New Zealand is an extraordinarily unique country offering a continent's worth of scenery crammed into its two main islands - having every geographical feature you can think of, plus more!
The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa - the Land of the Long White Cloud. This is it, the ultimate tour throughout this amazing country, for the lucky few who have time on their hands. You need at least six weeks to be able to say 'I have seen New Zealand' and that's just the highlights! My favourite experiences from my many trips around New Zealand have been gathered together into this one itinerary - enjoy!
Let me know if you would like a unique itinerary drafted to suit your individual interests - I will gladly assist you in planning that perfect vacation.
Duration: 46 nights/47 days.
Activities include: Everything New Zealand has to offer, depending on your budget.
Notes : North and South Islands, travelling in a figure of eight.
A seven week self-drive tour throughout New Zealand. Be sure to let me know your preferred activity level, so that I can adjust the itinerary accordingly. See Money Matters for an indication of price. Remember this is just a sample.
Highlights in the North Island Highlights in the South Island
- Overnight boat-trip in the Bay of Islands
- Matauri Bay
- Waipoua Forest
- Beautiful Coromandel Peninsula
- White Island
- Cultural activities in Rotorua
- Hawke's Bay wine growing region
- Volcanic area of Lake Taupo
- Farmstay on the Whanganui River
- Mount Cook National Park
- Akaroa and the Hector Dolphins
- The rugged Kaikoura Coast
- Queenstown - The Adventure Capital of the World
- Dart River and Mt Aspiring National Park
- Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound
- Abel Tasman National Park
- The West Coast glaciers
- Queen Charlotte Sound
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland
All travellers using Amazing New Zealand services are personally met at the airport by our friendly professional representative. You will receive at the airport a comprehensive Deluxe Travel Pack. The pack contains the prepaid service vouchers, maps, discount vouchers and brochures to local attractions, plus a detailed daily explanation of driving routes, including suggested stops en route.
The representative will then take you to your accommodation in Auckland, stopping en route on the extinct volcano Mount Eden to point out the city's many geographical features and attractions. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, straddling two enormous harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. We recommend at least one day here to recover from your jet-lag.
Day 2 Auckland
Today there is a daytrip planned to the bird sanctuary on Tiri Tirimatangi Island. All pests have been eradicated from the island which has been allowed to revert back to native bush. The bird life is incredibly abundant here and all within flying distance of the mainland. Rare species include the Takehe (previously thought extinct) the Kakapo (near extinct) and the Saddleback, etc. The ferry departs from the Ferry Building at 9am and returns at 4.45pm. It is more like a cruise on the harbour, often accompanied by dolphins. Please note that there is no food available for purchase on the island, so you must bring your own supplies. Cold drinks can be purchased from the shop and complimentary tea/coffee is supplied by the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi. Informative guided walks are also available by the volunteers. All proceeds help in the continual restoration and improvements on the island. Please also remember to bring suitable clothing for the weather conditions on the day, togs and towel, sun-block and hat, raincoat, camera and binoculars!
Alternatively you catch the ferry to Waiheke Island and hire a scooter. Head for Te Whau Vineyard Cafe for lunch then Stoneyridge Vineyard for dinner. Better still stay an extra day on the island and have a fantastic brunch at the 1920's style Rocky Bay Cafe followed by dinner at the Mudbrick Cafe on the Church Road Estate near Oneroa. In between you can walk off those calories through the bush and beaches of the Whakanewha Reserve. Or, enjoy fantastic coastal and vineyards views on horseback as you ride from Kataitia Bay through Church Road Estate.
The Coastal Track on Waiheke Island has the added bonus of vineyard cafes and beaches en route! From the wharf, walk along the beach and follow the green and yellow markers around the coast. The path takes you along the cliff-top past exclusive homes, vineyards and olive groves. About ½ an hour along there is a great picnic spot amongst the old Pohutakawa trees with views back to Auckland. At Te Miro Bay you will see a path marked Oneroa, via Nick Johnston Drive. This will bring you eventually to the white sand beach, shops and cafes at Oneroa. You can extend the walk by continuing along the coast past Church Bay, but the views and path and not as good.
Day 3 Auckland - Paihia 240kms
Depart early so you have time for a couple of stops en route and to arrive at your ease….depart by 8.15am at the latest. Head north on SH1 over the Harbour Bridge. Take the Silverdale exit and follow the Free Route (and not the Toll Road) via pretty Orewa Beach and Waiwera on the tranquil east coast. You will rejoin SH1 just south of Puhoi.
172kms – A nice place for a break and a walk is just through Whangarei – stay on SH1, drive through 2 sets of lights and a bushy area where you can go 70kmph. Soon after it changes to 50kmph again, you will see a sign to the right for Tutukaka and the Whangarei Falls (follow the signs to Tutukaka). The 23m falls are more than worth a look and they are right next to the road. There is a lovely bush walk to the base of the falls.
From here allow another 1.5 hours to Paihia, so leave by 11am. To return to SH1 return the way you came and turn right at the first roundabout.
215kms – 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 to the turnoff for Paihia and the Bay of Islands and continue north another 15 minutes to the town centre. Pack just an overnight bag (and any valuables) as there is not much room for luggage in the cabins! Leave your large luggage pieces locked out of sight in the boot of the car. Check-in by 12.30pm at the Fullers office in the Maritime Building on Paihia Wharf and then park your car – ask directions from the check-in staff and for the free shuttle to pick you up from the Free Carpark which is about 3 kilometres north, or there is a Long Term Car-park up by the Police Station – prepay for a 24 hour ticket with cash only.
The Bay of Islands is made of 144 islands in total and the bay is home to several pods of dolphins and the waters beyond are famous for the big game fishing of marlin, tuna and swordfish. The ship will weave in and around the islands, stopping to view the dolphins and/or orcas en route. Included in the cruise are stops (at the captain’s discretion) in sheltered bays and deserted islands to allow you to disembark and explore, kayak, snorkel and/or swim at freewill. There is also the opportunity to fish. 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.
Day 4 Paihia
After your Bay of Islands experience on the water, you have another day to check out the many land based activities. Suggested activities in the Bay of Islands include :-
Visit Waitangi – the birth place of our nation. Drive north 2.5 kilometres along the coast. 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. 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).
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! Russell is recommended for dinner.
Day 5 Paihia - Whangaroa Harbour 110kms
Today there is a short drive north, stopping at Matauri Bay – the most scenically beautiful bay in all of New Zealand (I think so anyway!) Our starting point is Paihia wharf, drive north direction Puketona. The first village is Haruru Falls which are themselves not very spectacular but this was one of the first meeting points for trading between the Maori and white people.
14kms – At the T-intersection go right onto SH10. Next stop is Kerikeri which is New Zealand’s top citrus and market-produce growing area. Roadside stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables abound, many operating an "honesty box" - just leave your payment in the box. 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.
There is a loop road that will bring you back to the highway at Waipapa. Travel north along SH10 for another 13 kilometres and turn right to Matauri Bay.
The approach to Matauri Bay has one of the best views in New Zealand - get ready for the "wow" reaction 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.
Matauri Bay is famous for deep sea fishing and diving. If you are a qualified diver, you can dive on the Rainbow Warrior wreck, New Zealand's most famous dive site. You must take the little walk up to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial on top of the hill – the views from the top are awesome. 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.
Return up the hill and turn right and follow the coast road– the best place of all to photograph Matauri Bay is 1.5 kilometres from the intersection, the road then follows the picturesque coast through Te Ngaire and Wainui.
At the Give Way sign, go right into Whangaroa Harbour. Drive through Whangaroa, past the marina and hotel, you will see a road on the right marked "public access to summit". Keep following the road right up to the top.
If you’re feeling energetic you could walk to the top of St Pauls – the large rock standing tall on your right. The path is unformed and rather steep and slippery at times – just follow the yellow markers. The view from the top is fabulous - however please note that it’s just as good from halfway!
Day 6 Whangaroa – Omapere 220kms
Drive back through Whangaroa to the cross road where you turned right – continue straight towards Kaeo and Mangonui. At the SH10 intersection, go right direction Kaitaia.
34kms – Turn off to Mangonui, famous for its fish and chips, so a great place to stop for lunch as this is a New Zealand specialty. The Mangonui Fish Shop 100m past the wharf holds the official sought after title of "New Zealands best Fish and Chips". It comes wrapped in paper, so to really eat them New Zealand style, take your packet away with you and eat them on the beautiful Coopers Beach – another 3 kilometres further along the road. There is a beach parking on the right about ½ way along, there is more parking and public toilets down below. The pohutakawa tree-lined beach is just perfect to stroll along.
Leaving the car-park, turn right and continue north via pretty Cables Bay and Taipa where you'll find the excellent Fern Flat Pottery offering a unique collection of distinctly New Zealand decorative works of art. Taipa Beach has the perfect crescent of sand and surf.
66kms – At the SH1 intersection turn left to Kaitaia. On the corner look for the award winning Big River Cafe on the banks of a little stream, with friendly ducks under the willows. I recommend a visit to the Ancient Kauri Kingdom. The exquisite crafts and furniture created here are carved from 30,000 to 50,000 year old kauris that were in the first instance swamped by rising melt waters after the last ice-age, and in the second toppled en-masse by a giant tsunami, thus preserving the beautiful wood perfectly.
Kaitaia is the gateway to Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet and where Maori believe the spirits of their ancestors depart New Zealand for the return journey north to Hawaiki. The northern most point of New Zealand is actually North Cape a little to the east. The thin strip of land north of Kaitaia was settled by Kauri Gum diggers in the late 1800s, most of the settlers were Dalmatians. But to go right to the top you need to stay an extra day here and take one of the many safaris that depart in the morning. Choose one that includes at stop at the Gum Diggers Park.
If you do stay an extra day, you could then stay on the Karikari Peninsula. It has beautiful bays, great beaches and lots of well sign-posted walks. A picnic at secluded Matai Bay is peace epitomized.
