Queenstown to Auckland via the Glaciers, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Tongariro & 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 Wanaka
Make the short drive from Queenstown to the town of Arrowtown. Stroll the historic streets and check out the old Chinese gold mining settlement before continuing over the scenic Crown Range road to Wanaka. Pause at the top of the range to look back at stunning views of the valley and surrounding mountains, then follow the road along Cardrona River between hills covered with rippling tussock. Experience the rustic charm of one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels, Cardrona Hotel, and pass one of New Zealand’s family-friendly ski-fields as you wind gently down to Wanaka. Enjoy some of the great local walks and activities here, stroll the lake, and consider making a visit to Puzzling World
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, with Tranz Alpine Train
Take the short drive north from Hokitika to Greymouth. Drop off your rental vehicle and board the world-renowned Tranz Alpine train, which crosses the spectacular Southern Alps en route to Christchurch. The train heads through lush terrain, making its way through extraordinary scenery, heading into Arthur’s Pass National Park. Enjoy great vistas over deep gorges as the route makes its way along the Waimakariri River, leading down to the Canterbury Plains, finally arriving at the city of Christchurch. Pick up your vehicle and in the evening, consider going for a view over the city from the Port Hills.
Christchurch was founded by English colonialists and still showing their influence today. Although Christchurch continues to recover from significant earthquake damage, there are still some great attractions to take in. Head into town and take a visit Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. Take a stroll, or enjoy an even more leisurely experience, going Punting on the Avon River. Next to the airport is the International Antarctic Centre. You can also enjoy a wonderful drive into the Port Hills – crater of an huge extinct volcano right next to 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 Tongariro
From Wellington, travel north along the stunning Kapiti coast. Pass through the pastured farmlands of the Manawatu, before coming to the historic riverside town of Wanganui. Ascend the winding, scenic route that leads from the lowlands of Wanganui to the alpine heights of Tongariro. Overnight at the edge of Tongariro National Park, within short reach of the Ruapehu volcano.
Tongariro – a playground for summer and winter visitors alike – has something for everyone. During winter, enjoy some of New Zealand’s best skiing on the slopes of volcanic Mt Ruapehu, or in summer attempt the famous Tongariro Crossing day walk, or simply stroll some of the more leisurely hikes in the area. Alternatively, head for the lowland wilderness of Wanganui National Park, with both canoeing and jetboating opportunities amidst the dense and captivating rainforest.
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.
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.