West Coast Lewis Pass mountains, New Zealand 10 days 9 nights

Upper South Island loop
from mountains to ocean

Duration:10 days, 9 nights
Best time to visit:Spring to Autumn
About Trip
Upper South Island loop
From mountains to ocean. Nelson to west coast gold mining heritage through mountain passes to the fertile vineyards of Marlborough.

Have you ever heard of Murchison? Or did you drive through the town and not stop. Here is a trip from Nelson to Murchison and beyond where west meets wild New Zealand. A scenic route through a roll call of gold mining nineteenth century fever Murchison, Buller Gorge and Reefton. Then it’s onto Hanmer Springs for luxurious spa treatment, Kaikoura and wildlife watching and next it’s vineyards and relaxation in wineries of the Marlborough region. From Blenheim you return to Nelson. The scenery is classic landscape scenery, a photo opportunity around every bend while you wander, linger and explore the hidden corners.

West Coast Lake Rototiti

To Murchison

State Highway 6 from Nelson to Murchison passing Brigthwater, Wakefield, turn off onto SH63 to St Arnaud, return to SH6 onto then Murchison
185 km 2 ¾ hours

Buller River @TripBucket


@Kiwi Park Motels & Holiday Park – Murchison NZ

Overnight in Murchison at Kiwi Park Motels Holiday & Animal Park – Murchison, New Zealand A full range of accommodation options from

  • non-powered/powered camping sites
  • backpacker cabins
  • self-contained units
  • motels
  • premium log cabins


All day


  • Buller River
  • Six mile electrical plant and walk
  • Johnson Creek walk
  • Walks and tramps
  • Fly fishing
  • Murchison settlement, quirky West Coast where wild meets west

Buller River @New Zealand Geographic

Murchison to Lyell to Blackwater School
To Waiutu ghost town to Reefton

Today is about fabulous, glorious South Island scenery. For even jaded New Zealanders the road from Murchison to Westport is the most beautiful in the country. Breathtaking mountains vie with plunging gorges and the roar of white water. Maori prospectors were the first to obtain gold from the Lyell region and by 1863 the gold rush had started. There are heritage sites to explore, perhaps some gold prospecting and bridges that sweep over numerous rivers and cataracts.

Blackwater School @Shellie Evans


Railway Cottage, Reefton @Booking

Railway Cottage, Reefton, New Zealand is a gem.  ou are transported into the heyday of Reefton with your accommodation that has been lovingly restored as an up market accommodation for visitors. The railway cottage is part of the heritage Railway precinct. Forward bookings are strongly encouraged in the peak season.

All day exploration of a town

Reefton all day exploration of a town that has reinvented itself as a tourist destination. Reefton origins are gold and coal mining. There are a number of historic buildings, such as the School for Mines and the main street facades reflecting the past glory. The many buildings are the Surveyors House (1871), the ‘Top of the Town’ shops and Forsyth & Masters Store (1870s), the Courthouse (1873), the Oddfellows Hall (1872), Bank of New Zealand (1873), National Bank (1873), Catholic Church (1877), St Stephens Anglican Church (1878), Reefton School of Mines (1886) and the Band Hall (1901). The town has a connection with railways as the world’s only Single ‘R’ Class Fairlie locomotive in its original form sitting right in the heart of town.

Reefton @NZ Pocket Guide

Reefton to Hanmer Springs
Route map

You will pass Victoria Conservation Park with its mature beech forests lining the route into the Lewis mountain pass through to the Canterbury region. It is a journey from the west coast with its temperature rainforests to the drier east coast. You will pass Maruia Springs with its geothermal waters tempting you to stay a while, there are opportunities in spring to capture the lupins in flower dotting the landscape.

Hanmer Springs geothermal mineral waters @Stuff

Stay: Maruia Springs Spa Resort


Immerse yourself in the ultimate outdoor spa, a great antidote to the hard work of wondering about what it was like to live in the bush as a nineteenth century miner. The spectacular views of mountains and braided rivers make the experience surreal. Spend the day indulging your sense in the Maruia Hot Springs | New Zealand | Natural Mineral Springs. Organic snacks, locally sourced food, spa massages, relaxation and yoga classes. Maruia Springs Spa Resort accommodation ranges from comfortable well appointed rooms to powered camping sites.

