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Food and Wine


If you have a desire to indulge your senses with spectacular food and gold medal wines during your visit, then this is the itinerary for you. Although the predominant theme is food and wine, there are plenty of other attractions en route. New Zealand has an ideal vine growing climate, which is reflected in the numerous internationally renowned gold medal winning wines. Many of the wineries also have top class restaurants as well as offering door sales and tastings. We have personally sampled and painstakingly sought out several hidden away gems set in magic locations to be able to present to you the best this country has to offer, hic.

If you would like a unique itinerary drafted to include some of your other interests as well, feel free to contact us - we will gladly assist you in planning that perfect vacation.


Self-Drive Holiday

: 10 nights/11 days. 
Activities include : Winery visits, walking, beaches and other attractions.
Notes : North Island only - see below for South Island itinerary sample.

100% Indulgence
100% Pure Wonder
100% Pure Exhilaration
100% Pure Escape
100% Pure Welcome
100% Pure Awe

A self-drive tour of New Zealand's North Island created specially for lovers of great food and fine wine. See below for the South Island tour. This itinerary allows time to visit New Zealand's top attractions, interspersed with some awesome eating experiences! Be sure to let me know your wine preferences, so that I can adjust the itinerary accordingly. Many of the hand-picked boutique accommodations include a gourmet 'home cooked meal' where you will get to savour some of New Zealand's unique fare that has resulted in our chefs being sought after world wide. Remeber this is just a sample.

North Island itinerary

Day 1 Auckland - Auckland

All passengers 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. We recommend that you stay here at least 24 hours to enjoy this beautiful city and to recover from your jet-lag. The problem is the city has so much to offer you may have trouble making choices. Buy a day ticket on the hop-on hop-off bus which makes stops at most of Auckland's attractions - you can choose to get off and catch a later bus, or continue to the next stop.

Suggested activities :-  
  • The Waterfront has many of Auckland’s attractions and is bustling with restaurants and cafés.
  • It is also where you will find the extremely informative Maritime Museum - the displays are chronological, so you begin with the Maori migration across the seas, step back in time on board a European immigrant's ship, then appreciate New Zealand's proud yachting history including the Whitbread Round the World race and of course the America's Cup. After all, Auckland is known as the City of Sails.
  • Catch the ferry to Waiheke Island and hire a scooter. Head for Te Whau Vineyard Cafe for lunch then Stoneyridge Vineyard for dinner. Better still stay an extra day on the island and have a fantastic brunch at the 1920's style Rocky Bay Cafe followed by dinner at the Mudbrick Cafe on the Church Road Estate near Oneroa. In between you can walk off those calories through the bush and beaches of the Whakanewha Reserve. Or, enjoy fantastic coastal and vineyards views on horseback as you ride from Kataitia Bay through Church Road Estate.
  • The Coastal Track on Waiheke Island has the added bonus of vineyard cafes and beaches en route! From the wharf, walk along the beach and follow the green and yellow markers around the coast. The path takes you along the cliff-top past exclusive homes, vineyards and olive groves. About ½ an hour along there is a great picnic spot amongst the old Pohutakawa trees with views back to Auckland. At Te Miro Bay you will see a path marked Oneroa, via Nick Johnston Drive. This will bring you eventually to the white sand beach, shops and cafes at Oneroa. You can extend the walk by continuing along the coast past Church Bay, but the views and path and not as good.
  • Wander up to the Sky Tower - admire the panoramic view, climb the mast, bungee jump from the tower or just have dinner in the revolving restaurant.
  • The revamped old homes of Parnell have brick paved alleyways full of boutique clothes stores, art galleries and specialty shops.
  • Kelly Tarlton was the inventor of the undersea walkway where you can view the fish from below without getting wet - the Antarctic Encounter and Penguin Encounter are worth stopping here on their own.
  • Other stops if you have time include the Auckland Museum, Auckland Art Gallery or Victoria Park Market for the bargain hunters.
  • The bus will eventually bring you back to the Waterfront where you could head to the Ferry Building and take a ferry to Devonport. If you have 2-3 hours you could wander along the waterfront to the right and up the dormant volcanic cone North Head, then climb down to the popular Cheltenham Beach before wandering back to the ferry.
  • My recommendations for dinner are the seafood restaurant Harbourside in the Ferry Building or wander along to the Princes Wharf where you'll find many more waterside eateries.
Day 2 Auckland - Leigh 86kms

Head north over the Harbour Bridge and follow SH1 to pretty Orewa Beach on the tranquil east coast. You have time this morning to see more of Auckland, if the jet-lag got the better of you and you ran out of energy yesterday. You also have time on the morning of Day 4.

42kms - After passing over the bridge in Waiwera the road starts to rise again. 200m up this hill you will see a sign for Wenderholm Regional Park. Turn right into this park. The road will take you down to the beach, which is well worth the small detour. The park has a wonderful grove of Pohutakawa trees, a native with bright red flowers. The other name for these ancient trees is the New Zealand Christmas Tree as they usually begin to flower at Christmas time. The trees are full of native Tui and Piwakawaka (Fantail birds.) The Tui is a shiny blue/black medium sized bird with a white ball of feathers under its chin and has a beautiful song. The cute little Fantail flits around your head as you disturb the insects while walking. There is a huge picture frame on the northern end of the beach, which makes for some interesting photographs.

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

69kms – Ransom Winery has a casual restaurant with excellent platters to accompany your wines on the lawn. They offer a flight of 5 of their wines for tasting, however it only equals approximately 1 glass of wine so you are fine for driving afterwards. Alternatively wait until you reach the famous wine growing region around Matakana.

