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Central Otago Touring Route

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Nelson to Invercargill

7 When you think of a quintessential South Island road trip, your mind is bound to conjure up imagery of the stunning lakes and snowcapped mountains of Central Otago, the dramatic scenery that Fiordland provides, and the wild West Coast.

However, there is so much more to see in the South Island, as you are sure to discover on this epic road trip from Nelson to Invercargill down. Cruise down the east coast and admire the stunning beaches, marvel at the marine life, and grab your fix of culture when you visit the island's two largest cities. This epic stretch of coastline is not one to miss, so grab a camper and hit the road!

Travel

8 days


Route

Nelson to Invercargill

1493km


Best Time of the Year

All year round

Highlights

  • Kaikoura
  • Moeraki Boulders
  • Otago Peninsula
  • Invercargill

The Journey

Days

2 3 4 5 6 7 8

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Day 1
Nelson to

Distance 244km - Driving Time 6 hours (including ferry trip)

With easy access from the North Island via ferry from Wellington, pick up your camper from our Wellington depot and jump on the ferry across to Nelson to begin your road trip.

Nelson is not a destination that you just want to pass through. The surrounding Tasman region, as well as the city itself, are abundant with amazing food, street markets, incredible art, fine wines, and spectacular scenery. Spend your time here appreciating the stunning shoreline of this area, with a visit to some of the top-notch beaches and bays. Golden Bay is littered with beautiful beaches that show off golden sand and incredible views.

Kaiteriteri beach is a must and a water taxi cruise is a fun activity that will show you some pretty epic views. Queen Charlotte Sound offers activities such as guided kayak tours and detours to islands like Motuara where you can get your wildlife fix by visiting the bird sanctuary.

Where to stay: TOP10 Holiday Park Nelson City

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Day 2
Nelson to Blenheim

Distance 141km - Driving Time 6 hours (including ferry trip)

Taking the longer (by 50km) route through Picton to Blenheim is worth it if you have the time. Call into the Pelorus Bridge before taking the Queen Charlotte Drive at Havelock. The drive does get windy as you get closer to Picton but the views along the way make up for it. Book a seat with Cougar Line for an incredible cruise on Queen Charlotte Sound.

Blenheim is no more than a 30c-minute drive from Picton. The heart of the Marlborough wine region, and more than 150+ wineries in the world, this destination warrants a couple of days stay here to make sure you explore as much as you can.

Where to stay: Blenheim Bridges Holiday Park

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Day 3
Blenheim to Christchurch

Distance 305km - Driving Time 4 hours

Day 3 of driving will be a big one, make sure you start your day early with a strongly brewed coffee to get you going. Just under half another out of Blenheim, you will find The Store, located right on the beach with panoramic views. Grab your coffee and a quick bite to eat before heading on to the Ohau Point Lookout to get another wildlife fix with the large seal colony.

Continue to Kaikoura. Known for its epic marine mammals and viewing experiences, particularly whales and dolphins, be sure to cut out some time for a tour or cruise. If you're after spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, head to the Kaikoura Lookout.

Where to stay: TOP10 Christchurch

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Day 4
Christchurch to Ashburton

Distance 91km - Driving Time 1 hour 30 minutes

Only an hour's drive from Christchurch, Ashburton offers many gems for you to explore on your visit here. Crossing the Rakaia River is an exciting experience. Spend your time here exploring the charming museums and galleries this town has to offer. Ashburton is home to a nationally recognised Art Gallery and History Museum.

Lake Hood is a popular go-to for both locals and visitors, perfect for swimming, boating, and yachting, get your water action in here!

Where to stay: Ashburton Holiday Park

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Day 5
Ashburton to Timaru

Distance 121km - Driving Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Rather than taking the direct route from Ashburton to Timaru, take the short detour to visit Peel Forest Scenic Reserve. Choose one of the 3 walking tracks and get back to nature. The forest is abundant in native flora and fauna with walking tracks suitable for all ages.

Get your cultural fix and visit the Te Ana Māori Rock Centre in Timaru. Admire the ancient artworks while you listen to stories of ancestors from local Māori guides.

Spend the evening watching the little blue penguins from afar at Marine Parade. As the sun sets, these little creatures return to their burrows at Caroline Bay. This is an exciting sight to see that the kids will love.

Where to stay: TOP10 Timaru

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Day 6
Timaru to Dunedin (Ōtepoti)

Distance 204km - Driving Time 2 hours 45 minutes

The best way to travel from Timaru to Dunedin is to break up the drive by pulling into Koekohe Beach to marvel at the iconic Moeraki Boulders. Often referred to as Edinburgh of the south, the second largest city of the South Island, Dunedin has a lot to offer.

Explore popular attractions like St. Clair Beach, Larnarch Castle, and the Otago Museum. There are many great cafes and eateries in the area so be sure to check out your options. If you have time, we recommend spending a few days here. Exploring the Otago Peninsula is another must-do, admire the incredible natural landscape of this region and experience encounters with the local wildlife.

Where to stay: Dunedin Holiday Park

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Day 7
Dunedin to Invercargill

Distance 206km - Driving Time 3 hours

If you aren't in a hurry, we recommend following the Southern Scenic Route to Invercargill. This will provide you ample time to explore the Caitlins, a natural paradise for lovers of the outdoors. With so many stunning sights including Purakanui Falls, Curio Bay, Nugget Point, Cathedral Caves Slope Point, McLean Falls, and Waiapa point.

Invercargill as a city is jam-packed full of character and Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco architecture. The city is the southernmost city in Aotearoa, and one of the most southerly in the world. Spend your time here exploring some of the many incredible coastal spots and connect with nature.

There are plenty of epic family-friendly places to see in Invercargill such as Bill Richardson's Transport World and the E Hayes Motorworks Collection.

Where to stay: Beach Road Holiday Park

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Day 8
Invercargill to Queenstown

Distance 181km - Driving Time 2 hours 15 minutes

Today is the final day of your road trip. The drive to our Queenstown depot is just over two hours. Start with an early rise to make the most of your time exploring Queenstown.

Explore more of the South Island with Britz

Ready to travel the top of the South Island? Visit any Britz branch today to rent a travel van for your South Island adventure.

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