Amazing New Zealand
We know New Zealand – we live here
Suggested Itineraries
26 Days

26 Days in New Zealand

This itinerary takes you practically the length of New Zealand seeing most of our top attractions between the Bay of Islands in the north all the way down to Queenstown in the south, driving almost 4000 kilometres in 26 days. From Auckland you first take the circular route north to the Bay of Islands and Waipoua Forest, then drive south via the awesome Coromandel Peninsula to Whakatane, Rotorua and Taupo to take in a little Maori culture and enjoy the volcanic area. You then continue south to Wellington via the wine growing regions around Napier and Martinborough. The South Island section begins with some relaxing time in the stunningly beautiful Marlborough Sounds before heading down the east coast to Kaikoura (where you can join a whale or dolphin spotting excursion) and Christchurch. You then follow the Southern Alps all the way to Mt Cook, Wanaka, Queenstown, Paradise (yes, it does exist) and our most beautiful attraction - the Milford Sound. This itinerary offers much variety with almost equal time in the North Island and in the South Island. 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

A day to recover from your travels and enjoy the sights around Auckland city. 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. We recommend that you stay at least 24 hours in Auckland to enjoy this beautiful city and to recover from your jet-lag. The problem is this city has so much to offer you may have trouble making choices. Buy a day ticket on the hop-on hop-off bus which makes stops at most of Auckland's attractions - you can choose to get off and catch a later bus, or continue to the next stop. Start your tour at the Waterfront where you can find the extremely informative Maritime Museum - begin with the Maori migration across the seas, step back in time on board a European immigrant's ship, then appreciate New Zealand's proud yachting history including the Whitbread Round the World race and of course the America's Cup. After all, Auckland is known as the City of Sails.

Kelly Tarlton was the inventor of the undersea walkway where you can view the fish from below without getting wet - the Antarctic Encounter and Penguin Encounter are worth stopping here on their own. You can't help but notice the Sky Tower. Admire the panoramic view, climb the mast, bungee jump from the tower or just have lunch in the revolving restaurant. Other stops if you have time include the Auckland Museum, Auckland Art Gallery, the Victoria Park Market is for the bargain hunters, the Auckland Zoo has a walk through aviary full of New Zealand native birds and the Museum of Transport and Technology is for the history buffs. The bus will eventually bring you back to the Waterfront where you could head to the Ferry Building to take a ferry to Devonport. Wander up the dormant volcanic cone 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 before wandering back to the ferry. If you run out of time or energy there is time on the morning of Day 6 to visit some more attractions. My recommendations for dinner are the seafood restaurant Harbourside back in the Ferry Building, or wander along to the Princes Wharf where you'll find several more waterside eateries. 

Day 2 Auckland - Paihia (Bay of Islands) 240kms

Head north over the Harbour Bridge on SH1 for 30 kilometres and take the 398 Exit to Silverdale (soon after the BP Service Station) and follow the ‘Free Route’ (and not the Toll Road) through Orewa. The next community is Waiwera, famous for their pure bottled water as well as the hot-pools.

Next, continue north over the bridge. Another 200m up this hill you will see a sign for Wenderholm Regional Park. Turn right into this park. The road will take you down to the beach, which is well worth the small detour. The park has a wonderful grove of Pohutakawa trees, a native with bright red flowers. The other name for these ancient trees is the New Zealand Christmas Tree as they usually begin to flower at Christmas time. The trees are full of native Tui and Fantail birds. The Tui is a black/shiny blue medium sized bird with a white ball of feathers under its chin, and has a beautiful song. The cute little Fantail flutters around your head as you disturb the insects while walking. There is a huge picture frame on the northern end of the beach, which makes for some interesting photographs.

Continue north. Soon after you will rejoin SH1, just north of the Toll Tunnel.

45kms - The cute little village of Puhoi is just one kilometre off the main highway. Most residents here are descendants from Bohemian immigrants. It may be a little early to stop at the historic pub, but if you drive a further 3kms down this side road there is an excellent café at the cheese making factory called the Art of Cheese, where you can also see the cheese makers at work. The service and cheese platters are excellent here and there is a large selection of specialty cheeses for sale. Return to SH1 and turn left. 

69kms – Ransom Winery (look for the turnoff left, just after the Honey Centre) has a casual restaurant with excellent platters of locally grown and produced gourmet nibbles. They offer a flight of 5 different wines, but as it only totals approximately 1 glass of wine, you are fine for driving afterwards.

162kms – Another alternative for lunch is at the Town Basin in Whangarei - turn right into Tarewa Rd and follow `Quayside and Town Basin` signs. The Basin is a wonderful waterfront development full of cafes, restaurants, art galleries and museums.