Stay: Hanmer Springs


The spa resort town is a great family destination. Hanmer has avoided Queenstown’s mass tourism avoiding the questions about the environment, the experience and large crowds. The Thermal Resort has a number of differing attractions from children focused swings, slides and tunnels to pools with a range of temperatures. For details about what to see and do in Hanmer Springs check out our travel guide to Hanmer.

Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura
130 km 1 ½ hours driving time

After a leisurely breakfast and perhaps a final therapeutic soak in the spa you are on your way to the east coast of the South Island and Kaikoura. A dramatic change in scenery from alpine vistas to rugged coastal beaches. You are joining the picturesque Alpine Pacific touring route, State Highway 70. Get the camera ready as it is very scenic with contrasts between rolling hills, rivers and farmland.

Cob Cottage @thecuriouskiwi


Manakau Lodge @Neil Protheroe

Kaikōura Stay sums up the choices. Scroll options and enjoy your stay in Kaikoura. This itinerary is overnight and the charm of Kaikōura could mean a few extra days.

Accommodation in Kaikoura is extensive, ranging from campgrounds and backpackers, hostels through to bed and breakfasts, farm-stays, self-contained units, lodges, motels, apartments and motor-inns. Whatever your budget, whether it be for a short break, weekend away or a long holiday with the family or for a romantic getaway, Kaikoura has a place to stay for you

All day exploration

Kaikōura is the meeting point for the ocean and mountains with a picturesque fishing village reimaged as a tourist destination offering marine experiences from dolphin encounters to whale watching. All of this washed down with local wines and a plate of succulent freshly harvested crayfish.

Kaikōura’s drawcard is marine mammal encounters – whales, fur seals and dolphins live permanently in the coastal waters. There are ocean going birds and local seals to observe on your foreshore walks. Whale watching trips leave the town several times a day.

Seal Colony, Kaikōura @The Great Journeys of New Zealand

Kaikōura to Blenheim
Route map

Today you are following the coast to Blenheim. The Ohua stream walkway and falls is closed due to 2016 earthquake damage there is now a marked lookout for seals and their pups nearby. The road hugs the coast with spectacular views of the ocean, sheer cliffs and constant muted sounds of the sea. The road enters the Marlborough hills with its dry terrain and farms. You are nearing Blenheim when you view vineyards and vats of wineries.

Lake Grassmere @NZPlaces


@Scenic Hotel Marlborough

From luxury glamping, spa resorts nestled in vineyards, riverside camping grounds and everything in between Marlborough and Blenheim you are spoiled for choice. From budget backpackers to pampered excess check Accommodation Marlborough | Picton, Blenheim, Havelock here for booking details.

All day exploration

Often overlooked by visitors rushing off the Picton ferry on their way to Nelson. Marlborough, with its vineyards, vibrant artisan community, wide open spaces and iconic Queen Charlotte Sounds is a world class destination tucked into the hills and rivers of the South Island. Blenheim is the hub for the next day or perhaps Marlborough charm has evolved the stay into several days or more.

Row of beautiful grape yard before sunset with mountain in Blenheim

DAY 10
Blenheim to Nelson
121 km 2 hours driving time

This is another glorious road trip with the Pelorus Bridge as one of the many highlights. Perhaps you have time to book a rafting trip on the river together with a chance to explore walks in the Pelorus Reserve.

Pelorus Bridge @Nz Frenzy South Island New Zealand

Travel Pack Information

Nelson to Murchison abandoned home Spring Grove

  • Kawatiri Rail Tunnel history Work started in 1873 on the 30 km section to Foxhill via Bishopdale, Stoke, Richmond, Brightwater, Wakefield and Wai-iti. From 1890 the extension to Belgrove was continued towards Kohatu, a section which required the piercing of the Spooner Range. A construction camp near the eventual 1352m tunnel rolled on after opening in 1897 and the thrust continued towards Tadmor, via Tapawera. A rail and road bridge crossed the Motueka River in 1906. It had taken 33 years to construct 66 km of track.

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