Christchurch, Waipara, Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs offer a Mighty big adventure with very little driving time.
As far as road trips go, Christchurch to Kaikoura is up there with New Zealand’s best. Not only insanely scenic, it packs in plenty of activities, from wine tasting to whale watching. Detour through Hanmer Springs and you’ve completed the Alpine Pacific Triangle – a memorable adventure that’s Mighty big on fun with a micro-sized driving time of just 5–6 hours. Allow at least three days to complete the 370km round-trip, but it’ll be cruisier with a few extra days up your sleeve.
Take in the sights of Christchurch before or after, staying in one of many holiday parks – all are blooming lovely as you’d expect in the ‘Garden City’. Christchurch is well set up for travellers with heaps to see and do. In fact, it has shown so much heart and hard work since the 2010–2011 earthquakes that both Lonely Planet and the New York Times rate it a ‘must-visit’. Don’t miss the fab new Woolston Tannery where you’ll find an arty shopping arcade as well as Cassels & Sons Brewery – home to live music and yummy pizza.
Point your Mighty campervan north up State Highway 1, which zips across the Canterbury Plains. Just 40 minutes north of Christchurch you’ll angle your way in to the Alpine Pacific Triangle at Waipara, an up-and-coming wine region. Visit a cellar door or two for a tasting, or treat yourself to a winery lunch – check out Pegasus Bay or Black Estate. The Waipara Valley Wine Growers map pinpoints wineries and other local attractions. The North Canterbury Food & Wine Trail may also prove helpful around these parts.
Further north at Cheviot, an 8km detour leads to Gore Bay – a satisfying stop-off with a swimming beach and strangely sculpted Cathedral Cliffs. Gore Bay Camp is a relaxing overnight stop for you and your Mighty campervan.
Between Cheviot and Kaikoura, the highway winds over the ‘Hundalees’ before kissing the coast, with plenty of places to pull over and size up the photogenic views.
Kaikoura enjoys an enviable position on New Zealand’s east coast, nestling into a peninsula guarded by the snow-capped peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Range. The unique ocean environment here supports an eye-popping array of wildlife, from whales, dolphins, and seals, to albatrosses and penguins. Wondrous Whale Watch has made the town famous, but there’s a raft of other tours and activities. Check out Seal Swim and Kaikoura Kayaks – two of our favourite activities in the area.
Free and fabulous, the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a leisurely 3–4 hour loop with unforgettable views. It passes the strange and slightly stinky snooze-fest at the Point Kean Seal colony (the best free entertainment in town), as well as Kaikoura Seafood BBQ, a popular roadside stall where you can try the local delicacy, crayfish. The historic Pier Hotel is a neat place for a drink, especially around sundown.
Kaikoura has three excellent holiday parks for powering up your Mighty life, the quietest and cheapest of which is Peketa Beach, 7km south of town. Both the Alpine–Pacific and Top 10 are top-notch and five minutes’ walk from town. The final leg of the Alpine Pacific Triangle heads back to Christchurch via the inland State Highway 70. It’s a peaceful drive with epic rural and mountain scenery, taking around 90-minutes to reach Hanmer Springs.
Lying in a picturesque basin surrounded by mountains, the hub of Hanmer Springs is the Thermal Pools & Spa, a pleasure-seekers paradise with all sorts of open-air pools, fun slides, spa facilities, picnic areas and a café.
As tempting as it is to spend every waking moment soaking in the pools, there’s plenty more to do around Hanmer Springs. Zig-zag your way up to Conical Hill Lookout to get a panorama of the surrounding countryside. Hidden amidst the rolling hills are activities galore, including hiking, horse-trekking, mountain biking, jet boating and even bungy jumping.
Need a rest? Hanmer Springs’ two holiday parks are lovely. The Top 10 is friendly and good-looking, and five minutes’ walk from town. Around half an hour’s walk from the centre is Alpine Adventure Holiday Park, with more greenery and the bonus of bike hire.
From Hanmer Springs, it’s under two hours’ drive (135km) south back to Christchurch through the Hurunui region. Along the way you’ll pass back through Waipara, so perhaps save some room in your Mighty campervan for an extra bottle of vino!