After lunch it is another 70 kilometres to Paihia. If you have time take the small diversion to Whangarei Fallsthe turnoff is just north of the city by the golf course, follow the signs to Tutukaka. The 23m falls are more than worth a look and they are right next to the road. Plus there is an easy bush walk to the base of the falls. Return the way you came to SH1 and turn right, Paihia is another hour from here.

218kms – Even if the call of nature is not calling, you may want to make a stop at Kawakawa to check out the public toilets designed by Austrian architect Hundertwasser. He chose Kawakawa to retire and die in and his unique toilets have become world famous. They are not only incredibly beautiful, but also the cleanest you’ll ever have the privilege of using! Return 200 metres to the Paihia/ Bay of Islands turnoff and turn left.

240kms - Your first impression of the Bay of Islands may be somewhat disappointing, as the islands are not exactly visible – but believe me, they are out there – all 144 of them. The only way to appreciate this aquatic playground is from the water and there are a daunting array of companies willing to take you there. You can fish, kayak, snorkel or swim as much as you like as you cruise and stop at many of the islands tomorrow, often accompanied by dolphins.

Day 3 Paihia  

Your first visit should be to Waitangi– the birth place of our nation. The historical Waitangi Visitor Centre and Treaty House marks the site of the original treaty signing in 1840 between the Maori people and the British Empire. Drive another 2kms past Paihia.This is the heart of New Zealand’s historical beginnings, with audio-visual displays, an important Marae (Maori meeting house) which is probably the most visited by the Maori today, the beautifully restored Treaty House, and a Waka (Maori war canoe). After your visit and if you have time, take the ferry across to Russell, a quaint little village which was once the capital of New Zealand! It was also once known as the ‘hell hole of the South Pacific’ between 1830 and 1840, when whore-houses abounded and drunken brawls between whalers and seamen were the norm. Today it is a much quieter place!

Dolphin Discoveries was the first Department of Conservation licensed operator for dolphin and whale watching in the North Island and have knowledgeable and local guides that are extremely experienced to ensure you get the most from your cruise. A portion of your fare contributes to marine mammal research and conservation in the Bay of Islands. This is the perfect way to see and enjoy everything the “Bay” has to offer.

On your return you could disembark in Russell. This quaint little village was once the capital of New Zealand! It was also once known as the ‘hell hole of the South Pacific’ between 1830 and 1840, when whore-houses abounded and drunken brawls between whalers and seamen were the norm. Today it is a much quieter place! Russell is recommended for dinner before catching one of the regular ferries back across to Paihia (extra charge). 

Day 4 Paihai - Omapere (Hokianga Harbour) 182kms

Today’s drive takes you first to the north to visit Matauri Bay – the most scenically beautiful bay in all of New Zealand (I think so anyway). Drive inland, direction Puketona. The first village is Haruru Falls which are worth a look at. Haruru means “noisy” in Maori and are of a historical significance as this was one of the first trading places between the Maori and the Pakeha (Europeans). The falls are not that spectacular in height but have a nice horse shoe shape.

14kms – At the T-intersection go right onto SH10. Travel north for another 25 kilometres and turn right to Matauri Bay. The approach down to the beach has one of the best views in New Zealand - get ready for the `wow` view as you begin the descent to the beach. There is a place to park and admire the view immediately on the left. You are looking at the Cavalli Islands.

58kms - Matauri Bay is famous for deep sea fishing and diving. You must take the short but steep little walk up to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial on top of the hill – the views from the top are awesome. At the end of the road, continue straight on the gravel road and park opposite the campground shop and walk through the campground to the base of the hill. The track is rather steep on loose gravel in the beginning, so be careful. The Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace vessel specializing in disrupting French nuclear tests on the Pacific atolls. The French Secret Service bombed her in 1985 while she was tied up at the wharf in Auckland. This ridiculous act of terrorism resulted in the death of one of her crew, plus several others injured – something the New Zealanders have never forgiven France for. Head back towards Paihia the way you came.

85kms - At the Waipapa shops turn left and head down to the Kerikeri Inlet, follow the signs for the Stone Store which should bring you to the southern side of the river. The Pear Tree Restaurant is recommended for a late lunch (as tonight’s excursion is over the dinner hour, or there are some meals available at the Copthorne in Omapere for an early dinner).

90kms - Kerikeri`s claim to fame is having New Zealand`s oldest stone building. It is on the water and is called the Stone Store. Overlooking the Stone Store is the original Kororipo Pa (Maori fortress), home of the Maori chief Hongi Hika (not to be confused with the famous chief Hone Heke). Across the river Rewa’s Village is an authentic recreation of a pre-European Maori fishing settlement. 

