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New Zealand is a prime family holiday destination, especially if you're interested in discovering the Great Outdoors with your children. We have fantastic walks, great weather, affordable accommodation, numerous activities, beautiful scenery and exotic birdlife. This itinerary pays particular attention to keeping your children entertained with family-orientated accommodation and routings designed for minimal driving time, with a superb mixture of sightseeing and play/adventure time. 

This itinerary explores some of the highlights in New Zealand including wildlife and beaches. If you are a family that would like a unique itinerary drafted to suit your individual interests, feel free to contact us - we will gladly assist you in planning that perfect vacation.


Family Self-Drive Holiday

Duration :  9 nights / 10 days  
Activities include : beaches, outdoor adventure, sightseeing, water sports, short walks 
Notes : North Island only - see below for the 11 day South Island sample itinerary

Itinerary through the North Island

A ten day self-drive tour of the North Island created specially for people travelling with children. New Zealand is fast becoming a popular family destination as there is a wealth of attractions all within a short distance of each other. Be sure to let me know the ages of your children, so that I can adjust the itinerary accordingly. See Money Matters  for an indication of price.
Remember this is just a sample. Also, those travelling with families in New Zealand should check out this website for nearby playgrounds: 
Day 1 Arrive 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.

Suggested activities: 
  • The Waterfront is where you can find the extremely informative Maritime Museum - the displays are chronological, so you begin with the Maori migration across the seas then step back in time on board a European immigrant's ship and finally appreciate New Zealand's proud yachting history including the Whitbread Round the World race and of course the America's Cup.
  • Wander up to the Sky Tower - admire the view, climb the mast, bungee jump from the tower or just have dinner in the revolving restaurant.
  • The trendy shops of Parnell are housed in some of Auckland’s oldest latticed fronted buildings on tiny brick-paved lanes.
  • Kelly Tarlton was the inventor of the undersea walkway where you can view the fish from below without getting wet - the Antarctic Encounter and Penguin Encounter here are worth visiting on their own.
  • Hire bikes from in front of the Maritime Museum and cycle your way to Kelly Tarlton's along the picturesque and safe Tamaki Drive. 
Day 2 Auckland - Auckland

Today I suggest a day-trip around the outskirts of Auckland - it is possible to have your very own Amazing New Zealand chauffeur to guide you to our favourite spots. Head north over the Harbour Bridge to pretty Orewa Beach and Wenderholm Regional Park on the tranquil east coast, followed by morning tea in the original Bohemian settlement of Puhoi. You then drive inland past wineries and orchards to the wild black-sand beaches of the west coast. The gannet colony at Muriwai is a must see as not only will the cute chicks and the flying skills of the adults keep you mesmerized, but the sweeping views along the surfing beaches north will certainly blow any jet-lag away.

Heading south again lunch can be enjoyed at the Bees Online cafe where many honey orientated products are on sale, or wine lovers should take advantage of having a chauffeur and dine in a restaurant under the vines of a world class winery. After lunch I recommend a walk in the lush bush of the Waitakere Ranges to a secluded waterfall or along a deserted beach, such as the one made famous in Jane Campion's movie The Piano.

Return to Auckland along the Scenic Drive and take a ferry ride to the old suburb of Devonport - Auckland is known as the City of Sails, so a venture out onto the water is an essential part of visiting this city. Wander up North Head for awesome views of the city and our youngest dormant volcano Rangitoto Island. For a late afternoon swim in our clean, clear and safe harbour you can wander down the steps to beautiful Cheltenham Beach. On your return to the Ferry Building enjoy the sunset and dinner on the Waterfront.

Alternatively you can catch the ferry to Tiritiri Island - a bird sanctuary slowly regenerating with native bush. You can also visit Rangitoto Island - either by kayak or by ferry. Once there you can wander up the volcanic rock-strewn path to the summit.

