Amazing New Zealand
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Suggested Itineraries
18 Days



18 Days in New Zealand

If you have eighteen days to enjoy New Zealand, you can take the scenic route from Auckland to the awesome Coromandel Peninsula and then on to Whakatane, Rotorua and Taupo to take in a little Maori culture and enjoy the volcanic area. You then fly to Christchurch in the South Island where the scenery is much more dramatic and where you can join a whale or dolphin spotting excursion before following the Southern Alps all the way to Mt Cook, Wanaka, Queenstown, Paradise (yes, it does exist) and our most beautiful attraction - the Milford Sound. You'll have more time to enjoy what is on offer now compared to the shorter itineraries. However choosing will still be difficult as there are so many choices, particularly in Wanaka and Queenstown. Hire a car or if you prefer to be chauffeur-driven, the price starts from NZD $750 per day, depending on the size of vehicle required. This includes, fuel, vehicle hire, full insurance, Department of Conservation concessions & entry fees and the chauffeur's daily expenses & accommodation.


  

Day 1 Auckland - Auckland

Our Amazing New Zealand chauffeur can pick you up from the airport or your accommodation. First stop should be the volcanic cone of Mt Eden for a panoramic view of the city and harbours to orientate your bearings before we start the tour. Head north over the Harbour Bridge to pretty Orewa Beach and Wenderholm Regional Park on the tranquil east coast, followed by morning tea in the original Bohemian settlement of Puhoi. We then head inland past wineries and orchards to the wild black-sand beaches of the West Coast. The gannet colony at Muriwai is a must see, as not only will the cute chicks and the flying skills of the adults keep you mesmerized, but the sweeping views along the surfing beaches north will certainly blow any jet-lag away. Heading south again lunch can be enjoyed at the Bees Online cafe where several honey orientated products are on sale, or wine lovers should take advantage of having a chauffeur and dine in a restaurant under the vines of a world class winery.

After lunch I recommend a walk in the lush bush of the Waitakere Ranges to a secluded waterfall or along a deserted beach, such as the one made famous in Jane Campion's movie The Piano. Return to Auckland along the Scenic Drive and take a ferry ride to the old suburb of Devonport - Auckland is known as the City of Sails, so a venture out onto the water is an essential part of visiting Auckland. Take the tour or wander up North Head for awesome views of the city and our youngest dormant volcano Rangitoto Island. For a late afternoon swim in our clean, clear and safe harbour you can wander down the steps to beautiful Cheltenham Beach. On your return to the Ferry Building enjoy the sunset and dinner in the revolving restaurant of the Sky Tower.

Day 2 Auckland - Hahei 270kms

Head south (direction Hamilton) on SH1.

56kms - After the Bombay Hills, turn left onto SH2 direction Coromandel and at 88kms change again to SH25 at the new roundabout.

110kms – Just after the long Kopu Bridge, turn left towards Thames – the gateway to Coromandel Peninsula. In the late 1880s this was a thriving gold mining and kauri logging centre. (NB if you prefer a shorter drive today then turn right at the roundabout after the bridge and follow SH25A up and over the Coromandel Ranges instead of going left to Thames). This is also where you should stop and buy groceries if you intend preparing your own meals for the next 2 nights as there is not a lot of choice at Hahei!

Continue north direction Coromandel Town. You are now skirting the Firth of Thames, the road follows the dramatic and winding coast, so please take it easy. But most importantly, please remember that the locals are not on vacation and are quite often in a hurry to get somewhere. So if someone is pressuring you from behind, just pull over and allow them to pass. You will enjoy the driving much much more and the locals will in turn be much much more friendlier when you do eventually cruise to your destination at your own pace! There are places to pull over and take photos all along of this dramatic coastline.

165kms – Here you could turn right onto the 309 Road.

  • 4.8kms up this road is the Waiau Waterways Garden and café, where whimsical wonders are worked by water - there are plenty of whacky contraptions to entertain the young and young at heart.
  • 7.9kms - Continue inland to the Kauri Grove parking. This stop is excellent, giving you a real taste for the New Zealand bush without much effort. The bush walk is an easy 10 minute stroll on a level path to 600 year old kauri trees. These trees are magnificent, with native bush wonderfully lush and cool and peaceful. Continue past the first lookout for a lovely circuit past the Siamese Kauri and to the Kauri Grove. The Kauris are endemic to the northern part of New Zealand’s North Island and can live for 4000 years and grow to twice the height of these ones! They are the largest trees in the world if calculating volume of usable timber. No wonder they call them the giants of the forest and were almost wiped out by the colonials for their timber. The cutting down of a Kauri is now banned as they are protected, so thankfully now we are seeing a comeback of these giants to our forests.

Return to SH25 and turn right to visit Coromandel Town, another 5kms north.

188kms - The main street in Coromandel Town is an old world delight, full of cafés and craft shops. After your visit, drive south (go back) 400m and turn left towards Whitianga – at the top of the hill there is a lookout point with views all the way back to Auckland.

224kms – Wharekaho Beach has a fine stand of Pohutukawa trees. One of these is a gnarled old specimen that exactly fits a description in the journal of explorer Captain Cook written in 1769.

228kms – You are now arriving in Whitianga, a safe harbour full of holiday homes favoured by Aucklanders. Continue south, following signs for Tairua and SH25.

