Queenstown to Auckland via Milford, Stewart Island, Dunedin, Mt Cook, Napier and Rotorua
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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 Stewart Island
Head from Te Anau to stunning Lake Manapouri, continuing further along the Southern Scenic Route through stunning farmland on the eastern edges of the Fiordland wilderness. Pass through Tuatapere and join the wild southern coastline, stopping by attractive Riverton for lunch or coffee, before heading through to Bluff and taking the passenger ferry to Stewart Island (leave your vehicle securely parked in Bluff).
Across the Foveaux Strait from the South Island, Stewart Island (Rakiura) is one of New Zealand’s great wilderness areas. More substantial than most people realise, the island is thickly carpeted in native forest, and is one of the few true remaining homes of the Kiwi. Soak in the island’s remoteness, or go exploring on some of the many walks through forest and beaches. Consider a boat tour to Paterson Inlet and the bird sanctuary of Ulva Island.
Stewart Island to Dunedin
Take a morning ferry back to Bluff, pass through Invercargill, then head for the forested wilderness of the Catlins. Here, native forest meets golden beaches and you’ll find numerous walks to explore its highlights. The coastline, both before reaching the Catlins and beyond, is striking for green pastured hills dropping precipitously to a foaming sea, with opportunities to stop and walk along stretches of rocky shoreline beside tall cliffs as well as beaches. Continue through small townships interspersed with rolling green hilly farmland to the City of Dunedin.
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.
Dunedin to Omarama
Depart the fine harbourside city of Dunedin, heading up a beautiful coastline to the fascinating Moeraki Boulders. Continue northward, visiting the historic town of Oamaru. From here, turn inland, heading into the brown-and-gold landscape of Central Otago, finally coming to the small town of Omarama. Although small, Omarama is famous as one of the best sites in the world for glider flights, and once hosted the world championships. Head to the airfield if you’d like to go for a flight of your own.
Omarama to Lake Tekapo
Heading north from Omarama through the desert-like country of southern Canterbury, its amazing to consider that only a narrow mountain range separates you from the dense rainforests of the West Coast. Visit the alpine Salmon farm near the town of Twizel (the highest-altitude salmon on Earth!), and continue up to the striking blue of Lake Pukaki. Make the detour up to Mt Cook township, and take a walk to soak up the best views of New Zealand’s highest peak (Aoraki/Mt Cook!). Back at the car, return to the main highway and continue to Lake Tekapo, the most stunning of New Zealand’s glacial lakes. Visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake shore, and consider taking part in some of the great activities available in town.
Lake Tekapo to Christchurch
From Tekapo, follow the road leading out of the mountains to the vast Canterbury Plains, and on 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 Wellington
Early risers can enjoy one of the most special experiences in New Zealand, swimming with dolphins. Drive north, stopping at Nin’s Bin, for a sampling of some of New Zealand’s most famous fresh lobster. Continue along the superb coastal route toward the Marlborough region, making your way to the sunny city of Blenheim, located in one of New Zealand’s best known wine-growing regions. Consider visiting a winery or two, before heading north to Picton, located on the calm waters of the Marlborough Sounds. 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.
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. Take a drive around the surrounding area to Red Rocks and Miramar, or take a hike in the scenic hills above the city from the wind turbine above Brooklyn.
Wellington to Napier
From Wellington, travel north along the stunning Kapiti coast. Pass through the student city of Palmerston North and the rolling farm country of to arrive in Hastings, which – like Napier – features some great Art Deco architecture. Make your way to Cape Kidnappers – breeding site for over 3000 pairs of Australasian Gannets. Finally, arrive Napier, considered to be the Art Deco capital of the world.
Napier to Taupo
Make your way northwest from Hawke’s Bay to the rugged hills of of the Ahimanawa Range. Stop by Waipunga Falls Lookout, and then continue to the lakeside town of Taupo. The incredible Huka Falls are truly spectacular – squeezing 200,000 litres of water through its narrow passage every second. Additionally, Taupo is the skydiving capital of the world, with 30,000 jumps a year – why not give it a go yourself!?
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!
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.