to a secluded waterfall or along a deserted beach, such as the one made famous in Jane Campion's movie
, so a venture out onto the water is an essential part of visiting Auckland. Take the tour or wander up under your own steam to
. For a late afternoon swim in our clean, clear and safe harbour you can wander down the steps to beautiful
. On your return to the Ferry Building enjoy the sunset and dinner in the revolving restaurant of the
Day 2 Auckland - Coromandel 176kms
Before you depart for Coromandel, you may like to visit a few attractions you missed yesterday.
- The Waterfront is where you can find the extremely informative Maritime Museum - the displays are chronological, so you begin with the Maori migration across the seas then step back in time on board a European immigrant's ship and finally appreciate New Zealand's proud yachting history including the Whitbread Round the World race and of course the America's Cup.
- This morning you can even spend two hours onboard NZL40 either relaxing and enjoying the view or getting involved as a crew member . NZL40 was built for the 1995 America's Cup challenge at San Diego in the United States. It is now permanently based on the Waitemata Harbour.
- Either catch the ferry to Rangitoto Island or kayak there under your own steam. Once there wander to the summit for awesome views of the harbour and city.
- Kelly Tarlton was the inventor of the undersea walkway where you can view the fish from below without getting wet plus the Antarctic Encounter and Penguin Encounter here are worth visiting on their own.
Head south on SH1, direction Hamilton. After the Bombay Hill, turn left onto SH2 direction Coromandel and at 88kms change again to SH25. Bird watchers should visit the Shorebird Centre on the side road to Miranda. It lies on the Firth of Thames, an important stopover point for migratory wading birds. One of them, the medium sized Godwit, breeds in Alaska then flies non-stop to New Zealand in just a week!
113kms – Turn left towards Thames – the gateway to Coromandel Peninsula. In the late `80s this was a thriving gold mining and kauri logging centre – follow the signs into the town centre. If you have time, you could visit the Gold Mine and Stamper Battery at the northern end of town. They offer regular tours showing the impressive ore-crushing stamper plus various tunnels with an informative commentary about the history of gold mining. Alternatively, there is another Gold Mine to visit in Coromandel.
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! All the way along there are plenty of places for stopping to take photos of this dramatic coastline – Wilson Bay is one of my favourites. From December to January you should be treated to a display of flowering native Pohutakawa trees.
157kms – The picnic spot at the top of the hill has a great view down to Kirita Bay to the left, with Manaia Harbour to the right. At 169kms seafood lovers should stop at the Oyster and Mussel Shed on the left. They also sell scallops and all sorts of other seafood. The Smoking Company in Coromandel Town is also a good shop selling very fresh produce.
171kms – Turnoff for the 309 Road.
5kms up this road is the Waiau Waterways Garden and café, where whimsical wonders are worked by water. If you choose not to go in, the café is still a good option for lunch. They also sell pottery and garden sculptures at studio prices. If you do choose to go in, there are plenty of whacky contraptions to entertain the young and young at heart.
7kms - If you are feeling energetic, there is the walk to Castle Rock. It will take you about 45 minutes to walk up and 30 minutes to walk down. The track is slippery in places and the last few meters is a bit of a scramble holding onto rocks and bits of tree roots to get to the top, but whew is the view worth it from the top!
7.5kms - The small but delightful Waiau Falls – best viewed from below in the bush glade where there is also a swimming hole.
8kms - Continue another 1/2km 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 and the native bush is wonderfully lush and cool and peaceful. Continue past the first lookout for a lovely circuit route to 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, Coromandel Town is another 5kms. The main street is an old world delight, full of cafés and craft shops.
Day 3 Coromandel - Hahei 80kms
This morning you could:-
Go fishing for giant snapper at 7am – the Coromandel Fish and Chip shop will fillet and cook it for you, alternatively if you’d like to enjoy your catch in a lovely restaurant setting, then the Success Café will cook up your catch for you – if it is filleted first.
Or you could play golf on the 9 hole course. The course winds around old mine shafts, with fairways following what once were rich gold veins bordered by thousands of miner’s shacks.
Most head to the popular Driving Creek Railway, for a unique ride on a narrow gauge train up a zigzagging track that was first built to bring firewood and clay down for the potteries below. There is a great view over Coromandel from the “Eye Full Tower” at the top.