260kms - Turn left and drive 10 kilometres to Hahei Beach

If you feel like a walk, then the Coastal Track starts at the northern end of Hahei Beach….enjoy commanding views over Hahei and to the islands beyond and north along the dramatic coast. You can walk as far as you like before turning back, or you can even walk all the way to Cathedral Cove.

 Day 3 Hahei 
 
This morning you could visit Hot Water Beach. It is a lovely beach, but more importantly hot water rises to the surface here from a geothermal reservoir under the seabed. Check the tides, as you need to dig a hole below the high water mark, 2 hours either side of the low tide is your time limit. I recommend it after low tide, so you may then get to use an abandoned hole instead of having to dig one for yourself! You can dig a hole on the northern end of the beach, then sit back and soak in your very own private spa. Look for the sulphur bubbling to the surface of the sand.

Hahei's main attraction is Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous beach nearby hidden within a dramatic coastline. There are 4 ways of reaching it :-

  • Walk the coastal track which starts on the northern end of Hahei Beach. The views are excellent and it will take you about 1 hour to reach the cove itself.
  • Drive up to the car-park via Grange Road, then walk 45 minutes to the cove.
  • Take the Hahei sight seeing boat, departing 10am (no time at the beach).
  • Or my recommendation is to join the sea kayaking tour departing at 9am. A 3 hour truly kiwi experience, includes top quality kayaks and gear, tuition and even a coffee brewed for you on the beach while you take a swim. You can order which ever style – Cappuccino, Mochachino, even an L Baccino (long black). Sea kayaking is a "must do" in New Zealand, and this is one of the most beautiful places to try it.

Day 4 Hahei - Whakatane 240kms

Return to the SH25 intersection and go left towards Tairua. You will see many kiwifruit and citrus orchards and vineyards today as you travel through what is known as the fruit-bowl of New Zealand.

25kms - A great photo op is from the Paku Hill, turn left as you enter Tairua towards Ocean Beach. Keep following the road, at the marina go up Paku Drive, then follow signs to Paku Summit. A short walk will take you the rest of the way, for awesome views over Tairua Harbour and Pauanui Beach. Return to Tairua and continue south, direction Whangamata. Just after the Pauanui turnoff, SH25 goes left….if you go straight you end up in Thames again!

62kms - Whangamata Beach is over 4kms long and is popular for swimming and surfing. Drive through town (which is less winding than following the official SH2 signs) and the beach is certainly worth checking out – I recently rented a kayak and paddled out to Whenuakura Island where there is a cave entrance that opens up into a romantic beach hidden within the island surrounded by native bush, stunning! The locals call it Donut Island because of the hole in the middle.

94kms – Waihi once had 1200 mines producing half of the country’s gold. There is only one mine left now, the massive Martha’s Mine – a huge open cut mine right in the middle of town. On the SH2 intersection, turn right to Town Centre, then at the roundabout go right and drive up through the shops and park by the information centre (i-Site). Walk up the steps to view the impressive mine from above….if you walk uphill along the fence there is an impressive Maori warrior statue worth seeing – it is amongst the plants, plus the views over the town are quite lovely. The i-Site has an informative display about the mine.

Return to SH2 and continue east on SH2. Morton Estate Winery just after Katikati is recommended if you need to stock up on some excellent wines!

152kms – SH2 branches off to the left and follows the harbour’s edge, with great views of `The Mount` along the way. It was once an island with a Maori pa (fortified village), but it is now joined to the mainland and marks the entrance to the Tauranga Harbour. In Maori Tauranga means `sheltered anchorage`, the harbour has become a huge port catering for massive cruise liners and container ships filled with lamb, kiwifruit and timber heading for Japan and Europe.

The Mount is now a congested suburb of Tauranga, with the beach becoming a popular holiday destination for the wealthy and the not so wealthy surfing crowd alike.

160kms - After crossing the Harbour Bridge, follow the signs for Mount Maunganui – there are plenty of cafés to choose from where you can sit back and enjoy watching the surfers. For a walk, try the Coastal Track around the base of the Mount which will take about 1 hour, to the summit and back is also an hour.

Leaving the Mount, return to SH2 and continue east. 

188kms - At the new roundabout at Maketu, turn left to stay on SH2.

226kms - SH2 turns right, but you should continue straight towards Whakatane, your destination for this evening. While in town take a short drive west to the harbour entrance to see the beautiful statue of Wairaka, a Maori heroin who went against Maori laws to save the drifting waka (canoe). If you’ve seen ‘Whale Rider’, you’ll understand how strongly the Maoris feel about what is ‘tapu’ or out of bounds. She proclaimed ‘Ka Whakatane au I amu’ which means ‘to act like a man’, so the city was named after her heroic acts.

Before checking in I suggest you first follow the signs over the hill to beautiful Ohope Beach if you have time. For the best view of Whakatane turn left at the top of the hill onto Otarewairere Road (just before you start your descent to Ohope) – the first lookout on the right has wonderful views east along Ohope Beach and out to White Island. Continue on this road and take the first left. Follow the road right to the end at Kohi Point (2.3kms) where you will find the remnants of Toi’s Pa and a lookout west down to Whakatane and the river from the point. Toi was one of the original Maori immigrants making this one of the oldest pa sites in New Zealand. Return to the main road and turn left to Ohope - the Café Surfside makes excellent takeaway coffees to be enjoyed on the beach, they also have a great selection of food.