Day 3 Auckland - Hahei 270kms

Head south (direction Hamilton) on SH1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 4 Hahei 

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

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

  • Walk the coastal track which starts on the northern end of Hahei Beach. The views are excellent and it will take you about 1 hour to reach the cove itself.
  • Drive up to the car-park via Grange Road, then walk 45 minutes to the cove.
  • Take the Hahei sight seeing boat, departing 10am (no time at the beach).
  • Or my recommendation is to join the sea kayaking tour departing at 9am. A 3 hour truly kiwi experience, includes top quality kayaks and gear, tuition and even a coffee brewed for you on the beach while you take a swim. You can order which ever style – Cappuccino, Mochachino, even an L Baccino (long black). Sea kayaking is a "must do" in New Zealand, and this is one of the most beautiful places to try it.
Day 5 Hahei - Hobbiton - Rotorua 268kms

Today’s drive takes you south to Rotorua, actual driving time to Hobbiton is just under 3 hours, plus the suggested stops, so I would depart by 9am today. One mistake visitors to New Zealand make is under estimating how long it takes to drive – 250kms in New Zealand is not the same as driving 250kms on motorways, as you have probably already noticed!

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

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

63kms - Whangamata Beach is over 4kms long and is popular for swimming and surfing. Drive through town (which is less winding than following the official SH2 signs) and the beach is certainly worth checking out.

93kms – Waihi once had 1200 mines producing half of the country’s gold. There is only one mine left now, the massive Martha’s Mine – a huge open cut mine right in the middle of town. On the SH2 intersection, turn right to Town Centre, then at the roundabout go right and drive up through the shops and park by the information centre (i-Site). Walk up the steps to view the impressive mine from above….if you walk uphill along the fence there is an impressive Maori warrior statue worth seeing – it is amongst the plants, plus the views over the town are quite lovely. The i-Site has an informative display about the mine.

Return to the roundabout and go straight and follow SH2 west (direction Auckland and not Tauranga) which takes you through the pretty Karangahake Gorge. Paeroa is world famous, in New Zealand, for their soft drink… must stop and try a can of Lemon and Paeroa.

114kms - Just before the Paeroa shops, turn left and cross over the river and follow SH26 south to Te Aroha. Drive another 14 kilometres on SH26, when you reach SH27 turn left at the large roundabout and drive south – you should have the Kaimai Ranges on your left.

177kms – In Matamata continue straight at the roundabout and soon after when SH27 takes a sharp left to go over the railway tracks, you should continue straight and stay on Firth Street. Drive 10 kilometres and turn right onto Puketutu Road (just before the SH29 intersection) and follow the signs to Hobbiton on Buckland Road.

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

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

After your tour, return along Buckland and Puketutu Roads and at the end turn right then immediately left onto SH29. Drive east for 4 kilometres then turn right onto SH27 to Tirau

214kms – On reaching SH1, turn left into Tirau - the town has a bit of a love affair with corrugated iron, there are quite a few other imaginative signs right the way along the main road, including a giant corrugated iron sheepdog housing the tourist office and a giant sheepdog next door which houses the Big Sheep Wool Gallery. Other tourist shops worth at least a peek at are the Jade Factory - they specialize in Maori Koru necklaces. Or for something really unique try the Natures Touch Gallery.

Change to SH5 two kilometres further at the new roundabout. You will soon encounter the unusual terrain of the Mamaku District where mini volcanic cones dot the landscape, some showing their solidified lava core.

268kms - You will probably smell Rotorua before you see it, as the area is still active with sulphur escaping from the earth’s crust (think rotten eggs). Don’t worry, you will get used to the smell. The city lies on a beautiful lake, actually a flooded volcanic crater - the surrounding hills are the remains of the rim of the giant volcano. Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so volcanic activity is part of the city’s past and present.

