FABULOUS 5* TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand is an extraordinarily unique country offering a continent's worth of scenery crammed into its two main islands - having every geographical feature you can think of, plus more! The following itinerary is a sample only and covers most of New Zealand’s ‘highlights’ while staying in some of New Zealand’s best establishments. It can be adapted to the number of days you have and/or to your personal requirements - for example whether you prefer to stay at less-luxurious establishments, or wish to fly-fish or play golf or hike as much as possible and/or visit wineries and gourmet restaurants. Or you can choose to be chauffeur-driven (additional charge) and/or invite another couple (or two) to the tour and/or add some more adventure or more down-time to the trip, or turn it around and go from south to north – it is up to you and fully adaptable!
The choices and possibilities are endless, limited only by the amount of time you can spend in New Zealand.
The following 22 night/23 day sample itinerary is for the discerning traveller wishing to stay in 5-star accommodation in outstanding locations. Many also include gourmet dinner in their tariffs to enhance the experience. Please note the dress code in New Zealand for dinner is ‘smart-casual’….a jacket and tie is not necessary!
This is a self-drive tour, the price starts from $28,600NZD in the high season for two persons sharing a twin or double room. The price is subject to availability of each establishment and/or additional excursions and/or deletions. Please request a quote for the low season or shoulder season or for additional persons. This is of course only a sample itinerary, it is possible to create something similar but for less by substituting accommodations. So if this does not suit your budget, please let us know and we can suggest possible downgrades. Or, if you prefer something a little more luxurious, please visit our luxury website: https://www.amazingluxurytoursnz.com/ to see an example of a Luxury Lodges itinerary (5*plus).
The below sample itinerary includes 22 nights’ accommodation in a mixture of exclusive lodges and Boutique B&Bs, transfers, 19 days’ car hire, excursions & transfers where listed as '(included)', 6 dinners, 2 lunches and 21 breakfasts. Long drives have been avoided and everything has been thought of so you can enjoy our incredible and varied scenery on a stress-free vacation!
Let me know if you would like a unique itinerary drafted to suit your individual interests - I will gladly assist you in planning that perfect vacation!
Day 1 Arrive in 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 and brochures to local attractions, plus a detailed daily explanation of driving routes, including suggested stops en route.
For driving instructions on how to find your accommodation each evening, please refer to the pre-paid vouchers. Also, please reconfirm your excursions and activities at least 24 hours in advance (unless otherwise advised). GPS is not advised as ‘it’ will sometimes take you the wrong way (sometimes even to the wrong town with a similar spelling)…..it is best to follow my driving instructions and then use the GPS on your phone or tablet if you are not sure if you are on the right road! You should also download the CamperMate app to your phone which will give you your GPS location as well as closest restaurants, petrol stations etc.
The representative will then transfer you to your accommodation in Downtown Auckland. Two nights’ accommodation is at the conveniently located Hilton. Harbour-views can be enjoyed from all the locations in this hotel as it is built 330 yards out to sea on the end of the Princes Wharf. The concept for the building is to resemble a cruise ship berthed at the wharf. You have a king room with private balcony, plus breakfast is also included each morning. On site facilities include a Spa, Gym, jogging track and a heated lap-pool with its unique underwater viewing window. For dinner, there is no need to go further than their very own FISH restaurant (own expense).
Other recommended properties: M Social Hotel/ Sofitel Viaduct Hotel/ Sofitel Hotel/Pullman Hotel/ Langham Hotel/ Skycity Hotel/ Mollies Boutique B&B/ Stafford/ Cotter House/ Takatu Lodge (Matakana)/ The Boat Shed (Waiheke Island) /Lavender Hill (Waiheke Island)/ Marino Ridge (Waiheke Island)
- Hilton Hotel*****, deluxe harbour-view plus room + breakfast
Day 2 (B) Auckland
Today you have a free day for a long leisurely lie-in and/or visit some of Auckland’s attractions, such as:
- Begin with the extremely informative Voyager Maritime Museum is located on the Viaduct, this is New Zealand’s maritime museum. 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.
- Visit the Sealife Aquarium on Tamaki Drive - 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.
- Hire a bike and peddle along the waterfront bicycle path to Mission Bay and Kelly Tarlton’s and/or check out the Wynyard Quarter towards the Harbour Bridge.
- Visit the Auckland Art Gallery by the Albert Park, most sections are free. Free hourly tours are offered from the main entrance 11.30am to 1.30pm daily, introducing guests to the art, artists, stories and history that make up the gallery.
- Another great way to get out on the water is onboard the Waka Quest, a replica Maori sailing vessel, check-in for this one is at the Maritime Museum. This is more than just a sail boat as this is a cultural experience with a difference as the local Maori help you to understand the complex rituals, customs, artistry and oral traditions of the Maori people while sailing on the Waitemata!
- Visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum, an impressive building in the middle of the park with fabulous views of the harbour. The Maori section is particularly worth visiting here, this is Auckland’s main museum.
- Take the ferry to pretty Waiheke Island, famous for the boutique wineries and fabulous restaurants to match.
- Ascend the Sky Tower - admire the view, do the Skywalk, bungee jump from the tower or just have dinner in the revolving restaurant.
Day 3 (B) Auckland – Rotorua 232kms
A hire-car will be delivered to your hotel at 9am, please let us know your preference of car. For example, a full sized luxury SUV (Toyota Prado or similar) or a sedan (Toyota Corolla sedan) from Thrifty Rentals, included in their tariff are any airport pick up and drop off fees, extra driver fees (if any), one way fees and their comprehensive all-inclusive Stressfree insurance (which reduces excess to $0).
Please note that petrol stations are sometimes few and far between, particularly in the South Island and especially ones that are open on Sunday’s, so always make it a habit to fill up each morning before departing and NOT to wait for the petrol gauge to get low! Also, set your odometer each day on 0kms so you know when an attraction/lookout is coming up. Be sure to buy a proper road Atlas at your earliest convenience (from any fuel station) - if you are unsure of your location or if you are on the right road, of course you have the GPS on your phone or tablet.
Please ask reception on the best way to find the motorway entrances. Follow the signs for south on SH1, direction Hamilton.
52kms - After the Bombay Hills, turn left onto SH2 direction Coromandel. After another 34 kilometres there is a new roundabout, take the 2nd exit to stay on SH2, sign posted ‘Tauranga’. A few kilometres south of the roundabout, SH2 goes left, but you need to go straight on what is now the SH27. As you head south you will have the Kaimai Ranges on your left.
154kms – Waharoa is a good option for a coffee break…..look for the Kaimai Cheese Factory on the right, just before the village…..here you can see the fresh cheeses being made as well as enjoy a wonderful selection of cheese themed dishes.
In Matamata continue straight at the roundabout and stay on SH27 to Tirau.
