Well this is pretty exciting – a month long holiday and plans for a road trip around both of New Zealand’s beautiful Islands. We’ve done a lot of travelling on those roads and hope we have pulled together a really great itinerary for you – it includes some of the big stuff like you would expect but it also covers some of the less travelled roads in New Zealand, attempting to uncover some of those little gems that are not over run with tourists and will take you to the heart of New Zealand life. Sound good? Let’s get GOing then!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
- Abel Tasman National Park
- Punakaiki Rocks
- Franz Josef
- Blue Pools
- Milford Sound
- Stewart Island
- Mt Cook National Park
- Lake Tekapo
- New Plymouth
- Egmont National Park
- Waipoua Forest
Book a vehicle for this trip
1Auckland to Coromandel Peninsula (168km – 2 hours 30 mins)
You could spend the first week of your trip in Auckland alone but with only a month to get round the whole country, 1 day in NZ’s largest city, home to 1.3 million people and known as the City of Sails is all we can afford. After a nice stroll in downtown Auckland, checking out the Viaduct area and maybe grabbing a bite to eat it’s time to get to know your new hire car a little better. A perfect place to start is to head out west through the suburbs and out to the Waitakere Ranges. With heaps of tracks through the lush forest, there is plenty to keep you busy here. If walking’s not your thing, keep driving through the forest and end up at one of the superb west coast beaches like Piha or Muriwai. The surf’s good out there and the black volcanic sand makes for an interesting day at the beach.
If you’re looking for something a bit closer to home but still fancy a drive out, head on out to Devonport or even up to one of the North Shore’s laid back locations like Browns Bay where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
Related Blog Posts
- Get zippy with Rotorua Canopy Tours and GO Play
- The Ultimate Eden Park Guide for the travelling sports fan!
- The Auckland Marathon comes to town
- New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland
OK – so it’s time to hit the road and make your way down to the Coromandel which is going to take you between 2.5-3 hours. Heading out from central Auckland and taking the State Highway 1 south, you will soon find yourself getting away from the hustle and bustle of the big little city as you start to hit the lush green countryside. Just past Bombay is the turn off towards the Coromandel onto SH2 however we urge you to head down SH1 for one additional junction – the detour will be well worth it we promise!
Pokeno Ice Cream (52.1km – 36mins from Auckland)
We know we made you come an extra junction down but it’s already time for the best kind of stop – an ice cream pit stop. The Pokeno store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country. Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself. See, we told you it was worth it!
Coromandel Peninsula (120km – 2 hours from Pokeno)
Head back one junction north on SH1 and take the turn off onto SH2 heading for Thames. This will take you through lush flat lands as you follow Route 25 and really start to hit the open roads that NZ is famous for. When booking your trip to the Coromandel, there are a number of places to stay – our personal favourite is on the east side of the peninsula at Whitianga or Hahei but you could also choose to stay in Coromandel Township – wherever you stay down here is going to be amazing so pick whatever suits your trip.
If you picked to stay at Coromandel Township you will take Route 25 up the west side of the peninsula. After passing through the quaint little town of Thames, the road makes its windy way along the coastline with some fantastic views back across towards the mainland where you have just come from.
Arriving in Coromandel Township, you’ll immediately notice that the town has a laid back feel to it so take the Kiwi approach and don’t rush around – it’s time to take a more laid back approach to this road trip! Enjoy the atmosphere, as well as the numerous artisan centres spread around the place where you can take your pick at different workshops and pick up some beautifully handcrafted pottery, wood carving or painting. Before you head off, stop by the Coromandel Museum and learn a little about the town’s gold mining and Kauri history, both of which have shaped the region into what it is today.
If you decided that Whitianga was for you, then you will instead head to the east coast on Route 25A, merging with Route 25 towards Tairua, a small village on the drive up which is a nice place for a stop off to break up the drive. The next section of road from Tairua to Whitianga is very hilly and very windy so drive with care whilst taking in some of the breath taking views – there are regular lookout spots along the way so take your time, especially if you haven’t driven this way before.
Whitianga is a great little town with heaps of character. The shell-clad beach around Mercury Bay stretches on for miles and there are a number of accommodation options which open up right on to the beachfront (there is a road between you and the sand if we’re being honest!). Whitianga has a great range of bars, cafes and restaurants so it’s the perfect place to relax on your first night down on the Coromandel.
2Around the Coromandel Peninsula
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday or something a bit more adventurous, there is plenty to do whichever side of the peninsula you have based yourself. Here are a few of our top tips for adventure or relaxation.
Hot Water Beach (34kms – 30 mins from Whitianga)
One of the quirkiest spots on the Coromandel is Hot Water Beach. Located around 30 minutes from Whitianga, for one hour either side of low tide, it’s possible to dig yourself a little hot pool and bathe in the waters – if you kick your legs enough you might even think you’re in a hot tub! This is great fun in the summer or winter and spades are available for hire or most places to stay in and around Whitianga will be able to help you out.
New Chums Beach – Wainuiototo Bay (15km – 20 mins from Coromandel Township)
Now this is something truly special. This little hidden gem is considered by many one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s small and it requires a short hike to get to but what you’ll find is an example of the really pristine and unspoiled natural wonders of New Zealand.
Cathedral Cove (37kms – 40 mins from Whitianga)
One of the more famous and most visited beaches in these parts is at Cathedral Cove. There are a number of tour operators who will give you a guided tour out to visit the sea caves and check out the towering cliffs of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.
Hahei (36kms – 35 mins from Whitianga)
If you’re looking for a really great spot to lay back and watch the world go by, Hahei is the perfect place. Lovely golden sands and crystal clear waters will greet you and there’s no better place when the sun is shining. This is also an access point to Cathedral Cove which is only accessible by foot or boat so make a day of it and visit both while you are round this way. If you’re brave enough, there is a great rope swing at the end of the beach which will swing you out over the incoming tide – lots of fun!
Adventure and Activities
Cooks Beach (1.5 hour walk from Whitianga including ferry crossing)
If you’re looking to head out and about and leave the car at home for a day, Cooks Beach is a great walk out from Whitianga harbour. Catch the ferry across to Ferry Landing and then head round Maramaratotara Bay towards Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve. It’s possible to access the walk from the beach at low tide or from the road if the tide is high. From the top of the reserve, you have some great views out over Mercury Bay before dropping down to the 3km crescent of Cooks Beach.
There are some great fishing trips to take whether you are staying in Whitianga or Coromandel Township. Snapper is a popular catch round these parts but once you get out into the deeper waters, game fish like kingfish can be found and make for a great catch. There are a number of charters available so get yourself booked on for a relaxing day out to sea and catch your supper!
One of the most popular activities in Whitianga is the banana boat. You will have all seen them before but if you have never been brave enough to have a go, maybe now’s the time to break your duck. The banana boat will take you out into Mercury Bay and speed you around whilst you cling on for dear life – a dip into the water is a typical end to one of these trips but the water is lovely and warm in the summer so enjoy.
Kauri Grove (3kms south of Coromandel Township)
A spectacular grove of New Zealand’s oldest and most famous trees, the kauri. The walk is a 30 minute return along boardwalks and footbridges – a fairly sedate walk but a great chance to see some of New Zealand’s oldest trees if you have not yet had the chance.
Rangihau Ranch Horse Riding (18kms – 20 mins from Whitianga)
Follow the old pack horse trails in the valleys of the Coroglen through native bushland and across open pastures on a 1 or 2 hour horse trek. There is something quite romantic or rugged (depends on who you’re with!) about horse trekking and the stunning views out across the peninsula are well worth a bit of saddle soreness the next day!
3Coromandel Peninsula to Tauranga (166kms– 2 hour 33 mins)
Heading off the peninsula you will make your way through Thames heading south towards Paeroa which will be the first stop off the day.
