Amazing scenery equals amazing film locations. New Zealand is being chosen time and time again by big budget film producers for her awesome variety of scenery. This itinerary introduces you to many of those magic locations as a theme to visiting New Zealand, as chances are it was a film that first brought our amazing country to your attention. However we can't resist including a few other attractions in this itinerary, yet to be discovered by the cinema world.
If you would like a unique itinerary drafted to include any additional interests, feel free to contact us - we will gladly assist you in planning that perfect vacation.
Duration : 27 nights/28 days.
Activities include : Beaches, Outdoor Adventure, Sight-seeing, Short Walks.
Notes : North Island and South Island
Lord of the Rings
The Last Samurai
Lord of the Rings
|Day 1 Arrive in Auckland
All travelllers using Amazing New Zealand services are personally met at the airport by our friendly professional representative
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 :-
Day 2 Auckland - Auckland
The Waterfront has many of Auckland’s attractions and is bustling with restaurants and cafés.
Wander up to the Sky Tower - admire the view, do the Skywalk, bungee jump from the tower or just have dinner in the revolving restaurant.
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.
Today I suggest a day-trip around the outskirts of Auckland
- it is also 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.
We 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. The forests around Muriwai
was used extensively for filming The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
scenes. Drive down Rimmer Road
and into the forest to find the camp of Jadis the White Witch of Narnia.
Some of the beach scenes for The World's Fastest Indian
were also filmed here. It featured Anthony Hopkins as the New Zealand motorcycle enthusiast Burt Munro, from Invercargill.
If you have time to reach the very south of the South Island, then visit Oreti Beach
where Burt Munro proved his speed and racing skills against the local lads.
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. Karekare is a favourite with the locals, for swimming and for walking through the Pohutakawa Grove. Several episodes of Xena : Warrior Princess were also filmed here.
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. Take the tour or wander up under your own steam to 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.
Day 3 Auckland - Rotorua 235kms
Follow SH1 south. Change onto SH2 at 53 kilometres direction Coromandel Peninsula and change again at 90 kilometres onto SH27 direction Rotorua.
164kms –In Matamata continue straight at the roundabout and then 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.
180kms – Lunch at the Shire’s Rest is highly recommended with the stunning views across the farmland to the Kaimai Ranges in the distance. 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.
You should take the Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour while you are here. You will be taken on a farm tour where you can visit the rebuilt Hobbiton village set from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hobbit movies in a fascinating two-hour guided 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.
200kms – At the Tirau turn left onto SH1, it is hard to miss with the giant corrugated iron sheepdog housing the tourist office and a giant sheep next door which houses the Big Sheep Wool Gallery. Other tourist shops worth at least a peek at are the Funky Gift Shop which has some, well, funky souvenirs, the Jade Factory next door specializes in Maori Koru necklaces. For something really unique try the Natures Touch Gallery. 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. Change to SH5 two kilometres further. You will soon encounter the unusual terrain of the Mamaku District where mini volcanic cones dot the landscape, some showing their solidified lava core.
244kms - The Agrodome’s principle attraction here is the Sheep Show, a highly entertaining explanation of sheep and the farming of said sheep – the mainstay of New Zealand’s exports. Other attractions invented by enterprising New Zealanders on site include Zorbing (rolling down a hill in a giant plastic ball), Swooping (a glorified swing), bungee jumping (jump from a massive height with an elastic cord tied to your ankles), farm tour (on the back of a tractor) and jet-boating (the art of speeding in a tiny boat over very little water).
254kms – As you come into Rotorua, follow the city centre signs. The Kuirau Park will give you your first taste (or I should say smell) of the volcanic area around the city. The area is still very active with sulphur escaping from the earth’s crust (think rotten eggs). Don’t worry, you will get used to the smell. Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so volcanic activity is part of the city’s past and present.
Rotorua 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 plus all that is thermal, then my stay would go something like this:-
Suggested activities :-
Kuirau Park has the largest display of steam and mud pools. An eruption took place here as recently as January 26th 2001 when mud, steam and debris were thrown 200m into the air. Springs regularly just appear, resulting in families being forced to move and the land having to be given back to nature.
Wander around the original Maori settlement at Ohinemutu. The church is worth a look at, as is the Marae (Maori meeting house) across the courtyard. Wander the tiny streets where everyone has their own private hot-water bore to fill their bath in the out-shed, just follow the steam and stay on the paths!
If you have time, soak in the reputedly therapeutic thermal pools at the Polynesian Spa, a delightful but busy public pool. If you wait until tomorrow morning the spa is less crowded. It is a wonderful way to start the day - relaxing with stunning views across the lake.
The excitement junkies can take the Gondola up Mount Ngongotaha for awesome views, interspersed with hair raising rides on a luge (3 levels available, so suitable for children).
This evening don’t miss the excellent Tamaki Brothers cultural show followed by a traditional Hangi (earthen cooked meal). Pickups from your accommodation in a waka (war canoe) cleverly disguised as a bus, followed by a fun evening superbly hosted and entertained by local Maori.
Day 4 Rotorua - Waihau Bay 226kms
The SH30 skirts Lake Rotorua, Lake Rotoiti, Lake Rotoma and Lake Rotoehu which are all flooded volcanic craters.
