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Wilderness Walking
 

WILDERNESS WALKING

New Zealand is a top destination for discovering the Great Outdoors. Imagine waking up to the dawn chorus of native birds. After packing up, your walk takes you through a lush river valley and over a low pass into the moraine-strewn valley of an ancient glacier. Lunch by a beautiful mountain lake, before descending to the braided river below where you can catch tonight's dinner in the trout infested waters - experience all of this in the solitude of New Zealand's unique wilderness. If this sounds like paradise to you, then you've chosen the right destination.

If you would like a unique itinerary drafted to suit your individual interests, feel free to contact us - we will gladly assist you in planning that perfect vacation.


  
 

 
Self-Drive Holiday

Duration : 11 nights/12 days. 
Activities include : Walks are scheduled everyday. Multi-day walks are possible as well as the main tourist attractions.
Notes :
North Island only, see below for the 19 day South Island itinerary.

This itinerary takes advantage of the huge uninhabited expanses we fondly call "The Great Outdoors". Walking, tramping, hiking (call it what you will) in this country is usually free, not to mention safe! Because of our isolation, the country is free of poisonous snakes and spiders. It has also enjoyed a distinct lack of large predators - hence many of our lazy native birds have lost the ability to fly. Kiwis are what we call ourselves, but they are also the national bird - a cute fluffy brown flightless bird about the size of a chicken, with a very long beak for sniffing underground for bugs and worms. They are nocturnal, so chances of seeing one in the wild are less than remote. However the larger tokoekas kiwi is diurnal, so the fortunate may see one along tracks on Stewart Island, Fiordland or Haast. Remember this is just a sample.

Highlights in the North Island                           Highlights in the South Island


- Auckland's wild West Coast

- Beautiful Coromandel Peninsula
- Kayaking to Cathedral Cove
- Cultural activities in Rotorua
- Central Plateau volcanic area
- Tongariro National Park
- Dawson Falls
- White cliffs of Taranaki
- Mt Egmont National Park
- Putangirua Pinnacles 

 


- Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds
- Coastal Walkway, Abel Tasman National Park
- Hanmer Springs Thermal Resort
- Rangitata Valley
- Mount Cook National Park
- Rob Roy Valley walk to glacier
- Queenstown - Adventure Capital of the world
- Dart River and Mount Aspiring National Park
- Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound
- Fox Glacier and the rugged West Coast

 

Day 1 Arrive Auckland

All travellers using Amazing New Zealand services are personally met at the airport by our friendly professional representative. You will receive at the airport a comprehensive Deluxe Travel Pack. The pack contains the prepaid service vouchers, maps, discount vouchers and brochures to local attractions, plus a detailed daily explanation of driving routes, including suggested stops en route.

The representative will then take you to your accommodation in Auckland, stopping en route on the extinct volcano Mount Eden to point out the city's many geographical features and attractions. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, straddling two enormous harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. We recommend at least one day here to recover from your jet-lag.

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

Today I suggest a day-trip around the outskirts of Auckland -  it is possible to have your very own Amazing New Zealand chauffeur to guide you to our favourite spots. Head north over the Harbour Bridge to pretty Orewa Beach and Wenderholm Regional Park on the tranquil east coast, followed by morning tea in the original Bohemian settlement of Puhoi. We then drive inland past wineries and orchards to the wild black-sand beaches of the West Coast. The gannet colony at Muriwai is a must see as not only will the cute chicks and the flying skills of the adults keep you mesmerized, but the sweeping views along the surfing beaches north will certainly blow any jet-lag away. Heading south again lunch can be enjoyed at the Bees Online cafe where many honey orientated products are on sale, or wine lovers should take advantage of having a chauffeur and dine in a restaurant under the vines of a world class winery. After lunch I recommend a walk in the lush bush of the Waitakere Ranges to a secluded waterfall or along a deserted beach, such as the one made famous in Jane Campion's movie The Piano. Return to Auckland along the Scenic Drive and take a ferry ride to the old suburb of Devonport - Auckland is known as the City of Sails, so a venture out onto the water is an essential part of visiting Auckland. Wander up North Head for awesome views of the city and our youngest dormant volcano Rangitoto Island. For a late afternoon swim in our clean, clear and safe harbour you can wander down the steps to beautiful Cheltenham Beach. On your return to the Ferry Building enjoy the sunset and dinner on the Waterfront.

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

Another nice walk is the Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, with the added bonus of vineyard cafes and beaches en route! Catch the ferry to Waiheke Island, what is now a small suburb of Auckland and about ½ an hour by ferry from Downtown. 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 half 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.

Day 3 Auckland - Hahei 270kms 

Head south (direction Hamilton) on SH1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 4 Hahei 

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

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

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

Day 5 Hahei - 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.

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

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

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.

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. Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so volcanic activity is part of the city’s past and present.

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 would 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 a wonderful way to start the day - relaxing with serene 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 Maoris. 
  • 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).
  • Thrill-seekers should stay an extra day in Rotorua and go wild with the "Wild Four"- a mix of off-road action, zorbing, tandem sky-diving and white-water rafting.....all in one day! After 'going wild' at the four activities, you can relax and unwind using a complimentary pass to the Polynesian Spa - a memorable day indeed!
  • Walk from the Polynesian Spa to the town on the Lakeside Walk via the bird sanctuary at Sulphur Bay. You will also see the remains of the first ever public bath – here Hydrogen Sulphide mixes with Carbon Dioxide to create a mixture similar to the dentist’s laughing gas!

Day 6 Rotorua - Turangi 140kms

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. Other attractions you could consider this morning are :-

  • 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 to the top of Mt Tarawera.

29kms – 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. 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 a kaleidoscope of 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". 

