During a 364km road journey between Christchurch and Dunedin, you’ll find rare wildlife, historic towns and country settlements with enticing attractions and activities along the way.
Leaving Christchurch, it’s straight across the patchwork plains all the way to Rakaia, which boasts the longest bridge in New Zealand (1.8km) and a reputation for some of the finest salmon fishing in the world. Stop at Salmon World’s “look and learn” aquarium, shop and café for tasty products to try or buy.
At Ashburton, visitors frequently admire the exquisite gardens and the Ashford Art and Craft Village. Or stay to explore a clutch of specialist museums, among them the Plains Vintage Railway and Historical Museum, and the Aviation Museum.
Cross the Rangitata River into the South Canterbury district to the pretty village of Geraldine. You’ll discover galleries, artists’ studios and temptations including local cheeses, gourmet ice-cream, Barker’s well known chutneys, jams and sauces, and Chocolate Fellman for a sinful stopover.
Peel Forest is a tranquil recreation area of horse treks and walking tracks through ancient podcarp forest. The energetic are rewarded with views over the Canterbury Plains from the top of Mount Peel.
Returning to the main highway, the little town of Temuka is associated with pottery; even its name means “large oven”. South Canterbury sheep stations were established in the 1850s and Timaru developed as a port for wool. The commercial heart of Timaru clusters around the golden sands of Caroline Bay, where a nostalgic carnival has been held every summer for more than a century. The Aigantighe Art Museum is the third largest in New Zealand and has an internationally renowned collection and sculpture garden, while at Pareora, ancient Maori rock art can be seen by guided visit.
Fancy riding a penny-farthing bicycle? Give it a whirl in Oamaru, which proudly embraces its Victorian history. Oamaru’s wealth was derived from the frozen meat industry at Totara Estate in the 1880s, resulting in a town full of imposing architecture.
Visit Oamaru’s harbour at dusk to see blue penguins return from their day’s fishing. In summer, up to 180 come ashore to their nesting boxes. As well as a special viewing facility, a selection of tours informs about the protection of these engaging little creatures.
Outdoor adventurers can also enjoy day trips to the Waitaki Valley and hydro lakes to boat, float or fish, topped offwith a hot tub soak in Omarama. Gastronomic adventurers should sample the area’s award-winning Whitestone Cheese and Kurow wines before travelling south to Moeraki.
This charming fishing village adjoins a stunning curve of sandy beach where the Moeraki Boulders are a rare geological curiosity. Similar to the formation of pearls, lime minerals from the sea formed around a piece of shell or driftwood. Over 60 million years, these grew into spheres on the seabed, which later uplifted to become cliffs containing the boulders. Erosion releases the boulders which tumble onto the beach.
Described as “our little piece of paradise” by Walter, Theresa and Paul Kiener of Moeraki’s holiday park, the village has also become famous for Fleur’s Place. Resting on the rocks, this award-winning restaurant specialises in seafood straight from local fishing boats.
The road hugs the coast between Moeraki and Palmerston, once the miner’s route to the gold rush. Old buildings have been reinvented as cafés and vintage shops to explore.
Less than an hour away is Dunedin, where Scottish pride established New Zealand’s first university, the only castle, the steepest street, fine Victorian buildings, a Scotch whisky distillery and a large statue of poet Robbie Burns overlooking the octagonal city centre.
North Dunedin is dominated by the lively Otago University campus. At the Otago Museum, more than 1,000 vivid butterflies flutter among the suspended walkways of Tropical World, its most popular exhibit.
For 130 years, copper kettles at Speight’s Brewery have produced a fearsome number of pints and for novelty you can taste, bottle, cap and label your own souvenir ale. Alternatively, try a wee dram of Dunedin’s 45 South whisky.
Just 20 minutes south of the city are the breathtaking bays of Otago Peninsula, rated by botanist David Bellamy as ” one of the finest eco environments in the world”. It’s home to yellow-eyed penguins, blue penguins and fur seals, but the prince of them all is the royal northern albatross. With a 3m wing span, they’re impressive in flight or nesting in the colony with their fluffy chicks at Taiaroa Head.
The Edwardian magnificence of the Railway Station is also mesmerising. Today, only the Taieri Gorge Railway departs from this grand edifice of stained glass and Royal Doulton tiles.
But the day-trip train ride to the rugged mountain interior is almost as breathtaking with cliff-hugging tunnels, soaring viaducts and steep gorges — it’s the perfect way to complete your journey.