71kms – At the second set of traffic lights in Warkworth turn right, direction Matakana where you can make several stops en route to Leigh, your destination for this evening. Your choices are:-

  • Omaha Blueberries sell export-quality blueberries, plus home made ice-creams and sorbets.
  • The Pop In Bakery in Matakana has a delicious selection of breads, winners of the Baker of the Year Award.
  • Turn right at Matakana and drive to Tawharanui Regional Park and walk the gorgeous beaches or take the track to the headland.
  • 12kms from Warkworth, the popular Morris and James Pottery and Café is worth a stop. All their pottery is handmade from the clay sourced from the Matakana River. Free weekday tours, plus the café serves yummy food and local wines in a relaxed setting.
  • Hyperion Winery is further along this side road, open weekends and holidays.
  • Visit some of New Zealand’s best wineries around Matakana, including Ascension Vineyard, Heron`s Flight Vineyard and Matakana Estate.
  • 13kms from Warkworth, on the turnoff to Takatu, there is the purpose built Art and Pottery Market with exhibitions displayed in a replica woolshed.
  • Spend the afternoon at any of the beaches – Pakiri, Goat Island Reserve, or little Matheson Bay, a spectacular little pohutakawa lined beach 1km from Leigh.
  • Just after Leigh, the excellent Sawmill Café is on the right, the Dive Shop is next door for organized dive tours. In Leigh take the road down to the wharf to see the spectacular little harbour and watch the dive boats coming in full of crayfish.
  • The turnoff for Goat Island is just after Leigh - a marine reserve popular for snorkeling and diving. Seafriends, just before you start the descent, has snorkel and dive hire, plus lots of lovely food. Toilets and parking are at the bottom where a glass bottom boat departs from the beach for a great view of this coastal aquarium, however the place gets rather crowded at weekends.
Day 3 Leigh - Auckland 188kms

It is worth rising early to watch the sunrise in Leigh or from the Tawharanui Regional Park. Continue north on the loop road following the signs for Wellsford and Whangerei. The road regularly alternates from being sealed to unsealed, plus it is quite narrow in places. In New Zealand the uphill traffic usually has the right of way – so take it slowly. If you didn’t have time yesterday to visit the beach, then  Pakiri Beach is well worth the diversion. Turn right and drive past the Holiday Park where you will find parking, toilets and changing rooms. The path leads to a lovely white beach, plus a lagoon for children to swim in. Return to the turnoff and turn right.

(Alternatively, drive a few more kilometers further along the road towards Wellsford and turn right to drive 3.2kms to Pakiri Beach Horse rides, one of the best places to try this in the country.)

35kms – In Wellsford turn left onto SH1 then right towards Helensville, following the Twin Coast Discovery route. You are now on the west coast!

93kms – Helensville, lies on the southern reaches of the Kaipara Harbour, which is one of the biggest natural harbours in the world. The late 1800’s saw a hive of activity with the logging, sawing and exporting of kauris. Just 30kms due east of here is Orewa on the east coast, that you passed through yesterday. Follow SH16 direction Auckland until Waimauku.

111kms – Turn right to Muriwai Beach - a solitary kind of place, but well worth the diversion to view the entertaining 2500 gannets in action, even if it is not breeding season. As you descend towards the beach take the `Gannet Colony` turnoff left - It is an easy 2 minute stroll along flax and pohutakawa lined paths to view the nesting gannets (spring and summer months only). The first path left leads to the best lookout, looking directly down onto the nest sites and cute little chicks, plus you can admire the flying skills as these huge birds come into land with their two-metre wing spans, almost within touching distance. The stunning views along Muriwai Beach are a bonus.

Return to SH16 and go right.  Beesonline is 1.2 kilometres on the right - a honey centre, restaurant and excellent coffee stop. A pot of pohutakawa honey makes a unique gift for those at home. Alternatively, Matua Valley winery in Waimauku, Cooper`s Creek (3kms left down side road in Huapai), Nobilos or Babich wineries in Kumeu could be visited. You could always have lunch at the Beesonline – try the West Coast Platter with smoked snapper, herb-fried cod, squid in coriander and chilli, olives, sundried tomatoes and dipping sauces.

Continue on the Twin Coast Discovery Route which follows the Scenic Drive south along the Waitakere Ranges ridge. At 162 kilometres there is an excellent lookout on the left rewarding you with wonderful views over Auckland. You can even see Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island in the distance on a clear day. 

166kms – On your right you will see the turnoff to Piha and Karekare Beach. This large rainforest is a protected zone, with hundreds of waterfalls to choose from and stretches all the way to the beaches along the rugged West Coast. The deserted beaches provided the perfect location for the filming of `Piano`. After your walk (if any)  continue along the Scenic Drive towards Titirangi - there is another lookout on the right offering great views over Manakau HarbourAuckland`s second harbour. Just after the lookout, there is the Arataki Visitor Centre, if you’d like to learn more about the bush and Waitakere Regional Park. There is another giant frame here to frame your postcard perfect picture.

176kms – You are now arriving in Titirangi, a lovely little village full of cafés and art galleries, so a possibility for dinner. Continue to follow the Twin Coast Discovery Route back to Auckland city.

Day 4 Auckland - Coromandel 176kms

Before you depart for Coromandel, you may like to visit a few attractions you missed when you arrived. Head south on SH1, direction Hamilton. After the Bombay Hill, turn left onto SH2 direction Coromandel and at 88kms change again to SH25. Bird watchers should visit the Shorebird Centre on the side road to Miranda. It lies on the Firth of Thames, an important stopover point for migratory wading birds. One of them, the medium sized Godwit, breeds in Alaska then flies non-stop to New Zealand in just a week!

113kms – Turn left towards Thames – the gateway to Coromandel Peninsula. In the late 1880's this was a thriving gold mining and kauri logging centre – follow the signs into the town centre. If you have time, you could visit the Gold Mine and Stamper Battery at the northern end of town. They offer regular tours showing the impressive ore-crushing stamper plus various tunnels with an informative commentary about the history of gold mining. Alternatively, there is another Gold Mine to visit in Coromandel.

Continue north direction Coromandel Town. You are now skirting the Firth of Thames, the road follows the dramatic and winding coast, so please take it easy. But most importantly, please remember that the locals are not on vacation and are quite often in a hurry to get somewhere. So if someone is pressuring you from behind,  just pull over and allow them to pass. You will enjoy the driving much much more and the locals will in turn be much much more friendlier when you do eventually cruise to your destination at your own pace! At 142kms, 144kms and 149kms there are places to pull over and take photos of this dramatic coastline. In fact all the way along there are plenty of places for stopping – Wilson Bay is one of my favourites. From December to January you should be treated to a display of flowering native Pohutakawa trees.

