Queenstown to Auckland via Milford Sound, Glaciers, Abel Tasman &Tongariro
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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 Wanaka
Depart the beautiful shores of Lake Te Anau, and make your way back through farm country to Kingston at the southern tip of Lake Wakatipu. When you’re on the road beyond Queenstown and heading towards the Crown Range, consider stopping by the historic village of Arrowtown. Gold was discovered in Arrowtown in 1861, so the town is one of delightful old cottages and fine avenues of trees making it an excellent place for a morning coffee. Stroll the historic streets before continuing over the Crown Range road the charming lakeside town of Wanaka.
Wanaka to Franz Josef
Today’s long but spectacular drive leads from drier climate on the east side of the New Zealand Alps to the green wilderness of the West Coast. Drive past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, heading past Makarora and along one of the finest routes in New Zealand. Stop by some of the impressive waterfalls that line the route, making your way along the winding Haast Pass Highway as it descends down a narrow valley between towering mountains. Stop by the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre at Haast before heading up the coast to the glaciers.
Franz Josef to Hokitika
At the glaciers, opportunities for adventure are plenty, from glacier hikes and helicopter flights to scenic fixed-wing flights around Aoraki/Mt Cook, the highest summit in New Zealand. Alternatively, head out for morning kayak trip on the dark, seductive waters of the stunning Lake Mapourika. Later on, hop in the car and make the drive north along a narrow strip of vibrant green farmland, wedged between the wild coast and the high mountains. Arrive in Hokitika, where 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.
Hokitika to Christchurch
The route from Hokitika makes its way toward the mountainous Southern Alps. You’ll ascend to the alpine heights of Arthur’s Pass, on a stunning route through the mountains. Stop by the impressive Otira Viaduct on the way. At Arthur’s Pass, you’ll find a excellent alpine walks suited to people of various abilities. The descent to Canterbury is no less stunning, passing by Castle Hill, now famed as a set used in the film Chronicles of Narnia. Cross Porter Pass, and descend steeply to the broad, flat patchwork of farmland that makes up the Canterbury Plains. 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 Nelson
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, or head north to the famed lobster shack, Nin’s Bin. Take a short walk to waterfall near the roadside, where in the cooler months you can see seal pups playing in a streambed while their mothers fish at sea. The coastal road here is wildly beautiful as it leads right through to the wine region of Blenheim, where you might stop by a winery for some afternoon tea. Continue to Nelson, a small, quiet city that is a major hub art and alternative culture in New Zealand.
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 Wellington
Exit Nelson via the Rai Valley, heading for the charming coves and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. Stop by the fishing village of Havelock, and consider a Green Shell Mussel Cruise (Sept – April only). Arrive in Picton, drop off the rental vehicle and board the ferry for Wellington. The ferry ride from Picton to Wellington takes about 3.5 hours, and after meandering past the scenic coves and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds, crosses the Cook Strait before heading into Wellington harbour.
Wellington to Wanganui
From Wellington, travel north along the stunning Kapiti coast. Consider venturing into the mountains to Otaki Forks, where pleasant walks explore the dense rainforest of the Tararua Ranges. Continue north, passing through the pastured farmlands of the Manawatu, before coming to the historic riverside town of Wanganui.
Wanganui to Tongariro National Park
Explore the ancient wilderness of Wanganui National Park, driving the narrow riverside route that runs parallel to the Wanganui River to Pipiriki, where you can enjoy some canoeing on the river, or even a wilderness jetboat ride to the so-called Bridge to Nowhere. Continue, heading for the volcanic terrain of world heritage-listed Tongariro National Park. Drive your way up to Whakapapa and enjoy some stunning walking in this alpine wilderness, taking in views of Lord of the Ring’s “Mt Doom” – Mt Ngauruhoe.
Tongariro to Taupo
A leisurely drive journeys around the scenic Tongariro National Park, where impressive views of this volcanic region can be enjoyed, including of the classically conical Mt Ngaruhoe, used as “Mt Doom” in the filming of Lord of the Rings. The famous Tongariro Crossing daywalk could be attempted on this day – or alternatively shorter walks from Whakapapa or Mangatepopo. There are hot pools and white water rafting opportunities mid-route at Turangi, after which you’ll make your way alongside the calm shores of Lake Taupo.
Taupo to Rotorua
Just beyond Taupo, experience the sight of 200,000 litres of water squeezing its way through a narrow passage every second at the booming Huka Falls. Continue toward Rotorua through a region of intense, subterrainean pressure, where the Earth’s thermal activity inches close to the surface. Consider visiting the fascinating thermal areas of Waimangu and Wai-o-Tapu, perhaps enjoying a swim in the naturally warmed waters. In Rotorua, a diverse variety of attractions awaits, from thermal areas and mud spas to a Redwood Forest with world-class mountain biking. In the evening, consider connecting with New Zealand’s indigenous culture by attending a Maori performance accompanied by a traditional Hangi dinner.
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!