Or you could first visit the filmset of the Hobbiton village. The location and countryside is particularly pretty here and if you are garden-lovers you will certainly enjoy the tour. The tour is based on the various scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy so you have the unique opportunity of touring the set as it is seen in the films. The 2-hour tour also offers a wonderful insight into the logistics involved in creating a movie and building various film-sets with all the supporting personnel required to go with it, from vets to cooks to gardeners and even road builders! The set is located on a real farm with restricted access. The Alexander family has lived on the 1250 acre (approx 500 hectares) property since 1978. The land supports a thriving sheep and beef cattle business. The Alexander farm runs 300 beef cattle and more than 13,000 of New Zealand’s famous sheep on the lush, rolling hills.
180kms – On reaching SH1, turn left into Tirau - the town has a bit of a love affair with corrugated iron, there are quite a few other imaginative signs right the way along the main road, including a giant corrugated iron sheepdog housing the tourist office and a giant sheepdog next door which houses the Big Sheep Wool Gallery. Other tourist shops worth at least a peek at is the Jade Factory - they specialize in Maori Koru necklaces. Or for something really unique try the Natures Touch Gallery.
Change to SH5 two kilometres further south at the new large roundabout. You will soon encounter the unusual terrain of the Mamaku District where mini volcanic cones dot the landscape, some showing their solidified lava core.
232kms - You will probably smell Rotorua before you see it, as the area is still 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.
Your accommodation for 2 nights is in the fabulous 5-star Black Swan Boutique Hotel on the western side of the lakefront of Lake Rotorua and well away from any of the sulphur smells but only 5 minute’s drive from the centre of Rotorua! Turn left just after the Skyline Gondola to Kawaha Point. The Boutique Hotel has fabulous views of the lake, Mt Tarawera and Mokoia Island as well as spacious grounds, a solar heated swimming pool, sauna and a private jetty. You have a spacious ‘premium lakefront room’ with en suite, it has a king bed and fabulous views through the full glass slider-doors!
Breakfast is included in the tariff here and is served in the upstairs dining room between 8am and 10am. Candlelit dinner is available from 6pm, please call ahead to let them know if you would like dinner, you can choose between 2-course menu or the 4-course menu (extra charge). Alternatively, they also run the excellent and award-winning Bistro 1284 in town, so call ahead and they can make a reservation for you.
This evening you could visit Hells Gate. Here you can enjoy a unique New Zealand experience by taking a mud bath, they say its like playing in silk! The Twilight Spa is a great option as you can relax and star gaze at the same time.
- Black Swan Boutique Hotel*****, premium lakefront room + breakfast
Other recommended properties: Treetops Lodge/Solitaire Hotel/Hamurana Lodge/ Peppers on the Point/ Wildwood Lodge (trout fishing)/ The Springs Luxury B&B
Day 4 (B,D) Rotorua
Today is a free day. Rotorua has become New Zealand’s second largest tourist centre – so 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:
- Soak in the reputedly therapeutic thermal pools at the Polynesian Spa, a delightful but busy public pool. In the morning the spa is less crowded and it is a wonderful way to start the day - relaxing with serene views across the lake.
- The tranquil Hamurana Springs are well worth a visit! A short peaceful 1 hour loop track will take you via a beautiful clear fresh water spring that attracts abundant birdlife. The spring is 15 metres deep and produces 4 million litres of fresh water per hour! And the Redwood Trees here are worth the visit on their own!
- Kuirau Park has the largest display of steam and mud pools….and it’s free! An eruption took place here as recently as 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.
- Visit the beautiful (and steaming) Edwardian styled Government Gardens and the Rotorua Museum of Arts & History.
- 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!
- 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!
- Check out the Redwoods Treewalk – the half kilometer long walkway consists of 21 suspension bridges traversing the gaps between the majestic 110 year old Redwood trees.
- Play golf on the 9 hole part of the Whakarewarewa Golf Course. Here the usual hazards are not sand-traps or bunkers, but steaming geysers and bubbling mud-pools instead!
- Visit the Kiwi Hatchery at Rainbow Springs for an informative behind-the-scenes tour about saving our endangered birds.
- The 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. Other attractions onsite invented by enterprising New Zealanders include Zorbing (rolling down a hill in a giant plastic ball), Swooping (a glorified swing), bungee jumping (jump from a massive height with an elastic cord tied to your ankles), plus there is a farm tour by tractor.
- Take the scenic drive to the Buried Village which takes you past the beautiful Green Lake and the Blue Lake up to the plateau with Lake Tarawera The museum here commemorates New Zealand’s biggest disaster that saw Mt Tarawera split into two and 3 villages being buried killing 150 people and destroying our famous “Pink and White Terraces”.
- The adventurous should try the 3 hour Canopy Tour through the native New Zealand forest while suspended up to 22 metres high amongst ancient trees as you travel between the 10 platforms on 6 Ziplines and 2 swing bridges.
- Another possibility is to take an awesome helicopter flight over Mt Tarawera that was dramatically split during its last eruption – includes landing. Or upgrade this excursion with a dual landing and guided walk on White Island (an active volcano)
- Or you can also fly over the mountain and/or the island in a float plane (no landings).
This evening, you are booked in for the excellent Mitai Maori Cultural Experience (included). First the performers arrive in a Waka (war canoe), then you will be entertained with a cultural performance, followed by a traditional Hangi (earthen cooked meal) and a bush walk to the glow-worm grotto and Fairy Springs. You also have the option of adding a guided night walk through Rainbow Springs to see the trout and Kiwi by night (extra charge). Check-in at the Mitai Village (next door to Rainbow Springs and the Gondola) by 6.20pm for a fun and educational evening superbly hosted and entertained by proud local Maori. Please wear something warm and flat footwear.
Day 5 (B,D) Rotorua – Taupo 100kms
En route to Lake Taupo there are many more thermal attractions! Continue south on SH5
39kms - Turn left at the Wai-o-tapu Tavern and 400m further left again onto the Loop Road and take a look at the thermal Mud Pools (free). Don’t forget to lock your car - the bubbling mud can keep you mesmerized for hours!
The Lady Knox Geyser (between the Mud Pools and Waiotapu) 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! Alternatively, visit Waiotapu around 10am and you will practically have the place to yourselves!
Follow the Loop Road to the main attraction Wai-o-tapu Thermal Park (included), the best thermal reserve in the area. It really is a wonderland of orange, green, yellow, blue, white and black pools, the highlights being the exquisitely coloured Champagne Pool, Oyster Pool and the Devil’s Bath - you’ll be amazed how nature can conjure up such colours. The track is uneven at times so you need walking shoes.
Continue on the Loop Road back to SH5 and turn left.
80kms – Look for Lava Glass Blowing Studio on the right, a wonderful stop if you love original hand crafted glass! They also have a sculpture garden and café on site. The glass-blowers are usually in action between 9.30am and 4.30pm weekdays.
82kms – At the large roundabout where SH5 meets SH1, go straight and continue south past the Wairakei International Golf Course.