A short drive will bring you to Whakatane. 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 Maori feel about what is "tapu" or out of bounds. She proclaimed "Ka Whakatane au I amu" which means "to act like a man", hence the city was named after her heroic acts.
Continue west over the hill. 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 the steaming volcanic island of White Island. Continue along, take the first left and 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.
Return to the main road and turn left to beautiful Ohope Beach– the Café Surfside does excellent takeaway coffees to be enjoyed on the beach, they also have a great selection of food. If you continue along this coastal route, you will eventually rejoin SH2 to Opotiki.
133kms - Change to the SH35, following the dramatic coastline west as far as Waihau Bay, your destination for this evening. Suggested stops en route include :-
- Taking a 1 hour jet-boat ride ride deep into the uninhabited lush green wilderness along the Motu River.
- Stop at Te Kaha Hotel for refreshments on the waterfront.
- Swim at Maraehako Beach - one of the prettiest in New Zealand.
- The cute little church standing idyllically on the headland at Raukokore is worthwhile a visit.
- Call your accommodation ahead of time and they will probably pop down to the rocks to catch a fresh crayfish for you!
Day 5 Waihau Bay - Gisborne 230kms
The first part of today's trip will take you around the East Cape where idyllic bays with sweeping crescents of golden sand are the norm. Although The Bounty with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins is not a New Zealand made film, several of the coastal scenes were filmed along this coastline.
In Te Araroa it is possible to take the side road out to New Zealand's most eastern point. The drive is stunning so well worth the diversion, plus there are wonderful views to be enjoyed from the elevated lighthouse. For those who are keen, I advise an early rise to arrive in time for the sunrise serenaded by skylarks singing to their hearts content - it really is quite a surreal experience knowing that you are the first in the world to greet the new day!
On returning to Te Araroa, check out the massive Pohutakawa tree in front of the school - it is believed to be New Zealand's largest and is over 600 years old.
Continuing south your first stop should be the Anglican church in Tiki Tiki. It was built in memory of the local iwi tribesmen who lost their lives in the first World War. It is decorated with some fine Maori designs.
The road hits the coast again at the popular coastal town of Tokomaru Bay. The golden beach and rocky outcrops are worth exploring.
The 660 metre long wharf at Tolaga Bay is well worth stopping for. The wharf also marks the beginning of the 3 hour walkway to the beautiful and secluded Cook's Cove.
Another 26 kilometres south is the turnoff to the sleepy coastal village at Whangara. The little cluster of houses and beach were extensively featured in the movie Whale Rider. Unfortunately the popularity of the movie has threatened the peaceful way of life for the locals, so they may not always be welcoming!
From here it is just 30 kilometres to the city of Gisborne - home to surfers and wine growers. It is also the first place that Captain Cook set foot in New Zealand. First stop should be Cook's Landing Site and National Historic Reserve next to the port and at the base of Kaiti Hill - if only to look at the view of the port and across Poverty Bay to Young Nick's Head. The headland was named in honour of the young cabin boy who first sited the "promised land". He also apparently won a bottle of rum, the customary reward for the first able seaman to see land.
Day 6 Gisborne - Napier 225kms
You have time to visit a few of the attractions this morning before heading to Napier. As SH2 heads south it climbs the Wharerata Hills offering awesome views back over the Poverty Bay. If you're wondering why this fertile area is called Poverty Bay, the answer is that when Cook first set foot on this land he was not very successful with his first encounter with the local "savages". He weighed anchor and took flight. He noted in his journal that "it had afforded us not one thing we wanted" and subsequently named the area Poverty Bay.
68kms - It is possible to make a diversion to the desolate and windswept Mahia Peninsula. It was home to the crew of one of the first migration canoes (the Takitimu) and had one of New Zealand's largest whaling stations a few hundred years later. Mahanga Beach on the Poverty Bay side is a popular surfing beach, Opoutama Beach on the Hawke's Bay side is more sheltered and therefore better for swimming.
98kms - Wairoa does not have much to offer other than a quick coffee break. However it does mark the intersection where you would turnoff to visit the Te Urewera National Park - you need an extra 3-4 days to tramp the popular Waikaremoana Circuit Track. Most of the track is fairly easy going, apart from the 900m climb to the top of the Panekiri Range - but wow, is the view worth it!
216kms - 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. Many wineries offer 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!
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. Begin your tour on Marine Parade on the waterfront. Please note that the sea is treacherous around here and swimming is usually banned.
My stay in Napier would go something like this :-
- Join the Church Road Winery and museum tour. The garden restaurant is a superb setting for a meal 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 7 Napier - Taupo 150kms
The highlight of today’s trip is the ever changing scenery – vineyard covered plains, rugged hills, beautiful valleys and huge vistas. At 96 kilometres look for the scenic lookout on the right for a view of the Waipunga Falls next to the road, well worthwhile the stop.
150kms - You will find most of the eating and accommodation establishments along Taupo's waterfront, offering wonderful views of the mountains to the south of the lake. Later you can continue through the town and follow SH1/SH5 north to take in the views from the lookout over the huge Lake Taupo. It is actually the world’s largest volcanic crater, created in one giant explosion. The ash cloud floated all over the world - ice samples from as far apart as Antarctica and Alaska have determined the explosion to have occurred in 186AD. The effects of the ash were even recorded in China and Rome. You can gather your own free volcanic souvenir from the shoreline in the form of very light pumice stones (great for cleaning off rough skin) which were spewed out in that eruption. Just about everywhere you look in the Lake Taupo region, you will see a volcano.