You may like to drive out to Ahipara, 14 kilometres to the west. This beach marks the beginning of the Ninety Mile Beach (actually 100kms of uninterrupted sand), which stretches north in a wide sweep from here. Quad-biking along the beach is the specialty here, just ask at the Adventure Centre by the shops. Return to Kaitaia and continue south. At 94 kilometres there is the steep and winding Maungataniwha Range to cross, the rain forest here is particularly lush.
128kms – Just after you cross over the Whakanekeneke River, turn right towards Horeke. Unbelievable as it may seem, but this tiny village used to be the centre of New Zealand. The land was governed from Mission House for the first two years, before they built Government House in Russell. It was also here that the majority of the Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi – contrary to what you learnt at the Waitangi Visitor Centre! The town had New Zealand’s first shipyard and even had a Cathedral that could seat 800! Continue through Horeke past the oldest pub in New Zealand. It was built in 1827 to service the boat builders, go left after the one way bridge.
143kms - You may like to visit the Wairere Boulders – turn left down McDonnell Road, the park entrance is a further kilometre down this road. There is a lovely 1 hour walk through a strange labyrinth of 3 million year old basalt boulders scattered through this beautiful valley. Some have unique fluting caused by acid dripping from the kauris over thousands of years. This phenomenon has previously only ever been discovered on limestone rocks. Return to the road and go left.
158kms – Turn right, direction Dargaville. Opononi is next, 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.
The next village is Omapere, where there are excellent views across the harbour to the giant sand dunes on the other side. The Omapere Wharf is a great place to take a photo of the dunes.
This evening dine early as the Twilight Tour to the Waipoua Forest departs at 6pm. This ecologically significant environment, in former times a home and playground to Maori is brought to life by not only the sounds and potential sightings of its inhabitants but by friendly, experienced and local Maori guides who willingly share their knowledge. Dusk is when the rare and elusive kiwi birds come out from their burrows – you may be one of the lucky to spot one in the wild! This is the perfect way to meet Maori in their own (untouristy) environment.
Day 7 Omapere - Waimauku 235kms
Continue south on SH12. It will take you through the lush Waipoua Forest, one of the few remaining tracks of virgin native forest. It is also home to 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 North Island and can live for 4000 years! They are the largest trees in the world if calculating volume of usable timber. From the picnic area there is a lovely view over the forest’s canopy. Only 2 kilometers further along is the parking for the much less touristy and much older giant Kauri Te Matua Ngahere (20 minute walk) and the Four Sisters (only 100m from the parking - recommended). $2 is asked for parking security – it’s worth it! The forest gives you a fair idea of what the vegetation was like when the first settlers arrived - before they set about stripping the land for the timber and for farming. 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. The museum up on the hill to the west 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.
126kms – Matakohe is home to the excellent Kauri Museum. This museum is one of the best in New Zealand and definitely worth a visit. The café next door is a possibility for lunch today.
Continue south direction Brynderwyn, which isn’t really a place, it is the intersection where SH12 meets SH1. Turn right, direction Wellsford where you turn right to Helensville, following the Twin Coast Discovery route.
215kms – In Kaupakapaka turn left at the little church, direction Waimauku. Stay this evening in a cottage next door to the Matua Valley Vineyard, the rural outlook gives the cottages a wonderful relaxed atmosphere.
Day 8 Waimauku – Coromandel 240kms
Continue on to the Waimauku Village and cross over the highway and follow the road down to Muriwai Beach - 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 gannet chicks. The first path left leads to the best lookout where you can look directly down onto the nest sites and cute little chicks as well as admire the flying skills as the parents come into land with their two-metre wing spans. The stunning views along Muriwai Beach are a bonus.
Return to SH16 and go right. Beesonline is 1.2 kilometres on the right - a honey centre, restaurant and excellent coffee stop. A pot of pohutakawa honey makes a unique gift for those at home.
Continue towards Auckland city, the highway turns into a motorway to the city. At ‘spaghetti junction’ follow the signs for Hamilton, south on SH1. After the Bombay Hills, turn left onto SH2 direction Coromandel.
127kms – Turn left to visit the Shorebird Centre in 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! There are also thermal hot-pools here.
177kms – Thames is the gateway to Coromandel Peninsula. In the late 1880's this was a thriving gold mining and kauri logging centre. Continue north direction Coromandel Town. The excellent Orchid and Butterfly House at the Dixon Holiday Park just north of Thames is worth a stop.
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. At Christmas time you should be treated to a display of flowering native Pohutakawa trees.
230kms – 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. 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 the view is 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 ½ km to the Kauri Grove parking. This stop is excellent, giving you a real taste for the New Zealand bush without much effort. The bush walk is an easy 10 minute stroll on a level path to 600 year old kauri trees. These trees are magnificent, with native bush wonderfully lush and cool and peaceful. Continue past the first lookout for a lovely circuit past the Siamese Kauri and to the Kauri Grove.
Return to SH25 and turn right to Coromandel Town, another 5 kilometres north. The main street is an old world delight as if almost caught in a time warp - people smile and greet you with a friendly wave and horses trot slowly past 150 year old buildings which still grace the main street which now house cafés and craft shops.
Day 9 Coromandel - Hahei 80kms
This morning you could head to the popular Driving Creek Railwa for a unique ride at 10am on a narrow gauge train. It winds its way up a zigzagging track that was first build 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.
Or you could take the Coromandel Discovery Tour to the very top of the peninsula. Walk the incredibly beautiful Coromandel Coastal Walkway from Fletchers Bay to Stony Bay (3-4 hours, so take lunch and water) where the bus will be waiting to transport you back to Coromandel Township.
Alternatively there is a 1 hour walk to one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand! Drive over the hill towards Whitianga and turn left at the bottom of the hill to Whangapoua. As you come into the village, take the first left – this will take you around the far side of the little estuary. Park at the river mouth and follow the track around Motuto Point to New Chums Beach.
Departing from Coromandel shops, drive south of the village towards Thames, the turnoff for Whitianga is 400m back. The road climbs steeply for 5kms, 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.
41kms – You are now arriving in Whitianga, a safe harbour full of holiday homes favoured by Aucklanders. Continue straight, following the beach to the wharf. 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. After 5 kilometres turn right for 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. Or you could walk from Hahei back south along the beach (1 hour). 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.
Return to the Hahei road and continue north another 4 kilometres, 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 at 10am (no time at the beach).
Or my recommendation is to join the sea kayaking tour departing at 9am. This is true 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 stylw - Cappuccino, Mochachino, even an L Baccino (long black). Sea kayaking is a "must do" in New Zealand and this is one of the most beatiful places to try it.
Day 10 Hahei - Whakatane 265kms
After your morning tour (if any) 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.
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.
22kms – 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, 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. Be sure to turn left soon after the Pauanui turnoff to stay on SH25, direction Whangamata otherwise you will end up in Thames!
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 has an informative 20 minute video about the mine.
Return to town and follow signs to Tauranga. Just after the village you will see signs left to Waihi Beach (+/- 10kms to the beach). From the northern end of the beach there is another lovely little ½ hour walk (if you have time, depending on what time you left) that I can recommend to pretty Orokawa Bay. If you continue to the far end, marker posts show the way along a slightly tougher 1.5km bush track to the 28 metre high William Wright Falls.
From Waihi Beach take the loop road south along the beach and turn right after the airport to bring you back to SH2. Morton Estate Winery on SH2 in Katikati is recommended if you need to stock up on some excellent wines!
160kms – 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.
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. There is the choice of three walks here, depending on what time you left Hahei. The Coastal Track around the base of the Mount will take about 1 hour, to the summit and back is also an hour, or the full circuit starting from Pilot Bay on the harbour side around the base, then up to the summit via the Oruahine Track and back down the road, will take you about 2 hours.
Leaving the Mount, return to SH2 and continue east. Te Puke is the original kiwifruit growing region, watch out for the giant kiwifruit a few kilometers from here at Maketu. 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 where they offer tastings of the original green kiwifruit, Kiwi Gold and the new Baby Kiwi, plus lots of fruit wine and yummy liqueurs.
204kms – SH2 goes left, direction Whakatane. At 240kms SH2 turns right, but 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.
I also recommend the drive over the hill to beautiful Ohope Beach. For the best view of Whakatane turn left at the top of the hill onto Otarewairere Road (just before you start your descent to Ohope) – the first lookout on the right has wonderful views east along Ohope Beach and out to White Island. Continue on this road and take the first left. Follow the road right to the end at Kohi Point (2.3kms) where you will find the remnants of Toi’s Pa and a lookout west down to Whakatane and the river from the point. Toi was one of the original Maori immigrants making this one of the oldest pa sites in New Zealand. Return to the main road and turn left to Ohope - the Café Surfside makes excellent takeaway coffees to be enjoyed on the beach, they also have a great selection of food.
Day 11 Whakatane - Rotorua 90kms
The highlight in Whakatane is without doubt a visit to White Island, an active volcano 50 kilometres offshore. For me the cruise and tour scored a 10 out of 10 for awesomeness. Staring down into the crater’s mouth and 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. Covered shoes are a requirement. A packed lunch is also included. When weather conditions permit and dolphins are spotted, the captain may stop so that you have the opportunity to jump in and swim with the dolphins.
Departing from the waterfront return to the shops and follow the signs for 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.
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!
- 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!
- This evening join the excellent Tamaki Brothers Maori cultural show followed by a traditional Hangi (earthen cooked meal). Pickups from your accommodation are in a waka (war canoe) cleverly disguised as a bus, followed by a fun evening superbly hosted and entertained by local Maori.
- 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!
- 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 morning.
- The 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.
- Take the Skyrides Gondola up Mount Ngongotaha to take in the awesome views. Before dinner, you could ride the down hill “luge” – it is sooooo much fun! There is a scenic track (to begin with) then you’ll be off to the fast track! The free two-seater chairlift takes riders and luge carts back to the top to do it all again, because once is never enough! It's safe too. You're in full control! A unique braking and steering system on your three-wheeled luge cart means you can alter course and speed at will. Go fast, go slow, stop to take photos, you decide. NB:- Height restrictions apply.