88kms – Turn left at the second Huka Falls sign and then immediately right and drive down to the mighty Huka Falls - they are not very high, but are certainly spectacular (free). Here the sedate Waikato River is forced between a 15m 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. Please note that if you run out of time before the sailing trip you can always visit the falls after the cruise instead!
Follow the river from the falls upriver and this will bring you back to the main road and turn left. Coming down the hill into Taupo, turn right at Poihipi Road (sign-posted Acacia Bay), then turn left at Acacia Bay Rd. Follow Acacia Bay Road for about 3km. You will go through an open-spaced straight part (100kms/hour) and then pass through an archway saying, 'Welcome to Acacia Bay'.
100kms - Follow straight on, past the shops ... do not take the left curve where it says Acacia Bay Road, carry on just a little further, the road will now say Wakeman Road and at this junction there will be a road going up the hill on your right, called Mapara Road (this is the second road on the right after the shops).
Turn up the hill into Mapara Road, drive another 1.5 kilometres and look for the Acacia Cliffs Lodge sign on the left. This luxury lodge has magnificent lake and mountain views. Your room has lake-views, free WiFi, plus an ensuite bathroom with luxurious bathrobes, under floor heating, toiletries & hairdryer; plus a gourmet breakfast is included in the tariff.
There will be a complimentary bottle of New Zealand wine waiting for you on arrival and this evening you are invited to join your hosts and other guests for a complimentary drink and canapés in the guest lounge before going out for dinner. Here you can experience genuine Kiwi hospitality in a very special location!
Lake Taupo is actually the world’s largest volcanic crater, created in one giant explosion. The ash cloud floated all over the world - ice samples from as far apart as Antarctica and Alaska have determined the explosion to have occurred in 186AD. The effects of the ash were even recorded in China and Rome. You can gather your own free volcanic souvenir from the shoreline in the form of very light pumice stones (great for cleaning off rough skin) which were spewed out in that eruption. Just about everywhere you look in the Lake Taupo region, you'll see a volcano.
Please note, if you can come for longer in New Zealand, an additional night is recommended here so you can then do a daytrip to Napier with Garth London as your driver-guide to see the Art Deco buildings and/or visit a winery or two.
After checking-in, you could:
- Go fishing for Rainbow Trout, the specialty of the area. Choose between fly-fishing or trolling from the boat.
- The freshwater Prawn Park is 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.
- There is one other walk I can recommend called the Craters of the Moon. The boardwalk takes you on a winding path through billowing steam clouds and plopping mud pools - it really does make you feel as if you are walking on the moon!
- Charter a sailing boat to visit the Maori Rock Carvings
Other recommended properties: Huka Lodge/ Lake Taupo Lodge/ Hilton Hotel/ Sacred Water Apartments/ Wharewaka Lodge/ Tauhara Sunrise Lodge/ Point View Lodge/ River Birches (Turangi)/ Tongariro Lodge (Turangi)/ The lodge at Kinloch/ Poronui Lodge
- Acacia Cliffs Lodge*****, King room + breakfast
Day 6 (B) Taupo – Wellington 370kms
Today there is a long drive (around 5 hours, plus stops) to Wellington. The earlier you depart the more you will be able to see in Wellington.
Drive down to Taupo and continue south along the lakefront, direction Wellington. From Turangi (fill up with petrol here) the highway then passes along what we call the Desert Road. The road crosses a high plateau which experiences mountainous weather conditions as it skirt the three volcanoes of Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. The three make up the Tongariro National Park - Peter Jackson used the area extensively as Middle Earth scenery, with Mount Ngauruhoe as Mt Doom, surrounded by the rocky grounds of Mordor. It erupted as recently as 1998.
115kms – Waiouru is home of the QEll Army Memorial Museum and our army, but not much else. Continue south on SH1.
164kms – On the right of Mangaweka Village you could take a look at the original main street – the village seems caught in a time warp. Just past the village you have stunning views of the Mangaweka Gorge…….there is a lookout on top of the hill just after the village.
222kms - The next town is Bulls, named after one of the first settlers Mr. James Bull…. and 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.
Continue south on SH1 to Wellington. The highway takes you along the rugged Kapiti Coast with views of Kapiti Island and the South Island along the way.
384kms - Your accommodation for tonight has been chosen for its convenient location on the Oriental Parade within wandering distance of Courtney Place and Cuba Street (the restaurant streets) and Te Papa as well as the views of the harbour! The QT Museum Art Hotel is famous throughout the world for the famous artworks on display, and the infamous Hippopotamus Restaurant offers high tea as well as fine dining! Breakfast is not included in the tariff due to the early start tomorrow, most find it easier to dine on board the ship!
You could add a night here to rest from your long drive today and explore the city on foot.
Wellington is not the largest city but it does lie central to the two islands and is therefore the capital. The wonderful attraction of this city is that it is so compact. There are several attractions you can enjoy here, if you have time:-
- 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 (closes 6pm).
- The best place to start your visit to Wellington is Mount Victoria Lookout for awesome views of the city and harbour.
- The Parliamentary District is interesting to wander around - our Beehive houses various government offices and there is a free tour of Parliament House.
- Be sure to take the Cable Car up the steep hill behind the city centre and wander back down through the magnificent Botanical Gardens.
- QT Museum Hotel*****, executive king room
Other recommended properties: Intercontinental Hotel/ Amora Hotel/ Atahuri luxury B&B/ Copthorne Oriental Bay Hotel/ Bolton Hotel/ Ohtel Boutique Hotel
Day 7 Wellington – Picton – Nelson – Tasman 165kms
Today you cross to the South Island on the 9am ferry (included). Please return your car filled with fuel to the Thrifty Office at the Wellington Interislander Ferry Terminal by 8.30am. Park the car in a designated Thrifty car-park (in the caged area), fill in the details on the rental agreement folder and drop the keys in the generic rental car Key Drop Box located in the departures hall.
This trip is often described as a scenic cruise as the ship winds its way along the narrow Marlborough Sounds! A sound is a flooded river valley as opposed to the flooded glacial valleys called fiords (the 'sounds' in the south-west corner of the South Island are misnamed). You have access to the Premium Lounge where there is complimentary food & beverages as well as free WiFi. On entering the Sounds, the back deck is lovely and sheltered and is a great spot for dolphin spotting!
On arrival in Picton at 12.30pm, pick-up your new rental car from Thrifty (included). Picton was named after Sir Thomas Picton - a British General killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Drive south on SH1 to Blenheim, home to our world famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs and is a great place to stop at for lunch at any of the winery cafes.
26kms - Just before Blenheim, turn right at Spring Creek and follow SH62 (Rapaura Road) west – the locals call this the Golden Mile due to the multiple award-winning wineries along this road. At the end of this road on the right you will find Wairau Winery & Café - a favourite café of mine.
And don’t miss the ultimate chocolate experience at Makana Confections on the corner of Rapaura and O’Dwyer roads. You can watch them making the tantalizing confections and taste a few samples – complimentary, of course.
Or a great place for a shared-platter is Giesen Winery, it is near the Makana Confections.