157kms – The picnic spot at the top of the hill has a great view down to Kirita Bay to the left and Manaia Harbour to the right. At 169kms seafood lovers should stop at the Oyster and Mussel Shed on the left. They also sell scallops and all sorts of other seafoods. The Smoking Company in Coromandel Town is also a good shop selling very fresh produce. Road side stalls are a common sight in New Zealand, selling everything from smoked fish and fresh crayfish to organic farm produce freshly picked. Most operate an honesty box - just leave your payment in the box.

171kms – Turnoff for the 309 Road.
  • 5kms up this road is the Waiau Waterways Garden and café, where whimsical wonders are worked by water. If you choose not to go in, the café is still a good option for lunch. They also sell pottery and garden sculptures at studio prices. If you do choose to go in, there are plenty of whacky contraptions to entertain the young and young at heart.
  • 7kms - If you are feeling energetic, there is the walk to Castle Rock. It will take you about 45 minutes to walk up and 30 minutes to walk down. The track is slippery in places and the last few meters is a bit of a scramble holding onto rocks and bits of tree roots to get to the top, but whew is the view worth it from the top!
  • 7.5kms - The small but delightful Waiau Falls – best viewed from below in the bush glade where there is also a swimming hole.
  • 8kms - Continue another 1/2km to the Kauri Grove parking. This stop is excellent, giving you a real taste for the New Zealand bush without much effort. The bush walk is an easy 10 minute stroll on a level path to 600 year old kauri trees. These trees are magnificent and the native bush is wonderfully lush and cool and peaceful. Continue past the first lookout for a lovely circuit route to the Siamese Kauri and to the Kauri Grove. The kauris are endemic to the northern part of New Zealand’s North Island and can live for 4000 years and grow to twice the height of these ones! They are the largest trees in the world if calculating volume of usable timber. No wonder they call them the giants of the forest and were almost wiped out by the colonials for their timber. The cutting down of a kauri is now banned as they are protected, so thankfully now we are seeing a comeback of these giants to our forests.
Return to SH25, Coromandel Town is another 5kms. The main street is an old world delight, full of cafés and craft shops.

Day 5  Coromandel - Hahei 80kms

This morning you could:-
  • Go fishing for giant snapper at 7am – the Coromandel Fish and Chip shop will fillet and cook it for you, alternatively if you’d like to enjoy your catch in a lovely restaurant setting, then the Success Café will cook up your catch for you – if it is filleted first.
  • Or you could play golf on the 9 hole course. The course winds around old mine shafts, with fairways following what once were rich gold veins bordered by thousands of miner’s shacks.
  • Most head to the popular Driving Creek Railway, for a unique ride on a narrow gauge train up a zig - zagging track that was first built to bring firewood and clay down for the potteries below. There is a great view over Coromandel from the “Eye Full Tower” at the top.
  • Pan for gold at the 100 year old Goldfields Centre and Stamper Battery.

Departing from Coromandel shops, drive south of the village towards Thames, the turnoff for Whitianga is 400m back. The road climbs steeply for 5kms, there are awesome views from the lookout at the top towards Coromandel, Waiheke Island and Whangaparoa Peninsula (Auckland`s northern boundary) to the east and Whangapoua to the west.  

41kms – You are now arriving in Whitianga, a safe harbour full of holiday homes favoured by Aucklanders. At 43.5kms continue straight, following the beach to where the ferry departs from. This is where all the activity is, including some good cafés. One of the best places for a coffee is on the other side at the Ferry Landing Café, just a short stroll up the hill. Continue south, following signs for Tairua.

72kms – Turn left to Hahei and after 5 kilometres turn right to Hot Water Beach. It is a lovely beach, but more importantly hot water rises to the surface here from a geothermal reservoir under the seabed. Check the tides, as you need to dig a hole below the high water mark, 2 hours either side of the low tide is your time limit. I recommend it after low tide, so you may then get to use an abandoned hole instead of having to dig one for yourself! Dig on the northern end of the beach, then sit back and soak in your own private spa. Look for the sulphur bubbling to the surface of the sand.

Return to the Hahei road and continue north another 4kms, your destination for this evening. Stay in a converted church where the cuisine is world-class! Hahei's main attraction is Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous beach nearby hidden within a dramatic coastline. There are 4 ways of reaching it :-

  • Walk the coastal track which starts on the northern end of Hahei Beach. The views are excellent - it will take you about 1 hour to reach the cove itself.
  • Drive up to the car-park via Grange Road, then walk 45 minutes to the cove.
  • Take the Hahei sight seeing boat, departing 10am (no time at the beach).
  • Or my recommendation is to join the sea kayaking tour departing at 9am. This is a true kiwi experience, 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 6 Hahei - Rotorua 294kms

Today there is a long drive to Rotorua. Actual driving time is 4 hours without suggested stops. One mistake visitors to New Zealand make is under estimating how long it takes to drive – 300kms in New Zealand is not the same as driving 300kms on motorways in Europe! Our roads are not straight, as you have probably already noticed. It is OK to do the excellent 9am kayak tour before hitting the road.

Depart from Hahei Beach car-park, returning to SH25 and go left towards Tairua. Immediately on your left you will notice some vines, they are kiwifruit. You will see many orchards and vineyards today as you travel through what is known as the fruit-bowl of New Zealand.

21kms – Great lookout spot for a photo of the Alderman Islands. An even better photo op is from the Paku Hill, turn left as you enter Tairua towards Ocean Beach. Follow the road to the marina, go up Paku Drive and follow signs to Paku Summit. A short walk will take you the rest of the way, for awesome views over Tairua Harbour and Pauanui Beach. Return to Tairua and continue south, direction Waihi.

100kms – Waihi once had 1200 mines producing half of the country’s gold. There is only one mine left now, the massive Martha’s Mine – a huge open cut mine right in the middle of town. On the SH2 intersection, turn right to Town Centre, then at the roundabout go straight onto Moresby Ave, the Waihi Gold Mine lookout is on the right 300m along. The lookout is truly impressive and the Golden Legacy Centre is worth a visit to learn more about the mine. Return to town and follow signs to Tauranga.

159kms – Bethlehem is home to the Mills Reef Winery and up-market restaurant, the turnoff is to the right just as you come into town. This option is for those that left Hahei early this morning. Otherwise continue straight at the roundabout, direction Mount Maunganui.

