Duration : 20 nights/21 days
Activities include : Beaches, Outdoor Adventure, Sightseeing, Water Sports, Short Walks
Notes : The lenght of New Zealand playing en route our top courses. Golf cars and clubs can be hired.
A self-drive tour of New Zealand created specially for those who love to play golf in magic locations. There is a game scheduled every second day, leaving one day to travel between locations and to visit tourist attractions en route. Alternatively you can choose to be driven from course to course by your very own Amazing New Zealand chauffeur and guide, or even use alternative transport such as helicopter or small plane. Pre-arranged tee times, exclusive country lodges and restaurant reservations help make this the most memorable trip of your lifetime! Remember this is just a sample itinerary - I can adjust it to your individual requirements.
Included golf courses are :-
- Kauri Cliffs, Bay of Islands
- Gulf Harbour, Auckland
- Wairakei International, Taupo
- Cape Kidnappers, Napier
- Paraparaumu Beach, Wellington
- Clearwater Estate, Christchurch
- Terrace Downs, Rakaia Gorge
- Millbrook, Arrowtown
- Kelvin Heights, Queenstown
With the opportunity to add :-
- Carrington Club, Bay of Islands
- Titirangi, Auckland
- Russley, Christchurch
Day 1 Auckland - Auckland
All travellers using Amazing New Zealand services are personally met at the airport by our friendly professional representative. You will receive at the airport a comprehensive Deluxe Travel Pack. The pack contains the prepaid service vouchers, maps, discount vouchers and brochures to local attractions, plus a detailed daily explanation of driving routes, including suggested stops en route.
The representative will then take you to your accommodation in Auckland, stopping en route on the extinct volcano Mount Eden to point out the city's many geographical features and attractions. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, straddling two enormous harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. We recommend at least one day here to recover from your jet-lag or to have time to enjoy a leisurely game of golf!
Suggested activities :-
Day 2 Auckland - Paihia (Bay of Islands) 240kms
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 and 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 have lunch at Stoneyridge Vineyard.
Play golf if you have the energy - Augusta National and Titirangi have a lot in common, including their course designer Dr. Alistair McKenzie. Many international tournaments have been hosted here.
Wander up to the Sky Tower - admire the panoramic 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 are worth stopping here on their own.
Take a ferry to Devonport. Wander along the waterfront to the right and up the dormant volcanic cone North Head, then descend to 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.
Head north along State Highway 1 over the Auckland Harbour Bridge to the pretty coastal village of Orewa and Hatfields, followed by Waiwera – the hot-pools here are popular with Aucklanders.
42kms - After passing over the bridge 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 Fantail birds. The Tui is a black/shiny blue medium sized bird which has 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 - The cute little village of Puhoi 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.
172kms - I recommend the Town Basin for lunch in Whangarei - turn right into Tarewa Rd and follow "Quayside and Town Basin" signs. The Basin is a wonderful waterfront development full of cafes, restaurants, art galleries and a museum.
After lunch it is another 70 kilometers (1 hour) to Paihia - it is an easy drive through rolling countryside. If you have time take the small diversion to Whangarei Falls (follow the signs to Tutukaka). The 23m falls are more than worth a look and they are right next to the road. Return to SH1.
248kms - Your first impression of the Bay of Islands may be somewhat disappointing, as the islands are not exactly visible – but believe me, they are out there – all 144 of them. The only way to appreciate this aquatic playground is from the water and there are a daunting array of companies willing to take you there. You can fish, kayak, snorkel or swim as much as you like as you cruise and stop at many of the islands tomorrow, often accompanied by dolphins.
Your first visit should be to Waitangi – the birth place of our nation. The historical reserve marks the site of the original treaty signing in 1840 between the Maori people and the British Empire. This is the heart of New Zealand’s historical beginnings, with audio-visual displays, an important Marae (Maori meeting house), the beautifully restored Treaty House and a Waka (Maori war canoe). After your visit, if you have time, take the ferry across to Russell, a quaint little village which was once the capital of New Zealand! It was also once known as the "hell hole of the South Pacific" between 1830 and 1840, when whore houses abounded and drunken brawls between whalers and seamen were the norm. Today it is a much quieter place! .
Day 3 Paihia - Matauri Bay 65kms
After your Bay of Islands experience, continue north direction Puketona and Kaitaia. Ideally an extra day in Paihia is advised so that you can play golf at the famous Carrington Club.