Day 12 Rotorua - Taupo 90kms
Before departing you could visit the beautiful (and steaming) Government Gardens and the Rotorua Museum or 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.
Drive south along Fenton Street on SH5 to Taupo. There are many more thermal attractions to visit today between Rotorua and Taupo.
29kms - Turn left at the Wai-o-tapu Tavern and 400m further left again onto the Loop Road and take a look at the thermal Mud Pools. Don’t forget to lock your car - the bubbling mud can keep you mesmerized for hours! The Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-o-tapu erupts at 10:15am so try to tie your arrival for this specatacle.
Follow the Loop Road to the main attraction Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland - this is 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. 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 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 swim 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 back to SH5 and turn left.
72kms – At the large roundabout where SH5 meets SH1, go straight and continue south past the Wairakei International Golf Course.
78kms – Turn left for the mighty Huka Falls, Volcanic Activity Centre and Prawn Park.
If you first go left, you will come to the freshwater Huka Prawn Park, apparently the world’s only geothermal prawn farm. Look out for Horse, he measures a whopping 70 centimetres, making him the largest prawn to be produced. The informative tour leaves every 30 minutes, after which you are encouraged to munch out in the Riverside Restaurant. The lawn sweeps down to the river's edge, where jet-boats entertain the tourists with 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.
Follow the river from the falls and this will bring you back to SH5/SH1 – just before the turnoff there is an excellent Lookout where you can view 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. Most accommodations have wonderful views of the mountains to the south of the lake, which are popular for skiing in the winter and walking in the summer.
Day 13 Taupo - Napier 150kms
Depart by 9am if you would like to do the winery tour at 11am in Napier - from the tourist information office traffic lights travel south along the lake front. The highlight of today’s trip is the ever changing scenery – rugged hills, beautiful valleys, vineyard covered plains and huge vistas.
3kms –Turn left onto SH5, direction Napier. The first part of the trip is through the Kaingaroa State Forest, which stretches from Rotorua to the south of Lake Taupo. It is the largest man-made forest in the southern hemisphere.
54kms – The scenic lookout on the left takes you to a view of the Waipunga Falls next to the road, well worthwhile the stop.
126kms – Eskdale provides a few coffee stop options as well as the first wineries, many offering tasting and cellar sales. 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. These can usually be sent overseas. The best way to sample is accompanied with a great meal at a table under the vines! 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.
132kms – SH5 meets SH2, turn right. Esk Valley Estate, 2 kilometres further along on the right, is a favourite of mine and makes a great place to start your own winery tour. They offer door sales and tastings.
141kms – SH2 turns left, following City Centre and Port. Two kilometres later you need to go right at the roundabout and keep following City Centre and Tennyson Street. This will bring you to Marine Parade on the waterfront and the tourist office. Please note that the sea is treacherous around here and swimming is usually banned. Napier was almost totally destroyed in the 1931 earthquake, causing a massive rebuilding program throughout the 30’s, resulting in a vibrant city now known as the Art Deco capital of the world.
My stay in Napier would go something like this :-
-11am Church Road Winery and museum tour. The garden restaurant is a superb setting for lunch after your tour, accompanied by a trio of tastings.
-Art Deco fans may want to join the walking tour which departs 2pm from The Art Deco Shop on Tennyson Street.
-The Earthquake walk also departs at 2pm from the tourist office on Marine Parade. The entertaining tour concludes with a fascinating look at photos and memorabilia at the Earthquake gallery.
-Alternatively, wander the streets yourself and visit the excellent Hawke's Bay Museum at the beginning of Marine Parade, where special attention is of course given to the 1931 earthquake with a video of survivor’s stories, as well as areas dedicated to the first dinosaur discovery in New Zealand and another to local Maori art.
-Marine Parade has several other attractions, including the Ocean Spa for hot-pools and massage therapy by the sea. My favourite is the Opossum World for a fascinating display of gorgeous soft and warm garments made from that introduced pest that all New Zealanders hate. An estimated 70,000,000 possums eat 21,000 tons of foliage each night – an ecological nightmare for our unique and fragile bush! Please do not feel guilty if you happen to run over a few during your travels, we will be eternally grateful!
Day 14 Napier – Carterton 300kms
Quite a few kilometers to be driven today, so brunch at a world acclaimed winery is recommended in Te Awanga. This is one of Hawke's Bay’s best wineries with an excellent restaurant to match. Follow the road along the coast and just after Clive village, turn left direction Cape Kidnappers and Te Awanga.
23kms – Clifton Beach has some wonderful views of the Cape Kidnappers Cliffs. For those wishing to play at the exclusive Cape Kidnappers Golf Course, enter at the locked gate opposite the woolshed, 200m before the Clifton Bay Café.
26kms – Back track a little to Clearview Estate Winery. Open at 10am for coffee, wine or brunch under the vines. Continue back the way you came, through Te Awanga and Haumoana.
28kms – The small and privately owned Photography and British Car Museum is owned by an eccentric collector who is proud to show off his old favourites. One kilometre further, turn left at the egg farm onto Park Hill Road, then right onto Raymond Road.
31kms – 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 and at 49 kilometres turn left towards Havelock. Along this road are several more wineries, including the world renowned Te Mata Winery a little further along this valley. Te Mata Estate 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 their ten Hawke’s Bay vineyards. Acknowledged as one of only five icon wineries in New Zealand, Te 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 6 kilometres to the very top for some awe inspiring views of Hawke's Bay. Tandem paragliding is a favourite past time from this spot. From here it is a 2 hour drive to Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre, recommended for the endangered birds. Return down the hill, turn right at the ‘Give Way’ onto Simla Ave and left at the roundabout.
65kms – In Havelock at the main Napier Road roundabout follow left to Wellington and after the Havelock shops veer off to the right, following Te Aute Road, rejoining SH2 south at 74 kilometres. In spring I recommend a diversion to pretty Hastings, particularly during the Blossom Festival. Also the Hawke's Bay Farmers Market at the Showgrounds is well worth a visit on Sundays.
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.
Just after Woodville on the banks of the Mangatainoka River is 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 like to visit the Promo Shop for a sample or souvenir.
258kms – 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 - there is something special about sitting on the deck of the café sipping coffee and looking at some prehistoric Takehe or Tuataras.
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.
Carterton is home of the Paua Shell Factory. Paua is unique to New Zealand, the informative display and free tour 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. Many of the items are unique and useful, not to mention stunningly beautiful, so will make a perfect souvenir from New Zealand.
Day 15 Carterton – Wellington
Return to SH2 and continue south to Wellington. You could take the route south via Martinborough or even drive out to Cape Palliser on the south-eastern corner of the North Island – you will feel as if you are on the very edges of earth while following the wild southern coast of the North Island, visiting Cape Palliser’s candy striped lighthouse, the sea-lion colony, the baby bulldozers at Ngawi. Enjoy lunch at Murdoch James Estate, open 12 - 3pm (turn right 7 kilometres on the return trip back to Martinborough).
I can also recommend the short walk to the Putangirua Pinnacles Reserve. The walk will take you about 3 hours if you walk to the base of the Pinnacles, then up to the lookout and back down the bush track. There are no shops or restaurants, so you need to take some food and refreshments with you! The walk takes you through 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 full 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.
Featherston housed New Zealand’s largest army training base during WW1, with about 35,000 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. 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. It serviced the Wairarapa farming community from 1878 to 1955. For great coffees try the Lady Featherston on Fitzherbert Street.
The disused train track is now a popular walk. If you have an extra day then there is the opportunity to stay at Longwood Lodge, the residence of many of our past Governor Generals. The staff will drive you over the hill to the start of the walk - ask for a torch for the tunnels. They will then pick you up again 4 hours later down by Cross Creek and return you to Longwood in time for pre-dinner drinks followed by a 4 course meal. Stay overnight in the luxurious lodge and wake to a country breakfast fit for a Governor General, so to speak.
Wellington is not the largest city but it does lie central to the two islands and is therefore the capital. First stop should be a drive up to the Mount Victoria Lookout for an overview of the city. 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!
Possibilities this afternoon are (or on your return journey north) :-
- 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.
- Get completely lost in Te Papa, our national museum. The Maori section is particularly interesting (open until 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.
- For a chocolate or caffeine fix, you can’t go past the Shoc Chocolaterie and Espresso Bar at 11 Tory Street….try the chilli hot chocolate – it has a serious kick!
- 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.
- Further afield in Miramar (near the airport) you will find the newly opened 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.
- Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary 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 the complete story of New Zealand’s natural history through interactive and immersive exhibitions. 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 to 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 Morninstar 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 16 Wellington - Picton
Today you should cross to the South Island on the 8am flight (cheaper than the ferries!) 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). Picton was named after Sir Thomas Picton - a British General killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
On arrival a free shuttle will whisk you to the Picton wharf to connect with the water-taxi to your lodge on the stunning Queen Charlotte Sound. The bays and beaches were all named by Captain Cook.
The water-taxi will drop you off at Resolution Bay so that you can walk a part of the world famous Queen Charlotte Track back to your lodge – your bags will be transported to the lodge for you, so you only need to carry food and water. This is a place where the passing traffic is likely to be a pod of orcas or dolphins leaping for joy. Noise here is not the sound of cars zooming past, 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.
"One of the most precious places on earth, surrounded in peace and beauty. A haven to be revisited again and again...” Sinead, Ireland.
“Truly one of the only places left on earth that is paradise”John, Ireland.
Day 17 Picton – Kaikoura 155kms
This morning the water-taxi will deposit you back to Picton at 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. More info on Marlborough Wines. 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”!
122kms - You may remember in 1978-79 when the Clarence River made headlines around the world after several sightings of flashing, pulsating, bright, greenish white lights were finally captured on film by a TV crew on board a Wellington-Christchurch flight . Air traffic controllers were even able to track the objects on their radar screens proving that they were more than mere apparitions. American scientists eventually declared the light sources could not be explained, even going as far as to say that the film showed genuine unidentified flying objects.