Pan for gold at the 100 year old Goldfields Centre and Stamper Battery.
Departing from Coromandel shops, drive south of the village towards Thames, the turnoff for Whitianga is 400m back. The road climbs steeply for 5 kms, there are awesome views from the lookout at the top towards Coromandel, Waiheke Island and Whangaparoa Peninsula (Auckland`s northern boundary) to the east and Whangapoua to the west.
28kms – Kuaotunu Beach is a wide sweeping bay with white sand, if you are in need of a swim.
41kms – You are now arriving in Whitianga, a safe harbour full of holiday homes favoured by Aucklanders. At 43 kilometres continue straight, following the beach to where the ferry departs from. This is where all the activity is, including some good cafés. One of the best places for a coffee is on the other side at the Ferry Landing Café, just a short stroll up the hill. Continue south, following signs for Tairua and SH25.
72kms – Turn left to Hahei and after 5 kilometres turn right to 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 then may get to use an abandoned hole instead of having to dig one for yourself! Dig on the northern end of the beach, then sit back and soak in your own private spa. Look for the sulphur bubbling to the surface of the sand.
Return to the Hahei road and continue north another 4kms, your destination for this evening. 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 - 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. This is a true kiwi experience. Top quality kayaks and gear, tuition and even a coffee brewed for you on the beach while you take a swim are all included. 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 265kms
Today there is a long drive to Whakatane. Actual driving time is 4 hours without suggested stops. One mistake visitors to New Zealand make is under estimating how long it takes to drive – 300kms in New Zealand is not the same as driving 300kms on motorways in Europe! Our roads are not straight, as you have probably already noticed. It is OK to do the excellent 9am kayak tour before hitting the road.
Depart from Hahei Beach car-park, return to the SH25 intersection and go left towards Tairua. Immediately on your left you will notice some vines, they are kiwifruit. You will see many orchards and vineyards today as you travel through what is known as the fruit-bowl of New Zealand.
21.8kms – Great lookout spot for a photo of the Alderman Islands. An even better photo op is from the Paku Hill. Turn left as you enter Tairua towards Ocean Beach. Keep following the road to 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 Waihi.
100kms – 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 straight onto Moresby Ave, the Waihi Gold Mine lookout is on the right 300m along. The lookout is truly impressive and the Golden Legacy Centre is worth a visit to learn more about the mine. Return to town and follow signs to Tauranga.
159kms – Bethlehem
is home to the Mills Reef Winery
and up-market restaurant, the turnoff is to the right just as you come into town. This option is for those that left Hahei
early this morning. Otherwise continue straight at the roundabout, direction Mount Maunganui.
165kms - On the expressway, keep following SH2 and the signs for Mt Maunganui
. `The Mount`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 with plenty of cafes to choose from. You can also hike around the base or to the summit of the hill. Leaving the Mount, follow the signs for SH2 and Te Puke.
176kms - Te Puke is the original kiwifruit growing region, watch out for the giant kiwifruit in Maketu, another 17 kilometres from here. If you’d like to know more about the fruit (and have time) stop for a tour, or just visit their café and souvenir shop.
195kms – SH2 goes left, direction Whakatane. The SH2 turns right 34kms later but you need to continue straight towards Whakatane, your destination for this evening.
For the best view of Whakatane
head to the top of the hill and turn left onto Otarewairere Road
– 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 beautiful Ohope Beach
– the Café Surfside
does 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. The explosion 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.
Departing from the waterfront return to the shops and continue along The Strand, go left at the second roundabout (Commerce Street) then right onto 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. 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, 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.
72kms - 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, your destination for this evening.
Rotorua lies on a beautiful lake, actually a flooded volcanic crater - the surrounding hills are the remains of the rim of the giant volcano. 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, and it is a wonderful way to start the day - relaxing with peaceful 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).
Thrill-seekers should stay an extra day in Rotorua and go wild with the "Wild Four"- a mix of off-road action, zorbing, tandem sky-diving and white-water rafting.....all in one day! After 'going wild' at the four activities, you can relax and unwind using a complimentary pass to the Polynesian Spa - a memorable day indeed!
Walk from the Polynesian Spa to the town on the Lakeside Walk via the bird sanctuary at Sulphur Bay. You will also see the remains of the first ever public bath – here Hydrogen Sulphide mixes with Carbon Dioxide to create a mixture similar to the dentist’s laughing gas!