20kms – Kerikeri is New Zealand’s top citrus and market produce growing area. Roadside stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables abound, many operating an "honesty box" - just leave your payment in the box. Turn right, Kerikeri`s claim to fame is having New Zealand’s oldest stone building. It is on the water and is called the Stone Store, so you can always pop down to see it if you have time. Overlooking the Stone Store is the original Kororipo Pa (Maori fortress), home of the Maori chief Hongi Hika (not to be confused with the famous chief Hone Heke). Across the river Rewa’s Village is an authentic recreation of a pre-European Maori fishing settlement. Take the Loop Road which will bring you back to the highway at Waipapa.
43kms – Look for the sign to turn right for Matauri Bay, famous for deep sea fishing and diving. If you are a qualified diver, you can dive on the Rainbow Warrior wreck, New Zealand’s most famous dive site.
50kms - Turn right for Kauri Cliffs, an exclusive golf resort which has deservedly made the "Top 100 Golf Courses in the World" list. The spectacular course is superbly presented alongside cliffs which plunge to the sea, with awesome views of the Cavalli Islands and beyond. To play here (tomorrow morning) is without doubt a privilege that few ever have the chance to enjoy.
I recommend a visit to Matauri Bay either before or after checking in . If you check-in first, return to the intersection and turn right and at the `Tourist Drive’ intersection, right again. Get ready for the `wow` view as you begin the descent to the beach. You are looking at the Cavalli Islands. Around the corner is an even more stunning view. Take the descent very slowly as it is narrow and with many tight corners.
You must take the little walk up to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial on top of the hill at the eastern end of the beach – the views from the top are awesome. The track is rather steep on loose gravel in the beginning, so be careful. The ill fated Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace vessel specializing in disrupting French nuclear tests on the Pacific’s atolls. France’s Secret Service bombed her in 1985 while she was tied up at the wharf.
Day 4 Matauri Bay - Matakohe 250kms
Ideally you should stay an extra day here to recover from your jet-lag and to enjoy the magnificent facilities. Return to the intersection with SH10 and turn left towards Kawakawa then right to Kaikohe and Opononi.
104kms - Opononi was made famous in the fifties by the resident dolphin they named Opo. If you’d like to know more, visit the museum another kilometer along. The Hokianga Harbour is where Maori legend proclaims that the great navigator and explorer Kupe lived until he was an old man before returning to his home land. He discovered New Zealand around 800AD and named it Aotearoa, meaning the "Land of the Long White Cloud". They then called the area Te Hokianga nui a Kupe - the place of Kupe's great return.
The next village is Omapere, with views across to the giant sand dunes. Today the choice of eating establishments are rather limited I'm afraid, especially in the next 150 kilometres! So I recommend the Copthorne for lunch - try their crayfish! The Omapere Wharf is a great place to take a photo from. It was in these sand dunes that they filmed plates for "Lawrence of Arabia".
136kms – You are now entering the Waipoua Forest, one of just a few remaining tracks of virgin native forest. It is also home to 300 species of trees. The main attraction here is the much loved giant Kauri Tane Mahuta. At 1400 years old, it is one of earth’s most ancient trees and it stands only a short stroll from the parking. The Kauri are endemic to the northern part of New Zealand’s North Island and can live for 4000 years! They are the largest trees in the world if calculating volume of usable timber. Only 2 kilometres further along is the parking for the much less touristy and much older giant Kauri Te Matua Ngahere (20 minute walk) and the Four Sisters (only 100m from the parking). The forest gives you an idea of what the vegetation was like when the first settlers arrived, before they set about stripping the land for the timber and for farming. Since 1952 it has been forbidden to cut down a Kauri, so they are making a comeback.
247kms – Matakohe is our destination for this evening. It is also home of the excellent Kauri Museum. Turn right, you will find the museum one kilometer further by the church. This museum is one of the best in New Zealand and definitely worth a visit.
Day 5 Matakohe - Gulf Harbour 112kms
Departing from the Kauri Museum, continue on this highway east then turn south to Auckland on SH1.
93kms - At the top of the hill, you have a lookout and wonderful view over Wenderholm where you stopped on day 2 while travelling north. A few kilometres later it is worth stopping at the lookout for the view over Orewa towards the Whangaparoa Peninsula.