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. 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 Huka Prawn Park, apparently the world’s only geothermal prawn farm. The informative tour leaves every 30 minutes, after which you are encouraged to munch out in the Riverside Restaurant.

  • The Activity Centre is well worth a stop. You are in the middle of one of the most active volcanic spots in the world, so it’s good to know what lies beneath your feet. There are hands on interpretive displays of local volcanoes, up to the second earthquake Richter scale readings, even a room where you can experience a simulated earthquake.

  • The Huka Falls are not very high, but are certainly spectacular. Here the sedate Waikato River is forced between a 15 metre gap before roaring over a 7 metre drop. There is a lookout just past the Helistar Helicopters, but the falls are much more impressive from below, where there is a walkway across the river.

  • There is another 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- it is another 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 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 in China and Rome. You can gather your own free volcanic souvenir from the shoreline in the form of very light pumice stones (great for cleaning off rough skin) which were spewed out in that eruption. Just about everywhere you look in the Lake Taupo region, you'll see a volcano. Return to the highway, in Taupo go right at the first roundabout towards the lake front and town centre, where most of the eating establishments are situated.

Continue south on SH1 until Turangi, your destination for this evening. There are two more short walks I'd like to recommend - if you have time, or you could do these tomorrow morning if the weather is not suitable to do the Tongariro Crossing.

The first is a 2 hour circular route around Lake Rotopounamu - meaning greenstone lake in reference to it's (sometimes) emerald-coloured water. From Turangi drive north on SH41 and turn left onto SH47A - the car-park is 6 kilometres further. The density of birds in the bush here is marvellous - a sure sign of a healthy forest. There are three beaches en route - however the water is freezing to say the least!

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

Day 7 Tongariro National Park 

From Turangi, drive north on the SH41 and turn left 3 kilometres later onto SH47A, direction National Park. It is the base for several mountain walks - the most popular being the excellent one day hike over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand's top ten walks. The track winds its way between the 3 majestic volcanic cones of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and the Ruapehu, via aptly named features such as the Red Crater, Blue Lake, Soda Springs and Emerald Lakes. The "walk" is 16 kilometres long - local transport can drop you at the start and pick you up 9 hours later at the other end. Alternatively there are shorter walks - the two hour Taranaki Falls track from Whakapapa Village or the Ruapehu Crater Lake track from the top of Whakapapa ski field chairlift are recommended.


40kms - If you're not doing the full-day hike, take the side road towards the Whakapapa ski-field. After another 4 kilometres there is a 20 minute walk to the Tawhai Falls, where the tree-lined river tumbles over a ledge of lava into a rock pool below. Mount Ruapehu is popular for skiing in the winter, or walking in the summer - it was used extensively for filming around the bad lands of Mordor in the LOTR trilogy and Mount Ngauruhoe provided the backdrop as Mt Doom. Mount Ruapehu doesn’t usually steam, but did erupt as recently as 1995. Return down the mountain and turn left to National Park.

Day 8 Turangi - New Plymouth 288kms

Head north on SH41, then turn left towards Taumaranui.

Travel west on the ‘Forgotten World Highway 43’, certainly a step back in time. Please note that fuel, food or refreshment stops are a scarcity for the next 120kms!

34kms – At the top of the hill stop at Nevin’s Lookout, for panoramic views of the King Country and the mountains. Just after Tatu the landscape turns prehistoric through the Tangarakau Gorge. Coal was mined at several locations in the gorge and small pockets of coal can still be found adjacent to the Gorge site sign. 

154kms – At the bottom of the hill, turn right onto the Okau Road. About 20 minutes along this road you will find Mount Damper Falls, at 78 metres they are the 2nd highest in New Zealand. The short walkway is well sign posted - climb over the stile and take the track beside the creek and over open farmland. After 10 minutes you will cross a swing bridge, where the bush starts. Descend with care (the path has a slippery clay base) towards the bottom which will take another 10 minutes. Toilets are available at the car-park. After returning to your car, continue the same direction to Okau and Ahititi.

166kms – At the Ahititi junction, turn right onto SH3 to Tongaporutu. Walk via the muddy riverbed (only at low tide) to the northern start of the White Cliffs Coastal Walkway (9.5kms one way), or you can just walk to the beginning where you will find various caves, arches and rock towers – however the walk is VERY muddy.

To do the full walk, follow the side-road to the last farm on the left (look for the enquiries sign) and pay $5 for a key, as access is via private farmland through a locked gate. There are also horse treks available from the farm. Return along SH3 the way you came, south to New Plymouth.

If the tide is not right then my advice is to drive across the river and take the first road on the left. There is parking at the end of the road where you can then climb over the stile for a short walk across accessible land to the headland.
From here there is a wonderful view of the impressive White Cliffs, with the Three Sisters in the foreground and Mount Taranaki in the background.

288kms - Movie buffs may be interested to know that many of The Last Samurai’s scenes were filmed on a private farm near here, with the perfectly round volcano of Mount Taranaki cleverly filling in for Japan’s Mount Fujiyama. The dormant volcano last erupted as recently as 350 years ago and once had a twin peak, which shattered in some cataclysmic explosion centuries before.

Suggested activities in New Plymouth :-  

  • The Coastal Walkway, with views of the Sugar Loaf Islands. The islands support an abundance of wildlife, including a fur-seal colony and thousands of roosting seabirds. The undersea wildlife are protected within a marine reserve.

  • The Pukekura Park up on the hill has a lake with gorgeous reflections on a calm day. 

  • Brooklands next door is famous for the Rhododendrons.

  • The Paritutu Plug is a spike of 2 million year old solid lava. There is a track to the top departing from the car-park directly behind the (eyesore of a) power station. The lucky may even be rewarded with views of hump-back whales and orcas!