Giant L&P Bottle
(97.2km – 1 hour 36 mins from Whitianga)
There isn’t much to this small town but it’s known for being the birthplace of L&P, the iconic kiwi drink that is “world famous in New Zealand”. This soft drink was originally produced using lemon and mineral water from Paeroa (hence L&P). The giant L&P bottle landmark is a mandatory photo stop for any self-respecting tourist so make sure you strike a pose in front of it too – make sure you send your photo in to our GO Snap Happy collection on the GO Rentals website for your chance to win back the cost of your rental – can’t say fairer than that!
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (13.2km – 12 mins from Waihi)
Dust off the hiking boots, we’re going for a little walk. Well, sort of little – 7 kilometres.
The Karangahake Gorge Walkway features the remains of a historical railway nestled in a natural gorge setting. The walk will take you through relics of back in the day when the area was a big gold mining region. It follows the railway line through the gorge and alongside the Ohinemuri River, through the Victoria Battery Complex and ending in the Waikino Station (which includes a cafe for a much deserved post-walk beverage).
To get to the start of the walkway, park your rental car at the Karangahake Domain Car Park on SH2 between Paeroa and Waihi, get your hiking boots on and off you go!
Waihi (108km – 1 hour 52 mins from Coromandel Township)
After a great wander in the Karangahake Gorge, it’s time to head back over to the coast. Make sure you stop by the impressive Martha’s Mine in Waihi where you can take a goldmine tour and find out more about this important part of New Zealand history. Take some time to learn a bit more about the gold mining history, as there won’t be many other opportunities to do so during the trip. There’s a cracking beach at Waihi too so chill out and maybe take a picnic lunch down there with you.
Tauranga (61.8kms – 53mins)
Tauranga is the largest city in the Bay of Plenty and is a paradise for water-lovers whether you’re into fishing, dolphin watching or just taking a dip in the sea. Tauranga has a great range of accommodation options and the Strand waterfront area is always buzzing with activity with plenty of places to grab a drink and a bite to eat. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting around Easter time, Tauranga is also home to New Zealand’s National Jazz Festival which attracts some of the best jazz musicians from around the world. Just 15 minutes away is one of New Zealand’s most popular beach town, Mount Maunganui where you can sit back and relax on golden sands.
4Tauranga to Gisborne (275kms – 3 hours 44 mins)
There are more direct routes to Napier but these itineraries are about the roads less travelled and the hidden gems to discover along the way so we’re going to send you the long way round and hope it is worth the extra kilometres – you get the bonus of a night in Gisborne as well which is always a great place to stop off.
Te Puke (24.4kms – 25 mins)
So, the first stop of this epic road trip comes at Te Puke, the kiwi growing capital of New Zealand and to be honest, probably the world! What is more kiwi than going to the place where loads of kiwis are grown? Exactly. The local produces grow millions of kiwi fruits each year which are exported to all corners of the world and if that’s not enough, there’s even a kiwi theme park! Boom.
From here, your drive down SH2 will hug the coastline with lots of great little beachside towns and villages along the way so there are plenty of stop offs should you need the break. The next big stop off is scheduled for Whakatane.
Whakatane (66.8kms – 54 mins)
This is one of the sunniest and warmest place in New Zealand and is a great place to stop off on your way down to Napier. The biggest attraction here is White Island, a spectacular active volcano that is located just off shore and can be visited by boat or if you are feeling flush, by helicopter. As an active volcano, this is a great photo opportunity to see the roaring, hissing and steaming crater in action so get your cameras at the ready.
Just down the road from Whakatane is the beautiful white sandy beach at Ohope where surfing is a favourite pastime; a great place to chill out for a while before you hit the road again.
Use your GO Play card here
At Opotiki, it’s time to take a turn south. Although we love the off-the-beaten-track nature of the East Cape drive, it’s already a long day behind the wheel and the drive around the rugged East Cape will add too many kms to your day. Maybe another time…
Gisborne (185kms – 2 hours 30 mins)
It’s time to get some miles under your belt and crack on down to the east coast. The next stage of the drive will cut off the East Cape and deliver you to your final resting spot for the night in Gisborne.
One of the best things about staying the night in Gisborne is that you get to be amongst the first few people in the world to welcome in the start of the new day – Gisborne is the first city to see the sun rise each day. It’s also the first city to welcome in the New Year – more mindless trivia for your road trip companions! Gisborne is a good stop off for some well-deserved dinner and is sometimes referred to as the chardonnay capital of New Zealand although there are plenty of other places who might argue that one. There is some really nice history to Gisborne as this was the first place where Captain Cook landed in New Zealand in 1769 at the nearby Kaiti Beach. There is also a rich Maori history in the city so make sure you take a couple of hours off the road and explore some of the areas rich history.
5Gisborne to Napier (216kms – 2 hours 53 mins)
Hopefully you made it up for sunrise today and made sure everyone was aware of the lengths you had gone to in order to become one of the first to welcome in the new day. Gisborne is a great place to start your day and we recommend heading out for a scrumptious breakfast before exploring the city. The city had heaps of character and you will soon find yourself lost around the bustling streets. A great place to head out and people watch is at Wainui beach – a popular destination for surfers where quality waves can be found year round. After a morning spent in Gisborne, it’s time to get back in the car for the drive down to Napier.
Wairoa (98.1kms – 1 hour 17 mins)
Wairoa is a great place to break up this leg of the journey from Gisborne to Napier. It’s a popular stop off point for those going off to explore the Te Urewera National Park but for you, it will be a welcome stretch of the legs and a chance to check out the old wooden lighthouse that continues to keep ships safe at sea.
You should have plenty of time to spare so a trip to the Nikau Pools is a must. The Nikau Pools are some of the finest mineral pools in NZ and for a few dollars you can relax away those aches and pains and forget that you have you drove for close to 4 hours yesterday to get down here!
From Wairoa, it’s just over 100 kms to Napier where you will be just in time for dinner and a first opportunity to sample some of the fantastic local vinos.
6Napier and around
Napier was hit by a devastating earthquake in 1931, registering a massive 7.9 on the Richter Scale. What resulted was some fantastic building work, much of which was completed within 2 years and much of it in an art deco style. Because of this, Napier feels like a step back in time (even more so than the rest of NZ!) with its art deco facades and fountains so take your own step back, slow it all down and spend the day doing exactly what you want to do – you’ve deserved it.
Here are some of our top tips:
Wine tour – Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions along with Marlborough so it would be rude not to sample at least a couple of the local drops. If you’re feeling energetic, why not hire a bike and cycle between the vineyards – you’ll have truly earned your vino then!
Te Mata Peak
Offering some superb panoramic views of the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru Ranges and Cape Kidnappers, whether you bike, hike or drive to the summit of Te Mata, it’s well worth the trip. For the more adventurous, you can even choose to paraglide back down to sea level.
Coastal walks – the Hawkes Bay coastline provides some of the best walking tracks in the North Island which you can easily hop on to and spend your time admiring the spectacular views.
Arataki Honey Visitors Centre – you may or may not have heard of manuka honey – something that NZ is very famous for. Fabled for its medicinal properties, you can find out all about the bees that help to produce this delicious honey and pick up a pot to take with you on the rest of your travels.
Art Deco guided Walks – if you’re not up on your art deco but you want to know more about this fantastic architectural period, a guided walk is the perfect way to learn about the history of the buildings in and around Napier whilst taking a lovely stroll around the town.
7Napier to Wellington (315km – 4 hours)
If you’re an early riser, try and head up to Te Mata Peak for sunrise – we managed it once and it was spectacular! After a leisurely morning in Napier, maybe exploring the Marine Parade, it’s time to hit the road to Wellington.
Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary (206km – 2 hours 32 mins)
This is a great little stop off as you get ever closer to Wellington. Home to a whole host of wildlife including the world’s only white kiwi in captivity, the Manukura as well as the Turua, a North Island Brown Kiwi, this is a great place for kids and adults alike. With regular feeding sessions, talks and other activities to keep you entertained, it’s a great way to break up the journey south.