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.
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.
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 plant-life 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 18 Kaikoura - Hanmer Springs 142kms
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 hours and can swim at 40 km/h.
Kaikoura is not only one of the best places in the world to view whales, but also the impressive albatross who feed close off-shore in between taking turns to sit on their eggs on far distant islands. 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, drive 6 kilometres 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 19 Hanmer Springs - Christchurch 230kms
After your morning activities (if any), return to SH7 and turn left returning the way you came through Rotherham to Waiau.
48kms - In Waiau, continue straight after passing the hotel and follow the Leader Road for 30 kilometres to the end, where you turn right again onto SH1 to Cheviot. At 95 kilometres turn left to Gore Bay to visit the uniquely eroded (think organ pipes) Cathedral Cliffs just past the beach. Continue on this loop road which will rejoin SH1 in Domett. Here you will find the little Mainline Cafe on the corner. The food is excellent, particularly enjoyed in the garden out the back.
Continue south on SH1 via the Waipara Valley, a sunny and well drained valley which is fast becoming the new wine growing region. I can recommend a stop at the family-owned Pegasus Bay Winery for lunch, turn left 4.5 kilometres after the village. Try their generous platter loaded with cheeses and locally caught salmon and duck accompanied with some excellent award-winning wines on the lawn.
Christchurch is New Zealand's second largest city which sprawls across the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. The main attractions here are the English style gardens and parks, the city even has its very own Avon Riveron which one can punt. It has an English colonial feel to the city with school children in formal blazers and straw hats, with fine architecture and heritage sites evident everywhere. ……however, on February 22nd 2011 the city suffered a devastating earthquake that has unfortunately destroyed many of those heritage buildings, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral!
Attractions still worth considering are :-
- Head to Antigua Boatshed where canoes are available for hire. Request a picnic basket hamper to be enjoyed on the banks of the Avon River along the way.
- Or hire your very own gondolier to punt you through the Botanical Gardens.
- The Grand Café at the Casino is a great option ….open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week.
- Visit the Canterbury Museum for their informative Earthquake exhibition as well as the Antarctic section and impressive Maori collection.
- The new Christchurch Art Gallery is a must see.
- The excellent International Antarctic Centre near the airport is where you can experience all there is to know about the icy continent.
- Take to the Port Hills for stunning 360° views as you walk along the Crater Rim Track.
- Mona Vale was a beautiful Edwardian-style homestead set amongst 5½ ha. of beautiful gardens…..the gardens are still worth the visit!
- The nearby Dean’s Bush at Riccarton is home to the only surviving stand of wetlands podocarp forest.
- Join the Christchurch Bike Tour…..they ride along the bike paths and through parks and there is not a hill in sight! Stops include both Mona Vale and Deans Bush, as well as Hagley Park and the attractions.
- The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a zoo with a difference with plenty of opportunities to get up close and touch the animals.....be sure to check out the massive eels! And buy a bag of food to feed the various animals as you walk around the well marked bush lined paths. Time your visit to include the 4.30pm guided tour (no extra charge) through the Natural New Zealand section showcasing our rare native birds, including the kiwi of course. Other highlights here are close encounters of the wildlife kind with various and the farmyard animals that clamber for your attention to be fed and stroked!
Day 20 Christchurch - Akaroa 90kms
Today's short drive explores the Banks Peninsula created over nine million years of fiery volcanic activity. Akaroa Harbour and Lyttelton Harbour are the two giant craters that remain. Originally the Banks Peninsula was an island, but over the millennia the alluvial rivers have brought down the glacial debris from the Southern Alps, slowly joining the two and creating the Canterbury Plains.
Take the SH75 to Akaroa, (1.5 hour driving without stops). Possible stops en route include Little River Craft and Gallery (56 kilometres) and Barry's Bay Cheese Factory (73 kilometres) for cheese tastings.
44kms - Turn right to Birdlings Flat and Kaitorete Spit. I used to frequent this beach as a child to collect beautiful and rare gemstones polished smooth by the pounding waves, in every colour you can imagine. The beach is windswept and littered with driftwood – please take extreme caution as the beach is very steep with an incredible undertow so stay well above the high water mark and strictly NO swimming.
68kms - The Top of the Hill Cafe at the summit is a must before you make your way down to the harbour, if only to stop and look at the view.
From here it is another 20 kilometres to Akaroa. In 1835 French whaler Jean Langlois established a whaling station in the harbour at French Bay and bought some land from the Maori. Once he had secured the deal he returned to France to organize a group of settlers to come and establish a community. Unfortunately the English had placed the whole of New Zealand under British sovereignty only 13 days before, so the French settlers were forced to sell their claims. They did however stay, bringing both their rich French character and their culture to this far flung outpost of France. Akaroa’s other attraction are of course the tiny and rare Hector’s dolphin - enjoy the unique opportunity to swim with them in the marine reserve ….or you can choose to be just a spectator instead.
If you have time this afternoon or tomorrow morning, you MUST take the tourist route along the Summit Road. This has to be the most awesome scenic route in the world ........the views are breath-taking to say the least!
Day 21 Akaroa – Twizel 323kms
Return along SH75 as far as Taitapu (64 kilometres) and turn left following the route south via Lincoln, Springston and Burnham where you will join SH1 south to Rangitata.
168kms - Just after the long bridge over the Rangitata River, turn right onto SH79 to Geraldine.
183kms - Geraldine is a great place for a coffee and has a few attractions worth stopping for. 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. It is also home to the incredible Medieval Mosaic, a perfect recreation of the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
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.
Try the Swiss-style florentines at Chocolate Brown - the prices ensure they are sold fresh.
Turn right at the tourist office to Fairlie, where you will turn right onto SH8 to Lake Tekapo. 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) 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 – 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 will soon become the world’s first ever Night Sky Reserve. There is not much to hold you here beyond taking a snapshot of the much-photographed Church of the Good Shepherd and the Sheepdog. The gorgeous turquoise-blue lake derives its colour from fine glacial particles suspended in the water. You can (should) drive up to the summit of Mount John by day (turnoff just south of the village) to Astro Café and enjoy spectacular 360° views.
285kms – Turn off the highway (sign posted "Salmon Farm") and take the scenic route southalong 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 Lake Pukaki……one of the best picnics you can ever experience is smoked salmon on Snax Crackers with a bottle of wine (don’t forget the plastic wine glasses) at the Tasman Glacier Lookout about 3 kilometres up the Hooker Valley Road at Mount Cook!
315kms – At the turnoff to Mount Cook/Aoraki, continue in the direction of Twizel – your accommodation this evening is 8 kilometres from this intersection towards Twizel. Tonight and tomorrow night’s accommodation is at a farm with stunning views of Mt Aoraki. Suggestion for tonight…..drive 1.5 kilometres into Twizel and pick up a Gourmet Pizza and a bottle of champagne (or buy this duty free on arrival in NZ) and sit back in the wood-fired outdoor bath full of bubbles and watch the sun set over Mt Aoraki.
Day 22 Mount Cook National Park
From your accommodation it is an easy drive to Mount Cook Village. The scenic drive to Mount Cook Village at the base of Mt Aoraki 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.
Today I recommend the Glacier Explorer Trip. It involves walking to Tasman Lake and then taking an informative boat ride to the face of the advancing glacier where you get to touch, taste and hear the creaking and cracking of the thousand year old ice.
Suggested activities while in the area :-
Several different alpine walks with wonderful views.
Scenic flights either by ski plane or helicopter over Aoraki, with views of the West Coast and Franz Josef Glacier.
Eat, drink and just relax in the Hermitage while enjoying the incredible views that lie before you.
Heli-biking is the specialty in Twizel with trips that combine the excitement of a helicopter flight with the adventure of a mountain bike ride down high-country farm tracks.
Visit the DOC (Department of Conservation) 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!
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 two 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 can handle. This is New Zealand at its very best. Please note appropriate clothing should be taken - storms and snow can be upon you within a few hours, even in the summer, so always be prepared.
Day 23 Twizel - Dunedin 210kms
Head south on SH8.Consider stopping at Omarama for petrol. At 33 kilometres, change to SH83 heading east through the Waitaki Valley. The road follows the man-made lakes created decades ago to power the hydro power stations at Waitaki, Benmore and Aviemore. Just before Duntroon you could stop for a look at the Takiroa Maori Rock Art created in a limestone bluff hundreds of years ago by the local Maori.Duntroon is also home of the Vanished World Centre, an interesting stop if you are into geology. Visitors can see 24-34 million year old fossils and prehistoric whale bones in rock formations along the Fossil Trail on farmland close by.
On reaching the coast, turn south onto SH1 to Oamaru. The early settlers of Oamaru envisaged the city would become New Zealand’s most important. How wrong could they be! They employed architects and stone masons to use local limestone to build impressive buildings complete with Corinthian columns and gargantuan doorways on grand streets.Oamaru is also famous for the Whitestone Cheese Factory and Café (corner of Torridge and Humber Streets) and for the penguins. Be sure to pop out to the harbour and visit the excellent Blue Penguin information centre and take a tour of the nesting site!
183kms – A few kilometres before the village of Moeraki you will find the much photographed Moeraki Boulders littering the beach. Park at the Moeraki Boulderpark Visitor Centre and Café and wander down the path to where an interpretive display explains how the spherical boulders were formed.
The Otago University is New Zealand’s oldest (and grandest), where our brightest students study for law and medical degrees. Another building of note is the impressive Dunedin Train Station built in the Flemish Renaissance style!
