Christchurch to Dunedin
Christchurch to Dunedin via the Coast – 362 km
Driving State Hwy 1: This is a relatively busy stretch of South Island highway. Please be aware of other tourist traffic and commercial vehicles such as stock trucks and milk tankers especially when approaching intersections, railway crossings and built up areas such as Oamaru and Timaru and the turnoff to the Moeraki boulder viewpoints.
Christchurch to Dunedin:
The drive from Christchurch to Dunedin is worth breaking into at least a couple of days with a night in Oamaru recommended.
Starting south on Hwy 1, the plains of Canterbury change from flat, dairy intensive farmland to rolling, coastal hill country after leaving Ashburton and approaching Timaru. The landscape and towns are a fairly generic representation of rural New Zealand, but as the braided Waitaki River valley approaches, the landscape starts to show more variety.
The Good South gems:
- Penguins and steampunk in Oamaru
- Coastal byways: Oamaru, Karitane and to Port Chalmers.
- Riverstone Kitchen near Oamaru and Fleurs in Moeraki
Just prior to crossing the Waitaki river marking the border between Canterbury and Otago, travellers inclined toward gourmet fare are advised to stop. The Riverstone Kitchen has the deserved reputation as one of the best restaurants in the country. Strong on local produce, they’re sited in a garden centre with their own vegetable and herb plots. Fresh seafood and some of the most well-presented beef and lamb on the planet make their way into a number of innovative dishes. A lunch here is strongly recommended. Once across the Waitaki river, the small port town of Oamaru is ideal for a break in the journey south.
Oamaru – Steampunk by the seaside
A Victorian heritage reflected in some impressive buildings built in the locally sourced Whitestone, public gardens complete with an Italian marble fountain and a sundial, Penny-farthing bicycles and a Steampunk museum add an element of quirkiness to this small coastal town. A strong café culture, some good restaurants and a well attended Farmers market also helps the town punch above its weight as a popular place to visit.
The rich coastal ecology of the area is highlighted by one the of world’s only town-dwelling colony of blue and yellow-eyed penguins. OK, so they’re down by the harbour, but are so much a part of the community the town has even built them a road underpass for their daily commute to and from the ocean. The annual Steampunk festival draws a large gathering of like-minded Jules Verne aficionados and includes races with the afore-mentioned penny-farthing velocipedes.
If you are heading south and enjoy ocean vistas consider the coastal road through Kakanui. There is some gravel, but little traffic and you rejoin SH 1 just before Moeraki. The unique round shape of the Moeraki boulders provides more photo opportunities and a good excuse to wander down the beach. You are also approaching another of New Zealand’s culinary stars, Fleurs, in the small fishing township of Moeraki itself.
Acclaimed by chef Rick Stein as his first choice of anywhere he would travel to in the world for a meal, Fleur’s setting on a breakwater overlooking the harbour where fishing boats are moored is as memorable as the kitchen is authentic. If flounder is on the menu, order it.
Further south is the township of Palmerston, where SH85 heads to central Otago and Wanaka via the quirkily named Pig Root. Continuing past Palmerston is the small town of Waikouaiti whose unassuming main street contains a fantastic artisanal bakery called Beano’s. The award-winning Evansdale cheese factory is also only a few minutes drive further down the highway.
The turnoff to the fishing village of Karitane comes just after leaving Waikouaiti and along with its own scenic charms, getting off the main road allows for a coastal detour through Seacliff and down into the beach side community of Warrington.
You then have two options to finish your journey to Dunedin. The quickest is on SH1 taking about 20 minutes and arriving in North Dunedin, but Blueskin Road over the hill into Port Chalmers offers coastal views and also passes by the Orokanui ecosanctuary which features an extensive collection of native birds and plant life.