Auckland to Christchurch via Hot Water Beach, Tongariro, Abel Tasman, Glaciers and Mt Cook
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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 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.
The Tongariro Crossing is one of the best one-day walks in the world. The walk leads one-way from Ketetahi Car Park to Mangatepopo Car Park, and is 19.4km in length. The walk takes 6-9 hours. There are very few facilities on the walk, so be fully prepared with suitable equipment, clothing, food and drinks.
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 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 Westport
Make your way from Nelson to New Zealand’s wild West Coast. Drive spectacular scenic roads as they lead through the mountains, and watch as the rainforest thickens around you. Those up for some adventure will wish to take a rafting trip on the mighty Buller, where grade 3-4 rapids can be expected (true extremists may wish to hold out for heli-rafting from Hokitika). Arrive in the town of Westport, where a short drive out of town will bring you to the Cape Foulwind seal colony. Westport sits between the sea and a mountain wilderness. A stunning drive into the mountains above town will allow you to discover the region’s coal mining history at Denniston.
Westport to Hokitika
From Westport, head south to the amazing pancake rocks of Punakaiki. You can take these in with a leisurely stroll on the well-made pathway 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 of Punakaiki’s wonderful scenery. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy an expert guided tour taking in local flora and fauna. The route from Punakaiki south is simply spectacular, as the road winds carefully around a wild coastline. Pass through Greymouth and arrive at Hokitika, the west coast’s largest hub for arts and wares, from fine glass pieces to the famous pounamu, New Zealand’s local greenstone. (For language enthusiasts, the Maori name for the South Island is Te Waipounamu, translated as “the waters of greenstone”.) Adventurous travellers truly wanting to experience New Zealand’s best wilderness can take an amazing heli-rafting trip from Hokitika – highly recommended.
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 Omarama
Depart Queenstown and the beautiful shores of Lake Wakatipu. Continue past the wineries of the Gibbston Valley, following the scenic, desert route alongside the Kawarau River to the town of Cromwell. This is orchard country, with apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries all grown in abundance. Stop by one of the local fruit stands for some ice cream, sought-after for being made while you wait from berries and local fruit. Then, continue north, heading over the scenic Lindis Pass, to finally come 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 to the airfield if you’d like to go for a flight of your own.
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.