Day 6 Rotorua - National Park 194kms
The next day you could :-
Have a game of golf on the beautiful Arikikapakapa course on the southern end of Fenton Street. On the 9 hole course, the usual hazards are not lakes and sand-traps, but rather steam vents and boiling mud pools!
The Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland is the best thermal reserve in the area and is highly recommended for today.
For non-golfers there are several other tourist attractions vying for your dollar. One possibility is to take an awesome flight over Mt Tarawera.
The Te Wairoa buried village could also be visited this mornin.
Agrodome’s 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.
Just before Lake Taupo there are many more attractions!
29kms – Heading south towards Taupo, turn left at the Wai-o-tapu Tavern and 400m further left again onto the Loop Road, to take a look at the thermal Mud Pools. Don’t forget to lock your car - the bubbling mud can keep you mesmerized for hours! The Lady Knox Geyser is between the Mud Pools and Waiotapu and blows her top at 10:15am, so try to time it to arrive in time for this spectacle….a bit touristy but quite impressive none the less!
Follow the Loop Road to the main attraction Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. 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 a kaleidoscope of colours. There are 3 self guided walks, the short, the medium and the long – the latter takes about 2 hours which I recommend as it takes you all the way to the green lake of Ngakoro, with great views en route of the blue lake Whangi-o-terangi, meaning "colour of the sky". The track is uneven at times so you need walking shoes.
Afterwards, take a dip where the hot and cold rivers merge, 300 meters further along the Loop Road, by the bridge. Great in hot or cold weather! Follow the shingle path down to enter on the right, the left side can be a bit hot at times. Continue on this road to SH5 and turn left.
52kms – The Ohaaki Geothermal Power Station provides 5% of the country’s electricity. The Kaingaroa Pine Forest that you are driving through is the largest man-made forest in the world.
72kms – At the large roundabout where SH5 meets SH1, go straight and continue south past the Wairakei International Golf Course, mentioned on the "Top 100 Golf Courses in the World" list! The best time to visit is in August and September when the trees behind the clubhouse are full of the native Tui birds.
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. Look out for Horse, he measures a whopping 70centimetres, making him the largest prawn to be produced. After the tour you are encouraged to munch out in the Riverside Restaurant with views down to the river where the jet-boats doing their 360° spins.
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 to the highway intersection and 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/SH5, 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. Return to the highway and head down into the town. In Taupo go right at the first roundabout towards the lake front and town centre, where most of the eating establishments are situated.
Taupo is also home to New Zealand's first mountain-board terrain park at Gravity Hill - a cross between snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. Helmet and protective gear are included, so this is a great opportunity to "Surf the Earth".
Continue south on SH1 until Turangi. Turn right onto SH41 and 3 kilometres later left onto SH47A, direction National Park - your destination for this evening. If you have time (or tomorrow morning if you are not doing the full-day hike), take the side road towards the Whakapapa ski-field. After another 4 kilometres there is a 20 minute walk to the Tawhai Falls, where the tree-lined river tumbles over a ledge of lava into a rock pool below. Mount Ruapehu was used extensively for filming around the bad lands of Mordor in the LOTR trilogy and Mount Ngauruhoe provided the backdrop as Mt Doom. Mount Ruapehu doesn’t usually steam, but did erupt as recently as 1995. Return down the mountain and turn left to National Park.
Day 7 National Park - Taihape 150kms
National Park is the base for several mountain walks - the most popular being the excellent one day hike over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand's top ten walks. The track winds its way between the 3 majestic volcanic cones of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, via aptly named features such as the Red Crater, Blue Lake, Soda Springs and Emerald Lakes. The "walk" is 16 kilometres long - local transport can drop you at the start and pick you up 9 hours later at the other end.
Alternatively there are shorter walks - the two hour Taranaki Falls track from Whakapapa Village or the Ruapehu Crater Lake track from the top of Whakapapa ski field chairlift are recommended.
Return to National Park Village and turn left onto SH4. After 26 kilometres, turn left towards Ohakune. Continue east along SH49 to Waiouru, home of the QEll Army Memorial Museum. Turn right onto SH1. Just after Taihape turn left at Ohotu to your accommodation for this evening. We have chosen a fishing lodge on a farm by the Rangitikei River, where you can soak in a spa-bath with million dollar views and have a candle lit dinner delivered to your door.
