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South Island: Top of the South"


By Concrete Playground
September 07, 2018
By Concrete Playground
September 07, 2018

If you're after diverse landscape and exceptional experiences, plan to head north from Christchurch to discover the best of the top of the South Island.

You’ve probably heard people bandy around phrases like ‘natural wonders’, ‘stunning landscapes’ and ‘adrenaline centre’ when they talk about New Zealand, but it’s here, in the top of the South Island, where these terms really come to life. This neck of the woods has experiences, wildlife, food, wine, relaxation and just the right amount of thrills to tick every box on anyone’s list. From the quirkiness of Christchurch, that’s come back with a vengeance — better than ever and evolving in ways no one thought possible — to the whales and dolphins in Kaikoura, the vineyards and the hop fields of Nelson. With world-class food moments, natural hot springs and all kinds of outdoor adventures, you don’t really even need loads of time to do it all. You can experience some of the most memorable sights, sounds and tastes in just a short distance. That’s the beauty of New Zealand.

Read on to start planning and creating your own customised journey with our itinerary builder below.


Every season has its merits in New Zealand. The warmer months are great for making the most of the coast, lakes and rivers. And, of course, winter has its own glittering charm. But, autumn — which runs March through to May — is particularly sensational. With the changing leaves painting the countryside rich golds and reds. The days are warm and sunny, perfect for outdoor activities. Really, you just can’t lose.


Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island and a charming experience in itself. There are 13 daily non-stop flights to Christchurch from Australia’s main airports. After taking time to explore the city, head north to Marlborough and Nelson via Hanmer Springs, an inland hot pool, sub-alpine and all around gorgeous village and return through the Lewis Pass to Kaikoura and back to Christchurch.


Allow $100–$150 a day for petrol, worthy entertainment and cheap and cheerful eats, and if you tend to enjoy the finer things in life, give yourself upwards of $250 a day to take some bigger adventures, find some luxe ways to relax and eat some truly sensational food.


Take time to wander the streets of Christchurch and see the prized street art. What started as a way of filling in the vacant lots and walls left when buildings fell in the quakes has now become an open-air gallery in itself. Local and international artists have filled walls with huge, impressive works.

Plan Your Journey Through the Top of the South

Track down the must-visit local haunts.

Top Of The South

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    Venture Through the Top of the South

    Do as the locals do.

    The Food

    From a greenshell mussel tour to a fancy degustation at Roots Restaurant, here's how to eat your way through the Top of the South.

    1. Roots Restaurant

    Treat yourself to a degustation of fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients harvested from its urban garden, sourced from local markets and forged from Banks Peninsula.

    2. Greenshell Mussel Cruise

    Taste fresh NZ mussels on this half-day cruise through Pelorus and Kenepuru sounds where you’ll also visit a mussel farm and learn about the mollusc’s cultivation and harvesting.

    3. Hans Herzog Estate

    Do a wine tasting at the cellar door, then make your way through the white rose bushes to the elegant dining room for a meal from the Michelin star-trained team of chefs.

    4. C1 Espresso

    Pour yourself a water from a repurposed sewing machine, order sliders and curly fries and watch for them to arrive at your table via pneumatic tube.

    5. Nins Bin

    Kiwis have been stopping here on their way from Christchurch to Kaikoura for decades. You can’t drive this way and not buy some crayfish and chips to go with it.

    The Drink

    Go on a cellar door bike tour or have a whisky at The Last World — whatever tipple tickles your fancy, we've got you covered.

    1. Nelson Beer Trail

    Work your way through hop country and New Zealand’s beer capital on a sampling circuit that’ll take you around local family-run breweries from the seaside to the foothills.

    2. The Last Word

    Sip a fine whisky or two at this cocktail bar with old-world charm found on Christchurch’s New Regent Street.

    3. Pegasus Bay Winery

    Make a stop at this winery in the Waipara Valley on your way to Hanmer Spring to sample the award-winning wines and produce sourced from the estate.

    4. Scotch Wine Bar

    Sip one of the 500 wines housed in a walk-through cellar at this independent restaurant, wine bar and shop in Blenheim.

    5. Cellar Door Bike Tour

    Ride bikes down the Golden Mile through Rapaura and Renwick and sip quality pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay and even a montepulciano.