34kms – Turn right onto SH6, this will take you north via Havelock – it 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 at the Mussel Pot Restaurant. The town's most famous resident was Sir Ernest Rutherford, Nobel winner for being the first person to split the atom!
135kms - Next stop is Nelson – the city holds the title as the most sunniest place in New Zealand. Another claim to fame is that they played the first ever game of rugby here! It is also the Geographical Middlepoint of NZ on Botanical Hill! 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.
Don’t miss the World of Wearable Art and Collectable Cars just north of Nelson Airport, which has some rather bizarre outfits previously created for the annual fashion show.
Continue south on SH6.
122kms – Just after Richmond, turn right onto SH60 (direction Motueka).
142kms – Turn right and drive to Tasman Village, your accommodation for two nights is in a luxury waterfront Villa set on Nelson’s historic Kina Peninsula and overlooking Tasman Bay. The suites at The Waters all have panoramic views over the bay one way and to snow-capped Mount Arthur out the other way. Breakfast is of course included in the tariff.
For dinner, nearby Mapua is home to the excellent multi award winning restaurant the Smokehouse and the Forest Fusion Gallery on Mapua Wharf features pieces by Lynne Price (fused glass). The Jellyfish Bar & Restaurant is another recommendation, for the view!
- The Waters Luxury B&B****+, Suite + breakfast
Other recommended establishments: Te Koi Lodge/ Resurgence Eco Lodge/ Atholwood Country Lodge/ Kimeret Place/ Motueka River Lodge/ Split Apple Retreat (Kaiteriteri)/ Peppers Awaroa Lodge (Abel Tasman National Park)/ Wakefield Quay House
Day 8 (B,L) Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park is our most beautiful, but unfortunately it is also our most popular - hence the famed Coastal Walkway 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.
Today I suggest departing by 9.15am - return to SH60 and turn right to Motueka (approx 15 minutes driving). Once there, continue along High Street and drive another 8 kilometres north and just over the Riwaka River Bridge, the highway veers hard left, take the 1st turn right signposted to Abel Tasman National Park via Kaiteriteri.
24kms – As you are driving down the hill towards Kaiteriteri there is a big bend with many signs on the corner, here you turn right to Stephens Bay.
25kms - The Abel Tasman Charter departs Stephens Bay at 10am (included) - you are booked on the Best Abel Tasman National Park Day Trip Scenic Cruise, hopefully with Rod Stewart as your skipper-guide today. This is a small-group tour….please let me know if you would like to have a private charter instead. Also included today is a delicious platter-style lunch at your beach stop. Please bring swim-wear and walking shoes as well as an extra layer or two in case it cools off in the afternoon. Towels, sunscreen, snorkeling gear and kayaks are provided.
From Kaiteriteri, cruise north past the golden coves and sculpted granite headlands via the seal colony in Tonga Island Marine Reserve to the remote northern beaches where Nikau palms and native Rata feature in the rainforest fringing the long golden beaches. There is a one-hour beach stop planned today where you can kayak, snorkel, swim, go for a bush-walk or just sit and relax!
You will arrive back in Kaiteriteri around 4pm. You could add a 3rd night here and make a daytrip then to visit the Golden Bay area, including Farewell Spit.
Day 9 (B) Nelson – Runanga (Greymouth) 322kms
Return to Richmond and continue south on SH6 which takes you over the Hope Saddle
124kms - 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 100 kilometers!
Continue on SH6 another 12 kilometres where you need to turn right over O’Sullivan’s Bridge to stay on SH6 - 3 kilometres later you will come to the longest Swing-bridge in 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 River.
The highway will now take you through the very dramatic Buller Gorge all the way to the Westport, the Coast’s oldest town.
From Westport be sure to take the loop road via Carters Beach out to Cape Foulwind to visit beautiful Tauranga Bay where the Fur Seal pups will keep you entertained for hours. At the southern end of the bay visit the excellent Bay House Café and Art Gallery where you can sit on the deck eating lunch and watching the surfers beyond.
A little further south is Charleston - this little village once had a hundred pubs to cater to the sailors needs. The little horse-shoe shaped Constant Bay often held a dozen sailing ships.
295kms - Punakaiki is 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.
Afterwards, continue south another 20 minutes - tonight’s accommodation is in a fabulous Boutique B&B located 14 kilometres north of Greymouth and located right on the beach – the perfect place for watching the sunset!
322kms - The B&B is set on almost 2 acres of native bush and landscaped gardens with an abundance of native flora and fauna, Breakers has been designed to maximize the outstanding location and sea views. Your room has fabulous views along the coast, plus of course breakfast is included in the tariff. There is a separate guest’s lounge plus free WiFi. For dinner, a great option is to have a casual dinner el fresco on site – they offer antipasto platters, cheeseboards or homemade pizza served until 7pm (call ahead if you would like this option). They also have local wine and beers available for sale. Or there are restaurants 10 minutes drive away.
- Breakers Seaside Boutique B&B, super-king room with en suite + breakfast
Other recommended properties: Birds Ferry Lodge (B&B)/ Punakaiki Resort/ Rimu Lodge (Hokitika)
Day 10 (B,D) Runanga (Greymouth) – Franz Josef Glacier 208kms
This morning there is no hurry to depart, you can have a nice long sleep-in if you like and/or a walk along the deserted beach! Continue south on SH6.
15kms - Greymouth lies on the Grey River – named after the governor Sir George Grey and not that the river is grey with sediment. In its heyday as a booming gold centre it was known as Crescent City….now isn’t that a much nicer name!
There is an attraction you could consider just south of Greymouth. Shantytown is 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.
55kms - Hokitika is the best place to see the New Zealand Greenstone (jade) being made into ornaments and tiki (pendants). The stone was prized by the Maori, who called it pounamu and they went to great lengths to find and transport the precious stone. The stone was mainly used for making a lethal weapon that sat snugly in the hand of a warrior. Not to be missed is the glass blowing factory. The town has recently been placed on the map by Eleanor Catton when she won the Man Booker prize in 2013 for her novel The Luminaries. The murder-mystery was set in the Gold Rush days in Hokitika!
185kms - New Zealand has many glaciers, however the two monoliths of Franz Josef and Fox are our most famous. Both are now retreating at an alarming rate. Continue north another 23 kilometres - for the next two nights you are staying in the Te Waonui Rainforest Retreat, a fabulous 5 star boutique hotel built within the rainforest. You have a deluxe king room plus breakfast is included in the tariff. A 5-course degustation dinner is also included this evening.
After checking in you could head to the terminal face to view the glacier from below. Or you can head to the Glacier Hot Pools and/or enjoy a massage (extra charge). It is in the heart of the township but surrounded by native trees full of native birds – ‘immerse yourself in nature’!