Day 8 Taihape - Martinborough 250kms
This morning you have many options - from incredible trout fishing on remote pools only accessible by raft to enjoying a full day rafting trip through the spectacular Mokai Gorge (departs 9am) on the Rangitikei River, which was used for filming the Hobbits on the River Anduin in the Fellowship of the Ring. From the parking for Mokai Gravity Canyon you can look down on the river flowing through the spectacular gorge below. There are opportunities to bungee jump (with an elastic band tied to your ankles) from the 80m bridge, a giant Swing swoops you through the canyon at 200kms per hour or an 800 metre Flying Fox can take you up the sheer cliff face.
At the Ohotu junction with SH1, turn left direction Palmerston North, 10 kilometres later is the stunning Mangaweka Gorge. There is a lookout on top of the hill just after the village.
30kms - Change to the SH54 south to Fielding. Keen gardeners should take a break in Fielding, repeat winner of New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Small Town Award.
90kms – Just after Fielding in Aorangi, SH54 goes right, but you should follow the road along the railway tracks straight, direction Bunnythorpe and Ashhurst, where you will join SH3 through the impressive Manawatu Gorge. Rugby fans may want to make the slightly longer diversion to Palmerston North to visit the Rugby Museum, where many a fanatic has made the pilgrimage to pay homage to our All Black heroes, past and present.
123kms – In Woodville turn right onto SH2 to Masterton. On the banks of the Mangatainoka River 13kms 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.
181kms – Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre is New Zealand’s best for viewing our unique native birds the Kiwis, Kakas, Kokakos, etc. The DoC (Department of Conservation) is successfully breeding endangered species here and there is something special about sitting on the deck of the café sipping coffee and looking at some prehistoric Takahe or Tuataras (lizards from the time of the dinosaurs). 9am – 4.30pm
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.
204kms – Masterton. At the first roundabout, turn right direction Wellington and continue to follow the signs through town. 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 in deep water 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.
230kms – Turn left to Martinborough, a unique wine village and your destination for this evening. There are 20+ boutique wineries specializing in Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc wines, many within staggering distance of the Village Square. The wine centre is the best place to start your sampling, followed by a memorable meal at any one of the excellent cafés.
Day 9 Martinborough - Featherston 156kms
Today I’m taking you to the very edges of earth on the wild southern coast of the North Island, visiting Cape Palliser’s candy striped lighthouse, the sea-lion colony, the baby bulldozers at Ngawi, and the Putangirua Pinnacles. There are no shops or restaurants, so you need to take some food and refreshments with you! The highlight today is definitely the walk to the Pinnacles, an unusual valley of scree that has been compacted and lifted out of the sea, rising to a height of 200 metres. The erosion of the land over the millennia has left fingers of gravel spires and turrets topped with a harder stone which provide some, let’s say, interesting views. From below you feel the full force of what nature can inflict on this earth, from above you get a fuller picture of the valley – and it’s awesome. The walk is a bit of a scramble to say the least over river boulders, debris and fossils, but the adventure is more than worth the small effort.
Departing from the Village Square, head south along Jellicoe Street, direction Lake Ferry.
32kms – Turn left, direction Cape Palliser. The Putangirua Pinnacles Reserve car park is on the left 14 kilometres later. The walk will take you about 3 hours if you walk to the base of the Pinnacles via the streambed, then up to the lookout and back down the bush track.
You need to follow the stream for 35 – 45 minutes, until the 1st streambed branching off to the left. When we did it, most of the track was washed away and we had to make several adventurous crossings of the stream. After visiting the base of the Pinnacles, return down the smaller streambed to the orange marker 100m before the bottom – this leads to the steep track that will take you up to the lookout….strenuous, but wow, what a view. Continue on the bush walk back to the car park. Admittedly it’s a bit of an adventure getting there, but as my husband declared it’s a world wonder! Depart from the car park and turn left.
65kms – Ngawi is home to the baby bulldozers with imaginative names such as “Tinky Winky” and “Babe”. Their owners are crayfishermen and fishermen, the only source of income in the area.
72kms – Cape Palliser. The rocks and beach between Mangatoetoe and the lighthouse are home to thousands of sea-lions, a seemingly harmless blob of blubber. You can easily approach within metres, but be sure not to stand between the animal and their escape route to the sea. Return along the coast and follow the signs to Featherston.
