Auckland to Christchurch via Tongariro
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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 Kaikoura
The ferry ride from Wellington to Picton takes about 3.5 hours, and after crossing the Cook Strait, meanders past the scenic coves and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. After arriving in Picton, pick up your rental car and make 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 most 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 Hokitika
Ascend the Southern Alps, crossing Lewis Pass, where you may enjoy an alpine walk on the St James Walkway. Continue through thick ancient New Zealand beech forests to the historic gold mining town of Reefton. Continue to 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 Christchurch, with Tranz Alpine Train
Take the short drive north from Hokitika to Greymouth. Drop off your rental vehicle and board the world-renowned Tranz Alpine train, which crosses the spectacular Southern Alps en route to Christchurch. The train heads through lush terrain, making its way through extraordinary scenery, heading into Arthur’s Pass National Park. Enjoy great vistas over deep gorges as the route makes its way along the Waimakariri River, leading down to the Canterbury Plains, finally arriving at the city of Christchurch. Pick up your vehicle and in the evening, consider going for a view over the city from the Port Hills.