- Te Waonui Rainforest Retreat*****, deluxe king room + dinner + breakfast
Other recommended properties: Distinction Te Weheka Hotel (Fox Glacier)/ Misty Peaks Boutique B&B (Fox Glacier)Day 11 Franz Josef
Glacier walking is an amazing experience where you descend into crevices and ice-caves to witness the beautiful blue colour of the ice and hear the creaks of the living glacier. This morning you are booked on the Heli-hike tour (included) – reporting time at the Glacier Base on Cron Street is at 12.15pm. You will be equipped with a raincoat & over-trousers, boots & woollen socks, crampons, gloves & hat. Please note that no backpacks are permitted, they will provide a small waist bag for snack, water & camera. Also note there is a weight limit of 115kg for the helicopter flight. There are two 5-minute helicopter flights included in this activity.
- Warm upper body clothing (preferably 3 to 4 layers)
- Leggings or light trousers (no jeans as they get cold when wet)...shorts are acceptable in summer
- Sunglasses (essential against the glare of the snow & ice)
- Sunscreen (you burn much quicker in the snow)
- Waterproof jacket (one will be provided if you don't have one)
You'll see the extraordinary colours of the ice-flow from above and then up close, on an unforgettable guided walk. The Franz Josef Glacier Guides have been operating since 1990 and can trace their heritage back 100 years. Your professional guide will lead you into the most spectacular icefall terrain that is usually seen only by experienced mountaineers. With a spotless safety record, rigid assessments, and using exclusive quality equipment, your safety and enjoyment is taken care of.
Afterwards, you have complimentary tickets to the Glacier Hot Pools! It is in the heart of the township but surrounded by native trees full of native birds – ‘immerse yourself in nature’! Dinner this evening is not included, you have the freedom to choose a restaurant in the village.
Day 12 (B) Franz Josef – Wanaka 288kms
Continue south on SH6, the next township is Fox Glacier – the best way to view the glacier is to drive to the Peak View Point which is 7-8 kilometres down Cook Flat Road (just around the corner on the unsealed road). From here you get the full view of the glacier. Or, just off Cook Flat Road is the fabulous Matheson Café ….I believe this café has the best view in all of New Zealand!
The short walk around Lake Matheson to Reflection Island is also highly recommended to get that postcard-perfect photo of Mount Aoraki being reflected on the lake! The result of a period of past glaciations at the coastal section of the valley, the lake is fringed with a wonderful example of temperate rainforest reputed to have clothed the earth during the Jurassic period.
Today’s drive crosses over the Main Divide at the Haast Pass. This is one of New Zealand's most unpopulated regions and a landscape that is worth experiencing, not just seeing.
The road then skirts the coast where fur seals often doze amongst the spectacular sea stacks and driftwood. Look for the rare and beautiful Fiordland Crested Penguins fighting the crashing waves to land on the beach. Knights Point has wonderful views down on the rugged coastline.
130kms – Haast is a good place to 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” one can catch a kilo in an hour, but you have to have luck – hence the price.
160kms – The Roaring Billy is the first of many waterfalls - it plunges down a mountain slope on the other side of the river – there is a short rain forest walk with tall tree ferns to the lookout to stretch your legs.
184kms - The 28m Thunder Creek Falls a little further on are well worth the stop, it is just a short stroll along a well formed track.
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. Just before the summit of the Pass itself you can stretch your legs and wander down to Fantail Falls.
Heading down the other side Makarora 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.
288kms - Wanaka lies on a tranquil lake with picture-perfect mountains as a backdrop and it is one of my favourite places in New Zealand! For the next two evenings, you are staying in Tin Tub Luxury Lodge chosen for the stunning mountain and lake views. A scrumptious breakfast is also included. The luxury villas have stunning views over Lake Wanaka, spa baths & private outdoor tubs – the perfect place for star-gazing!
This evening at 5pm you will then be picked by Ridgeline (included) and taken via a farm track to the highest point above Wanaka for the most incredible and jaw-dropping views, particularly at sunset!
- Tin Tub Luxury Lodge*****, villa Suite + breakfast
Other recommended properties: Release Apartments/ Te Kahu Luxury Villa/ Riverrun Lodge/ Mount Upton Lodge/ Minaret Station/ Whare Kea Luxury Lodge/ Edgewater Resort
Day 13 (B) Wanaka
Today you have a free day in Wanaka. There are several options available today:
- You could drive along the lakefront direction Glendhu Bay and Treble Cone Ski-field – on the edge of town you could visit the Rippon Winery…..probably the prettiest winery in the world (Ok, I am biased). Cellar door closes at 5pm. Set against a backdrop of Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps, they invite you to the Mills family farm to share in their history, community, story and wines. The tasting is relatively informal with 5-7 wines are available daily for tasting, mainly of their current vintages.
- Or enjoy a private winery tour with Funny French Cars visiting some of Central Otago’s finest boutique wineries!
- Or visit the Beerworks Microbrewery near the airport (tours available 2pm only, closes 5pm).
- Cycle the Outlet Track along the banks of the mighty Clutha River, a favourite spot for trout fishing.
- Hike to the top of Mt Iron, it is an impressive rock that rises 240 metres above the surrounding land, the views are well worth the effort!
- 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! Here you will encounter a mix of bizarre buildings, rooms of illusion and the famous Great Maze this attraction is designed to baffle your brain and challenge your perceptions of reality.
- Glendhu Bay is a sheltered and picturesque bay for postcard perfect photos of the mountains behind.
- Continue driving past Glendhu Bay and Treble Cone to the very end of the Matukituki Valley, the drive will take you deep into the mountains along a stunning valley carved by glaciers. Towards the end there are a couple of fords but all quite passable (usually) in a normal car.
- Or make the same trip by jet-boat with Wanaka River Journeys.
- The entrance to Treble Cone is the meeting point for the Tandem – paragliding off the side of the mountain….this is the best place in New Zealand to try this and is guaranteed to be the highlight of your vacation!
- Join the Eco-Wanaka cruise out to the bird sanctuary on Mou Waho Island. Plant a tree while you are there to help off-set your carbon footprint!
- Visit the Warbirds & Wheels Museum near the airport where you can see 5 regularly flown warplanes and 25 vintage cars.
- Near the airport on Mount Barker Road you can also visit the Cross Fire to try Archery, Clay-bird shooting or try the shooting experience where you shoot at pretend animals (allow 2 hours), telephone 03 443 5995 for more information.
- The same company run 1.5 hour long farm-yard tours on their predominantly deer farm at Criffel Station, tel 03 443 1034 to book.
- Ridgeline can take you on a 4WD tour through a private farm to a high point above the lake for the most incredible and jaw-dropping views.
- Or you could do a full day Dram Tour around Wanaka with Central Lakes Tours. Included are a variety of stops, such as visiting the world’s most southern whisky distillery; wine tasting of locally produced wines at two selected premium wineries; experience locally produced cider and fruit juice flavours; opportunities to taste delicious regional produce at a food market on Lake Dunstan; time for lunch at Cider House Café (own expense)
- 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.
