Day 1 Arrive in Auckland
All travellers using Amazing New Zealand services are personally met at the airport by our friendly professional representative. You will receive at the airport a comprehensive Deluxe Travel Pack. The pack contains the prepaid service vouchers, maps, discount vouchers and brochures to local attractions, plus a detailed daily explanation of driving routes, including suggested stops en route.
Suggested activities :-
Day 2 Auckland
Today there is a daytrip planned to the bird sanctuary on Tiri Tirimatangi Island. All pests have been eradicated from the island which has been allowed to revert back to native bush. The bird life is incredibly abundant here and all within flying distance of the mainland. Rare species include the Takehe (previously thought extinct) the Kakapo (near extinct) and the Saddleback, etc. The ferry departs from the Ferry Building at 9am and returns at 4.45pm. It is more like a cruise on the harbour, often accompanied by dolphins. Please note that there is no food available for purchase on the island, so you must bring your own supplies. Cold drinks can be purchased from the shop and complimentary tea/coffee is supplied by the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi. Informative guided walks are also available by the volunteers. All proceeds help in the continual restoration and improvements on the island. Please also remember to bring suitable clothing for the weather conditions on the day, togs and towel, sun-block and hat, raincoat, camera and binoculars!
Alternatively you catch the ferry to Waiheke Island and hire a scooter. Head for Te Whau Vineyard Cafe for lunch then Stoneyridge Vineyard for dinner. Better still stay an extra day on the island and have a fantastic brunch at the 1920's style Rocky Bay Cafe followed by dinner at the Mudbrick Cafe on the Church Road Estate near Oneroa. In between you can walk off those calories through the bush and beaches of the Whakanewha Reserve. Or, enjoy fantastic coastal and vineyards views on horseback as you ride from Kataitia Bay through Church Road Estate.
The Coastal Track on Waiheke Island has the added bonus of vineyard cafes and beaches en route! From the wharf, walk along the beach and follow the green and yellow markers around the coast. The path takes you along the cliff-top past exclusive homes, vineyards and olive groves. About ½ an hour along there is a great picnic spot amongst the old Pohutakawa trees with views back to Auckland. At Te Miro Bay you will see a path marked Oneroa, via Nick Johnston Drive. This will bring you eventually to the white sand beach, shops and cafes at Oneroa. You can extend the walk by continuing along the coast past Church Bay, but the views and path and not as good.
Day 3 Auckland - Paihia 240kms
Depart early so you have time for a couple of stops en route and to arrive at your ease….depart by 8.15am at the latest. Head north on SH1 over the Harbour Bridge. Take the Silverdale exit and follow the Free Route (and not the Toll Road) via pretty Orewa Beach and Waiwera on the tranquil east coast. You will rejoin SH1 just south of Puhoi.
172kms – A nice place for a break and a walk is just through Whangarei – stay on SH1, drive through 2 sets of lights and a bushy area where you can go 70kmph. Soon after it changes to 50kmph again, you will see a sign to the right for Tutukaka and the Whangarei Falls (follow the signs to Tutukaka). The 23m falls are more than worth a look and they are right next to the road. There is a lovely bush walk to the base of the falls.
From here allow another 1.5 hours to Paihia, so leave by 11am. To return to SH1 return the way you came and turn right at the first roundabout.
215kms – Even if the call of nature is not calling, you may want to make a stop at Kawakawa to check out the public toilets designed by Austrian architect Hundertwasser. He chose Kawakawa to retire and die in and his unique toilets have become world famous. They are not only incredibly beautiful, but also the cleanest you’ll ever have the privilege of using!
Return to the turnoff for Paihia and the Bay of Islands and continue north another 15 minutes to the town centre. Pack just an overnight bag (and any valuables) as there is not much room for luggage in the cabins! Leave your large luggage pieces locked out of sight in the boot of the car. Check-in by 12.30pm at the Fullers office in the Maritime Building on Paihia Wharf and then park your car – ask directions from the check-in staff and for the free shuttle to pick you up from the Free Carpark which is about 3 kilometres north, or there is a Long Term Car-park up by the Police Station – prepay for a 24 hour ticket with cash only.
After your Bay of Islands experience on the water, you have another day to check out the many land based activities. Suggested activities in the Bay of Islands include :-
Day 5 Paihia - Whangaroa Harbour 110kms
14kms – At the T-intersection go right onto SH10. Next stop is Kerikeri which is New Zealand’s top citrus and market-produce growing area. Roadside stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables abound, many operating an "honesty box" - just leave your payment in the box. Kerikeri`s claim to fame is having New Zealand`s oldest stone building. It is on the water and is called the Stone Store. Overlooking the Stone Store is the original Kororipo Pa (Maori fortress), home of the Maori chief Hongi Hika (not to be confused with the famous chief Hone Heke). Across the river Rewa’s Village is an authentic recreation of a pre-European Maori fishing settlement.
There is a loop road that will bring you back to the highway at Waipapa. Travel north along SH10 for another 13 kilometres and turn right to Matauri Bay.
The approach to Matauri Bay has one of the best views in New Zealand - get ready for the "wow" reaction as you begin the descent to the beach. There is a place to park and admire the view immediately on the left. You are looking at the Cavalli Islands.
Matauri Bay is famous for deep sea fishing and diving. If you are a qualified diver, you can dive on the Rainbow Warrior wreck, New Zealand's most famous dive site. You must take the little walk up to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial on top of the hill – the views from the top are awesome. The track is rather steep on loose gravel in the beginning, so be careful. The Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace vessel specializing in disrupting French nuclear tests on the Pacific atolls. The French Secret Service bombed her in 1985 while she was tied up at the wharf in Auckland. This ridiculous act of terrorism resulted in the death of one of her crew, plus several others injured – something the New Zealanders have never forgiven France for.
Return up the hill and turn right and follow the coast road– the best place of all to photograph Matauri Bay is 1.5 kilometres from the intersection, the road then follows the picturesque coast through Te Ngaire and Wainui.
At the Give Way sign, go right into Whangaroa Harbour. Drive through Whangaroa, past the marina and hotel, you will see a road on the right marked "public access to summit". Keep following the road right up to the top.
If you’re feeling energetic you could walk to the top of St Pauls – the large rock standing tall on your right. The path is unformed and rather steep and slippery at times – just follow the yellow markers. The view from the top is fabulous - however please note that it’s just as good from halfway!
Day 6 Whangaroa – Omapere 220kms
Day 8 Waimauku – Coromandel 240kms
Continue on to the Waimauku Village and cross over the highway and follow the road down to Muriwai Beach - a solitary kind of place, but well worth the diversion to view the entertaining 2500 gannets in action. As you descend towards the beach take the "Gannet Colony" turnoff left - it is an easy 2 minute stroll along flax and pohutakawa lined paths to view the gannet chicks. The first path left leads to the best lookout where you can look directly down onto the nest sites and cute little chicks as well as admire the flying skills as the parents come into land with their two-metre wing spans. The stunning views along Muriwai Beach are a bonus.
This morning you could head to the popular Driving Creek Railwa for a unique ride at 10am on a narrow gauge train. It winds its way up a zigzagging track that was first build to bring firewood and clay down for the potteries below. There is a great view over Coromandel from the "Eye Full Tower at the top.Or you could take the Coromandel Discovery Tour to the very top of the peninsula. Walk the incredibly beautiful Coromandel Coastal Walkway from Fletchers Bay to Stony Bay (3-4 hours, so take lunch and water) where the bus will be waiting to transport you back to Coromandel Township.