165kms - On the expressway, keep following SH2 and the signs for Mt Maunganui. `The Mount` was once an island with a Maori pa (fortified village), but it is now joined to the mainland and marks the entrance to the Tauranga Harbour. In Maori Tauranga means `sheltered anchorage`, the harbour has become a huge port catering for massive cruise liners and container ships filled with lamb, kiwifruit and timber heading for Japan and Europe. The Mount is now a congested suburb of Tauranga, with the beach becoming a popular holiday destination for the wealthy and the not so wealthy surfing crowd alike with plenty of cafes to choose from. You can also hike around the base or to the summit of the hill. Leaving the Mount, follow the signs for SH2 and Te Puke.

176kms - Te Puke is the original kiwifruit growing region, watch out for the giant kiwifruit in Maketu, another 17 kilometres from here. If you’d like to know more about the fruit (and have time) stop for a tour, or just visit their café and souvenir shop.
Afterwards keep following the SH33, direction Rotorua.

As you come into Rotorua, follow the city centre signs around the lake. You may smell Rotorua before seeing it, as the area is still very active with sulphur escaping from the earth’s crust (think rotten eggs). Don’t worry, you will get used to the smell. Rotorua lies on a beautiful lake, actually a flooded volcanic crater - the surrounding hills are the remains of the rim of the giant volcano. The city has become New Zealand’s second largest tourist centre – so there are no shortages of establishments willing to take some cash away from you but if you’d like to make the most of what Rotorua has to offer and all that is thermal, then here are some of my suggestions:- 

  • Kuirau Park has the largest display of steam and mud pools. An eruption took place here as recently as January 26th 2001 when mud, steam and debris were thrown 200m into the air. Springs regularly just appear, resulting in families being forced to move and the land having to be given back to nature.
  •  Wander around the original Maori settlement at Ohinemutu. The church is worth a look at, as is the Marae (Maori meeting house) across the courtyard. Wander the tiny streets where everyone has their own private hot-water bore to fill their bath in the out-shed….just follow the steam and stay on the paths!
  •  If you have time, soak in the reputedly therapeutic thermal pools at the Polynesian Spa, a beautiful but busy public pool. If you wait until tomorrow morning the spa is less crowded. It is a delightful way to start the day - relaxing with wonderful views across the lake.
  • This evening don’t miss the excellent Tamaki Brothers cultural show followed by a traditional Hangi (earthen cooked meal). Pickups from your accommodation in a waka (war canoe) cleverly disguised as a bus, followed by a fun evening superbly hosted and entertained by local Maori.
  • The excitement junkies can take the Gondola up Mount Nongataha for awesome views, interspersed with hair raising rides on a luge (3 levels available, so suitable for children).

Day 7 Rotorua - Taupo 90kms

The next day you could :-
  • Have a game of golf on the beautiful Arikikapakapa course on the southern end of Fenton Street. On the 9 hole course, the usual hazards are not lakes and sand-traps, but rather steam vents and boiling mud pools!
  • The Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland is the best thermal reserve in the area and is highly recommended for today.  
  • For non-golfers there are several other tourist attractions vying for your dollar. One possibility is to take an awesome flight over Mt Tarawera.
  • The Te Wairoa buried village could also be visited this morning.
  • Agrodome's principle attraction is the Sheep Show, a highly entertaining explanation of sheep and the caring of said sheep – the mainstay of New Zealand’s exports.
  • Just before Lake Taupo there are many more attractions!

29kms – Heading south towards Taupo, turn left at the Wai-o-tapu Tavern and 400m further left again onto the Loop Road and take a look at the thermal Mud Pools. Don’t forget to lock your car - the bubbling mud can keep you mesmerized for hours! The Lady Knox Geyser is between the Mud Pools and Waiotapu and blows her top at 10:15am, so try to time it to arrive in time for this spectacle….a bit touristy but quite impressive none the less!

Follow the Loop Road to the main attraction Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. It really is a wonderland of orange, green, yellow, blue, white and black pools, the highlights being the exquisitely coloured Champagne Pool, Oyster Pool and the Devil’s Bath - you’ll be amazed how nature can conjure up such 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, which means `colour of the sky’.  The track is uneven at times so you need walking shoes. Continue on this road back to SH5 and turn left.

52kms – The Ohaaki Geothermal Power Station provides 5% of the country’s electricity. The Kaingaroa Pine Forest that you are driving through is the largest man-made forest in the world.

72kms – At the large roundabout where SH5 meets SH1, go straight and continue south past the Wairakei International Golf Course, mentioned on the 'Top 100 Golf Courses in the World' list! The best time to visit is in August and September when the trees behind the clubhouse are full of tuis.

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

  • If you first go left, you will come to the freshwater Prawn Park, apparently the world’s only geothermal prawn farm. The informative tour leaves every 30 minutes. Look out for Horse, he measures a whopping 70centimetres, making him the largest prawn to be produced. After the tour you are encouraged to munch out in the Riverside Restaurant with views down to the river where the jet-boats doing their 360° spins.
  • The Activity Centre is well worth a stop. You are in the middle of one of the most active volcanic spots in the world, so it’s good to know what lies beneath your feet. There are hands on interpretive displays of local volcanoes, up to the second earthquake Richter scale readings, even a room where you can experience a simulated earthquake.
  • The Honey Hive also has interesting interpretive displays, a glass fronted live beehive and the Beez Kneez Café.
  • The Huka Falls are not very high, but are certainly spectacular. Here the sedate Waikato River is forced between a 15 metre gap before roaring over a 7 metre drop. There is a lookout just past the Helistar Helicopters, but the falls are much more impressive from below, where there is a walkway across the river.
  • There is another attraction called the Craters of the Moon volcanic reserve, that is if you’re not all "thermalled out" yet. To reach the reserve after visiting the falls, return up the hill to Helistar Helicopters, turn left towards 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 takes you through steamy billowing clouds and hissing escaping gases – you really do feel as if you’re walking on the moon.

Return to SH1/SH5, go right to Taupo. After 4kms turn left for the lookout over the huge Lake Taupo, actually the world’s largest volcanic crater, created in one giant explosion. The ash cloud floated all over the world Ice samples from as far apart as Antarctica and Alaska have determined the explosion to have occurred in 186AD. The effects of the ash were even recorded as far away as 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. The mountains to the south of the lake are popular for skiing in the winter and walking in the summer. Return to the highway, in Taupo go right at the first roundabout towards the lake front and town centre, where most of the eating and accommodation establishments are situated.