Day 5 Whakatane - Rotorua 90kms

The highlight in Whakatane is without doubt a visit to White Island, an active volcano 50kms offshore. For me the tour scored a 10 out of 10 for awesomeness. Staring down into the crater’s mouth, stepping around steaming sulphur pools and bubbling mud will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of my life. However the island doesn’t have a wharf, so persons with low mobility are discouraged from taking the trip, also preferably no children under the age of 8 – and only then if they are well behaved and can be trusted not to wander from the path, it is a dangerous environment out there. Covered shoes are also a requirement. Alternatively, there are helicopter tours, with one hour on the island, or fixed wing flight-seeing over the island. You can combine these flights with a trip over Mt Tarawera, an impressive volcano which blew in 1886, that not only split the mountain rather dramatically, but also buried the famous Pink and White terraces, together with three villages and the loss of 153 lives.

While in town take a short drive west to the harbour entrance to see the beautiful statue of Wairaka, a Maori heroin who went against Maori laws to save the drifting waka (canoe). If you’ve seen ‘Whale Rider’, you’ll understand how strongly the Maoris feel about what is ‘tapu’ or out of bounds. She proclaimed ‘Ka Whakatane au I amu’ which means ‘to act like a man’, so the city was named after her heroic acts.

Café Addiction
on The Strand does the best coffee in town, and has a wonderful selection of light meals available if you need something before you head for Rotorua (1¼ hrs driving time), or the café at White Island Tours on The Strand East has lots of yummy food and revitalizing drinks.

Departing from the waterfront return to the shops and continue along The Strand, go left at the second roundabout (Commerce Street) then right at the McDonalds (Domain Road) following the signs to Rotorua and Tauranga.

Continue straight for 3kms, you then need to go right at the third roundabout.

7kms – Continue straight, you are now on the SH30 to Rotorua, at 14.5kms follow the highway left. The road skirts Lake Rotoma, Lake Rotoehu, Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotorua which are all flooded volcanic craters. The latter you will probably smell before you see it, as the area is still active with sulphur escaping from the earth’s crust (think rotten eggs). Don’t worry, you will get used to the smell.

73kms - Hells Gate. This is one of your options for this afternoon, if you’d like a mud spa treatment that will leave you glowing. As you arrive in Rotorua, keep following the City Centre signs, this will bring you to the lakefront of Rotorua, your destination for this evening. Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so volcanic activity is part of the city’s past and present.The city has become New Zealand’s second largest tourist centre – so there are no shortages of establishments willing to take some cash away from you but if you’d like to make the most of what Rotorua has to offer, and all that is thermal, here are some of my suggestions:-
  • Kuirau Park has the largest display of steam and mud pool. An eruption took place here as recently as 2001 when mud, steam and debris were thrown 200m into the air. Springs regularly just appear, resulting in families being forced to move and the land having to be given back to nature.
  • Wander around the original Maori settlement at Ohinemutu. The church is worth a look at, as is the Marae (Maori meeting house) across the courtyard. Wander the tiny streets where everyone has their own private hot-water bore to fill their bath in the out-shed….just follow the steam and stay on the paths!
  • If you have time, soak in the reputedly therapeutic thermal pools at the Polynesian Spa, a delightful but busy public pool. If you wait until tomorrow morning the spa is less crowded - it is a wonderful way to start the day - relaxing with serene views across the lake.
  • This evening don’t miss the excellent Tamaki Brothers cultural show followed by a traditional Hangi (earthen cooked meal). Pickups from your accommodation in a waka (war canoe) cleverly disguised as a bus, followed by a fun evening superbly hosted and entertained by local Maori.
  • The excitement junkies can take the Gondola up Mount Ngongotaha for awesome views, interspersed with hair raising rides on a luge (3 levels available, so suitable for children).

Day 6 Rotorua - Taupo - Rotorua 180kms

En route to Lake Taupo there are many more thermal attractions! Head south on SH5 (direction Taupo).

29kms - Turn left at the Wai-o-tapu Tavern and 400m further left again onto the Loop Road and take a look at the thermal Mud Pools (free). Don’t forget to lock your car and keep valuables out of site - the bubbling mud can keep you mesmerized for hours!

The Lady Knox Geyser blows her top at 10:15am - it attracts tourists by the bus-load but worth timing your visit to see this as it is spectacular none the less!

Follow the Loop Road to the main attraction Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland, the best thermal reserve in the area. It really is a wonderland of orange, green, yellow, blue, white and black pools, the highlights being the exquisitely coloured Champagne Pool, Oyster Pool and the Devil’s Bath - you’ll be amazed how nature can conjure up such colours. The track is uneven at times so you need walking shoes.

The café here is a good option for lunch before continuing south to Taupo. Continue on this road back to SH5 and turn left.

 72kms – At the large roundabout where SH5 meets SH1, go straight and continue south past the Wairakei International Golf Course.

78kms – Turn left for the mighty Huka Falls, Volcanic Activity Centre and Prawn Park.