Continue along SH1 and turnoff to Moeraki Village and follow the signs out to Katiki Point. There is a public viewing hut for viewing the penguins just 5 minutes walk from the car-park. Only a few metres away is a colony of the endangered Yellow-eyed Penguins where you should be able to see the nests and cute little chicks. The alternative is to visit the very commercial Penguin Place tomorrow! Points to remember : hide so the penguins can not see you, do not approach the birds, do not be attempted to wander down to the beach at dawn or dusk….remember these are some of the rarest birds in the world! Well here, be sure to visit Fleur's Seafood Restaurant - her bouillabaisse is fast becoming world renowned!
From here it is just a short drive to Dunedin. In the 1860’s Dunedin was booming thanks to the gold rush. The city was modeled after Edinburgh in Scotland, even sharing the names of Edinburgh’s streets. Dunedin means “Edin on the hill” - the city boasts grand buildings of stone that were built to last and to defy the inclement weather.
It is also home to our famous Cadbury World Chocolate Factory! Tours depart every half hour in which tasting of their new varieties is actively encouraged! Telephone 0800 223 287 to reserve as these tours are VERY popular!
Day 24 Otago Peninsula
From Dunedin it is just a short drive to the Otago Peninsula. Take the "high road" (Highcliff Road) along the spine of the peninsula alternating between harbour views to your left and the squally Pacific Ocean to your right. The Peninsula was originally an ancient volcano and has a rugged, lonely kind of beauty to it, with pockets of some of the rarest marine wildlife you're ever likely to have the chance to get within close range to. The windswept trees lend a wonderfully eerie note to the landscape.
Attractions include the only mainland-breeding colony of albatross at Taiaroa Head, rare Hooker’s Sea Lions and historic Larnach Castle. Over the summer months the colonies of endangered Yellow-eyed Penguins are full of cute little chicks with their parents standing guard.
Suggested activities :-
Head to Penguin Place at Harrington Point, just before the Albatross Colony. These are some of the rarest birds in the world! Bookings essential.
The Royal Albatross Centre. There are superb exhibits, live close-circuit TV to watch the feeding chicks and the opportunity to observe the huge birds coming in to land with their 3m wing-span. However please note that you will only see activity on windy days!
The endemic Hooker’s Sea Lion is the world’s rarest – however they can be seen almost anywhere along the coast, even on the roads! The seemingly harmless blob of 400kg of blubber can be approached quite closely – just be sure not to stand between the animal and its escape route to the sea!
Pop down to Pilots Beach to view the fur seals.
Larnach Castle is perched high on the hill with fabulous views of the peninsula. It is New Zealand’s only true castle, with a very Scottish ballroom and beautiful gardens.
Return to Dunedin via the "low road" (Portobello Road). It is a beautiful winding drive that hugs the edge of the harbour.
Day 25 Dunedin – Curio Bay 220kms
Please note that you should fill up with petrol before departing and carry plenty of groceries for dinner and breakfast as there are no shops where you are staying and you can’t count on anything being open, especially in the remote Catlins! And take enough cash to pay for the surfing lessons and hire of the wetsuits to cover the 2 days…..the closest Bank Machine will be +/-100kms from where you are staying!
Follow the Southern Scenic Highway south. I will mention where you can get out and walk, but if you are not really into walking today you should choose at least the McLeans Falls walk and/or the walk to the Nugget Point Lighthouse.
Take SH1 south and turn left ½ way up the first hill just 3 kilometres from the city centre. You need to turn then immediately right and follow the brown and white triangle signs along the coast road through Ocean View, Brighton and at Taieri Mouth.
38kms – Just after crossing the bridge turn right to Waihola. There you need to turn left and rejoin SH1 south through Milton and Balclutha.
91kms – Turn left just after the Balclutha shops and follow the Clutha River, this is New Zealand’s largest river by volume of water. I recommend you take the route via Kaka Point and Nugget Point where there is an easy walk out to the 1869 lighthouse. There are fur seals and sea lions, plus it is a breeding ground for gannets, sooty shearwaters, shags and yellow-eyed penguins. The “Nuggets” are a picturesque bunch of jagged rocks jutting out into the sea. Return towards Kaka Point and turn left.
160kms – Watch for the parking for Matai Falls, where there is a lovely 10 minute walk through bird infested forest to the waterfall. There are also the Horseshoe Falls just above.
170kms – Be sure to stop at the Florence Hill Lookout for spectacular views of the golden sands of Tautuka Beach.
174kms – Just past the Outdoor Education Centre is the little hidden scenic delight of Lake Wilkie. Here there is an easy 5 minute walk to the lookout showing succession of forest development from lake edge to mature forest full of birdlife. You can also descend to the lake where there is a short boardwalk giving you a water-birds eye view of the unique habitat.
180kms – Turn right to McLeans Falls and drive 3 kilometres up the unsealed Rewcastle Road to the car-park where there is an easy 40 minute walk to view a pretty 3 stepped falls – the Catlins prettiest. Watch for Kereru (NZ wood pigeon), yellow-headed Mohua and Fernbirds in the bush.
207kms– Turn left to Curio Bay. Another "must do" is to stop at the Niagara Falls Café, a real gem located in the middle of no where! Don’t bother with the falls themselves though as that is just a joke…..they are all of 2 centimetres high! They are open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week, but you need to book if you would like to return for dinner as they sometimes close if there are no reservations!
Curio Bay is your destination for this evening. Here you will find one of the world’s finest fossilized forests (some say 160 million years old, others say it is "only" 40 million years old). Watch the Hector Dolphins playing in the waves! There is also a penguin colony here.
Day 26 Curio Bay – Te Anau 263kms
Spend some time enjoying your peaceful setting before heading off. First stop is Slope Point, the southernmost point of the South Island and where dramatic windswept trees are the norm (turn left at Haldane).
Return to Haldane, turn left and then left again to Otara and Fortrose where you turn left to Invercargill which makes a great place to stop for lunch. The highlight here would be to visit the excellent Southland Museum and Art Gallery. There is also a Tuatara display at the museum. The Tuatarium breeds examples of these ancient reptiles that date from the dinosaur times.
For those intent on 'doing' the full length of New Zealand, there is a 60 kilometres diversion there and back to Bluff. It is well worth the diversion if only to see the eccentric paua covered house en route to the much photographed sign post marking the terminus of SH1. If you're here in autumn, then you should try and coincide your visit to include the famous Bluff Oyster and Southland Seafood Festival.
From Invercargill, drive down to beautiful Oreti Beach – if the tide is out you can drive the 30 kilometres to Riverton along the beach! Continue west on SH99 to Riverton – the oldest permanent European settlement in Southland when whalers and sealers first established a settlement here in the 1830's. Also worth visiting is the Riverton Paua Shoppe on Palmerston Street – for a unique souvenir of New Zealand. Many of the items on sale are painfully kitsch, but there are also some excellent practical and beautiful pieces for sale. For lunch try the popular Beachhouse Cafe at 126 Rocks Highway where you can enjoy wonderful views of the bay and hills.
Colac Bay is next, apart from surfers this place seems lost in a time warp. Orepuki is more interesting where macrocarpa trees have been sculpted into beautiful shapes by the wind. Just 500 metres north of the village is Gemstone Beach where you can find, you guessed it – gemstones. Garnets, fossils, sapphires, quartz, nephrite….. to name just a few.
The SH99 now turns north to Manapouri and Te Anau, 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. Te Anau is also the base for many multi-day mountain hikes. It is also where you should fill up with petrol, as there are no shops or facilities in Milford.
The Lake Te Anau Cruise and glow worm caves visit includes spectacular rock formations, fossils, whirlpools, waterfalls and glow worms and are only half an hour away by launch. Te Anau means rushing water in Maori – so both the lake and the town derived their names from the caves.
I also recommend a bush walk along the Kepler Track. It begins at the southern end of the lake and skirts the lakefront towards the west before climbing steadily to the Kepler Mountains on the other side of the lake. OK agreed, you won’t get that far (unless you have an extra few days here), but you can walk as far or as little as you like. Don’t forget the insect repellent!
Day 27 Te Anau – Milford – Te Anau 230kms
Be sure to fill up with petrol and buy some snacks and/or picnic lunch before departing Te Anau as there are no shops or facilities in Milford! Allow at least 2.5 hours to drive to Milford….without stops! More if you like to take it slowly and/or go for a walk.
As you travel the Milford Sound Road to the Homer Tunnel there are several opportunities to stop and take photos. Driving to the Homer Tunnel, stop at Eglington River Valley, Mirror Lake, Knobs Flat and Lake Gunn before reaching the Divide – the lowest pass over these mountains. Next there is the Falls Creek Lookout down to the Hollyford Valley. Once through the kilometre long tunnel you will see the spectacular Cleddau Canyon and the incredibly precipitous walls on which the road slowly zigzags its way down.
There are also several places where you can stop and go for a walk – my favourite is the 2 hour (return) walk to Key Summit for the best views of Fiordland from the top of the world…..but then you need to leave by 8am.
Milford Sound is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world - wet or fine Milford is incredibly grand. 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. 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.
After the cruise you could disembark at the Milford Discovery Centre (extra charge) so you can see what lives below the water…you will be returned to Milford Wharf by water-taxi ½ an hour later. 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. After the cruise you return the way you came back to Te Anau.
The alternative is to take the bus from Te Anau - the specially designed buses have seats on an angle so those seated on the isle have an equally spectacular view through the massive windows.
Day 28 Doubtful Sound
Today there is a day trip planned to the stunningly beautiful (and far less touristy) Doubtful Sound. Drive 21 kilometres south to Manapouri. Included is a cruise across Lake Manapouri with a visit to the Manapouri Underground Power Station, a coach then takes you over the stunning Wilmot Pass before descending to Doubtful Sound for a three-hour cruise. Departs 9.30am, returning 5.30pm.
Day 29 Te Anau - Queenstown 186kms
Follow SH94 and then SH6 to Queenstown - the Adventure Capital of the World! The beautiful resort was originally named as "fit for a Queen" and lies on Lake Wakatipu.
At 2pm there is a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw that takes you across to Walter Peak Station where you can join the tour of the farm by horseback or return directly by steamer.