- For restaurants I can recommend Wanaka Gourmet Kitchen (tel 03 443 8579) for fine dining – try the slow roasted lamb, or Relishes (tel: 03 443 9018) and Francesca’s Kitchen (03 443 5599) are more casual.
- Or for something a little special, try Bistro Gentil, a Modern French Affair. Bookings are essentail, so call 03 443 2299.
Day 14 (B,D) Wanaka – Te Anau 228kms
I recommend the scenic Crown Range Route south via the old gold mining town of Cardrona. 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.
Take your time coming down the zigzagging road! The views from the lookout are stunning. At the bottom, turn right to continue south on SH6.
62kms - At the Frankton roundabout (fill up with petrol here) turn left to stay on SH6, direction Lumsden and Te Anau.
148kms – At Five Rivers, turn right. The café on the corner is highly recommended – try their cheesy rolls, the specialty of the region!
228kms - 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, the jewel in the crown being Mitre Peak in Milford Sound.
Join the 2pm cruise to the Te Anau Glow-worm Caves (included). Te Anau means rushing water in Maori – so both the lake and the town derived their names from the caves. Spectacular rock formations, fossils, whirlpools, waterfalls and glow-worms lie half an hour away by launch.
Tonight’s accommodation is at the exclusive Fiordland Lodge, the location is just stunning seemingly in the middle of nowhere but just 5 kilometers from the town centre. The upstairs deluxe rooms are spacious and have commanding views to the lake and mountains beyond. Also included is breakfast as well as a 4-course gourmet meal this evening, specializing in local game and produce.
Other recommended properties: Distinction Te Anau Hotel/ Dunluce B&B/ The Hollows Luxury Log Cabin/ Prospect Lodge/ Dock Bay Lodge
- Fiordland Lodge*****, deluxe lodge room & dinner & breakfast
Day 15 (B,D) Te Anau – Milford Sound 120kms
Before departing you could take a 70-minute scenic helicopter flight to Doubtful Sound departing from the Fiordland Lodge Heli-pad. Southern Lakes Helicopters will take you on a scenic helicopter trip of a lifetime to enjoy the spectacular beauty of Doubtful Sound. The flight begins with the Iris Burn Valley and Lake Manapouri before climbing over the Wilmot Pass into Doubtful Sound. If the weather is suitable they detour into Campbell’s Kingdom, a beautiful hanging valley complete with its own lake and waterfall. Airborne again, you will glimpse Bradshaw Sound before overflying the Main Divide of the Southern Alps to Mt Kidd for a second remote landing before returning to the Helipad. This is a great opportunity to take a look at the heart of Fiordland, with two remote landings at the top of the world! Alternatively, you can make a similar flight by float plane instead (no landings).
Please allow at least 2.5 hours for the drive to Milford as you will be stopping all the time to take photos! NB fill up with petrol before you depart and it is a good idea to take a picnic as there are no shops en route. If you leave early, you could walk along the upper part of the Routeburn Track en route. Officially the walk is 2-hours, however I would allow 3 hours so you can enjoy a leisurely picnic at the top!
85kms – The Divide Shelter is the starting point for the walk to Key Summit. The track slowly ascends through lush, temperate rainforest on a well maintained track. The steady climb takes approximately 2 hours at a leisurely pace. Gaining an elevation of 400 metres, you emerge from the forest into the alpine environment, with panoramic view of high snowy peaks, alpine lakes, and deep bush clad valleys. This is the best view of Fiordland, take a picnic and sit among the alpine plants and gaze down three valleys from which water flows to three different coasts!
Alternatively, the shorter Nature Walk at the southern end of Lake Gunn is another recommendation (it starts from the Cascade Creek parking).
100kms - The Homer Tunnel is one-way, so there are traffic lights at the entrance, which can take you 10-20 minutes to get through! Once through the 1.2km long tunnel you will see spectacular Cleddau Canyon and the incredibly preciptious walls on which the road slowly winds its way down.
120kms – Please note it is a 10-minute walk from the parking to the main wharf. Tonight you are booked on the overnight cruise about the new 5-star Fiordland Jewel (included) – please note you can only take an overnight bag as there is no room in your cabins for suitcases! Please check-in at 3.50pm at the Fiordland Discovery’s desk in the terminal. Pack non-slip shoes and your swimwear as the is a hot-tub on the deck (the perfect spot for star gazing)! 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. Breakfast and dinner are also included in the tariff, as well as a complimentary wine or beer before dinner.
Once the masses depart on their buses, you will finally experience the sound of silence on board your boat cruising this eighth wonder of the world – cruising under the many waterfalls is simply paradise. Kayaking is just one of the possibilities today, or you can choose to join the Nature Guide on the tender-craft to explore the coastline more closely. Or watch the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) as it explores underwater past rare black coral, crayfish and schools of fish!
Milford Sound is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world - wet or fine Milford is incredibly grand. 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. 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.
- Fiordland Jewel*****, king or twin cabin with en suite + dinner & breakfast
Day 16 (B) Milford – Queenstown 288kms
Return to Te Anau the way you came. Before departing Te Anau you could check-out the Wildlife Centre for a view of the near extinct pre-historic looking flightless Takahe as well as many other NZ native birds. You will find this on the right a 2-minute drive south on the Manapouri Road, it is run by DoC so donations are gladly accepted!
From Te Anau, follow SH94 east and then SH6 north back to Queenstown.
288kms - 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.
The next 3 nights’ accommodation is in the centrally located Hulbert House, a beautifully restored Victorian villa now a Boutique Hotel famous for their first class service within a relaxed and informal atmosphere. The hotel is also walkable to the shops & restaurants, albeit a steep climb to return!
You have the downstairs ‘grand’ suite with en suite and fabulous views of Lake Wakatipu and the mountains….no 2 rooms are the same! Breakfast is of course included in the tariff as is WiFi, as are pre dinner drinks & canapes. Onsite services include an outdoor bar/patio area, 2 E-Bikes are also available for guests.
- Hulbert House Boutique Hotel*****, Grand suite + breakfast
Other recommended establishments: Hidden Lodge/ Blanket Bay Lodge/ Rees Hotel/ Hotel Saint Moritz Boutique Hotel/ Eichardts Boutique Hotel/ Matakauri Lodge/ Millbrook Resort/ Lodge at the Hills/ Punatapu Lodge/ Arrowtown House Boutique Hotel/ Pencarrow Lodge/ Queenstown House Boutique B&B/ Remarkables Lodge/ The Arrow Private Hotel/ Azur Lodge
Day 17 (B,L) Queenstown
This morning, Guided Walks New Zealand will be picking you up around 8am. You need comfortable walking shoes (preferably hiking boots), sunglasses (for the wind on the jetboat), water-bottle, sunscreen, water-proof jacket and insect repellent! Today you are booked on the Dart River Jetboat & guided walk combo called Aspiring Wilderness Experience (included), a picnic lunch is also included today.