Alternatively there is a 1 hour walk to one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand! Drive over the hill towards Whitianga and turn left at the bottom of the hill to Whangapoua. As you come into the village, take the first left – this will take you around the far side of the little estuary. Park at the river mouth and follow the track around Motuto Point to New Chums Beach.
Departing from Coromandel shops, drive south of the village towards Thames, the turnoff for Whitianga is 400m back. The road climbs steeply for 5kms, there are awesome views from the lookout at the top towards Coromandel, Waiheke Island and Whangaparoa Peninsula (Auckland`s northern boundary) to the east and Whangapoua to the west.
41kms – You are now arriving in Whitianga, a safe harbour full of holiday homes favoured by Aucklanders. Continue straight, following the beach to the wharf. This is where all the activity is, including some good cafés. One of the best places for a coffee is on the other side at the Ferry Landing Café, just a short stroll up the hill. Continue south, following signs for Tairua and SH25.
72kms – Turn left to Hahei. After 5 kilometres turn right for Hot Water Beach. It is a lovely beach, but more importantly hot water rises to the surface here from a geothermal reservoir under the seabed. Or you could walk from Hahei back south along the beach (1 hour). Check the tides, as you need to dig a hole below the high water mark, 2 hours either side of the low tide is your time limit. I recommend it after low tide, so you may then get to use an abandoned hole instead of having to dig one for yourself! You can dig a hole on the northern end of the beach, then sit back and soak in your very own private spa. Look for the sulphur bubbling to the surface of the sand.Return to the Hahei road and continue north another 4 kilometres, your destination for this evening. Hahei`s main attraction is Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous beach nearby hidden within a dramatic coastline. There are 4 ways of reaching it :-
Day 10 Hahei - Whakatane 265kms
22kms – Great lookout spot for a photo of the Alderman Islands. An even better photo op is from the Paku Hill, turn left as you enter Tairua towards Ocean Beach. Keep following the road, at the marina go up Paku Drive, then follow signs to Paku Summit. A short walk will take you the rest of the way, for awesome views over Tairua Harbour and Pauanui Beach. Return to Tairua and continue south, direction Whangamata. Be sure to turn left soon after the Pauanui turnoff to stay on SH25, direction Whangamata otherwise you will end up in Thames!
100kms – Waihi once had 1200 mines producing half of the country’s gold. There is only one mine left now, the massive Martha’s Mine – a huge open cut mine right in the middle of town. On the SH2 intersection, turn right to Town Centre, then at the roundabout go straight onto Moresby Ave, the Waihi Gold Mine lookout is on the right 300m along. The lookout is truly impressive and the Golden Legacy Centre has an informative 20 minute video about the mine.
Return to town and follow signs to Tauranga. Just after the village you will see signs left to Waihi Beach (+/- 10kms to the beach). From the northern end of the beach there is another lovely little ½ hour walk (if you have time, depending on what time you left) that I can recommend to pretty Orokawa Bay. If you continue to the far end, marker posts show the way along a slightly tougher 1.5km bush track to the 28 metre high William Wright Falls.
From Waihi Beach take the loop road south along the beach and turn right after the airport to bring you back to SH2. Morton Estate Winery on SH2 in Katikati is recommended if you need to stock up on some excellent wines!
160kms – SH2 branches off to the left and follows the harbour’s edge, with great views of `The Mount` along the way. It was once an island with a Maori pa (fortified village), but it is now joined to the mainland and marks the entrance to the Tauranga Harbour. In Maori Tauranga means `sheltered anchorage`, the harbour has become a huge port catering for massive cruise liners and container ships filled with lamb, kiwifruit and timber heading for Japan and Europe.
The Mount is now a congested suburb of Tauranga, with the beach becoming a popular holiday destination for the wealthy and the not so wealthy surfing crowd alike.
After crossing the Harbour Bridge, follow the signs for Mount Maunganui – there are plenty of cafés to choose from where you can sit back and enjoy watching the surfers. There is the choice of three walks here, depending on what time you left Hahei. The Coastal Track around the base of the Mount will take about 1 hour, to the summit and back is also an hour, or the full circuit starting from Pilot Bay on the harbour side around the base, then up to the summit via the Oruahine Track and back down the road, will take you about 2 hours.
Leaving the Mount, return to SH2 and continue east. Te Puke is the original kiwifruit growing region, watch out for the giant kiwifruit a few kilometers from here at Maketu. If you’d like to know more about the fruit (and have time) stop for a tour, or just visit their café and souvenir shop where they offer tastings of the original green kiwifruit, Kiwi Gold and the new Baby Kiwi, plus lots of fruit wine and yummy liqueurs.
204kms – SH2 goes left, direction Whakatane. At 240kms SH2 turns right, but continue straight towards Whakatane, your destination for this evening. While in town take a short drive west to the harbour entrance to see the beautiful statue of Wairaka, a Maori heroin who went against Maori laws to save the drifting waka (canoe). If you’ve seen "Whale Rider", you’ll understand how strongly the Maoris feel about what is "tapu" or out of bounds. She proclaimed "Ka Whakatane au I amu" which means "to act like a man", so the city was named after her heroic acts.
I also recommend the drive over the hill to beautiful Ohope Beach. For the best view of Whakatane turn left at the top of the hill onto Otarewairere Road (just before you start your descent to Ohope) – the first lookout on the right has wonderful views east along Ohope Beach and out to White Island. Continue on this road and take the first left. Follow the road right to the end at Kohi Point (2.3kms) where you will find the remnants of Toi’s Pa and a lookout west down to Whakatane and the river from the point. Toi was one of the original Maori immigrants making this one of the oldest pa sites in New Zealand. Return to the main road and turn left to Ohope - the Café Surfside makes excellent takeaway coffees to be enjoyed on the beach, they also have a great selection of food.
The highlight in Whakatane is without doubt a visit to White Island, an active volcano 50 kilometres offshore. For me the cruise and tour scored a 10 out of 10 for awesomeness. Staring down into the crater’s mouth and stepping around steaming sulphur pools and bubbling mud will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of my life. However the island doesn’t have a wharf, so persons with low mobility are discouraged from taking the trip. Covered shoes are a requirement. A packed lunch is also included. When weather conditions permit and dolphins are spotted, the captain may stop so that you have the opportunity to jump in and swim with the dolphins.
72kms - Hells Gate. This is one of your options for this afternoon, if you’d like a mud spa treatment that will leave you glowing.
- Kuirau Park has the largest display of steam and mud pools. An eruption took place here as recently as January 26th 2001 when mud, steam and debris were thrown 200m into the air. Springs regularly just appear, resulting in families being forced to move and the land having to be given back to nature.
- Wander around the original Maori settlement at Ohinemutu. The church is worth a look at, as is the Marae (Maori meeting house) across the courtyard. Wander the tiny streets where everyone has their own private hot-water bore to fill their bath in the out-shed….just follow the steam and stay on the paths!
- Walk from the Polynesian Spa to the town on the Lakeside Walk via the bird sanctuary at Sulphur Bay. You will also see the remains of the first ever public bath – here Hydrogen Sulphide mixes with Carbon Dioxide to create a mixture similar to the dentist’s laughing gas!
- This evening join the excellent Tamaki Brothers Maori cultural show followed by a traditional Hangi (earthen cooked meal). Pickups from your accommodation are in a waka (war canoe) cleverly disguised as a bus, followed by a fun evening superbly hosted and entertained by local Maori.
