The Nelson Tasman region is highly connected to the rest of the country, and is accessible by road from Christchurch, Blenheim, Picton, the West Coast and Murchison.

The South Island is renowned for its stunning natural landscapes, from undulating lush green hills and valleys, to the spectacularly rugged coastline, to the fruitful vines and orchards that decorate the expansive plains. Whether you choose to travel to the Top of the South via the inland or a coastal routes, a range of extraordinary vistas await.


The Nelson Tasman region is accessible by road from Christchurch via the Lewis Pass and takes approximately 5 and a half hours by car. There are plenty of places to stop along the way if you want to make the most of your South Island road trip, including the stunning alpine villages in Hanmer Springs or St Arnaud, or the white water paradise otherwise known as Murchison.

An alternative (but slightly longer) route from Christchurch brings you up the east coast through the Kaikoura and Marlborough regions, and is known as the ‘coastal route’. Taking approximately 7 hours by car, many visitors choose to break up their journey with an overnight stay in either of the whale-watching or wine regions, before arriving in extraordinary Nelson Tasman feeling relaxed and refreshed!

Blenheim and Picton

Picton is a township in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds and is where passenger ferries such as the Interislander weave through the brilliant islands and inlets on their journey down from the North Island. A truly majestic seaside town, it’s (almost) the perfect place to begin your South Island road trip, and is guaranteed to leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated!

There are three ways to get from Picton to Nelson. You may choose to join on to State Highway 1 in the direction of Blenheim, stopping off for a while to experience the local wine and food culture, or relax with a picnic at Seymour Square. Alternatively, you could take State Highway 1 to Spring Creek then State Highway 62 through wine country, bypassing Blenheim and joining on to State Highway 6 for the last leg of the journey.

Last but not least, you could take the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive route, traversing steep hills and descending down toward stunning bays, passing through Havelock and onto State Highway 6 shortly before reaching the Pelorus River and heading over the Whangamoa Ranges.

West Coast

Your senses will be awakened as you travel north on State Highway 6 from the untamed natural wilderness of the incredible West Coast region to the stunning natural landscapes that abound in the south of Nelson Tasman. From the deep canyon underfoot the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge to taking a slight detour into St Arnaud and the Nelson Lakes National Park, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to a scenic journey in the West.

East Coast

An earthquake in late 2016 caused significant damage to the Main North Line railway and State Highway 1 along the east coast of the South Island, but due to the efforts to rebuild and reconnect the railway, harbour and road networks the Kaikoura region is now back open for business 24/7! The scenic coastal route is well worth adding some extra time onto your itinerary for, and you’ll want to stop off for a while to go whale-watching, seal spotting, or just simply to explore.

Note that although the roads connecting Christchurch with Nelson Tasman via Kaikoura have now been reopened, there may be scheduled road closures and/or roadworks to be aware of, or allow extra time for. We advise you to check the status of any road closures prior to travelling by calling 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49) or by checking the NZ Transport Agency website.

Alternative transport options

If you prefer to let someone else take the wheel (leaving you to gaze out the window and admire the stunning scenery), you’ll be pleased to know that Nelson Tasman is well serviced with coach transport, with InterCity offering regular services into and out of the region. Meanwhile, within the region, Scenic NZ transport passengers between Nelson, Motueka, Kaiteriteri and Marahau, whilst NBus provides services between Nelson and Richmond.

If coaches aren't your thing, Nelson City Taxis offer a range of set fares within the region, so you can get to your destination with no surprises. The friendly staff at one of our Visitor Information Centres can help you with booking a range of transport services. 

Driving times and distances


 Picton to Nelson


                1 hour 47 minutes            

 Blenheim to Nelson


                1 hour 35 minutes           

 Westport to Nelson


                3 hours 2 minutes           

 Christchurch to Nelson via Murchison 


                5 hours 22 minutes            

 Christchurch to Nelson via Kaikoura 


                6 hours 1 minutes