Lesser Known Places - The Alpine Pacific Touring Route, South Island.

In this series of blogs, we look beyond the iconic New Zealand destinations, to lesser known places that many visitors might never have heard of, but have often turned out to be one of the surprises and a highlight of their vacation. This example, The Alpine Pacific Touring Route, starts at Christchurch, the biggest city in the South Island, and moves north to the Whale Watching town of Kaikōura

The Alpine Pacific Touring Route is one of our favorite self-drive South Island touring routes, jammed packed with a fantastic variety of great experiences and incredible sights.

The starting point of our suggested 3-day tour is Christchurch, although others will start at Hanmer Springs after driving across the Lewis Pass from Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island.

Or, those visiting the South Island vineyards of Marlborough to the north, will be able to drive south from Blenheim via the newly re-opened coastal highway and start The Alpine Pacific Touring Route at Kaikōura.


Day One

Christchurch to Hanmer Springs via the Waipara Valley

Drive: 90 minutes, 84-miles

Depart Christchurch and head drive north to the Waipara Valley, one of New Zealand's premier wine regions, famous for its unique landscape and valleys.

Enjoy some wine tastings and lunch at one of North Canterbury's vineyards.


Waiau Valley Vineyards.

Then, join State Highway 7 and continue further into the Hurunui region, joining the Waiau River as you near Hanmer Springs.

Before reaching Hanmer, make a stop and consider a jet boat along the the length of the spectacular Waiau Gorge with Hanmer Springs Attractions. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you can take on the rapids on a white-water rafting trip, or tackle river crossings, mud, dust and dirt on a four-wheel quad bike.


Jet boat on the Waiau River.


Or navigate half of the journey by inflatable raft and return by jet boat.


The adrenalin rush half!

End your first day at New Zealand’s premier alpine spa destination, the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. Experience a wide range of activities, from soothing indulgence to exciting family fun. Enjoy the rock and Sulphur pools and a popular family activity area - complete with water slides.

Travel Tip: Because of its close proximity to Christchurch, in the summer and school vacations, Hanmer Springs can be quite busy with family groups. We'll help you navigate these peaks when we help plan your itinerary, so you'll enjoy the peace and calm of Hanmer and its surroundings.


The Pools at Hanmer Springs.

Day Two

Hanmer Springs to Kaikōura

Drive: 2 hours, 80-miles

Leave Hanmer Springs and follow the Waiau River through the Inland Scenic Route, until you approach the picturesque seaside village of Kaikōura. Explore the maritime vibe of Kaikoura's main street before getting up close and personal with Kaikoura's sea life.


The coastal town of Kaikōura with the Kaikōura Ranges providing a spectacular backdrop is New Zealand's capital of whale watching.

Whale Watch Kaikoura Kaikōura conducts daily tours observing sperm, blue and humpback whales in their natural habitat, while Encounter Kaikōura offer the opportunity to swim with dolphins and explore the nearby albatross colony.


Humpback Whale, Kaikōura.

Be sure to sample nature's ocean larder while in Kaikōura. Enjoy local produce with a delicious seafood feast at The Pier Hotel. Or for a truly iconic Kaikōura experience, check out the famous Nins Bin, offering organic crayfish from a caravan just 20 minutes north of the township.

For a chance to stretch your legs and view some amazing scenery, try one of the many Kaikōura coastal walks. Observe seals and seabirds, explore a historic pā (Maori Village) and whaling sites. Or dive into some local history at the Kaikōura Museum, home to numerous interesting, quirky and uniquely Kaikōura exhibits.


Mangamaunu, one of the surf breaks on this stretch of coast.

Day Three

Kaikōura returning to Christchurch

Drive: 2.5 hours, 126-miles

Beginning your final day, savor the first 14-miles on your drive before the road peels away from the coast. Traverse the Hundalee Hills as you make your way south to Cheviot and the Two Rivers Gallery & Café, a tastefully converted garage with an extensive art collective inside and a native garden outside.

Instead of continuing on the main road, take a left at McQueen Street to visit Gore Bay, one of the region's most underrated assets. This hidden paradise boasts incredible surf, a rugged beach and limited cellphone reception, adding to the sense of escape. From here take the Tweedies Gully walk, up through the forest from where your reward is The Cathedrals, partially eroded siltstone pillars that look out over the bay.


The Cathedrals at Gore Bay.


Coastal farmlands scenery on the Alpine Pacific Touring Route.


Rural panorama, Cheviot, North Canterbury.

While traveling back on the main road, stop for one last wine and food fix at the award winning Black Estate winery, a family-run vineyard, cellar door and restaurant.

Make your way back through Amberley to Christchurch, reminiscing on the great times you've had on the Alpine Pacific Touring Route.

We can finesse this suggested this tour according to your own special interests.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Jun 07, 2020