Christchurch is gorgeous. Its urbane, English-inflected rivers and stone buildings style landscape genteelly masks a southern spirit that has seen the city rise again from catastrophic earthquakes over the past half dozen years.
While the effects are still visible, in true fighting spirit their legacy has, in many instances, been turned to the city’s advantage, so while much is available that celebrates the city’s long and important history, modern urban delights have popped up where you least expect them, adding colour, vitality and warmth to this remarkable place. Soak up the art, architecture and culture, all the while pumping your blood with serious espresso, great South Island artisan beers and world-renowned cuisine that maximises the amazing local produce. Only the lure of crayfish and the chance of sighting a whale will likely help you turn the car northwards, I reckon.
The drive northward is a delight, a variety of vistas taking in gently undulating farmland, vast sweeps of colossal coastline, and the horizon receding gently, the promise of the ever-present mountains glimpsed in the distance. Soon you'll reach Kaikōura – this popular tourist spot suffered a massive magnitude 7.8 earthquake at the end of 2016, but is back on its feet and welcoming tourists to come and take advantage of the amazing wildlife attractions the area has to offer.
Spend the day on the sea, and the night eating from it. Spot a whale, or a seal, eat a cray, then work it all off the next day on the amazing Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway. Seabirds wheel and cry, the views of the coastline and Kaikōura Mountains explaining what all the fuss is about. Gorgeous, stunning, and a literal highlight.
Then it’s on the road again, negotiating the bends of the amazing Inland Road, heading for the sanctuary spa town of Hanmer.
Folk have been coming here for 150 years to 'take the waters'; you can certainly show up and soak, lying back, spa-bound, gazing up at the mountains, an astounding experience.
But you can also get a little active – you know, set yourself up for that relaxation – by jet boating, bungy jumping, or endless rounds of golf. Perhaps a spot of mountain biking or a horse trek is a bit more you? Or if you’re there in the spectacular snowtimes, hitting the slopes at the nearby ski fields.
However you choose to enjoy it, enjoy it you will. And pre-or post-soak, replace those kilojoules with a fine meal and a glass of something lusciously local at the far-too-many-for-such-a-small-place restaurants in and around town. Hanmer is just a little bit fancy if fancy is what you fancy.
But don’t expend, or indeed spend, all you‘ve got! Save some for the spectacular drive back to Christchurch: ocean to the left of you, mountains to the right, stuck in the middle of gorgeous views. Which will set you up for the wondrous Waipara wineries as you wend back to town, where big-name producers snuggle vine to vine with some equally impressive boutique vineyards in this, yet another sub-region on the great Kiwi wine map.
Then, just ease back into the city, thrilled, fulfilled and chilled from one of the best drives ever.