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           Home >  Regions  > Kaikoura  :

The Road from Christchurch to Picton

Part 1

Christchurch to Kaikoura

Dorothy - 22/09/03

I strongly recommend that you allow extra time when driving from Christchurch to Picton so that you can appreciate the farmlands, vineyards and hills of North Canterbury, the charm of rural centres like Amberley, Waipara and Cheviot, the bushclad slopes and peaks of the Hundalees, and the unsurpassed beauty of the Kaikoura Coast.

I have driven over this road countless times, but I am captured afresh each time by the beautiful scenery and interesting features along the way. So many tourists drive fast over the road to Picton because they have a ferry to catch. I always wish that they would allow time to enjoy the countryside as they pass through it.

Drivers leaving town will see several roads signposted to Picton. Whichever route you take you will probably find yourself on the motorway which crosses the Waimakariri River and bypasses the small town of Kaiapoi.

However, if you have ample time you might choose to turn into the old main road north instead of taking the motorway and stop off in Kaiapoi. Europeans first settled in Kaiapoi in 1855 as it was a terminal for the ferry across the Waimakariri River which was used until the railway reached the area in 1872. It became well-known for the high quality woollen goods which were produced in the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills - now closed.

Tuahiwi, 9km (5.5 miles) north of the town is the site of the Maori pa, Kaiapohia, where the Ngai Tahu occupants were attacked and massacred by the Ngati Toa warriors led by the famous chief Te Rauparaha in 1830.

A memorial marks the site of the pa.

The motorway crosses the Waimakariri River and joins the old main road north of Kaiapoi. There is easy driving to Woodend, a pleasant town from which many people commute to work in Christchurch. The route takes you across the Ashley River and Saltwater Creek, mainly worth mentioning for its role in the early development of north Canterbury. It is difficult now to envisage that it was a small busy port until 1868. Three shipwrecks occurred there in the 1860s.

Signposts to the right indicate a number of beaches - The Pines, Kairaki, Woodend, Waikuku and Leithfield - which offer camping sites and safe bathing. Beaches on the east coast are usually most inviting for swimmers in the summer mornings before the easterly wind cools the temperatures.

The next township on the road is Amberley and after driving 48km (30 miles) from Christchurch we often stop for a break and have a cup of coffee at the Norwester Cafe or eat a picnic at Chamberlain Park with its historic cottage on the left side of the main road. On one occasion when we were travelling in the early morning we had breakfast in the Amberley Domain.

Visitors are often attracted to Amberley for the annual country show in early November, for the fishing in the area or to play golf on the beautiful Amberley golf course. Fine views of the coast are an added bonus for the golfer.

Statue of Captain Charles Upham VC 1908-1994
As you come to the north end of the town watch for the Hurunui District Council Office and in front of the building stop to view the statue of Captain Charles Upham - New Zealand's most decorated soldier, who was awarded the Victoria Cross and Bar for outstanding bravery in Crete in 1941 and at Minqar Qaim in North Africa in 1942. After the war he lived on a farm at Conway Flat in North Canterbury with his wife and daughters. The sculpture is the work of Mark Whyte, a Christchurch sculptor, and was placed there to honour Upham in 1997.

Statue of Captain Charles Upham VC
Statue of Captain Charles Upham VC
Waipara - the wine producing area
The village of Waipara is in the centre of one of the fastest growing wine-producing areas in New Zealand. As you drive through you will have a choice of wineries at which to sample and purchase Canterbury wines.

The turnoff to State Highway 7 through the Lewis Pass is on the left at the main intersection at Waipara just beyond the Waipara River bridge.

Weka Pass Railway
Waipara's Glenmark station is the starting point for the historic Weka Pass Railway which runs 13km (8 miles) to Waikari. The train climbs almost 700 ft (213 metres) on its way through the Weka Pass. Trains run every Sunday in January and February and on the first and third Sundays in the other months and on most public holidays. The train is hauled by the restored steam locomotive except in very dry times when a historic diesel locomotive is used instead to reduce the fire risk in the farmland through the pass. Travellers ride in original 1930s carriages and often picnic at the Waikari end of the line.

Trains leave Waipara at 11.30 am and 2.30 pm and the return trip takes two hours.