I can also recommend the drive along the stunning 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. A few more kilometres along the gorge you will find the excellent winery and restaurant at Gibbston Valley Wines.
The guided tour takes you amongst the vines, through the winery and then deep into the hillside where you can sample the wines in a surreal atmosphere. The rocky schist walls within the cool cave are lined with barrels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, still reaching their prime – wear something warm! You may also like to explore the Gibbston Valley Cheesery next door!
Additional Options at Queenstown that can be booked with Amazing New Zealand Itineraries :-
Visit Walter Peak high country sheep station on the TSS Earnslaw.
Tour the sheep station by horseback.
2 ½ hour Trilogy Tour scenic flight.
4x4 Lord of the Rings tour.
4x4 Skipper’s Canyon and Macefield Goldfields tour.
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.
Play golf on one of the most magically located courses in the world.
Visit a vineyard and try their wines of course.
Day 30 Queenstown – Glenorchy – Queenstown 90kms
Today there is a thrilling ride on a jet-boat planned (another New Zealand invention) which will take you from Glenorchy by 4WD trip to Paradise, a walk through the beech forest then jet-boat along the Dart River into the very heart of the Mt Aspiring National Park. You then enjoy a wilderness lunch before climbing into your “Funyaks” to paddle back down stream in the most serene place in the world you can imagine.
After your thrill up the Dart River, you head back to Queenstown. Half way along is Bob's Cove - a short loop track along a nature trail through native forest full of Bellbirds, Thrushes and Fantails to the lakeside 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.
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 glows in golden light. Before your buffet dinner you must ride the down hill “luge” – it is sooooo much fun. There is a scenic track (to begin with) then you’ll be off to the fast track! The free two-seater chairlift takes riders and luge carts back to the top to do it all again, because once is never enough! It's safe too. You're in full control! A unique braking and steering system on your three-wheeled luge cart means you can alter course and speed at will. Go fast, go slow, stop to take photos, you decide. Wow, what a day!
Day 31 Queenstown – Wanaka 78kms
Follow SH6 north for 19 kilometres and turn left to Arrowtown. Just before the turnoff you may like to stop at the Amisfield Winery and Bistro on Lake Hayes.
The pretty tree-lined town of Arrowtown is 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) and wander along the path by the river to view where Isildur lost his life when attacked by the Orcs in the Gladden Fields (LOTR). The main shopping street is a particular shopper's delight.
Return to SH6, turn left and then immediately left again for the scenic Crown Range Route to Wanaka via the old gold mining town of Cardrona. The 1120m high pass is rather zigzagging to say the least, so take your time, however the views are breath-taking from the top. On your descent I recommend a stop at the original Cardrona Hotel (1863).
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 (hire your bikes in Wanaka.) Or how about joining a horse-trek up the Cardrona Valley on Appaloosas?
Wanaka lies on a tranquil lake with picture-perfect mountains as a backdrop and it is one of my favourite places in New Zealand! There are also several options available here :-
Visit to the Rippon Winery - probably the prettiest winery in the world.
Mountain-bike along the Outlet Track.
Glendhu Bay is a sheltered and picturesque bay for postcard perfect photos of the mountains behind. Try the swing out over the lake. Just beyond is a road leading to a popular swimming area in the spectacular Motatapu Gorge.
One of the best day 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 glacier face. For a shorter walk, try the 2.5 hour Roaring Meg's Pack Track.
Visit the incredible Puzzling Maze – fun for young and old!
For the best views in town wander along the lake to the Edgewater Resort for pre-dinner drinks in the Lobby Bar.
Day 32 Wanaka – Fox Glacier 274kms
Today’s drive takes you north over the Haast Pass to the untamed grandeur of the West Coast region. This is one of New Zealand's most unpopulated regions and a landscape that is worth experiencing, not just seeing. Snow-capped mountains give way to wild beaches and rocky outcrops, with diverse natural attractions where glaciers, caves and virgin native forest compete for your attention along this thin strip of dramatic coastline. Unfortunately it is also extremely wet, receiving over 1m of rain per year per square metre! I hope the weather will be kind to you!
From Wanaka drive south towards the airport a few kilometres then head north on SH6 along the shores of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. Makaroa is first - where the West Coast meets Central Otago at the southern end of the Alps. It has retained an element of pioneering spirit in its unhurried approach to life. Here you have time to try the very reasonably priced Siberia Experience – fly into the Mt Aspiring National Park, hike/tramp over the hill to the Siberia River and jet-boat back out. Wow!
Soon after you pass the summit of the Haast Pass itself you can stretch your legs and wander down to Fantail Falls.
Next you come to the Gates of Haast, a gorge full of huge boulders and precipitous rock walls that caused major problems during the construction of the road in 1960 – up until then the Great Divide proved insurmountable to all except the Maori who used the trail for gathering greenstone.
104kms - The 28m Thunder Creek Falls a little further on are well worth the stop, it is just a short stroll along a well formed track.
129kms – Another waterfall where you can get out to stretch your legs. The Roaring Billy is the first of many waterfalls - it plunges down a mountain slope on the other side of the river – there is a short rain forest walk with tall tree ferns to the lookout to stretch your legs.
157kms – Haast is a good place to try their whitebait omelet….a specialty of the region. The delicately flavoured whitebait are tiny fish that are caught by hand in huge nets. When they are “running” one can catch a kilo in an hour, but you have to have luck – hence the price.
From Haast the road skirts the coast where fur seals often doze amongst the spectacular sea stacks and driftwood. There is a viewpoint at Knight Point before the road heads inland again.
184kms – About 200m north of the Moeraki River bridge you can turn left to a car-park and well formed path that takes you through beautiful coastal forest to Munroe Beach, a typical deserted and wild Wesland beach where wildlife abounds. You may also see some rare and beautiful Fiordland Crested Penguins fighting the crashing waves to land on the beach after sunset.
217kms – Just north of the Paringa River you’ll find the Salmon Farm Café, either feed the salmon in the tanks below or eat one in the café…or just have a coffee.
274kms – New Zealand has many glaciers, however the two monoliths of Franz Josef and Fox are our most famous. Both are advancing towards the sea at a rate of 1m per year, providing majestic scenery and ecological surprises as they advance. Car-parks and paths are constantly being destroyed, so a guided walk is recommended here (tomorrow morning). Glacier walking is an amazing experience where you follow the guide as he cuts steps into the ice providing a pathway over the surface and into crevices and ice-caves to witness the beautiful blue colour of the ice and hear the creaks of the living glacier. The hike is fun and safe for all but it is only for the fit, alternatively the heli-hike is highly recommended or the scenic flight with a landing on the glacier.
There are 3 ways of viewing the Fox Glacier Terminal. If the weather is fine then drive to the Peak View Point which is 7-8 kilometres down Cook Flat Road (just around the corner on the unsealed road). From here you get a full view of the glacier. Or, you can drive down Glacier View Road (on the southern side of the Fox River). There is a great view of the glacier about 2 kilometres along or park at the end and walk down the steps to the river. Or it can be viewed from the car-park 3 kilometres down Glacier Access Road (on the northern side of the river) where there is a path to view the terminal face of the glacier – do not cross the barrier as every year tourists are killed when they venture too close!
Tonight you are staying at the village of Fox Glacier – tomorrow morning I recommend an early rise to watch the sun rise over Mount Aoraki while being reflected in Lake Matheson, where you’ll also find an excellent café for breakfast.
Day 33 Fox Glacier – Greymouth 190kms
After your morning walk on the glacier (if any), continue north along the coast, serenaded by majestic forest-clad mountains to your right and the wild Tasman Sea to your left.
23kms – Franz Josef of course has a glacier, but it is also home to Fergs Kayaks where you can hire kayaks for exploring Lake Mapourika - a visually stunning kettle lake 15 kilometres north of here. The result of a period of past glaciation at the coastal section of the Franz Josef glacier valley, the lake is fringed with a wonderful temperate rainforest. The climatic conditions are such that the kayaks glide on the water with a minimum of physical effort. You could kayak this afternoon after your glacier walk or continue on to Hokitika.
42kms – Here you have the choice of turning left to Okarito Lagoon, a bird watchers paradise with over 70 species visiting throughout the year, kayaks are also available for hire here.
160kms - Hokitika is the best place to see the New Zealand Greenstone (jade) being made into ornaments and tiki (pendants). The pounamu stone was prized by the Maori and they went to great lengths to find and transport the precious stone. They mainly used the stone for making a lethal weapon that sat snugly in the hand of a warrior. Not to be missed is the glass blowing factory.
Contine north to Greymouth, your destination for the evening. The city lies on the Grey River – named after the governor Sir George Grey and not that the river is grey with sediment. In its heyday as a booming gold centre it was known as Crescent City….now isn’t that a much nicer name!
Just before Greymouth and a short diversion off SH6 you will find Shantytown, a faithful recreation of an 1880’s gold mining settlement. Here you can try your hand at gold-panning . Although quite commercial, it does provide an interesting insight into the lives of the prospectors. The whole coast in fact is steeped in history where small villages are now all that remains of what were once bustling communities during the gold-boom years.
Day 34 Greymouth – Karamea 180kms
Greymouth is home to the Montieth’s Brewing Company which has been family owned since 1868. They are still brewing with the same traditions they used back then. They brew strong tasting, full bodied ales. A tour of this West Coast icon can be enjoyed today, where formal tasting of each style of beer is of course included.
Continue 45 kilometres north and visit the fascinating Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. High tide is the best time for viewing as the blow-holes can produce some rather spectacular photo opportunities.
Just after Punakaiki you will come to the Pororari River - park by the bridge for a walk in to the Paparoa National Park on the Pororari River Track. The lower section of the track passes through the Pororari River Gorge - a valley lined on both sides by dramatic limestone cliffs and bluffs towering over the gorge and river. Allow 2.5 hours for the return trip, however, if you're just out for a short walk, the lower section is very enjoyable for a stroll to stretch the legs. There is a popular swimming hole about ½ hour along the track.