154kms – Featherston, the first opportunity for a café stop! The town housed New Zealand’s largest army training base during WW1, with about 35,000 troops passing through the camp before they walked the Rimutaka Hill to Wellington to be shipped overseas. Quite a formidable feat you’ll realize once you’ve negotiated the tortuous “hill” yourself tomorrow. Messines in Belgium is twinned with this little town in recognition of the New Zealand troops who recaptured it from the Germans in June 1917.
Day 10 Featherston - Wellington 75kms
Our starting point today is the intersection Featherston/Martinborough. The steep Rimutaka Hill lies in front of you.
11kms – The summit car park is on the right – pass over the median strip with care! There is a great view of Lake Wairarapa and the coast to the east and on the other side to the Rimutaka Incline where the specially built Fell Engine train climbed the steep 265m slope. From here it’s all downhill, literally, to Wellington.
74kms – Wellington is a vibrant cosmopolitan city and it is the capital of New Zealand.
Suggested activities :-
Drive up Mt Victoria- for sweeping views of the city.
Te Papa is the National Museum of New Zealand and a must see! There is something for everyone here - from Maori treasures to simulated earthquakes.
Take the Cable Car up to Kelburn and walk back down through the Botanic Gardens.
Visit the Old Parliament House and Beehive next door.
Day 11 Wellington - Marlborough Sounds...internal flight
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! On arrival a free shuttle will whisk you to the Picton wharf to connect with the water-taxi to your accommodation on the stunning Queen Charlotte Sound. Today I recommend you disembark at Ship Cove or Resolution Bay and walk the rest of the way - your luggage will be dropped at your lodge for you.
"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...”
“Truly one of the only places left on earth that is paradise” John, Ireland.
Day 12 Marlborough Sounds
Today you can walk to your hearts content on the famous Queen Charlotte Track, fish, collect mussels, visit nesting penguins or wander 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 odour of the bush. This is New Zealand at her very best.
Day 13 Picton - Kaikoura 155kms
This morning the water-taxi will deposit you back to Picton around 11.30am. Pick up your new hire-car and drive south on SH1.
29kms - In Blenheim I recommend you stop and visit a world-renowned winery - the Riverlands Winery (formerly the Montana-Bancroft Estate) is 4 minutes drive south of Blenheim on SH1. Cloudy Bay on Jackson's Road is an internationally famous label, as is Hunters Wines on Rapaura Road. You can find more info on the website of Marlborough Wines.
Continue south on SH1 to Kaikoura, your destination for this evening. Just as the road hits the coast, the Store Cafe is worth a stop for refreshments on their terrace by the sea. They also own an excellent garden up on the ridge that can be visited.
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 2 kms 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 Peninsula Walkway at the head of the peninsula takes you along the shoreline and back over the cliffs.
Optional Extra - If you have an extra 2 days you can enjoy the mountainous region on the Kaikoura Wilderness Walkway staying overnight at the Shearwater Lodge on New Zealand's highest farm. The 17 kilometre walk has abundant birdlife and plantlife as it meanders through stands of Manuka, Beech forests and ancient Totara, rising sometimes above the snowline. You can sit on the balcony in the evening and watch chamois, red deer and goats while inquisitive Kea (mountain parrots) hang about hoping for handouts. There is also a fabulous 3 day walk along the Kaikoura Coastal Walkway. Personal luggage is transported each day for you, where an evening meal and even pre-dinner wine can be provided!
Day 14 Kaikoura - Hanmer Springs 142kms
Kaikoura is not only one of the best places in the world to view the whales, but also the impressive albatrosses who feed close off-shore in-between taking turns to sit on their eggs. Kaikoura has a greater variety of seabird species within a small area than anywhere along the New Zealand coastline - rare and endangered species can be readily seen year round, including the Royal Albatross. Whales and dolphins are also often spotted while on the Albatross Encounter trip!
After your morning excursion (if any) to view the whales or albatrosses or swim with the dolphins, drive 6kms south and turn right onto SH70, direction Waiau. You are now on the scenic Alpine Pacific Triangle. At 62 kilometres Mt Lyford Lodge and cafe offer excellent horse trekking in the stunning high country plus skiing in the winter months. Ask me about the 3 day "luxury" trek that takes you all the way to Hanmer.