Glenmark church
A short distance from Waipara you may be surprised to see on a hill on the left an imposing brick church - unusually large for a country church. It was built by Annie Townend to honour her father, George Henry Moore, the largest land owner in the area. He allowed his 92,000 sheep to be so thick with scab that he had heavy fines to pay, but he did nothing to improve his flock and became known as Scabby Moore. In the Doomsday book of 1885 he was named as New Zealand's wealthiest settler. Building his luxurious mansion took seven years, but it was destroyed by fire two years after it was finished. When he died in 1905 his daughter inherited a huge fortune. She had the church built in her father's memory.

Some 50km (31 miles) of easy driving through undulating country takes you to the Hurunui River bridge and on to Domett where you may like to stop at the Mainline Station Cafe - a restoration of a genuine country railway station.

The Mainline Station Restaurant today
Mainline Station Cafe
One scenic route to Gore Bay begins on the right near the cafe, and a loop road can be followed to Cheviot.

Cheviot, like Glenmark, is associated with a huge sheep run, the Cheviot Estate, which was owned by a farmer known as Ready Money Robinson. This name became attached to him after he paid 10,000 for his land using wheelbarrows of hard cash. After his death the property was bought in 1892 by the government and divided into units for small farmers. Eighty people lived on the large run, but when the land was subdivided 650 people lived on it.

Like Scabby Moore Robinson built a mansion, but in 1936 it too was destroyed by fire.. The site of this house and his garden's magnificent trees are now the Cheviot Hills Reserve - a pleasant place to take a break from travelling. It is on your right as you enter the town.

Near Leamington to the west of Cheviot you can see part of a particularly strong fence which Robinson built to protect his sheep from being infected with scab from the sheep of his neighbour, Scabby Moore.

Gore Bay
On the main road through the town you will see on the right another signpost directing you to Gore Bay, a scenic reserve on the coast, 7 km (4.5 miles) from Cheviot.

The southern end of the beach is safe for swimmers and surfers.

The most popular part of the reserve is what is known as the "Cathedrals" area where the siltstone cliffs have been eroded into columns like organ pipes.

The Cathedral Cliffs
The Cathedral Cliffs
There is a loop track through the area which is very popular in the summer months, but not recommended in the winter or after heavy rain when part of the track may be impassable. The vegetation is varied and the birdlife is abundant - native pigeon, fantail, silvereye, kingfisher, grey warbler to name just a few.

The road up the hill at the southern end of the beach takes you to a parking area from which the Cathedral Cliffs may be viewed.

St Anne's Lagoon
A short distance (5km) beyond Cheviot note on your left St Anne's Lagoon, a wildlife reserve and picnic area. In pleasant weather this is a beautiful and restful place for a break in your journey - either to sit in the sun on the extensive grassy areas or enjoy the shade of the trees, and watch the birds on and around the lagoon - ducks, swans, crested grebes (if you are lucky) and other native and introduced birds.

Over the Hundalees to the Kaikoura coast
Easy travelling takes you across the Waiau River and the Leader River. (Note a turnoff to Hanmer Springs on your left.) The road crosses the Conway River and enters hilly country, winding up and down through the Hundalee Hills to a height of 170 metres (560 ft) with views of wooded hills and glimpses of sharp peaks. It then descends steeply down to Oaro on the coast.

A view from the Kaikoura Coast road looking south
A view from the Kaikoura Coast road looking south
The road skirts Goose Bay beside the railway line passing through two road tunnels on the way.

Travelling along the Kaikoura Coast offers wonderful seascapes.

A view south from the lookout on the Omihi Scenic Reserve Walkway
A view south from the lookout on the Omihi Scenic Reserve Walkway
The Omihi Scenic Reserve Walkway near Goose Bay takes you through native bush to a lookout point which offers outstanding views to the north, east and south.

Kaikoura Township Looking North
Kaikoura township looking north
Photo source Joe Levy
The road leaves the coast and runs across flat land past a turnoff to Hanmer Springs near the Kowhai River bridge to rise up a hill and take you down to the town of Kaikoura. Turn right at the top of the hill if you want to go to the wharf, Fyffe House and the seal colony. You can rejoin State Highway 1 by driving through the shopping area. There is a good range of eating places in the town and on State Highway 1.

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