100kms - Continue straight along the coast. As the road rises again after the bridge, turn left towards Whangaparoa Peninsula and Gulf Harbour, your golfing destination for today. The magnificent golf course and resort are 12 kilometres towards the end of the peninsula. I recommend a late afternoon round of golf here, followed by drinks on the terrace while the sun is setting. The challenging layout here rivals any international resort. The prestigious World Cup in 1998 was hosted here, confirming how highly it rates. The famous designer Robert Trent Jones II likens it to California's illustrious Pebble Beach.
Day 6 Gulf Harbour - Rotorua 272kms
Take the motorway to Auckland where you may like to stop and visit some attractions you missed on your first day here. Head south on SH1, direction Hamilton. After the Bombay Hills, turn left onto SH2, direction Coromandel and after 36 kilometres turn right onto SH27, direction Matamata and Tirau.
196kms – Matamata makes a great coffee stop – try the Workmans Cafe on the left just past the tourist office (which is on the right just over the railway tracks.) Lord of the Rings fans may like to take a 2 hour tour to the film set of Hobbiton. The set has been rebuilt for the Hobbit movies so it is looking particullarly beautiful! Semi-fans may be contented with a photo of the "Welcome to Hobbiton" sign on the traffic island in front of the tourist office. Continue south on SH27, direction Tirau.
216kms – Tirau - 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, and 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.
260kms - The Agrodome’s principle attraction here is the Sheep Show, a highly entertaining explanation of sheep and, the caring 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).
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 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 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 my stay would go something like this :-
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 Nongataha for awesome views, interspersed with exhilirating rides on a luge (3 levels available).
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 7 Rotorua - Wairakei 82kms
The next day en route to today's golfing destination you could visit :-
The Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland is the best thermal reserve in the area and is highly recommended for today.
There are several other tourist attractions vying for your dollar. One possibility is to take an awesome flight over Mt Tarawera an impressive volcano which blew in 1886, that not only split the mountain rather dramatically, but also buried the famous Pink and White Terraces, together with three villages and the loss of 153 lives.
The Te Wairoa buried village could also be visited this morning.
29.4kms – Heading south towards Taupo, turn left at the Wai-o-tapu Tavern and 400m further left again onto the Loop Road to take a look at the thermal Mud Pools. Don’t forget to lock your car - the bubbling mud can keep you mesmerized for hours! The Lady Knox Geyser is between the Mud Pools and Waiotapu and blows her top at 10:15am, so try to time it to arrive in time for this spectacle….a bit touristy but quite impressive none the less!
Follow the Loop Road to the main attraction Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland, the best thermal reserve in the area. It really is a wonderland of orange, green, yellow, blue, white and black pools, the highlights being the exquisitely coloured Champagne Pool, Oyster Pool and the Devil’s Bath - you’ll be amazed how nature can conjure up such colours. There are 3 self guided walks, the short, the medium and the long – the latter takes about 2 hours which I recommend as it takes you all the way to the green lake of Ngakoro, with great views en route of the blue lake Whangi-o-terangi. Continue on this road back to SH5 and turn left.
72kms – At the large roundabout where SH5 meets SH1, go straight and you will find the Wairakei International Golf Course on your left. The superb Wairakei Golf Resort is one of our favourites and your destination for today. It is not only one of New Zealand's top resorts but rated in the top 20 golf courses outside the US by US Golf Digest. In August and September the trees behind the clubhouse are full of the native Tui birds. Soon after the golf resort you have an array of attractions.
Day 8 Wairakei - Napier 158kms
Continue towards Taupo and turn left for the 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. Look out for Horse, he measures a whopping 70 centimetres, making him the largest prawn to be produced. The informative tour leaves every 30 minutes, after which you are encouraged to munch out in the Riverside Restaurant. The lawn sweeps down to the river's edge, where jet-boats entertain the tourists with their 360° spins.
The Activity Centre is well worth a stop. You are in the middle of one of the most active volcanic spots in the world, so it’s good to know what lies beneath your feet. There are hands on interpretive displays of local volcanoes, up to the second earthquake Richter scale readings, even a room where you can experience a simulated earthquake.
The Honey Hive also has interesting interpretive displays, a glass fronted live beehive and the Beez Kneez Café.
The mighty Huka Falls are not very high, but are certainly spectacular. Here the sedate Waikato River is forced between a 15 metre chasm 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 and where the sheer power of five hundred tonnes of water per second cascading into a broiling cauldron can be felt.