- Have a game of golf on the beautiful Arikikapakapa course on the southern end of Fenton Street. On the 9 hole course, the usual hazards are not lakes and sand-traps, but rather steam vents and boiling mud pools!
- The Te Wairoa buried village could also be visited this morning.
- The Agrodome’s principle attraction is the Sheep Show, a highly entertaining explanation of sheep and the caring of said sheep – the mainstay of New Zealand’s exports.
- Take the Skyrides Gondola up Mount Ngongotaha to take in the awesome views. Before dinner, you could ride the down hill “luge” – it is sooooo much fun! There is a scenic track (to begin with) then you’ll be off to the fast track! The free two-seater chairlift takes riders and luge carts back to the top to do it all again, because once is never enough! It's safe too. You're in full control! A unique braking and steering system on your three-wheeled luge cart means you can alter course and speed at will. Go fast, go slow, stop to take photos, you decide. NB:- Height restrictions apply.
Before departing you could visit the beautiful (and steaming) Government Gardens and the Rotorua Museum or soak in the reputedly therapeutic thermal pools at the Polynesian Spa, a delightful but busy public pool. In the morning the spa is less crowded and it is a wonderful way to start the day - relaxing with serene views across the lake.
Drive south along Fenton Street on SH5 to Taupo. There are many more thermal attractions to visit today between Rotorua and Taupo.
29kms - Turn left at the Wai-o-tapu Tavern and 400m further left again onto the Loop Road and take a look at the thermal Mud Pools. Don’t forget to lock your car - the bubbling mud can keep you mesmerized for hours! The Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-o-tapu erupts at 10:15am so try to tie your arrival for this specatacle.
Follow the Loop Road to the main attraction Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland - this is the best thermal reserve in the area. It really is a wonderland of orange, green, yellow, blue, white and black pools, the highlights being the exquisitely coloured Champagne Pool, Oyster Pool and the Devil’s Bath - you’ll be amazed how nature can conjure up such colours. There are 3 self guided walks, the short, the medium and the long – the latter takes about 2 hours which I recommend as it takes you to the green lake of Ngakoro, with great views en route of the blue lake Whangi-o-terangi, meaning `colour of the sky’. The track is uneven at times so you need walking shoes.
Afterwards, take a swim where the hot and cold rivers merge, 300 meters further along the Loop Road, by the bridge. Great in hot or cold weather! Follow the shingle path down to enter on the right, the left side can be a bit hot at times. Continue on this road back to SH5 and turn left.
72kms – At the large roundabout where SH5 meets SH1, go straight and continue south past the Wairakei International Golf Course.
78kms – Turn left for the mighty Huka Falls, Volcanic Activity Centre and Prawn Park.
Follow the river from the falls and this will bring you back to SH5/SH1 – just before the turnoff there is an excellent Lookout where you can view the huge Lake Taupo, actually the world’s largest volcanic crater, created in one giant explosion. The ash cloud floated all over the world - ice samples from as far apart as Antarctica and Alaska have determined the explosion to have occurred in 186AD. The effects of the ash were even recorded in China and Rome. You can gather your own free volcanic souvenir from the shoreline in the form of very light pumice stones (great for cleaning off rough skin) which were spewed out in that eruption.
54kms – The scenic lookout on the left takes you to a view of the Waipunga Falls next to the road, well worthwhile the stop.
126kms – Eskdale provides a few coffee stop options as well as the first wineries, many offering tasting and cellar sales. Please note that tastings at wineries are usually free and although not compulsory - purchasing is expected to help offset the costs of paying the knowledgeable and helpful staff. Some wineries do charge a little, which is then deducted from any purchases. These can usually be sent overseas. The best way to sample is accompanied with a great meal at a table under the vines! The Hawke's Bay region is the North Island’s top wine producing region. A sunny climate, combined with excellent growing conditions has led to many of the wineries earning gold medals at international competitions.
132kms – SH5 meets SH2, turn right. Esk Valley Estate, 2 kilometres further along on the right, is a favourite of mine and makes a great place to start your own winery tour. They offer door sales and tastings.
141kms – SH2 turns left, following City Centre and Port. Two kilometres later you need to go right at the roundabout and keep following City Centre and Tennyson Street. This will bring you to Marine Parade on the waterfront and the tourist office. Please note that the sea is treacherous around here and swimming is usually banned. Napier was almost totally destroyed in the 1931 earthquake, causing a massive rebuilding program throughout the 30’s, resulting in a vibrant city now known as the Art Deco capital of the world.
Day 14 Napier – Carterton 300kms
26kms – Back track a little to Clearview Estate Winery. Open at 10am for coffee, wine or brunch under the vines. Continue back the way you came, through Te Awanga and Haumoana.
28kms – The small and privately owned Photography and British Car Museum is owned by an eccentric collector who is proud to show off his old favourites. One kilometre further, turn left at the egg farm onto Park Hill Road, then right onto Raymond Road.
31kms – Turn left onto Tukituki Road. Follow this pretty valley until the bridge. The outcrop on the right is called "The sleeping giant" or Te Mata Peak – your next stop.
43kms – Turn right over the bridge and at 49 kilometres turn left towards Havelock. Along this road are several more wineries, including the world renowned Te Mata Winery a little further along this valley. Te Mata Estate is New Zealand’s oldest winery, dating from the early 1890’s. It is a New Zealand family owned winery – a true estate, specializing in grape growing and winemaking from their ten Hawke’s Bay vineyards. Acknowledged as one of only five icon wineries in New Zealand, Te Mata’s completely handmade wines are renowned as the country’s finest.
52kms – Turn left, following the signs to Te Mata Peak. It’s just 6 kilometres to the very top for some awe inspiring views of Hawke's Bay. Tandem paragliding is a favourite past time from this spot. From here it is a 2 hour drive to Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre, recommended for the endangered birds. Return down the hill, turn right at the ‘Give Way’ onto Simla Ave and left at the roundabout.
65kms – In Havelock at the main Napier Road roundabout follow left to Wellington and after the Havelock shops veer off to the right, following Te Aute Road, rejoining SH2 south at 74 kilometres. In spring I recommend a diversion to pretty Hastings, particularly during the Blossom Festival. Also the Hawke's Bay Farmers Market at the Showgrounds is well worth a visit on Sundays.
Norsewood is home of Norsewear for natural woolen clothing popular with trampers and farmers alike from all over the world. The factory shop is open 7 days a week. Many Scandinavians immigrated to the area, the Norwegians to Norsewood, the Danish to Dannevirke.
Just after Woodville on the banks of the Mangatainoka River is the Tui Brewery. Tui is fast becoming a New Zealand icon, with adverts claiming the beer to be brewed by women….gorgeous women! Yeah right. Beer enthusiasts may like to visit the Promo Shop for a sample or souvenir.
Carterton is home of the Paua Shell Factory. Paua is unique to New Zealand, the informative display and free tour explains how they are caught in deep water with snorkels and how the inner shell casing is ground down to reveal the beautifully patterned colours. Many of the items are unique and useful, not to mention stunningly beautiful, so will make a perfect souvenir from New Zealand.
Return to SH2 and continue south to Wellington. You could take the route south via Martinborough or even drive out to Cape Palliser on the south-eastern corner of the North Island – you will feel as if you are on the very edges of earth while following the wild southern coast of the North Island, visiting Cape Palliser’s candy striped lighthouse, the sea-lion colony, the baby bulldozers at Ngawi. Enjoy lunch at Murdoch James Estate, open 12 - 3pm (turn right 7 kilometres on the return trip back to Martinborough).
