A journey that has to be one of the most scenics in New Zealand, including a picturesque sailing across Cook Strait and a coastal drive of 340 km taking about 8-9 hours including the sailing.
Sailing the Strait
The Interislander is the longest-serving ferry between Wellington in the North Island to Picton in the South Island, and travelling through Queen Charlotte Sound, a journey named as one of the world's most beautiful ferry sailings. The Interislander Ferries travel 92 km on a journey of just over 3 hours. An alternate trip is available with the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry Company. The trip across Cook Strait is an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the scenery as you watch the city of Wellington disappear and the South Island come closer, you see the Sound open up before you and watch the beauty of the forested shores slip by.
Landing at Picton.
You are waved off the Ferry and follow the line of traffic through the streets of Picton. This little town has some gems to see if you decide to stop there. The Edwin Fox (1853) is one of the ships that brought convicts, settlers and soldiers Down Under as well as doing tea and beer trades in the days of sail. Explore her decks and relive history. The National Whale Centre is also based at Picton and is informative about whaling that once was the primary industry on these shores, as well as teaching about the huge creatures of the deep that often pass close by the shores of the South Island. The Marlborough Sounds are on the doorstep here, and there are opportunities for photography, sailing, trekking, biking and cruises, as well as swimming with dolphins. A side trip to Nelson can be taken from Picton to the sun-trap town that is known for orchards and fruit-growing.
Wine at Blenheim.
Taking SH 1 south, Blenheim is the next stop, and you are in wine country now. Marlborough has long held a reputation for world-class wine, particularly Sauvignon Blanc, so you really must buy some. Blenheim also has a fascinating aircraft museum at Omaka, where the exhibits are presented in a very realistic manner.
Whales & Seals at Kaikoura.
Watch out as you follow the coast south - often fur seals can be seen sleeping on the beach beside the road. Or go and visit some at Point Kean, just out of Kaikoura, which is a scenic town balanced between snow clad mountains and the deep blue sea and has plenty to offer for visitors. The most famous activity is Whale Watching and it certainly is an awe-inspiring trip. If you prefer, take a flight out to see the Whales from above. Kai means food and the Koura is the crayfish that is caught in these waters - so you need to try one. Also available at Kaikoura is a Maori cultural tour where you learn all about the traditions and values of the local Maori while experiencing their hospitality. There are dolphin encounters and the historic Fyffe House, built on whalebones, to check out or take the time to climb Fyffe Mountain for views of the countryside.
Just after Kaikoura, an alternate inland route via SH 70 is available. This will take you south through Waiau, Culverton, and Hurunui. Waiau River has Jet boating and the road takes you close to Hanmer Springs with their popular hot pools.
Taking SH 1, head through Cheviot's tree-lined streets and cross both the Hurunui and Waiau Rivers. These offer trout, salmon and whitebait fishing and kayaking and jet boating opportunities. The miles pass by as you head to Waipara, which has a historic steam railway up into the hills, called Weka Pass Railway. The Waipara Valley is another wine area and offers local arts and crafts for sale. Next, you will find Amberley, also a wine growing and agricultural centre. With the road getting back near the coast, there is Amberley Beach to enjoy as well as the mountain views.
Big Five at Kaiapoi.
Kaiapoi was once an important port with paddle-steamers and schooners, it seems a lot quieter today. The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve has New Zealand's Big Five- the Kiwi, our national bird, the Kea, a mischievous parrot, the Kaka, a bush parrot and the Tatake, once thought to be extinct. The final of the five is our prehistoric lizard, the Tuatara. Willowbank is also home to many other animals.
By now you are on the outskirts of Christchurch - Christchurch is very English in its heritage with the River named Avon, but with its backdrop of the majestic Alps, it is a uniquely New Zealand city today.
Interislander - Adult from $65 Child from $33 / Car with driver from $208
Bluebridge - Adult from $53 Child from $27 / Car with driver from $173
Edwin Fox - Adult $15 Child $5
Whale Watching - Adult $145 Child $60
Whale Watch Flights - from $145 pp
Maori Tours - Adult $134 Child $74
Dolphin Encounters - Adult $175 Child $160
Fyffe House - Adult $10 Child $5
Waiau Jet Boating - Adult $125 Child $70
Hanmer Springs Pools - Adult $24 Child $12
Weka Pass Railway - Adult $18 Child $10 one way
Willowbank Wildlife Park - Adult $29.50 Child $12
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