Return to SH1 and go left to Taupo. After 4 kilometres turn left again for the lookout over the huge Lake Taupo, actually the world’s largest volcanic crater which was 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. Return to the highway, in Taupo go right at the first roundabout towards the lake front and City Centre. The trout infested lake and rivers are a fisherman's delight if you have an extra day here!
The highlight of today’s trip is the ever changing scenery – rugged hills, beautiful valleys, vineyard covered plains and huge vistas as we approach the Hawke's Bay region - 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. 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. 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 known as the Art Deco capital of the world. My stay in Napier would go something like this :-
Day 9 Napier - Hastings 70kms
Church Road Winery and museum tour. The garden restaurant is a superb setting for a casual dinner after your tour, accompanied by a trio of tastings.
Art Deco fans may like to join the walking tour which departs 2pm from The Art Deco Shop.
The 2pm Earthquake walk departs 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 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 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 to our unique and fragile bush!
Other possibilities this afternoon include the touring the Sheepskin Tannery at 2pm, with purchases at factory prices; visiting more wineries on an organized tour with enthusiastic locals; or joining a tour to the Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony. Best viewed during the nesting season between October and April.
Today you are privileged to enjoy an awesome round of golf at our most impressive course perched high on the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers - one of the world’s top 50 golf courses! You may like to start your day with brunch at the Clearview Estate! Breath taking views are seen from many of the fairways and greens that jut out like fingers towards the edge of the cliff with the Pacific Ocean and Hawke's Bay in the background.
23kms – Clifton Beach has some wonderful views of the Cape Kidnappers Cliffs. The entrance to the exclusive course is through the locked gate opposite the woolshed, 200m before the Clifton Bay Café. The clubhouse is an 8,5 kilometre scenic drive from the gate.
40kms – Soon after turning left from the gate after your magical round of golf, you will see the world acclaimed Clearview Estate Winery. They offer excellent meals under the vines to accompany your wine. Continue back the way you came, through Te Awanga and Haumoana and turn left at the egg farm onto Park Hill Road, then right onto Raymond Road.
48kms – 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. Turn right over the bridge, then left direction Havelock. Along this road are several more wineries, including the world renowned Te Mata Estate on the right.
69kms – Turn left, following the signs up to Te Mata Peak. It’s just 6 kilometres to the very top for some awe-inspiring views of Hawke's Bay. Tandem paragliding is a favourite past time from this spot. Return down the hill, turn right at the ‘Give Way’ onto Simla Ave then left at the roundabout to Hastings and your accommodation for this evening.
West of Hastings you will find Selini Estates, another favourite of mine. They offer a total wine and food experience, with gourmet food and wine tasting available until 5pm. Alternatively Craggy Range Winery was voted in the top 13 winery restaurants in the world by the UK magazine "Wine International", or Vidal Estate also comes highly recommended for a unique culinary experience for dining tonight.
Day 10 Hastings - Wharekauhau 300kms
Rejoin SH2 south, direction Wellington. There are quite a few kilometers to be driven today, however the roads are fairly straight as you travel through Waiarapa's fertile farmland.
88kms - 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.
135kms – In Woodville SH2 turns left to Masterton. On the banks of the Mangatainoka River 13kms later you can’t miss the Tui Brewery. Tui is fast becoming a New Zealand icon, with adverts claiming the beer to be brewed by women…. gorgeous women! Yeah right. Beer enthusiasts may want to visit the Promo Shop for a sample or souvenir.
193kms – 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 and there is something special about sitting on the deck of the café sipping coffee and looking at some prehistoric Takehe or Tuataras. There is also a beautiful walk through ancient forest of Rimu, Rata and Kamahi, a living reminder of what existed before the colonization by man.
Carterton is home to 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 make them. However many other items are unique and useful, not to mention stunningly beautiful, so will make a perfect souvenir from New Zealand.
242kms – Turn left, direction Martinborough, a unique wine village with 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, however you still need to drive 36 kilometres to your accommodation on a 5,000 acre working sheep station - voted in the "Top 10 International Hideaway Resorts".
Day 11 Wharekauhau - Wellington 150kms
Todays memorable game of golf is on the world-class links course at Paraparaumu. Head north to Featherston. 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.
46kms – The Summit car park and café 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 is the Rimutaka Incline where the specially built Fell Engine train climbed the steep 265m slopes.