Martinborough (65.5km – 48 mins)
Although it’s a slight detour off the main route into Wellington, Martinborough is well worth a look if you have the time to spare. Martinborough has become the gourmet capital of the lower south island with 25 boutique vineyards and several fantastic restaurants serving delicious local produce. With the whole day to spend in Wellington tomorrow, this is a good shout for dinner as it is only a short drive to your resting place for the night.
It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.
Park your car and head for a walk around the waterfront where you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s board room and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s not far from New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa – a futuristic multi-storeyed complex that forms one of the largest new museums in the world, with numerous interactive displays.
For the best panoramic views of the city and Port Nicholson all the way across to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria. The historic cannon on the summit was installed in 1877 and was fired each day as a time signal for many years. If you look down below, in the suburbs, you will spot the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve, not far from the Colonial Cottage Museum on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.
Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) and visit the cool one-of-a-kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool Bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).
Treaty of Waitangi
A visit to Archives New Zealand on 10 Mulgrave Street allows you to see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament, if you’re feeling politically-inclined before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars (including some decent craft beer spots).
If you have some free time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. Weta is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, including creatures, makeup and digital special effects for movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.
You can take the 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-the-scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.
We recommend catching an early afternoon ferry over to Picton and on to Nelson tonight to give you a full day exploring the Abel Tasman National Park tomorrow.
Wellington to Nelson via Picton (134km – 1 hour 52 mins)
The Snout Track
The Interislander ferry will leave you in Picton, the starting point for your South Island adventure. That’s where you’ll be able to dust off the hiking boots and have a true Kiwi experience by venturing into the great outdoors with a 3.5 hour return hike to awesome views of Queen Charlotte Sound – a good introduction to what the South Island has to offer. From the Snout Track car park, walk along the gravel road to reach the track, then follow the signs to the Snout Head.
The Boulder Bank
The Boulder Bank is another spectacular example of the South Island’s natural wonders. The 13km long bank is one of the very few of its type in the world so you’re in the presence of something very unique. It has been formed from large granodiorite boulders that have been moved by wind, water and tide to form the spectacular line in front of you.
The lighthouse was made in Bath (England) and shipped in parts to New Zealand, then assembled in 1861.You can access the bank by turning off SH6 and driving along Boulder Bank Drive, 7km north of Nelson.
8Abel Tasman National Park (59.7km – 1 hour from Nelson)
From Nelson, you will have an early start to head off to gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. The roads are windy so make sure you allow enough time to drive the relatively short distance of 60kms. Once you get to the park there are so many activities to choose from it really is up to you how you plan your day – these are some of our top tips:
Cruise and water taxi
If you’re after a fairly relaxed, laid back day, there is no better way to see the park than on a cruise of in a water taxi. The crystal clear waters of the Abel Tasman are a sight to behold to getting out on the water is a must.
if you are feeling a bit more energetic, we highly recommend hiring a sea kayak for the day and heading out into the park. You will be amazed at what you can see over the side of the kayak as you peer down into the depths of the sea. Park up (is that even a saying for a kayak?!) on a secluded beach and enjoy a spot of lunch – spectacular.
Cruise and walk
The best of both worlds if you want to get out on the water as well as waking through this beautiful national park. Take a cruise and get dropped off deep into the park before following the route back along the rugged coastline.
The Abel Tasman is one of the most beautiful national parks in the world so make sure you soak it all up. Just sitting on one of the golden sandy beaches can be the most relaxing experience as the peace and tranquillity descends over you, washing away all those stresses of day to day life. Sounds pretty good eh?
One thing not to forget is that Nelson is the microbrew capital of New Zealand with many independent breweries making some fantastic kiwi beers round these parts. Whatever you choose to get up to round these parts, you’re in for a cracking day.
9Nelson to Greymouth (287km – 4 hours 9 mins)
World of Wearable Art Museum
The World of Wearable Art (WoW) is a New Zealand institution in its own right. The first ever show was held in Nelson in 1987 and has since grown (and moved to Wellington where it is currently held). The museum displays some of the supreme winners of the shows. Whether you’re interested in clothes and fashion or not, this is an important slice of New Zealand’s culture – one that you should not miss.
After a day exploring in the Able Tasman National Park, it’s time to hit the road again and get a bit more familiar with your new GO Rentals car. The first stop of the day is not too far away however as you head out on SH6 towards the west coast. Photo
Mapua is a very picturesque village situated on a wharf on the Abel Tasman coastline. With a huge range of shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes, this makes the perfect stop off for breakfast and a bit of retail therapy before you hit the road proper. From the Jellyfish Café and Bar to Forest Fusion Functional Art, there is lots to see and do in Mapua as well as taking in the lovely surroundings.
Buller Gorge Swing Bridge (165km – 2 hours 23 mins from Mapua)
Heading out of Mapua keep following SH6 heading towards the west coast. After a relatively short drive there is another chance to stretch the legs and get the adrenaline pumping at the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge. From big thrills to big spills to serene walks, Buller Gorge offers some of the best adventure activities this side of Queenstown. From the comet line, a 160m flying fox zip line to jet boating on the Upper Buller Gorge with GO Play partner Ultimate Descents, there’s plenty to keep the most adventurous happy. If you’re of a less adventurous disposition the Buller Gorge is also a great place to explore on foot with some lovely trails and falls to discover.
Bev’s Dolls (46.2km – 41 mins from Buller Gorge)
In a converted garage at 35 Main Street in Reefton, you’ll find Bev’s Dolls – a collection of over 2000 dolls, including a 180-year-old German stone doll and popular contemporary dolls such as the Harry Potter doll collection. Check that Bev is home and, for a fee, she’ll show you her impressive collection.
Formerly the Blackball Hilton Hotel (56.9km – 1 hour from Reefton)
At first glance, it might look like you’re just in a quiet small town in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand but, in fact, you’re standing in front of a hotel that was subject to global controversy. Well, sort of.
The hotel was built in 1910 and named The Dominion at the time. In the 1970s, the name was changed to The Blackball Hilton. Threats of legal action by you-know-who who owns a big hotel chain with the same name in the US forced the Blackball Hilton to add “Formerly” to the name in order to continue to operate.
The hotel is located on 26 Hart Street and offers both food and accommodation, if you feel like a break.
From here it’s a short drive to your final destination in Greymouth (23.1km – 31 mins)
10Greymouth to Franz Josef (via Punakaiki) (262.1km – 3 hours 31 mins)
Pancake Rocks (45.1km – 37 mins from Greymouth)
Although your journey is taking you south along the West Coast, a slight detour north is well worth it to check out the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki and let’s face it, you love driving your GO Rentals car that much by now that this is a great excuse to get some more miles under your belt! Get your camera ready because this is one of those places you’ll want to tell everyone about. The pancake rocks are heavily eroded limestone, layered like pancakes. Who doesn’t love pancakes? Exactly. These particular ones were formed 30 million years ago out of dead marine creatures and plants.
Ross (110km – 1 hour 31 mins from Punakaiki)
It’s about a 3 hour drive from Greymouth to Franz Josef and the perfect stop off point on the way is the small gold-mining town of Ross. In 1909, Ross became famous across New Zealand when the largest gold nugget in the country was found weighing in at an impressive 99 ounces. There is some conjecture over the origin of the nugget however with some claiming it was in fact mined in Australia and smuggled over to Ross to inflate the gold prices. Either way, it was purchased by the New Zealand government and presented to King George V as a coronation gift.
From Ross it’s a short hop down to your final destination of Franz Josef (107km – 1 hour 23 mins)
After the longish drive down the West Coast the previous day, you’ll be glad to be out of the car (the car will surely have a name by now) and stretching the legs and what a site to wake up to – the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier. The Glacier was first explored in 1865 by Austrian Julius Haast and it has been advancing and retreating ever since.
Exploring the glacier
There are several ways to explore the glacier from independent walks to heli-hikes but however you choose to take in the sights and sounds of the stunning glacier, make sure you pack your bag for all weathers as things can change quickly up at the glacier.