Featherston housed New Zealand’s largest army training base during WW1, with about 35,000 troops passing through the camp before they had to walk the Rimutaka Hill to Wellington to be shipped overseas. Quite a formidable feat you’ll realize once you’ve negotiated the tortuous “hill” yourself. Messines in Belgium is twinned with this little town because New Zealand troops recaptured it from the Germans in June 1917.
The world's only remaining Fell Engine locomotive is on display on the corner of Fitzherbert and Lyon Streets. It has horizontal grip wheels which held it onto the steep and winding track. It serviced the Wairarapa farming community from 1878 to 1955. For great coffees try the Lady Featherston on Fitzherbert Street.
The disused train track is now a popular walk. If you have an extra day then there is the opportunity to stay at Longwood Lodge, the residence of many of our past Governor Generals. The staff will drive you over the hill to the start of the walk - ask for a torch for the tunnels. They will then pick you up again 4 hours later down by Cross Creek and return you to Longwood in time for pre-dinner drinks followed by a 4 course meal. Stay overnight in the luxurious lodge and wake to a country breakfast fit for a Governor General, so to speak.
Wellington is not the largest city but it does lie central to the two islands and is therefore the capital. First stop should be a drive up to the Mount Victoria Lookout for an overview of the city. The wonderful attraction of this city is that it is so compact. In just 15 minutes you can go from the boutique shopping of Lambton Quay to the beach at Oriental Bay!
Today you should cross to the South Island on the 8am flight (cheaper than the ferries!) Although this is a commercial flight, it can easily be described as a scenic flight over the Marlborough Sounds! A sound is a flooded river valley as opposed to the flooded glacial valleys called fiords (the 'sounds' in the south of Westland are misnamed). Picton was named after Sir Thomas Picton - a British General killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
On arrival a free shuttle will whisk you to the Picton wharf to connect with the water-taxi to your lodge on the stunning Queen Charlotte Sound. The bays and beaches were all named by Captain Cook.
The water-taxi will drop you off at Resolution Bay so that you can walk a part of the world famous Queen Charlotte Track back to your lodge – your bags will be transported to the lodge for you, so you only need to carry food and water. This is a place where the passing traffic is likely to be a pod of orcas or dolphins leaping for joy. Noise here is not the sound of cars zooming past, but the sound of bellbirds and tuis singing and the smells are of fresh salt air mixed with the ancient odour of the bush.
Day 17 Picton – Kaikoura 155kms
This morning the water-taxi will deposit you back to Picton at 11.30am, pick up your new hire-car and drive south on SH1.
Blenheim is also home to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre….you will find it near the airport. As a non aviation fan my visit left me speechless with what I saw and learnt, this is a ‘must-see’! On display is the Knights of the Sky – one of the world’s largest private collections of WW1 aircraft and memorabilia brought to life by the masters of cinematic spectacle….the collection belongs to Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) and his Weta Workshop has created some awesome real-life scenes! Also the large collection of original uniforms (complete with war medals) worn by the top flying aces from France, Germany, the US and New Zealand will surely impress you, as it did me! I had trouble dragging myself away from the captivating stories about each hero that accompanies each display. There is a great café on site serving light refreshments. The Sydney Herald called this “the best Museum in the world”!
Continue south on SH1 to Kaikoura, your destination for this evening. Just as the road hits the coast, the Store Cafe is worth a stop for refreshments on their terrace by the sea. They also own an excellent garden up on the ridge that can be visited. The rugged coast is home to a diverse range of wildlife which gladly pose within camera range. Watch out for seals, dolphins and albatrosses amongst the rocks, freshly cooked crayfish is usually available from a roadside shop housed in a caravan.
Your first stop in Kaikoura should be the Lookout just off Scarborough Terrace. From here you can view the azure-blue waters around Kaikoura Peninsula bordered by the mountain backdrop behind. The excellent Peninsula Walkway at the head of the peninsula takes you along the shoreline and back over the cliffs.
If you have an extra 2 days you can enjoy the mountainous region on the Kaikoura Wilderness Walkway staying overnight at the Shearwater Lodge on New Zealand's highest farm. The 17 kilometre walk has abundant birdlife and plant-life as it meanders through stands of Manuka, Beech forests and ancient Totara, rising sometimes above the snowline. You can sit on the balcony in the evening and watch chamois, red deer and goats while inquisitive Kea (mountain parrots) hang about hoping for handouts. There is also a fabulous 3 day walk along the Kaikoura Coastal Walkway. Personal luggage is transported each day for you, where an evening meal and even pre-dinner wine can be provided!
After your morning excursion (if any) to view the whales or albatrosses, drive 6 kilometres south and turn right onto SH70, direction Waiau. You are now on the scenic Alpine Pacific Triangle. At 62 kilometres Mt Lyford Lodge and Cafe offer excellent horse trekking in the stunning high country plus skiing in the winter months. Ask me about the 3 day "luxury" trek that takes you all the way to Hanmer.
99kms - Just after Rotherham turn right to Hanmer Springs and right again on SH7.
133kms - Turn right to Hanmer Springs, your destination for this evening. This is a fast growing thermal region offering a wealth of activities including skiing, rafting, horse-trekking and mountain-biking in the forest - their specialty. After all this activity there are the award-winning hot springs to relax in.
48kms - In Waiau, continue straight after passing the hotel and follow the Leader Road for 30 kilometres to the end, where you turn right again onto SH1 to Cheviot. At 95 kilometres turn left to Gore Bay to visit the uniquely eroded (think organ pipes) Cathedral Cliffs just past the beach. Continue on this loop road which will rejoin SH1 in Domett. Here you will find the little Mainline Cafe on the corner. The food is excellent, particularly enjoyed in the garden out the back.
Continue south on SH1 via the Waipara Valley, a sunny and well drained valley which is fast becoming the new wine growing region. I can recommend a stop at the family-owned Pegasus Bay Winery for lunch, turn left 4.5 kilometres after the village. Try their generous platter loaded with cheeses and locally caught salmon and duck accompanied with some excellent award-winning wines on the lawn.
Day 20 Christchurch - Akaroa 90kms
68kms - The Top of the Hill Cafe at the summit is a must before you make your way down to the harbour, if only to stop and look at the view.
From here it is another 20 kilometres to Akaroa. In 1835 French whaler Jean Langlois established a whaling station in the harbour at French Bay and bought some land from the Maori. Once he had secured the deal he returned to France to organize a group of settlers to come and establish a community. Unfortunately the English had placed the whole of New Zealand under British sovereignty only 13 days before, so the French settlers were forced to sell their claims. They did however stay, bringing both their rich French character and their culture to this far flung outpost of France. Akaroa’s other attraction are of course the tiny and rare Hector’s dolphin - enjoy the unique opportunity to swim with them in the marine reserve ….or you can choose to be just a spectator instead.
If you have time this afternoon or tomorrow morning, you MUST take the tourist route along the Summit Road. This has to be the most awesome scenic route in the world ........the views are breath-taking to say the least!
168kms - Just after the long bridge over the Rangitata River, turn right onto SH79 to Geraldine.
183kms - Geraldine is a great place for a coffee and has a few attractions worth stopping for. You can choose from :-
Turn right at the tourist office to Fairlie, where you will turn right onto SH8 to Lake Tekapo. The scenery dramatically changes as you cross over Burke's Pass. You are now entering the Mackenzie Basin, a flat expanse of tussock grasslands and home to New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki (or Mt Cook as it is known in English) and sparkling turquoise glacial lakes below the rolling foothills of the Southern Alps - and it bears little resemblance to anywhere else in New Zealand.