70kms - Turn right to Waikanae on the west coast, once there you then turn left to Paraparaumu. Turn right at the Kapiti Road traffic lights and follow the road past the airport to the beach and Paraparaumu Beach Golf Links - another prestigious member on the "Top 100 Golf Courses in the World". The course has hosted the New Zealand Open championship on twelve occasions including the 2002 Open which included world number one Tiger Woods. The course offers length, tight fairways and shots that are challenged by winds off the Tasman Sea and the nearby seascape which is dominated by Kapiti Island, a native bird sanctuary. Paraparaumu's 17th hole is rated one of the best in the world.
After your game continue south on SH1 to Wellington, your destination for this evening. En route a stop at Titahi Bay is recommended for a meal at the award winning Oceana Café - exit the motorway at Porirua and travel along the northwest side of the lagoon 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.
Day 12 Wellington - Picton - Kaikoura 156kms
Today you cross to the South Island on an internal flight. Although this is a commercial flight, it can easily be described as a scenic flight over the Marlborough Sounds! A sound is a flooded river valley as opposed to the flooded glacial valleys called fiords (the 'sounds' in the south of the West Coast are mis-named). There are numerous attractions in Wellington you could enjoy before your flight this afternoon :-
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.
Visit Mount Victoria Lookout for awesome views of the city and harbour.
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 - our Beehive houses various government offices and there is a free tour of Parliament House.
Be sure to take the Cable Car up the steep hill behind the city centre and wander back down through the magnificent Botanical Gardens.
Pick-up your new hire-car on arrival in Picton and head south on SH1. An extra day is recommended here to relax and unwind at a secluded lodge accessible only by water-taxi on Queen Charlotte Sound.
Just 30 kilometres south of here is Blenheim, where the dry climate and soil in the area have nurtured a strong wine industry which has slowly overtaken sheep as the main export of the area. 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 (New Zealand's largest wine producer, on SH1 just south of Blenheim), the iconic Cloudy Bay Winery on Jackson's Road and the pioneering Hunters Wines on Rapaura Road. You can find more info onMarlborough Wines on the website.
Enjoy the delights of Marlborough to your heart's content, but remember you still need to drive several kilometres later this afternoon! Continue south on SH1 to Kaikoura, your destination for this evening. Just as the road hits the coast, the Store Cafe is worth a stop for refreshments on their terrace by the sea. They also own an excellent garden up on the ridge that can be visited.
The rugged coast is home to a diverse range of wildlife which gladly pose within camera range. Watch out for seals, dolphins and albatrosses amongst the rocks. Freshly cooked crayfish is usually available from a roadside stall. 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.
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 framed by the mountain backdrop behind. The excellent 2 hour Peninsula Walkway at the head of the peninsula takes you along the shoreline and back over the cliffs.
Day 13 Kaikoura - Christchurch 162kms
After your morning excursion, continue south on SH1 to Christchurch where this afternoons golfing experience is at the extremely beautiful 72 hole championship course of Clearwater Estate, which was designed in consultation with New Zealand golfing legend Sir Bob Charles.
68kms - Turn left to Gore Bay to visit the uniquely eroded (think organ pipes) Cathedral Cliffs. Continue on this loop road which will rejoin SH1 in Domett. Continue south on SH1 to Christchurch.
Day 14 Christchurch - Rakaia 88kms
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 animals.....be sure to check out the massive eels! And buy a bag of food to feed the various animals as you walk around the well marked bush lined paths. Time your visit to include the 4.30pm guided tour (no extra charge) through the Natural New Zealand section showcasing our rare native birds, including the kiwi of course. Other highlights here are close encounters of the wildlife kind with various and the farmyard animals that clamber for your attention to be fed and stroked!
You have time to visit more of Christchurch's attractions. Later there is a short drive due west across the Canterbury Plains to the banks of the Rakaia River where an awesome backdrop of mountains frames a truly challenging international-class golf course for you to play this afternoon. Designed specifically to be one of New Zealand's best courses, Terrace Downs Country Resort has already received accolades from around the world. I'm sure you too will be spreading the word!
Head west on SH73 towards Darfield where you change onto SH77 to Mount Hutt and Methven. You should also fill up with petrol here!
81kms – Turn right towards Lake Coleridge and follow this winding road another 7 kilometres to the Terrace Downs.