  • If you first go left, you will come to the freshwater Prawn Park, apparently the world’s only geothermal prawn farm. The informative tour leaves every 30 minutes, after which you are encouraged to munch out in the Riverside Restaurant.
  • The Activity Centre is well worth a stop. You are in the middle of one of the most active volcanic spots in the world, so it’s good to know what lies beneath your feet. There are hands on interpretive displays of local volcanoes, up to the second earthquake Richter scale readings, even a room where you can experience a simulated earthquake.
  • The Honey Hive also has interesting interpretive displays, a glass fronted live beehive and the Beez Kneez Café.
  • The Huka Falls are not very high, but are certainly spectacular. Here the sedate Waikato River is forced between a 15 metre gap before roaring over a 7 metre drop. There is a lookout just past the Helistar Helicopters, but the falls are much more impressive from below, where there is a walkway across the river.
  • There is another attraction called the Craters of the Moon volcanic reserve, that is if you’re not all "thermalled out" yet. To reach the reserve after visiting the falls, return up the hill to Helistar Helicopters, turn left towards the SH1 intersection, then cross straight over. Follow the road for 1.5kms to the car-park. From here a 40 minute stroll along a boardwalk will take you through steamy billowing clouds and hissing escaping gases – you really do feel as if you’re walking on the moon.
Return to SH1, go right to Taupo. After 4kms turn left for the lookout over the huge Lake Taupo, actually the world’s largest volcanic crater, created in one giant explosion. The ash cloud floated all over the world - ice samples from as far apart as Antarctica and Alaska have determined the explosion to have occurred in 186AD. The effects of the ash were even recorded in China and Rome. You can gather your own free volcanic souvenir from the shoreline in the form of very light pumice stones (great for cleaning off rough skin) which were spewed out in that eruption. Just about everywhere you look in the Lake Taupo region, you'll see a volcano. The mountains to the south of the lake are popular for skiing in the winter and walking in the summer. 

To return to Rotorua you can take the alternative route (same distance) – drive north over the Waikato River and up the hill past Wairakei and at the large roundabout, turn left and take SH1 north for 40 kilometres. You will cross the Waikato River again at Atiamuri…..drive another 8 kilometres to Upper Atiamuri and turn right onto SH30 to Rotorua

  

Day 7 Rotorua - Christchurch ... Morning flight


The flight can be described as a scenic flight, with spectacular views of the North Island volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngarauhoe, Ruapehu (Mount Doom in the LOTR Trilogy), Taranaki (Mt Fujiyama in the Last Samurai) before crossing to the South Island and following the Southern Alps all the way down to Christchurch.

Christchurch is New Zealand's second largest city which sprawls across the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. The main attractions here are the English style gardens and parks, the city even has its very own Avon Riveron which one can punt. It has an English colonial feel to the city with school children in formal blazers and straw hats, with fine architecture and heritage sites evident everywhere. ……however, on February 22nd 2011 the city suffered a devastating earthquake that has unfortunately destroyed many of those heritage buildings, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral!

Attractions still worth considering are :-
  • Head to Antigua Boatshed where canoes are available for hire. Request a picnic basket hamper to be enjoyed on the banks of the Avon River along the way.
  • Or hire your very own gondolier to punt you through the Botanical Gardens.
  • The Grand Café at the Casino is a great option ….open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week.
  • Visit the Canterbury Museum for their informative Earthquake exhibition as well as the Antarctic section and impressive Maori collection.
  • The new Christchurch Art Gallery is a must see.
  • The excellent International Antarctic Centre near the airport is where you can experience all there is to know about the icy continent.
  • Take to the Port Hills for stunning 360° views as you walk along the Crater Rim Track.
  • Mona Vale was a beautiful Edwardian-style homestead set amongst 5½ ha. of beautiful gardens…..the gardens are still worth the visit!
  • The nearby Dean’s Bush at Riccarton is home to the only surviving stand of wetlands podocarp forest.
  • Join the Christchurch Bike Tour…..they ride along the bike paths and through parks and there is not a hill in sight! Stops include both Mona Vale and Deans Bush, as well as Hagley Park and the attractions.
  • The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a zoo with a difference with plenty of opportunities to get up close and touch the animals.....be sure to check out the massive eels! And buy a bag of food to feed the various animals as you walk around the well marked bush lined paths. Time your visit to include the 4.30pm guided tour (no extra charge) through the Natural New Zealand section showcasing our rare native birds, including the kiwi of course. Other highlights here are close encounters of the wildlife kind with various and the farmyard animals that clamber for your attention to be fed and stroked!
Day 8 Christchurch - Kaikoura - Christchurch 260kms

Head north on SH1, the drive takes you via the Waipara Valley, our newest wine growing region. In particular I recommend a stop at the family-owned Pegasus Bay Winery for lunch, turn right 4.5 kilometers before the village. Try their generous platter loaded with cheeses and locally caught salmon and duck accompanied with some excellent award-winning wines on the lawn. In Waipara turn left and follow the Alpine Pacific Triangle driving route to Hanmer Springs.

124kms - Turn right to Hanmer Springs, a pretty alpine village where you can try mountain biking in the forests or just enjoy a relaxing swim at the award-winning Hot Springs ($10 pp). NB – don’t wear a new swimsuit as the water can ruin it! It is possible to hire swimsuits and towels.

Return to SH7 and turn left, at 164 kilometers turn left and after 3 kilometers left again onto SH70 to Rotherham and Waiau.

