5 Top Scenic Routes from Christchurch

Nestled on New Zealand's South Island, Christchurch is a city that serves as a gateway to some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes on Earth. With its diverse terrain, from the majestic Southern Alps to the pristine Pacific coastline, Christchurch offers an array of scenic routes that will leave any traveler in awe. In this travelogue, we'll embark on a journey through five of the top scenic routes from Christchurch, each offering a unique and unforgettable experience.

Photo credit: Miles Holden

Arthur's Pass Highway
Our journey begins with a drive along the Arthur's Pass Highway, which takes you through the heart of the Southern Alps. Departing from Christchurch, you'll head northwest, gradually ascending into the mesmerizing alpine landscape. The road winds its way through lush beech forests, offering glimpses of towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, and glacial-fed rivers.

One of the highlights of this route is Arthur's Pass National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the highest pass in the Southern Alps. As you traverse this region, you'll have the opportunity to spot the native wildlife, including the elusive kea parrot and the iconic New Zealand's mountain parrot.

The centerpiece of Arthur's Pass is the Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall. A short hike from the car park brings you to the base of this 131-meter-high waterfall, where you can feel the cool mist on your face as you gaze up at this natural wonder. It's an ethereal experience that will linger in your memory.

Akaroa Scenic Drive
For those looking for a coastal escape, the Akaroa Scenic Drive offers a delightful excursion. This charming French-inspired town is located on Banks Peninsula, just a two-hour drive from Christchurch. As you make your way towards Akaroa, you'll be treated to panoramic views of the peninsula's rugged coastline and the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The journey takes you through a mosaic of rolling hills, lush farmlands, and picturesque bays. En route, be sure to stop at the Hilltop Tavern for a bite to eat and to savor the breathtaking vista from its panoramic deck.

Akaroa itself is a delightful village with a rich history and a thriving art scene. Stroll along its quaint streets, enjoy French cuisine at local restaurants, or embark on a harbor cruise to spot Hector's dolphins, the world's smallest and rarest dolphin species.

Banks Peninsula Summit Road
Continuing our exploration of Banks Peninsula, the Summit Road offers an elevated perspective of this stunning landscape. The road hugs the rim of the volcanic crater that formed the peninsula, providing breathtaking views of Akaroa Harbour on one side and the vast expanse of the Pacific on the other.

The journey along Summit Road is filled with scenic lookouts, where you can stop to soak in the vistas, take photos, or enjoy a picnic. One of the most iconic viewpoints is the Hilltop Scenic Reserve, where you can capture the essence of this pristine region.

During your drive, you'll also encounter pockets of native bush and wildlife, including pohutukawa trees, bellbirds, and even the occasional penguin colony. It's a route that showcases the natural beauty of New Zealand in all its glory.

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
A trip to the South Island of New Zealand wouldn't be complete without experiencing the mesmerizing turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo. The drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo is a captivating journey through the Canterbury Plains, where the expansive landscapes and wide-open skies will make you feel like you've stepped into a dream.

As you approach Lake Tekapo, the first thing that catches your eye is the quaint Church of the Good Shepherd, perched on the lake's edge. This iconic church offers a picture-perfect view of the lake and the Southern Alps beyond.

Lake Tekapo itself is renowned for its stunning colors, thanks to the fine glacial sediment suspended in the water. The nearby Mount John Observatory provides another opportunity for breathtaking panoramas, both during the day and at night when you can indulge in stargazing.

Christchurch to Kaikoura Coastal Drive
Our final scenic route takes us to Kaikoura, a coastal town that offers a unique blend of marine wildlife and coastal beauty. The drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura is an adventure in itself, as you wind your way along the rugged Pacific coastline.

One of the highlights of this route is the opportunity for whale watching. Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to see sperm whales year-round, and you can also spot orcas, humpback whales, and playful dolphins in the waters off the coast.

In addition to the marine life, the Kaikoura Peninsula is a haven for seals. A visit to the Ohau Point Seal Colony provides a chance to watch these playful creatures in their natural habitat. The scenery here is also spectacular, with the mountains meeting the sea in dramatic fashion.

Excited to explore New Zealand’s South Island?
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