270kms – The village at Lake Tekapo is small - their claim to fame being that it has the cleanest and clearest air in New Zealand….the skies above will soon become the world’s first ever Night Sky Reserve. There is not much to hold you here beyond taking a snapshot of the much-photographed Church of the Good Shepherd and the Sheepdog. The gorgeous turquoise-blue lake derives its colour from fine glacial particles suspended in the water. You can (should) drive up to the summit of Mount John by day (turnoff just south of the village) to Astro Café and enjoy spectacular 360° views.
Day 22 Mount Cook National Park
From your accommodation it is an easy drive to Mount Cook Village. The scenic drive to Mount Cook Village at the base of Mt Aoraki and the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers encompasses world-class scenery at its best where your excitement grows in parallel with the vista before you as you enter this world heritage site known as the Mount Cook National Park.
Today I recommend the Glacier Explorer Trip. It involves walking to Tasman Lake and then taking an informative boat ride to the face of the advancing glacier where you get to touch, taste and hear the creaking and cracking of the thousand year old ice.
Day 23 Twizel - Dunedin 210kms
Continue along SH1 and turnoff to Moeraki Village and follow the signs out to Katiki Point. There is a public viewing hut for viewing the penguins just 5 minutes walk from the car-park. Only a few metres away is a colony of the endangered Yellow-eyed Penguins where you should be able to see the nests and cute little chicks. The alternative is to visit the very commercial Penguin Place tomorrow! Points to remember : hide so the penguins can not see you, do not approach the birds, do not be attempted to wander down to the beach at dawn or dusk….remember these are some of the rarest birds in the world! Well here, be sure to visit Fleur's Seafood Restaurant - her bouillabaisse is fast becoming world renowned!
From here it is just a short drive to Dunedin. In the 1860’s Dunedin was booming thanks to the gold rush. The city was modeled after Edinburgh in Scotland, even sharing the names of Edinburgh’s streets. Dunedin means “Edin on the hill” - the city boasts grand buildings of stone that were built to last and to defy the inclement weather.
It is also home to our famous Cadbury World Chocolate Factory! Tours depart every half hour in which tasting of their new varieties is actively encouraged! Telephone 0800 223 287 to reserve as these tours are VERY popular!
Attractions include the only mainland-breeding colony of albatross at Taiaroa Head, rare Hooker’s Sea Lions and historic Larnach Castle. Over the summer months the colonies of endangered Yellow-eyed Penguins are full of cute little chicks with their parents standing guard.
Return to Dunedin via the "low road" (Portobello Road). It is a beautiful winding drive that hugs the edge of the harbour.
Follow the Southern Scenic Highway south. I will mention where you can get out and walk, but if you are not really into walking today you should choose at least the McLeans Falls walk and/or the walk to the Nugget Point Lighthouse.
Take SH1 south and turn left ½ way up the first hill just 3 kilometres from the city centre. You need to turn then immediately right and follow the brown and white triangle signs along the coast road through Ocean View, Brighton and at Taieri Mouth.
38kms – Just after crossing the bridge turn right to Waihola. There you need to turn left and rejoin SH1 south through Milton and Balclutha.
91kms – Turn left just after the Balclutha shops and follow the Clutha River, this is New Zealand’s largest river by volume of water. I recommend you take the route via Kaka Point and Nugget Point where there is an easy walk out to the 1869 lighthouse. There are fur seals and sea lions, plus it is a breeding ground for gannets, sooty shearwaters, shags and yellow-eyed penguins. The “Nuggets” are a picturesque bunch of jagged rocks jutting out into the sea. Return towards Kaka Point and turn left.
160kms – Watch for the parking for Matai Falls, where there is a lovely 10 minute walk through bird infested forest to the waterfall. There are also the Horseshoe Falls just above.
170kms – Be sure to stop at the Florence Hill Lookout for spectacular views of the golden sands of Tautuka Beach.
174kms – Just past the Outdoor Education Centre is the little hidden scenic delight of Lake Wilkie. Here there is an easy 5 minute walk to the lookout showing succession of forest development from lake edge to mature forest full of birdlife. You can also descend to the lake where there is a short boardwalk giving you a water-birds eye view of the unique habitat.
180kms – Turn right to McLeans Falls and drive 3 kilometres up the unsealed Rewcastle Road to the car-park where there is an easy 40 minute walk to view a pretty 3 stepped falls – the Catlins prettiest. Watch for Kereru (NZ wood pigeon), yellow-headed Mohua and Fernbirds in the bush.
207kms– Turn left to Curio Bay. Another "must do" is to stop at the Niagara Falls Café, a real gem located in the middle of no where! Don’t bother with the falls themselves though as that is just a joke…..they are all of 2 centimetres high! They are open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week, but you need to book if you would like to return for dinner as they sometimes close if there are no reservations!
Curio Bay is your destination for this evening. Here you will find one of the world’s finest fossilized forests (some say 160 million years old, others say it is "only" 40 million years old). Watch the Hector Dolphins playing in the waves! There is also a penguin colony here.
Return to Haldane, turn left and then left again to Otara and Fortrose where you turn left to Invercargill which makes a great place to stop for lunch. The highlight here would be to visit the excellent Southland Museum and Art Gallery. There is also a Tuatara display at the museum. The Tuatarium breeds examples of these ancient reptiles that date from the dinosaur times.
For those intent on 'doing' the full length of New Zealand, there is a 60 kilometres diversion there and back to Bluff. It is well worth the diversion if only to see the eccentric paua covered house en route to the much photographed sign post marking the terminus of SH1. If you're here in autumn, then you should try and coincide your visit to include the famous Bluff Oyster and Southland Seafood Festival.
From Invercargill, drive down to beautiful Oreti Beach – if the tide is out you can drive the 30 kilometres to Riverton along the beach! Continue west on SH99 to Riverton – the oldest permanent European settlement in Southland when whalers and sealers first established a settlement here in the 1830's. Also worth visiting is the Riverton Paua Shoppe on Palmerston Street – for a unique souvenir of New Zealand. Many of the items on sale are painfully kitsch, but there are also some excellent practical and beautiful pieces for sale. For lunch try the popular Beachhouse Cafe at 126 Rocks Highway where you can enjoy wonderful views of the bay and hills.
The SH99 now turns north to Manapouri and Te Anau, the gateway to the Fiordland National Park : 1,250,000 uninhabited hectares of stunning wilderness. Fiordland has a primeval rugged landscape, largely untouched by humans apart from incursions by tourists at Milford and Doubtful Sounds and a few fishermen in other fiords. It was declared a World Heritage Area on account of the outstanding geological features and exceptional beauty, the jewel in the crown being Mitre Peak in Milford Sound. However many argue that Doubtful Sound is even more spectacular. Te Anau is also the base for many multi-day mountain hikes. It is also where you should fill up with petrol, as there are no shops or facilities in Milford.
The Lake Te Anau Cruise and glow worm caves visit includes spectacular rock formations, fossils, whirlpools, waterfalls and glow worms and are only half an hour away by launch. Te Anau means rushing water in Maori – so both the lake and the town derived their names from the caves.
I also recommend a bush walk along the Kepler Track. It begins at the southern end of the lake and skirts the lakefront towards the west before climbing steadily to the Kepler Mountains on the other side of the lake. OK agreed, you won’t get that far (unless you have an extra few days here), but you can walk as far or as little as you like. Don’t forget the insect repellent!
