Picton to Queenstown via West Coast & Milford
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Picton to Nelson
After arriving by ferry in Picton, pick up your vehicle at the terminal and follow the winding road that leads you past the seaside vistas of the Marlborough and Pelorus Sounds. Continue to the fishing village of Havelock, and consider a Green Shell Mussel Cruise (Sept – April only). Pass through the Rai Valley, eventually coming 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.
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 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.