It will take you 4 hours 15 mins driving time alone to go down the coast from ChCh to Dunedin - plus time for stops.
In my opinion much of the drive from ChCh to Oamaru is quite similar, and there are a lot of long straight patches of road through farmland, so you may be best to go via Tekapo and Omaramama, and back along SH 83 to Oamaru, and the final 1 hour 15 to Dunedin down the coastal SH 1. However going inland will add on approx 3 hours (??) (It is 1 hour 30 or so from Oamaru to Omaramama, but I am not familiar with the time from Omaramama via Tekapo back onto SH 1 sorry).
Driving this route will give you a lot more variety of scenery allowing you to see the MacKenzie basin, pretty Lake Tekapo, the Waitaki hydro-lakes and stop at Lake Pukaki for a stunning photo up to Mt Cook if the clouds are behaving. However, it is a LOT of driving, and if the rest of your trip takes you inland close by Mt Cook etc, it may be better just to stick to the more direct route.
When are you planning the drive, as that might influence the best route. In winter the inland road, while stunning, could be impassable due to snow or ice.
I am assuming by asking about stops between Timaru and Oamaru you are thinking of taking the coastal road? If so, to be perfectly honest I have never thought a whole lot of the scenery being largely through dairy farms, although the hills in the background are pretty. If you wanted to add a little interest to your drive, you could head inland via Waimate to Kurow, crossing the very old Hakataramea Bridge, and following SH83 back down the Waitaki Valley to Oamaru. There are a few interesting stops along the way, such as Maori Rock Drawings just out of Duntroon, and also "Vanished World" within Duntroon itself which is quite interesting re the area originally being under a glacier and fossils which have been found. You could also do another detour (30mins max) from Duntroon to Elephant Rocks which is where a lot of the Narnia movie was filmed - it is incredible scenery. The trip to the gorge from Waimate to Kurow is also quite pretty.
However this will add on at least 1-2 hours, compared to the 3-4 hours going via Tekapo and Omaramama.
Perhaps others may have some ideas, as having lived in the area for so long you almost take for granted what others that are new to the region might appreciate seeing!
Also I should mention that Oamaru itself is worth a stop - it has several good cafes to break the drive, and also a well preserved Victorian part of town which is a popular tourist destination.
Hi Wanaka Lakes
I'm travelling mid October just after your school holidays. I had planned to travel the route Christchurch/Tekapo/Omarama/Oamaru/Dunedin over two days, staying in Twizel however a couple of the contributors have suggested Twizel Tekapo and Mt Cook are over-rated. Mt Cook is generally covered in mist/cloud, in the 10 times they have visited Mt Cook only once has the weather been clear [not very good odds]. Thats why I was interested in the scenery/ attractions of the coastal route. There is another thought and that is to fly over Mt Cook from the east coast, we will be there for a few days hopefully one of those days will be fine, but I will leave that for a later forum.
It appeares that both Amy and yourself believe I should travel the inland route thank you both.
I appreciate your help.
Hey SouthBeach, no need to panic. I was a bit strong in saying the roads may be impassable. What I should have said is that extreme care may be needed due to ice and/or snow and chains should be carried.
Last winter (which was exceptionally cold) I had to travel Wanaka to Chch in early July. Heavy snow had fallen and the road was classed as 'chains essential'. Going through the Lindis Pass I watched as the outside temp continued to drop to a frigid -11C. The road wasn't too bad until after Tekapo when we hit several miles of black ice.
You will be fine if you allow extra time in your itinerary for slower than normal driving or lay over days. But that's what makes travel such fun, the spontaneity.
I think Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki spectacular and the drive up to Aoraki simply gorgeous and not to be missed. But I can understand the frustration of going all that way to only see cloud.
One of the wonderful things about travel is that any one route isn't 'right' or 'wrong'. You are traveling in Oct so there won't be so many tourists around. You could perhaps leave the two/three days free and not decide which route to take until the last moment... depending on the weather forecast and your mood.
I too would suggest you take the inland route over 2 days if you can do it. The scenery is much better. And as for not seeing Mt Cook, that's the luck of the draw. But I have travelled the road a few times from Qstn to Chch, and have only once not seen Mt Cook - guess I'm lucky too?!
If you want to see the glaciers, I can highly reccommend taking a ski plane from Mt Cook.