256kms - Turn left to Kaikoura. The rugged coast is home to a diverse range of wildlife which gladly pose within camera range. Watch out for seals, dolphins and albatrosses amongst the rocks, freshly cooked crayfish is usually available from a roadside shop housed in a caravan. A deep-sea canyon system rich in plankton lies close to the coast, which then attract a variety of those very special creatures - the whales. However only male sperm whales are resident all year round as the females stay in the warmer tropical waters near the equator. Sperm whales can dive to a depth of 2kms and stay submerged for up to 2 hrs and can swim at 40km/h. Also, did you know that dolphins do not breath automatically as humans do so when they sleep only half the brain sleeps at a time.

Your first stop in Kaikoura should be the Lookout just off Scarborough Terrace. From here you can view the azure-blue waters around Kaikoura Peninsula bordered by the mountain backdrop behind. The excellent 2 hour Peninsula Walkway at the head of the peninsula takes you along the shoreline and back over the cliffs. 

Day 9 Christchurch - Akaroa - Christchurch 180kms

Today's short drive explores the Banks Peninsula created over nine million years of fiery volcanic activity. Akaroa Harbour and Lyttelton Harbour are the two giant craters that remain. Originally the Banks Peninsula was an island, but over the millennia the alluvial rivers have brought down the glacial debris from the Southern Alps, slowly joining the two and creating the Canterbury Plains.

Ask your hosts on how to find the SH75 to Akaroa, (allow 2 hours for the drive so you have time to stop for photos). Additional stops en route (if you depart early) could be Little River Craft and Gallery and Barry's Bay Cheese Factory for cheese tastings.

68kms - The Hilltop Tavern at the summit is a must before you make your way down to the harbour, if only to stop and look at the view.

From here it is another 20 kilometres to Akaroa. In 1835 French whaler Jean Langlois established a whaling station in the harbour at French Bay and bought some land from the Maori. Once he had secured the deal he returned to France to organize a group of settlers to come and establish a community. Unfortunately the English had placed the whole of New Zealand under British sovereignty only 13 days before, so the French settlers were forced to sell their claims. They did however stay, bringing both their rich French character and their culture to this far flung outpost of the world.

 For lunch, I can recommend a BBQ fish sandwich – you will find them on the wharf. Try the Akaroa Salmon on Ciabatta bread!

Day 10 Christchurch - Mount Somers 188kms

Before departing today, you have time for an activity or two in Christchurch. 

Drive west on SH73 for 52 kilometres to the foothills of the Southern Alps. In Darfield turn left onto SH77 direction Glentunnel and Mt Hutt and follow the Scenic Inland Route. The drive takes you along the foothills with the Southern Alps to your right and the sweeping farmland of the Canterbury Plains to your left. 

92kms - The road crosses the alluvial Rakaia River next. For excellent views of the gorge you should park by the first bridge and cross over the road to the little walkway.

100kms – Mt Hutt Station on your right is one of the largest deer farms in the world. Turn left to Methven - a bustling ski resort by winter servicing Mount Hutt. Here you can buy groceries etc. Take the road next to the tourist office, direction Mt Somers and at 10.4kms turn left onto SH72. 

138kms – Your accommodation tonight is just after the Mount Somers village – look for the Stronechrubie on the right. You have a 2 bedroom chalet and a studio chalet which is quite basic, but the highlight here is the 5 star resident chef….I can recommend the milk fed lamb, raised specially for the 5 star restaurants in Japan and not available anywhere else in New Zealand! Dinner and breakfast are also included in the tariff!

After checking in, return to the village and turn left towards the high country sheep stations of Mount Potts and Erewhon (an anagram of "nowhere"!) You really do feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere as you travel through the tussocked and exposed land. Be aware that you are now in the alpine region, where weather and temperatures can change dramatically within hours. The 50 kilometre unsealed road will take you deep into the mountains to the head of the Rangitata River.

178kms – Turn right onto Mt Pocession Street for an awesome view of the Alps across the trout infested Lake Clearwater – the holiday settlement is full of tiny basic holiday homes that we call a "bach". The lake is popular for bird watching, kayaking, wind-surfing and trout fishing. The scenery changes dramatically after this as the road meanders through the huge high country farms to reveal your first breath-taking view of the massive glacial valley with Mt Sunday lying straight ahead. It is not really a mountain but a small rocky knoll in the middle of the valley that escaped the destruction of the advancing glaciers. The elaborate set of the Golden Hall of Edoras was purposely built on Mt Sunday. One of my favorite scenes was of Éowyn gazing across the valley in deep thought and my absolute favorite scene was of Aragorn returning by horse to Helms Deep after his disappearance over the cliff during the attack of the Wargs, which was filmed further up the Rangitata Valley. My ultimate dream would be to ride myself up that grassy knoll, with awesome views of the valley below framed by the massive Southern Alps... I’ll keep you informed.

188kms - Follow the road past Mt Potts Station and park just after the cattle-stop – the road continues for another 4 kilometers to Erewhon Station. It is permissible to walk to Mt Sunday but it does involve getting your feet wet several times. We failed in our attempt on the fourth crossing of the glacial river, however it was an adventurous and humbling experience trekking as tiny insignificant specks through morass and icy cold streams surrounded in a theatre of massive snow-capped mountains. We retreated and found the most perfect picnic spot on a grassy bluff 200 meters up the hill from our car – in fact the best picnic spot I have ever found in the world, it even bet the picnic we had dangling our legs over the edge on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town! You may even feel spiritually uplifted (as I was) after your visit - it may have something to do with the source of the river being fed by the Garden of Allah Glacier and the Garden of Eden Ice Plateau! 

