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Roads through the countryside's mountain ranges and deep river gorges can be narrow and winding, and a 160-km (100-mi) drive might take over three hours. However, the roads are generally good, and there's always something to look at. There are a number of one-way bridges along the way and several on the West Coast shared with trains. Watch the signposts and road markings for "give way" rules. It can be a long way between gas stations, so fill up when you can.
Nelson is about a two-hour drive from Picton. From Nelson, State Highway 6 runs southwest to the West Coast, on down the coast to the glaciers, then over the Haast Pass to Wanaka and Queenstown. For the West Coast, allow at least seven hours for the 458-km (284-mi) journey from Nelson to Franz Josef. This route demands frequent scenic stops. The same applies to a drive from Nelson to Christchurch, 424 km (265 mi) to the southeast, whether you go through the mountains of the Lewis Pass area or take the coastal route through Blenheim and Kaikoura. Highway 60 splits from State Highway 6 about 13 km (8 mi) out of Nelson near Richmond to reach the Abel Tasman area, Motueka, and Golden Bay.
The north end of the West Coast is roughly a four-hour trip from Nelson on State Highway 6 or a five- to six-hour drive over Arthur's Pass on Highway 7 from Christchurch. State Highway 7 climbs the steep pass over the backbone of the Southern Alps before winding steeply down through rainforest to the tiny town of Otira and on to the coastal river plains of the mid-West Coast.
Most car rental agencies have North Island-South Island transfer programs for their vehicles: leave one car in Wellington and pick another one up in Picton on the same contract. Some car rental companies are reluctant for their vehicles to leave the sealed roads, but Apex Rentals in particular is more lenient about that.
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