Another 30 kilometres north is Charleston - this little village once had a hundred pubs to cater to the sailors needs. The little horse-shoe shaped Constant Bay often held a dozen sailing ships. Continue north towards Westport and 15 kilometres later turn left to Cape Foulwind. Be sure to visit beautiful Tauranga Bay where the Fur Seal pups will keep you entertained for hours. At the southern end of the bay visit the excellent Bay House Café and Art Gallery where you can sit on the deck eating lunch and watching the surfers beyond.
Follow the coastal road past Cape Foulwind to Westport. This is the Coast’s oldest town. Continue north to Karamea – your destination for this evening. Half way along is the once bustling township of Granity. Stop at the Drifter’s Café on the main street for coffee, huge meals and an interesting display of miner’s artwork and artifacts. Or in Hector you can sit and watch Hector's Dophins (of course) at the rustic tables of Cafe Imagine on the Beach.
Day 35 Karamea
Today you can walk as little or as much of the Heaphy Track as you like. The coastal stretch takes you along the beach to the beautiful Nikau Grove and is the easiest part of this multi-day track.
Visit also the Oparara Basin – a worthwhile 15 kilometre diversion off the main road. Walk through lush green wilderness to the Oparara Arch – here the river has carved a course through the soft stone leaving a natural bridge. If you have time, the Little Arch is also worth the walk. There is a tour through the Honeycomb Caves, with all the obvious limestone cave features plus the bones of several moa and other extinct species - reserve at the tourist office in Karamea.
Karamea is the end of the road - hopefully one day there will be a connecting road through to Collingwood, as there are only 14 kilometres separating the roads, as the Kereru flies (we don't have crows). Karamea enjoys its own micro-climate, growing citrus fruit and mosses for the Asian orchid markets. The locals are passionate about there little slice of heaven and will make you more than welcome!
Day 36 Karamea - Saint Arnaud 252kms
Drive back south along SH67 to Westport. Turn left onto SH6 and follow the very dramatic Buller Gorge. At 143 kilometres SH6 goes left over the river to Inangua.
180kms – This is the longest Swing-bridge in New Zealand. Walk across the swing-bridge to the Ariki Falls, not spectacular but the pink granite rocks are unique. Beware of the man-eating sand-flies! They also hire out pans if you would like to try your luck at panning for gold in the Buller Gorge. Unfortunately there isn’t a café here so depending on what time you left - grab a bite to eat in Murchison or hold off until Saint Arnaud.
Follow SH6 and turn left after O’Sullivan’s Bridge. Murchison is next, famous for almost being wiped out in the 1929 earthquake.
226kms - Continue to follow the Buller River and turn right to the alpine village of Saint Arnaud, gateway to the trout infested Nelson Lakes National Park and starting point to numerous alpine walks ranging from 20 minutes to 7 days – take your pick, or just enjoy the scenery (the walks start from the parking on the left down by the lakefront). The 45 minute Honey Dew walk through the virgin Beech forest is particularly lovely. The level walking track takes you along the lake then deep into the ancient forest where the canopy is full of Bellbirds and Tuis competing in birdsong and where the forest floor is a refuge for our native Kiwi – unfortunately they are nocturnal and avid sleepers so you are not likely to see one! I can recommend Elaine’s Alpine Café back in the village for casual meals.
Day 37 Saint Arnaud - Collingwood 180kms
Continue east a few kilometres then turn left to Kohatu. On reaching the SH6 turn left and a few kilometres later turn right at the Kohatu Hotel and follow the Motueka River all the way to Motueka.
90kms - Once in Motueka, you normally need to go left. But if you first go right there is the excellent Up the Garden Path Cafe and Art Gallery (100m before the roundabout, on the left). Return the way you came and follow SH60 past vineyards, orchards and fields of hops. The road then corkscrews up and over the very dramatic Takaka Hill.
Attractions along the way include the Ngarua Caves at the top of the tortuous 'hill'. They have a 35 minute guided walk deep under the hill to the stunningly beautiful Wedding Cathedral. Or just stop for the awesome views of Tasman Bay from the lookout. NB Thieves are a menace at these car-parks, so lockup and take valuables with you.
The Pupu Springs are also worthy of a visit - there is a beautiful walkway along the turquoise coloured lake where the water has been proven to be the purest in the world (turn left just after the bridge over the Takaka River). You are not allowed to even touch the water at the spring, however swimming can be enjoyed on the southern side of the bridge back on the main road.
Continue north through Takaka and Collingwood – try out the chocolate from the shop on the beach, then dine at the characterful Courthouse Cafe.
Day 38 Collingwood
Today's daytrip takes you to a couple of my favourite spots in New Zealand. At high tide you should take the Whanganui Inlet road through virgin native forest - drive all the way to the West Coast beach at Paturau River if you have time, where you can swim in the river.
At low tide take a drive north to Puponga then follow the Wharariki Road. Park at the end and then walk 20 minutes on the Farm Track down to Wharariki Beach – this has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand. Explore the caves, eroded arches and dunes in total solitude. At the northern end of the beach there are some deep rock pools – at the time of my visit they were full of Fur Seal pups having a great time playing chasing in and out of the pools …..wonderful entertainment! We then followed the stream up the valley – DO NOT cross the stream and go up the hill (as we did), as this will lead you away from the car-park. Instead follow the stream around to the right and it will meet up with the path that leads you back to the car-park.
In-between take a look at Farewell Spit. This dramatic 35 kilometre long sand spit extends in a golden arch deep into the ocean, which is why there are repetitive mass whale strandings. The Farewell Spit Café and Visitor Centre has excellent coffee and food to enjoy on the deck overlooking the bay and spit. Here there are informative displays about the spit itself as well as the numerous whale strandings plus the migratory birds that stop off here every year. There are also several walks that depart from the centre. You have time to join a tour of the spit tomorrow morning if you want.
Day 39 Collingwood - Abel Tasman National Park
Return back over the Takaka Hill - at the bottom turn left to Kaiteriteri. Water-taxi's depart from the beach to take you to the Abel Tasman National Park. Choose from a variety of walks to best suit your abilities and hike on the famous Coastal Track. Or there are also a variety of kayaking or sailing options available. You could also choose an overnight option.
Day 40 Abel Tasman National Park - Nelson
Today there is just a short drive to Nelson. Return to SH60 and turn left to Motueka. Continue on SH60 to Mapua where you may like to take the short diversion off the main road to the excellent multi award winning restaurant the Smokehouse plus the Cool Store Art Gallery opposite is well worth looking at.
In Richmond turn left at the roundabout onto SH6, direction Nelson. Harringtons Brewers in Richmond produced the special beer for the Prancing Pony (LOTR).
Nelson holds the title as the most sunniest place in New Zealand and is home to countless artists and crafts people in and around the city.
Suggested activities :-
The World of Wearable Art and Collectable Cars (just north of Nelson Airport) has some rather bizarre outfits previously created for the annual fashion show.
The South Street Gallery sells pieces from 25 selected local potters, the same street has 16 historical cottages to look at.
The biggest art gallery in town is the Suter Gallery, next door to the Queen's Gardens.
The One Ring was created by Jens Hansen Goldsmith on Trafalgar Square - buy your own souvenir while you're here.
Day 41 Nelson - Wellington
Continue east along SH6.
75kms – The enchanting little village of Havelock at the head of Pelorus Sound was once a thriving gold-mining town, however the gold is green these days and comes in the form of green-lipped mussels - try them for lunch at the Mussel Pot Restaurant. The town's most famous resident was Sir Ernest Rutherford, Nobel Prize winner for being the first person to split the atom! If you'd like to learn more about mussels there is a tour to the mussel farms leaving at 2pm with steamed mussels and a glass of wine included en route.
110kms - Drop off your hire car in Picton as you will receive a new one in the North Island. Visit the Seahorse World Aquarium on Dunbar Wharf before catching the ferry to Wellington – here you can view baby seahorses, sharks, stingrays, octopus, crayfish and other fish. There are some really interesting stories to be heard about the different species at feeding times.
NB. If you are staying an extra day on Kapiti Island, then you should drive north to Paraparaumu tonight.
Day 42 Wellington - Whanganui 215kms
This morning you have time to visit more of Wellington's attactions before departing. Head north along SH1, direction Palmerston North.
A nice place to stop is Titahi Bay – here the award winning Oceana Café serves great coffee and the best pile of blueberry pancakes I have ever had. Exit the motorway at 21 kilometres to Porirua and Titahi Bay. There are several roundabouts through the shops – just follow the signs for Titahi Bay while travelling along the northwest side of the lagoon. Follow the road to the end, you can even park on the beach! Titahi Bay has safe swimming, with lovely views of the South Island in the distance. Afterwards you have to return to the highway the way you came.
40kms - There are several stopping areas along the coast, however they are small and very dangerous. For views of the South Islandit is much better to head to Queen Elizabeth Park. Leave the highway at Paekakariki. Cross over the railway tracks and turn right after the shops. Follow this road right to the beach (4.6kms). If you continue another 300m on the one way road, it will bring you to Memorial Lookout for wonderful uninterrupted views of the South Island and Kapiti Island. Return to the Paekakariki shops.
The next coastal town is Paraparaumu (Paraparam to the locals). Every day at 9am the ferry departs from the beach for Kapiti Island. If you have an extra day then I recommend an overnight stop on this island. Kapiti is the sort of place that only those in the know will only tell their best friends. It is a predator free environment where some of the world's rarest birds can strut their stuff in the knowledge that no harm will ever come to them, sometimes within just metres of you! Prehistoric Takahe (once thought extinct) are making a comeback on this island, as are Spoonbills and Kaka. The highlight of an overnight trip is the opportunity to see and hear the elusive nocturnal kiwi! This is without doubt a nature lover's heaven.
In Levin, continue north on SH1. At 130 kilometres Foxton’s main attraction is a fully working replica Dutch windmill.