For casual dining the Replete Cafe in Heu Heu Street is an all time favourite! Or wander along the beach to The Landing for a glass of wine on the terrace while watching the sun set across the lake and/or exquisite waterfront dining.

Day 8 Taupo - Napier 150kms

Depart by 9am if you would like to do the winery tour at 11am in Napier - from the tourist information office traffic lights travel south along the lake front. The highlight of today’s trip is the ever changing scenery – rugged hills, beautiful valleys, vineyard covered plains and huge vistas.

3kms – Left, direction Napier onto SH5. The first part of the trip is through the Kaingaroa State Forest, which stretches from Rotorua to the south of Lake Taupo.

54kms – The scenic lookout on the left takes you to a view of the Waipunga Falls next to the road, well worthwhile the stop.

126kms – Eskdale provides a few coffee stop options as well as the first wineries, many offering tasting and cellar sales (remember your 11am appointment!) Please note that tastings at wineries are usually free and although not compulsory - purchasing is expected to help offset the costs of paying the knowledgeable and helpful staff. Some wineries do charge a little, which is then deducted from any purchases. Purchases can usually be sent overseas. The best way to sample is accompanied with a great meal at a table under the vines! The Hawke's Bay region is the North Island’s top wine producing region. A sunny climate, combined with excellent growing conditions has led to many of the wineries earning gold medals at international competitions.

132kms – SH5 meets SH2, turn right. Esk Valley Estate, 2kms on the right along SH2, is a favourite of mine and makes a great place to start your own winery tour. They offer door sales and tastings.

141kms – SH2 turns left, following City Centre and Port. At 143kms go right at the roundabout and keep following City Centre and Tennyson Street. This will bring you to Marine Parade on the waterfront and the tourist office. Please note that the sea is treacherous around here and swimming is usually banned.

Napier was almost totally destroyed in the 1931 earthquake, causing a massive rebuilding program throughout the 30’s, resulting in a vibrant city known as the Art Deco capital of the world.

My stay in Napier would go something like this :-
  • 11am Church Road Winery and museum tour. The garden restaurant is a superb setting for lunch after your tour, accompanied by a trio of tastings.
  • Art Deco fans may want to join the walking tour which departs 2pm from The Art Deco Shop on Tennyson Street.
  • The Earthquake walk also departs at 2pm from the tourist office on Marine Parade. The entertaining tour concludes with a fascinating look at photos and memorabilia at the Earthquake gallery.
  • Alternatively, wander the streets yourself and visit the excellent Hawkes Bay Museum at the beginning of Marine Parade, where special attention is of course given to the 1931 earthquake with a video of survivors stories, as well as an area 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!
  • Other possibilities this afternoon include touring the Sheepskin Tannery at 2pm, with purchases at factory prices; visiting more wineries on an organised tour with enthusiastic locals; enjoying the spectacular views and playing golf at one of the world’s top 50 golf courses at Cape Kidnappers …consider doing this option before the winery visits.
Day 9 Napier - Martinborough 325kms

Quite a few kilometers to be driven today, so how about brunch at a world acclaimed winery first. Depart from the tourist office and continue south along Marine Parade and follow the coast. Just after Clive village, turn left direction Cape Kidnappers and Te Awanga.

23kms – Clifton Beach has some wonderful views of the Cape Kidnappers Cliffs. For those wishing to play at the exclusive Cape Kidnappers Golf Course, enter at the locked gate opposite the woolshed, 200m before the Clifton Bay Café. The clubhouse is an 8.5kms scenic drive from the gate. 

26kms – Return the way you came. Clearview Estate Winery is one of Hawke's Bay’s best wineries, with an excellent restaurant to match. Open at 10am for coffee, wine or brunch under the vines. Continue back the way you came, through Te Awanga and Haumoana.

29kms – The small and privately owned British Car Museum is owned by an eccentric collector who is proud to show off  his old favourites. One kilometre further, turn left at the egg farm onto Park Hill Road, then right onto Raymond Road.

31kms – Turn left onto Tukituki Road. Follow this pretty valley until the bridge. The outcrop on the right is called ‘The sleeping giant’, or Te Mata Peak – your next stop.

43kms – Turn right over the bridge and at 49kms left direction Havelock. Along this road are several more wineries, including the world renowned Te Mata Estate on the right. The Arataki Honey Centre (turn right after a few kilometres onto Arataki Road) is also a possibility for all things buzzy, including a huge working hive behind glass, displays, lots of yummy honey and innovative gifts.

52kms – Turn left, following the signs to Te Mata Peak. It’s just 6kms to the very top for some awe inspiring views of Hawke's Bay. Tandem paragliding is a favourite past time from this spot. From here it is a 2 hour drive to Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre, recommended for the endangered birds. Return down the hill, turn right at the ‘Give Way’ onto Simla Ave and left at the roundabout.

65kms – In Havelock at the main Napier Road roundabout follow left to Wellington and after the Havelock shops veer off to the right, following Te Aute Road, rejoining SH2 south at 74kms.

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

200kms – In Woodville SH2 turns left to Masterton. On the banks of the Mangatainoka River 13 kms later you can’t miss the Tui Brewery. Tui is fast becoming a New Zealand icon, with adverts claiming the beer to be brewed by women…. gorgeous women! Yeah right. Beer enthusiasts may want to visit the Promo Shop for a sample or souvenir.

258kms – Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre is New Zealand’s best for viewing Kiwis, Kakas, Kokakos, etc. The DOC (department of conservation) is successfully breeding endangered species here, there is something special about sitting on the deck of the café sipping coffee and looking at some prehistoric Takehe or Tuataras.

  • Open 9am – 4.30pm (winter 4pm).
  • 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.

281kms – Masterton. At the first roundabout, turn right direction Wellington and continue to follow the signs through town. Next you come to Carterton, home of the Paua Shell Factory. Paua is unique to New Zealand, the informative display explains how they are caught from deep waters with snorkels and how the inner shell casing is ground down to reveal the beautifully patterned colours. OK agreed, some of the items on sale are painfully kitsch, but somebody must buy them otherwise they wouldn’t continue to produce them. However many other items are unique and useful, not to mention stunningly beautiful, so will make a perfect souvenir from New Zealand.