Day 6 Rotorua

Rotorua has become New Zealand’s second largest tourist centre – so 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: 

  • 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.
  • The tranquil Hamurana Springs are well worth a visit! A short peaceful 1 hour loop track will take you via a beautiful clear fresh water spring that attracts abundant birdlife. The spring is 15 metres deep and produces 4 million litres of fresh water per hour! And the Redwood Trees here are worth the visit on their own!
  • Kuirau Park has the largest display of steam and mud pools….and it’s free! An eruption took place here as recently as 2001 when mud, steam and debris were thrown 200m into the air. Springs regularly just appear, resulting in families being forced to move and the land having to be given back to nature.
  • Visit the beautiful (and steaming) Edwardian styled Government Gardens and the Rotorua Museum of Arts & History.
  •  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!
  • This evening you could visit Hells Gate - the ‘Twilight Spa’ is open until 10pm for evening bathing under the stars! Here you can enjoy a unique New Zealand experience by taking a Mud Bath, they say its like playing in silk! You can then soak in the sulphur pools NB remove all jewelry, or the sulphur will turn it green!
  • 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! 
  • Hire a mountain bike at the top of the Skyline Gondola…the Gravity Park gives riders easy access to a 10.5 kilometre trail network with varying terrain, the Skyline Gondola will then return you to the top!
  • Check out the Redwoods Treewalk – the half kilometer long walkway consists of 21 suspension bridges traversing the gaps between the majestic 110 year old Redwood trees. 
  • Visit Rainbow Springs and try out the Big Splash ride… keeping with the park's conservation theme, the nine-minute long journey through time that features an informative narrative, state-of-the-art animation bringing to life Dinosaurs, Moa and the Haast Eagle and an adrenalin boosting plunge at the end.
  • Visit the Kiwi Hatchery at Rainbow Springs for an informative behind-the-scenes tour about saving our endangered birds.
  • Next door is the OGO where you get to roll down a hill in a giant plastic balls called Zorbs (dry or wet options available).
  • The Orbserver is a tethered balloon offering 10-20 minute balloon flights for only $49pp….they are easy to find just north of the Gondola, Rainbow Springs & OGO.
  • The Agrodomes principle attraction is the Sheep Show, a highly entertaining explanation of sheep, and the caring of said sheep – the mainstay of New Zealand’s exports. There is also a farm visit (with lots of animals that love to be petted) & orchard tour (including Kiwifruit) that you can add-on to your visit.
  • The adventurous should try the 3 hour Canopy Tour through the native New Zealand forest while suspended up to 22 metres high amongst ancient trees as you travel between the 10 platforms on 6 Ziplines and 2 swing bridges. 
  • Enjoy a Maori Cultural Performance at Te Puia. The 45 minute show allows you to experience the sense of inclusion and warmth offered by Maori to their guests, starting with the Powhiri (ceremonial welcome), action songs, stick games and the famous Haka. You will then be taken on a guided walk of the reserve which includes a Kiwi House and the famous 30 metre Pohutu Geyser.
  • Head to the Velocity Valley near the Agrodome - attractions onsite invented by enterprising New Zealanders include Swooping (a glorified swing), Bungy (jump from a massive height with an elastic cord tied to your ankles), the pedal-powered Shweeb Racers, plus the Agrojet (a zippy little jet-boat that can reach massive speeds). 
Day 7 Rotorua - Turangi 230kms

From Rotorua continue 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!

Follow the Loop Road to the main attraction Wai-o-tapu Thermal Park, 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 all the way to the green lake of Ngakoro, with great views en route of the blue lake Whangi-o-terangi, meaning `colour of the sky’. The track is uneven at times so you need walking shoes.

Afterwards, take a dip where the hot and cold rivers merge, 300 meters further along the Loop Road, by the bridge. Great in hot or cold weather. Follow the shingle path down to enter on the right, the left side can be a bit hot at times. Continue on this road back to SH5 and turn left.