Today there is first a thrilling ride on a jet-boat (another New Zealand invention) which will take you from Glenorchy along the Dart River into the very heart of the Mt Aspiring National Park with plenty of Lord of the Rings filming sites along the way! This thrilling ride up the Dart River takes you into the very heart of the Mt Aspiring National Park Your driver will weave through the braided glacial river and rock gardens, stopping to tell stories of Maori legends and yarns of local pioneers.
You will be delivered 35kms later to a remote spot only accessible to Guided Walks NZ, you will then walk 2-3 hours along unformed trail on leaves and moss to the famous Routeburn area with a wilderness picnic lunch stop included. Highlights include the variety of bird life, mosses, lichens and ferns, ancient native beech forest and spectacular snow-capped mountain and lake views along the way! At the end, your transport will be awaiting you to transfer you back to your accommodation, arriving back around 4.30pm.
Please note this day can be adapted to suit your personal preferences, such as horse-riding, tandem paragliding (from the side of a mountain), tandem sky-diving (from a plane), white water-rafting, Funyaks (river kayaking), Sunrise balloon flight, Station-to-station unguided cycling tour, fly-fish in the trout infested lakes and rivers, enjoy a private winery tour of the region with Odyssey, Play golf on one of the most magically located courses in the world, or take a 4WD tour to Skippers Canyon with Nomads.
Day 18 (B) Queenstown
Today you have a free day, however I recommend a scenic drive – from the Queenstown shops and take the alternative route to Arrowtown via Arthurs Point. En route you could (should) drive up the Coronet Peak Ski-field access road for stunning views of the Shotover River and Wakatipu Basin. 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.
30kms - The pretty tree-lined town of Arrowtown. The pretty tree-lined town is another former gold mining settlement. Two years after the first European settlers established high country farms in the Wakatipu area, gold was discovered in the Arrow River and news soon spread. Within weeks 1500 people arrived as the news of gold spread and people in search of the alluvial treasure arrived in droves. At the height of the gold rush, Arrowtown's population grew to over 7000. In 1865 many of the miners started to leave for other gold-mining areas and the local government invited Chinese miners to the area. Most worked in the Shotover and Arrow Gorges, although wherever Chinese stores opened communities began to develop. Wander amongst the historic cottages, visit the reconstructed Chinese Settlement (the Chinese were subjected to many prejudices so had their own settlement. The main shopping street is a shopper’s particular delight!
To reach the highway follow the road east along the river at the base of the hill then turn right onto SH6, direction Queenstown.
You could stop at the new Wet Jacket Boutique Winery and Whitestone Cheese Aging Room in the historic Bendemeer Woolshed…..you can sample the fully matured cheese cut straight from the artisanal rounds of cheese, the perfect combination with the Wet Jacket Pinot Noir! There is a viewing room, cheese deli and shop all on site.
Or on the corner of the highway and Lake Hayes you will find the multi award winning Amisfield Restaurant & Winery, where you can stop and try some wines and have some lunch. 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!
Back in Queenstown, here are some possibilities:
- Cruise with Southern Discoveries on Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas. The 1.5 hour cruise includes a behind-the-scenes visit to a truly authentic, family-run merino sheep farm. Watch the sheep being moved by the farm dog, touch the wool after it has been shorn and then take a 4WD tour of the high-country farm is also included.
- Or cruise across Lake Wakatipu aboard the coal fired vintage steamship the TSS Earnslaw. The original steam engines can be seen in operation from the open viewing area. On arrival at Walter Peak Station, wander around the gardens and Colonel’s Homestead followed by a farming demonstration (optional) about raising sheep on a high country farm, including sheep shearing and sheep-dog mustering.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
Day 19 (B,D) Queenstown – Pukaki 254kms
Please call the Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat to discuss menu possibilities for tonight…..slow-cooked home-grown lamb shanks or whole baked salmon are their specialties! You can choose to dine ‘at home’ (self-serve) or you can choose to dine up at the homestead. Please note that everyone is required to have the same main dish, telephone Luke on 0274 370 820. Also let them know if you would like to do the Observatory Experience.
Head into Queenstown then north on SH6 through the Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell. 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 kilometers further along is the excellent Gibbston Valley Winery (opens 10am). They offer guided tours, departing every hour on the hour which 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 cave are lined with barrels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, still reaching their prime. The Gibbston Cheesery next door is worth a visit!
Once through the gorge, look for the large fresh fruit shop on the right (Jones Fruit Stall), it is well worth a stop at as they have all sorts of seasonal fruit that you can try and their real fruit ice-creams are amazing!
105kms - Cromwell is another gold mining centre and it is one of the sunniest, warmest places in the South Island (in the summer that is), making it ideal for growing fruit trees and the region is fast becoming renowned for fine Pinot Noir wines. The Mount Difficulty Vineyard towards Bannockburn has won several international awards for their Pinot noirs, as well as expansive views.
Change to SH8 which takes you north over the scenic Lindis Pass to Twizel. It lies in 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.
238kms – Just before Twizel, look out for the Salmon Farm on the right – here you can feed the fish and/or try it sashimi style or smoked!
Please call 0800 800 702 at least 24 hours before departure to check on the status of your flight for tomorrow afternoon. As flights require a minimum number of 4 passengers they may advise you another time because of numbers and/or the weather forecast…. so you can then adjust your plans accordingly!
252kms – Turn left onto SH80. Around 1 kilometre from the turnoff, look for the entrance to the Mt Cook Retreat on your right. Your accommodation for two nights is in a luxury B&B chosen for the stunning views over Lake Pukaki towards Aoraki-Mt Cook (our tallest mountain). The gorgeous turquoise-blue lake derives its colour from fine glacial particles suspended in the water.
You have the exclusive use of the villa. Included in the tariff are hosted wine & canapés served between 6 & 7pm up at the homestead, a 2-course self-serve dinner each evening with a bottle of wine (call ahead to discuss menu possibilities) and breakfast ingredients (also self-serve). Or, if you prefer, you can go up to the house for the meals….call ahead if you prefer this option so they know not to take everything down to the villa.
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.
Please note you lso have the private use of the tennis court and Fantail Spa facility (includes sauna, spa, fitness room). Call ahead if you would like to book the masseuse as she has to come in specially (extra charge for massages).
Also available is the onsite Wine Cellar Observatory Experience (extra charge, $115 per person). This is an exclusive stargazing experience in the middle of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve you will be awestruck by the number of stars and clarity of the Milky Way. Enjoy a personalised stargazing experience which includes introduction to stargazing, telescope viewing, wine and chocolate matching or a wee tot of whisky, as well as astrophotography of deep space objects as part of this experience.
Then finish off your evening in the Hot Tub to gaze in awe at the galaxy of stars in the Milky Way – our skies are some of the clearest in the whole world!
Other recommended establishments: Hermitage Hotel/ Lakestone Lodge (Boutique B&B)/ Matuka Lodge (Boutique B&B)/ Peppers Bluewater Resort (Tekapo)
- Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat*****, self-contained villa + dinner & breakfast
Day 20 (B,D) Mount Cook National Park
From your driveway, turn right. The 55 kilometre 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.
