The drive from Christchurch to Dunedin is a bit of a mixed bag. It features some of the longest, most boring sections of road on the South Island, as well as one of the best. It’s a popular driving route and takes 4.5 hours without major stops. Want to see some cool stuff along the way, including boulders, beaches, wildlife hangouts and a couple of picturesque seaside towns? Keep reading and I’ll show you the best stuff to see and do!
Christchurch to Ashburton
The section of road between Christchurch and Ashburton is one of the most nondescript bits of South Island highway. There’s not much to see and it’s pretty much dead-straight. Ashburton, around 45 minutes from Christchurch, is a decent place to stop for petrol and some food (we’ve stopped there for KFC a few times).
If you’re looking for a detour from the main road you’re in luck. Just before Ashburton you can turn inland and explore the Hakatere Conservative Area (also known as the Ashburton Lakes).
It’s one of the most underrated spots in New Zealand — drive all the way to Mount Sunday for awesome views and one of the best Lord of the Rings filming locations. It’s a big detour, so try and spend a night in the area (maybe Methven) if you can spare it.
Ashburton to Timaru
The road between Ashburton and Timaru isn’t very exciting either, although you might get some mountain views from time to time. You could make a quick detour to Geraldine if you want to explore a bit. It’s a cute little town with some nice places to eat, and Peel Forest, with its waterfalls, native forest and mountain peaks is close by.
Timaru is a small seaside city featuring a great beach (Caroline Bay) and a compact and very pretty main street where you’ll find plenty of shops and cafés. It’s a good place to stop for a meal and a stroll, and if you happen to be there during summer you could spend the night and visit the Timaru Carnival.
READ MORE: 14 of the Best Things to Do in Timaru
Just south of Timaru is Jack’s Point Lighthouse. There’s an awesome walking track there — it’s easy and views are stunning on a nice day.
Timaru to Oamaru
This is another mostly boring bit of road, but there are a couple of places to stop. The first is Waimate, although it requires a short detour from the main road.
Waimate is a small town with an easily walkable centre. It’s a farming town and not really on the international traveller radar — real New Zealand (or one aspect of it) you could say. There are also wallabies in Waimate — you might see some on the drive up to the White Horse Monument viewpoint.
READ MORE: 5 of the Best Things to Do in Waimate
A short while after the Waimate turnoff is Riverstone, a (newly built) castle home to gift shops and a restaurant. We’ve never eaten there but it’s on the list!
Oamaru is one of the most impressive historic towns in New Zealand — if you’re into history and architecture (and steam punk) you’ll want to spend some time there.
The old town is fun to walk around, and the galleries and gift shops are home to some unique souvenirs and art works.
You’ve also got penguins, an awesome viewpoint and some nice beaches nearby — definitely worth spending a night if you have the time.
READ MORE: 13 of the Best Things to Do in Oamaru
Oamaru to Dunedin
I’ve written a post on the drive between Oamaru and Dunedin already so I won’t go into much detail here. It’s a beautiful stretch of road — it takes 90-minutes without stopping but you’ll definitely want to stop. The Moeraki Boulders is a must-see, especially if you can get there for sunrise. The small town of Moeraki is cool too — a great place for a seafood fix.
Also check out Kaitiki Point Lighthouse for great views and a chance to see dolphins and seals.
As you get closer to Dunedin I’d advise taking the coastal route through Karitane and then up over the hill to Port Chalmers. An awesome end to the long drive from Christchurch to Dunedin!
Are you planning a road trip around New Zealand? Check out our South Island Travel Guide!
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