Day 9 New Plymouth - Whanganui 182kms

Today is dedicated to exploring Egmont National Park - Mt Egmont is the English name for Mt Taranaki. Head south via SH3, direction Stratford.

7kms – Your first stop should be Lake Mangamahoe which offers beauty and serenity and is a photographer’s dream, especially early morning. Drive to the end of the side-road and take the track on the right up to the lookout. From here the mountain reflects beautifully and is framed by Punga trees.

40kms - In Stratford, turn right towards Cardiff and Mahoe, then follow the signs up the mountain to Dawson Falls.

65kms - Visit the Dawson Falls Information Centre first for information about the park and the many alpine tracks (colour-coded, so study the map first to avoid confusion!) There are limited snacks and non-recommendable coffee available from the Lodge. For a view of the waterfall itself, return 300 metres down the road to the Kapuni Loop Track (1 hour). A circular 15 minute walk along a goblin-forest like track brings you back to the road, where you can continue on the full Loop if you wish. The first part is steep, as is the side-track to the base of the falls (not necessary), after which the path becomes much gentler and offers a better view of the falls from above - not extraordinary, however the walk is lovely.

You could combine this walk with the 1 hour Wilkies Pools Track. The pools are a series of water-sculptured rock pools turbulently cascading from one to another. The track crosses the Kapuni Stream where some agile boulder hopping is required - however you shouldn't get your feet wet. Return down the hill and continue straight to Manaia where you turn left at the roundabout to Hawera.

98kms - Just past Hawera you will see Dairyland, the dairy industry’s equivalent to the Agrodome back in Rotorua. It has a revolving café plus interesting interactive displays concerning all there is to know about cows. We do have excellent cows as well you know, not just sheep! We are indeed a proud farming nation. Besides, it makes an excellent excuse for coffee.

Continue on to Whanganui, another 84 kilometres from here
.

  • Whanganui City lies on Whanganui River - New Zealand's longest navigatable river.

  • The main street is full of flowering hanging baskets and beautifully restored historical buildings.

  • You can also stroll across the Whanganui City Bridge to the pedestrian tunnel (through the Maori entrance next to the steps) which travels 205 metres inside the hill and leads to the earthbound Durie Hill Elevator, which will take you up to the War Memorial Tower. The tower is built of fossilized shell rock, and commands an impressive view over the city, river and coastline, plus Mt Taranaki to the northwest and Mt Ruapehu to the northeast.

  • The Sarjeant Gallery is a nationally acclaimed art gallery - the city just oozes art, boasting a stable of celebrated artists as well as international fine arts students from the city's Polytech.

Day 10 Whanganui - Wellington 195kms

Continue south on SH3. The next town is Bulls where SH3 joins SH1. The town was named after one of the first settlers Mr. James Bull….so has nothing to do with the black four legged variety. That hasn’t stopped the town having a bit of fun though – I spotted the Bullocks Gravel Centre, Bulls Eye Café, Ye Auld Bull, the Forgive-a-bull church service, the Const-a-bull police station, the Extinguish-a-bull fire station, and so on.

50kms - The two highways split again - continue straight on SH3 to Palmerston North. Rugby fans may want to stop and visit the Rugby Museum, where many a fanatic has made the pilgrimage to pay homage to our All Black heroes, past and present. Continue on SH3 through the impressive Manawatu Gorge.

100kms - In Woodville turn right onto SH2 to Masterton. On the banks of the Mangatainoka River 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.

158kms – Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre is New Zealand’s best for viewing our unique native birds the Kiwis, Kakas, Kokakos, etc. The DoC (Department of Conservation) is successfully breeding endangered species here and there is something special about sitting on the deck of the café sipping coffee and looking at some prehistoric Takahe or Tuataras (lizards from the time of the dinosaurs).

  • 1.30pm Feeding of the huge 80 year old wild eels, who instinctively seem to know the time.

  • 3pm Kaka feeding, a cheeky and raucous native bush parrot, cousin to the more noious Kea that lives in the mountains.

  • There is also a beautiful walk through ancient forest of Rimu, Rata and Kamahi, a living reminder of what existed before the colonization by man.

181kms – 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 in deep water with snorkels and how the inner shell casing is ground down to reveal the beautifully patterned colours. OK agreed, some of the items on sale are painfully kitsch, but somebody must buy them otherwise they wouldn’t continue to make them. However many other items are unique and useful, not to mention stunningly beautiful, so will make a perfect souvenir.

181kms – 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 FactoryPaua is unique to New Zealand. The informative display explains how they are caught in deep water with snorkels and how the inner shell casing is ground down to reveal the beautifully patterned colours. OK agreed, some of the items on sale are painfully kitsch, but somebody must buy them otherwise they wouldn’t continue to make them. However many other items are unique and useful, not to mention stunningly beautiful, so will make a perfect souvenir.

207kms – Turn left to Martinborough, a unique wine village and your destination for this evening. There are 20+ boutique wineries specializing in Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc wines, many within staggering distance of the Village Square. The wine centre is the best place to start your sampling, followed by a memorable meal at any one of the excellent cafés.

Day 11 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.

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. 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.

154kms –
Featherston is the first opportunity for a café stop, however there is a better choice with a view in another 10 kilometres if you can wait. The town housed New Zealand’s largest army training base during WW1, with about 35000 troops passing through the camp before they had to walk the Rimutaka Hill to Wellington to be shipped overseas. Quite a formidable feat you’ll realize once you’ve negotiated the tortuous “hill” yourself by car. Messines in Belgium is twinned with this little town because New Zealand troops recaptured it from the Germans in June 1917.