Another 4 kilometres north, turn right 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. 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. 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.
Day 8 Taupo - Turangi 197kms
Travel north again on SH5 past the Huka Falls turnoff and the Wairakei International Golf Course.
34kms - Turn left and follow this road for 18 kilometres to the Orakei Korako turnoff - a hidden valley of steaming silica terraces, mud pools and geysers. The BBC spent months in this surreal landscape filming the Walking with Dinosaurs series.
A small boat will ferry you across to the Emerald Terrace, then wooden boardwalks lead you past 20 active geysers – the Diamond Geyser spews out boiling water up to 8 metres high. The walk then take you to the Artists Palette – a colourful silica terrace created by hydrothermal eruptions more than 10,000 years ago. Return to the turnoff and go right, after 10 kilometres turn right again onto SH1.
89kms - Change to SH30 and at 110 kilometres change again onto SH32, south to Turangi at the southern end of Lake Taupo, your destination for this evening. There are two more short walks I'd like to recommend - if you have time.
The first is a 2 hour circular route around Lake Rotopounamu - meaning greenstone lake in reference to it's (sometimes) emerald-coloured water. From Turangi drive north on SH41 and turn left onto SH47A - the car-park is 6 kilometres further. The density of birds in the bush here is marvellous - a sure sign of a healthy forest. There are three beaches en route - however the water is freezing to say the least!
The second is a 15-minute walk departing from the Tokaanu Mud Pools, 5 kilometres north 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 9 Turangi – Whanganui River 130kms
Allow at least 1.5 hours to get to the jet-boat meeting point, plus you should stop in National Park to buy a picnic lunch. Continue south on SH1 along what we call the Desert Road. The road crosses a high plateau which experiences mountainous weather conditions as it skirts 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, with Mount Ngauruhoe as Mt Doom.
62kms – Waiouru is home of the QEll Army Memorial Museum, turn right onto SH49 to Ohakune, where you need to stay on SH49 (left) to Raetihi.
100kms - In Raetihi, cross over the highway and follow the road leading to the Whanganui River Road – the last 16 kilometres before you hit the river is unsealed, so you can’t drive very fast. Once you reach Pipiriki, continue straight through the village – follow the "coffee" signs to the end. For security reasons this is where you should park.
Wander down to the wharf where the yellow/blue Bridge to Nowhere Jetboat 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. As Joe played host to all the cast and film crew, he has plenty of stories to tell you.
Day 10 Pipiriki - Urenui 288kms
The jet-boat will return you to Pipiriki around 11am – return to Raetihi and turn left onto SH4 north to National Park Village - the gateway to the Tongariro National Park. It was gifted to the New Zealand people in 1887 by the Ngati Tuwaretoa tribe and is now a World Heritage area. Turn right onto SH47 and 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.
83kms - Continue up SH48 past the Chateau Tongariro to the Iwikau Alpine Village, from where you can wander (in summer) over the bad-lands of Mordor to your heart's content. Meads Wall beside Pinnacle Ridge is where they filmed Sam and Frodo capturing Gollum. Other outcrops depicted the rocky wastelands of Emyn Muil, as the Hobbits tried to find their way to Dagorland. The mountain also provided the backdrop as Mt Doom steaming away, the epicenter of Evil and home of Sauron. Mount Ruapehu doesn’t usually steam, but it did erupt as recently as 1995.
Return down the mountain to National Park and turn right to 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.
147kms – 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 120kms!
181kms – At the top of the hill stop at 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 and small pockets of coal can still be found adjacent to the Gorge site sign.
212kms – At the bottom of the hill, turn right onto the Okau Road. About 20 minutes along this road you will find Mount Damper Falls, at 78 metres they are the second highest in New Zealand. The short walkway is well sign posted - climb over the stile and take the 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 to Okau and Ahititi.
255kms – At the Ahititi junction, turn left onto the SH3, south to New Plymouth. After 15 kilometres you will see a farm called Uruti - the small side road leads to a private farm where many of The Last Samurai’s scenes were filmed with the perfectly round volcano of Mount Taranaki in the background cleverly filling in for Japan’s Mount Fujiyama.
From here it is just another 30 kilometres to Urenui, your destination this evening - a small seaside village just before New Plymouth.
Day 11 New Plymouth - Whanganui 215kms
Continue south to New Plymouth. There are several possibilities here :-
The Coastal Walkway, with views of the Sugar Loaf Islands. The islands support an abundance of wildlife, including a fur-seal colony and thousands of roosting seabirds. The undersea wildlife are protected within a marine reserve.
The Pukekura Park up on the hill has a lake with gorgeous reflections on a calm day.
Brooklands next door is famous for the Rhododendrons in spring.
The Paritutu Plug is a spike of 2 million year old solid lava. There is a track to the top departing from the car-park directly behind the (eyesore of a) power station. The lucky may even be rewarded with views of hump-back whales and orcas!
38kms – Head south to Stratford on SH3. Your first stop should be Lake Mangamahoe which offers beauty and serenity, a photographer’s dream. Drive to the end of the side-road and take the track on the right up to the lookout. From here Mount Taranaki reflects beautifully and is framed by Punga trees.