Day 15 Rakaia - Twizel 315kms
Today I am taking you to the very centre of Middle-Earth, hidden deep in the Southern Alps. Be sure to pack a picnic today. Return to SH77 and turn right to Mt Somers, following the Inland Scenic Route 72.
16kms - The road crosses the alluvial Rakaia River. 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.
45kms - In Mount Somers turn right towards the high country sheep stations of Mount Potts and Erewhon (an anagram of nowhere!) You really do feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere as you travel through the tussocked and exposed land. Be aware that you are now in the alpine region, where weather and temperatures can change dramatically within hours. The 50 kilometre unsealed road will take you deep into the mountains to the head of the Rangitata River.
80kms – 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 with Mt Sunday lying in the middle of the riverbed straight ahead. It is not really a mountain but a small rocky knoll that escaped the destruction of the advancing glaciers.
The elaborate set of the Golden Hall of Edoras for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was purposely built on Mt Sunday. One of my favourite scenes was of Éowyn gazing across the valley in deep thought and my absolute favourite scene was of Aragornreturning on horseback to Helms Deepafter his disappearance over the cliff during the attack of the Wargs, 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 surrounded by the massive Southern Alps... I’ll keep you informed.
96kms - Follow the road past Mt Potts Station and park just after the cattle-stop (judderbars that animals can not walk over). It is permissible to walk to Mt Sunday but it does involve getting your feet wet several times. We failed in our attempt on the fourth crossing of the glacial river, however it was an adventurous and humbling experience trekking as tiny insignificant specks through morass and icy cold streams surrounded in an amphitheatre of 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 might even feel spiritually uplifted 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.
197kms - Geraldine is worth more than a drive through. You can choose from :-
A larger than fair smattering of arts and crafts galleries.
The Vintage Car Club and Machinery Museum - has a sizable collection of cars and tractors.
The Giant Jersey has, you guessed it, the largest jersey in the world, plus lots of woolly stuff on sale.
Barkers 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 Fellmann - the prices ensure they are sold fresh.
Turn right at the tourist office to Fairlie, where you join SH8 to LakeTekapo. The scenery dramatically changes as you cross over the Burkes Pass. You are now entering the Mackenzie Basin, home to New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki (or Mt Cook as it is known in English) and sparkling turquoise glacial lakes below the rolling foothills of the Southern Alps... and it bears little resemblance to anywhere else in New Zealand.
265kms – 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. The gorgeous turquoise-blue lake derives its colour from fine glacial particles suspended in the water.
278kms – 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 Aoraki across the opaque Lake Pukaki.
310kms – Turn right onto SH80. Your luxury Farm Stay accommodation is on the shore of Lake Pukaki.
Day 16 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 this 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. The walk offers a gargantuan vista of Mount Aoraki, 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.
Alternatively there are a couple of options back in Twizel. Here you can try golf-cross, a whacky fun game involving hitting an oval shaped golf-ball with golf clubs, with the object being to score goals between two upright posts (as they do with Rugby). Golf-cross is also available at the Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka! There is the Pelennor Fields Tour (probably guided by a Rohirrim or Gondorian extra) - the tour also gives an 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 back down.
Return along SH80 to Twizel and head south on SH8 via the scenic Lindis Pass. Consider stopping at Omarama for petrol.
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 five minutes drive from Wanaka. It is a super luxurious 5 bedroom lodge with the comfiest beds, best showers and incredible 5 course dinners.
Wanaka has a huge array of activities available - so I recommend an extra day here!
- 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.
- The local ski field at Cardrona has a chair lift open in summer - take a leisurely walk in the mountains, or take the fast route down on a mountain bike.
- Trout fishing and skiing are the locals other favourites.
- Play golf-cross after your visit to the Rippon winery.
- 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 you can try the Siberia Experience of 3 thrills in as many hours – fly into the Mt Aspiring National Park, hike/tramp over the hill to the river and jet-boat back out. Wow!
Day 17 Wanaka - Te Anau 270kms
Drive south on SH6 past Wanaka Airport. It is hard to believe that this sleepy region was the most populous in New Zealand during the chaotic gold boom years of the late 19th century. Cromwell is one of the sunniest, warmest places in the South Island (in the summer that is), making it ideal for growing fruit trees and the region is fast becoming renowned for fine Pinot Noir wines. Old Cromwell Town is worth exploring.