There are a number of independent walks you can make which provide great viewpoints of the glacier. The best is probably Sentinel Rock which is 10 minutes from the car park or the Ka Roimate o Hine Hukatere walk which is a more energetic 40 minute walk that leads to the terminal of the glacier.
Without doubt the best way to experience the glacier is to walk on them. Small group walks with experienced guides and equipment provided (amazing socks!) can be booked in the town of Franz and offer half or full day trips up onto the glacier. We cannot recommend highly enough taking the full day hike as this will allow you to get further up the glacier with the chance to find new routes or even undiscovered ice caves. With your crampons on and your ice picks at the ready, this is another great snap for Facebook to show you as the true ‘explorer’ so don’t miss out on this one. Franz Josef Glacier Guides are also a partner of GO Play, offering a 10% discount for guided tours on the ice – cool!
Use your GO Play card here
For those with a few more dollars to spare, a heli-hike offers two fantastic opportunities; see the sheer scales of the glacier from the skies but also get onto the glacier much higher up where the ice is much purer. Here you will get the chance to discover blue-ice caves, seracs and pristine ice formations and let’s face it, a trip in a helicopter is pretty cool.
Taking things one step further, Mount Cook is within reach of Franz by helicopter with a number of companies running tours to see the highest peak in NZ. These tours can often be combined with a heli-hike on either Franz Josef of Fox glacier and is the ultimate Southern Alps experience. If you do head out on one of these amazing trips, be sure to let us know so we can all be super jealous in the office!
Glacier Hot Pools
Once you’re finished, how about a dip in the glacier hot pools, right in the middle of the rainforest? It sounds just as stunning as it is. The pools are located in the Franz Josef township on Cron Street and open between 1pm to 9pm all year round and if all this sounds too perfect, it’s about to get better! Glacier Hot Pools are a GO Play partner so you can sit back and relax with a few extra bucks in your pocket.
12Franz Josef to Queenstown (350km – 6 hours 2 mins)
The drive from Franz Josef to Queenstown is one of the most spectacular as you cut through the Haast Pass towards Wanaka. Your GO Rentals hire car will be purring as you wind through the valley, heading inland from the rugged west coast and making your way towards the lakes and mountains of the lower south island.
Lake Matheson (27.8km – 37 mins from Franz Josef)
As you head out of Franz Josef, one stop that cannot be missed is a detour to Lake Matheson. If you’re looking for the photo to put on Facebook to make all your friends jealous, then this is it. Take the road west at the popular Fox Glacier township and you will be rewarded with views that take your breath away and make you question why you ever want to go back to whatever it is you do when you are not touring round NZ’s south island.
Famous for reflecting a near-perfect image of Aoraki/Mount Cook in its waters, Lake Matheson was formed around 14,000 years ago when the Fox Glacier retreated from its last major advance towards the sea. If we had to guess, we reckon you will end up with 39 photos give or take on your camera – the best view is always just around the corner!
As you carry on down the Haast Pass, there’s loads of forest and lakeside walks you can take along the way depending on how you’re doing for time. Lake Paringa offers a great pit stop location for lunch with some stunning scenery in all directions. The highway makes its way back out to the coast at Bruce’s Bay and a stunning drive awaits.
Monro Beach (125km – 2 hours 8 mins from Lake Matheson)
Enjoy the views along the rugged coastline as this is your last chance to take in the splendour of New Zealand’s West Coast – it’s soon time to turn east and head inland towards the lakes and mountains. Be sure to stop off for the walk down to Monro Beach just before you hit the Haast pass going east where between July and December it’s possible to see the tawaki (Fiordland crested penguin). Make sure you cover up though as the venomous sand flies can be brutal at most times of the year. From here, your GO Rentals beast should be singing along as the road takes a meandering route through the Mt Aspiring National Park and on to Queenstown.
Blue Pools (129kms – 2 hours 1 min from Queenstown)
Just north of the Makaroa Tourist Information Centre is a hidden gem (not so hidden since it made it into the top 10 things to do in NZ list!) for Kiwis and tourists alike. The Blue Pools walk can be accessed directly from the Haast pass and is well signposted along the route. Follow the track into the forest where you’ll find a series of crystal clear pools that have been carved out of the rocks by centuries of erosion. The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom. Jumping in looks tempting but it is not advised as it will be a particularly cold shock to the system as well as upsetting the resident brown trout and you don’t want to mess with a brown trout unless you like a wet face slap.
The Luge, Queenstown (207km – 3 hours 32 mins from the Blue Pools)
Queenstown is known as the capital adventure of the world and it won’t take you long to figure out why. If you can, ensure you spend at least a couple of days exploring the city and all its attractions. One of the coolest ones is the Luge, which combine some of the most stunning views you can get from Queenstown and its surroundings, with an injection of adrenaline.
The Skyline Queenstown Luge is open from 10am daily, all year round.
13Queenstown and around
There’s so much to see and do around Queenstown that it is worth staying the extra day and exploring either on foot or taking the car for a run out. Here are just a few of our highlights:
Adrenaline fuelled adventure
For those who have headed to Queenstown for adrenaline fuelled adventure, these are our highlights of things to do in a day:
1) AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy – Australasia’s highest bungy at 134m, this is not for the feint hearted – 8.5 seconds of freefall will have you screaming like a lunatic!
2) Skippers Canyon Jet – reaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Shotover Canyon is sure to get your pulse racing. The 360 degree spins will get you closer to the wall than you feel comfortable with! Skippers Canyon Jet is also a GO Play partner. Bonus!
3) Coronet Peak ski resort (in season) – fantastic resort for pros and beginners alike, Coronet Peak is a GO Rentals favourite in the winter where lots of fun can be had on and off the slopes
Something a bit more…relaxing
We know that jumping off mountains and flipping jet boats is not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s more to Queenstown than adrenaline fuelled adventure. Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:
1) Ben Lommond – a 4 hour walk giving you some awesome views of Queenstown, the lake and surrounding mountains
2) Skyline gondola – take the gondola up Bob’s Peak and enjoy some award winning cuisine and some amazing views. If you want to get down a bit quicker, the luge is a lot of fun!
3) Wine tasting – The Central Otago region is famous for producing world-leading Pinot Noirs – this one is not for the driver but passengers can enjoy sampling some fine wines from the region before hitting the road
Bendigo goldfields (80.3km – 1 hour 10 mins)
There’s something about old abandoned ghost towns that makes you reflect on the life that once was there. The Bendigo goldfields include a number of deserted towns from back in the days of the gold rush, surrounded by some of the most spectacular Central Otago scenery. From the town of Bendigo, you can drive up to the deserted towns of Logantown and Welshtown, with crumbling stone cottages to let your mind wander and imagine the days of digging for gold. Take SH8 out of Cromwell and follow this for about 20km until you hit Bendigo where you will find lots more info at the tourist information station.
Arrowtown/Cromwell (20.1km – 22 mins)
Unlike Bendigo, small Arrowtown is far from abandoned. The small historic village, a short 20-minute drive from Queenstown, is bursting with activity and includes a collection of beautiful old heritage buildings and miners’ cottages. The beauty of Arrowtown is that the heritage buildings are more than mere monuments of a time gone past – they’re still used for commerce and you get to experience life before modern days.A number of hiking tracks start and end at Arrowtown so, if you feel like a walk, head to the Information Centre to find out more about these tracks.
At the end of a busy day, Queenstown is a great place to unwind with a huge range of bars to suit everyone. Depending on the time of year, you’ll either be welcomed in to a roaring fire or sit out enjoying the sun setting over Lake Wakatipu.
Related Blog Posts
- The Ultimate Eden Park Guide for the travelling sports fan!