As you travel the Milford Sound Road to the Homer Tunnel there are several opportunities to stop and take photos. Driving to the Homer Tunnel, stop at Eglington River Valley, Mirror Lake, Knobs Flat and Lake Gunn before reaching the Divide – the lowest pass over these mountains. Next there is the Falls Creek Lookout down to the Hollyford Valley. Once through the kilometre long tunnel you will see the spectacular Cleddau Canyon and the incredibly precipitous walls on which the road slowly zigzags its way down.
There are also several places where you can stop and go for a walk – my favourite is the 2 hour (return) walk to Key Summit for the best views of Fiordland from the top of the world…..but then you need to leave by 8am.
Milford Sound is quite simply unparalleled to anything in this world - wet or fine Milford is incredibly grand. The awesome cruise on the fiord includes countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of metres down sheer cliffs, mountains rising straight out of the sea, fur seals and (usually) dolphins. Mitre Peak magnetises photographers, as does the cascading Bowen and Stirling Falls. A 'Sound' is a flooded river valley, but these are flooded glacial valleys with sheer sided walls that plunge hundreds of metres under water as well as above - so they are misnamed. The Maori believe the fiords were created by the titanic mason Tute Rakiwhanoa, who used an adze to cut out the steep sided walls and gullies.
After the cruise you could disembark at the Milford Discovery Centre (extra charge) so you can see what lives below the water…you will be returned to Milford Wharf by water-taxi ½ an hour later. Don't forget the insect repellent as the sand-flies in Milford are not only a menace, but practically man-eating! Plus a rain coat - the area receives 12,000mm of rain per year per square metre. After the cruise you return the way you came back to Te Anau.
The alternative is to take the bus from Te Anau - the specially designed buses have seats on an angle so those seated on the isle have an equally spectacular view through the massive windows.
Follow SH94 and then SH6 to Queenstown - the Adventure Capital of the World! The beautiful resort was originally named as "fit for a Queen" and lies on Lake Wakatipu.
At 2pm there is a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw that takes you across to Walter Peak Station where you can join the tour of the farm by horseback or return directly by steamer.
I can also recommend the drive along the stunning Kawarau Gorge. The Kawarau River Bridge is home to A.J. Hackett's very first bungee jumping platform - this is where you get to tie a huge elastic band to your ankles and jump out into space over the river, if you dare. A few more kilometres along the gorge you will find the excellent winery and restaurant at Gibbston Valley Wines.
The guided tour takes you amongst the vines, through the winery and then deep into the hillside where you can sample the wines in a surreal atmosphere. The rocky schist walls within the cool cave are lined with barrels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, still reaching their prime – wear something warm! You may also like to explore the Gibbston Valley Cheesery next door!
Additional Options at Queenstown that can be booked with Amazing New Zealand Itineraries :-
Day 30 Queenstown – Glenorchy – Queenstown 90kms
Today there is a thrilling ride on a jet-boat planned (another New Zealand invention) which will take you from Glenorchy by 4WD trip to Paradise, a walk through the beech forest then jet-boat along the Dart River into the very heart of the Mt Aspiring National Park. You then enjoy a wilderness lunch before climbing into your “Funyaks” to paddle back down stream in the most serene place in the world you can imagine.
After your thrill up the Dart River, you head back to Queenstown. Half way along is Bob's Cove - a short loop track along a nature trail through native forest full of Bellbirds, Thrushes and Fantails to the lakeside where you can observe the strange seiches phenomenon - this is an unusual rhythmic rise and fall of 12cm in its water level every five minutes due to variations in atmospheric pressure. A Maori myth says it is the beating of a monster's heart lying in the depths of Lake Wakatipu.
This evening ride the Skyline Gondola to take in the awesome views - best viewed at sunset when the Remarkables Range on the other side of Lake Wakatipu glows in golden light. Before your buffet dinner you must ride the down hill “luge” – it is sooooo much fun. There is a scenic track (to begin with) then you’ll be off to the fast track! The free two-seater chairlift takes riders and luge carts back to the top to do it all again, because once is never enough! It's safe too. You're in full control! A unique braking and steering system on your three-wheeled luge cart means you can alter course and speed at will. Go fast, go slow, stop to take photos, you decide. Wow, what a day!
Follow SH6 north for 19 kilometres and turn left to Arrowtown. Just before the turnoff you may like to stop at the Amisfield Winery and Bistro on Lake Hayes.
The pretty tree-lined town of Arrowtown is another former gold mining settlement. Wander amongst the historic cottages, visit the reconstructed Chinese Settlement (the Chinese were subjected to many prejudices so had their own settlement) and wander along the path by the river to view where Isildur lost his life when attacked by the Orcs in the Gladden Fields (LOTR). The main shopping street is a particular shopper's delight.
Return to SH6, turn left and then immediately left again for the scenic Crown Range Route to Wanaka via the old gold mining town of Cardrona. The 1120m high pass is rather zigzagging to say the least, so take your time, however the views are breath-taking from the top. On your descent I recommend a stop at the original Cardrona Hotel (1863).
The local ski field at Cardrona has a chair lift open in summer - take a leisurely walk in the mountains, or take the fast route down on a mountain bike (hire your bikes in Wanaka.) Or how about joining a horse-trek up the Cardrona Valley on Appaloosas?
Wanaka lies on a tranquil lake with picture-perfect mountains as a backdrop and it is one of my favourite places in New Zealand! There are also several options available here :-
Day 32 Wanaka – Fox Glacier 274kms
From Wanaka drive south towards the airport a few kilometres then head north on SH6 along the shores of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. Makaroa is first - where the West Coast meets Central Otago at the southern end of the Alps. It has retained an element of pioneering spirit in its unhurried approach to life. Here you have time to try the very reasonably priced Siberia Experience – fly into the Mt Aspiring National Park, hike/tramp over the hill to the Siberia River and jet-boat back out. Wow!
Soon after you pass the summit of the Haast Pass itself you can stretch your legs and wander down to Fantail Falls.
Next you come to the Gates of Haast, a gorge full of huge boulders and precipitous rock walls that caused major problems during the construction of the road in 1960 – up until then the Great Divide proved insurmountable to all except the Maori who used the trail for gathering greenstone.
104kms - The 28m Thunder Creek Falls a little further on are well worth the stop, it is just a short stroll along a well formed track.
129kms – Another waterfall where you can get out to stretch your legs. The Roaring Billy is the first of many waterfalls - it plunges down a mountain slope on the other side of the river – there is a short rain forest walk with tall tree ferns to the lookout to stretch your legs.
157kms – Haast is a good place to try their whitebait omelet….a specialty of the region. The delicately flavoured whitebait are tiny fish that are caught by hand in huge nets. When they are “running” one can catch a kilo in an hour, but you have to have luck – hence the price.
From Haast the road skirts the coast where fur seals often doze amongst the spectacular sea stacks and driftwood. There is a viewpoint at Knight Point before the road heads inland again.
184kms – About 200m north of the Moeraki River bridge you can turn left to a car-park and well formed path that takes you through beautiful coastal forest to Munroe Beach, a typical deserted and wild Wesland beach where wildlife abounds. You may also see some rare and beautiful Fiordland Crested Penguins fighting the crashing waves to land on the beach after sunset.
217kms – Just north of the Paringa River you’ll find the Salmon Farm Café, either feed the salmon in the tanks below or eat one in the café…or just have a coffee.