54kms - You then continue south on SH6 through the dramatic Kawarau Gorge. Just before the gorge, look for the large fresh fruit shop on the left (Jones Fruit Stall), it is well worth a stop at as they have all sorts of seasonal fruit that you can try and their real fruit ice-creams are amazing!
Soon after leaving the Gorge there is the excellent Gibbston Valley Winery and café which is a good option for lunch. They also run the Gibbston Valley Cheesery next door!
90kms - The Kawarau River Bridge is home to A.J. Hackett's very first bungee jumping platform - this is where you get to tie a huge elastic band to your ankles and jump out into space over the river (if you dare?), or just have fun watching others.
106kms - At the Frankton roundabout (fill up with petrol here) turn left to stay on SH6, direction Lumsden and Te Anau.
194kms - At Five Rivers, turn right. The café on the corner is highly recommended – try their cheesy rolls, the specialty of the region!
270kms - Te Anau is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park – it is 1,250,000 uninhabited hectares of stunning wilderness. Fiordland has a primeval rugged landscape, largely untouched by humans apart from incursions by tourists at Milford and Doubtful Sounds and a few fishermen in other fiords. It was declared a World Heritage Area on account of the outstanding geological features and exceptional beauty, the jewel in the crown being Mitre Peak in Milford Sound.
You could check-out the Wildlife Centre (a 10 minute walk from the Visitor Centre/DoC) for a view of the near extinct pre-historic looking flightless Takahe as well as many other NZ native birds. It is run by DoC so donations are gladly accepted!
Day 18 Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau 240kms
Another great option before an early dinner is to see the Ata Whenua – Shadowland movie at the Fiordland Cinema. It is a 30 minute film show cases the unique beauty and remote wilderness of Fiordland from the air to the screen for all to enjoy! No reservations are necessary, there is a screening every hour, on the hour between 3pm and 6pm.
Please allow at least 2.5 hours for the drive to Milford as you will be stopping all the time to take photos…..so latest leave 10.30am! NB it is a good idea to take a picnic to enjoy on the cruise as there are no shops en route or at Milford and only a limited selection on board the boat. Also note that what you do not manage to see on the way there you can always stop at on the way back!
The drive towards Milford Sound is quite stunning to say the least. Possible stops en route or on the way back include Eglington River Valley, Mirror Lake and Knobs Flat before reaching the Divide – the lowest pass over these mountains. Continuing along the road you next have the Falls Creek Lookout down to the Hollyford Valley. Please note that there are traffic lights at the Homer Tunnel as it is only one way traffic…..you can be waiting for up to 10 minutes!
Once through the 1.2km long Homer Tunnel you will see the spectacular Cleddau Canyon and the incredibly precipitous walls on which the road slowly winds its way down.
120kms - Milford Sound is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world - wet or fine Milford is incredibly grand. The awesome Nature Cruise on the fiord includes countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of metres down sheer cliffs, mountains rising straight out of the sea, fur seals and (usually) dolphins. Mitre Peak magnetises photographers, as does the cascading Bowen and Stirling Falls. A 'Sound' is a flooded river valley, but these are flooded glacial valleys with sheer sided walls that plunge hundreds of metres under water as well as above - so they are misnamed. The Maori believe the fiords were created by the titanic mason Tute Rakiwhanoa, who used an adze to cut out the steep sided walls and gullies. Don't forget the insect repellent as the sand-flies are not only a menace, but practically man-eating! Plus a rain coat - the area receives 12,000mm of rain per year per square metre - so chances are high that you will see rain!
Return to Te Anau the way you came. If you feel like a short walk, the Nature Walk at the southern end of Lake Gunn is highly recommended (it starts from the Cascade Creek parking)…..it is like walking through a fairy tale!
Day 19 Te Anau - Queenstown 206kms
Return the way you came on SH94 and then SH6 towards Queenstown.
Day 21 Queenstown ......internal or international flight
165kms - At the Frankton roundabout, turn right and drive north another 8 kilometres on SH6.
173kms – Turn left to Arrowtown. On the corner of the highway and Lake Hayes you will find the multi award winning Amisfield Restaurant & Winery, where you can stop and try some wines and have some lunch.
