Auckland to Dunedin via West Coast
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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 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 Punakaiki
Spectacular scenic roads lead from Nelson and into the mountains, where rainforest thickens around you. The adventurous may wish to take a rafting trip on the mighty Buller, where grade 3-4 rapids can be expected. Pass through the town of Westport, and stop by for a walk at Cape Foulwind to view the seal colony. Continue to the beautiful 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 this great natural attraction from another angle, while taking in much more of Punakaiki’s wonderful scenery. Nature enthusiasts may wish to take an expert guided tour of the local flora and fauna.
Punakaiki to Franz Josef
From Punakaiki, make the drive south, past Greymouth to the coastal town of Hokitika. Here, 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. Continue south to Franz Josef Glacier. Combine a glacier hike with a heli flight, or take a scenic flight above it all. Alternatively, head out for a kayak trip on Lake Mapourika.
Franz Josef to Queenstown
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 before finally arriving at New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown.
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 Milford Sound to Te Anau
Travel from Queenstown to Te Anau, starting out with the scenic drive down the edge Lake Wakatipu past Kingston. From Te Anau, continue on the stunning route through giant glacier carved valleys to the postcard perfect Milford Sound, a true highlight among New Zealand’s stunning natural attractions. Be awed and energised by the scenic perfection of the marvellous vistas here, particularly of Mitre Peak, which soars straight from the sea like a jagged tooth. You may wish to take a scenic cruise to get a more intimate perspective on this stunning fiord. In the afternoon, return 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 and Otago Peninsula
Explore the abundant wildlife on the Otago Peninsula. At the farthest point on the peninsula is the renowned Albatross Colony. Fur seals, sea lions and penguins can also be found on the peninsula (tour suggested). Historic Larnach Castle & Gardens is another exceptional stop on the route. Dunedin is now best known as a university town, but historically was the most prosperous city in New Zealand. The city is one of definite Scottish influence – view the Robert Burns statue at the Octagon. Also check out the historic railway station, said to be the most photographed building in the country. The Registry Building on the University of Otago campus is another frequently photographed attraction.