Day 11 Mount Somers - Mt Cook 258kms

Continue south on the Inland Scenic Route to Geraldine. At Arundel, you could turn right and drie a short distance to check out the Peel Forest. The forest is home to 1000’s of year old massive Rimu trees and Kahikatea trees.

50kms – The Geraldine Orchard Farm Shop & Café is a great option for a coffee stop, you will see it on the left about 1 kilometre before Geraldine.

In Geraldine there are a few attractions worth stopping for. You can choose from:-

·         Try the hot-chocolate and or handmade chocolates at Coco - the prices ensure they are sold fresh

·         The Giant Jersey has, you guessed it, the largest jersey in the world, plus lots of woolly stuff on sale. It is also home to the incredible Medieval Mosaic, a perfect recreation of the famous Bayeux Tapestry.

·         The Vintage Car Club and Machinery Museum has a sizable collection of cars, tractors and aircraft

·         Barkers Berry Barn is a specialty shop selling unique gift and gourmet items

Turn right after the Geraldine shops to stay on SH79.

96kms – In Fairlie, turn right onto SH8 to Lake Tekapo. Or you could first stop for a famous pie from the Fairlie Bakehouse – locals come from miles to buy these!

The scenery dramatically changes as you cross over Burke's Pass. You are now entering the Mackenzie Basin, a flat expanse of tussock grasslands and home to New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki (or Mt Cook as it is known in English) plus the longest glacier Tasman and sparkling turquoise glacial lakes below the Southern Alps - and it bears little resemblance to anywhere else in New Zealand.

138kms – The village at Lake Tekapo is small - their claim to fame being that it has the cleanest and clearest air in New Zealand….the skies above have just become the world’s first ever Night Sky Reserve. There is not much to hold you here beyond taking a snapshot of the much-photographed Church of the Good Shepherd and the Sheepdog. Buy groceries here for dinner if you intend cooking your own meals as there are no shops where you are staying tonight.

Just south of the village, turn right and drive up to the summit of Mount John by day to the Astro Café and enjoy spectacular 360° views.

200kms - Be sure to stop at the Lake Pukaki Lookout for photos of Mt Cook reflected in the water….the gorgeous turquoise-blue lake derives its colour from fine glacial particles suspended in the water.

Soon after, turn right onto SH80. The scenic drive to Mount Cook Village at the base of Aoraki / Mt Cook (our highest mountain) and the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers encompasses world-class scenery at its best where your excitement grows in parallel with the vista before you as you enter this world heritage site known as the Mount Cook National Park.

En route a stop at Peter’s Lookout is recommended - on the other side of the lake you are looking at Braemer Station where they filmed the escape from inside the Misty Mountains (1st Hobbit movie) and the Warg chase. The farm next door is called Tasman Downs Station – site of the Lake Town set! The whimsical lakeside village set sat over the water and incorporated clusters of two-storey wooden dwellings arranged around connecting walkways, waterways and wharves. Filming at this location was one of the largest operational periods in the shooting schedule with around 700 people on set.

The drive encompasses world-class scenery at its best where your excitement grows in parallel with the vista before you as you enter this world heritage site known as the Mount Cook National Park. On arrival you can choose from:-
  • Several different alpine walks with wonderful views.
  • Scenic flights either by ski plane or helicopter, guaranteed to be THE trip of your lifetime!
  • Glacier Explorer Trips involves walking to Tasman Lake and then taking an informative boat ride to the face of the advancing glacier.
  • Eat, drink and just relax in the Hermitage while enjoying the incredible views that lie before you.
Day 12 Mt Cook - Wanaka 206kms

If you feel like a walk this morning, then I can recommend the Hooker Valley Track - this is one of the most popular short walks in the Mount Cook National Park. Start at the White Horse Hill camping and follow the Hooker River. There are massive views of Mt Sefton and the shrunken Mueller Glacier, past an Alpine Memorial and over three swing-bridges until the final destination of the terminal lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier. Here Mt Aoraki looms ahead with great walls of ice up on the left and buttresses of rock tower over the foaming river to the right. The walk takes approximately 2 hours one way – so walk as far as you like. This is New Zealand at its very best! 

Return along SH80 and turn right to Twizel, soon after you could stop at the Salmon Farm to feed the massive fish and to try the smoked salmon. Continue south on SH8, consider stopping in Omarama for petrol as there is not another fuel station for 80 kilometres! The highway will take you over the scenic Lindis Pass, the pass was first used by the Maori people walking to Lake Wanaka for summer fishing.

174kms - Just after Tarras, turn right onto SH8A to Wanaka. The tranquil lake has picture-perfect mountains as a backdrop and is one of my favourite places in New Zealand!

