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One of the most popular road trips on the South Island is the journey between Christchurch and Hokitika. This 3-hour drive that travels the famous Arthur’s Pass is full of scenic stops along the way.
For those traveling this route, it’s best to be prepared. Many stops on this road trip can be difficult to find without knowing they’re there. With windy roads and very few places to turn around, it’s easy to miss even some of the most obvious stops.
Luckily, in this blog, I’ll share the best places to stop between Christchurch and Hokitika. There are 7 listed here plus a lot more stops within Arthur’s Pass National Park. So, get your notepad ready – here’s a local’s guide to this magnificent journey from Christchurch to Hokitika!
About the drive from Christchurch to Hokitika
The drive from Christchurch to Hokitika is a 245-kilometer (152 miles) journey that without stopping takes 3 hours and 15 minutes. With that said, those who choose to stop at even just a few of the attractions on this list will need at least 5 hours. Stopping for a night along the way and turning this into an overnight road trip is also highly recommended especially if you stay on Arthur’s Pass (more on that below!)
There are two different routes you can take on this road trip, however, the best way to go travels through Castle Hill Conservation Area – one of the best attractions on this list. This is not only the quickest way to go but also the most scenic option. So, be sure to punch the correct route in on Google Maps before you go (it should map you this way but double-check!)
It is important to know that while driving from Christchurch to Hokitika is all on a paved highway, it can sometimes be a little slippery in the winter months. If you’re visiting New Zealand in winter, check the road conditions before you depart Christchurch. Snow can close the highway or make the journey dangerous. Be sure to always carry snow chains in the winter especially on Arthur’s Pass.
During the summer, the highway is usually completely fine to drive, however, always be prepared and watch conditions especially if heavy rain is forecast.
Related Read: For more info on the seasons in New Zealand and what you can expect as a traveler, read about the best time to visit New Zealand.
Christchurch to Hokitika FAQs
Best Stops when Driving from Christchurch to Hokitika
1. Porters Pass Viewpoint
First up on our road trip from Christchurch to Hokitika is a quick stop called Porters Pass Viewpoint. The viewpoint is located around 1 hour from Christchurch along highway 73. From the parking lot, you can admire the views of the surrounding mountains, it’s one of my favorite viewpoints in NZ!
Although you don’t have to stop (you can admire the views from the road) I recommended getting out here to stretch your legs and even take a short walk. If you set off early enough from Christchurch you can even get here for sunrise and enjoy golden hour with a coffee in hand – just pick it up in Springfield (only 15 minutes away from Porters Pass) on your way out.
Related Read: Porter’s Pass Viewpoint is also the first stop on the drive from Christchurch to Punakaiki. Read my blog for info on this road trip itinerary!
2. Kura Tawhiti / Castle Hill Conservation Area
Next up is one of the most famous places to visit on the South Island. Kura Tawhiti or Castle Hill Conservation Area is a unique attraction in New Zealand that everyone driving this road trip should see. Kura Tawhiti even has Topuni status!
Fun fact: Topuni status means a chief has placed a cloak over the area. Tōpuni status therefore means Ngāi Tahu values on the conservation area are upheld. You can read more about it.
The rock formations at Kura Tawhiti formed many years ago and were once under the ocean. Over the years, limestone rocks formed and were then eroded away into the unique shapes you see today.
Visiting Kura Tawhiti is easy and done by making your way from Porters Pass Viewpoint to the large parking lot only 10 minutes away. This attraction is well signposted and very hard to miss. From the parking lot, there is a well-defined walking track you can enjoy that leads through the boulders. It takes anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes to explore the area and the 1.4 kilometers (each way) walking track is considered easy.
This is certainly one of the highlights between Christchurch and Hokitika!
3. Cave Stream Scenic Reserve
I must admit, I was a little nervous before visiting this next attraction! Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is exactly as the name suggests a 594-meter cave with you guessed it, a stream running through it. This really is one of the coolest attractions in the Canterbury Region and one you won’t read about it on many blogs.
Although unique, it’s not for the faint-hearted and does involve some difficult terrain not suited to children or those with knee/hip problems. Accessing the cave is done by following a stream and depending on the weather it can get pretty deep (around waist-deep in some places.) Along the way, you must climb over rocks, and having someone who is fit and strong is recommended to help others (I had my partner with me and he helped others in the cave.)
There are two entrances so if you plan on walking through be sure to walk against the current. It takes around 1 hour to traverse the cave and there are some ladders you need to climb. It’s also important to bring one flashlight per person and never go alone. During winter the water is freezing so it’s not recommended to enter the cave.
Thankfully, you don’t need to walk through the cave to enjoy it, and instead, you can walk to the entrance and just enjoy the first part of the cave. This is what a lot of people did while I was there – but I myself just had to go inside!
The entire landscape here is beautiful so be sure to get out and walk around. The cave is located only 5 minutes from Castle Hill Conservation Area.
4. Lake Pearson
Another quick stop on the road trip from Christchurch to Hokitika is Lake Pearson. This small wildlife refuge is a beautiful place to stop to stretch your legs or for a bite to eat (if you packed a lunch.) Sit on the shore of Lake Pearson and enjoy the magnificent views of the mountains and even some wildlife. If you’re visiting on a calm day, the reflections are stunning! There are also toilets at Lake Pearson so keep that in mind!
