We left Wellington and headed to the South Island. Check out our blog about this wonderful city here. But, we are off to the South. Here are some ideas for your trip as you plan the northern part of this picturesque location.
Under blue skies full of fluffy clouds, we boarded the Blue Bridge Ferry for the journey from the North to the South Island. The Cook Strait ferry is a fantastic experience with epic views that might include dolphins jumping out of the water and seal sightings.
From the moment you board and receive a warm greeting from the lovely Kiwi staff, you discover your ferry trip will be as wonderful as reaching the final destination. This is a 92-kilometer journey. Some ferries even have a movie theatre so that you can enjoy a movie with drinks and popcorn.
Take in the Beauty of the Islands
Spend time on deck soaking up the vitamin sea and admiring the gorgeous New Zealand scenery with rolling hills, moody skies, and seagulls flying above. Have your cameras ready because you might also see seals, penguins, and other sea creatures from the viewing deck, which is always a thrill. Or stay indoors and still enjoy the stunning sights through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The fresh sea air always makes everyone hungry, and there are excellent dining services with fresh local food and drink, including a fine selection of NZ wine and beers
There’s plenty of space to move around or chill out as you are rocked gently during the exhilarating journey of the Marlborough Sounds and Cook Strait. The ferry is massive, and exploring the different levels is all part of the adventure. The facilities on the Aratere, Kaitaki, and Kaiarahi ferries are slightly different but equally fantastic.
Although any time of the day is gorgeous, sunrise and sunset ferry rides can be especially memorable. If you are making a return trip, we highly recommend traveling at different times of the day, for the mood can be beautifully contrasting. Getting up early to set sail by 5 am is worth it. Plus, you have fewer tourists onboard the earlier you book your Picton-bound ferry ticket.
There is something so romantic and charming about a long sea voyage. Not that it’s that long. Three hours is the perfect amount of time to gaze at some of the country’s most gorgeous scenery, indulge in some shopping, grab a delicious bite to eat, sip some vino and get ready to step off the boat refreshed. The only possible downside is rough weather which can mean a rocky trip (in extreme weather, the ferry may not sail). But most of the time, the weather is fine, and the ferry takes happy travelers back and forth between the islands.
The Great Kiwi Road Trip
You have two options for a trip to Christchurch. We took the Ocean Pacific Train. You can see all about it in our video here:
Another option is to rent a car from Picton and get an early start to the day as you head to Christchurch, which is about four hours drive without stops (or 9 hours by bus). Behind the wheel, you are free and in control of where you will stop for photos, a classic mince and cheese pie, or ice cream.
Stop in Blenheim for a meal (the town has a reputation for excellent food and drink). You might also sample free chocolate and see how it’s made at Makana Confections. As well as see vintage plane displays curated by movie director Sir Peter Jackson at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center.
See a seal colony
As you cruise through the Marlborough Sounds, you are in wine country, and a stop at a winery is a must. Sample some wine as you roam the vineyards and takeaway a Sauvignon Blanc to enjoy when you settle into your hotel in Christchurch later in the day.
Seals at Ohau Point can usually be seen (and heard very clearly in mating season) from a viewing platform. Lavendyl Farm is only 15 minutes from there, and when the lavender is in bloom in January and February with Mount Fyffe and the Kaikoura Peninsula in the background, it’s a spectacular sight. This is when the oil is extracted from the lavender, but you can see the flowers from November through March.
Nature lovers must stop in Kaikoura, where you can book a range of tours to see dolphins, blue penguins, and whales. The water is freezing, but the surf’s up, so expect to see people riding the waves too. Don’t forget your binoculars because there are many things to see in the ocean.
Christchurch is a picturesque city that welcomes visitors with a vibrant arts and culture scene, gondola rides, pretty parks, and historical buildings which survived or were rebuilt after the 2011 earthquakes. Cathedral Square is an excellent place to start, and there are often concerts, performances, and festivals happening, especially during summer.
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu has an impressive collection of New Zealand artwork. Entry and guided tours are free. Stop by the Centre of Contemporary Art if modern art is your vibe. Grab a meal at Brighton Beach House, where the eggs Bennie breakfast is just the best. Then, splurge with a stay at The George or book a modern home in the city on Airbnb.
From Christchurch, don’t miss the TranzAlpine train ride to Greymouth. This is one of the most beautiful train passages in the world. We took this train and loved every minute of the journey. There is GPS triggered commentary so you can hear about each place you see. You will learn more about the history and geography of the area. We have a full video about all the trains in New Zealand at the bottom of this post, but you can see our short video about the TranzAlpine here:
In the Maori language, Greymouth translates to “the wide river mouth.” The native people would look for greenstone (pounamu) in the area, and later in history, European settlers mined for gold and coal. These days Greymouth is known for gorgeous scenery, great hiking, and its excellent breweries. This is the place for food and brewery tours and to sample local whitebait, which is amazing in fritters.
We hope this travel guide has inspired you to see New Zealand. There are several articles on our website, so be sure to check them all out. We have made several short videos to show the different activities we did. As epic trips go, this one was right up there with some of our best. We know you will have a memorable experience, too!