180kms - The pretty tree-lined town of Arrowtown is another former gold mining settlement. Two years after the first European settlers established high country farms in the Wakatipu area, gold was discovered in the Arrow River and news soon spread. Within weeks 1500 people arrived as the news of gold spread and people in search of the alluvial treasure arrived in droves. At the height of the gold rush, Arrowtown's population grew to over 7000. In 1865 many of the miners started to leave for other gold-mining areas and the local government invited Chinese miners to the area. Most worked in the Shotover and Arrow Gorges, although wherever Chinese stores opened communities began to develop. Wander amongst the historic cottages, visit the reconstructed Chinese Settlement (the Chinese were subjected to many prejudices so had their own settlement. The main shopping street is a shopper’s particular delight!
Return south by taking the road along the base of the hill, via Coronet and Arthur’s Point. You could (should) drive up the Coronet Ski-field Access Road for fabulous views of the Wakatipu Basin and Shotover River! You don’t need to drive all the way up….turn left onto Skippers Canyon Road and there is a parking and a Lookout immediately on the left.
206kms - Queenstown is the Adventure Capital of the World! The beautiful resort was originally named as 'fit for a Queen'. It lies on Lake Wakatipu where you can observe the strange seiches phenomenon - this is an unusual rhythmic rise and fall of 12cm in its water level every five minutes due to variations in atmospheric pressure. A Maori myth says it is the beating of a monster's heart lying in the depths of Lake Wakatipu! The sheer breadth of tourist activities available here is impossible to list, however the ' in-thing' at the moment are tours that have anything to do with the numerous Lord of the Rings and Hobbit filming locations.
Day 20 Queenstown
Today in Queenstown you could :-
- Start your day with a Sunrise Balloon flight
- My favourite is the Shotover Canyon Fox, only a ‘little’ scary. And/or you could consider the Shotover Canyon Swing. as the 2 are side-by-side. I love their description on their website “this is an intense, undie staining, adrenilin stimulation activity”.
- Or Cruise with Southern Discoveries on Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas. The 1.5 hour cruise departs 11am and includes a behind-the-scenes visit to a truly authentic, family-run merino sheep farm and a BBQ lunch. Watch the sheep being moved by the farm dog, touch the wool after it has been shorn and then take a 4WD tour of the high-country farm is also included.
- Visit the Underwater World Observatory on the pier, where trout and eels are visible in the clear waters of the lake; they live freely in the lake however as they are fed they like to hang out here. The cutest part is seeing the ducks diving for the food. Beside the pier are marks showing the level to which the lake rose in the floods of 1878 and 1983.
- Take the Skyline Gondola for awesome views! There are various activities you can do up here such as riding the down-hill Luge, descending to the bottom by Zip-lines, mountain-biking or Bungy-jumping!
- Have a leisurely lunch at one of the wineries – the Amisfield Bistro & Winery on the corner of the Lake Hayes-Arrowtown turnoff is highly recommended! As it is a favourite with Queenstown locals, call ahead on 03 442 0556 to book a table! If you are feeling guilty then why not go for a walk around Lake Hayes before your meal!
- Take the plunge and try a bungee jump, or just have fun watching others do it
- Learn to fly-fish in the trout infested lakes and rivers
- Visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park near the gondola, the park spreads for over 2 acres and you need to allow about 2.5 hours to see everything
- Hire bikes from Around the Basin Cycle Adventures at 23 Brecon Street and follow the Queenstown Cycle Trail on purpose built cycle-ways through the Wakatipu Basin.
- Or cycle along the lakefront track to Frankton.
- Play golf on one of the most magically located courses in the world
- Head to the Onsen Hot Pools at Arthurs Point. Each booking receives a private cedar-lined private pool, each with push-button retractable walls and ceiling so you can enjoy the dramatic scenery as you soak on the edge of the cliff overlooking the spectacular Shotover River.
- For drinks, McNeill’s Cottage Brewery where there is a nice mix of heritage and atmosphere, plus fine home brewed ales; or The Sundeck Rooftop Lounge Bar on top of The Bunker at 14 Cow Lane is the newest bar in town and has incredible views!
- For dining, the Madam Woo (Asian Restaurant) on Mall Street has funky décor and funky food; or Rata Restaurant is located in Te Nukuat 43 Ballarat Street and is Josh Emett’s (Michelin star chef and Masterchef judge) latest Queenstown venture; for a special dinner treat, try the Prime Restaurant & Bar on the waterfront of Queenstown Bay (the entrance is #2 Rees Street, above Sunglass Hut)…..if it is stunning weather then ask for a table on the upstairs balcony overlooking the lake.