Home > The Road Trips > Christchurch - Dunedin

Christchurch - Dunedin

The plains of South Canterbury are covered by a colourful patchwork of fields and flanked by the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps. With views that seem to have no end-point and a bevy of quaint towns to call into, to say this road trip is magnificent would be an understatement for sure.

Christchurch to Dunedin
Total Distance 389 Km
Approx driving time 5 hours
Today Christchurch22°

As this road trip begins in Christchurch, a sports fan's dream and an outdoor enthusiast's haven, you might never want to leave. But, after punting on the Avon River, indulging in some fine dining and testing your adventurous spirit on an early morning hot-air balloon ride, get ready to head south towards Dunedin.

The road to Ashburton

Leaving Christchurch, the long straight road you're driving seems to stretch forever into the distant south. A highlight of this area is when the road meets the Rakaia River and you cross New Zealand's longest bridge. Stop in at Salmon World and see the aquarium or take a 4D movie flight up the Rakaia Gorge. Side trips entice drivers to explore the winter ski hub of Methven, Mt Hutt, the Rakaia Gorge and the twinkling sky-blue waters of Lake Coleridge, while hot-air balloons float sedately over the genteel township of Ashburton. There is plenty to do here, with a famous aviation museum, the Ashford Craft Shop and great restaurants for you to sample the local food. They even have a man-made lake, Lake Hood, that's ideal for boating, rowing, swimming and exploring the shores.

Side trips entice drivers to explore the winter ski hub of Methven, Mt Hutt, the Rakaia Gorge and the twinkling sky-blue waters of Lake Coleridge.

Further down the road, white-water rafts negotiate the wild waters of the Rangitata River, which meets the sea north of Temuka, a small town that produces famous pottery that has made its way into most New Zealand homes.

As you leave Rangitata keep an eye out for the signpost to the Tin Shed to enjoy some country-style shopping. Head to windswept Browns Beach or take a leisurely drive inland to see the memorial of unsung aviation pioneer Richard Pearse on Main Waitohi Rd.

At Pleasant Point you can ride the world's only Ford Model T railcar, admire the restored railway relics at the Museum and Railway, or visit the Old Time Movie Theatre. Sample wine at Opihi Vineyard, marvel at Raincliff Reserve's Maori rock art, and sink your teeth into a Denheath House custard square at Legends Cafe.

Also known as the Garden City, the cultured southern haven of Christchurch boasts a large number of parks and gardens, the stand-out being Hagley Park - the city's pride and joy.

Akaroa is the site of the only attempt to establish a French settlement in New Zealand. The seaside village hosts a generous number of quality restaurants and boutique shops. Be sure to visit Barry's Bay Cheese Factory, open seven days.

Head to Moeraki, where perfectly rounded boulders are embedded in the sand on the beach. Best seen at low tide, these beautiful spherical stones - some up to four-metres in circumference - can be seen emerging from the cliffs and disappearing into the sand and the sea.

Timaru is a vibrant town with a striking piazza overlooking Caroline Bay. Much of Timaru's Edwardian heritage and buildings are still apparent today so bring your camera along for some great shots.

While in Christchurch, snuggle up with a friend and enjoy a relaxing time punting on the Avon River. Afterwards buy a sneaky treat or two at The Fudge Cottage in the Bishopdale Mall - such sweet delights!

Make sure you to take time out to visit the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. The cute little creatures waddle up the beach and put on quite a show doing it!

Visit Moeraki's perfectly rounded boulders, the Moeraki jetty (site of Fleur's Place, the famous seafood restaurant) and the lookout to enjoy the stunning scenery.

Drive to Shag Point and see the flat rocks where you might see some large seals, and take a wander along Katiki Beach.

While in Dunedin take a drive to Port Chalmers and then on to Aramoana or perhaps up to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. There are some great views, large waves and rugged beaches, together with the picturesque Purakaunui inlet.

