After lunch I recommend a walk in the lush bush of the Waitakere Ranges to a secluded waterfall or along a deserted beach, such as the one made famous in Jane Campion's movie The Piano. Return to Auckland along the Scenic Drive and take a ferry ride to the old suburb of Devonport - Auckland is known as the City of Sails, so a venture out onto the water is an essential part of visiting this city. Take the tour or wander up under your own steam to North Head for awesome views of the city and our youngest dormant volcano Rangitoto Island. For a late afternoon swim in our clean, clear and safe harbour you can wander down the steps to beautiful Cheltenham Beach. On your return to the Ferry Building enjoy the sunset and dinner up in the revolving restaurant of the Sky Tower.
Day 2 Auckland - Coromandel 176kms
Before you depart for Coromandel, you may like to visit a few attractions you missed yesterday. The Waterfront is where you can find the extremely informative Maritime Museum - the displays are chronological, so you begin with the Maori migration across the seas, 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. 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.
Head south on SH1, direction Hamilton. After the Bombay Hills, turn left onto SH2 direction Coromandel and at 88 kilometres 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 1880s 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, 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! 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 169 kilometres seafood lovers should stop at the Oyster and Mussel Shed on the left. They also sell scallops and all sorts of other seafood. The Smoking Company in Coromandel Town is also a good shop selling very fresh produce.
171kms – Turnoff for the 309 Road.
5kms up this road is the Waiau Waterways Garden and café, where whimsical wonders are worked by water. Even 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 5 kilometres. The main street is an old world delight, full of cafés and craft shops.
Day 3 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- zaging 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.
Visit the gardens, or 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. Follow 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. After 5 kilometres turn right for Hot Water Beach. It is a lovely beach, but more importantly hot water rises to the surface here from a geothermal reservoir under the seabed. Check the tides, as you need to dig a hole below the high water mark, 2 hours either side of the low tide is your time limit. I recommend it after low tide, so you may then get to use an abandoned hole instead of having to dig one for yourself! You can dig a hole on the northern end of the beach, then sit back and soak in your very own private spa. Look for the sulphur bubbling to the surface of the sand.
Return to the Hahei road and continue north another 4 kilometres, your destination for this evening. Hahei's main attraction is Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous beach nearby hidden within a dramatic coastline. There are 4 ways of reaching it :-
Walk the coastal track which starts on the northern end of Hahei Beach. The views are excellent - it will take you about 1 hour to reach the cove itself.
Drive up to the car-park via Grange Road, then walk 45 minutes to the cove.
Take the Hahei sight seeing boat, departing 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 4 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 departing but you should then bypass Tauranga and Mt Maunganui to allow more time in Rotorua.
Depart from Hahei Beach car-park, return 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, as you enter Tairua you can turn left towards Ocean Beach. Keep following the road, at the marina go up Paku Drive, then follow signs to Paku Summit. A short walk will take you the rest of the way, for awesome views over Tairua Harbour and Pauanui Beach. Return to Tairua and continue south, direction Whangamata and 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. Morton Estate Wineryon SH2 in Katikati is recommended if you need to stock up on some excellent wines!
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. The city lies on a beautiful lake, actually a flooded volcanic crater - the surrounding hills are the remains of the rim of the giant volcano. 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 and quite frankly many of them are a bit of a rip-off. But if you’d like to make the most of what Rotorua has to offer and all that is thermal, here are some of my suggestions :-
Kuirau Park has the largest display of steam and mud pools. An eruption took place here as recently as January 26th 2001 when mud, steam and debris were thrown 200m into the air. Springs regularly just appear, resulting in families being forced to move and the land having to be given back to nature.
Wander around the original Maori settlement at Ohinemutu. The church is worth a look at, as is the Marae (Maori meeting house) across the courtyard. Wander the tiny streets where everyone has their own private hot-water bore to fill their bath in the out-shed….just follow the steam and stay on the paths!
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 an excellent way to start the day - relaxing with wonderful views across the lake.
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.
