Auckland to Queenstown via Waitomo, Kaikoura & 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.
As one of the North Island’s main tourist hubs, there is more than enough to keep you extremely active during your time in Rotorua. There are of course the countless thermal parks and spas to visit, but also some unexpected wonders, such as Rotorua’s Redwood forest. The town is also home to some of the world’s best mountain biking, though a trip up Skyline Gondola may be of more interest to those not looking to overexert themselves! Birdwatchers will want to check out the Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust. And just about everyone should take a walk around Lake Rotorua, with its simmering vents showing just how thin the Earth’s crust is in this part of the world.
Rotorua to Auckland via Waitomo Caves
From Rotorua, make your way to an ancient limestone region best known for its vast cave systems displaying stunning arrays of stalactites and stalagmites, and occasionally illuminated by glow worms. Experience this for yourself at Waitomo Caves, where numerous tours allow you to explore this underground wonderland. If you have some time, make the visit to the beautiful Marokopa Falls. Heading north to Auckland, consider stopping by Hamilton Gardens – one of New Zealand’s finest!
Auckland to Christchurch
From Auckland, take a flight 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.
Christchurch to Kaikoura
The route north from Christchurch heads first through the flat, agrarian landscape of the Canterbury Plains. As you approach Kaikoura, the route leads into winding hills, passing through small townships, before connecting with the stunning coastline. A seafood lunch from the roadside caravans in Kaikoura is a great option. Whale watching – either by sea or by air – is a fine option for the afternoon, if not tomorrow morning. Kaikoura is best known for its oceanic mammals, but is also an excellent place for viewing birdlife, particularly albatrosses.
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 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.