165kms – The
Summit car park is on the right – pass over the median strip with care! There is a great view of Lake Wairarapa and the coast to the east and of the Rimutaka Incline to the west, where the specially built Fell Engine train climbed the steep 265m slopes. 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 on Day 13 to connect with your international flight.

Day 12 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 and later I recommend 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


Discover the best of New Zealand while actively exploring mountains and sounds on both sides of the dramatic Southern Alps. Hike along deserted beaches, through ancient rainforests and over an active glacier. Journey through a spectacular range of landscapes and ecosystems in six National Parks and World Heritage Sites.  

 

  


Day 1 Wellington - Marlborough Sounds...internal flight


Today you cross to the South Island on the 8am flight. Although this is a commercial flight, it can easily be described as a stunning scenic flight over the flooded valleys of the Marlborough Sounds! On arrival a free shuttle will whisk you to the Picton wharf to connect with the water-taxi to your accommodation in the stunning Queen Charlotte National Park. Today I recommend you disembark at Resolution Bay and walk back to your lodge - your luggage will be dropped at your accommodation for you.

Day 2 Marlborough Sounds

Today you can walk to your hearts content on the famous Queen Charlotte Track, fish, collect mussels, visit nesting penguins or wander deserted golden beaches. This is a place where the passing traffic is likely to be a pod of orcas on their way south for their summer holiday, or dolphins leaping with joy. Noise here is not the sound of cars going past or the neighbours squabbling, but the sound of bellbirds and tuis singing and the smells are of fresh salt air mixed with the odour of the bush. This is New Zealand at her very best.

Day 3 Picton - Kaiteriteri 178kms

This morning the water-taxi will deposit you back to Picton, pick up your new hire-car and drive west along the waterfront of Queen Charlotte Sound to the enchanting little village of Havelock at the head of Pelorus Sound.

35kms - Havelock was once a thriving gold-mining town, however the gold is green these days and comes in the form of green-lipped mussels - try them for lunch at the Mussel Pot Restaurant. The town's most famous resident was Sir Ernest Rutherford, Nobel Prize winner for being the first person to split the atom! If you'd like to learn more about mussels there is a tour to the mussel farms leaving at 2pm with steamed mussels and a glass of wine included en route.

110kms - Nelson holds the title as most sunniest place in New Zealand, with absolutely stunning golden beaches particularly north of Kaiteriteri and around the Abel Tasman National Park, your destination for this evening. The region is home to countless artists and crafts people in and around the city, many of them were involved in creating the many props of Middle-Earth.

  • The World of Wearable Art and Collectable Cars is just north of Nelson Airport, has some rather bizarre outfits previously created for the annual fashion show.

  • The South Street Gallery sells pieces from 25 selected resident potters, the same street has 16 historical cottages to look at.

  • The biggest art gallery in town is the Suter Gallery, next door to the Queen's Gardens.

  • The One Ring was created by Jens Hansen Goldsmith on Trafalger Square - buy your own souvenir while you're here.

  • Harringtons Brewers in Richmond produced the special beer for the Prancing Pony (LOTR).

Continue on SH6 through Stoke and just after Richmond turn right at the roundabout onto SH60, direction Motueka. In Mapua you may like to take the short diversion off SH60 to the waterfront where you will find the excellent multi award winning restaurant the Smokehouse, the Cool Store Art Gallery opposite is well worth looking at. Soon after passing through Motueka, turn right immediately after crossing the Riwaka River to KaiteriteriThis evening try the little walk at the eastern end of Kaiteriteri Beach to the Kaka Pa Point Lookout, with the idyllic little Breakers Beach below.

Day 4 Abel Tasman

The Abel Tasman National Park is our most beautiful park, but unfortunately it is also our most popular - hence the famed coastal walking track can become quite crowded at times. It is named after the Dutchman Abel Tasman who first 'discovered' this land in 1642 and consequently named it New Zealand after his home province in The Netherlands

The world famous Coastal Walkway is actually a multi-day walk, however it is possible to take a water-taxi part way along and then either walk back or kayak along the crystal clear coastline. My recommendation is to take the scenic cruise to Onetahuti then walk the most picturesque stretch from Bark Bay through the lush forest interior and Swing Bridge back to Torrent Bay where they will pick you up again at 5pm (the earlier water-taxi does not allow enough time to swim or relax on the golden beaches). Alternatively you can be dropped at Torrent Bay by an ordinary water-taxi (this should be timed for low tide) and then walk 3 ½ hours back to Marahau via Anchorage Bay, Watering Cove, Stillwell Bay, Apple Tree Bay and Tinline Bay, followed by a seafood fettuccine and a beer at the Park Café. However the bush is only regenerating bush having originally been cleared and the views are far less awesome on this stretch. It is also possible to join a multi-day trip combining the walk and water-taxi with kayaking the azure-coloured clear waters. In a word, paradise!


Day 5 Abel Tasman - Hanmer Springs 373kms

Return 15kms to Motueka and turn right after the shops onto SH61. It follows the Motueka River, a fertile valley full of hops, kiwifruit and apple orchards. At 41kms there are 2 one-way bridges on blind-bends! You have the right of way, however be careful! At the Kohatu Hotel SH61 joins SH6. Turn right and follow this road and at 84kms turn left, direction Saint Arnaud.

118kms – Turn right to the alpine village of Saint Arnaud, gateway to the trout infested Nelson Lakes National Park and starting point to numerous alpine walks ranging from 20 minutes to 7 days – take your pick, or just enjoy the scenery (continue through the village to the park entrance, the walks start from the parking on the left down by the lakefront). The 45 minute Honey Dew walk through the virgin Beech Forest is particularly lovely. The level walking track takes you along the lake then deep into the ancient forest where the canopy is full of bellbirds and tuis competing in birdsong and where the forest floor is a refuge for our native kiwi – unfortunately they are nocturnal and avid sleepers so you are not likely to see one! My favourite walk is to gorgeous Lake Angelus, but to manage it in a day you need to catch a (scenic) water-taxi to the southern end of Lake Rotoiti and follow the Hukere Valley to Lake Angelus Basin and return the same way. After your walk I recommend Elaine's Alpine Cafe back in the village for lunch. Continue west along SH63.