This evening don’t miss the excellent Tamaki Brothers cultural show followed by a traditional Hangi (earthen cooked meal). Pickups are 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 Ngongotaha for awesome views, interspersed with hair raising rides on a luge (3 levels available, so suitable for children).
Day 5 Rotorua - Taupo - Rotorua 184kms
There are many more attractions between here and Taupo! The Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland is the best thermal reserve in the area and highly recommended for today.
Departing from the tourist office, drive up Fenton Street direction Taupo. At 29 kilometres 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. It really is a wonderland of orange, green, yellow, blue, white and black pools - the highlights being the exquisitely coloured Champagne Pool, Oyster Pool and the Devil’s Bath - you’ll be amazed how nature can conjure up such colours. There are 3 self guided walks, the short, the medium and the long – the latter takes about 2 hours which I recommend as it takes you all the way to the green lake of Ngakoro, with great views en route of the blue lake Whangi-o-terangi, meaning "colour of the sky". The track is uneven at times so you need walking shoes. Continue on this road 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 the native tui birds.
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, after which you are encouraged to munch out in the Riverside Restaurant. The lawn sweeps down to the river's edge, where jet-boats entertain the tourists with their 360° spins.
The Activity Centre is well worth a stop. You are in the middle of one of the most active volcanic spots in the world, so it’s good to know what lies beneath your feet. There are hands-on interpretive displays of local volcanoes, up to the second earthquake Richter scale readings, even a room where you can experience a simulated earthquake.
The Honey Hive also has interesting interpretive displays, a glass fronted live beehive and the Beez Kneez Café.
The Huka Falls are not very high, but are certainly spectacular. Here the sedate Waikato River is forced between a 15 metre gap before roaring over a 7 metre drop. There is a lookout just past the Helistar Helicopters, but the falls are much more impressive from below, where there is a walkway across the river.
There is another attraction called the Craters of the Moon volcanic reserve, that is if you’re not all "thermalled out" yet. To reach the reserve after visiting the falls, return to the highway intersection and cross straight over. Follow the road for 1.5kms to the car-park. From here a 40 minute stroll along a boardwalk will take you through steamy billowing clouds and hissing escaping gases – you really do feel as if you’re walking on the moon.
Return to SH1/SH5, go right to Taupo
. After 4 kilometres 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. In Taupo
go right at the first roundabout towards the lake front where most of the restaurants are situated. Return to Rotorua
the way you came.
Day 6 Rotorua - Christchurch ... internal flight
The flight can be described as a scenic flight, with spectacular views of the North Island volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in the LOTR Trilogy), Ruapehu, Taranaki (Mt Fujiyama in the Last Samurai) before crossing to the South Island and following the Southern Alps all the way down to Christchurch. Arriving by air gives you a wonderful overview of the area - sea to the east, a carefully laid out city bordered by the Port Hills to the south-east, then an expanse of patch-work fields ringed by perfectly manicured wind-breaks that stretch all the way to the Southern Alps.....ask for a window seat on the right side of the plane!
If your flight is later in the 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!
For non-golfers there are several other tourist attractions vying for your dollar. One possibility is to take an awesome flight over Mt Tarawera, famous for its 1886 eruption 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, or take a 4x4 tour to the top of Mt Tarawera.
Christchurch is New Zealand's second largest city which sprawls across the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. The main attractions here are the English style gardens and parks, the city even has its very own Avon Riveron which one can punt. It has an English colonial feel to the city with school children in formal blazers and straw hats, with fine architecture and heritage sites evident everywhere. ……however, on February 22nd 2011 the city suffered a devastating earthquake that has unfortunately destroyed many of those heritage buildings, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral!
Attractions still worth considering are :-
- Head to Antigua Boatshed where canoes are available for hire. Request a picnic basket hamper to be enjoyed on the banks of the Avon River along the way.
- Or hire your very own gondolier to punt you through the Botanical Gardens.
- The Grand Café at the Casino is a great option ….open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week.
- Visit the Canterbury Museum for their informative Earthquake exhibition as well as the Antarctic section and impressive Maori collection.
- The new Christchurch Art Gallery is a must see.
