State Highway 1 (SH1) is mostly two-lane but average speeds are high, so this itinerary aims to create a more sightseeing-friendly pace and route, allowing you to take your time and lap up the towns and landscapes on the way. The recommended route is no more than 5 or so km to one or the other side of the highway and does not use any gravelled roads. This route is ideal for campervans and people admiring the view - and gets you slowpokes off the main highway!
This route does not completely avoid SH1, and does follow it for some short sections. Driving directly from Oamaru to Dunedin on SH1 takes about 2 hours. Without stops, this route will take a little longer, but it is probably best to allow a whole day so that you can stop at some of the sights.
Oamaru is on State Highway 1, 250 km south of Christchurch (approx 3hr 15min) and 115 km north of Dunedin. State Highway 83 meets SH 1 at Pukeuri, 9 km north of the town centre, providing access from Omarama and the Mackenzie Country via the Waitaki Valley.
1 Oamaru's main street, Thames Street, runs north-south, and continuing straight ahead (where State Highway 1 veers off to the right) will take you past the historic town centre of restored Victorian stone buildings. This is well worth a 10-minute get-out-and-walk; little blue penguins come ashore just south of here every day around dusk.
Follow the coastline past Oamaru harbour and over the hill to 2 Kakanui, a small fishing port and holiday town. The coastal route rejoins Highway 1 at 3 Waianakarua, a hard left here takes you onto the highway and over a historic stone arch bridge. You will see this before you turn onto the highway. 4 Hampden (pronounced Hamden) on the highway has a fish and chip shop, pub and somewhat clean public toilets. The highway follows the coast south to the 5 Moeraki Boulders a worthwhile get-out-and-walk look at some interesting geological freaks.
South of here, look out for the right-turn to Trotters Gorge, on 6 Horse Range Road. This diversion climbs over the Horse Range through limestone country. Trotters Gorge has bush walks and a picnic area. The highway avoided by this diversion has its own scenic good points, running along the beachfront for most of the way, so keep it in mind on the way back.
Horse Range Road comes the back way into 7 Palmerston where the highway is rejoined. At the town centre take a left and cross the railway on to the loop road to Goodwood: it's three sides of a square but a nice bit of motoring.
- 1 Matanaka Farm. 2 Oct - 13 Aug: daily, 8AM-6PM. Check out the oldest buildings in this district – the best bit is the homely 3-seater toilet: a big one for the papa, a middle-sized one for the mama.... Free.
Just south of Waikouaiti, cross a river and look out for the right-hander to 10 Karitane along Coast Road. Coast Road is an old highway out of Dunedin, through one of the earlier farming districts of the European settlers. Karitane is an old whaling port and now has a small fishing port.
- 2 Huriawa Pa (Huriwa Historic Reserve). A rugged headland, famous for its pā, which was built by Kāti Mamoe, and expanded by Te Wera (of Kāi Tahu), about 1750. The site is jointly run by Māori and the Department of Conservation.
- 3 Seacliff. The site of an old mental hospital, mostly demolished due to land instability around here. There's a backpacker hostel (The Asylum) in the remaining buildings and the old hospital grounds are open to the public. New Zealand writer Janet Frame was a patient here.
Coast Road heads south to Blueskin Bay at 11 Warrington. Just before the first rail crossing at the entrance to Warrington, there's a historic church on the left. St Barnabas Church is set in a wooded cemetery. If the building is open, check out the polished wood interior and stained glass windows. Coast Road rejoins the Highway at Evansdale. Just south of here, take the left turn at 12 Waitati. The main street takes you through the village past a school then winds up and over Mount Cargill.
- 4 Orokonui Ecosanctuary. A major wildlife project; construction of the boundary fence around 250Ha of forest began in 2006.
13 Mount Cargill Road crests the summit then winds down (as North Road) into 14 Dunedin's northern suburb North East Valley. This is the old State Highway 1 bypassed in the late 1950s. Halfway down the valley on the left is Baldwin Street, the world's steepest street. Great for a demonstration of bravado: there's a drinking fountain and seat at the top.
Straight ahead at the traffic lights at the foot of the valley, and you rejoin the highway into Dunedin.
- Dunedin and Port Chalmers
- Wanaka and Queenstown, 4 hr inland via Alexandra and Cromwell
- Invercargill, for Bluff oysters, 2.5 hr south via Gore and Mataura
- Walk the Careys Creek Track