- The Auckland Marathon comes to town
- 6 of the Best Events in New Zealand in August
- Take a journey to Bill Richardson’s Transport World with GO Play
14Queenstown to Milford Sound (288km – 4 hours 24 mins from Queenstown)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the south island. A great chance to give the GO Rentals hire car a final run out, the 4+ hour drive from Queenstown is well worth the early start to check out the magnificence of this most spectacular fjord carved out by glaciers during the ice age (that’s a long time ago by the way!).
Hop out of your GO Rentals hire car and straight onto a boat as this is a must once you get down there. With a number of companies offering day or night cruises, you’ll not be short of options for exploring the water when you arrive. Find yourself ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ at the spectacular waterfalls, some of which are over 1000 metres high so be sure to pack the camera but also make sure you pack your wet weather gear as inevitably it rains down at Milford Sound. Some say this makes the waterfalls even more spectacular but we’re not too sure about that one!
This is a definite favourite of the GO Rentals team as you get to really explore the Sound as well as spending the night out on the water – saves you thinking about where to stay tonight as well! Some boats have underwater viewing observatories, and all give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the amazing geography and wildlife so get your cameras at the ready! Look out for penguins and dolphins, as well as whales – the occasional one makes it all the way into the fiords.
For those wanting a more hands on experience of Milford Sound, why not give kayaking a go. There’s nothing quite like taking to the open water and paddling yourself out into one of the most inspiring places on planet earth. GO Play partner Real Journeys offer a 4-5 hour trip out on to the water taking in the serene Harrisons Cove and the magnificent Mitre Peak offering some spectacular views up to the Pembroke Glaciers.
Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory
Due to its unique underwater environment, Milford Sound is home to species of black coral usually found at depths of 500m or more, including magnificent 300 year old ‘trees’ and the best way to check these old timers out is at the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory.
The Discovery Centre will send you on a journey back through the history, geology and wildlife of the Sound where you will also learn about the culture and heritage of this awe-inspiring place from local guides.
There are a number of options at the end of this day in terms of accommodation. Many people choose to do an overnight cruise on Milford Sound which takes care of your accommodation whilst also giving you an experience of a lifetime under a starry sky. Alternatively, you may choose to stay in the lodge at Milford Sound which offers a luxury experience on the shores of the Sound. For many people however, Te Anau is a great destination to spend the night with lots of accommodation options and some nice places to eat and drink.
Te Anau (118kms – 1 hour 57 mins)
If you do decide to head off to Te Anau, it’s about a 2 hour drive but it will set you on the road for the next day’s adventure.
15Te Anau to Invercargill via Southern Scenic Route (181 kms – 2 hours 19 mins)
After an amazing day spent at Milford Sound yesterday, today is all about the spectacular drive down through Fiordland to the very southern tip of New Zealand. Whether you stayed at Milford Sound or made the journey to Te Anau last night, it’s definitely worth spending a couple of hours in the town before you hit the Southern Scenic Route to Invercargill.
Te Anau is a picturesque township with lots going on in and around the town. There are some great walking tracks which take you to the shores of the lake and the glow worm caves are a must if you have never seen anything like this before.
Manapouri (21.4kms – 19 mins)
Lake Manapouri is New Zealand’s second deepest lake and features a hydro power station at its western end. The lakeside town is a great place for a stop off and exploring the lake by kayak or on some of the walking tracks around the shores is a great way to spend a few hours. For those not on a specific itinerary, there are some fantastic walking tracks such as the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’ that come through Manapouri.
If you do have a bit more time, it’s also a great place to base yourself to explore Doubtful Sound, one of fiorldland’s hidden gems. Tucked away at beyond Lake Manapouri, this is a truly magical, untouched beauty with very few crowds. You may decide that this is a great alternative to Milford Sound if you prefer something a bit more off the beaten track and we definitely wouldn’t blame you – it’s one of our favourite places on earth.
Exploring Doubtful Sound can be done in a number of ways but the best is probably on an overnight cruise. Stargazing at night whilst out on the water is simply out of this world and you will truly be blown away by the experience.
Clifden (66.9kms – 49 mins)
Hop back in your GO Rentals car and carry on south down the Southern Scenic Route where your next stop will be at Clifden. For you Brits, this is not to be confused with Clifton Suspension Bridge but Clifden is famous for its suspension bridge which spans the Waiau River. This is a pretty impressive structure built from totara and Australian hardwood and is the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand.
Tuatapere (80.3kms – 1 hour 4 mins)
Sitting right on the edge of the fiordland wilderness, Tuatapere is the first stop off point of the day. Although this town is a stop off point for many who are embarking on the Hump Ridge Track – a 3 day walk which will take you to the wilds of western southland including a visit to the Percy Burn Viaduct, thought to be the largest remaining wooden viaduct in the world – it is a great place to hop out of your car and stretch the legs. Located on the Waiau River, the town has a rich sawmilling history and the logging museum is worth a look in. There are loads of things to do here from fishing to walking to jet boating but our 10 day itinerary means we are going to have to crack on – a place to add to the list for a re-visit.
From here it’s a further 80kms to Invercargill which should take you just over 1 hour.
16Invercargill to Stewart Island (28.1kms – 25 mins plus a 1 hour ferry crossing)
Waking up in New Zealand’s southernmost city, you have a big day ahead of you as you head across to Stewart Island. Depending on the time of year will depend on how many ferry crossing there are but in the height of summer, there are 3 departures a day at 9.30am, 11am and 5pm from Bluff returning from Stewart Island at 8am, 3.30pm and 6pm. In winter, these crossing go down to 2 or sometimes 1 a day so be sure to check the website for more information.
If you’re visiting in summer, we recommend spending an hour or two in and around Invercargill before making your way to Bluff to catch the 11am ferry.
A trip to Queens Park is a must where you will find a lovely rose garden, a golf course and the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, which has the claim to fame of being New Zealand’s largest pyramid structure! Invercargill is also a great place for sports enthusiasts and New Zealand’s only indoor cycling velodrome can be found here and one of New Zealand’s finest golf courses, Oreti Sands (recently voted as number 17 in the top 25 golf courses in New Zealand) is located nearby.
If you happen to be down here in November time, the Burt Munro challenge is a great event to come along to. Immortalised in the film ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’, Burt Munro hailed from Invercargill and each year, a group of cycling enthusiasts get together to honour Burt by racing bikes down in Southland at a number of different locations including Oreti Beach. Check out the website and see if you can time your visit with this fantastic event.
A trip to Southland would not be complete without a visit to New Zealand’s third island. Stewart Island or Rakiura (‘the land of the glowing skies’ in Maori) is home to New Zealand’s southernmost National Park. Rakiura National Park accounts for over 80% of Stewart Island and as you can imagine, this is a land of unspoilt wilderness where unmodified ecosystems thrive. The park therefore provides an exceptional opportunity to see native wildlife in its most natural habitat.
If you are a keen adventurer and fancy a night out in the wild, there are a number of hiker huts within the park and this is one of the best places on earth to witness Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights) as well as watching breath taking sunsets that the Maori name is derived from.
If you are staying just for the day, there is still a great opportunity to see some amazing wildlife in its natural habitat and two or three times a week, guided trip to Masons Bay provide the rare opportunity to see kiwi birds eating sandhoppers on the beach – that is definitely a trip not to be missed.
In addition to the amazing wildlife, Stewart Island is also home to 245kms of walking tracks so it a paradise for hikers. For people on a day trip looking to stretch your legs and explore the island, there are a number of short 2-3 hour return walks that will lead you through this unspoilt landscape and leave you wishing you had more time on this magical island.
However you choose to spend your day on Stewart Island, we promise you it will be worth the trip and the thought that this is the last place on earth before you hit Antarctica heading south is pretty special.
If you’re heading back across to Invercargill for the night, there are plenty of options for grabbing a drink and a bite to eat in the city centre. Local food specialities include oysters from Bluff and blue cod.