- The excellent International Antarctic Centre near the airport is where you can experience all there is to know about the icy continent.
- Take to the Port Hills for stunning 360° views as you walk along the Crater Rim Track.
- Mona Vale was a beautiful Edwardian-style homestead set amongst 5½ ha. of beautiful gardens…..the gardens are still worth the visit!
- The nearby Dean’s Bush at Riccarton is home to the only surviving stand of wetlands podocarp forest.
- Join the Christchurch Bike Tour…..they ride along the bike paths and through parks and there is not a hill in sight! Stops include both Mona Vale and Deans Bush, as well as Hagley Park and the attractions.
- The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a zoo with a difference with plenty of opportunities to get up close and touch the animals.....be sure to check out the massive eels! And buy a bag of food to feed the various animals as you walk around the well marked bush lined paths. Time your visit to include the 4.30pm guided tour (no extra charge) through the Natural New Zealand section showcasing our rare native birds, including the kiwi of course. Other highlights here are close encounters of the wildlife kind with various and the farmyard animals that clamber for your attention to be fed and stroked!
Day 7 Christchurch - Mt Cook 330kms
Follow SH1 south, direction Ashburton and Timaru.
121kms - 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.
- Barkers Berry Barn has a specialty shop, where you'll find a huge range 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.
182kms - Turn right onto SH8 to Lake Tekapo. The scenery dramatically changes as you cross over Burke's Pass. You are now entering the Mackenzie Basin, a flat expanse of tussock grasslands and home to New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki (or Mt Cook as it is known) 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. 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 gorgeously opaque Lake Pukaki.
270kms – Turn right onto SH80. Lord of the Rings fans may prefer to stay in Twizel to view where they filmed the massive Battle of the Pelennor Fields on the grassy fields to the left of this road, however it really would be sacrilege not to make the 55 kilometre scenic drive to Mount Cook Village at the base of Mt 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.
Suggested activities :-
Choose from several different short or long 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 or just relax in the Hermitage while enjoying the incredible views that lie before you.
Day 8 Mt Cook - Wanaka 212kms
You can stay at Mount Cook Village 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 Aoraki with 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 for the worst.
Return along SH80 to Twizel, 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!
Day 9 Wanaka
A day off from driving! There are several options for you to choose from today :-
Day 10 Wanaka - Glenorchy 130kms
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 to the face of the glacier. For a shorter walk try the 2 1/2 hour Roaring Meg's Pack Track.
Wanaka is also the best place to try tandem sky-diving!
Or how about a 4x4 quad bike tour on a sheep farm with great views.
- It is also possible to horse-ride on Appaloosas up the beautiful Cardrona Valley.
Trout fishing and skiing are the locals other favourites.
At the northern reaches of Lake Wanaka in a little place called Makaroa you can try the Siberia Experience of 3 thrills 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!
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.
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. You can wander amongst the historic cottages, visit the reconstructed Chinese Settlement (the Chinese were subjected to many prejudices so had their own settlement).
Return to SH6, where you can go right to Queenstown, or left to the Kawarau Gorge. The Kawarau River Bridge is home to A.J. Hackett's very first bungee jumping platform - this is where you get to tie a huge elastic band to your ankles and jump out into space over the river, if you dare - or just have fun watching the others. A few more kilometres along the gorge you will find the excellent winery and restaurant at Gibbston Valley 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 up the Dart River into the very heart of the Mt Aspiring National Park - there is an option to raft back down....amazing! Horse-trekking is also recommended.
Day 11 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. See Day 13 for further suggestions.
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!
Day 12 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!
Fiordland National Park - 1,250,000 uninhabited hectares of stunning wilderness. 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.
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 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 at 4.30pm, parking is available 10 minutes walk from the Visitor Terminal. Once the masses have departed 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 magic.
Day 13 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.
- Visit Birdlife Park to view a real live kiwi and our other native birds.
- 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 a vineyard and try their wines of course - you could even leave the car behind and go by jet-boat.
- etc, etc, etc............
Day 14 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.
We know New Zealand - we live here!