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

  • If you first go left, you will come to the freshwater Prawn Park, apparently the world’s only geothermal prawn farm. Informative tours leaves every 30 minutes. Look out for Horse, he measures a whopping 70 centimetres, making him the largest prawn to be raised. After the tour you are encouraged to munch out in the Riverside Restaurant. The restaurant's lawn sweeps down to the river, from which the children can feed the ducks and watch the jet-boats doing their 360° spins.
  • The Activity Centre is well worth a stop. You are in the middle of one of the most active volcanic spots in the world, so it’s good to know what lies beneath your feet. There are hands on interpretive displays of local volcanoes, up to the second earthquake Richter scale readings, even a room where you can experience a simulated earthquake.
  • The 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 free attraction called the Craters of the Moon volcanic reserve, that is if you’re not all ‘thermalled out’ yet. To reach the reserve after visiting the falls, return up the hill to highway intersection and cross straight over. Follow the road for 1½ kilometres to the car-park. From here a 40 minute stroll along a boardwalk will take you through steamy billowing clouds and hissing escaping gases – you really do feel as if you’re walking on the moon.

Return to SH1/SH5, go right to Taupo. After 4 kilometres turn left for the lookout over the huge Lake Taupo. It was created in one giant explosion and is the world’s largest volcanic crater. The ash cloud floated all over the world - ice samples from as far apart as Antarctica and Alaska have determined the explosion to have occurred in 186AD. The effects of the ash were even recorded in China and Rome. You can gather your own free volcanic souvenir from the shoreline in the form of very light pumice stones (great for cleaning off rough skin) which were spewed out in that eruption. Just about everywhere you look in the Lake Taupo region, you'll see a volcano. The mountains to the south of the lake are popular for skiing in the winter and walking in the summer. Return to the highway and go left into Taupo where you will find most of the eating establishments – I suggest dinner here before continuing on to Turangi at the southern end of the lake.

There is also the possibility to try tandem skydiving this afternoon – Taupo is the best place in New Zealand to try this as the mountain air is so clear that you can see for miles!

There is another 15-minute walk I'd like to recommend if you have time, departing from the Tokaanu Mud Pools, 5 kilometres northwest of Turangi. The track wanders along spongy paths with plopping mud-pools and swirling steam to accompany you through this mysterious geological world. The Maori have used these springs for cooking and bathing in the curative warm waters for more than 500 years.

Day 8 Turangi - Tongariro National Park - Turangi 

This morning is dedicated to exploring a little more of the Tongariro National Park. 

This morning I reccomend heading to the Rafting New Zealand office in Turangi for the White Water Rafting on the legendary Tongariro River. In 2 hours you navigate over 60 roller coaster rapids interspersed with leisurely drifts of slower water so you can enjoy the beautiful wilderness scenery as well. Watch for Rainbow trout in the crystal clear pools and the rare “whio” blue duck (they don’t quack, they whistle) hiding out in the breathtaking gorges…this is a very special place! This trip is designed for the novice rafter who enjoys fun and excitement without the steep drops experienced on the Grade 5 rivers - a wonderful way to get “close to nature”. There is also a moderate 'Family Float' excrusion for those with younger children. 

This afternoon you have free – however I recommend a scenic drive to explore the Tongarioro National Park. Turn right after the Turangi Service Station then soon afterwards turn left onto SH47, direction National Park. The road crosses a high plateau which experiences mountainous weather conditions as it skirt the three volcanoes of Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. The three make up the Tongariro National Park - Peter Jackson used the area extensively as Middle Earth scenery in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, with Mount Ngauruhoe as Mt Doom, surrounded by the rocky grounds of Mordor. Tongariro National Park was gifted to the New Zealand people in 1887 by the Ngati Tuwaretoa tribe and is now a World Heritage area. Many visit the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in winter, a popular skiing location. It erupted as recently as 1998. And Tongariro had a little ‘hissy fit’ in 2012!

50kms – Turn left at the Whakapapa Ski-field sign. There is a lovely little 20 minute walk that I always do to the Tawhai Falls, where the tree-lined river tumbles over a ledge of lava into a rock pool below.

Another great walk is the 2 hour hike to the Taranaki Falls which starts and ends by the nearby Skotel. And/or drive to the top and take the Whakapapa ski field Chairlift to the top where you can eat at New Zealand’s highest café, Knoll Ridge Café!