99kms - Just after Rotherham turn right to Hanmer Springs and right again on SH7.
133kms - Turn right to Hanmer Springs
, your destination for this evening. This is a fast growing thermal region offering a wealth of activities including skiing, rafting, horse-trekking and mountain-biking in the forest - their specialty. After all this activity there are the award-winning hot springs
to relax in.
Day 15 Hanmer Springs - Christchurch 134kms
You have time this morning for some more activities before driving to Christchurch.
Please note that a jet-boat tour has been scheduled on Day 21. Return to SH7 and turn left direction Culverden
. The road takes you via the beautiful Weta Pass full of limestone formations and the Waipara Valley, a sunny and well drained valley fast becoming the new vine growing region.
79kms – Turn right onto SH1. I can recommend a stop at the family-owned Pegasus Bay winery for lunch, turn left 4.5 kilometres later. Try their generous platter loaded with cheeses and locally caught salmon and duck accompanied with some excellent award-winning wines on the lawn.
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 :-
Day 16 Christchurch - Methven 110kms
- 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!
You can spend as long as you like in Christchurch before driving to the foothills of the Southern Alps. Head west on SH73.
52kms - In Darfield turn left onto SH77 direction Glentunnel and Mt Hutt. (Fans of the Chronicles of Narnia should stay on SH73 for another 66kms and drive to Flock Hill via the dramatic Porters Pass. Scenes for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were filmed on Flock Hill Station - park at the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve. Return 12 kilometres and turn right at Lake Lyndon, direction Ryton Station. This dramatic road dissects the Tussocklands Scenic Reserve, with wonderful views of Lake Coleridge. Continue past Terrace Downs, at the SH77 intersection turn right to the Rakaia Gorge and Methven. This diversion will add 95 kilometres to your drive today.)
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. Walk as little or as far as you like but the views are best at the beginning. It is also possible to drive onto the riverbed.
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 and a quiet country town in the summer.
Day 17 Methven - Twizel 320kms
Today I am taking you to the very centre of Middle-Earth, hidden deep in the Southern Alps. Be sure to pack a picnic today and fill up with petrol! Take the road next to the tourist office, direction Mt Somers and at 10kms turn left onto SH72.
30kms – In Mount Somers turn right 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.
65kms – 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. The elaborate set of the Golden Hall of Edoras was purposely built on Mt Sunday. One of my favourite scenes from the LOTR Trilogy was of Éowyn gazing across the valley in deep thought and my absolute favourite scene was of Aragorn returning by horse to Helms Deep after his disappearance over the cliff, 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.
81kms - Follow the road past Mt Potts Station and park just after the cattle-stop (judderbars that animals can not walk over) – the road continues for another 4 kilometres to Erewhon Station. It is permissible to walk to Mt Sunday but it does involve getting your feet wet several times. It is not really a mountain by a small rocky knoll in the middle of the valley that escaped the destruction of the advancing glaciers. We failed in our attempt on the fourth crossing, however it was an adventurous and humbling experience trekking as tiny insignificant specks through morass and icy cold streams surrounded by massive snow-capped mountains. We retreated and found the most perfect picnic spot on a grassy bluff 200 metres 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! Return to Mt Somers and turn right, direction Geraldine.
182kms - Geraldine is worth more than a drive through. You can choose from :-
· A larger than fair smattering of arts and crafts galleries.
· The Vintage Car Club and Machinery Museum - has a sizable collection of cars and tractors.
· The Giant Jersey has, you guessed it, the largest jersey in the world, plus lots of woolly stuff on sale.
· Barker's Berry Barn has a specialty shop, where you'll find a huge range of fruity liqueurs and wines, plus unique gift and gourmet items.
· Try the Swiss-style Florentines at Chocolate Brown - the prices ensure they are sold fresh.
· Kiwi Country is purpose built for the tourist buses and is full of the usual souvenirs. However it does have excellent coffees and toilet facilities.
At the tourist office go right to Fairlie, where you will join SH8 to LakeTekapo. The scenery dramatically changes as you cross over Burke's Pass. You are now entering the Mackenzie Basin, home to New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki - or Mt Cook as it is known in English, the longest glacier Tasman and sparkling turquoise glacial lakes below the rolling foothills of the Southern Alps... and it bears little resemblance to anywhere else in New Zealand.