71kms - In Stratford, turn right towards Cardiff and Mahoe, then follow the signs up the mountain to Dawson Falls. Today is dedicated to exploring Egmont National Park - Mt Egmont is the English name for Mt Taranaki. The dormant volcano last erupted as recently as 350 years ago and once had a twin peak, which shattered in some cataclysmic explosion centuries before.
96kms - Visit the Dawson Falls Information Centre first for information about the park. There are limited snacks and non-recommendable coffee available from the Lodge. For a view of the waterfall itself, return 300 metres down the road to the Kapuni Loop Track (1 hour). A circular 15 minute walk along a goblin-forest like track brings you back to the road, where you can continue on the full Loop if you wish. The first part is steep, as is the side-track to the base of the falls (not necessary), after which the path becomes much gentler and offers a better view of the falls from above - not extraordinary, however the walk is lovely. Return down the hill and continue straight to Manaia where you turn left at the roundabout to Hawera.
129kms - Just past Hawera you will see Dairyland, the dairy industry’s equivalent to the Agrodome back in Rotorua. It has a revolving café plus interesting interactive displays concerning all there is to know about cows. We do have excellent cows as well you know, not just sheep! We are indeed a proud farming nation. Besides, it makes an excellent excuse for coffee. Continue on to Whanganui, another 84 kilometres from here.
Whanganui City lies on Whanganui River - New Zealand's longest navigatable river.
The main street is full of flowering hanging baskets and beautifully restored historical buildings.
You can 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, plus Mt Taranaki to the northwest and Mt Ruapehu to the northeast.
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.
Day 12 Whanganui - Martinborough 225kms
Continue south on SH3. The next town is Bulls where SH3 joins SH1. The town was named after one of the first settlers Mr. James Bull….so 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. From January to March, keep an eye open for fields of bull-ti-ful sunflowers.
50kms - The two highways split again - continue straight on SH3 to Palmerston North. Rugby fans may want to stop and visit the Rugby Museum, where many a fanatic has made the pilgrimage to pay homage to our All Black heroes, past and present. Continue on SH3 through the impressive Manawatu Gorge.
100kms - In Woodville turn right onto SH2 to Masterton. On the banks of the Mangatainoka River 13 kilometres later you can’t miss the Tui Brewery. Tui is fast becoming a New Zealand icon, with adverts claiming the beer to be brewed by women….gorgeous women! Yeah right. Beer enthusiasts may want to visit the Promo Shop for a sample or souvenir.
158kms – Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre is New Zealand’s best for viewing our unique native birds the Kiwis, Kakas, Kokakos, etc. The DoC (Department of Conservation) is successfully breeding endangered species here and there is something special about sitting on the deck of the café sipping coffee and looking at some prehistoric Takahe or Tuataras (lizards from the time of the dinosaurs).
1.30pm Feeding of the huge 80 year old wild eels, who instinctively seem to know the time.
3pm Kaka feeding, a cheeky and raucous native bush parrot, cousin to the more noious Kea that lives in the mountains.
There is also a beautiful walk through ancient forest of Rimu, Rata and Kamahi, a living reminder of what existed before the colonization by man.
181kms – At the first roundabout in Masterton, turn right direction Wellington and continue to follow the signs through town. Next you come to Carterton, home of the Paua Shell Factory. Paua is unique to New Zealand. The informative display explains how they are caught in deep water with snorkels and how the inner shell casing is ground down to reveal the beautifully patterned colours. OK agreed, some of the items on sale are painfully kitsch, but somebody must buy them otherwise they wouldn’t continue to make them. However many other items are unique and useful, not to mention stunningly beautiful, so will make a perfect souvenir.
207kms – Turn left to Martinborough, a unique wine village and your destination for this evening. There are 20+ boutique wineries specializing in Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc wines, many within staggering distance of the Village Square. The wine centre is the best place to start your sampling, followed by a memorable meal at any one of the excellent cafés.
Day 13 Martinborough - Wellington 205kms
Today I’m taking you to the very edges of earth on the wild southern coast of the North Island, visiting Cape Palliser’s candy striped lighthouse, the sea-lion colony, the baby bulldozers at Ngawi and the Putangirua Pinnacles where Legolas told the chilling story of the Army of the Dead while riding up the Dimholt Road. There are no shops or restaurants, so you need to take some food and refreshments with you! The highlight in my eyes is definitely the walk to the Pinnacles, an unusual valley of scree that has been compacted and lifted out of the sea, rising to a height of 200 metres. The erosion of the land over the millennia has left fingers of gravel spires and turrets topped with a harder stone which provide some, let’s say, interesting views. From below you feel the full force of what nature can inflict on this earth, from above you get a fuller picture of the valley – and it’s awesome. The walk is a bit of a scramble to say the least over river boulders, debris and fossils, but the adventure is more than worth the small effort. We met some 70+ year olds the day we made the walk and they were bubbling with enthusiasm. So I have decided to recommend this to all, because if they can do it then I’m sure you can too!
Departing from the Village Square, head south along Jellicoe Street, direction Lake Ferry.
32kms – Left, direction Cape Palliser. The Putangirua Pinnacles Reserve car park is on the left at 46kms. 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.