Return up the hill and through the Kerikeri shops and at the SH10 roundabout turn left for 14 kilometres. At the SH1 intersection, turn right to Ohaeawai. There SH1 goes right at the hotel, but you need to continue straight and follow SH12 to the west coast, direction Kaikohe and Opononi.

178kms - Opononi was made famous in the fifties by the resident dolphin they named Opo. If you’d like to know more, visit the museum another kilometre along. The Hokianga Harbour is where Maori legend proclaims that the great navigator and explorer Kupe lived until he was an old man before returning to his home land. He discovered New Zealand around 800AD and named it Aotearoa, meaning the `Land of the Long White Cloud`. They then called the area Te Hokianga nui a Kupe - the place of Kupe's great return. 

182kms - The next village is Omapere, where there are excellent views across the harbour to the giant sand dunes on the other side, where they filmed plates for `Lawrence of Arabia`. It is hard to imagine that the landscape can change so dramatically from the dry desert like dunes to the rainforest just 20 kilometres south of here!

Day 5 Omapere - Waimauku 240kms

NB leave early if you would like to spend some time at the winery (wineries). Head south through the Waipoua Forest, one of the few remaining tracks of virgin native kauri forest. It is also home to another 300 species of trees. The main attraction here is the much loved giant kauri Tane Mahuta. At 2000 years old, it is one of earth’s most ancient trees and it stands only a short stroll from the parking. The Kauri are endemic to the northern part of New Zealand’s NorthIsland and can live for 4000 years! They are the largest trees in the world if calculating volume of usable timber. Since 1952 it has been forbidden to cut down a kauri, so they are making a comeback.

82kms – Dargaville is proud to be the kumara growing capital. Kumara are delicious sweet potatoes brought to New Zealand by the early Polynesian settlers. There is an interesting museum up on the hill to the west which is well worth the visit. In particular the marine section has an extensive collection of treasures found from the numerous ship wrecks along the West Coast and treacherous mouth of the Kaipara Harbour. Turn left, direction Auckland and Whangarei. The highway turns south 2 ½ kilometres further, direction Brynderwyn.

126kms – Matakohe is home to the excellent Kauri Museum. This museum is one of the best in New Zealand and definitely worth a visit. They also sell some excellent kauri products using 15-30,000 year old kauri logs found beautifully preserved in the swamps nearby!

Continue south direction Brynderwyn, which isn’t really a place, it is the intersection where SH12 meets SH1. Turn right and continue south until Wellsford.

180kms - Turn right onto SH16, following the Twin Coast Discovery route. You will be following the shores of the Kaipara Harbour, which is one of the biggest natural harbours in the world. The late 1800’s saw a hive of activity with the logging, sawing and exporting of kauris. 

215kms – Just after the village of Kaukapakapa, turn left onto Peak Road at the little white church at the top of the rise, direction Waimauku. Travel south about 20 kilometres …the turnoff onto Old North Road is on the left on a sharp bend! 

For dinner, there are several cafes in Waimauku, the Tasting Shed (next door to Coopers Creek Winery) south towards Kumeu is highly recommended (tapas), or, the Hallatau Brewery and Restaurant in Riverhead is my favourite!

Day 6 Waimauku - Hahei 298kms

 This morning you must go and visit the Gannet Colony. Muriwai Beach is a solitary kind of place, but well worth the diversion to view the entertaining 2500 gannets in action. As you descend towards the beach take the `Gannet Colony` turnoff left - it is an easy 2 minute stroll along flax and Pohutakawa lined paths to view the gannets. The first path left leads to the best lookout where you can look directly down onto the nest sites and cute little chicks. Admire the flying skills as the parents come into land with their two-metre wing spans. The views along Muriwai Beach are a real bonus!

To return, drive down the hill and turn right, drive up the hill and this will bring you back to SH16.

26kms - Turn right onto SH16 to Kumeu and Auckland city, at the second roundabout go straight, this is the beginning of the Nor’western Motorway to Auckland. On reaching the city, change to SH1, south (direction Hamilton).

104kms - After the Bombay Hills, turn left onto SH2 direction Coromandel and at 136kms change again to SH25.

160kms – 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 long bridge and follow SH25A up and over the Coromandel Ranges instead of going north through Thames.)

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.

224kms - The main street in Coromandel Town is an old world delight, full of cafés and craft shops. After your visit, drive south 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.

Return to SH25, drive south a little then turn left.

260kms – 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. Continue south, following signs for Tairua and SH25.

290kms - Turn left to Hahei

Day 7 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 8 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 Trackaround 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.

Day 9 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 Tourson The Strand East has lots of yummy food and revitalizing drinks.