There are several options available here:-

  • Visit the Rippon Winery….probably the prettiest winery in the world (OK….I’m biased)
  • Cycle along the Outlet Track along the banks of the mighty Clutha River, a favourite spot for trout fishing.
  • Watch out for “The Leaning Tower of Wanaka”, the centerpiece of Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World. Only one of the world’s most interesting and eccentric visitor attractions!
  • Pop out to the end of the Wanaka Wharf to see the big fat trout (no fishing permitted from the wharf, sorry)
  • Visit Cinema Paradiso for an old-fashioned movie experience where you get to lounge around on huge sofas or enjoy a meal or drink before, during or after the movie!
  • For the best views in town wander along the lakes edge to the Edgewater Resort for freshly baked scones or pre-dinner drinks on the lawn on the lake’s edge.

Day 13 Wanaka

One of the best short walks in this country is to the Rob Roy Glacier. The walk will take you up through beautiful rain forest to a hidden valley, right up to the face of the glacier. Wanaka is also the best place to try tandem sky-diving! Or how about a 4x4 quad bike tour on a sheep farm with great views. The local ski field at Cardrona has a chair lift open in summer - take a leisurely walk in the mountains, or take the fast route down on a mountain bike. Trout fishing and skiing are the locals other favourites. Glendhu Bay is a sheltered and picturesque bay, particularly in autumn when the exotic trees provide rich colour for your postcard perfect photo of the mountains behind. Just beyond is a road leading to a popular swimming area in the spectacular Motatapu Gorge. At the northern reaches of Lake Wanaka in a little place called Makaroa you can try the Siberia Experience of 3 thrills in one day – fly into the Mt Aspiring National Park (the Misty Mountains in LOTR), hike/tramp over the hill to the river and jet-boat back out. Wow!

Day 14 Wanaka - Te Anau 270kms

Drive south on SH6 past Wanaka Airport. It is hard to believe that this sleepy region was the most populous in New Zealand during the chaotic gold boom years of the late 19th century. Cromwell is one of the sunniest, warmest places in the South Island (in the summer that is), making it ideal for growing fruit trees and the region is fast becoming renowned for fine Pinot Noir wines. Old Cromwell Town is worth exploring.

54kms - You then continue south on SH6 through the dramatic Kawarau Gorge.  Just before the gorge, look for the large fresh fruit shop on the left (Jones Fruit Stall), it is well worth a stop at as they have all sorts of seasonal fruit that you can try and their real fruit ice-creams are amazing!

Soon after leaving the Gorge there is the excellent Gibbston Valley Winery and café which is a good option for lunch. They also run the Gibbston Valley Cheesery next door!

90kms - The Kawarau River Bridge is home to A.J. Hackett's very first bungee jumping platform - this is where you get to tie a huge elastic band to your ankles and jump out into space over the river (if you dare?), or just have fun watching others.

106kms - At the Frankton roundabout (fill up with petrol here) turn left to stay on SH6, direction Lumsden and Te Anau.

194kms - At Five Rivers, turn right. The café on the corner is highly recommended – try their cheesy rolls, the specialty of the region!

270kms - Te Anau is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park – it is 1,250,000 uninhabited hectares of stunning wilderness. Fiordland has a primeval rugged landscape, largely untouched by humans apart from incursions by tourists at Milford and Doubtful Sounds and a few fishermen in other fiords. It was declared a World Heritage Area on account of the outstanding geological features and exceptional beauty, the jewel in the crown being Mitre Peak in Milford Sound.

 You could check-out the Wildlife Centre (a 10 minute walk from the Visitor Centre/DoC) for a view of the near extinct pre-historic looking flightless Takahe as well as many other NZ native birds. It is run by DoC so donations are gladly accepted!

Another great option before an early dinner is to see the Ata Whenua – Shadowland movie at the Fiordland Cinema. It is a 30 minute film show cases the unique beauty and remote wilderness of Fiordland from the air to the screen for all to enjoy! No reservations are necessary, there is a screening every hour, on the hour between 3pm and 6pm.

Day 15 Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau 240kms 

Please allow at least 2.5 hours for the drive to Milford as you will be stopping all the time to take photos…..so latest leave 10.30am! NB it is a good idea to take a picnic to enjoy on the cruise as there are no shops en route or at Milford and only a limited selection on board the boat. Also note that what you do not manage to see on the way there you can always stop at on the way back!

The drive towards Milford Sound is quite stunning to say the least. Possible stops en route or on the way back include Eglington River Valley, Mirror Lake and Knobs Flat before reaching the Divide – the lowest pass over these mountains. Continuing along the road you next have the Falls Creek Lookout down to the Hollyford Valley. Please note that there are traffic lights at the Homer Tunnel as it is only one way traffic…..you can be waiting for up to 10 minutes!

Once through the 1.2km long Homer Tunnel you will see the spectacular Cleddau Canyon and the incredibly precipitous walls on which the road slowly winds its way down.

120kms - Milford Sound is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world - wet or fine Milford is incredibly grand. The awesome Nature Cruise on the fiord includes countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of metres down sheer cliffs, mountains rising straight out of the sea, fur seals and (usually) dolphins. Mitre Peak magnetises photographers, as does the cascading Bowen and Stirling Falls.  A 'Sound' is a flooded river valley, but these are flooded glacial valleys with sheer sided walls that plunge hundreds of metres under water as well as above - so they are misnamed. The Maori believe the fiords were created by the titanic mason Tute Rakiwhanoa, who used an adze to cut out the steep sided walls and gullies. Don't forget the insect repellent as the sand-flies are not only a menace, but practically man-eating! Plus a rain coat - the area receives 12,000mm of rain per year per square metre - so chances are high that you will see rain!