You need to follow the stream for 35 – 45 minutes, until the 1st streambed branching off to the left. When we did it, most of the track was washed away and we had to make several crossings of the stream. After we visited the base of the Pinnacles, we returned down the smaller streambed to the orange marker 100m before the bottom – this leads to the steep track that will take you up to the lookout….strenuous, but wow, what a view. We then continued on the bush walk back to the car park. Admittedly it’s a bit of an adventure getting there, but as my husband declared " it’s a world wonder”. After the walk, departing from the car park, turn left.
65kms – Ngawi is home to the baby bulldozers with imaginative names such as “Tinky Winky” and “Babe”. Their owners are crayfishermen and fishermen, the only source of income in the area.
72kms – Cape Palliser. The rocks and beach between Mangatoetoe and the lighthouse are home to thousands of sea-lions, a seemingly harmless blob of blubber. You can easily approach within metres, but be sure not to stand between the animal and their escape route to the sea. Return along the coast.
112kms – Turn right, direction Martinborough and at 125kms, left direction Featherston.
154kms – Featherston is the first opportunity for a café stop, however there is a better choice with a view in another 10 kilometres if you can wait. The town housed New Zealand’s largest army training base during WW1, with about 35000 troops passing through the camp before they had to walk the Rimutaka Hill to Wellington to be shipped overseas. Quite a formidable feat you’ll realize once you’ve negotiated the tortuous “hill” yourself by car. Messines in Belgium is twinned with this little town because New Zealand troops recaptured it from the Germans in June 1917.
165kms – The Summit Lookout is on the right – pass over the median strip with care! There is a great view of Lake Wairarapa and the coast to the east and of the Rimutaka Incline to the west, where the specially built Fell Engine train climbed the steep 265m slopes.
172kms – Turn right to the Kaitoke Regional Park. Drive down Waterworks Road to the car-park. The LOTR location of Rivendell can easily be found, where there is an interpretive display explaining it all on the site. There was a large set built here, including the bedroom where Frodo recovered from his knife wound. The Pakuratahi River is ideal for swimming in summer. The whitewater adventure-thriller Without a Paddle with Burt Reynolds was filmed on the rivers - and not in Oregon! Return to the highway and turn right onto SH2.
189kms - The Gardens of Isengard are at Harcourt Park onAkatarawa Road next door to the Harcourt Holiday Park. Here Gandalf and Saruman met to discuss the re-emergence of the Ring - a gravel road bordered by a chain-linked fence was laid as the entrance into Isengard. The park saw several trees being cut down by Orcs to provide fuel for Saruman’s furnaces. Actually, the trees were transplanted here for the scene, which required them to be `uprooted’ time and again for retakes. While here, you may wish to visit the Wellington Fault Line, where you can see where a large earthquake has lifted the ground . Return to SH2.
As you descend down to Wellington, you will be following the Hutt River. The river supplied many of the River Anduin scenes. If you walk the Hutt River Trail south from Totara Park you may recognize where Aragorn was nudged by his horse in the river after the attacks by the Wargs in Rohan.
From here it’s all downhill, literally, to Wellington. It is not the largest city but it does lie central to the two islands and is therefore the capital. The wonderful attraction of this city is that it is so compact. In just 15 minutes you can go from the boutique shopping of Lambton Quay to the beach at Oriental Bay! If you do not require your hire-car tomorrow, then consider returning it today - you will be picking up a new one in the South Island.
Day 14 Wellington
A day off from driving! There are numerous attractions to be enjoyed today :-
The main attraction here is the free National Museum of Te Papa. You can easily spend hours engrossed here - if only you visit the excellent Maori heritage section.
The best place to start your visit to Wellington is Mount Victoria Lookout for awesome views of the city and harbour. Here the Hobbits fearfully hid from the Nazgûl. Drive up Alexandra Road to the summit for sweeping views of the city, then walk down the track.
Visit Courtney Place for lunch and later I recommend dinner at the White House.
The Parliamentary District is interesting to wander around - the Beehive houses various government offices! There is a free tour of Parliament House.
Be sure to take the Cable Car up the steep hill up to Kelburn behind the city centre and wander back down through the magnificent Botanical Gardens.
Wellington is home of the Weta Workshop, makers of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. There are several guided day tours on offer to the main filming sites in and around the city.
Weta Workshop also created King Kong here at their studios as well as recreating New York in a large warehouse in Henderson, Auckland.
Day 15 Wellington – Christchurch
Today you cross to the South Island on the morning ferry. However a better description would be to call it a scenic cruise! After crossing the tempestuous Cook Strait, the ship winds its way through the very scenic Marlborough Sounds! A sound is a flooded river valley as opposed to the flooded glacial valleys called fiords (the 'sounds' in the south of the West Coast are misnamed). Picton was named after Sir Thomas Picton - a British General killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The TranzCoastal train departs at 1pm for Christchurch. This is one of the world's most scenic train journeys, with the Kaikoura Mountain Range on one side of your train and the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline on the other. The TranzCoastal includes an open air viewing carriage where all your senses are awakened with the clean, fresh, sea air.
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. Watch also for the whales - Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to view whales! 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 kilometres and stay submerged for up to 2 hours and can swim at 40km/h. If you have an extra day, you can break your journey and stay in Kaikoura so that you will have time to do the Whale Watch excursion.
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 over the coming days 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 16 Christchurch - Akaroa - Christchurch 180kms
Today there is a day trip planned to Akaroa Harbour and Lyttelton Harbour which are actually 2 giant craters formed by violent volcanic eruptions – together they make up the Banks Peninsula. Originally it 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. Pickup your new hire car and take the SH75 to Akaroa, (1 hour 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.