270kms – Lake Tekapo is small - their claim to fame being that it has the cleanest and clearest air in New Zealand. There is not much to hold you here beyond taking a snapshot of the much photographed Church of the Good Shepherd and the Sheepdog, or grabbing a coffee. The gorgeous turquoise-blue lake derives it colour from fine glacial particles suspended in the water.
285kms – Turn off the highway and take the scenic route to Twizel along the huge man-made Tekapo Canal constructed for the Upper Waitake hydroelectric scheme, a significant source of our country’s electricity. En route you can buy fresh fish or sashimi from the salmon farm and stop for spectacular photos of Mt Aoraki across the opaque waters of Lake Pukaki.
315kms – Turn right onto SH80. Tonight’s accommodation is on a farm bordering Lake Pukaki is hosted by some truly awesome kiwis.
Day 18 Twizel - Wanaka 160kms (+ 100kms)
This morning you have several choices, however it really would be sacrilege not to make the additional 50 kilometre scenic drive to Mount Cook Village at the base of Aoraki and the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers. The drive encompasses world-class scenery at its very 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.
Suggested activities :-
Several different alpine walks with wonderful views - try the walk to the Sealy Tarns.
Scenic flights either by ski plane or helicopter over Aoraki and the glaciers.
Glacier Explorer Trips involve walking to Tasman Lake and then taking an informative boat ride to the face of the advancing glacier.
Eat, drink and just relax in theHermitagewhile enjoying the incredible views that lie before you.
If you have an extra day, you could make the overnight tramp to Muller Hut on Mt Oliver, with massive views of Aoraki. Alternatively it is possible to tramp there and back in a day – the best day-walk I have ever done!
Join the Pelennor Fields tour on a private high-country farm, with the added bonus of interesting insights into farming in such a harsh environment.
Visit the Department of Conservation's hide to view the Kaki Black Stilt. There is a 1 hour guided tour with commentary on the management program of these endangered birds. There are only around 40 of these birds left in the world and this is the only colony!
Our starting point today is the Twizel tourist office - head south on SH8 via the scenic Lindis Pass. Consider stopping at Omarama for petrol. The pass was first used by Maori walking to the lakes for summer fishing.
112kms - Just after Tarras, turn right onto SH8A to Wanaka, following the Clutha River. It is the largest river in New Zealand – its volume is almost twice that of the slightly longer Waikato in the North Island. The tranquil Lake Wanaka has picture-perfect mountains as a backdrop and it is one of my favourite places in New Zealand!
Day 19 Wanaka
A day off from driving! There are several options for you to choose from today :-
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 to the face of the glacier. For a shorter walk try the 2 1/2 hour Roaring Meg's Pack Track.
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.
It is also possible to horse-ride on Appaloosas up the beautiful Cardrona Valley.
Trout fishing and skiing are the locals other favourites.
At the northern reaches of Lake Wanaka in a little place called Makaroa you can try the Siberia Experience of 3 thrills in as many hours – 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!
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.
Day 20 Wanaka - Glenorchy 130kms
I recommend the scenic Crown Range Route via the old gold mining towns of Cardrona and Arrowtown. 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. Before you drive up over the 1120m high pass, you may want to visit the original Cardrona Hotel.
The views from the top of the pass are stunning. Take your time coming down the zig-zag road! At the bottom, turn right to the pretty tree-lined town of Arrowtown - another former gold mining settlement. Wander amongst the historic cottages, visit the reconstructed Chinese Settlement (the Chinese were subjected to many prejudices so had their own settlement).
Return to SH6, where you can go right to Queenstown, or left to the Kawarau Gorge. 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 the others. A few more kilometres along the gorge you will find the excellent winery and restaurant at Gibbston Valley Wines.
Return the way you came and continue on to Queenstown. However our destination this evening is further along, at the far end of Lake Wakatipu where you'll find a little place called Paradise. Tomorrow the most scenic jet-boat ride in the world (another New Zealand invention) will take you on a thrilling ride up the Dart River into the very heart of the Mt Aspiring National Park - there is an option to raft back down....amazing! Horse-trekking in the National Park is also recommended.
