Viaduct to Arthur's Pass National Park

Punakaiki to Arthur's Pass National Park

Today you’ll head south towards Greymouth, before turning onto State Highway 73 as you make your way to Arthur's Pass. Winding your way up and over the Southern Alps, this route takes you through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country - even in the rain when hundreds of waterfalls cascade down the bush clad hillsides.

Originally the road was used as a pass by the Maori as they made their seasonal passage to collect Greenstone in the West Coast mountains. Following the 1800’s gold rush a road and railway was developed through the area. Today, the railway is used predominantly for the world renowned Tranz Alpine Scenic Train, transporting several hundred tourists per day from Christchurch to Greymouth - or the other way round. Continue on through the Otira Gorge, before arriving at your destination for the night, Arthur’s Pass.

Note: If you're feeling like a more leisurely drive, there is the option to take a more scenic route around Lake Brunner. Well signposted, this road begins just before the town of Kumara.

Your accommodation: Arthurs Pass Alpine Motel

Located right in the village this is the ideal location to enjoy and explore Arthur's Pass National Park. Close to cafes and the visitor centre your accommodation is in comfortable self contained units.
Arthurs Pass Alpine Motel

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 138 kms / 86 miles : 1.8 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 9

Day 9 - Explore the many walks within the park or visit the fascinating rock formations of Castle Hill

Short walks in Arthurs Pass National Park - suggested activity

Within the Arthur's Pass there are many short walks to suit all ages and abilities. Located in the Arthur's Pass Village is a Department of Conservation information centre where you can get updates on track conditions and track suitability as well as learning about the natural history of the area and its people.

Listed below are a selection of short walks.

1. Millennium Walk - Time: 10 minutes return
2. Devils Punchbowl Waterfall Walk - Time: One hour return
3. Arthur's Pass Walking Track - Time: One hour 20 minutes (one way)
4. Dobson Nature Walk - Time: 30 minutes return
5. Old Coach Road Walk - Time: 30 minutes return
6. Cockayne Nature Walk - Time: 30 minutes return

Your accommodation: Arthurs Pass Alpine Motel

Located right in the village this is the ideal location to enjoy and explore Arthur's Pass National Park. Close to cafes and the visitor centre your accommodation is in comfortable self contained units.
Arthurs Pass Alpine Motel

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 10

Day 10 - Depart Christchurch today

Arthur's Pass to Christchurch

Descending into the valleys of the Waimakariri this drive offers some spectacular views of the braided river valleys. Castle Hill Scenic Reserve sits in limestone country and the area is dotted with remarkable rock outcrops. A popular place with climbers it was also an important place for Maori in past years as they provided shelter on their seasonal journeys between the coasts. There is a network of walking paths allowing you to explore.
Descending onto the Canterbury Plains the rich farmland that attracted and helped settlers prosper becomes apparent as you head into the city of Christchurch.

Depart Christchurch today

Explore more of Christchurch before dropping your rental car at the airport depot and continuing your onward journey.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 128 kms / 80 miles : 1.6 hours

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