Return to Turangi the way you came for about 20 kilometres, then turn right onto SH46 to return to Turangi a different way.

Day 9 Turangi - Waitomo 160kms

Return down the mountain and turn left to National Park. At the T intersection, turn right onto SH4 which will take you north to Taumaranui and Te Kuiti. If you are a train buff, you can check out the impressive Raurimu Spiral model at the Taumarunui Tourist Office. The track rises by means of a complete circle, three horseshoe curves and two tunnels.

140kms – Te Kuiti is the shearing capital of the world. The town comes alive in April when the annual sheep shearing championships take place. As you come down the hill, cross over the railway tracks and then turn left and continue north via the shops (the cafes are better at Waitomo).

On the main street in Te Kuiti, opposite the Mobil petrol station there are beautiful statues of 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 one 180ha area of gorse near here – the only legally protected gorse in New Zealand. Everywhere else the introduced gorse is an agricultural pest. Giant 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. Continue north on SH3.

152kms - Turn left, direction Waitomo CavesThe main tourist attraction in the area is 500 metres past the village, but it attracts all the bus loads of tourists. That is why I would reccomend you go with another company which is more eco-friendly with small groups only departing from the Spellbound Tower.

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 is really 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 fairly impressive, especially in the Aranui Cave.

After your adventure you could go for a walk – try the 45 minute Ruakuri Walkway which is well signposted off Tumutumu Road (pickup a map from the Waitomo Museum). There is a well-constructed track which passes through picturesque rain forest and limestone landscape with excellent views of the Ruakuri Natural Tunnel, a remnant cave. Look for the Weta in the cave…..remember these do not bite and are protected! NB the Huhu Café by the Spellbound Tower is highly recommended for dinner.

Day 10 Waitomo - Hamilton - Auckland 200kms

From Waitomo, head east again on SH37 back to SH3. Turn left to Otorohanga, a pretty country town which 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 and follow SH3 north.

46kms – Te Awamutu’s rose gardens are worth a stop at! Continue north to Hamilton, New Zealand’s 4th largest city.

73kms - The next city is Hamilton – the mighty Waikato River (New Zealand’s longest river) flows through the middle of the city! The most famous attraction here are the impressive Hamilton Gardens, located on SH1 just to the south of the city centre (turn right on reaching SH1 instead of turning left to Auckland). They just won the coveted ‘best garden in the world’ award!

Follow SH1 north to Auckland.

I hope you enjoyed your whirlwind tour of our North Island - if you'd like to visit the South Island as well then drive directly to Auckland Domestic Airport and catch an internal flight to Christchurch.


Itinerary through the South Island

The following is an eleven day self-drive tour of the South Island created specially for people travelling with children. New Zealand is fast becoming a popular family destination as there is a wealth of attractions all within a short distance of each other. Be sure to let me know the ages of your children, so that I can adjust the itinerary accordingly. See Money Matters for an indication of price. Remember this is just a sample.

Day 1 Arrive Christchurch

If you are just arriving in New Zealand and using Amazing New Zealand services, you will be personally met at the airport by our friendly professional representative and taken to your accommodation in Christchurch (see Day 1 of the North Island).

Arriving by air gives you a wonderful overview of the area - sea to the east, a carefully laid out city bordered by the Port Hills to the south-east, then an expanse of patch-work fields ringed by perfectly manicured wind-breaks that stretch all the way to the Southern Alps.....ask for a window seat on the right side of the plane!

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 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 2 Christchurch - Akaroa - Christchurch 180kms

Today's short drive explores the Banks Peninsula created over nine million years of fiery volcanic activity. Akaroa Harbour and Lyttleton 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 hour driving without suggested stops).

50kms - 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.

Possible stops en route include Little River Craft and Gallery (56 kilometres) and Barry's Bay Cheese Factory (73 kilometres) for cheese tastings. Lunch at French Farm is also highly recommended, depending on what time you left.