From town, follow the signs for Tauranga and Rotorua. About 5 kilometres north you could stop at Julians Berry Farm & Café, a popular spot for lunch, berry picking and real fruit ice-creams which are worth the stop on their own!

Soon after, SH30 swings around to the left and heads east to Rotorua. The road skirts Lake RotomaLake RotoehuLake Rotoiti and Lake Rotorua which are all flooded volcanic craters.

72kms - Hells Gate. This is one of your options for this evening, if you’d like to experience a Mud Bath & Sulphur Spa that will leave you glowing…..this is a great alternative if the cruise was cancelled this morning.

You may smell Rotorua before seeing it, as the area is still very active with sulphur escaping from the earth’s crust (think rotten eggs). Don’t worry, you will get used to the smell. The city lies on a beautiful lake, actually a flooded volcanic crater - the surrounding hills are the remains of the rim of the giant volcano. 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 pools. An eruption took place here as recently as January 26th 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).
  • Agrodomes principle attraction is the Sheep Show, a highly entertaining explanation of sheep and the caring of said sheep – the mainstay of New Zealand’s exports.

Day 10 Rotorua - Hobbiton - Rotorua 140kms

Head north on SH5 which takes you past the Skyline Gondola and then left at the big roundabout (direction Auckland).

48kms – On reaching SH1 at the new roundabout, turn right to continue north to Tirau. The town has a bit of a love affair with corrugated iron, there are quite a few other imaginative signs right the way along the main road. Look for the giant corrugated iron sheepdog housing the tourist office and a giant sheep next door which houses the Big Sheep Wool Gallery. Other tourist shops worth at least a peek (if you have time) is the Jade Factory , they specialize in Maori Koru necklaces. Or for something really unique try the Natures Touch Gallery.

Just after the Tirau shops, change to SH27 and drive north another 10 kilometres.

60kms – At the major intersection, turn left onto SH29. After another 4 kilometres you will see the sign for Matamata and the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour - turn right then immediately left and drive 6 kilometres along Puketutu and Bucklands Roads to the Shire’s Rest.

70kms – Lunch at the Shire’s Rest is highly recommended before the tour with the stunning views across the farmland to the Kaimai Ranges in the distance.

This afternoon you could join the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour. The tour of the Hobbiton village is based on the various scenes in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies so you have the unique opportunity of touring the set as it is seen in the films. The tour also offers a wonderful insight into the logistics involved in creating a movie and building various film-sets with all the supporting personnel required to go with it, from vets to cooks to gardeners and even road builders!

The set is located on a real farm with restricted access. The Alexander family has lived on the 1250 acre (approx 500 hectares) property since 1978. The land supports a thriving sheep and beef cattle business. The Alexander farm runs 300 beef cattle and more than 13,000 of New Zealand’s famous sheep on the lush, rolling hills. Afterwards, enjoy a drink in the Green Dragon Tavern!

After the tour, return along Bucklands and Puketutu Roads and at the end turn right then immediately left onto SH29. Drive east for 4 kilometres then turn right onto SH27 to Tirau and return to Rotorua the way you came.

Day 11 Rotorua - Napier 222kms

Just before Lake Taupo there are many more thermal attractions! Before you depart you could soak in the reputedly therapeutic thermal pools at the Polynesian Spa, a delightful but busy public pool. In the morning the spa is less crowded and it is a wonderful way to start the day - relaxing with serene views across the lake.

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 sight - the bubbling mud can keep you mesmerized for hours!

The Lady Knox Geyser (between the Mud Pools and Waiotapu) 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. Continue on the Loop Road 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.
  • Next door is the Huka Falls Jet where you could take a 30 minute thrilling jet-boat ride (another NZ invention) along the Waikato River (NZ’s longest) and right up to the Huka Falls themselves.  From the unique vantage point on the jet boat you have the best water level view of the falls.
  • The Huka Falls are not very high, but are certainly spectacular (free). Here the sedate Waikato River is forced between a 15m 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.

Follow the river from the falls upriver and this will bring you back to the main road – just before the turnoff there is an excellent lookout over Lake Taupo. Turn left and head down into the centre of Taupo.

Lake Taupo is 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 will see a volcano.

Continue to the lake front of Taupo and drive south for approximately 2kms then turn left onto SH5 to Napier. The next part of your trip has ever changing scenery – rugged hills, beautiful valleys, vineyard covered plains and huge vistas as we approach the Hawke's Bay region - the North Island’s top wine producing region. A sunny climate, combined with excellent growing conditions has led to many of the wineries earning gold medals at international competitions.

Soon after Opepe you will be on the Kaingaroa Plains. This was formed from the ash from the great Taupo eruption of 186AD. Watch out for the Waipunga Falls Lookout sign, they are next to the road and well worthwhile the stop.