 Return to Te Anau the way you came. If you feel like a short walk, the Nature Walk at the southern end of Lake Gunn is highly recommended (it starts from the Cascade Creek parking)…..it is like walking through a fairy tale!  

Day 16 Te Anau - Queenstown 206kms

Return the way you came on SH94 and then SH6 towards Queenstown.

165kms - At the Frankton roundabout, turn right and drive north another 8 kilometres on SH6. 

173kms – Turn left to Arrowtown. On the corner of the highway and Lake Hayes you will find the multi award winning Amisfield Restaurant & Winery, where you can stop and try some wines and have some lunch.

180kms - The pretty tree-lined town of Arrowtown is another former gold mining settlement. Two years after the first European settlers established high country farms in the Wakatipu area, gold was discovered in the Arrow River and news soon spread. Within weeks 1500 people arrived as the news of gold spread and people in search of the alluvial treasure arrived in droves. At the height of the gold rush, Arrowtown's population grew to over 7000. In 1865 many of the miners started to leave for other gold-mining areas and the local government invited Chinese miners to the area. Most worked in the Shotover and Arrow Gorges, although wherever Chinese stores opened communities began to develop. Wander amongst the historic cottages, visit the reconstructed Chinese Settlement (the Chinese were subjected to many prejudices so had their own settlement. The main shopping street is a shopper’s particular delight!

Return south by taking the road along the base of the hill, via Coronet and Arthur’s Point. You could (should) drive up the Coronet Ski-field Access Road for fabulous views of the Wakatipu Basin and Shotover River! You don’t need to drive all the way up….turn left onto Skippers Canyon Road and there is a parking and a Lookout immediately on the left.

 206kms - Queenstown is the Adventure Capital of the World! The beautiful resort was originally named as 'fit for a Queen'. It lies on Lake Wakatipu where you can observe the strange seiches phenomenon - this is an unusual rhythmic rise and fall of 12cm in its water level every five minutes due to variations in atmospheric pressure. A Maori myth says it is the beating of a monster's heart lying in the depths of Lake Wakatipu! The sheer breadth of tourist activities available here is impossible to list, however the ' in-thing' at the moment are tours that have anything to do with the numerous Lord of the Rings and Hobbit filming locations. 

Day 17 Queenstown

Today in Queenstown you could :-

  • Start your day with a Sunrise Balloon flight
  • My favourite is the Shotover Canyon Fox, only a ‘little’ scary. And/or you could consider the Shotover Canyon Swing as the 2 are side-by-side. I love their description on their website “this is an intense, undie staining, adrenilin stimulation activity”.
  • Or Cruise with Southern Discoveries on Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas. The 1.5 hour cruise departs 11am and includes a behind-the-scenes visit to a truly authentic, family-run merino sheep farm and a BBQ lunch. Watch the sheep being moved by the farm dog, touch the wool after it has been shorn and then take a 4WD tour of the high-country farm is also included. 
  • Visit the Underwater World Observatory on the pier, where trout and eels are visible in the clear waters of the lake; they live freely in the lake however as they are fed they like to hang out here. The cutest part is seeing the ducks diving for the food. Beside the pier are marks showing the level to which the lake rose in the floods of 1878 and 1983.
  • Take the Skyline Gondola for awesome views! There are various activities you can do up here such as riding the down-hill Luge, descending to the bottom by Zip-linesmountain-biking or Bungy-jumping!
  • Have a leisurely lunch at one of the wineries – the Amisfield Bistro & Winery on the corner of the Lake Hayes-Arrowtown turnoff is highly recommended! 
  • Take the plunge and try a bungee jump, or just have fun watching others do it
  • Learn to fly-fish in the trout infested lakes and rivers
  • Visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park near the gondola, the park spreads for over 2 acres and you need to allow about 2.5 hours to see everything!
  • Hire bikes from Around the Basin Cycle Adventures at 23 Brecon Street and follow the Queenstown Cycle Trail on purpose built cycle-ways through the Wakatipu Basin.
  • Or cycle along the lakefront track to Frankton.
  • Play golf on one of the most magically located courses in the world
  • Head to the Onsen Hot Pools at Arthurs Point. Each booking receives a private cedar-lined private pool, each with push-button retractable walls and ceiling so you can enjoy the dramatic scenery as you soak on the edge of the cliff overlooking the spectacular Shotover River.
  • For drinks, McNeill’s Cottage Brewery where there is a nice mix of heritage and atmosphere, plus fine home brewed ales; or The Sundeck Rooftop Lounge Bar on top of The Bunker at 14 Cow Lane is the newest bar in town and has incredible views!
  • For dining, the Madam Woo (Asian Restaurant) on Mall Street has funky décor and funky food; or Rata Restaurant is located in Te Nuku at 43 Ballarat Street and is Josh Emett’s (Michelin star chef and Masterchef judge) latest Queenstown venture; for a special dinner treat, try the Prime Restaurant & Bar on the waterfront of Queenstown Bay (the entrance is #2 Rees Street, above Sunglass Hut)…..if it is stunning weather then ask for a table on the upstairs balcony overlooking the lake.

Day 18 Queenstown ......internal or international flight

If your flight back to Auckland or to Australia is in the afternoon or this evening then you will have time to enjoy a bit more of Queenstown.
 

  


 
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