There are some wonderful walking tracks around Dunedin with the Pineapple track and the Mt Cargill walk being a true test for the enthusiast. For a more leisurely walk there is the option of some wonderful walks around the Town Belt and Ross Creek where you will hear the chorus of birdsong. While in Dunedin make sure you sample the region's wines - they're world-famous for a reason!

Many of the beaches surrounding Dunedin are renowned among surfers for the quality of the waves. Both St Clair and St Kilda are very accessible and the walk along the beachfront starting from the St Clair Esplanade is definitely worthwhile.

Dunedin has a choice for the avid golfer with a great range of golf courses starting with Balmacewen, renowned for its championship-standard greens. It is one of the oldest golf courses in the southern hemisphere. There is also the St Clair course with its tranquil surroundings.

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From here, head to Timaru - a vibrant town with a striking piazza overlooking Caroline Bay. Much of Timaru's Edwardian heritage and buildings are still apparent today; it's worth stopping to take a look around town and discover some rich aspects of New Zealand's history. Take a look at the bustling port where you can drive close to the boats, or hop out and do some fishing. Visit the famous Aigantighe Art Gallery (pronounced 'egg and tie') or visit the museum. You can also visit an acclaimed pottery factory, and see Maori rock art in nearby caves.


From Timaru, head towards Waimate - famous for its strawberries, and the annual 'Strawberry Fare' in December that brings families together for a fun day out. Head to the town's main street for an architectural flashback to the Edwardian era, but don't leave without visiting the tame wallabies on Bathgates Rd or Kelceys Bush Farm yard. There is a local vineyard to visit, among bellbird song and wonderful scenery. Also go to the Waimate Knitwear Shop, which offers quality New Zealand-made garments at factory prices. The Waimate Information Centre has a wealth of knowledge to assist you on your visit.

Cross the trout-laden waters of the Waitaki River and not far down on the right you come across the Riverstone Kitchen and Homeware shop where you will be amazed by food and giftware.


When you arrive in Oamaru visit 56 Eden St, Janet Frame's childhood home. Then pop into the Whitestone Cheese Shop to pick up some picnic supplies for an afternoon in the Oamaru Public Gardens, where you can relax amongst the beautiful flower displays and themed gardens.

Every evening as the sun sets, a troupe of blue penguins ride in on the surf. They awkwardly right themselves and then waddle up the beach to their cliff-side homes.

Oamaru's Victorian legacy is a sight to behold, with banks, a restored opera house, basilica and everything in between built from the creamy local limestone. As evening falls, make your way along the waterfront, past the curved wooden wharf and shag-smothered piers to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, and wait. Every evening as the sun sets, a troupe of blue penguins ride in on the surf. They awkwardly right themselves and then waddle up the beach to their cliff-side homes, and you can witness this nightly routine from grandstand seating.

For a short, scenic inland drive, explore the Vanished World fossil trail and find the Elephant Rocks at Duntroon. The Oamaru Information Centre on Thames St will advise on visits and tours.

For a short, scenic inland drive, explore the Vanished World fossil trail and find the Elephant Rocks at Duntroon.


Heading south, SH 1 takes you past Moeraki, where perfectly rounded boulders are embedded in the sand on the beach. Some say mermaids come to rest on these stony mounds, playmates of the endangered Hector's dolphins frequently seen in the bay. A visit to the Moeraki Lighthouse at Katiki Point is essential - you may see the rare yellow-eyed penguins and enjoy the wonderful views (best viewing is the two hours before sunset as the birds return to the shore after a day's fishing). Along Katiki Beach, dolphins often frolic in the waves and make happy companions on the road to Dunedin where a host of eco-activities await.

Once you make it to Dunedin, sit back, relax and look back fondly on a day well spent on the road. Treat yourself to a fine meal and a glass of New Zealand wine - you never know what adventures await you just around the corner.