Napier was almost totally destroyed in the 1931 earthquake, causing a massive rebuilding program throughout the 30’s, resulting in a vibrant city known as the Art Deco capital of the world. Most of the buildings you will see were built between 1920 and 1940, the building style became known following the great Exposition des Arts Modernes Decocratifs et Industriels, held in Paris in 1925 and from which the name Art Deco was ultimately derived. 

Day 12 Napier 

Today I can recommend a drive to the south of the city to visit a few wineries! The Hawke's Bay region is the North Island’s top wine producing region. A sunny climate, combined with excellent growing conditions has led to many of the wineries earning gold medals at international competitions. So how about brunch under the vines at one of the vineyard cafes! Drive south along Marine Parade and follow the coast. Just after Clive village, turn left direction Cape Kidnappers and Te Awanga.

Please note that tastings at wineries are usually free and although not compulsory - purchasing is expected to help offset the costs of paying the knowledgeable and helpful staff. Some wineries do charge a little, which is then deducted from any purchases. Purchases can usually be sent overseas. The best way to sample is accompanied with a great meal at a table under the vines!

23kms – Clifton Beach has some wonderful views of the Cape Kidnappers Cliffs. Return 3 kilometers to Clearview Estate Winery, one of Hawkes Bay’s best wineries with an excellent restaurant to match. Open from 10am for coffee, wine or brunch under the vines. Or Elephant Hill opens 11am, they offer delicious food, stunning wines and fabulous views over the vineyard to the Pacific Ocean!

Continue back the way you came, through Te Awanga and Haumoana.

30kms –Turn left at the egg farm onto Park Hill Road, then right onto Raymond RoadOne kilometer further you turn left onto Tukituki Road. Follow this pretty valley until the bridge. The outcrop on the right is called ‘The sleeping giant’, or Te Mata Peak – your next stop.

43kms – Turn right over the bridge, then at 49kms left direction Havelock. Along this road are several more wineries, including the world renowned Te Mata Estate on the right. It is New Zealand’s oldest winery, dating from the early 1890’s. It is a New Zealand family owned winery – a true estate, specializing in grape growing and winemaking from its ten Hawke’s Bay vineyards. Acknowledged as one of only five icon wineries in New ZealandTe Mata’s completely handmade wines are renowned as the country’s finest.

52kms – Turn left, following the signs to Te Mata Peak. It’s just 6kms to the very top for some awe-inspiring views of Hawke’s Bay. Tandem paragliding is a favourite past time from this spot. Return down the hill, turn right at the ‘Give Way’ onto Simla Ave and then left at the roundabout.

65kms – In Havelock turn right and return to Napier. If you are a lover of exquisite chocolate, you could also visit the Silky Oak Chocolate factory, museum and café on Links Road (SH50) near the Napier Golf Club and Hastings.

Day 13 Napier - Wellington 332kms

There are quite a few kilometers to be driven today, the earlier you depart the more you will be able to see in Wellington. Continue south along Marine Parade and then onto SH2, direction Hastings and Masterton.

108kms - Norsewood is home of Norsewear for natural woolen clothing popular with trampers and farmers alike from all over the world. The factory shop is open 7 days a week. Many Scandinavians immigrated to the area, the Norwegians to Norsewood, the Danish to Dannevirke.

153kms – In Woodville SH2 turns left onto McLean Street, opposite the red Masonic Hotel, direction Masterton. On the banks of the Mangatainoka River 13 kms later you can’t miss the Tui Brewery. Tui is fast becoming a New Zealand icon, with adverts claiming the beer to be brewed by women….gorgeous women! Yeah right. Beer enthusiasts may want to visit the Promo Shop for a sample or souvenir.

204kms – Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre is New Zealand’s best for viewing Kiwis, Kakas, Kokakos, etc. The DOC (Department of Conservation) is successfully breeding endangered species here, including the rare White Feathered Kiwi. There is something special about sitting on the deck of the café sipping coffee and looking at some prehistoric Takehe or Tuatara 

  • 1.30pm feeding of the huge 80 year old wild eels, who instinctively seem to know the time.
  • 3pm Kaka feeding, a cheeky and raucous native bush parrot, cousin to the more noious Kea that lives in the mountains.
  • There is also a beautiful walk through ancient forest of Rimu, Rata and Kamahi, a living reminder of what existed before the colonization by man.

230kms – In Masterton, continue to follow the signs around the town, direction Wellington. Next you come to Carterton, home of the Paua Shell Factory. Paua is unique to New Zealand, the informative display explains how they are caught from deep waters with snorkels and how the inner shell casing is ground down to reveal the beautifully patterned colours. OK agreed, some of the items on sale are painfully kitsch, but somebody must buy them otherwise they wouldn’t continue to make them. However many other items are unique and useful, not to mention stunningly beautiful, so will make a perfect souvenir from New Zealand.

