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Lake Tekapo, in New Zealand's South Island / Picture: Stephen Scourfield

Air New Zealand starts flying direct between Perth and Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island, twice a week from December 3.

While the direct flight between Perth and Auckland, on North Island, continues, connecting us to Christchurch changes everything.

STEPHEN SCOURFIELD'S SOUTH ISLAND GUIDE
Foodie New Zealand
Christchurch rises from the rubble
Soaking at Hanmer Springs
More than wine in Marlborough
Wildlife and culture in Kaikoura
Cook Strait: sail through history

South Island is the most dramatically different part of New Zealand. With its striking spine of high mountains, remote west coast, Marlborough wine region in the north, lakes and fjords in the south, and the many attractions of its eastern, Pacific coast, it has enthralling landscapes and four true seasons.

In autumn, in many areas, the trees turn in spectacular colours, and there can be clear, crisp but sunny days. In winter, of course, there’s plenty of snow and winter sports. In spring the country comes alive. This is a lush, landscape flushed with green. And in summer — now — South Island is still considerably cooler than Perth.

This is a year-round destination, with top-quality produce and food, a full range of accommodation, plenty to do — from hiring a mountain bike to kayaking to just driving its curving roads — and an eye always on quality.

Previously to get to Christchurch, we have had to take the direct flight to Auckland and change planes. It was just enough to make it more difficult. The new Air New Zealand direct flight to Christchurch will take around seven hours, and opens up some clear thoughts:

Fly in to Christchurch, spend a night or so, pick up the hire car or camper van, drive up to Lake Tekapo and spend the night there (perhaps a sightseeing flight over Mount Cook, perhaps the astro tour, perhaps some time at the hot springs), then drive on to Queenstown. Three or four days based there (perhaps a trip to Wanaka) and then drive on down the lakes to Te Anau, take a day trip out to Milford Sound, on to Dunedin and back to Christchurch.

From Christchurch, drive north-east through the Waipara wine region (great for lunch) to Hanmer Springs for a couple of nights. Drive on to Kaikoura (whale watching, cultural tour) and then up the great coastal drive to the Marlborough wine region and spend several days there, probably based in Picton, where there are also plenty of activities, including day walks on the Queen Charlotte Track, and water-based activities in the Marlborough Sounds. Drive on and stay in Nelson, then down the west coast to Greymouth and in across the Southern Alps, through Arthur’s Pass, back to Christchurch.

While camper vans are popular and self-drive can be booked as packages including accommodation, for those who don’t want to drive, there’s a good option on trains. After a couple of days in Christchurch, catch the Coastal Pacific train to Picton. Onf this journey of nearly six hours, there are 175 bridges over the braided rivers, and 90km winds along the rim of the Pacific Ocean, water one side, mountains the other. After rising through the Kaikoura Ranges, there are the salt fields of Lake Grassmere and the vineyards of Blenheim. It is then possible to arrange a private car with driver (for example with Marlborough Travel) on a tour from Picton through the Marlborough wine region, across the top of South Island, past Abel Tasman National Park and down the west coast to Greymouth. And there, catch the TranzAlpine train across the Southern Alps, through sub-tropical rainforest and beech trees, past locations used in The Lord of the Rings, over Arthur’s Pass, across the Waimakariri River and down on the agricultural Canterbury Plains to Christchurch. Another great train journey.

The new flight also, of course, opens up the “one-way” option of flying in to either Christchurch or Auckland, driving from one to the other (most would travel south from Auckland to Christchurch) and flying home.

While New Zealand is a very good car or camper self-drive destination, there are good coach tours to join, many covering both islands, and cruises around the coast that include days in port from Christchurch to Picton, Dunedin to Auckland.

Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Tourism New Zealand.