Auckland to Christchurch via Hot Water Beach, Napier, Abel Tasman, Punakaiki & Tekapo
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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 Hot Water Beach
Make a morning departure from Auckland, making your way directly to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, and the extraordinary Hot Water Beach. At Hot Water Beach, a natural hot spring directly under the sand allows you to dig your own private spa. This is one of the most amazing free, natural experiences in New Zealand. Also on this beautiful stretch of coastline is the impressive Cathedral Cave, which can be visited by sea kayak or by taking an enjoyable walk.
Hot Water Beach to Rotorua
Drive your way down the scenic east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, before turning inland to visit the impressive Karangahake Gorge, an original site of New Zealand’s gold rush. Take a walk to explore the old mine shafts, before returning to the route south. Lord of the Rings fans will want to stop by Hobbiton before continuing to Rotorua. Those that skip Hobbiton may have time to go rafting or to take a mud spa, before attending a fantastic Maori cultural performance and dinner in the evening.
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 Napier
Make your way southeast from Taupo to the rugged hills of of the Ahimanawa Range. Stop by Waipunga Falls Lookout, and then descend toward the rolling farm country of Hawke’s Bay. Napier was levelled by a devastating earthquake in 1931. The city was subsequently built in the architecture of the day, and the city is now considered the Art Deco capital of the world. On arrival in Napier, take lunch and consider an Art Deco walking tour of the city. Another option (if you arrive in time) is to take a wine tour of the famed Hawke’s bay region. Half an hour drive south of Napier you’ll find at Cape Kidnappers.
Napier to Wellington
From the sunny wine country of Hawke’s Bay, make your way from Napier to the neighboring town of Hastings, where you’ll also find Art Deco architecture in the town centre. Continue through Wairarapa farm country toward Palmerston North before reaching the sea and passing 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 Nelson
Take a flight from Wellington to the place that is arguably New Zealand’s arts capital: Nelson. Take a walk up to the Centre of New Zealand, visit the Cathedral, or just hang out in one of the towns many funky cafes. If you like the seaside, Tahunanui Beach, said to be excellent for swimming, and popular with walkers, joggers, windsurfers and sunseekers, is a mere 5km along the coast road from the town centre.
Abel Tasman Daytrip
Make the drive from Nelson to Marahau, access point to Abel Tasman National Park. This is a place of golden beaches, granite cliffs and deep blue ocean. It is synonymous with both kayaking and the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s nine designated Great Walks, so the recommended plan is to combine the two in a day trip in conjunction with one of the local operators.
Nelson to Kaikoura
Depart Nelson and head through the Marlborough region, making your way to the sunny city of Blenheim, located in one of New Zealand’s best known wine-growing regions. Consider a gourmet lunch at a winery, before continuing south on the brilliant coastal route to Kaikoura. Seafood lovers must be sure to stop by Nin’s Bin, for a sampling of some of New Zealand’s famous fresh lobster – before continuing on to the whale-watching mecca of New Zealand: Kaikoura.
Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs
One special way to start your morning in Kaikoura is by going swimming with dolphins. Kaikoura is also a major whale watching destination, so consider doing so by scenic flight or ferry. Roadside seafood is an option in Kaikoura, before travelling inland to the hot spring resort of Hanmer Springs.
Hanmer Springs to Punakaiki
Today, self drive to the mountains, then continue to the wild, remote West Coast of the South Island. Consider an alpine walk on the St James Walkway, then continue the scenic drive through thick ancient New Zealand beech forests to the historical gold mining town of Reefton. Pass through the town of Westport, and stop by for a walk at Cape Foulwind to view the seal colony. Continue to the amazing pancake rocks of Punakaiki. You can take these in with a leisurely stroll from the roadside. Those wanting a little more can go horseriding on the beach and view them from another angle, as well as taking in much more on Punakaiki’s wonderful scenery. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy an expert guided tour taking in local flora and fauna.
Punakaiki to Hokitika
The relatively short distance from Punakaiki to the lovely coastal town of Hokitika is doesn’t take too long to cover, making for a relaxed day. The route from Punakaiki south is simply spectacular, as the road twists around a wild coastline. Arrive at the city of Greymouth, where historical New Zealand can be experienced at Shantytown. Continue south to Hokitika, the west coast’s largest hub for arts and wares, from fine glass pieces to the famous pounamu, New Zealand’s local greenstone. A detour from town will lead you to the wonderful Hokitika gorge.
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 Omarama
Depart the beautiful shores of Lake Te Anau and head north via the scenic shoreline of Lake Wakatipu. Passing Queenstown, make a stop at the wineries of the Gibbston Valley, before following the scenic, desert route alongside the Kawarau River to the town of Cromwell. Find yourself in orchard country, with apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries all grown in abundance. Local fruit stands sell local produce, and fresh, fruit-based ice cream. The northward route then takes you over the stark tussock covered hills of the Lindis Pass, before eventually leading you to the small, homely crossroads of Omarama. Omarama is renowned as one of the best sites in the world for glider flights, and once hosted the world championships. Scenic flights of various duration are available at the local airfield.
Omarama to Lake Tekapo
Heading north from Omarama through the desert-like country of southern Canterbury, its amazing to consider that only a narrow mountain range separates you from the dense rainforests of the West Coast. Visit the alpine Salmon farm near the town of Twizel (the highest-altitude salmon on Earth!), and continue up to the striking blue of Lake Pukaki. Make the detour up to Mt Cook township, and take a walk to soak up the best views of New Zealand’s highest peak (Aoraki/Mt Cook!). Back at the car, return to the main highway and continue to Lake Tekapo, the most 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.
Lake Tekapo to Christchurch
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 an extinct volcano that exploded six million years ago – offer great views back over the city.