17Invercargill to Dunedin via Catlins Coast (244kms – 3 hours 21 mins)
After a fantastic day exploring Stewart Island/Rakiura yesterday, it’s time to hit the road again and get back on the Southern Scenic Route has you head east along the Catlins Coast. The Southern Scenic Route is one of New Zealand’s gems and is truly a road less travelled. Conceived by the people of Tuatapere in Western Southland to share the delights of the lower south island with those willing to make the journey down there, this trip from Invercargill to Dunedin will be one of the highlights of your trip.
The Catlins (59.3kms – 49 mins to Tokanui)
The Catlins are often overlooked by travellers who avoid the longer route around the bottom of New Zealand for the faster route between Dunedin and Invercargill – don’t follow the masses, they don’t know what they’re missing out on! The Catlins are a remote and rugged area of natural beauty and the drive itself is pretty spectacular but don’t be fooled into thinking there is nothing to do down this way as there are some great stop off point between here and Invercargill. Here are a few of our favourites:
Curio Bay – famous for its petrified forest, the tree fossils can be seen at low tide and are over 180 million years old! There is also a small population of yellow-eyed penguins that nest nearby so potentially another one to tick off your penguin watchlist! Surfing is also pretty popular in Curio Bay so maybe this is your moment to shine – there won’t be many people around to watch if you wipe out!
Slope Point – this is the South Island’s most southerly point and the only thing between you and the Antarctic is a few uninhabited islands – now that’s what we call remote! It’s about a 20 minute return walk to get to Slope Point but this is a great photo op so send your best ones in to our GO Snap Happy comp!
Nugget Point – this is one of New Zealand’s oldest lighthouses and it’s a really great 30 minute walk to get to it so hop out of the car and give your legs a stretch – you may even see some of those yellow-eyed penguins if you’re lucky!
Cathedral Caves – these magnificent 30 metre high caves are only accessible at low tide so be sure to check the website before venturing out to find them. It’s about a 30 minute walk through the forest and beach to get to them but well worth it if you catch the right tide.
Waikawa – one of the bigger townships down on this route is Waikawa. Stop in here to stock up on goodies for the rest of your road trip to Dunedin and check out the museum whilst your there which has numerous displays relating to the early settlers. There are a couple of nice walks that will take you around 20 minutes if you need to stretch those legs before the next leg of this trip.
Clutha Country (106 kms – 1 hour 30 min to Balclutha)
Balclutha is the biggest town in an area known as ‘Clutha Country’ and you can expect a warm welcome from the locals. Southland is notorious for the friendly welcome afforded to all those who travel through these parts and with such a wide variety of things to do in the area, it is a great final stop off point for the day before you hit Dunedin. From the superb fishing on the Clutha River to the numerous trails and tracks that run through the rolling hills, it is great to get out and stretch your legs and soak in the fresh southern air.
From Balclutha it’s a further 80kms to Dunedin and your resting point for the evening which should take you just over an hour.
18Dunedin to Mt Cook Village (316kms – 3 hours 39 mins)
Dunedin is one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets and is one of the best preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Often referred to as the ‘Edinburgh’ of the South, Dunedin is proud of its Scottish heritage and is steeped in history and culture. With such a tight schedule, you have got until the early afternoon to explore Dunedin so it’s best to get out there early to squeeze in as much as possible before you have to head north and onto the Southern Alps.
Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle and is often why Dunedin gets compared to Edinburgh. The magnificent castle is perched on the side of a hill overlooking the Otago Harbour. Named after its builder William Larnach, the castle has quite a history and regular tours of the castle run where you can learn about the scandal of Larnach’s three wives and six children.
Speights Brewery Tour
A trip to Dunedin would not be complete without a trip to the Speights Brewery. New Zealand has many iconic beers from Steinlager to Monteiths but down in these parts, Speights rules the roost. A great way to spend a couple of hours learning about the brewing process and obviously getting to sample some of their finest drops.
Dunedin Botanic Gardens
A great place to spend a few hours relaxing and unwinding at any time of the year. The colours in the autumn fall are spectacular but there’s nothing quite a like a stroll through the gardens in the height of summer when everything is in full bloom. A definite favourite of the GO Rentals team for chilling out and getting lost in a good book.
Royal Albatross Centre
The Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head is the site of the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world making it a pretty spectacular place to visit. It’s not just the rare albatross that can be seen though as the world’s smallest penguins, the little blue penguins can also be found here on the Otago peninsula – double whammy!
We have only scratched the surface of things to do in and around Dunedin here so make sure you check out our Explore New Zealand section for more ideas.
Heading out of Dunedin, your drive will take you north up the coastline to Oamaru before cutting inland through the Waitaki Valley. There’s some pretty cool stop off points along the way including the impressive moeraki boulders – large spherical boulders which are scattered along the coastline some of which have been found to contain dinosaur bones.
Oamaru (111kms – 1 hour 28 mins from Dunedin)
Oamaru is a great stop off point just before you head of west and inland towards the Southern Alps. If you didn’t make it to the Royal Albatross Centre this is another great opportunity to catch a glimpse of the blue penguin (Korora) up close. These little fella had out before first light and return at the end of the day just as its getting dark. You can read more about the penguin colony at Oamaru and find out more about the town on of Explore New Zealand pages.
From Oamaru, it’s time to leave the coast behind and head inland. Next stop is the Benmore Dam.
Benmore Dam (100kms – 1 hour 13 mins)
Benmore Dam is the largest artificial lake in New Zealand and holds back a 7900ha lake. This place is more than just an impressive dam though – there’s plenty to do year round including fishing and some fantastic trails. The Benmore Track is probably the best of these tracks taking you up to a lookout point with views across the Waitaki Valley towards your final destination for the day, Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Omarama (29.5kms – 21 mins)
This is not something you see every day. In the distance you can make out the strange shapes of the clay pinnacles that have been formed by the active Osler fault line which continually exposes the clay and gravel cliffs. The pinnacles are a unique sight and definitely worth a stop off as you continue to head west.
Twizel (30.7kms – 22 mins)
Twizel will be your final stop off point before you head into the Mt Cook National Park where you will spend your third night of your trip. The town was purpose built in the 1960s to provide homes for workers on the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme and it now offers a great base for people looking to head off into the National Park. There are a good range of shops here to stock up on goodies for the rest of your journey into the National Park.
Your journey from Twizel takes you up the shoreline of Lake Pukaki with some stunning views of the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mt Cook which will leave you breathless. It’s a further 63.9kms from Twizel to Mt Cook Village which should take you just under an hour.
19Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
This is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular National Parks (and we have some amazing ones!) so spending the day here is going to be one you never forget. There is so much to see and do in the park that choosing your activities carefully to maximise your time here is going to be crucial. We recommend planning your day when you arrive on Day 3 leaving yourself the whole day today to take it all in and soak up that fresh mountain air. With so much to do here, we have pulled together some of our personal favourites:
Walking – it kind of goes without saying that the walking in these parts is pretty special. With walks to suit every degree of fitness, explore the national park’s rich flora including the Mount Cook ‘lily’, the world’s largest buttercup.
Skiing and snow sports – obviously this is an activity for the winter enthusiasts but many descend on Mt Cook Village as the winter sports down here are pretty awesome! There’s plenty for those who are not into skiing through from snowshoeing to climbing so there is plenty to do down here in the winter months.
Scenic flights and heli-hiking – If you have a few dollars to spare we can definitely recommend taking a scenic flight around these parts. For something extra special, try one of the ski-planes which can land up on the Tasman Glacier – now that is cool! For those true adventurers, you can also take a helicopter ride to go hiking or even ski the virgin snow up high on the mountains.
Best of the rest – no matter what you’re into, the chances are you can do it down here from fishing to golf, cycling to horse trekking and lots in between.
Whether you are a sporting enthusiast, adventure junkie or a nature lover, this place is a truly special location to spend a long weekend.
This part of the world also gives you the perfect opportunity to get involved and enter our GO Snap Happy competition – just send us your best photos for the chance to win back the cost of your car hire – how good is that?!!
