Wellington to Queenstown via Kaikoura, West Coast & Milford
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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 Kaikoura
The ferry ride from Wellington to Picton takes about 3.5 hours, and after crossing the Cook Strait, meanders past the scenic coves and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. After arriving in Picton, pick up your rental car and make your way to the sunny city of Blenheim, located in one of New Zealand’s best known wine-growing regions. Consider a gourmet lunch at a winery, before continuing south on the brilliant coastal route to Kaikoura. Seafood lovers must be sure to stop by Nin’s Bin for a sampling of some of New Zealand’s most famous fresh lobster – before continuing on to the whale-watching mecca of New Zealand: Kaikoura.
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.
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.