274kms – New Zealand has many glaciers, however the two monoliths of Franz Josef and Fox are our most famous. Both are advancing towards the sea at a rate of 1m per year, providing majestic scenery and ecological surprises as they advance. Car-parks and paths are constantly being destroyed, so a guided walk is recommended here (tomorrow morning). Glacier walking is an amazing experience where you follow the guide as he cuts steps into the ice providing a pathway over the surface and into crevices and ice-caves to witness the beautiful blue colour of the ice and hear the creaks of the living glacier. The hike is fun and safe for all but it is only for the fit, alternatively the heli-hike is highly recommended or the scenic flight with a landing on the glacier.
Tonight you are staying at the village of Fox Glacier – tomorrow morning I recommend an early rise to watch the sun rise over Mount Aoraki while being reflected in Lake Matheson, where you’ll also find an excellent café for breakfast.
23kms – Franz Josef of course has a glacier, but it is also home to Fergs Kayaks where you can hire kayaks for exploring Lake Mapourika - a visually stunning kettle lake 15 kilometres north of here. The result of a period of past glaciation at the coastal section of the Franz Josef glacier valley, the lake is fringed with a wonderful temperate rainforest. The climatic conditions are such that the kayaks glide on the water with a minimum of physical effort. You could kayak this afternoon after your glacier walk or continue on to Hokitika.
42kms – Here you have the choice of turning left to Okarito Lagoon, a bird watchers paradise with over 70 species visiting throughout the year, kayaks are also available for hire here.
160kms - Hokitika is the best place to see the New Zealand Greenstone (jade) being made into ornaments and tiki (pendants). The pounamu stone was prized by the Maori and they went to great lengths to find and transport the precious stone. They mainly used the stone for making a lethal weapon that sat snugly in the hand of a warrior. Not to be missed is the glass blowing factory.
Contine north to Greymouth, your destination for the evening. The city lies on the Grey River – named after the governor Sir George Grey and not that the river is grey with sediment. In its heyday as a booming gold centre it was known as Crescent City….now isn’t that a much nicer name!
Continue 45 kilometres north and visit the fascinating Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. High tide is the best time for viewing as the blow-holes can produce some rather spectacular photo opportunities.
Just after Punakaiki you will come to the Pororari River - park by the bridge for a walk in to the Paparoa National Park on the Pororari River Track. The lower section of the track passes through the Pororari River Gorge - a valley lined on both sides by dramatic limestone cliffs and bluffs towering over the gorge and river. Allow 2.5 hours for the return trip, however, if you're just out for a short walk, the lower section is very enjoyable for a stroll to stretch the legs. There is a popular swimming hole about ½ hour along the track.
Another 30 kilometres north is Charleston - this little village once had a hundred pubs to cater to the sailors needs. The little horse-shoe shaped Constant Bay often held a dozen sailing ships. Continue north towards Westport and 15 kilometres later turn left to Cape Foulwind. Be sure to visit beautiful Tauranga Bay where the Fur Seal pups will keep you entertained for hours. At the southern end of the bay visit the excellent Bay House Café and Art Gallery where you can sit on the deck eating lunch and watching the surfers beyond.
Day 35 Karamea
Visit also the Oparara Basin – a worthwhile 15 kilometre diversion off the main road. Walk through lush green wilderness to the Oparara Arch – here the river has carved a course through the soft stone leaving a natural bridge. If you have time, the Little Arch is also worth the walk. There is a tour through the Honeycomb Caves, with all the obvious limestone cave features plus the bones of several moa and other extinct species - reserve at the tourist office in Karamea.
Karamea is the end of the road - hopefully one day there will be a connecting road through to Collingwood, as there are only 14 kilometres separating the roads, as the Kereru flies (we don't have crows). Karamea enjoys its own micro-climate, growing citrus fruit and mosses for the Asian orchid markets. The locals are passionate about there little slice of heaven and will make you more than welcome!
180kms – This is the longest Swing-bridge in New Zealand. Walk across the swing-bridge to the Ariki Falls, not spectacular but the pink granite rocks are unique. Beware of the man-eating sand-flies! They also hire out pans if you would like to try your luck at panning for gold in the Buller Gorge. Unfortunately there isn’t a café here so depending on what time you left - grab a bite to eat in Murchison or hold off until Saint Arnaud.
Follow SH6 and turn left after O’Sullivan’s Bridge. Murchison is next, famous for almost being wiped out in the 1929 earthquake.
226kms - Continue to follow the Buller River and turn right to the alpine village of Saint Arnaud, gateway to the trout infested Nelson Lakes National Park and starting point to numerous alpine walks ranging from 20 minutes to 7 days – take your pick, or just enjoy the scenery (the walks start from the parking on the left down by the lakefront). The 45 minute Honey Dew walk through the virgin Beech forest is particularly lovely. The level walking track takes you along the lake then deep into the ancient forest where the canopy is full of Bellbirds and Tuis competing in birdsong and where the forest floor is a refuge for our native Kiwi – unfortunately they are nocturnal and avid sleepers so you are not likely to see one! I can recommend Elaine’s Alpine Café back in the village for casual meals.
90kms - Once in Motueka, you normally need to go left. But if you first go right there is the excellent Up the Garden Path Cafe and Art Gallery (100m before the roundabout, on the left). Return the way you came and follow SH60 past vineyards, orchards and fields of hops. The road then corkscrews up and over the very dramatic Takaka Hill.
Attractions along the way include the Ngarua Caves at the top of the tortuous 'hill'. They have a 35 minute guided walk deep under the hill to the stunningly beautiful Wedding Cathedral. Or just stop for the awesome views of Tasman Bay from the lookout. NB Thieves are a menace at these car-parks, so lockup and take valuables with you.
The Pupu Springs are also worthy of a visit - there is a beautiful walkway along the turquoise coloured lake where the water has been proven to be the purest in the world (turn left just after the bridge over the Takaka River). You are not allowed to even touch the water at the spring, however swimming can be enjoyed on the southern side of the bridge back on the main road.
At low tide take a drive north to Puponga then follow the Wharariki Road. Park at the end and then walk 20 minutes on the Farm Track down to Wharariki Beach – this has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand. Explore the caves, eroded arches and dunes in total solitude. At the northern end of the beach there are some deep rock pools – at the time of my visit they were full of Fur Seal pups having a great time playing chasing in and out of the pools …..wonderful entertainment! We then followed the stream up the valley – DO NOT cross the stream and go up the hill (as we did), as this will lead you away from the car-park. Instead follow the stream around to the right and it will meet up with the path that leads you back to the car-park.
In-between take a look at Farewell Spit. This dramatic 35 kilometre long sand spit extends in a golden arch deep into the ocean, which is why there are repetitive mass whale strandings. The Farewell Spit Café and Visitor Centre has excellent coffee and food to enjoy on the deck overlooking the bay and spit. Here there are informative displays about the spit itself as well as the numerous whale strandings plus the migratory birds that stop off here every year. There are also several walks that depart from the centre. You have time to join a tour of the spit tomorrow morning if you want.
In Richmond turn left at the roundabout onto SH6, direction Nelson. Harringtons Brewers in Richmond produced the special beer for the Prancing Pony (LOTR).
Nelson holds the title as the most sunniest place in New Zealand and is home to countless artists and crafts people in and around the city.
Day 41 Nelson - Wellington
NB. If you are staying an extra day on Kapiti Island, then you should drive north to Paraparaumu tonight.
40kms - There are several stopping areas along the coast, however they are small and very dangerous. For views of the South Islandit is much better to head to Queen Elizabeth Park. Leave the highway at Paekakariki. Cross over the railway tracks and turn right after the shops. Follow this road right to the beach (4.6kms). If you continue another 300m on the one way road, it will bring you to Memorial Lookout for wonderful uninterrupted views of the South Island and Kapiti Island. Return to the Paekakariki shops.