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, the road sign says Eastern Bays. At the top turn left to follow the Tourist Drive - this has to be THE most awesomely scenic route you'll ever drive 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 to Christchurch for 37 kilometres. At the Blue Duck Cafe turn right to return to Christchurch via the Lyttelton Harbour - the second of the craters that make up the Banks Peninsula. After passing over the Gebbies Pass, turn left to Governors Bay.
175kms - Turn left to return to Christchurch via the very spectacular scenic route over the top of the Port Hills via Dyers Pass and the Sign of the Takahe. The latter is an historic gothic-style "English Manor" built as a resting point in 1908. The building and gardens were used by Peter Jackson in his ground breaking film Heavenly Creatures. The film featured Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynsky in their screen debuts as two school girls in love - the thought of being separated drove them to murder, right here in the gardens of the restaurant! Today, the Sign of the Takahe offers a fine dining experience and awesome views over the Canterbury Plains.
Day 17 Christchurch - Mount Somers 140kms
You can spend as long as you like in Christchurch before driving to the foothills of the Southern Alps. Head west on SH73.
52kms - In Darfield turn left onto SH77 direction Glentunnel and Mt Hutt.
92kms - The road crosses the alluvial Rakaia River next. For excellent views of the gorge you should park by the first bridge and cross over the road to the little walkway. Walk as little or as far as you like but the views are best at the beginning. It is also possible to drive onto the riverbed.
100kms – Mt Hutt Station (ranch) on your right is one of the largest deer farms in the world. Turn left to Methven - a bustling ski resort by winter servicing Mount Hutt and a quiet country town in the summer. Be sure to buy picnic supplies for tomorrow and fill up with petrol! Take the road next to the tourist office, direction Mt Somers and at 10 kilometres later turn left onto SH72 again and drive south another 20 kilometres to Mount Somers, your destination for this evening.
Day 18 Mount Somers – Mt Cook 340kms
Today I am taking you to the very centre of Middle-Earth, hidden deep in the Southern Alps.
Head inland towards the high country sheep stations of Mount Potts and Erewhon (an anagram for 'nowhere'!) You really do feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere as you travel through the tussocked and exposed land. Be aware that you are now in the alpine region, where weather and temperatures can change dramatically within hours. The 50 kilometre unsealed road will take you deep into the mountains to the head of the Rangitata River.
35kms – Turn right onto Mt Pocession Street for an awesome view of the Alps across the trout infested Lake Clearwater – the holiday settlement is full of tiny basic holiday homes that we call a bach. The lake is popular for bird watching, kayaking, wind-surfing and trout fishing. The scenery changes dramatically after this as the road meanders through the huge high country farms to reveal your first breath-taking view of the massive glacial valley. The elaborate set of the Golden Hall of Edoras was purposely built on Mt Sunday. One of my favourite scenes from the LOTR Trilogy was of Éowyn gazing across the valley in deep thought and my absolute favourite scene was of Aragorn returning by horse to Helms Deep after his disappearance over the cliff, which was filmed further up the Rangitata Valley. My ultimate dream would be to ride myself up that grassy knoll, with awesome views of the valley below framed by the massive Southern Alps... I’ll keep you informed.
51kms - Follow the road past Mt Potts Station and park just after the cattle-stop (judderbars that animals can not walk over) – the road continues for another 4 kilometres to Erewhon Station. It is permissible to walk to Mt Sunday but it does involve getting your feet wet several times. It is not really a mountain by a small rocky knoll in the middle of the valley that escaped the destruction of the advancing glaciers. We failed in our attempt on the fourth crossing, however it was an adventurous and humbling experience trekking as tiny insignificant specks through morass and icy cold streams surrounded by massive snow-capped mountains. We retreated and found the most perfect picnic spot on a grassy bluff 200 metres up the hill from our car – in fact the best picnic spot I have ever found in the world, it even bet the picnic we had dangling our legs over the edge on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town! You may even feel spiritually uplifted (as I was) after your visit - it may have something to do with the source of the river being fed by the Garden of Allah Glacier and the Garden of Eden Ice Plateau! Return to Mt Somers and turn right, direction Geraldine.
152kms - 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.
- Barker's Berry Barn is a specialty shop, where you'll find a huge range of fruity liqueurs and wines, plus unique gift and gourmet items.
- 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- Geraldine is a great place for a coffee and has a few attractions worth stopping for.
Turn right at the tourist office to Fairlie
, where you join 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
with sparkling turquoise glacial lakes below the rolling foothills of the Southern Alps -
and it bears little resemblance to anywhere else in New Zealand.
240kms – The village at Lake Tekapo is small - their claim to fame being that it has the cleanest and clearest air in New Zealand. Be sure to visit 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.
255kms – Turn off the highway and take the scenic route to Twizel along the huge man-made Tekapo Canal constructed for the Upper Waitake hydroelectric scheme, a significant source of our country’s electricity. En route you can buy fresh fish or sashimi from the salmon farm and stop for spectacular photos of Mt Aoraki across the opaque Lake Pukaki.