163kms – SH1 turns left and joins SH3 towards Wanganui. Look for the Air Force Museum on the left 3.5 kilometres later, if you are interested. The next town is Bulls, named after one of the first settlers Mr. James Bull…. and has nothing to do with the black four legged variety. That hasn’t stopped the town having a bit of fun though – I spotted the Bullocks Gravel Centre, Bulls Eye Café, Ye Auld Bull, the Forgive-a-bull church service, the Const-a-bull police station, the Extinguish-a-bull fire station, and so on.
Continue on SH3, direction Whanganui.
214kms – Turn right at the roundabout to Whanganui City Centre, turn left along the river front and left again at the bridge onto the beautiful main street Victoria Ave. The street is full of flowering hanging baskets and beautifully restored historical buildings.
Suggested activities :-
Stroll across the Whanganui City Bridge to the pedestrian tunnel (through the Maori entrance next to the steps) which travels 205 metres inside the hill and leads to the earthbound Durie Hill Elevator, which will take you up to the War Memorial Tower. The tower is built of fossilized shell rock and commands an impressive view over the city, river and coastline, with Mt Taranaki to the northwest and Mt Ruapehu to the northeast.
Queens Park in the middle of town also has wonderful views, plus Whanganui’s major cultural buildings.
The Sarjeant Gallery is a nationally acclaimed art gallery - the city just oozes art, boasting a stable of celebrated artists as well as international fine arts students from the city's Polytech.
Stroll around historic and beautifully planted Virginia Lake Reserve - take some bread to feed the ducks.
Day 43 Whanganui River Road
Whanganui has a new name – River Queen City. This New Zealand made movie was filmed in and around the city and her (now famous) river. Drive to the following bridge upriver, cross over and turn left onto SH4, direction National Park. After 15 kilometres turn off SH4 to take the Whanganui River Road.
This scenically more beautiful route is winding and slow, allow 2 hours (including stops) as the last 35 kilometres are unsealed and narrow. Highlights along the Whanganui River Road include :
Just after Parikino the road cuts through the fossilized Oyster Shell Bluff.
The Maori marae in Koriniti welcomes visitors. No charge, however koha (or a donation) is always appreciated.
The Kawana Flour Mill is fully restored and well worth the short walk from the road.
The much photographed Hiruharama village was formally known as Jeruselum when a Catholic mission was set up here in the late 1800s. The church and mission still remains to this day.
Stop at the Omorehu Waterfall Lookout for some more fine views of the river.
In Pipiriki, wander down to the wharf where the yellow/blue Bridge to Nowhere Jet-boat will pick you up anywhere between 10:30am and 11am. Joe will be along shortly to transport you to his farm further upstream deep (deep, deep) into the Whanganui National Park. There aren’t any roads, so the river is the only means of transport. The river has the title of 'longest navigatable river' in New Zealand - I would like to bestow it with the title of 'most beautiful river' in New Zealand as well! The steep sided gorges are just awe-inspiring to say the least, with rapids and bush clad hills to make the trip incredible. Additional stops include all the film locations of the recently released River Queen.
After dropping your bags off at the farmhouse (Bridge to Nowhere Lodge), he will take you further upstream for a 40 minute easy bush walk into the Valley of Abandoned Dreams where you eventually emerge onto the Bridge to Nowhere (hence the name). There is also the opportunity to kayak back to the lodge after your walk. This is a farm-stay experience with a difference far away from civilization in a farmhouse with wrap around decks, offering fabulous views of bush clad hills and the stunning river.
Day 44 Pipiriki - National Park
The jet-boat will return you to Pipiriki around 11am – continue on the Whanganui River Road to Raehiti (the first 12 kilometres are unsealed) and turn left onto SH4 north to National Park.
National Park Village is the gateway to the Tongariro National Park. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s top full day walks (for tomorrow maybe) and the 42 Traverse is a popular mountain bike trail. 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 - transport from your accommodation 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. Tongariro National Park was gifted to the New Zealand people in 1887 by the Ngati Tuwaretoa tribe and is now a World Heritage area.
Day 45 Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Today is dedicated to exploring the Tongariro National Park. Even if you're not doing the full-day hike you should head up the mountain for a look and/or short walk. Take SH47 north for 7 kilometres then 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 Mt Ngauruhoe provided the backdrop as Mt Doom steaming away. It doesn’t usually steam, but Mount Ruapehu did erupt as recently as 1995.
Return down the mountain and to National Park, then turn right towards Taumaranui. Seven kilometres north of the National Park Village, train buffs can check out the impressive Raurimu Spiral from the viewing platform. The track rises by means of a complete circle, three horseshoe curves and two tunnels. Alternatively, check out the working model at the Taumarunui tourist office.
Tonight stay in the delightful town of Taumaranui, 43 kilometres north of National Park .The Gallery Cafe at the northern end of town is recommended, or for gourmet burgers try the Train Spotters Cafe in the train carriage at the southern end.
Day 46 Taumaranui - Waitomo
Option 1:- 100kms. Continue north on SH4 to Te Kuiti, the shearing capital of the world, proudly depicted in the statue on this intersection.
Option 2:- 230kms via the Mount Damper Falls, White Cliffs of Taranaki, the spectacular Awakino Gorge and Mangotaki Valley.
Travel west on the Forgotten World Highway 43, certainly a step back in time. Please note that fuel, food or refreshment stops are a scarcity for the next 120 kilometres!
34kms – At the top of the hill look for the sign to Nevin’s Lookout, for panoramic views of the King Country and the mountains. Just after Tatu the landscape turns prehistoric through the Tangarakau Gorge. Coal was mined at several locations in the gorge - small pockets of coal can still be found adjacent to the gorge sign.
65kms – At the bottom of the hill, turn right onto the Okau Road. About 20 minutes along this road you will find the Mount Damper Falls, at 78 metres they are the 2nd highest in New Zealand. The short walkway is well sign posted - climb over the stile and take the formed track beside the creek and over open farmland. After 10 minutes you will cross a swing bridge, where the bush starts. Descend with care (the path has a slippery clay base) towards the bottom which will take another 10 minutes. Toilets are available at the car-park. After returning to your car, continue the same way to Okau and Ahititi.
108kms – At the Ahititi junction, turn right to Tongaporutu and rejoin SH3. Movie buffs may be interested to know that many of The Last Samurai’s scenes were filmed near here, with the perfect volcano of Mount Taranaki cleverly filling in for Japan’s Mount Fujiyama. At the mouth of the Tongaporutu River there is a walkway via the muddy riverbed (only at low tide) to the northern start of the White Cliffs Coastal Walkway (9.5kms one way), or you can just walk to the beginning where you will find various caves, arches and rock towers – however the walk is VERY muddy. My advice is to drive across the river and take the first road on the left towards the cemetery. There is parking at the end where you can then climb over the stile for a short walk across accessible land to the headland. From here there is a wonderful view of the impressive White Cliffs, with the Three Sisters in the foreground and Mount Taranaki in the background. The dormant volcano last erupted as recently as 350 years ago and once had a twin peak, which shattered in a cataclysmic explosion centuries before.
130kms – Just after you cross the Mokau River, you will find the River Run Café, famous for their whitebait fritters, excellent coffees and lots of other yummy food. Either way, it is an excellent refreshment stop, as the choices are rather limited between Mokau and Waitomo, one hundred kilometres from here. Whitebait is a New Zealand delicacy. The tiny fish (complete with eyes) are mixed with egg and pan-fried, but as they are caught by hand with a huge net, they are expensive – but delectably delicious!
After Mokau, the SH3 takes you through the dramatic Awakino Gorge, followed by the even more spectacular Mangaotaki Valley. Here you can find the Mahoenui Giant Weta, the world’s largest insect, but unfortunately also one of the most endangered species in the world. They only live in this area, in a 180 ha. patch of gorse – the only legally protected gorse in New Zealand. Everywhere else the introduced gorse is an agricultural pest. 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 insect and they DO NOT bite. On the main street in Te Kuiti, opposite the Mobil petrol station there are beautiful statues of these endangered species.
209kms – Cross over the railway tracks and turn left at the roundabout. SH3 meets SH30 in Te Kuiti, the shearing capital of the world! The town comes alive in April when the annual sheep shearing championships take place.
221kms –Turn left to the Waitomo Caves. The caves entrance themselves are 500m past the village centre. This is the main tourist attraction in the area which attracts tourists by the bus load. That is why I recommend you go with another company tomorrow morning which is more eco-friendly taking small groups only.
Your adventure takes you through farmland to a secret opening in the ground. Descending is not difficult, but it is an adventure that will leave you Spellbound. Floating silently in a boat in pitch darkness under thousands of glow worms – it really is quite a surreal experience and the best glow worm display I have seen in the world. The Waitomo Caves are part of a karst system that was once the seabed 30 million years ago. The caves’ stalactites and stalagmites are also impressive.
Day 47 Waitomo - Auckland 235kms
After your morning excursion, head east again, back to SH3. Turn left (north) direction Hamilton.
Otorohanga is a pretty country town, proud to display everything that is uniquely New Zealand – this is the place to try pavlova, kiwifruit jam and carrot cake. Otorohanga is also famous for its Kiwi House. If you haven’t seen a live cute fluffy Kiwi yet, then take the Kiwi House Tourist Drive just through the village centre. The loop road will bring you to the car-park after 1.5kms. The Kiwi House has the nocturnal kiwis on display in the night room, plus there is an interesting ½ hour walk, which includes a "walk through aviary" full of native birds, plus the rare endemic Tuatara lizard.
Continue on the loop road back to Otorohanga village, turn left onto SH3 to Hamilton and then north to Auckland.
Another possible stop is the Battle Site Heritage Centre in the small village of Rangiriri. Here you can view and audio-visual presentation about Maori warrior's heroic stand in 1863.
Voilà, there you have it, my ultimate tour incorporating all of my favourites. Now you can really say I have seen New Zealand! I hope you have enjoyed your tour through this truly amazing country.
We know New Zealand - we live here!