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Christchurch - Nelson

Via Lewis Pass - Drive time 5 - 6 hours

maruia3

Maruia River upstream from the thermal springs resort.

From Christchurch take the Northern motorway or Marshlands Road, there is usually heavy traffic through the towns of Woodend and Amberley to the turn off at Waipara. This is not a particularly exciting drive through flat farmland and it pays to keep to the speed limit as the police are often out looking to catch their quota of speeding motorists.

The road opens out through the wine growing area of Waipara where you need to turn left (Nelson can also be reached via Kaikoura and Blenheim, but this route will add an hour or so to the journey).

At Waipara you enter the Hurunui District where you can find the Weka Pass Railway. Vintage train services run on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month, every Sunday in January and most public holidays.

From Waipara the highway flows along some nice straights, through Weka Pass and its limestone outcrops and on to Waikari, the terminus for the Weka Pass Rail.

The road flows over some easy hills, past the Huranui hotel and just over the Huranui river bridge, there is a nice picnic area. The Culvernden straight is a 12km run through commercial pine forest which is always at various stages of regrowth and harvest. It opens out onto farmland and the small township of Culverden which is a popular and often essential pit stop. There are good toilets, café's and fuel.

After Culverden the road turns toward the mountains and many find driving through the bare foothills a relief after the plains. In this low rainfall area, much of the farmland browns off over summer. Before long you will arrive at the turnoff to Hanmer Springs and as the highway continues up the river valley, it's often a bit windy.

After a while you leave the farmland behind and enter Lewis Pass National Park.  The road here is a mix of straights and windy bits as it climbs toward the pass.  There are access points to the many walkways and natural thermal pools at Sylvia Flats. This is a free camping area about 5kms past the Boyle Village where you find the start of The St James Walkway. All along this section, there are some great places to stop, enjoy nature and refresh.

The road continues winding up and over the summit of Lewis Pass before the steep 6km descent to the Maruia hotel and thermal resort. This is still a popular rest stop for food and refreshments. They have accommodation with segregated indoor naturally heated thermal pools and mixed outdoor public pools which you get to share with the sandflies, but the view is spectacular. Many Kiwi's find the prices here a little steep but it can be nice to stay for a special occasion.

Moving on through the forest, this is a scenic drive with several camping areas and rest stops. At Springs Junction there is fuel and a café. This is the more popular rest stop for families and budget travellers.

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Maruia Falls

At Springs Junction, the left turn will take you to Reefton, Westport or Greymouth and the straight ahead HWY 69 takes you toward Murchison and Nelson. There is a mix of farm and forest as this scenic route meets up with State Highway 6 by the Buller River and continues north to Murchison. Here there are several cafe's, fuel, stores and a campground. Stop to take a look at the Maruia Falls beside the highway and a two minute walk for a nice view; photo below left.

The highway continues up river, past the Kawatiri turn off which takes one to Lake Rotoiti and St Arnaud or on to Blenheim. As one progresses toward Nelson, native forest gives way to extensive pine plantations and the highway has a few steep and windy bits before coming to a more intensive farming area near Wakefield and the route flows through this fruit growing region and into Nelson.

The highway 7 route in more detail.

Places of interest:
St Arnaud
Nelson Lakes National Park
Murchison
Nelson
Marlborough/ Blenheim
Weka Pass Railway

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