304kms – Greytown is a pretty village full of Victorian buildings and quaint antique shops. Just after the village turn left to Martinborough, a unique wine village and your destination for this evening. There are 26 boutique wineries specializing in Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc wines, many within staggering distance of the the Village Square, which is laid out in the shape of the Union Jack. The Wine Centre on the square is the best place to start your sampling, followed by a memorable meal at any one of the excellent cafés. Est and the Village Café are recommended, as is the village market on Sundays.

Day 10 Martinborough - Wellington 205kms

Today I’m taking you to the very edges of earth to the wild southern coast of the North Island, visiting Cape Palliser’s candy striped lighthouse, the sea-lion colony, the baby bulldozers at Ngawi and the Putangirua Pinnacles. There are no shops or restaurants, so you need to take some food and refreshments with you! The highlight 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 full picture of the valley – and it’s awesome. The walk is a bit of a scramble to say the least over river boulders, debris and fossils, but the adventure is more than worth the small effort. We met some 70+ year olds the day my young family and I made the walk and they were bubbling with enthusiasm. So I have decided to recommend this to all, because if they can do it as well as my young children, then I’m sure you can too! Leave early if you'd like a late lunch at Murdoch James Estate, open 12 - 3pm, closed Wednesdays (summer months).

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 first 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. (Alternatively if you would like lunch at the Murdoch James Estate, then head back the way you came). 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 – Right, direction Martinborough and at 125kms, left direction Featherston. Alternatively if you didn't do the longer walk then return towards Martinborough, 7kms before the Square you will see Dry River Road on the right, drive 2 kilometres down here to Murdoch James Estate where the "fabulous kitchen team place emphasis on sourcing local produce to create a café experience to remember. Match the wine to your choice of food using the blackboard menu as a guide or just ask one of the team for their thoughts on the best match".

154kms – Featherston, the first opportunity for a café stop, try the Lady Featherston on Fitzherbert Street. 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. Messines in Belgium is twinned with this little town because New Zealand troops recaptured it from the Germans in June 1917.

The world's only remaining Fell Engine locomotive is on display on the corner of Fitzherbert and Lyon Streets. It has horizontal grip wheels to hold it onto the steep and winding track. It serviced the Wairarapa farming community from 1878 to 1955. For great coffees try the Lady Featherston on Fitzherbert Street.

The disused train track is now a popular walk. If you have an extra day then there is the opportunity to stay at Longwood Lodge, the residence of many of our past Governor Generals. The staff will drive you over the hill to the start of the walk - ask for a torch for the tunnels. They will then pick you up again 4 hours later down by Cross Creek and return you to Longwood in time for pre-dinner drinks followed by a 4 course meal. Stay overnight in the luxurious lodge and wake to a country breakfast fit for a Governor General, so to speak.

165kms – The Summit car park is on the right – pass over the median strip with care! There is a great view of Lake Wairarapa and the east coast and on the other side to the Rimutaka Incline where the specially built Fell Engine train climbed the steep 265m slopes. From here it’s all downhill, literally, to Wellington. If you do not require your hire-car tomorrow, then consider returning it today - you will be picking up a new one in Picton or returning to Auckland.

Day 11 Wellington

A day off from driving! If you are continuing on to the South Island then you will have more time in the capital. Otherwise fly north to Auckland to catch your international flight. 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.
  • Visit Courtney Place for lunch with dinner at the White House.
  • Although Wellington is not the largest city, it does lie central to the two islands and is therefore the capital. 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.
  • Play golf at Paraparaumu, just north of Wellington on SH1. This is another internationally recognized course on the "Top 100 Golf Courses in the World" list.
  • Stop off at Titahi Bay on your return to the city for a meal at the award winning Oceana Café. Exit the motorway at Porirua. There are several roundabouts through the shops – just follow the signs for Titahi Bay and travel along the northwest side of the lagoon. Drive right to the end, you can even park on the beach! Titahi Bay has safe swimming, with lovely views of the South Island in the distance.

South Island itinerary

Day 1 Picton - Blenheim 

Today you cross to the South Island by the inter-island ferry, however the trip is more like a scenic cruise as you make your way through the Marlborough Sounds to Picton allowing glimpses of secluded coves, bays and bush clad islands. If you’re lucky a huge pod of dolphins may escort you all the way. Pick up your new hire-car and drive south on SH1.

Possible extra - stay an extra 2 days in the Marlborough Sounds at the The Lazy Fish - only accessible by a small boat where you can spend 2 days walking the stunning Queen Charlotte Track through lush forests overlooking the tranquil sounds). 

29kms - Blenheim’s dry climate and soil have nurtured a strong wine industry which has slowly overtaken sheep as the main export of the area. However inland you will find New Zealand’s largest farm, the 182,000 ha Molesworth Station. Internationally renowned labels have established their vines throughout the region, notably of the sauvignon blanc variety. The Marlborough region has almost 60 wineries to choose from such as the world-renowned Riverlands Winery (formerly the Montana-Bancroft Estate) is 4 minutes drive south of Blenheim on SH1, the iconic Cloudy Bay Winery on Jackson's Road and the pioneering Hunters Wines on Rapaura Road. More info on Marlborough Wines.

Day 2 Blenheim - Kaikoura 126kms

Enjoy the delights of Blenheim and Marlborough to your heart's content, but remember you still need to drive 126 kilometres later this afternoon!

Continue south on SH1 to Kaikoura, your destination for this evening. The rugged coast is home to a diverse range of wildlife which gladly pose within camera range. Watch out for seals, dolphins and albatrosses amongst the rocks, freshly cooked crayfish is usually available from a roadside shop housed in a caravan. A deep-sea canyon system rich in plankton lies close to the coast, which then attract a variety of those very special creatures - the whales. However only male sperm whales are resident all year round as the females stay in the warmer tropical waters near the equator. Just as the road hits the coast, the Store Cafe is worth a stop for refreshments on their terrace by the sea.