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There's no better way to appreciate Christchurch and Canterbury's divine scenery than by taking to the skies in a hot-air balloon. Voted number 28 of the original 101 Must-Do's For Kiwis, hot-air ballooning brilliantly showcases the region's enviable and diverse sights.

As you gently take off - so softly you hardly realise you have left the ground - a feast for your eyes soon beckons; Canterbury Plains' rich tapestry of multi-coloured fields, the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps and the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean, and much more.

The feeling of absolute freedom, combined with air so fresh and clear, will probably leave you wishing you could float forever. But the journey does have to end, and a graceful landing in a beautiful countryside setting - complete with a celebratory glass of champagne or juice - does make coming back to earth a much easier task.

Oamaru's impressive Victorian harbour is home to not only an old wooden wharf and an assortment of traditional craftspeople, but to hundreds of blue penguins that waddle ashore every night just after dark. If you'd like to see penguins in their natural habitat, you've found the right place to do it!

The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, a natural nesting area for the world's smallest penguin species, is now an international drawcard. Harbour-side grandstand seating enables visitors to get a close look at these engaging birds as they return ashore after a day of fishing, every night of the year. Day tours are also available to see nesting penguins, depending on the season.

A 30-minute walk away is another penguin colony at Bushy Beach. This is the northernmost place where the rare yellow-eyed penguin is known to nest.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a lot to answer for when it comes to ideas of how chocolate is made. Roald Dahl would have you believe giant waterfalls of chocolate mix the molten confectionery, pint-sized chocolatiers run around singing songs in unison, and the chocolate factory is shrouded in secrecy.

In Dunedin, you can get to the bottom of this chocolate-making myth, without a golden ticket! Cadbury chocolate is made here, and the factory conducts tours (and tastings).

A highlight of the tours here is the phenomenal chocolate fall, housed in a five-storey silo, where you will see tonnes of melted chocolate cascade right past you. Loaded with fun facts and complete with tastings, this is a must for chocolate lovers and is ideal for families.

Dunedin's spectacular Otago Peninsula is a definite highlight of the region - you don't want to miss this, especially if you're a wildlife and nature lover. It's one of the few places in the world to boast such a diverse range of wildlife all within easy reach of the city.

And for an unrivalled viewing of these fascinating creatures, you can cruise the Otago Harbour, one of the most picturesque in the country. A tour will take you to the wildlife 'hotspots' and provide informative commentary, ensuring you get the most from a visit here.

Among the birdlife and wildlife you may encounter are northern royal albatross - with their up-to-three-metres wingspan - yellow-eyed penguins, New Zealand fur seals, sea lions, dolphins and plenty of ocean birds, including some that are rarely sighted.

Oamaru's Victorian and Edwardian heritage is proudly on show through its architecture - many of the town's buildings ooze grandeur and style. This was due to architects of the mid-19th century making the most of the creamy limestone found in the area (now known worldwide as Oamaru Stone).

Impressive buildings are everywhere, from the Harbour-Tyne St area, which is lined with a grand collection of buildings dating as far back as the 1860s, to homesteads, hotels, schools and banks.

Totara Estate is worth a visit: with interactive displays about the beginning of New Zealand's meat export industry, which started here, as well as a collection of restored buildings. The Oamaru Harbour is an important part of the town's history, being one of the few intact Victorian harbours.

At the foothills of the Southern Alps in the Canterbury Region, Mt Somers Conservation Area stands as a popular walking ground for adventurous travellers. There are two options when considering the Mt Somers Track - mild or advanced.

The mild option involves traversing the walkway from the Woolshed Creek car park to the Sharplin Falls car park with an overnight stay at Pinnacles Hut. This track passes remnants of coal mining, rocky outcrops, and through the Woolshed Creek Gorge.

The advanced option continues up Woolshed Creek onto the Winterslow Range before dropping down to Pinnacles Hut for the night and trekking out via the Mt Somers summit. These tracks can also be tramped in the opposite direction.

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