256kms – Greytown is a pretty village full of Victorian buildings and quaint antique shops. Just after the village on Wood Street is the Puzzlewood where you will find many puzzling activities for young and old, all made of wood naturally.

270kms – Featherston housed New Zealand’s largest army training base during WW1, with about 35000 troops passing through the camp before they had to walk the Rimutaka Hill to Wellington to be shipped overseas. Quite a formidable feat you’ll realize once you’ve negotiated the tortuous “hill” yourself, take your time negotiating the twists and turns! Messines in Belgium is twinned with this little town because New Zealand troops recaptured it from the Germans in June 1917.

The world's only remaining Fell Engine locomotive is on display on the corner of Fitzherbert and Lyon Streets. It has horizontal grip wheels which held it onto the steep and winding track. The specially built train climbed the steep 265m slopes on the Rimutaka Incline. It serviced the Wairarapa farming community from 1878 to 1955.

Follow SH2 up over the Rimutaka Hill.

332kms - Wellington is not the largest city but it does lie central to the two islands and is therefore the capital. The wonderful attraction of this city is that it is so compact. In just 15 minutes you can go from the boutique shopping of Lambton Quay to the beach at Oriental Bay. An interesting fact is that Wellington has more cafes, bars & restaurants per capita than New York! 

Day 14 Wellington

Today you have a free day to explore the city. Possibilities today include :-
  • The best place to start your visit to Wellington is Mount Victoria Lookout for awesome views of the city and harbour. If you are feeling energetic then walk there from Oriental Bay on the Southern Walkway.
  • The main attraction here is the free National Museum of Te Papa. You can easily spend hours engrossed here - if only you visit the excellent Maori heritage section (closes 6pm).
  • Enjoy a stroll along the Writers Walk on the waterfront where you will find a series of stone tablets bearing fragments of regional poetry.
  • Be sure to take the Cable Car up the steep hill behind the city centre and wander back down through the lovely wending paths of the Botanical Gardens to the Begonia House and Café – enjoy a coffee surrounded by fragrances drifting from the Lady Norwood formal rose gardens.
  • At the bottom you will emerge at the Beehive which houses various government offices. The Parliamentary District is interesting to wander around and offer free tours.
  • Nearby is the historic St Paul’s Cathedral, a wonderful example of New Zealand’s finest wooden gothic revival church.
  • Further afield in Miramar (near the airport) you will find the Weta Cave (free entry), home to Weta Studios, Wellywood’s own Oscar-winning special effects company that helped in creating the King Kong and Lord of the Rings Trilogy, to name just a few movies. The mini-museum is full of costumes and props and runs four short films explaining some of the magic behind Peter Jackson’s more famous movies.
  • Miramar is also home to the Roxy Cinema, a refurbished and glamorous Art Deco cinema – the restaurant’s stunning interior was created by Weta Studios!
  • Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary is a must for bird lovers. It is located just 2 kilometres from Downtown Wellington – take the road up past the Parliament Building to Karori and after the tunnel turn left onto Waiapu Road. The new state of the art exhibition centre tells is worth the visit on its own, it tells the complete story of New Zealand’s natural history through interactive and immersive exhibitions. There is also an excellent cafe on site. Once inside the specially designed rodent-proof fence you should begin with the historic area and the pretty gothic styled valve tower and lake. Take a tour if you can, so the guides can identify the song of rare native birds, such as the rare Stitchbirds, Saddlebacks and the talkative Kaka (native parrot) plus the Brown Teals are pretty cute. Birdsong Gully is a must! The Tuatara (prehistoric indigenous reptiles) are also feeling at home here…a nest of eggs has just recently been found! Everyone must be out by 5pm, so arrive by 3pm at the latest so you have time to walk as far as the upper dam at least!
  • To see and hear the nocturnal Little Spotted Kiwi in the wild, take their 2 hour guided night walk! Tours depart 30 minutes before sunset, numbers are limited so call 04 920 9200 to book and check on departure time!
  • You may also see some of our nocturnal Weta either in the Morningstar Gold Mine or have a look in the special boxes known as Weta Hotels - the Mahoenui Giant Weta is the world’s largest insect, but unfortunately also one of the most endangered species in the world. Weta are closely related to grasshoppers and crickets and are the peaceful giants of the insect world. They are nocturnal, eating mainly plant matter and the occasional insects and they DO NOT bite.