This morning you are booked in for an awesome 55-minute scenic flight either by helicopter or by small plane (included) departing from Mt Cook Airport at 11.30am. The flight takes you over Lake Tekapo, across the Southern Alps to view the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, then around Mount Aoraki and lands on the awesome Tasman Glacier (wear suitable shoes and clothes for walking on snow!)
This afternoon you have free, possibilities are:-
- Several different alpine walks with wonderful views. The view of the Tasman Glacier from the lookout up a short steep track is well worth the drive!
- I can also recommend the Hooker Valley Track - this is one of the most popular short walks in the Mount Cook National Park. Start 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 – so walk as far as you like. This is New Zealand at its very best!
- Visit the newly opened Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
- Or the DoC Visitor’s Centre is just as good (and is free).
- Eat, drink and just relax in the Hermitage while enjoying the incredible views that lie before you.
Day 21 (B) Pukaki – Christchurch 290kms
Return to SH8 and turn left to continue north. A few kilometers further north you will cross another huge man-made Tekapo Canal constructed for the Upper Waitake hydroelectric scheme, a significant source of our country’s electricity.
46kms - Just before Lake Tekapo, turn left and drive up to the summit of Mount John and enjoy spectacular 360° views.
62kms – 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 recently become the world’s first ever Night Sky Reserve. Be sure to visit the much-photographed Church of the Good Shepherd and the Sheepdog.
106kms - In Fairlie, turn left onto SH79. Consider stopping off at the Fairlie Bakehouse to try one of their famous freshly baked pies!
152kms - In Geraldine you could visit a shop called The Giant Jersey which has, you guessed it, the largest jersey in the world, plus lots of woolly stuff on sale. But the main attraction here is the incredible Medieval Mosaic, a perfect recreation of the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
Continue north on SH79 to Rangitata, on reaching SH1 turn left. From here it is literally a straight line north to Christchurch across the Canterbury Plains, you should have the Southern Alps on your left. Follow the signs for SH1 and north, then at the Christchurch Airport intersection, turn right and head into the City Centre along Memorial Ave. On reaching Hagley Park, turn left then follow the instructions on the pre-paid voucher to find your accommodation.
290kms - Christchurch is New Zealand's second largest city which sprawls across the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. The main attractions here are the 748 English style gardens and parks, the city even has its very own Avon River on 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! The city is now going through a major rebuild.
Your accommodation in Christchurch for 2 nights is at The George, a luxury boutique hotel. This is Christchurch’s best hotel and is centrally located overlooking Hagley Park. You have a spacious premium-executive room with king bed plus breakfast is included in the tariff each morning, as is WiFi. There are 2 dining options - in the multi award-winning Pescatore Restaurant or the more relaxed 50 Bistro……please call your hotel around a week before to make a reservation on 03 379 4560.
- The George Hotel*****, Premium executive room + breakfast
Other recommended establishments: Montreal Hotel/ Annandale Luxury Villa/ Otahuna Lodge/ Dyers House Boutique B&B/ Elizas Manor Boutique B&B/ Gunyah Country Estate/ Clearview Lodge (Boutique B&B)
Day 22 (B) Christchurch – Akaroa – Christchurch 180kms
Today's short drive explores the Banks Peninsula created over nine million years of fiery volcanic activity. Akaroa Harbour and Lyttelton Harbour are the two giant craters that remain. Originally the Banks Peninsula was an island, but over the millennia the alluvial rivers have brought down the glacial debris from the Southern Alps, slowly joining the two and creating the Canterbury Plains.
Ask reception on how to find the SH75 to Akaroa, (allow 2 hours for the drive so you have time to stop for photos). Additional stops en route (if you depart early) could be Little River Craft and Gallery and Barry's Bay Cheese Factory for cheese tastings.
68kms - The Hilltop Tavern at the summit is a must before you make your way down to the harbour, if only to stop and look at the view.
From here it is another 20 kilometres to Akaroa. In 1835 French whaler Jean Langlois established a whaling station in the harbour at French Bay and bought some land from the Maori. Once he had secured the deal he returned to France to organize a group of settlers to come and establish a community. Unfortunately the English had placed the whole of New Zealand under British sovereignty only 13 days before, so the French settlers were forced to sell their claims. They did however stay, bringing both their rich French character and their culture to this far flung outpost of the world.
For lunch, I can recommend a BBQ fish sandwich – you will find them on the wharf. Try the Akaroa Salmon on Ciabatta bread!
Akaroa’s other attraction are of course the tiny and rare Hector’s dolphin – join the afternoon Akaroa Dolphin cruise out onto the harbour (included), check-in by 12.20pm at their shop on the waterfront to get your boarding pass. The cruise is fully narrated by your skipper who has extensive knowledge of the nature, wildlife and history of the harbour. A complimentary beverage, including award-winning wine, beer and soft drinks, along with home baking are included in your ticket price.
The highlight of this trip is undoubtedly the sighting of one of the world's smallest and rarest dolphins, the Hector's Dolphin. These friendly and inquisitive mammals meet the boat most days throughout the year.
Also on the trip you will catch glimpses of the White Flippered Blue Penguin, the smallest penguin in the world. There are many different bird species in the harbour, including five different cormorant species and the chance of sighting the endangered yellow-eyed penguin. You'll also see the New Zealand Fur Seal sunning themselves on the harbours rocks near the entrance at Seal Bay.
I can recommend the scenic route back to Christchurch via the beautiful but winding road along the crater rim, offering stunning views along the way – access to the Summit Road is a few kilometres back, direction Eastern Bays. This Tourist Drive has to be THE most scenic route in the whole world, the views down both sides really are spectacular!
122kms - Back at the Hilltop Tavern turn right and head back towards Christchurch for 37 kilometers. At the Blue Duck Cafe turn right to return to Christchurch via Gebbies Pass and Lyttelton Harbour - the second of the craters that make up the Banks Peninsula. After crossing the pass, turn left to Governors Bay and Lyttelton.
176kms – In Governors Bay, be sure to make a stop at the She Chocolate Café - they make the best chocolate brownies and iced chocolates in the whole southern hemisphere! Unfortunately it closes at 4pm most days.
Soon after, turn left onto Dyers Pass Road and this will bring you back to the Sign of the Takahe and your accommodation. The Sign of the Takahe is one of several original staging posts used by weary travellers crossing from the Lyttelton Harbour to the city.
Day 23 (B) Christchurch – international flight home
Please return your hire-car filled with fuel - NB there are no fuel stations near the airport so fill up as soon as you see one! Park your car in the Rental Car Returns Car-park at the Christchurch Airport in one of Thrifty’s designated parking bays and hand the keys in at the Thrifty counter inside the terminal.
Flights from Christchurch to your home can either go via Auckland, Sydney or Singapore. I hope you will enjoy your amazing tour of New Zealand and that the weather will be kind to you! “Haere Ra” (goodbye in Maori) and have a safe journey home.