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On The Other Side Of The Tasman Part 3: The South Island

The 2011 Rugby World Cup has kicked off with a bang, as it always does, and the Wallabies have (thankfully) won their first game against Italy.  It won’t be until later that they go down south, and for those of you who are planning to head over later rather than sooner, this gives you time to plan your South Island road trip.

If you’re starting your trans-Tasman trip in the South Island, Christchurch will be your starting point.  The roads here are not as “munted” as they used to be just after the spate of earthquakes, but they’re not quite as smooth as they used to be, but they soon smooth out and look like normal roads again.  The Wallabies are playing in Nelson, and you’ve got three main ways of getting there by road.  Each of these can be done in a day, or a day and a half if you want to stop off anywhere and/or go the long way.

The first – and most direct way – of driving from Christchurch to Nelson to watch the Wallabies show the Russians how to play rugby is to go via the Lewis Pass.  To take this route, you head north along State Highway 1 from Christchurch until you get to a turn-off westwards (State Highway (SH) 7, which is very clearly marked.  As you go along this road, you’ll get off the (comparatively) long straights of the Canterbury Plains and get into the hill country before too long.  After winding through the first little pass in the middle of the wine-growing country, you’ll get to another major intersection, one which leads to Hanmer Springs.  Hanmer Springs is well worth a side-trip, with luxurious natural hot springs, and it’s going to be the base for the Wallabies for four days (24th to the 27th September), so it’ll be a good place to pick up a few autographs.  If you want natural hot water but without the celebrities, you can get this further along SH7 at Maruia Springs.  These springs give their name to Springs Junction, where you’ll leave SH7 at a fork in the road and go along SH65.  This road winds northwards through lots of hills until reaching Nelson.

If you prefer coast to mountains, you’ll probably want to stay on SH1.  You won’t avoid mountains altogether, but you’ll still get some interesting twists and turns on the road.  This road leads up past Kaikoura.  The road here is quite busy, as it’s a major trucking route, and it’s reasonably narrow – take your chances to pass B-trains when you can.  Also watch out for seals, which can take it into their furry heads that the road is a good place to sit.  You will follow this road to Blenheim, which is another wine-growing capital, and find SH6, which will take you to Nelson.  If you miss the turn-off in the middle of town, you can get back onto SH6 a bit further out of town by taking SH65. Watch out for the roundabout in the middle of Blenheim with a train track running through it – the train does not follow the roundabout give way rules!

There is another route between Christchurch and Nelson: this is the Molesworth Track (also known as the Rainbow Station or St Arnaud track), which runs through a working farm.  It’s a 4×4 track and rather rocky, but well worth it if you want to put a bit of adventure into your Christchurch to Nelson drive.  The track is open year round, but there is a small charge and a locked gate to deal with – contact the NZ Department of Conservation for more details and/or read the brochure at

The long way of getting to Nelson from Christchurch will take you through the most dramatic mountain scenery – the sort we don’t really get over here.  This route is the Arthur’s Pass route, which follows the road taken to the goldfields back in the pioneer days.  To take this route, go south along SH1 for a short way past the airport (and I mean short!) and take SH73.  This will lead you through the Canterbury Plains into the mountains – and depending on the weather over the next few weeks, you might want to stop off at one of the many skifields along this route, such as Broken River, Cragieburn and Porter Heights.  Beware of keas (mountain parrots) if you stop off at Arthur’s Pass: these birds are nosey little #$%^#^ with very sharp beaks that are capable of making mincemeat of soft-top convertible hoods, windscreen wipers and other softish bits of cars – they’ve been known to completely shred bike tyres, stranding unwary cyclists.  The road after Arthur’s Pass itself isn’t quite as epic as it used to be thanks to the massive feat of engineering known as the Otira Viaduct.  Prior to the viaduct going in, the road down to the West Coast involved very steep grades and hairpin turns – not for the faint hearted or for heavy trucks!  Some, however, might say that the Viaduct has taken a bit of the driving fun out of the trip – judge for yourself.  Once you’re down on the West Coast, turn right at Kumara junction and head through Greymouth and the old goldfields. You can take SH7 here back to Springs Junction, or you can continue along SH6 to Westport, where you’ll keep going along SH6 as it winds through to Nelson and joins up with SH65, winding through more hills to Nelson.


  1. Panama foundation says:

    .A trip north from Christchurch on State Highway 1 turning off at Waipara through the Greta Valley to Hanmer Springs. .Travelling north through the Lewis Pass featuring mountains and spectacular scenery to Nelson..Nelson is the gateway to Tasman Bay offering beautiful beaches fishing boat trips skydiving 4WD bike treks and wineries..Located on the coast it has a real resort feel about it..

    September 22nd, 2011 at 10:49 pm