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Rakaia Gorge, Arthur's Pass, Reefton, Buller River, Marlborough Sounds and Queen Charlotte Sounds

Dunedin to Windwistle

Dunedin is the most southerly point on the figure of eight car tour. The shortest route to Nelson is 700 Km north on SH1, not a scenic or interesting route apart from the stops made on the way south. The more scenic route is via the Southern Alps crossing them at Porter Pass and Arthur's Pass and then to Greymouth on the west coast and then north via Reefton to Nelson. Split the 900 km journey into four legs with three overnight stays: Windwistle (Rakaia Gorge), Reefton and Nelson.

Windwistle and Rakaia Gorge

A hectic few days in Dunedin with a lot packed into a short period, so plan a late start for the 320 Km drive along the not so photogenic SH1, SH79 and SH77 to Windwistle for an overnight stay.

There's limited accommodation in the Windwistle, Mount Hut Lodge is a good option as has fantastic views of Rakaia Gorge, an excellent restaurant and is a good place to chill out after a couple of weeks touring.

The river is only a short drive or walk, from the lodge and seems to be a favourite for anglers.

Windwistle to Reefton

Next morning set off towards the Great Alpine Highway, West Coast Road – SH77, crossing the Torlesse Range at Porters Pass and make a photo stop at Porter River. Stop at Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area and Castle Hill, named after the limestone rock battlements, for a short walk and landscape photography.

At Arthur's Pass, just after passing through the village there is a magnificent view of the Otira Gorge and Viaduct. Continue to Lake Brunner in the West Coast Region stopping at the tiny settlement of Moana for photos and lunch. Onto SH7 driving briefly into the rather dull looking Greymouth so backtrack and head for Reefton for the next an overnight stay.


Reefton is a small town with gold mining heritage and claims to have been the first town to have a public supply of electricity and electric street lighting in the Southern hemisphere. The Lantern Court motel is a good option for accommodation in the town, centrally located within walking distance of a few eateries such as Inangahua Arms Hotel for good pub food. From the motel, there is a circular walk around the town, along the river and via the old powerhouse and the swing bridge.

Reefton to Nelson

Head north on SH69 through hill country leaving the West Coast Reign behind and enter the Nelson region, turn onto SH6. The countryside was not that spectacular, but there are photo opportunities at the Buller River and other vantage points to view the Nelson region's rolling countryside. Check-in at a motel and drive into Nelson for a short tour of the town. Nelson is not that impressive so another opportunity to chill out by the pool in the motel. The receptionist recommended the Smugglers Pub & Cafe so we went there for an enjoyable evening meal, so not everything in Nelson was negative.  

Nelson to Wellington, Via Picton and the Interislander Ferry

Next day is a short 110 Km drive to Picton, via SH6 and the eye-catching Queen Charlotte Drive, into Picton for the early afternoon Interislander Ferry through the attractive Queen Charlotte Sound, Picton and Marlborough Sounds to Wellington.

Victoria Court Motor Lodge in the centre of Wellington a good option for two-nights being close to most attractions and the motels rear entrance gave direct access to Cuba Street and its vast array of restaurants. It’s only a short drive from the ferry to the motel so we arrived around 5:30 pm. It was the Saturday night; Cuba Street was crowded and so were the restaurants so extremely lucky to get a table in the Thai House Restaurant.

On Sunday, we had arranged to visit my wife's friend Robyn for lunch. After a short walk to Queens Wharf we took the ferry to Day's Bay where we met by Roger who gave a tour of Days Bay and Eastbourne before going to their house and B&B. Roger drove us back into Wellington so we could visit Te Papa the Museum of New Zealand. It was Cuba Street again for dinner; we hadn't reserved a table but got in at the Le Metropolitain French restaurant.

Tree landscape at the Buller River in the Nelson Region of New Zealand Buller River in the Nelson Region of New Zealand's South Island Rolling countryside of the Nelson Region in New Zealand's South Island Vista of Rakaia Gorge at Windwistle in Canterbury, New Zealand