Plan your journey upper South Island travel guide

Plan your journey upper south lsland summer image

Before travelling between Picton and Christchurch, check which of the two main routes is available and would be the best option for you.

This travel guide is available for download in the below languages. 

  1. English language version
  2. Arabic language version
  3. Simplified Chinese language version
  4. Traditional Chinese language version
  5. Indonesian language version
  6. Japanese language version
  7. Korean language version
  8. Thai language version
  9. German language version
  10. Portuguese language version
  11. Spanish language version
  12. French language version

State Highway 1

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Kaikōura in November 2016. It damaged and closed State Highway 1 (SH1) to traffic between Blenheim and Christchurch.

At the time of translating this brochure (November 2017), the southern part of SH1 is usually open for daytime travel between Christchurch and Kaikōura. The northern part (between Kaikōura and Clarence) is closed but expected to re-open for daytime travel from 15 December 2017. This will then re-open the whole SH1 route between Picton and Christchurch.

There is still a lot of work to do and several sites will still be under construction. Expect unsealed surfaces, lane closures, reduced speeds and stop/go controls in some areas which will cause delays. Parts of the road will be closed at night over summer as a safety precaution. Some planned daytime closures to carry out high-impact work along this narrow coastal corridor will also be needed.

When SH1 re-opens, the estimated journey time (between Picton and Christchurch) is a minimum of 5.5 hours. You should allow plenty of time and be prepared for delays, which are likely over summer, or unexpected closures when you may have to change route. You may prefer to take the alternate route (see below).

The alternate route  (state highways 63, 6, 65, 7 via Lewis Pass)

Since the earthquake closed SH1, motorists have been using the alternate route between Picton and Christchurch. This route remains a good option for travel around the top of the South Island.

The estimated journey time between Picton and Christchurch on this route is a minimum of 6.5 hours. Allow plenty of time and be prepared for delays, which are likely over summer due to ongoing safety and improvement works. Though very picturesque, the alternate route has some narrow and winding sections, with reduced speed limits.

Can I get to Kaikōura?

Yes, Kaikōura is open and providing a warm welcome to visitors. If SH1 is unexpectedly closed from either the north or south, you can still access Kaikōura from the alternate route. Join the Inland Road (Route 70) just north of Culverden (see map). Allow around 3 hours to drive between Christchurch and Kaikōura on either route (using SH1 all the way or the Inland Road - Route 70).

Where can I find accurate and up-to-date information? 

Do not rely on your GPS or Google Maps for road closure information or accurate journey times. Things can change at short notice.

Official NZ Transport Agency information about available routes can be found at or by calling 0800 4 HIGHWAYS
(0800 44 44 49). This includes links to real-time traffic updates and information about planned closures. Check your route before you travel.

Electronic signs displaying real-time travel information will be at key decision points such as Waipara (just north of Christchurch) and Blenheim. Look for this signage to avoid heading down a road that is closed ahead.

Drivers must ensure they allow for delays and have plenty of time to get to their destination safely and to make ferry sailings or flights. Police will be patrolling on both routes. 

How often should I check travel information?

Travel information, journey times and road conditions can change at short notice.Check at least two hours before you travel in case you have to change your route,and when you reach key route decision points.

What will each route be like to drive?

Go to or phone 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49) to hear about the driving conditions of each route. You should assess that against your driving skills and experience.

All drivers need to be patient and courteous. Obey all signs and road crew instructions. Keep left, and pull over (if it is safe to do so) to let traffic pass if you see it backing up behind you. Stop for regular breaks and support communities along the route.

Have a safe and enjoyable trip!

Before you travel, check the latest road information

Phone 0800 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49)
Facebook www.facebook/com/nztasouthisland(external link)
Twitter or