Murchison is next, famous for almost being wiped out in the 1929 earthquake. You should fill up with petrol here as there is not another service station for 100kms! Continue on SH6.

272kms - Turn left onto SH7 which will take you over the 864 metre high Lewis Pass. In pre-European times the Maori used this route to the West Coast in search of greenstone, on their return they are said to have slaughtered their slaves in the valley to the right followed by a feast on their remains - hence it is known as Cannibal Gorge. As you descend you may want to peruse the naming of the mountains surrounding you – there is Mt Skidaddle, The Grand Duchess, Niggerhead, Spider Web and Mons Sex Millia to mention just a few….I’m sorry I can’t enlighten you with a story behind these names.

197kms – It is possible to make a small side trip here if you have time (otherwise continue straight on SH65 to Lewis Pass.) SH6 turns right over O’Sullivan’s Bridge - 3kms later you will come to the longest Swing-bridgein New Zealand. There is a short walk across the swing-bridge to the Ariki Falls, not spectacular but the pink granite rocks are unique. Beware of the man-eating sand-flies! They also hire out pans if you would like to try your luck at panning for gold in the Buller Gorge. Return to O'Sullivans Bridge and turn right, direction Lewis Pass. The Maruia Falls 8 kilometres later are worth a quick look at – dramatic evidence of the 1929 earthquake. 

357kms - Turn left to Hanmer Springs, your destination for this evening. Here you can enjoy a wealth of activities – their specialty mountain-biking, bungee jumping, rafting, skiing or horse riding, followed by a well earned soak in the award winning Thermal Resort. The town is particularly beautiful in autumn when the tree-lined streets and forests are splattered with golden hues.

Day 6 Hanmer Springs - Kaikoura  142kms

You have time to enjoy some adventures this morning before heading to Kaikoura along the scenic Alpine Pacific Triangle.

Return to SH7 and turn left towards Culverden. At 30 kilometres turn left and after 3 kilometres left again onto SH70 to Rotherham and Waiau.

122kms - Turn left to Kaikoura. 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. Sperm whales can dive to a depth of 2kms and stay submerged for up to 2 hrs and can swim at 40km/h. Also, did you know that dolphins do not breath automatically as humans do so when they sleep only half the brain sleeps at a time.

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 past limestone sea caves and formations and back over the cliffs.

Optional Extra - If you have an extra 2 days you can enjoy the mountainous region on the Kaikoura Wilderness Walkway staying overnight at the Shearwater Lodge on New Zealand's highest farm. The 17 kilometre walk has abundant birdlife and plantlife as it meanders through stands of Manuka, Beech forests and ancient Totara, rising sometimes above the snowline. You can sit on the balcony in the evening and watch chamois, red deer and goats while inquisitive Kea (mountain parrots) hang around hoping for handouts. There is also a fabulous 3 day walk along the Kaikoura Coastal Walkway. Personal luggage is transported each day for you, where an evening meal and even pre-dinner wine can be provided!

Day 7 Kaikoura - Christchurch 200kms

After your morning excursion to view the whales or swim with the playful Dusky Dolphins, drive down the east coast to Christchurch. Swim among the dolphins enthralled by their antics or remain dry and marvel at their acrobatic displays from the boat.

68kms  - Turn left to Gore Bay to visit the uniquely eroded (think organ pipes) Cathedral Cliffs just past the beach. Continue on this loop road which will rejoin SH1 in Domett. The little Mainline Cafe on the corner of the main road is well worth the stop. The food is excellent, particularly when enjoyed in the garden out back. Continue south on SH1.

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 (free) 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 8 Christchurch – Mount Somers 188kms

Drive west on SH73 for 52 kilometres to the foothills of the Southern Alps. In Darfield turn left onto SH77 direction Glentunnel and Mt Hutt and follow the Scenic Inland Route. The drive takes you along the foothills with the Southern Alps to your right and the sweeping farmland of the Canterbury Plains to your left.

92kms - The road crosses the alluvial Rakaia River next. For excellent views of the gorge you should park by the first bridge and cross over the road to the little walkway.

100kms – Mt Hutt Station on your right is one of the largest deer farms in the world. Turn left to Methven - a bustling ski resort by winter servicing Mount Hutt. Here you can buy groceries etc. Take the road next to the tourist office, direction Mt Somers and at 10.4kms turn left onto SH72.

138kms – Your accommodation tonight is just after the Mount Somers village.

After checking in, return to the village and turn left 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.

178kms – 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 straight ahead. It is not really a mountain but a small rocky knoll in the middle of the valley that escaped the destruction of the advancing glaciers. The elaborate set of the Golden Hall of Edoras was purposely built on Mt Sunday. One of my favorite scenes was of Éowyn gazing across the valley in deep thought and my absolute favorite scene was of Aragorn returning by horse to Helms Deep after 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 framed by the massive Southern Alps... I’ll keep you informed.

 

188kms - Follow the road past Mt Potts Station and park just after the cattle-stop – the road continues for another 4 kilometers to Erewhon Station. 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 a theatre of massive snow-capped mountains. We retreated and found the most perfect picnic spot on a grassy bluff 200 meters up the hill from our car – in fact the best picnic spot I have ever found in the world, it even bet the picnic we had dangling our legs over the edge on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town! You may even feel spiritually uplifted (as I was) after your visit - it may have something to do with the source of the river being fed by the Garden of Allah Glacier and the Garden of Eden Ice Plateau! 