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 very rare Hector’s Dolphin. These are the only dolphins endemic to New Zealand, with the majority of them using this sheltered harbour as their home. It is a beautiful and privileged experience to be able to swim with these friendly and inquisitive mammals.

I can recommend the scenic route back to Christchurch via the beautiful but winding road along the crater rim, offering stunning views along the way – access to the Summit Road is one kilometre back, direction Eastern Bays. This Tourist Drive has to be THE most scenic route in the whole world, the views down both sides really are spectacular!

122kms - Back at the Top of the Hill Cafe turn right and head back towards Christchurch for 37 kilometres. At the Blue Duck Cafe you have the opportunity to turn right to return to Christchurch via the Lyttleton Harbour - the second of the craters that make up the Banks Peninsula. After passing over the Gebbies Pass, turn left to Governors Bay and Lyttleton.

184kms - At the roundabout, you can either return to Christchurch via the Lyttleton Tunnel, or my recommendation is to go straight. If you think you can handle just a little more awesome scenery then continue to the shops, go left and take the first right onto the Sumner Road. This will take you over the even more dramatic (low) Evan's Pass to Sumner. This is one of Christchurch's best beaches - how about fish&chips wrapped in paper (New Zealand style) on the beach watching the sunset? Or a gourmet pizza at the Duck Cafe followed by a film in the little local cinema, before returning to the city via the pretty Heathcote Estuary. Or, head for Nicholson Park on Taylors Mistake Road where the swings have the best view in the world!

Day 3 Christchurch - Tekapo 226kms

Follow SH1 through Ashburton and soon after passing over the Rangitata River, turn right onto SH79, direction Geraldine and Fairlie

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, tractors and aircraft

·         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

182kms - 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) plus the longest glacier Tasman and sparkling turquoise glacial lakes below the Southern Alps - and it bears little resemblance to anywhere else in New Zealand.

225kms – 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. This evening you could join the tour to the observatory!

Tekapo is also home to the new Winter Park – here you can try ice-skating, curling and snow-tubing! This evening, you can enjoy a hot soak under the stars in the hot pools at the Alpine Spring & Spa (closes 9pm).

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. 

Day 4 Tekapo - Mount Cook National Park - Tekapo
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.
This morning 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.  
  • 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 5 Tekapo - Wanaka 156kms

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

124kms - Just after Tarras, turn right onto SH8A to Wanaka. The tranquil lake has picture-perfect mountains as a backdrop and is one of my favourite places in New Zealand!

156kms - 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 several options available here as well, ideally you should stay here an extra day:
  • 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 to the face of the glacier. For a shorter walk, try the 2,5 hour Roaring Meg's Pack Track. 
  • Wanaka is also the best place to try tandem sky-diving!
  • Or how about a 4x4 quad bike tour on a sheep farm with great views.
  • Trout fishing and skiing are the locals other favourites.
  • At the northern reaches of Lake Wanaka in a little place called Makaroa you can try the Siberia Experience of 3 thrills – fly into the Mt Aspiring National Park (the Misty Mountains in LOTR), hike/tramp over the hill to the river and jet-boat back out. Wow!
  • Glendhu Bay is a sheltered and picturesque bay, particularly in autumn when the exotic trees provide rich colour for your postcard perfect photo of the mountains behind. Just beyond is a road leading to a popular swimming area in the spectacular Motatapu Gorge.
  • Visit the incredible Puzzling Maze – fun for young and old!
  • Take to the skies in vintage Tiger Moths to a remote location at one of the high country stations (farms) overlooking Lake Wanaka where you will be served a romantic picnic for two.
  • Mountain-bike along the lakefront.

Day 6 Wanaka - Te Anau 270kms 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 7 Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau 

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

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

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

There is parking available 10 minutes walk from the Visitor Terminal. Don't forget the insect repellent as the sand-flies are not only a menace, but practically man-eating! Plus a rain coat - the area receives 12,000mm of rain per year per square metre - so chances are high that you will see rain!

