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05 December, 2018 - Updated Last updated on
01 September, 2023

Posted by Spaceships Crew

Canterbury is the best area for an action-packed road trip. Surrounded by mountains, coastline, lush vineyards, glacial lakes, and more, it is no surprise that Canterbury has been listed by National Geographic as one of the six best trip destinations for 2019 in the category of adventure.

With so much to see and do in the area, Christchurch, the region's largest city, is the best place to start an action-packed south island road trip. This article will tell you about some of the best places to go, when to visit, and suggest some amazing south island road trips.

NZ South Island road trip mountains

About Christchurch and Canterbury

Located on New Zealand’s South Island, Canterbury is known for its grassy plains, clear lakes, and snow-capped mountains. In its largest city, you will find something for everyone: urban regeneration, culture, an active art scene, and green spaces such as the Riverside botanic gardens. Also not to be missed are Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and the 27 km long Tasman Glacier.

When to visit

Any time of year is a great time to visit. In the winter, from June to August, skiers will find 13 ski areas and plenty of après ski activities. Winter is also a good time to check out Kaikoura, New Zealand’s leading eco-tourism destination for whale watching and wildlife cruises.

In the summer, from December to February, temperatures are warm and the sun shines, sometimes until as late as 9:30 pm. Summer is a perfect time for swimming at one of the 40 safe swimming beaches, exploring Akaroa, a French-inspired village with spectacular harbour views, or taking a special iceberg cruise in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

In autumn, from March to May, the leaves change and temperatures are pleasant and mild. This is the best season to visit Waipara Wine Valley, where you will find the award-winning Mud House Winery and the family-owned Pegasus Bay Winery, or Selwyn District on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island.

For blooming flowers, springtime is the best time to visit, or even early summer. However, October is by far the best month of spring for an interstellar campervan adventure. Check out the colourful lupine flowers in the Tekapo area. Relax at Hammer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, or try the thrill of white water rafting through New Zealand's rapids.

Colourful Lake Tekapo (photo: Francis Vallance)

Colourful Lake Tekapo (photo: Francis Vallance)


Whale watching in Kaikoura, swimming with dolphins in Akaroa, skiing, or investigating the night sky at the spectacular Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve are just a few of the many adventures that await you. If that’s not enough, mountain biking, zip-lining, kayaking, rafting, and jet boating are also available.

Not to be missed

Here are are few unique experiences to put on your bucket list: taking the breathtaking train journey through Authur’s Pass, watching the steam rise at Hammer Springs’ natural hot pools, and exploring the charming towns, boutique galleries, and hidden bays in Akaroa and Banks Peninsula, a peninsula of volcanic origin on the east coast of the South Island.

Suggested South Island road trips

Now that we have established that Christchurch is the best place to start an action-packed road trip, here's an overview of suggested routes that will take you off the beaten path for the adventure of a lifetime. Ranging from short road trips of just a few days to week-long ventures, a South Island road trip is a great way to see the real South Island and all it has to offer.

Alpine touring route

The Alpine touring route will take you through 450 km of coast and alpine townships. Starting in Christchurch, where you can try mountain biking and zip lining and visit the International Antarctic Centre and Orana Park, you will then travel through the wine region of Waipara, Cheviot, Gore Bay, and “The Cathedrals.”

After that, drive along the scenic Pacific Ocean to Kaikoura to whale watch, swim with dolphins, and see an albatross colony. Cap it off with a drive from Kaikoura to Hammer Springs to rejuvenate yourself in the thermal pools and spa.

South Island adventure

This South Island adventure begins by travelling to Methven, a ski resort town by winter and an adventure playground by summer. From Methven, travel along the foothills to Peel Forest and then to Geraldine, where you can tour the Big Rock Canyons. From Geraldine, travel to Ashburton, a large town surrounded by a farming district where fly fishing is popular.

Akaroa adventure

The Akaroa adventure takes you to Little River and Akaroa. At Akaroa, you will find a charming French-inspired port with sweeping harbour views, boutique shops, galleries, and gourmet restaurants. The outer bays can be seen from the hilltop vantage point. While you're there, be sure to try swimming with Hector’s dolphins, the world's smallest and rarest dolphin, take a penguin tour, visit the farmer’s market, and swim at Akaroa Harbour.

Final thoughts

These are just a few of the many adventure-filled road trips you can take on the South Island of New Zealand. You might choose to design your own road trip based on your specific interests and preferences. Whether by train, car, or campervan, a South Island road trip promises to be an adventure of a lifetime.

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