Day 9 Mount Somers – Mount Cook 258kms

Continue south on the Inland Scenic Route to Geraldine. At Arundel, you could turn right and drive a short distance to check out the Peel Forest. The forest is home to 1000's of year old massive Rimu trees and Kahikatea trees. 

50kms – The Geraldine Orchard Farm Shop & Café is a great option for a coffee stop, you will see it on the left about 1 kilometre before Geraldine.

In Geraldine there are a few attractions worth stopping for. You can choose from:-

·         Try the hot-chocolate and or handmade chocolates at Coco - the prices ensure they are sold fresh

·         The Giant Jersey has, you guessed it, the largest jersey in the world, plus lots of woolly stuff on sale. It is also home to the incredible Medieval Mosaic, a perfect recreation of the famous Bayeux Tapestry.

·         The Vintage Car Club and Machinery Museum has a sizable collection of cars, tractors and aircraft

·         Barkers Berry Barn is a specialty shop selling unique gift and gourmet items

Turn right after the Geraldine shops to stay on SH79.

96kms – In Fairlie, turn right onto SH8 to Lake Tekapo. Or you could first stop for a famous pie from the Fairlie Bakehouse – locals come from miles to buy these!

The scenery dramatically changes as you cross over Burke's Pass. You are now entering the Mackenzie Basin, a flat expanse of tussock grasslands and home to New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki (or Mt Cook as it is known in English) plus the longest glacier Tasman and sparkling turquoise glacial lakes below the Southern Alps - and it bears little resemblance to anywhere else in New Zealand.

138kms – The village at Lake Tekapo is small - their claim to fame being that it has the cleanest and clearest air in New Zealand….the skies above have just become the world’s first ever Night Sky Reserve. There is not much to hold you here beyond taking a snapshot of the much-photographed Church of the Good Shepherd and the Sheepdog. Buy groceries here for dinner if you intend cooking your own meals as there are no shops where you are staying tonight.

Just south of the village, turn right and drive up to the summit of Mount John by day to the Astro Café and enjoy spectacular 360° views.

200kms - Be sure to stop at the Lake Pukaki Lookout for photos of Mt Cook reflected in the water….the gorgeous turquoise-blue lake derives its colour from fine glacial particles suspended in the water.

Soon after, turn right onto SH80. The scenic drive to Mount Cook Village at the base of Aoraki / Mt Cook (our highest mountain) and the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers encompasses world-class scenery at its best where your excitement grows in parallel with the vista before you as you enter this world heritage site known as the Mount Cook National Park.

 

En route a stop at Peter’s Lookout is recommended - on the other side of the lake you are looking at Braemer Station where they filmed the escape from inside the Misty Mountains (1st Hobbit movie) and the Warg chase. The farm next door is called Tasman Downs Station – site of the Lake Town set! The whimsical lakeside village set sat over the water and incorporated clusters of two-storey wooden dwellings arranged around connecting walkways, waterways and wharves. Filming at this location was one of the largest operational periods in the shooting schedule with around 700 people on set.

Day 10 Mount Cook - Queenstown 280kms

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 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 for the worst.

The Hooker Valley walk is one of the most popular in the area. Park at the White Horse Hill camping and follow the Hooker River. There are massive views of Mt Sefton and the shrunken Mueller Glacier, past an Alpine Memorial and over two swing-bridges until the final destination of the terminal lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier. Here Mt Aoraki looms ahead with great walls of ice up on the left and buttresses of rock tower over the foaming river to the right. The walk takes approximately 2 hours one way, you can shorten the walk by returning after reaching one of the landmarks along the way, for example by only walking to the first swing-bridge.

Alternatively there are a couple of options back in Twizel. Here you can try golf-cross, a whacky and 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). There is the Pelennor Fields tour - probably guided by a Rohirrim or Gondorian extra, the tour also gives a highly interesting insight into high-country sheep farming. Twizel is also home of the heli-bike - helicopter onto a remote awesomely scenic mountain and mountain-bike your way down. Or visit the Department of Conservation's hide to view the Kaki Black Stilt. There is a 1 hour guided tour with commentary on the management program of these endangered birds. There are only around 40 of these birds left in the world and this is the only colony!

Return along SH80 and turn right to Twizel and head south on SH8 via the scenic Lindis Pass. Just after Twizel there is a Salmon Farm on the left where you can feed the massive fish for free and/or buy some smoked salmon Consider stopping at Omarama for petrol as there is not another fuel station for 80 kilometres! The pass was first used by the Maori walking to Lake Wanaka for summer fishing.

200kms - 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.

Change to SH6, the highway then takes you through the dramatic Kawarau Gorge. As you exit Cromwell, there is a big bend to the right and you will pass the Highlands Motorsport Park on the left, the large fresh fruit shop on the left (Jones Fruit Stall) 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!

Once past the gorge is the excellent winery (220 awards to date) and restaurant at Gibbston Valley Wines…..tours depart on the hour every hour. The guided tour takes you amongst the vines, through the winery and then deep into the hillside where you can sample the wines in a surreal atmosphere. The rocky schist walls within the cool cave are lined with barrels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, still reaching their prime – wear something warm! You may also like to explore the Gibbston Valley Cheesery next door!

240kms - 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.

245kms - Turn right and then right again 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) and the main street is a particular shopper’s delight!

Continue south by taking the road along the base of the hill, via Coronet and Arthur’s Point. You can drive up the Coronet Ski-field Access Road for fabulous views of the Wakatipu Basin and Shotover River! You don’t need to go right to the top, drive as far the Skippers Road and turn left, immediately on your left there is a lookout.