285kms – Turn right onto SH80. The 55 kilometre 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. The adrenalin-charged action thriller Vertical Limit was filmed entirely on location here, with Mount Cook standing in for K2, the world's second highest mountain. On arrival you can choose from :-
Day 19 Mt Cook - Cromwell 210kms
Several different alpine walks with wonderful views.
Scenic flights either by ski plane or helicopter, guaranteed to be THE trip of your lifetime!
Glacier Explorer Trips involve walking to Tasman Lake and then taking an informative boat ride to the face of the advancing glacier.
Eat, drink and just relax in the Hermitage while enjoying the incredible views that lie before you.
You can stay as long as you like before heading off to Cromwell.
The Hooker Valley
walk is one of the most popular in the area. Park 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, you can shorten the walk by returning after reaching one of the landmarks along the way, for example by only walking to the first swing-bridge.
Alternatively there are a couple of options back in Twizel. There is the Pelennor Fields tour - probably guided by a Rohirrim or Gondorian extra, the tour also gives a highly interesting insight into high-country sheep farming. Twizel is also home of the heli-bike - helicopter onto a remote awesomely scenic mountain and mountain-bike your way down. Or visit the Department of Conservation's hide to view the Kaki Black Stilt. There is a 1 hour guided tour with commentary on the management program of these endangered birds. There are only around 40 of these birds left in the world and this is the only colony!
Return along SH80 to Twizel, head south on SH8 via the scenic Lindis Pass. Consider stopping at Omarama for petrol.
Day 20 Cromwell – Glenorchy 106kms
210kms - 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. The Mount Difficulty Vineyard towards Bannockburn has fine wines as well as expansive views. Bannockburn also has gold mines to explore, otherwise the Goldfields Mining Centre in the Kawarau Gorge is well worth the stop, 6 kilometres further along the road to Queenstown.
Today your drive takes you through the dramatic Kawarau Gorge, then through Queenstown to the head of Lake Wakatipu where you will find a little place called Paradise – yes, it does exist. This whole area was used extensively in filming the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, so I will mention several of these locations today.
Half way along the gorge is the excellent Gibbston Valley Winery. Next you will come to the Kawarau River Bridge, 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, or just have fun watching others. If you turn left to Chard Farm just before the bridge and drive just a short distance up this road, you can see the location of the Pillars of the Kings on the River Anduin.
Continue on to Queenstown. However our destination this evening is further along, at the far end of Lake Wakatipu via the scenically superb lake side drive. Stop at Twelve Mile Delta and walk down to the river towards the lake and you may recognize the bank to your right as the hiding place of Frodo, Sam and Sméagol as they watched the approach of the oliphants in Ithilien, just behind is where Sam and Sméagol discussed the cooking of "coneys with taters". Down by the lake 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 walk will take you along to the next plateau, from where Faramir gazed out across the lake and Ithilien.
Continue on to Glenorchy, home of the most scenic jet-boat ride in the world (another New Zealand invention). You can take a thrilling ride up the Dart River tomorrow into the very heart of the Mt Aspiring National Park - there is an option to raft back down....amazing! There are plenty of Trilogy stops and stories along the way as you pass Isengard, Llothlórien and where Merry and Pippin were captured by Orcs near Amon Hen. Horse-trekking through the Forests of Lothlorian is also recommended.
Day 21 Glenorchy - Queenstown 45kms
After your morning thrill up the Dart River, head back to Queenstown - the Adventure Capital of the World! The beautiful resort was originally named as 'fit for a Queen' and lies on Lake Wakatipu. In winter the resort fills up with skiers.
The sheer breadth of tourist activities available here is impossible to list, however the "in-thing" at the moment are tours that have anything to do with the numerous Lord of the Rings filming locations. One of the most spectacular and affordable scenic flights in the world is the 2 hour Trilogy Trail, with plenty of commentary and behind the scenes "anecdotes" along the way.
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 the lake glow in golden light. In winter the view is even better with the mountains covered in snow!
Day 22 Queenstown
A day to enjoy Queenstown
and all she has to offer, such as :-
Day 23 Queenstown – Wanaka 78kms
- Fly into Milford Sound, then coach back out. This scenic flight is guaranteed to be the highlight of your lifetime! The scenic beauty of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park is the jewel in our crown - not to be missed in other words. Alternatively, stay an extra day and overnight in Te Anau, then coach back to Queenstown the next day.
- Cruise Lake Wakatipu on the old steamer TSS Earnslaw and visit Walter Peak Station on the other side of the lake for an insight into high-country sheep farming.
- Learn to fly-fish in the trout infested lakes and rivers.
- Play golf on one of the most magically located courses in the world.
- Visit Skippers Canyon and the remote Macetown goldfields on a 4x4 tour.
- etc, etc, etc............
This morning I recommend you rise early and drive up to the Remarkables Ski-field
- in Frankton
turn right and head south for 6 kilometres. The best view of Queenstown
is from the Remarkables Lookout
. There is a short walk from the car-park around Lake Alta
– this place is just magic in the still air of the morning. Several LOTR scenes were filmed here - wander south along the ridge to Lake Alta where Aragorn led the fellowship down the steep slopes of Dimrell Dell.
Return down the mountain and turn right and drive back to Frankton. At the roundabout turn right and follow SH6 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).
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 - you will be forgiven if you think it was used as the Prancing Pony in Bree in the trilogy, but it wasn’t.
