The attractive town of Kaikoura is on the northeastern coast of the South Island. It can be reached by car, bus, or train. Here's how to get to Kaikoura from Christchurch and other points on the South Island.
From the North
The towns of Nelson, Picton, and Blenheim, at the top of the South Island, are all within driving distance of Kaikoura.
Nelson is the biggest city in the northern South Island, and is 150 miles (243 km) from Kaikoura, or three-to-four hours' drive. There are several flights a day to Nelson from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. From Nelson, you can pick up a rental car and take one of several driving routes to Kaikoura. It's important to check the weather conditions before settling upon a route, as snowfall, rain, or other disturbances can make one route better than another on any given day. From Nelson the options are:
- State Highway (SH) 6 to Blenheim, then SH 1 to Kaikoura (usually the fastest route, at about 3 hours)
- SH 6 to Havelock, then take the beautiful Queen Charlotte Drive to Picton, and continue on SH 1 to Kaikoura (the scenic route, about 3.5 hours)
- SH 6 south of Nelson to St. Arnaud, in the Nelson Lakes National Park, then SH 63 to Blenheim, and SH 1 to Kaikoura (the slow route, at around 4 hours, but sometimes necessary if other roads are closed).
Many travelers enter the South Island at Picton after getting the InterIslander Ferry from Wellington. As it's a vehicle ferry, many travelers have their own cars at this point, but if not, you can rent one in Picton. It's also possible to get the scenic Coastal Pacific train from Picton to Kaikoura. The service continues on to Christchurch, but you can get off at Kaikoura.
It's also possible to get a bus from Nelson, Picton, or Blenheim to Kaikoura. These leave once a day. If coming from Nelson, you'll need to change buses at Picton. Taking a bus is slower than driving yourself, but you'll get to enjoy the scenery of the Marlborough Sounds without worrying about watching the road. Buses are large and comfortable, with reasonably frequent comfort stops.
Travelers with a weak stomach should be aware that the roads from Nelson to Blenheim are pretty windy, as they pass through mountainous country.
Christchurch is New Zealand's second-largest city and second major air hub (after Auckland), so many travelers to New Zealand start here. Christchurch is 111 miles (180 km) from Kaikoura, a 2.5-hour drive. Self-driving from Christchurch is simple, as you just need to head north on SH 1. This part of Canterbury province is pretty flat.
The same train that can be caught from Picton can also be caught from Christchurch, in the other direction. This is a nice option for rail enthusiasts or those who want to enjoy a relatively eco-friendly way of traveling.
You can also get the bus from Christchurch to Kaikoura, which continues north to Picton.