280kms - 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 11 Queenstown

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

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

Glenorchy is also the starting point of the 3 day alpine tramp along the Routeburn Track. For a shorter version, wander along  the alpine meadows to the cascading Routeburn Falls. Discover the deep green pools of the Routeburn River and the unspoiled lush beech forest - the area is a haven for native bird life.

Day 12 Queenstown - Te Anau 186kms

Return to the Frankton roundabout turn right onto SH6…..you should fill up with fuel here! Te Anau is 2 hours south of Queenstown. NB many of my clients have been ticketed along this stretch of road, they give you a tolerance of only 4kms over the speed limit!

92kms – At Five Rivers, turn right. The café on the corner is highly recommended – try their cheesy rolls, the specialty of the region!

 

186kms - Te Anau is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park which 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.

This afternoon 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 13 Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau 240kms 

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

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

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

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

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

Day 14 Te Anau - Wanaka 228kms

Head back towards Queenstown the way you came. At the Frankton roundabout (just after Queenstown Airport), turn right to stay on SH6.

176kms - Soon after the Arrowtown turnoffs, turn left and follow the scenic Crown Range Route to Wanaka via the old gold mining town of Cardrona. The 1120m high pass is rather zigzagging so take your time, however the views are breath-taking from the lookout. On your descent I recommend a stop at the original Cardrona Hotel.

228kms – Wanaka lies on a tranquil lake with picture-perfect mountains as a backdrop and it is one of my favorite places in New Zealand! 

There are several options available here:

 

  • Visit the Rippon Winery….probably the prettiest winery in the world (OK….I’m biased)
  • Cycle along the Outlet Track along the banks of the mighty Clutha River, a favourite spot for trout fishing.
  • Watch out for “The Leaning Tower of Wanaka”, the centerpiece of Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World. Only one of the world’s most interesting and eccentric visitor attractions!
  • Pop out to the end of the Wanaka Wharf to see the big fat trout (no fishing permitted from the wharf, sorry)
  • Visit Cinema Paradiso for an old-fashioned movie experience where you get to lounge around on huge sofas or enjoy a meal or drink before, during or after the movie!
  • For the best views in town wander along the lakes edge to the Edgewater Resort for freshly baked scones or pre-dinner drinks on the lawn on the lake’s edge.
Day 15 Wanaka 

One of the best short walks in this country is to the 
Rob Roy Glacierand its FREE. 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. 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 one day – 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 16 Wanaka – Fox Glacier 274kms

Today you will be driving north over the Haast Pass to the untamed grandeur of the West Coast region. This is one of New Zealand's most unpopulated regions with a landscape that is worth experiencing, not just seeing. Snow-capped mountains give way to wild beaches and rocky outcrops, with diverse natural attractions where glaciers, caves and virgin native forest compete for your attention along this thin strip of dramatic coastline. Unfortunately it is also extremely wet, receiving over 1m of rain per year per square metre! I hope the weather will be kind to you!

Take the road north along the shores of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. Makaroa is first - where the West Coast meets Central Otago at the southern end of the Alps. It has retained an element of pioneering spirit in its unhurried approach to life. Here you have time to try the very reasonably priced Siberia Experience – fly into the Mt Aspiring National Park, hike/tramp over the hill to the Siberia River and jet-boat back out. Wow!

Soon after you cross the summit of the Haast Pass itself you can stretch your legs and wander down to Fantail Falls.

Next you come to the Gates of Haast, a gorge full of huge boulders and precipitous rock walls that caused major problems during the construction of the road in 1960 – up until then the Great Divide proved insurmountable to all except the Maori who used the trail for gathering greenstone.

104kms - The 28m Thunder Creek Falls a little further on are well worth the stop, best viewed along a short stroll on a loop-track.

129kms – Another waterfall where you can get out to stretch your legs. The Roaring Billy plunges down a mountain slope on the other side of the river – there is a short loop-track here as well.

157kms – Between Haast Junction and Haast Township look out for McGuire’s Lodge for a lunch option – try their whitebait omelet….a specialty of the region. The delicately flavoured whitebait are tiny fish that are caught by hand in huge nets. When they are “running” you can catch a kilo in an hour, but you have to have luck – hence the price.

From Haast the road skirts the coast where fur seals often doze amongst the spectacular sea stacks and driftwood. There is a viewpoint at Knight Point before the road heads inland again.

184kms – About 200m north of the Moeraki River bridge you can turn left to a car-park and well formed path that takes you through beautiful coastal forest to Munroe Beach, a typical deserted and wild West Coast beach where wildlife abounds. Watch out for the rare and beautiful Fiordland Crested Penguins fighting the crashing waves to land on the beach after sunset. 

217kms – Just north of the Paringa River you’ll find the Salmon Farm Café, either feed the salmon in the tanks below or eat one in the café…or just have a coffee.

274kms – New Zealand has many glaciers, however the two monoliths of Franz Josef and Fox are our most famous. Both are advancing towards the sea at a rate of 1m per year, providing majestic scenery and ecological surprises as they advance. Car-parks and paths are constantly being destroyed.

Day 17 Fox Glacier – Punakaiki 222kms

Continue north. About 15 minutes south of Hokitika you could consider visiting Treetops which is on the Woodstock-Rimu Road, just south of Lake Mahinapua. The access for all is relatively easy along a 450 metres long steel platform 20 metres high at birds-eye level in the ancient Rimu and Kamahi tree canopy. There is also the 40-metre high Hokitika Tower for views to the mountains, over the lake and out to the sea.