The next coastal town is Paraparaumu (Paraparam to the locals). Every day at 9am the ferry departs from the beach for Kapiti Island. If you have an extra day then I recommend an overnight stop on this island. Kapiti is the sort of place that only those in the know will only tell their best friends. It is a predator free environment where some of the world's rarest birds can strut their stuff in the knowledge that no harm will ever come to them, sometimes within just metres of you! Prehistoric Takahe (once thought extinct) are making a comeback on this island, as are Spoonbills and Kaka. The highlight of an overnight trip is the opportunity to see and hear the elusive nocturnal kiwi! This is without doubt a nature lover's heaven.
In Levin, continue north on SH1. At 130 kilometres Foxton’s main attraction is a fully working replica Dutch windmill.
214kms – Turn right at the roundabout to Whanganui City Centre, turn left along the river front and left again at the bridge onto the beautiful main street Victoria Ave. The street is full of flowering hanging baskets and beautifully restored historical buildings.
Suggested activities :-
Day 43 Whanganui River Road
This scenically more beautiful route is winding and slow, allow 2 hours (including stops) as the last 35 kilometres are unsealed and narrow. Highlights along the Whanganui River Road include :
In Pipiriki, wander down to the wharf where the yellow/blue Bridge to Nowhere Jet-boat will pick you up anywhere between 10:30am and 11am. Joe will be along shortly to transport you to his farm further upstream deep (deep, deep) into the Whanganui National Park. There aren’t any roads, so the river is the only means of transport. The river has the title of 'longest navigatable river' in New Zealand - I would like to bestow it with the title of 'most beautiful river' in New Zealand as well! The steep sided gorges are just awe-inspiring to say the least, with rapids and bush clad hills to make the trip incredible. Additional stops include all the film locations of the recently released River Queen.
After dropping your bags off at the farmhouse (Bridge to Nowhere Lodge), he will take you further upstream for a 40 minute easy bush walk into the Valley of Abandoned Dreams where you eventually emerge onto the Bridge to Nowhere (hence the name). There is also the opportunity to kayak back to the lodge after your walk. This is a farm-stay experience with a difference far away from civilization in a farmhouse with wrap around decks, offering fabulous views of bush clad hills and the stunning river.
National Park Village is the gateway to the Tongariro National Park. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s top full day walks (for tomorrow maybe) and the 42 Traverse is a popular mountain bike trail. The track winds its way between the 3 majestic volcanic cones of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, via aptly named features such as the Red Crater, Blue Lake, Soda Springs and Emerald Lakes. The "walk" is 16 kilometres long - transport from your accommodation can drop you at the start and pick you up 9 hours later at the other end.
Return down the mountain and to National Park, then turn right towards Taumaranui. Seven kilometres north of the National Park Village, train buffs can check out the impressive Raurimu Spiral from the viewing platform. The track rises by means of a complete circle, three horseshoe curves and two tunnels. Alternatively, check out the working model at the Taumarunui tourist office.
Tonight stay in the delightful town of Taumaranui, 43 kilometres north of National Park .The Gallery Cafe at the northern end of town is recommended, or for gourmet burgers try the Train Spotters Cafe in the train carriage at the southern end.
Option 2:- 230kms via the Mount Damper Falls, White Cliffs of Taranaki, the spectacular Awakino Gorge and Mangotaki Valley.
Travel west on the Forgotten World Highway 43, certainly a step back in time. Please note that fuel, food or refreshment stops are a scarcity for the next 120 kilometres!
34kms – At the top of the hill look for the sign to Nevin’s Lookout, for panoramic views of the King Country and the mountains. Just after Tatu the landscape turns prehistoric through the Tangarakau Gorge. Coal was mined at several locations in the gorge - small pockets of coal can still be found adjacent to the gorge sign.
65kms – At the bottom of the hill, turn right onto the Okau Road. About 20 minutes along this road you will find the Mount Damper Falls, at 78 metres they are the 2nd highest in New Zealand. The short walkway is well sign posted - climb over the stile and take the formed track beside the creek and over open farmland. After 10 minutes you will cross a swing bridge, where the bush starts. Descend with care (the path has a slippery clay base) towards the bottom which will take another 10 minutes. Toilets are available at the car-park. After returning to your car, continue the same way to Okau and Ahititi.
108kms – At the Ahititi junction, turn right to Tongaporutu and rejoin SH3. Movie buffs may be interested to know that many of The Last Samurai’s scenes were filmed near here, with the perfect volcano of Mount Taranaki cleverly filling in for Japan’s Mount Fujiyama. At the mouth of the Tongaporutu River there is a walkway via the muddy riverbed (only at low tide) to the northern start of the White Cliffs Coastal Walkway (9.5kms one way), or you can just walk to the beginning where you will find various caves, arches and rock towers – however the walk is VERY muddy. My advice is to drive across the river and take the first road on the left towards the cemetery. There is parking at the end where you can then climb over the stile for a short walk across accessible land to the headland. From here there is a wonderful view of the impressive White Cliffs, with the Three Sisters in the foreground and Mount Taranaki in the background. The dormant volcano last erupted as recently as 350 years ago and once had a twin peak, which shattered in a cataclysmic explosion centuries before.
130kms – Just after you cross the Mokau River, you will find the River Run Café, famous for their whitebait fritters, excellent coffees and lots of other yummy food. Either way, it is an excellent refreshment stop, as the choices are rather limited between Mokau and Waitomo, one hundred kilometres from here. Whitebait is a New Zealand delicacy. The tiny fish (complete with eyes) are mixed with egg and pan-fried, but as they are caught by hand with a huge net, they are expensive – but delectably delicious!
209kms – Cross over the railway tracks and turn left at the roundabout. SH3 meets SH30 in Te Kuiti, the shearing capital of the world! The town comes alive in April when the annual sheep shearing championships take place.
221kms –Turn left to the Waitomo Caves. The caves entrance themselves are 500m past the village centre. This is the main tourist attraction in the area which attracts tourists by the bus load. That is why I recommend you go with another company tomorrow morning which is more eco-friendly taking small groups only.
Your adventure takes you through farmland to a secret opening in the ground. Descending is not difficult, but it is an adventure that will leave you Spellbound. Floating silently in a boat in pitch darkness under thousands of glow worms – it really is quite a surreal experience and the best glow worm display I have seen in the world. The Waitomo Caves are part of a karst system that was once the seabed 30 million years ago. The caves’ stalactites and stalagmites are also impressive.
Otorohanga is a pretty country town, proud to display everything that is uniquely New Zealand – this is the place to try pavlova, kiwifruit jam and carrot cake. Otorohanga is also famous for its Kiwi House. If you haven’t seen a live cute fluffy Kiwi yet, then take the Kiwi House Tourist Drive just through the village centre. The loop road will bring you to the car-park after 1.5kms. The Kiwi House has the nocturnal kiwis on display in the night room, plus there is an interesting ½ hour walk, which includes a "walk through aviary" full of native birds, plus the rare endemic Tuatara lizard.
Another possible stop is the Battle Site Heritage Centre in the small village of Rangiriri. Here you can view and audio-visual presentation about Maori warrior's heroic stand in 1863.
Voilà, there you have it, my ultimate tour incorporating all of my favourites. Now you can really say I have seen New Zealand! I hope you have enjoyed your tour through this truly amazing country.