The local ski field at Cardrona
has a chair lift open in summer - you can take a leisurely walk in the mountains. Or how about joining a horse-trek up the Cardrona Valley
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 :-
Day 24 Wanaka - Fox Glacier 274kms
- Visit the Rippon winery - probably the prettiest winery in the world (OK....I am biased).
- Mountain-bike along the lakefront and 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!
Today’s trip takes you north through a totally uninhabited region and 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!
Take the road north 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 down the valley to the Siberia River and jet-boat back out. Wow!
Soon after you cross 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, best viewed along a short stroll on a loop-track.
129kms – Another waterfall where you can get out to stretch your legs. The Roaring Billy plunges down a mountain slope on the other side of the river – there is a short loop-track here as well.
157kms – Haast Junction is a lunch option – 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” you 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 Westland beach where wildlife abounds. Look for the rare and beautiful Fiordland Crested Penguins fighting the crashing waves to land on the beach just 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. This hike is fun and safe for all and also extremely informative.
Day 25 Fox Glacier – Greymouth 200kms
This 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 open for breakfast for the early risers.
23kms – After your morning walk on the glacier (if any),continue north to Franz Josef, it also has a glacier and is home to Fergs Kayaks where you can hire kayaks for exploring Lake Mapourika - a visually stunning kettle lake 15 kms north of here. The result of a period of past glaciations at the coastal section of the Franz Josef glacier valley, the lake is fringed with a wonderful example of temperate rainforest reputed to have clothed the earth during the Jurassic period. The climatic conditions are such that the kayaks glide on the water with a minimum of physical effort.
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. To see the rare White Heron breeding rookery continue north on SH6 to Whataroa and join a White Heron Sanctuary Tour by jet-boat to the colony (allow 3 hours). Departs 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm.
160kms - Hokitika is the best place to see the New Zealand Greenstone (jade) being made into ornaments and tiki (pendants). The stone was prized by the Maori, who called it pounamu and they went to great lengths to find and transport the precious stone. The stone was mainly used for making a lethal weapon that sat snugly in the hand of a warrior.
192kms – Just 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 all that remains of what were once bustling communities during the gold-boom years.
Continue north to Greymouth, your destination this evening. It 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.
Greymouth lies on the Grey River – named after the governor Sir George Grey and not that the river is grey with sediment. In it’s heyday as a booming gold centre it was known as Crescent City….now isn’t that a much nicer name! Greymouth provided the exterior pub locations and fishing docks for Perfect Strangers.
Day 26 Greymouth - Westport 105kms
Continue north to 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 1/2 hour along the track.
Meybille Bay was the childhood home of Gaylene Presten, so this is where she chose to locate the principle shack for Sam Neill and Rachael Blake in Perfect Strangers. The dramatic coastline was chosen for its romance and powerful idiosyncratic bush-clad landscape and just before Charleston you will find the treacherous coast of Constant Bay which provided the seascapes for their raging love affair. The little horse-shoe shaped bay often held a dozen sailing ships and Charleston once had a hundred pubs to cater to the sailors needs.
Continue north towards Westport – 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 dinner at sunset while watching the surfers beyond.
Follow the coastal road past Cape Foulwind to Westport. This is the Coast’s oldest town and your destination for this evening.
Day 27 Westport - Arthur's Pass 226kms
Follow the SH6 through the very dramatic Buller Gorge. In Inangahua the SH6 goes left over the bridge, but you need to continue straight on the SH69 to Reefton, where you turn right onto SH7 and follow the Grey River as far as Stillwater.
151kms - Turn left onto the Lake Brunner Road and take the scenic route to Inchbonnie and SH73 via Lake Brunner, following the TranzScenic railway tracks along the way. Enjoy world-class scenery as you wind your way up through lush beech forest from the Tasman Sea, following rivers and skirting lakes. The road then winds its way over massive bridges and through spectacular gorges and river valleys as you ascend to the settlement of Arthur's Pass. The pass, built by pick and shovel and completed in 1866, is named after Arthur Dudley who discovered it in 1864.
There are plenty of mountain walks to choose from here. One of the best little walks is immediately on your left as you come into Arthur's Pass. This walk to the Punchbowl Waterfall is recommended.
Day 28 Arthur's Pass - Christchurch 155kms
Today's drive is all downhill, literally, to the city of Christchurch. Another 50 kilometres further and you will start to recognize the scenery where the big budget Disney movie “Narnia : The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was filmed. The limestone valley which the massive cast invaded for filming the great battle in Narnia can be seen from the Cave Hill Reserve car-park. The land belongs to the vast 14,000 hectare Flock Hill high country sheep station (farm), so you need permission to walk on the private land. However the Castle Hill Reserve on the right has several walks through wonderful karst scenery made up of limestone boulders, cliffs and caves where you can wander to your hearts content.
The final pass to cross is the 945 metre high Porter’s Pass.
The Lake Lyndon
is popular in the winter for ice-skating. This is the gateway to several ski-fields in the area. Only a few kilometers south of here is the Rangitata Valley
you visited on Day 18 - otherwise known as Edoras
! The road follows the Waimakariri River
before crossing the fertile patchwork farmlands of the Canterbury Plains.
Voilà, I hope you enjoyed your whirlwind tour of New Zealand. Return your car and catch your international flight home. You may need an extra day in Christchurch
, depending on the time of your flight.
We know New Zealand - we live here!