Day 15 Wellington - Marlborough Sounds

Today you cross to the South Island on the 8am flight. Although this is a commercial flight, it can easily be described as a scenic flight over the Marlborough Sounds! A sound is a flooded river valley as opposed to the flooded glacial valleys called fiords (the 'sounds' in the south of Westland are misnamed). On arrival a free shuttle will whisk you to the Picton wharf to connect with the water-taxi to the stunning Queen Charlotte Wilderness Park. Today I recommend you disembark at Ship Cove and walk the rest of the way - your luggage will be dropped at the Lodge for you. These are just a few of the rave reviews the lodge has received :-

  • "One of the most precious places on earth, hosted by wonderful people, surrounded in peace and beauty. A haven to be revisited again and again...”
    Sinead, Ireland
  • "This is the best accommodation in the world. I’ll come here certainly with my future wife as a honeymoon” Kohei, Japan
  • “Truly one of the only places left on earth that is paradise” John, Ireland
Day 16 Marlborough Sounds

Today you can walk to your hearts content, fish, collect mussels, visit nesting penguins or wander deserted golden beaches. This is a place where the passing traffic is likely to be a pod of orcas on their way south for their summer holiday, or dolphins leaping with joy. Noise here is not the sound of cars going past or the neighbours squabbling, but the sound of bellbirds and tuis singing and the smells are of fresh salt air mixed with the ancient odour of the bush. This is New Zealand at her very best.

Day 17 Picton - Kaikoura 158kms

This morning the water-taxi will deposit you back to Picton at 12.45pm. Picton was named after Sir Thomas Picton - a British General killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Pick up your new hire-car and continue south on SH1.

30kms - Blenheim is home to many world-renowned wineries. Enjoy lunch in a lovely outdoor setting – the Wairau River Winery Restaurant on the corner of SH6 (the road to Nelson) and Rapaura Road is one of my favourites. You can also reach it from SH1 by turning right at Spring Creek and driving west along Rapaura Road, a lovely scenic road through the vineyards that the locals call the Golden Mile due to the world-famous wineries along this road.

This afternoon you have free for visiting some wineries en route. And don’t miss the ultimate chocolate experience at Makana Confections on the corner of Rapaura and O’Dwyer roads. You can watch them making the tantalizing confections and taste a few samples – complimentary, of course.

Blenheim is also home to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre….you will find it near the airport. As a non aviation fan my visit left me speechless with what I saw and learnt, this is a ‘must-see’! On display is the Knights of the Sky – one of the world’s largest private collections of WW1 aircraft and memorabilia brought to life by the masters of cinematic spectacle….the collection belongs to Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) and his Weta Workshop has created some awesome real-life scenes! Also the large collection of original uniforms (complete with war medals) worn by the top flying aces from France, Germany, the US and New Zealand will surely impress you, as it did me! I had trouble dragging myself away from the captivating stories about each hero that accompanies each display. There is a great café on site serving light refreshments. The Sydney Herald called this “the best Museum in the world”!

Continue another 2 hours south on SH1 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 and be sure to stop at a roadside caravan for some freshly cooked crayfish! 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.

130kms - If you have time, check out the seal colony at Ohau Point….last time I stopped the rock-pools were full of seal-pups which will keep you entertained for hours as they play!

158kms - If you feel like a walk, then the excellent Peninsula Walkway at the head of the peninsula takes you along the shoreline and back over the cliffs, or just check out the Fur-seal colony while you are there.

For dinner the Green Dolphin Restaurant is my recommendation, or for a more casual meal the Pier Hotel opposite is another of my favourites – try the fresh crayfish chowder!

Day 18 Kaikoura - Christchurch 180kms

This morning you could check in at the Whaleway Station for the Whale Watch cruise. NB…take a sea-sickness pill as a precaution….better to be safe than sorry! Every Whale Watch tour is a unique experience and the sightings vary. Giant Sperm Whales are the stars of the show and year-round residents. On occasion sightings include Southern Right, Humpback, Fin, Sei, Brydes, Pilot, Southern Bottlenose and the mighty Blue Whales, as well as Common, Hectors and Risso's Dolphins.

After your excursion, continue south on SH1 to Christchurch. The highway takes you along the dramatic and rocky coastline.

125kms - The Waipara Valley is a sunny and well drained valley and is fast becoming the new vine growing region. I can recommend a stop at the family-owned Pegasus Bay winery, turn left 4.5 kilometers after the village. Try their generous platter for 2 loaded with cheeses and locally caught salmon and duck accompanied with some excellent award-winning wines on the lawn. They are winners of the Cuisine Best New Zealand Winery Restaurant award for the last 5 years!

180kms – Stay on SH1 until you reach the large airport roundabout. There you turn left and drive into the City Centre along Memorial Ave. On reaching Hagley Park, turn left at the traffic lights.