Your first stop in Kaikoura should be the Lookout just off Scarborough Terrace. From here you can view the azure-blue waters around Kaikoura Peninsula bordered by the mountain backdrop behind. The  excellent Peninsula Walkway at the head of the peninsula takes you along the shoreline and back over the cliffs.

Day 3 Kaikoura - Christchurch  200kms

After your morning excursion, watching the whales or albatross or swim with the dolphins, continue south on SH1.

68kms  - Turn left to Gore Bay to visit the uniquely eroded (think organ pipes) Cathedral Cliffs just up the hill from the beach. Continue on this loop road which will rejoin SH1 in Domett. Continue south on SH1 towards Christchurch.

The Waipara Valley is a sunny and well drained valley and is fast becoming the new vine growing region. I can recommend a stop at the family-owned Pegasus Bay winery, turn left 4.5 kilometres after the village. Try their generous platter loaded with cheeses and locally caught salmon and duck accompanied with some excellent award-winning wines on the lawn.

Christchurch is New Zealand's second largest city which sprawls across the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. The main attractions here are the English style gardens and parks, the city even has its very own Avon Riveron which one can punt. It has an English colonial feel to the city with school children in formal blazers and straw hats, with fine architecture and heritage sites evident everywhere. ……however, on February 22nd 2011 the city suffered a devastating earthquake that has unfortunately destroyed many of those heritage buildings, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral!

Attractions still worth considering are :-
  • Head to Antigua Boatshed where canoes are available for hire. Request a picnic basket hamper to be enjoyed on the banks of the Avon River along the way.
  • Or hire your very own gondolier to punt you through the Botanical Gardens.
  • The Grand Café at the Casino is a great option ….open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week.
  • Visit the Canterbury Museum for their informative Earthquake exhibition as well as the Antarctic section and impressive Maori collection.
  • The new Christchurch Art Gallery is a must see.
  • The excellent International Antarctic Centre near the airport is where you can experience all there is to know about the icy continent.
  • Take to the Port Hills for stunning 360° views as you walk along the Crater Rim Track.
  • Mona Vale was a beautiful Edwardian-style homestead set amongst 5½ ha. of beautiful gardens…..the gardens are still worth the visit!
  • The nearby Dean’s Bush at Riccarton is home to the only surviving stand of wetlands podocarp forest.
  • Join the Christchurch Bike Tour…..they ride along the bike paths and through parks and there is not a hill in sight! Stops include both Mona Vale and Deans Bush, as well as Hagley Park and the attractions.
  • The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a zoo with a difference with plenty of opportunities to get up close and touch the 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 4 Christchurch - Twizel 280kms

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 and tractors.
  • The Giant Jersey has, you guessed it, the largest jersey in the world, plus lots of woolly stuff on sale.
  • Barker's Berry Barn has a specialty shop, where you'll find a huge range of fruity liqueurs and wines, plus unique gift and gourmet items.
  • 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.

In Fairlie you turn right onto SH8 to Lake Tekapo. Stop at the Old Library Cafe for the best Mackenzie Lamb Rump you'll ever have. The scenery dramatically changes as you cross over the Burkes 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. There is not much to hold you here beyond taking a snapshot of the much-photographed Church of the Good Shepherd and the Sheepdog and grabbing a coffee. The gorgeous turquoise-blue lake derives its colour from fine glacial particles suspended in the water.

240kms – 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.

270kms – Turn right onto SH80. Your luxury Farm Stay accommodation on the shore of Lake Pukaki is just a few kilometres further where the hosts will prepare you a memorable home cooked meal using fresh farm produce.

Day 5 Twizel - Mt Cook - Wanaka 212kms

It really would be sacrilege not to make the 55 kilometre scenic drive to Mount Cook Village at the base of Mount Aoraki and the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers. The drive encompasses world-class scenery at its best where your excitement grows in parallel with the vista before you as you enter the world heritage site known as the Mount Cook National Park. On arrival you can choose from :-
  • 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 Wanaka. I recommend the Sealy Tarns Track, or for the fit it is possible to go all the way to the Muller Hut and back in one day - the best day walk I've ever done! The walk offers a gargantuan vista of Mount Cook, the glaciers and the exotically coloured lakes below. This is New Zealand at its very best. Please note appropriate clothing and footwear is required - storms and snow can be upon you within a few hours, even in the summer, so always be prepared.

Return along SH80 to Twizel and head south on SH8 via the scenic Lindis Pass. Consider stopping at Omarama for petrol as there is not another fuel station for at least 100 kilometres! The pass was first used by the Maori walking to Lake Wanaka for summer fishing.

174kms - Just after Tarras, turn right onto SH8A to Wanaka. The tranquil lake has picture-perfect mountains as a backdrop and is one of my favourite places in New Zealand! Tonight you stay on another working farm - Riverrun is a great place to unwind, 5 minutes drive from Wanaka. It is a super luxurious 5 bedroom lodge with the comfiest beds, best showers and incredible 5 course dinners.

Day 6 Wanaka

One of the best short walks in this country is to the Rob Roy Glacier. The walk will take you up through beautiful rain forest to a hidden valley, right up to the face of the glacier.  Wanaka is also the best place to try tandem sky-diving! Or how about a 4x4 quad bike tour on a sheep farm with great views. Trout fishing and skiing are the locals other favourites. Glendhu Bay is a sheltered and picturesque bay, particularly in autumn when the exotic trees provide rich colour for your postcard perfect photo of the mountains behind. Just beyond is a road leading to a popular swimming area in the spectacular Motatapu Gorge. At the northern reaches of Lake Wanaka in a little place called Makaroa you can try the Siberia Experience of 3 thrills in as many hours – fly into the Mt Aspiring National Park (the Misty Mountains in LOTR), hike/tramp over the hill to the river and jet-boat back out. Wow!

Day 7 Wanaka - Glenorchy 130kms

I recommend the scenic Crown Range Route via the old gold mining towns of Cardrona and Arrowtown.
It is hard to believe that this sleepy region was the most populous in New Zealand during the chaotic gold boom years of the late 19th century. Before you drive up over the 1120m high pass, you may want to visit the original Cardrona Hotel.