20Aoraki/Mount Cook to Christchurch (330kms – 3 hours 53 mins)
After an awesome day spent exploring the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, it’s time to hit the road and head off towards the east coast and the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch. Make sure you leave plenty of time today as there are some really great stop off points and we don’t want you to miss anything!
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (107kms – 1 hour 13 mins)
Stargazers all over the world know Mt John and Lake Tekapo, in the Aoraki/Mount Cook Mackenzie region, as one of the absolute best places to look at the stars (and even catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights – Aurora Australis).
Lake Tekapo is also famous for its unique turquoise colour, as well as its beautiful starry nights – if you can park here for the night, you will not regret it. Mt John, just above the Tekapo township, is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world, home to 6 telescopes, including New Zealand’s biggest telescope, which can observe 50 million stars each clear night (yes, you read that right).
Akaroa (280km – 4 hours 10mins from Lake Tekapo)
Located 75km from Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great stop off as you head towards the big city. This village is located on Banks Peninsula within a harbour of the same name and is considered “the most French town” in New Zealand, as it was the only French settlement in the country. Spend some time exploring the small town and then head to the harbour for the best fish and chips meal of your life (at least that’s Akaroa’s claim so you be the judge and let us know). Black Cat Cruises, a GO Play partner offer an awesome opportunity to swim with the rare Hector’s dolphins which are only found in these waters – a must if you have never done this type of thing before.
Lyttelton (77.5km – 1 hour 18 mins from Akaroa)
As you head into Christchurch, a stop off at Lyttelton is well worth the detour and it’s a great place to grab some dinner if you’re arriving in the early evening. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – the road from Lyttelton to Christchurch offers you some fantastic views looking down to the city and the harbour as well as down to the Southern Alps – a great way to end the twentieth day of this road trip.
From here it’s only another 18kms into Christchurch where you will have a day out of the car before continuing north and back across to the North Island.
A day out of the car today is just what the doctor ordered and Christchurch is a great place to explore.
The garden city
Christchurch was named as number 2 on the New York Times top 50 places to visit in 2014 and there are plenty of reasons for that. Following the earthquakes of 2010-11 the city has now emerged as a vibrant city with plenty to see and do. Known as the Garden City, Christchurch has an abundance of parks and gardens including the gorgeous botanical gardens. Add in to this mix the tranquil Avon River and you can see why people rave so much about the city.
Eat | Drink | Shop
Christchurch is a vibrant place for eating and drinking whether you’re looking for 5 star opulence or a backstreet café. Re:START is an outdoor retail space opened in late 2011 made from shipping containers. Scattered with a mix of premium brands and home grown products, Re:START is a quirky experience which tells of the cities resilience and ability to come back following the destruction of the earthquakes. Located within Re:START you will also find Quake City, a multi-media attraction which tells the story of the earthquakes that hit Christchurch and the Canterbury region.
Check out the several Gap Filler projects that volunteers have created to temporarily “activate” sites left empty by the earthquakes – you’ll be able to see some unique and really creative work that is proof of Christchurch’s charm and resilience.
22Christchurch to Picton (337kms – 4 hours 17 mins)
After a day out of the car exploring Christchurch yesterday, we have a big drive ahead of us today as we head to Picton from where you will catch the ferry back across to the North Island. It’s just over 4 hours to drive to Picton with no stops but make sure you leave plenty of time as there are some great places to visit on the way up the east coast.
Amberley (46.4kms – 44 mins)
Although you are only just under an hour into your road trip, Amberley is a great little stop off point to grab a coffee in one of the local cafes which serve the farming and wine growing community. There are also some great little craft shops or you may even fancy a wander to the beach.
Waipara (11.9kms – 9 mins)
Carry on north for another 10 minutes and you will come across Waipara, one of the South Island’s great wine producing areas famed for some lovely pinot noirs, reislings and chardonnays. The region has the highest summer temperatures and lover rainfall of any of the New Zealand wine growing regions making the ideal spot to pick up a bottle or two for your trip away.
Kaikoura (123kms – 1 hour 31 mins)
A great stop off on the way north is Kaikoura which is a whale watchers delight. Not only that, this is a great opportunity for you to take a dip and swim with the dolphins at the right time of the year – this must be on a few wish lists so let’s get it ticked off!
GO Play partner Encounter Kaikoura offers a brilliant opportunity to get in the water in the south Pacific and swim with these amazing animals with tours operating three times a day.
It’s not just dolphins that pass through the waters around Kaikoura though and if you time things right, there is also the chance to see various species of whale as well as seals and birds.
Use your GO Play card here
Cellar View Café and Restaurant
Kaikoura is one of New Zealand’s best locations for seeing marine life including whales and dolphins. It is also the home to the Cellar View Cafe and Restaurant. This place serves up some pretty amazing dishes matched only by the stunning views out to the pacific. It’s easy to let an afternoon drift by, enjoying the delicious food and admiring the endless view. Nice.
If you get the chance, try and fit in a lunch time stop here as the seafood up in Kaikoura is some of the best in NZ (the Crayfish are a GO Rentals favourite).
Ohau Point (26.4kms – 22 mins)
Shortly after leaving Kaikoura you will come across Ohau Point which is a great spot to go for a walk and if you are lucky, spot some seals and their pups basking on the rocks below.
Blenheim (103kms – 1 hour 15 mins)
Marlborough is a world famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through. At the heart of the region sits Blenheim, a town that offers much more than just a drop in point for those picking up the local produce. Blenheim is full of character and the accommodation options here are full of quirks which you don’t get in many countries but everywhere offers a warm welcome to visitors. The town has a lively café and restaurant scene which means if wine is not your thing, there is still plenty to keep your taste buds tantalised!
If wine is your thing, there are plenty of wineries who will gladly take you through their wide range of vinos from a fruity pinot noir to the flagship wine of the region, Sauvignon Blanc. There are some famous vineyards down here like Cloudy Bay but we recommend sampling some of the more boutique wineries – a great way to get around is on a bike although be careful if you have a few vinos on the way as you may get a bit wobbly! Wine tour by bike offer bike hire or guided tours which helps as they will transport you back to Blenheim.
If wine is not your thing, there are also lots of microbreweries in the region so this is the perfect place to stock up for the road trip ahead.
There have been plenty of wine stops on the way north today and this is obviously not for the driver to get involved with and sample. We suggest passengers on this road trip should shout the driver a nice bottle or two for driving you all the way around this beautiful country!
From Blenheim, it’s a further 28kms to Picton which should take you around half an hour from where you will catch the ferry back to Wellington.
23Wellington to New Plymouth (352kms – 4 hours 37 mins)
Today is a big day of driving as we head up to the west coast and the city of New Plymouth which is set to the spectacular backdrop of Mt Taranaki.
Stonehenge Aotearoa (84km – 1 hour 14 mins)
A great pit stop on your way north towards Whanganui is at Carterton.
Take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to Stonehenge Aotearoa to see a full scale model of Stonehenge located on the hills of the Wairarapa, pretty much as far from actual Stonehenge as anything can be. You’ll be able to learn a bit about astronomy, both ancient and modern methods, and find out more about Maori astrology too.
Palmerston North (104kms – 1 hour 24 mins)
Although it’s the biggest town between Taupo and Wellington, Palmerston is pretty quiet and this will give you a true insight into Kiwi life. With a plethora of cafes to pick from, this is a great place for morning elevenses – go on, treat yourself to one of those amazing looking muffins!
Bulls (29.8kms – 25 mins)
There’s not much to say about Bulls but you wanted quirky on this tour and quirky is what you’ll get. The only thing of note in this town is the clever (or not!) use of the town’s name by local businesses – unforget-a-bull and hospit-a-bull are two of our personal favourites – let us know yours!
Whanganui (44.1kms – 33 mins)
There’s plenty to see in Whanganui and this makes a great stop over on the way up from Wellington as it sits about half way between New Plymouth and the capital city. We suggest a look at the Cooks Gardens, on St Hill Street, right in the centre of town. These are famous because they were the location where Peter Snell ran the famous sub-four minute mile in January 1962 (that’s crazy fast). If you’re feeling particularly fit, you can try attempting your fastest mile time here too, right where Snell did it in front of 13,000 people.
