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Nelson to Christchurch: West Coast & Southern Alps

Trip duration: 7 Days

Total Driving Distance: 1,260 km

All packed up and still trying to deciding on where to go? Suppose you're asking yourself those critical questions; What do we want to see? What should we do? Where do we eat?

Driving the West Coast and Southern Alps of New Zealand will give you goosebumps and is a must-do road trip. Providing you with a truly unique and diverse drive, encompassing delicious and fresh food and wine, scenery that will take your breath away and fascinating, action-packed activities, this road trip is sure to satisfy all types of travellers.

Day 1: Nelson to Westport (via St Arnaud)

Driving distance: 239 km

Time in the car: 3 hours 13 minutes

Commence the drive from New Zealand's sunniest regions, Nelson, located at the top of the South Island. The Nelson Tasman region offers a range of geographical locations from long beaches like the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, where you can spend a few hours kayaking or sailing. Head south to the charming town of St Arnaud, the perfect base from which to explore the honeydew forest and mountains of Nelson Lakes National Park. Also well known for the spectacular Lake Rotoiti, take a walk along the jetty and sit at the very edge to take in the serenity; you might even get to see native eels swimming around. Driving further south to Westport via Buller Gorge, you'll find some fun for all the family, with the swingbridge and loop walks, jetboating and you can learn about the pioneering gold miners, settlers and prospectors, and how they tamed the wildland. The final stop for the day is the small town of Westport. Westport was first a gold town and then a coal town. The coal mining museum provides a glimpse of what it's like to work underground. Westport is also a centre for outdoor adventures – jet boating, underground rafting, caving, white water rafting and kayaking.

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Day 2 to 3: Charleston to Franz Josef (via Punakaiki, Greymouth and Hokitika)

Driving distance: 274 km

Time in the car: 3 hours 37 minutes

Continue driving south to Charleston and discover some of the largest rainforests in New Zealand, all whilst cave rafting. Look out for the glow-worm caves in the bottom levels and experience small river rapids down the Charleston Nile River. Driving along the west coastline, stopping off at Punakaiki, famous for the 'pancake rocks', blow-holes, and walking tracks - a must-see when visiting the West Coast. These famous limestone rock formations began forming 30 million years ago when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed; then, over the years, earthquakes raised them from the seabed to the level we see today. You'll find well-formed loop tracks that wind from the road through the native forest along the rugged coastline.

Continuing onto Greymouth, visit Monteiths Brewing Company, trying the chocolate stout, ginger beer and nine types of classic beer. Continue along the Kumara Highway to Hokitika, famous for its Jade, and if visiting at the end of summer, participate in the Wildfoods Festival, where everything is on the menu! If gold panning is of interest, try your hand (and luck) at gold panning at Shantytown Heritage Park. Our last stop for today will take us inland to the alpine town of Franz Josef, which is one of New Zealand's most spectacular glacier World Heritage sites where the ice meets rainforests. Choose to view the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier by helicopter or hiking.

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Day 4 to 5: Mt Aspiring National Park to Wanaka

Driving distance: 63 km

Time in the car: 50 minutes

From discovering the beauty and uniqueness of Franz Josef Glacier, it only gets better from here! The south island west coast drive continues along the Haast River and then further inland along Haast Pass, through part of the magnificent Mt Aspiring National Park. Stop off stunning Lake Matheson (formed around 14,000 years ago) and take a walk to the lake for an incredible photo of Mount Cook reflected in the dark waters.

Our next destination calls for either one or two nights of relaxation and discovery and will be our final stop for the day. You will need to continue along the West Coast along Bruce Bay which has a strong Maori heritage. Head along State Highway 6 to the stunning township of Wanaka. Wānaka is a hub for skiing, snowboarding with four ski fields to choose from and many diverse walks for beginners to more advanced walkers and hikers. After a day of outdoor adventure, you can wine and dine at Wānaka's top restaurants. There is something for everyone in Wanaka, whether you're travelling as a couple, within a group, with family or friends. Choose from the beautiful scent and scene of lavender farms, the adrenaline rush of sky diving, the puzzling world perfect for young families, the National Transport and Toy Museum, or climb the world's highest waterfall cable climb with WildWire Wanaka. Before you leave Wanaka, there is a must-do. We recommend checking out 'that Wanaka tree', a small willow tree right on Lake Wanaka's waterfront and one of the most beautiful images that capture the uniqueness of New Zealand.

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Day 6 to 7: Central Otago to Christchurch (via Geraldine)

Driving distance: 457 km

Time in the car: 5 hours 47 minutes

Start the day off with a drive to Central Otago, with an incredible landscape and home to pinot noir, the most changeable grape varieties, which excels in the southernmost vineyards, and most wineries offer tours and tastings. Also well known for motorhome and campervan visitors, the region offers up some fantastic freedom (free) camping at Cromwell, one of the best ways to immerse yourself into the surroundings.

As the route winds towards Christchurch, stop off for breathtaking views of the Southern Alps. If time permits, take a side trip to the village, take a helicopter ride over the Alps, and visit the Sir Edmund Hilary Centre to learn how Mount Cook helped him conquer Everest. There are many walking tracks, ideal for hiking and mountaineering. Lake Tekapo is part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it perfect for stargazing. Located in the Mackenzie Basin, the lake gets its turquoise colour from the fine rock flour grounded by the glaciers. Visit the picturesque Church of the Good Shepard on its shoreline, built-in 1935 for the regions pioneer families. On the journey back to Christchurch, stop off at the quaint, artistic town of Geraldine. The cafes and restaurants offer locally grown produce and some shops for arts and crafts lovers. Here you will also find the Pukeko birds, Maori for "purple swamphen". Continue along Highway 1 and conclude this drive-in Christchurch.

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West Coast and Southern Alps

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