For those with a campervan, tent, or motorhome, there is a DOC campsite at Lake Pearson. You can camp here for $8 per night per person (adult). You must book in advance though.
5. Arthur’s Pass National Park
Arthur’s Pass National Park is a bucket list place to visit in New Zealand. Along Arthur’s Pass, there are a ton of awesome things to do! Below I’ll mention some of the best you can do on your road trip from Christchurch to Hokitika!
Hike Avalanche Peak
Avalanche Peak is the best hiking trail on the South Island. By no means is this 6-kilometer (3.7 miles) trail easy, in fact, most people take 5 to 6 hours to walk the 6 kilometers! The reason? The steep terrain and huge elevation gain of over 1,110 meters. For those who do, get to witness arguably the best panoramic view of the Southern Alps, seriously!
Avalanche Peak sits at 1,833 meters above sea level and the trek up can actually be dangerous if you’re not experienced or prepared. Please do not attempt this hike in high winds, winter, or rain!
Take in the views on Bealey Spur Track
The Bearly Spur Track is one hike those making their road trip an overnight adventure should not miss. This 6-kilometer (each way) hiking trail takes you high above the river valley to the Bealey Hut. Although the trail has an elevation gain of over 600 meters, it is gradual and not overly difficult. You can stay in the Bealey Hut on a first-come, first-serve basis and it’s completely free. With that said, it’s an old hut so there are only very basic facilities.
All up, the hike takes around 4 to 5 hours and the views are magnificent!
See the famous Devils Punchbowl
Want to visit the most ferocious waterfall in New Zealand? Then be sure to stop on Arthur’s Pass and hike the Devil’s Punchbowl Walking Track. The name alone should get you excited but if that doesn’t, then the fact it’s a 131-meter tall waterfall should!
The trail is to the falls is short and sweet with a small elevation gain that takes around 20 minutes each way. Once there, you’ll be amazed at the falls and might even get a little wet. Regardless, this waterfall is epic!
Where to stay in Arthur’s Pass
Accommodation on Arthur’s Pass is very limited, however, there are a couple of places to stay to make this road trip an epic overnight adventure. The most budget-friendly option is the Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel. This cute motel is located right in Arthur’s Pass Village and comes with basic facilities at very affordable prices. They even have family Chalets!
Another place located near the village is The Nook. This is an Airbnb-style apartment that has fantastic reviews. There is only one room here though so you do need to book well in advance!
For the more luxurious travelers, consider staying at The Bealey Hotel. It’s around 10 kilometers from Arthur’s Pass Village but sits on the edge of the Waimakariri River. The rooms here are pretty nice and the views are spectacular!
Need more info: Check out more epic things to do on Arthur’s Pass.
6. Hokitika Gorge
New Zealand’s rivers on the South Island are stunning. They’re often glacier-fed and the rock flour in the glacier melt gives the rivers a bright blue color – especially on a sunny day! A great example of this is the powerful Hokitika River that runs through Hokitika Gorge.
On any road trip to Hokitika, you simply must make a stop here and enjoy the short 2-kilometer walk to the gorge and its viewpoints. There’s not much to do there except stare at the powerful river and take photos, but it’s so beautiful it just had to make this road trip itinerary!
Hokitika Gorge is a slight detour from Hokitika itself and you’ll actually reach the town of Hokitika before the gorge. So, it may be wise to check into your hotel first and then take a trip out that afternoon or the next day.
After a long but adventurous drive, you’ll finally arrive in Hokitika! In all honesty, the drive itself is the highlight and although I do enjoy Hokitika, I love the road trip much more!
With that said, don’t just hit the hay when you arrive. Instead, check out some of the awesome things to do in Hokitika such as Dorothy Falls, Glow Worm Dell, Hokitika Beach, and the National Kiwi Center. For food, head to Hokitika Sandwich Company for lunch or Stella Cafe Hokitika for the best coffee in town!
I think you’ll be surprised at how nice Hokitika is and enjoy your stay a lot!
Where to Stay in Hokitika
Hokitika is only a small town but it’s a very popular place to visit on the South Island so there are plenty of great places to stay. For budget travelers, you can’t beat the Mountain Jade Backpackers. This hostel/hotel has dorm beds, budget doubles, and even cheap studio apartments. It’s located in the heart of the city and is my go-to when I need to save money for fuel (gas!)
If you don’t mind spending a tad more you can stay at the Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation. Although located a little out of town, you are right on the beach with breathtaking ocean views. In summer, this is a very popular choice!
Now there aren’t really any luxury stays in Hokitika (when compared to places such as Queenstown), however, the Beachfront Hotel Hokitika is pretty close. This stunning hotel is only slightly more expensive than the options above but wow, is it beautiful! With ocean views, stunning rooms, a bar, and room service it’s certainly a luxurious stay.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to book a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
As you can see, the road trip from Christchurch to Hokitika is one epic adventure with lots of beautiful stops and attractions. Without a doubt, I’m sure you’ll find many more places to stop and take in the views of Arthur’s Pass on this trip.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope this guide has helped plan your upcoming road trip. If you found this guide helpful, be sure to browse around some more! I have so many road trip blogs as well as guides about Queenstown, Wanaka, and so much more!