Christchurch is New Zealand's second largest city which sprawls across the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. The main attractions here are the 748 English style gardens and parks, the city even has its very own Avon River on 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! The city is now going through a major rebuild.

Attractions worth considering are:-

  • Head to Antigua Boatshed and hire your very own gondolier to punt you through the city.
  • Or wander through the Botanical Gardens along the picturesque Avon River.
  • The Grand Café at the Casino is a great option ….open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week.
  • Visit the Canterbury Museum (free) for their informative Earthquake exhibition as well as the Antarctic section and impressive Maori collection
  • Or visit Quake City which is a unique multi-sensory attraction, where you can learn about all there is to know about earthquakes and view photographs of the aftermath and iconic objects such as the Cathedral Spire.
  • The newly re-opened 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.
  • The Tram is up and running again, it is a wonderful way to see the city.
  • Or the Red Bus Rebuild Tour is another great way to see the city and learn about the rebuild. It departs from outside of the Museum.
  • Mona Vale is a beautiful Edwardian-style homestead set amongst 5½ ha. of beautiful gardens…..the gardens are still worth the visit! The homestead was near destroyed in the earthquake but has now been restored.
  • 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 in the central city.
  • Or the same tour by Segway sounds like fun!
  • The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a zoo with a difference with plenty of opportunities to get up close and touch the 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 19 Christchurch - Mt Cook 350kms

This morning I recommend departing by 9am so you have time to make all the recommended stops en route! From your accommodation, the best way to find SH1 is to return to the airport roundabout where you turn left to follow SH1 south, direction Ashburton and Timaru. About 7 kilometres south of the airport you need to turn right at the Hornby traffic lights to stay on SH1.

126kms - Soon after passing over the Rangitata River, turn right onto SH79, direction Geraldine and Fairlie.

140kms - 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.

187kms – 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.

228kms – 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 recently become the world’s first ever Night Sky Reserve. Be sure to visit the much-photographed Church of the Good Shepherd and the Sheepdog.

232kms - Just south of the village, turn right and drive up to the summit of Mount John and enjoy spectacular 360° views.

290kms - The Lake Pukaki Lookout is a great place to stop 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. They also sell the locally farmed Salmon here (either hot smoked or cold smoked).

295kms – Turn right onto SH80. The 55 kilometre 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.

On arrival in Mount Cook you can choose from:-

·         Several different alpine walks with wonderful views. The view of the Tasman Glacier from the lookout up a short steep track is well worth the drive!

·         Scenic flights around Mount Cook, with a landing on the Tasman Glacier, telephone 0800 800 702 to make a booking.

·         Visit the informative Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre,

·         Or the DoC Visitor’s Centre is just as good.

·         Eat, drink and just relax in the Hermitage while enjoying the incredible views that lie before you.

·         Join the Star Gazing tour (this evening of course) and gaze in awe at the galaxy of stars in the Milky Way – our skies are some of the clearest in the whole world!

For a walk 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! 

Day 20 Mt Cook - Wanaka 212kms

This morning you could join Glacier Explorer Trip – It involves walking to Tasman Lake and then taking an informative boat ride to the face of the advancing glacier. Touch and even taste the 500 year old ice in your hand, explore the huge dripping ice face of New Zealand’s largest glacier. Watch and listen to the ice melting before your eyes in this tranquil glacial lake. Discover spectacular ice formations which have carved into the murky waters of Lake Tasman.

After lunch, 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 21 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 22 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 23 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. 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… 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.

There is parking available 10 minutes walk from the Visitor Terminal. 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!

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.

Afterwards, 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)… is like walking through a fairy tale!  

Day 24 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 25 Queenstown

Today you have a free day in Queenstown. Options today could include:

  • Start your day with a Sunrise Balloon flight.
  • 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! As it is a favourite with Queenstown locals, call ahead on 03 442 0556 to book a table! If you are feeling guilty then why not go for a walk around Lake Hayes before your meal!
  • 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, past 2 lakes, three river gorges, historic Arrowtown and even the wine area of Gibbston Valley if you are feeling energetic. Choose either Guided or Supported (self-guided) tours, both offer a free shuttle back if you need it!
  • Or cycle along the lakefront track to Frankton, turn right and continue along the lakefront to the Hilton and then if you wish, you can even go as far as the Kelvin Heights Golf Club or Yacht Club or the Bay View Reserve and catch the water-taxi back across to Queenstown ($10pp) – call Queenstown Water-taxis on 03 441 1124 to request a pickup and to check on times.
  • 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 – worth the 10 minute drive on its own! Call 0508 869463 to book.
  • 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 26 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.


We know New Zealand - we live here!


Suggested ItinerariesHomePractical InfoTravel IdeasEnquiriesDutch/NederlandsContact us