Auckland to Christchurch via Coastal Pacific & Dunedin
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Auckland’s stunning harbour is the centerpiece of New Zealand’s largest and most international city. This is the ‘City of Sails,’ boasting more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world. Forty-eight dormant volcanoes are located around the city, including Mt Eden, from which you can enjoy superb views of the city. Alternatively, get a superb city from from the top of Sky Tower, in the city center. If you have time, jump on the ferry to Rangitoto Island, where you can climb to the summit of this extinct volcano in the middle of Auckland harbour. Great restaurants abound, including in swanky Viaduct Harbour, on the edge of the city centre.
Auckland to Rotorua
The route from Auckland to Rotorua leads through rolling green farm country, so picturesque that it was featured in Lord of the Rings as Hobbiton, which can be found along the route at the town of Matamata. Rotorua offers a multitude of attractions, from adventurous thrills – including rafting the world-famous Kaituna Rapids – to the quiet relaxation of the Redwood forest, and the many thermal areas within and around Rotorua. Farm tours, Maori cultural performances, kiwi viewing, world-class mountain biking and mud spas are all the many offerings available in Rotorua.
Rotorua to Taupo
The amount of time on the road today is relatively brief, leaving more time to explore some of the many attractions in the area. Between Rotorua and Taupo are the popular Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu thermal areas. At Wai-O-Tapu, the Lady Knox geyser is induced to erupt daily at 10:15am. Closer to Taupo is the unmissable Huka Falls, where in spectacular fashion over 200,000 litres of water squeezes through a narrow passage every second – the falls are New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. On the shores of the deep blue of Lake Taupo, the township of Taupo can offer either relaxation or adrenalin. Taupo offers skydiving, jetboating, kayaking, bungy and many other adventurous activities.
Taupo to Tongariro National Park
Drive your way along the striking blue waters of Lake Taupo, arriving after about an hour at the amazing volcanoes of the World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park. Drive your way up to Whakapapa and enjoy some stunning walking in this alpine wilderness. During the summer months, walking the Tongariro Crossing is highly recommended, as it is regarded as one of the world’s best day walks. Note: this is a full day walk and preparation is essential.
Tongariro National Park to Wanganui
From the wonderful alpine wilderness of Tongariro, continue toward the lowlands of the wonderful Whanganui National Park. Take the route to Pipiriki where you can enjoy some canoeing on the river, or even a wilderness jetboat ride to the so-called Bridge to Nowhere. From Pipiriki, continue down the quiet scenic road following the Whanganui River toward the pleasant riverside city of Wanganui.
Wanganui to Wellington
Start off early for the route from Wanganui to Wellington, giving yourself more time to explore the capital in the afternoon. The route starts out leading you through more rolling green dairy farm country, eventually rejoining the coast to pass through the wonderful seaside towns of the Kapiti Coast. Finally, arrive in Wellington, New Zealand’s indisputably fantastic capital city. Although small by population, Wellington is dense with wonderful attractions, from its stunning harbour, to Te Papa Museum, the famous red Cable Car, the Beehive, and Zealandia sanctuary. Definitely a great place to keep you busy – the fact it has the best restaurants in New Zealand is just a bonus!
Wellington to Christchurch, by ferry and train
The ferry ride from Wellington to Picton takes about 3.5 hours, and after crossing the sometimes-wild Cook Strait, moves more gently past the scenic coves and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. After arriving in Picton, grab something to eat before boarding the Coastal Pacific scenic train. The train starts out heading through the scenic wine-growing region of Marlborough, before continuing down wild coastline to Kaikoura. Continue across the Canterbury Plains to finally arrive in Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city. Christchurch continues to recover from significant earthquake damage and increasingly boasts new sights and attractions for visitors. At the edge of the city is the Canterbury Museum, the Botanic Gardens, and Hagley Park, where you can enjoy punting along the Avon river. The International Antarctic Centre, near the airport, is another major Christchurch attraction, interesting for adults and kids alike. The Port Hills – formed by the crater of the huge extinct volcano – offer great views back over the city.
Christchurch to Hokitika
Today, self drive to the mountains, then continue to the South Island’s New Zealand’s most wild and remote region; the West Coast. Driving your way first through the beautiful Canterbury Plains, you’ll soon come to the steep mountains of the New Zealand Alps. Wind your way through extraordinary scenery as you make your way through Arthur’s Pass National Park. Continue to Hokitika, where you’ll find loads of pounamu (greenstone) and craft shops – along with plenty of places to eat whitebait, the tiny fish for which this area is justly renowned.