Day 21 Glenorchy - Queenstown 45kms
After your morning thrill up the Dart River, we head back to Queenstown - the Adventure Capital of the World! 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 filming locations. One of the most spectacular and affordable scenic flights in the world is the 2 hour Trilogy Trail, with plenty of commentary and behind the scenes 'anecdotes' along the way. In winter the resorts fill up with skiers.
The beautiful resort of Queenstown was originally named as 'fit for a Queen'. It lies on Lake Wakatipu, a glacial lake with an unusual rhythmic rise and fall of 12cm in its water level, every five minutes - Bob's Cove is the best place to view this phenomenon. A Maori myth says it is the beating of a monster's heart lying in the depths of Lake Wakatipu!
This evening ride the Skyline Gondola to take in the awesome views - best viewed at sunset when the Remarkables Range on the other side of Lake Wakatipu glow in golden light. In winter the view is even better with the mountains covered in snow! If you're into having fun then racing down on the luge is a MUST.
Day 22 Queenstown - Milford Sound 300kms
Drive 6 kilometres north to the SH6 junction and turn right, direction Lumsden and Te Anau. The trip to Milford will take you at least 5 hours.
186kms - Te Anau is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park - 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. However many argue that Doubtful Sound is even more spectacular so an extra day is recommended here. Te Anau is also the base for many multi-day mountain hikes such as the Milford Track and Keplar Track. It is also where you should fill up with petrol, as there are no shops or facilities in Milford.
As you travel the Milford Sound Road to the Homer Tunnel there are several opportunities to stop and take photos - as you will probably be squashed between a convoy of tourist buses, you'll know where to stop. If you prefer not to drive, it is possible to take the coach which departs Te Anau at 12.30pm and drops you back there 24 hours later. The over-night cruise departs at 4.30pm, parking is available 10 minutes walk from the Visitor Terminal. Once the masses depart by bus, you will finally experience the sound of silence on board your boat cruising this eighth wonder of the world before anchoring in a sheltered cove beneath towering Mt Pembroke. You then have the opportunity to kayak with the dolphins (hopefully) under the many waterfalls or simply relax on deck and watch the sunset - this is paradise without a doubt!
Milford Sound is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world. The awesome 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. 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. Don't forget the insect repellent as the sand-flies in Milford 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!
Day 23 Milford Sound - Queenstown 300kms
Return to Queenstown the way you came and enjoy a little more of what is on offer there such as :-
- Driving up to the Coronet Peak Ski-field access road for the best view of the Wakatipu Basin and Shotover River.
- Take the plunge and try a bungee jump, or just have fun watching others do it.
- Cruise Lake Wakatipu on the old steamer TSS Earnslaw and visit Walter Peak Station on the other side of the lake for an insight into high-country sheep farming.
- Learn to fly-fish in the trout infested lakes and rivers.
- Play golf on one of the most magically located courses in the world.
- Visit Skippers Canyon and the remote Macetown goldfields on a 4x4 tour.
- Visit a vineyard and try their wines of course - you could even leave the car behind and go by jet-boat.
- etc, etc, etc............
Day 24 Queenstown ......internal or international flight
If your flight back to Auckland or Australia is late afternoon or this evening then you will have time to enjoy a bit more of Queenstown.
If you are lucky enough to have longer in New Zealand, then I recommend the following:-
Day 22 Queenstown - Milford Sound
Day 23 Milford Sound - Te Anau
Day 24 Te Anau (Doubtful Sound day-trip)
Day 25 Te Anau south to Catlins National Park
Day 26 Curio Bay to Dunedin
Day 27 Otago Peninsula
Day 28 Dunedin to Akaroa
Day 29 Akaroa to Christchurch
Day 30 Fly out
or head north to Christchurch via the rugged West Coast:-
Day 18 Twizel - Cromwell
Day 19 Cromwell - Glenorchy
Day 20 Glenorchy - Queenstown
Day 21 Queenstown - Milford Sound
Day 22 Milford Sound - Te Anau
Day 23 Te Anau (Doubtful Sound day-trip)
Day 24 Te Anau - Wanaka
Day 25 Wanaka
Day 26 Wanaka - Franz Josef (the glaciers)
Day 27 Franz Josef - Greymouth
Day 28 Greymouth - Akaroa
Day 29 Akaroa - Christchurch
Day 30 Fly out
We know New Zealand - we live here!