Overland Travel: A Circular Driving Day Through Scenic Blenheim – Nelson – Picton – Blenheim, New Zealand.


Our last day on the South Island of New Zealand had us taking a break from the wineries and taking in a circular drive route from Blenheim to the coastal city of Nelson, followed by a mountainous route over to the port city of Picton. We would get an opportunity to sample some of New Zealand’s spectacular scenery, in a very untravelled region by tourists.

This post is one chapter on our trip to Fiji, New Zealand and French Polynesia. This trip was redeemed through Alaska Mileage Plan and AAdvantage frequent flier programs and enhanced through Marriott Bonvoy Elite Status. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Activity: Overland Travel – A Circular Driving Day Through Scenic Blenheim – Nelson – Picton – Blenheim, New Zealand.

Today’s travels had us taking a break from wine tasting in favor of a little exploring the North Island of New Zealand. We had set up an ambitious driving schedule that would take us from Blehneim to the coastal town of Nelson, over to the port city of Picton, then back to Blenheim.

First Stop: The Vines Village Café for Breakfast

We started the day from the Marlborough Vintners Hotel in Blenheim by walking across the street to Vines restaurant. Little did we know that there was an outstanding breakfast restaurant across the rural highway outside our hotel.

It’s often hard to locate a really good breakfast restaurant. There was a terrific menu here that offered a little something for everyone. The Vines Village cafe also offered lots of outdoor seating in a pleasant environment.

I had a flat white and a “biker breakfast” (cyclists I think, versus motorcycles) which was poached eggs on beetroot, avocado, feta and spicy tomato sauce. It was excellent and I was sad that we hadn’t had a few more breakfasts here during our stay.

After a brief stop in town at MrsWT73’s favourite Australian / British Katamandu outdoor equipment store, we headed North on Route 6 towards Havelock.


On the Road: Blenheim – Nelson

The plan today was to head up to Nelson for a day trip to see the town. MrsWT73 took the photos while I was driving as a passenger through some beautiful scenery in northern New Zealand…

First Stop: the Perlous One Lane Bridge:

We passed through town and stopped at the one lane Perlous Bridge where we went for a brief walk. We encountered some of the most clear streams / rivers that I have seen; clear and crystal cold.

We followed the trail and wandered further into the park and down the river bed. It was a very scenic break from driving and as you can see, the weather fully co-operated on our trip.

We headed back from the park and took a closer look at the one lane bridge; eventually crossing it on foot. There wasn’t much to see on the other side, but we crossed it for the record books anyway.

We hopped back in the car and headed westward on Route 6 towards Nelson. There were some twisty turns on our route but we made it to the end. It sounds silly but one the main reasons for heading to Nelson, aside from a wine tour break, was to accommodate a visit to a New Zealand Starbucks to collect a travel mug for MrsWT73’s shelf. We successfully found a very derelict looking starbucks and had a very odd tasting filtered coffee (with power grounds all over the cup- should have had a latte).


Second Stop: Nelson & Lunch at Mac’s Bar

Nelson itself is a quaint town right on the coast. We then went to the Canterbury Cathedral which is an imposing structure at one end of downtown. With no set plans for lunch, we decided to have some snacks on the Mac’s patio since it was in full sun. It was pretty much a self serve deal here, wait staff existed but you pretty much go inside to order otherwise we’d be waiting forever.

Mac’s had decent pub food… Calamari for me, flatbread for MrsWT73 and a craft beer while the winter sun dipped through the buildings.

Third Stop: A Walk on Nelson’s Tahanamui Beach

After our feed, we left the downtown area and headed over to the beautiful Tahanamui Beach. The beach had some very fine sand and was full of families out for the day. It was the type of beach that kids could run around on forever since it was so wide and spacious.


On the Road: Nelson – Havelock

From Tahanamui Beach, it was back in the RAV4 and back the way we came driving up the coast and eventually inland to Havelock.

Fourth Stop: Cullen Point Scenic Reserve

Back in the car and headed back the way we came, bound for Picton. We took the reverse route and by the time we hit Havelock, we turned Eastward on the Queen Charlotte Way. We stopped at the Cullen Point Nature Reserve for a brief sightseeing walk. It was only a walk as it only took about 10 minutes. We were able to get some winter sunset views from the view point over the mussel harvesting area that occurs in the bay.

On the Road: Havelock – Picton

We continued Eastward on Queen Charlottes Way from Havelock towards Picton. I should have perhaps taken it as a sign when Google Directions directed traffic around this particular stretch of road on a longer route.

I can’t imagine the Queen ever taking this route called “Queen Charlottes Way”. It was super twisty and even as the driver I was almost sick by the time we got to the end of it a a result of all the twisty turns. We did manage to find some wild or free roaming turkeys that were watching the river on our route, something which I had not seen before.


Fifth Stop: The Ferry City of Picton

We eventually arrived to Picton. Picton is mostly known for being the ferry terminal where travellers can take the car ferry to the North Island. I previously took the three hour ferry ride from the South Island to North Island in 1998. We weren’t taking the ferry today, but instead seeking dinner. It has a scenic view for a ferry dock as the boats crawl outwards toward the ocean surrounded by mountains and fjords on either sides.

We headed into the town which was deserted after the last ferry had left and had dinner at Café Cortado. It was a pleasant local place. We were feeling light for dinner so we had split pizza half vegetarian and half spicy. It was served nice and thin crust. The restaurant was surprisingly packed for a town with less than 3,000 population.

After dinner, we gassed up the car (at about almost $2 per litre!) and drove back to Blenheim for the night for packing and getting ready to depart on the first flight leaving tomorrow morning. The drive today was a beautiful scenic drive to a part of the world we wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

My Thoughts our Circular Driving Route:

With today, we had a great look at some of the world class scenery New Zealand has to offer. We visited a region that typically does not see many international tourists, allowing us to get a local look into life in picturesque New Zealand. We had an all too brief three day visit to the country but given what we would see, we’d pledge to return sometime soon.

If you visited the northern part of the South Island of New Zealand, do you have a favourite attraction or region ?

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