    The Adventures

    For the thrillseekers, here's a list of adrenaline-charged activities designed to get your heart racing, including a scenic skydive.

    1. Buller Gorge Rafting

    Journey through pink granite canyons and wild West Coast scenery on a whitewater rafting excursion in Murchison, the whitewater capital of NZ.

    2. Skydive Abel Tasman

    Glimpse both of NZ’s islands as well as golden beaches, lush vegetation, vineyards, mountains and turquoise ocean as you dive from 16,500-feet up.

    3. Natural High

    Rent a bike to see Christchurch on two wheels or book a tour through the nearby vineyards, along the Little River rail trail or up to the Port Hills.

    4. Cable Bay Adventure Park

    Make tracks to this kidult playground with the world’s longest flying fox, quad bikes, paintball, horse rides, plus a café with a cosy fire and friendly farm dog.

    5. Ballooning Canterbury

    Hop an early morning hot air balloon for a bird’s eye view of the sunrise over the coastline, plains, peninsula and alps in the Canterbury area.

    The Escapes

    Spend the day soaking in a hot spring or stargaze from your own private glasshouse — here's how to rest, relax and rejuvenate around the Top of the South.

    1. Magic Mail Boat Cruise

    Help deliver the mail by boat to those living in the Queen Charlotte Sounds on this four-and-a-half-hour trip through the area’s secluded bays and historic sites.

    2. Hanmer Springs

    Relax into the thermal rock, sulphur and freshwater pools at this picturesque complex complete with a sauna, steam rooms, a day spa and even a lazy river.

    3. Aquapackers Abel Tasman

    Instead of booking accommodation in town, jump aboard this catamaran in Anchorage Bay to stay in a million-dollar setting at a very reasonable price.

    4. Kahutara PurePod

    Spend the night perched above the Kahutara River in a private glasshouse 20 minutes inland from Kaikoura, set on 200 acres of farmland and native bush.

    5. Christchurch Gondola

    Ride to the top of the Port Hills in a glass gondola for panoramic views over Christchurch and out toward the snow-capped Southern Alps in the west and Kaikoura Mountains in the north.

    The Outdoors

    Chase that fresh air and get back to nature. Kayak pristine aqua waters or stop and smell the cherry blossoms in the Miyazu Japanese Gardens.

    1. Christchurch Botanic Gardens

    Visit this gem where every season has its highlight — spring with its cherry blossoms, summer its roses, autumn with its golds and reds and winter with its clear pathways through the snow.

    2. Miyazu Japanese Gardens

    Wander through the cherry blossoms, look for fish in the reflective ponds and find your calm to the sound of trickling water through the bamboo at this tranquil garden in Nelson.

    3. Abel Tasman Kayaks

    Go sea kayaking at Abel Tasman National Park for views of white sand, clear turquoise water and native bush — you may even spot fur seals, little blue penguins and bottlenose dolphins.

    4. Abel Tasman Coast Track

    Attack this five-day trek with a self-guided tour following a Department of Conservation map or via a guided tour with snacks, meals and accommodation provided for you.

    5. Black Cat Cruises

    Book well in advance to spend an hour swimming with the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world, Hector’s dolphins, and maybe even a fur seal or two.

    The Culture

    Find a sculpture park, live music venues, a resilient art gallery and more. Get your arts and culture fix from Christchurch up to Nelson.

    1. Christchurch Art Gallery

    After closing for some time after the 2011 earthquake, this prized gallery reopened stronger and more resilient with its collection of local and international works and world-class exhibitions.

    2. Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

    Experience Maori culture at Ko Tane with a formal welcome, a Maori hunter demonstration, kapahaka performance and hangi cooked meal.

    3. darkroom

    Discover Christchurch’s live music scene at the first place to reopen after the earthquakes, offering free gigs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

    4. Omaka Aviation Centre

    Feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, and set aside two (or realistically three) hours to explore the military aircrafts from both World Wars brought to life in cinematic dioramas.

    5. The Suter Art Gallery

    Check out the best and brightest Nelson artists at the oldest art gallery in New Zealand.

    Venture Through the Top of the South

    Do as the locals do.

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