120kms - Milford Sound is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world - wet or fine Milford is incredibly grand. The awesome Nature Cruise on the fiord includes countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of metres down sheer cliffs, mountains rising straight out of the sea, fur seals and (usually) dolphins. Mitre Peak magnetises photographers, as does the cascading Bowen and Stirling Falls.  A 'Sound' is a flooded river valley, but these are flooded glacial valleys with sheer sided walls that plunge hundreds of metres under water as well as above - so they are misnamed. The Maori believe the fiords were created by the titanic mason Tute Rakiwhanoa, who used an adze to cut out the steep sided walls and gullies.

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

Day 8 Te Anau - Queenstown 206kms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 9 & 10 Queenstown 

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

  • Start your day with a Sunrise Balloon flight.
  • Visit the Underwater World Observatory on the pier, where trout and eels are visible in the clear waters of the lake; they live freely in the lake however as they are fed they like to hang out here. The cutest part is seeing the ducks diving for the food. Beside the pier are marks showing the level to which the lake rose in the floods of 1878 and 1983.
  • Take the Skyline Gondola for awesome views! There are various activities you can do up here such as riding the down-hill Luge, descending to the bottom by Zip-linesmountain-biking or Bungy-jumping!
  • Have a leisurely lunch at one of the wineries – the Amisfield Bistro & Winery on the corner of the Lake Hayes-Arrowtown turnoff is highly recommended! As it is a favourite with Queenstown locals, call ahead on 03 442 0556 to book a table! If you are feeling guilty then why not go for a walk around Lake Hayes before your meal!
  • Take the plunge and try a bungee jump, or just have fun watching others do it
  • Learn to fly-fish in the trout infested lakes and rivers
  • Visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park near the gondola, the park spreads for over 2 acres and you need to allow about 2.5 hours to see everything!
  • Hire bikes from Around the Basin Cycle Adventures at 23 Brecon Street and follow the Queenstown Cycle Trail on purpose built cycle-ways through the Wakatipu Basin, past 2 lakes, three river gorges, historic Arrowtown and even the wine area of Gibbston Valley if you are feeling energetic. Choose either Guided or Supported (self-guided) tours, both offer a free shuttle back if you need it!
  • Or cycle along the lakefront track to Frankton, turn right and continue along the lakefront to the Hilton and then if you wish, you can even go as far as the Kelvin Heights Golf Club or Yacht Club or the Bay View Reserve and catch the water-taxi back across to Queenstown ($10pp) – call Queenstown Water-taxis on 03 441 1124 to request a pickup and to check on times.
  • Play golf on one of the most magically located courses in the world
  • Head to the Onsen Hot Pools at Arthurs Point. Each booking receives a private cedar-lined private pool, each with push-button retractable walls and ceiling so you can enjoy the dramatic scenery as you soak on the edge of the cliff overlooking the spectacular Shotover River – worth the 10 minute drive on its own! Call 0508 869463 to book.
  • For drinks, McNeill’s Cottage Brewery where there is a nice mix of heritage and atmosphere, plus fine home brewed ales; or The Sundeck Rooftop Lounge Bar on top of The Bunker at 14 Cow Lane is the newest bar in town and has incredible views!
  • For dining, the Madam Woo (Asian Restaurant) on Mall Street has funky décor and funky food; or Rata Restaurant is located in Te Nuku at 43 Ballarat Street and is Josh Emett’s (Michelin star chef and Masterchef judge) latest Queenstown venture; for a special dinner treat, try the Prime Restaurant & Bar on the waterfront of Queenstown Bay (the entrance is #2 Rees Street, above Sunglass Hut)…..if it is stunning weather then ask for a table on the upstairs balcony overlooking the lake.
Day 11 Queenstown….international flight home 

Whew, what a vacation! Not really everything in New Zealand, but our main attractions. If your flight back to Auckland or to Australia is in the afternoon then you will have time to enjoy a bit more of the area. Please contact me at if you would like me to reserve this incredible vacation for you and your family.


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