140kms - Hokitika is the best place to see the New Zealand Greenstone (jade) being made into ornaments and tiki (pendants). Be sure to drive around the side streets to some of the smaller workshops. The stone was prized by the Maori, who called it pounamu and they went to great lengths to find and transport the precious stone. The stone was mainly used for making a lethal weapon that sat snugly in the hand of a warrior. Not to be missed is the glass blowing factory. The town has recently been ‘placed on the map’ when Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 for her novel The Luminaries. The murder-mystery was set in the Gold Rush days in Hokitika! For lunch, try the famous whitebait pizza from the Fat Pipi Pizzas!

Just off SH6 you will find Shantytown, a faithful recreation of an 1880’s gold mining settlement. Here you can try your hand at gold-panning. Although quite commercial, it does provide an interesting insight into the lives of the prospectors. The whole coast in fact is steeped in history where small villages are now all that remains of what were once bustling communities during the gold-boom years.

178kms - Greymouth is home to the Montieth’s Brewing Company which has been family owned since 1868 -they are still brewing with the same traditions they used back then. They brew strong tasting, full bodied ales. A tour of this West Coast icon can be enjoyed today, where formal tasting of each style of beer is of course included.

Greymouth lies on the Grey River – named after the governor Sir George Grey and not that the river is grey with sediment. In it’s heyday as a booming gold centre it was known as Crescent City….now isn’t that a much nicer name!

 

Your accommodation this evening is 45 kilometres north at Punakaiki, home to the fascinating Pancake Rocks. High tide is the best time for viewing as the blow-holes can produce some rather spectacular photo opportunities. These limestone rocks began forming 30 million years ago as tiny fragments of dead marine creatures such as bivalve shellfish and other molluscs, creating an even layer of sediment on the seabed. Earthquake action lifted the layers to the surface. The sea, wind and rain have since sculpted the unusual rock formations. As heavy swells thunder into caverns beneath the rocks, huge water spouts blast skywards through the blowholes. When high tides coincide with strong westerly winds, 15 metre foaming geysers can be seen.

Day 18 Greymouth – Christchurch

Head back towards Greymouth to catch the world renowned TranzAlpine train – sit back and enjoy this world-class scenic journey as it winds its way from the Tasman Sea up through lush beech forest , following rivers and skirting lakes as it ascends to the settlement of Arthur's Pass. The pass, built by pick and shovel and completed in 1866, is named after Arthur Dudley who discovered it in 1864. The track then winds its way over massive viaducts, through spectacular gorges and river valleys before crossing fertile patchwork farmlands of the Canterbury Plains to the city of Christchurch.

There is the opportunity to add extra days in Arthur's Pass. Alpine walks can be enjoyed from the village itself. Nearby is Flock Hill Station (free pickups from the train station) where many scenes for the "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" were filmed. Tracks meander all over the farm which is littered with limestone formations and underground caves and across the valley is the stunning Castle Hill Reserve.

Day 19 Christchurch.....international flight

If your flight is late afternoon or this evening then you will have time to enjoy a bit more of the sights around Christchurch or you could sneak in some last minute shopping before your transfer to the Christchurch International Airport.

Add-ons

Many of the tracks mentioned below are only open in the warmer months. All are popular and require reservations to be sure of a bed in the mountain huts. Guided walks are recommended as our mountains need to be taken seriously and there are too many places where things can go wrong. Besides, the guides offer an informative dialogue of the area and are fun to be with. The guiding companies also provide tramping gear (your own worn-in tramping boots are recommended though!).....some will even transport your pack for you!
 
Routeburn Track - 3 days / 2 nights
The Routeburn has lured visitors for centuries. First were the Maori, in search of the treasures Greenstone (jade) and then the European settlers trying in vain to make a passable route to the wild West Coast. It begins high on the Milford Road into Fiordland National Park. You first tramp through lush beech forest to the alpine world of the Hollyford Face, cross the Harris Saddle to enter the Mount Aspiring National Park, then follow the Routeburn River down back into the forest experiencing a magic world of ferns, mosses, lichens and beech forests brimming with birds.

Hollyford Track - 5 days / 4 nights
National Geographic declared this the "World's Greatest Walk". From the head of Lake Te Anau the track winds up the Clinton Valley, over MacKinnon Pass, where the whole world seems to be at your feet, then down the Arthur Valley to Milford Sound with stunning waterfalls and pristine mountain lakes along the way.
 
Queen Charlotte Track – 4 days / 3 nights
Coastal walk in the Marlborough Sounds in and out of coves and lush bush. Lodges and B+Bs are all along the track, where you can take advantage of their restaurants, accommodations and water taxis to transport your pack. This is a place where the passing traffic is likely to be a pod of orcas on their way south for their summer holiday, or dolphins leaping with joy. Noise here is not the sound of cars going past or the neighbours squabbling, but the sound of bellbirds and tuis singing and the smells are of fresh salt air mixed with the odour of the bush. This is New Zealand at her very best.

Banks Peninsula – 4 day / 3 nights
An easy 30km guided 4 day hike staying on farms and B+Bs. Personal gear transported for you.  Wonderful views of the rugged peninsula, Christchurch, Akaroa and the Pacific Ocean.

Kepler Track – 4 day / 3 nights
This is a mountainous 3-4 day tramp on a 67kms circular track in the uninhabited southwestern part of the South Island, departing from Te Anau. Highest point is 1270 metres, with views of Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri. Harder than Milford or Routeburn tracks, appropriate mountain clothing required as the weather can be unpredictable even in summer.

Abel Tasman Coastal Walkway – 3 or 5 days, can be combined with kayaking. 
This coast of coves and bays has been called the easiest hike in NZ, with the highest point only 150 metres. Overnight in charming B+Bs. Personal gear transported for you to your next nights accommodation by water-taxi, so you only need to carry your lunch, water and clothes for the day. Very popular so at times VERY crowded.




  


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