The views from the top of the pass are stunning. Take your time coming down the zigzagging road! At the bottom, turn right to the pretty tree-lined town of Arrowtown - another former gold mining settlement. Wander amongst the historic cottages, visit the reconstructed Chinese Settlement (the Chinese were subjected to many prejudices so had their own settlement) 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). Saffron on Buckingham Street is recommended here, they offer award winning fine dining with a relaxed Central Otago feel. Also the Amisfield Winery at Lake Hayes is recommended for fantastic food in their multi award winning bistro.

Return to SH6, where you can go right to Queenstown, or left to the Kawarau Gorge. The bridge is home to A.J. Hackett's very first bungee jumping platform - this is where you get to tie a huge elastic band to your ankles and jump out into space over the river, if you dare - or just have fun watching the others. A few  kilometres further along the gorge you will find the excellent winery and restaurant at Gibbston Valley Wines. Otherwise Mount Edward Winery just after Gibbston on Coalpit Road has some excellent wines.

Return the way you came and continue on to Queenstown. However our destination this evening is further along, at the far end of Lake Wakatipu where you'll find a little place called Paradise. From here the most scenic jet-boat ride in the world (another New Zealand invention) will take you on a thrilling ride tomorrow up the Dart River into the very heart of the Mt Aspiring National Park  - there is an option to raft back down....amazing!

Day 8 Glenorchy - Queenstown 45kms

After your morning thrill up the Dart River, head back to Queenstown - the Adventure Capital of the World! The sheer breadth of tourist activities available here is impossible to list, however the "in-thing" at the moment are tours that have anything to do with the numerous Lord of the Rings filming locations. One of the most spectacular and affordable scenic flights in the world is the 2 hour Trilogy Trail, with plenty of commentary and behind the scenes "anecdotes" along the way. In winter the resorts fill up with skiers.

The beautiful resort of Queenstown was originally named as "fit for a Queen". It lies on Lake Wakatipu, a glacial lake with an unusual rhythmic rise and fall of 12cm in its water level, every five minutes - Bob's Cove is the best place to view this phenomenon. A Maori myth says it is the beating of a monster's heart lying in the depths of Lake Wakatipu!

This evening ride the Skyline Gondola to take in the awesome views - best viewed at sunset when the Remarkables Range on the other side of Lake Wakatipu glow in golden light. In winter the view is even better with the mountains covered in snow! If you're into having fun then you must race down on the luge.

Day 9 Queenstown - Milford Sound 300kms

Milford Sound is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world. The awesome cruise on the fiord includes countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of metres down sheer cliffs, mountains rising straight out of the sea, fur seals and (usually) dolphins. A 'Sound' is a flooded river valley, but these are flooded glacial valleys with sheer sided walls that plunge hundreds of metres under water as well as above - so they are misnamed. Don't forget the insect repellent as the sand-flies in Milford are not only a menace, but practically man-eating! Plus a rain coat - the area receives 12,000mm of rain per year per square metre - so chances are high that you will see rain!

Drive 6 kilometres north to the SH6 junction and turn right, direction Lumsden and Te Anau. The trip to Milford will take you at least 5 hours.

186kms - Te Anau is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park - 1,250,000 uninhabited hectares of stunning wilderness. Fiordland has a primeval rugged landscape, largely untouched by humans apart from incursions by tourists at Milford and Doubtful Sounds and a few fishermen in other fiords. It was declared a World Heritage Area on account of the outstanding geological features and exceptional beauty, the jewel in the crown being Mitre Peak in Milford Sound. However many argue that Doubtful Sound is even more spectacular. Te Anau is also the base for many multi-day mountain hikes. It is also where you should fill up with petrol, as there are no shops or facilities in Milford.

As you travel the Milford Sound Road to the Homer Tunnel there are several opportunities to stop and take photos. As you will probably be squashed between a convoy of tourist buses, you'll know where to stop. If you prefer not to drive, it is possible to take the coach which departs Te Anau at 12.30pm and drops you back there 24 hours later.

The over-night cruise departs Milford at 4.30pm, parking is available 10 minutes walk from the Visitor Terminal. Once the masses depart on their buses, you will finally experience the sound of silence on board your boat cruising this eighth wonder of the world - kayaking with the dolphins under the many waterfalls is simply paradise.

Day 10 Milford Sound - Queenstown 300kms

Return to Queenstown the way you came and enjoy a little more of what is on offer there such as :-

  • Driving up to the Coronet Peak Ski-field access road for the best view of the Wakatipu Basin and Shotover River.
  • Take the plunge and try a bungee jump, or just have fun watching others do it.
  • Cruise Lake Wakatipu on the old steamer TSS Earnslaw and visit Walter Peak Station on the other side of the lake for an insight into high-country sheep farming.
  • Learn to fly-fish in the trout infested lakes and rivers.
  • Play golf on one of the most magically located courses in the world.
  • Visit Skippers Canyon and the remote Macetown goldfields on a 4x4 tour.
  • Visit another vineyard and try their wines of course.
  • The Queenstown Gardens are set on a glacial moraine peninsula.
  • etc, etc, etc............

Day 11 Queenstown ......internal or international flight

If your flight back to Auckland or to Australia is in the afternoon or this evening then you will have time to enjoy a bit more of Queenstown.


If you are lucky enough to have longer in New Zealand, then I recommend the following :- 

  • Day 9 Queenstown - Milford Sound
  • Day 10 Milford Sound - Te Anau
  • Day 11 Te Anau (Doubtful Sound day-trip)
  • Day 12 Te Anau south to Catlins National Park
  • Day 13 Curio Bay to Dunedin
  • Day 14 Otago Peninsula
  • Day 15 Dunedin to Christchurch
  • Day 16 Fly out
or head north to Christchurch via the rugged West Coast :-
  • Day 5 Twizel - Cromwell
  • Day 6 Cromwell - Glenorchy
  • Day 7 Glenorchy - Queenstown
  • Day 8 Queenstown - Milford Sound
  • Day 9 Milford Sound - Te Anau
  • Day 10 Te Anau (Doubtful Sound day-trip)
  • Day 11 Te Anau - Wanaka
  • Day 12 Wanaka
  • Day 13 Wanaka - Franz Joseph (the glaciers)
  • Day 14 Franz Joseph - Greymouth
  • Day 15 Greymouth - Christchurch
  • Day 16 Fly out


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