Hokitika to Franz Josef
Continue south along a narrow strip of vibrant green farmland that sits wedged between the coast and the mountains. Short walks are available at Lake Mahinapua, worthy of a quick stop. The Southwest of New Zealand is one the great natural areas of the world, being internationally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Arrive at Franz Josef Glacier, one of the two major glaciers on the West Coast. You can hike the glacier from the bottom, combine a glacier hike with a heli flight, or take a scenic flight above it all. Alternatively, consider a kayak trip on Lake Mapourika.
Franz Josef to Wanaka
Today’s spectacular route leads from the dramatic green wilderness of the West Coast to the drier climate that pervades on the east side of the New Zealand Alps. Head south down the coast to the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre at Haast, then turn inland toward the mountains, following the winding Haast Pass Highway as it weaves up a narrow valley between towering mountains. Thundering roadside waterfalls line the route, and you’ll also find the striking and vivid Blue Pools a pleasant 30 minute walk from the roadside. Continue past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, passing the charming lakeside town of Wanaka.
Wanaka to Queenstown
From Wanaka, first stop is Cromwell. This is orchard country, with apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries all grown in abundance. Take a few minutes at one of the local fruit stands for some of the local fruit ice cream. Continue from Cromwell along the scenic, desert route alongside the Kawarau River toward Queenstown, passing the wineries of the Gibbston Valley and Kawarau Bungy. A short detour leads to the historic village of Arrowtown, where gold was discovered in Arrowtown in 1861. The town is one of delightful old cottages and fine avenues of trees, making it an excellent place for a coffee. Stroll the historic streets before continuing to Queenstown – with possible diversions to Kawarau Bungy or a local winery en route.
Get caught up in the many things that Queenstown has to offer. From bungy to canyoning to jetboating to skydiving, there is plenty for the adventurer, as well as no shortage of things to do for the more easy-going traveller as well. Great all-day activities include a trip up to Glenorchy for the Fun Yak Safari. Milford Sound is just a short flight away.
Queenstown to Te Anau
Start out with the scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu to Frankton, crossing the Kawarau River. After passing the skifields of The Remarkables you will again find yourself on the very scenic winding road adjacent to the lake. The small town of Kingston at the foot of the lake is a worthwhile short detour and the home of the historic Kingston Flyer. Continue through hilly farm country, finally arriving at the pretty lakeside town of Te Anau. Consider making a visit to Manapouri Power Station, or taking a tour of the wonderful local Glow Worm Caves. You can also experience a taste of incredible Fiordland rainforest by taking a day walk on the renowned Kepler Track.
Milford Sound Return, ex Te Anau
Take the stunning drive through giant glacier carved valleys to visit one of the most scenic spots in New Zealand, Milford Sound. Be awed and energised by the scenic beauty of the marvellous vistas here, particularly of Mitre Peak, which soars straight from the sea like a jagged tooth. Consider a scenic cruise to explore this wonderful place. In the afternoon, make your way back to Te Anau.
Te Anau to Dunedin
Depart the mountain scenery of Te Anau, travelling through rolling green southern farmland to the fine city of Dunedin. Explore the Otago Peninsula, at the tip of which you’ll find the renowned Albatross Colony. Dunedin is now best known as a university town, but historically was the most prosperous city in New Zealand. Take in some of that history at Larnach Castle. The city is one of definite Scottish influence – view the Robert Burns statue at the Octagon. Check out the historic railway station, said to be the most photographed building in the country.
Dunedin to Mt Cook Village
Make your way up the scenic Otago Coast, stopping by the Moeraki Boulders, then continuing to the surprise gem of Oamaru, with its attractive historic buildings. Turn inland to the drier country of central Otago, coming to the small town of Omarama. Although small, Omarama is famous as one of the best sites in the world for glider flights, and once hosted the world championships. Head north from Omarama through the desert-like country of southern Canterbury, and visit the alpine Salmon farm near the town of Twizel (the highest-altitude salmon on Earth). Continue to the striking blue of Lake Pukaki. The route continues to Mt Cook township, where you can take a walk to soak up the best views of Mt Cook itself – New Zealand’s highest peak.
Mt Cook to Christchurch
First up, head to Lake Tekapo, the most well-known and stunning of New Zealand’s glacial lakes. Visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake shore, and consider taking part in some of the great activities available in town. From Tekapo, follow the road leading out of the mountains to the vast Canterbury Plains, and on to Christchurch. Christchurch continues to recover from significant earthquake damage and increasingly boasts new sights and attractions for visitors. At the edge of the city is the Canterbury Museum, the Botanic Gardens, and Hagley Park, where you can enjoy punting along the Avon river. The International Antarctic Centre, near the airport, is another major Christchurch attraction, interesting for adults and kids alike. The Port Hills – formed by the crater of the huge extinct volcano – offer great views back over the city.