Afterwards, take some time to wander around the Whanganui Regional Museum, on Watt Street, which displays the impressive work of Gottfried Lindauer, one of the most famous colonial artists in the country. The museum also includes one of the most important collections of Moa bones, including some complete skeletons of the extinct giant bird.
If you have time to spare, it’s good to get out on the river, New Zealand’s longest navigable river which was an important transport route for the early settlers. One of our favourite things to do is head to the Bridge to Nowhere, built in early 1936 and abandoned in 1942 without really ever going anywhere.
Patea (61.6kms – 46 mins)
The Taranaki town of Patea is famous in New Zealand for one thing – the hit Maori song Poi-E! See if you can get one of the locals to sing it for you if you’ve never heard it before – it’s an instant classic and spent a lot of time in the charts in the 80s. Other than that, the town has a rich Maori and European history so it is well worth stopping off for a nosey on your way through.
Hawera (27.3kms – 21 mins)
Hmmmmm cheese! Our penultimate stop of the day will be at Hawera, home of the southern hemisphere’s largest single site dairy factory. We do love a bit of cheese! Around 13 million litres of milk are processed at Hawera every day – that’s a lot of calcium goodness and it’s one of the areas big attractions along with the museum. One thing we love about Hawera is the water tower. Sure, we’ve seen water towers in other towns and cities but we love the history of this one. Built in 1914, the 54 meter high water tower was constructed after a string of fires destroyed parts of the town in 1884, 1895 and 1912. Hawera literally means ‘the burnt place’ or ‘breath of fire’ and it’s easy to see why it gets its name. It is possible to climb to the top of the water tower and the views from up there are pretty stunning.
Stratford (31kms – 28 mins)
Stratford is the last stop off of the day before we hit New Plymouth and was named after William Shakespeare’s birthplace and the town’s streets also recognise some of his most famous characters. Stratford is also home to New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock tower where performances of Romeo and Juliet are carried out daily. See, we told you this was a guide to off-the-beaten-track activities!
New Plymouth (40.7kms – 35 mins)
It may be quite late when you get in to New Plymouth but you’ll also have time in the morning to explore the city. In full bloom, New Plymouth’s rhododendrons are a sight to behold and the parks dotted around the city are a great place to take a morning stroll. The waterfront is a great place to go and grab a coffee and you can also visit the Puke Ariki museum and heritage centre which has some great exhibits. If you’re here at the right time of the year, New Plymouth is also home to NZ Surfest, an annual surfing competition that attracts some of the best surfers from around the world. There’s also the opportunity to get on a board yourself as they run ‘learn to surf’ classes to get beginners up on their board and catching the waves. Surf’s up dudes!
24Egmont National Park and Mt Taranaki
Within easy driving distance from New Plymouth is Mt Taranaki in the Egmont National Park, a great place to explore with some fantastic walking tracks and trails.
Egmont National Park (29.1kms – 32 mins)
For those of you looking for something a bit more outdoors-y after all that time spent in the car yesterday, a short drive will take you to the heart of Egmont National Park, the home of the majestically conical Mt Taranaki. In the park you will find an extensive walking track network which will take you through lush rainforests, mossy swamps and lead you to some stunning waterfalls.
The highlight for many people who visit these parts is climbing to the top of Mt Taranaki which is possible year round for experienced hikers although it can be tricky in the winter months and we would definitely recommend a guide. The views from the top are magnificent and without a doubt this is your chance to shine in our GO Snap Happy competition. It will take you between 6-8 hours to complete the return journey to the summit. In the winter months, the ski fields on the eastern slopes offer some nice runs for beginners and a great place to start your skiing career.
New Plymouth Coastal Walkway
If you’re looking for something a little less strenuous than a hike in the National Park then the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a great way to explore the area. The walk encompasses the sea-edge promenade for much of the way and you will be sharing the path with joggers and cyclists as this is a popular route day or night for fitness fanatics. The walkway also offers fantastic views of Mt Taranaki so be sure to take your camera.
Even if NZ Surfest is not taking place, a trip to Fitzroy beach is still worth a look to see the locals in action. If you’re feeling brave, why not take a dip and go and do some body surfing – then you can always say you have caught the waves down in New Plymouth like the pros!
Shopping and eating
Considering we are now 19 days into this trip and much of it has been off the beaten track, New Plymouth may be the place to indulge in some retail therapy. There are some great shops in the city where you can easily spend an afternoon meandering around. To cap it all off, there are some fantastic restaurants here so you can treat yourself to a delicious meal out tonight and reflect on what has hopefully been an amazing trip.
25New Plymouth to Raglan (267kms 3 hours 19 mins)
Waitara (16.8kms – 18 mins)
Waitara and Urenui are great places to stop off at the start of this trip up to Raglan. Waitara is the largest town in Northern Taranaki and there is plenty to do here from white water rafting and bridge swinging to something a bit more cultural and the historic Manukorihi Pa, the site of a modern Maori village featuring a magnificent Maori Meeting House.
Awakino Point (73.5kms – 55 mins)
Your journey carries on up the coast to Awakino and this is a great little stop off point to look out over the Tasman and take in the beautiful views. Hopefully you will have timed it right for lunch – whitebait is a speciality around these parts so make sure you give it a go.
Piopio (50.3kms – 36 mins)
Hobbit alert! That’s right folks, a trip to New Zealand is not complete without a Hobbit experience or two so we thought we had better track another one down for you and this one is bit more of a hidden gem. Piopio was host to the biggest on-screen location in the first part of the trilogy and here you will find the area where the troll’s campfire scene was filmed. Hairy Feet offer a great little tour where they will take you into the actor’s footsteps and relive the excitement of being on set.
Te Kuiti (23kms – 17 mins)
We’re not sure about you but we can’t think of anything that’s more synonymous with New Zealand than sheep! That’s why Te Kuiti is a must visit place when you’re down in these parts as each year they host the New Zealand shearing championships, bringing together the best shearers in the country to do battle just after Easter. If you happen to be in and around these parts at that time of the year, be sure to stop in and witness some insane shearing skills.
Waitomo Caves (15.6kms – 18 mins)
Arriving later in the afternoon is perfect for this particular activity. The Waitomo Caves have been formed by rivers and streams pushing through the soft limestone over thousands of years and are now home to some amazing sights and sounds. From the stalactites and stalagmites that grow from the floor and ceiling to the incredible glow worms that light up these underground grottos, this is a stopover not to be missed.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, you can always experience some blackwater rafting inside the caves where you‘ll be transported through the caves in a rubber ring. Sounds pretty cool to us!
Te Awamutu (42.6 kms – 37 mins)
The last stop of the day before we hit Raglan is in Te Awamutu. Known as the rose capital of New Zealand, November to April is a great time to visit Te Awamutu to smell the beautiful flowers in full bloom. During season, you can take in the magnificent sight of over 2000 rose bushes in full bloom next to the visitors centre.
Notable residents of Te Awamutu include the Finn brothers Tim and Neil who are the men behind the internationally successful band Crowded House. Te Awamutu gets a mention in their debut single from their self-titled debut album ‘Mean to Me’. There’s a little bit of trivia to bore your car companions with!
Raglan (65kms – 50 mins)
Raglan is a bit of a surfing mecca to kiwis and international travellers alike. With a dramatic black sand coastline, whether surfing is your things or not there is plenty to see and do in Raglan to cap a brilliant final full day of your 3 week road trip.
For those who are into the surfing, they reckon that Manu Bay has the longest left-hand break in the world and if you are up to the task, those who have the gift of surfing can ride a wave for up to 2 kilometres – we’d be happy for 2 seconds up on the board! If surfing is not your thing, we would still recommend getting into the water and enjoying the waves with a bit of body surfing or just cooling off if it’s a hot day.
For those who are not of the sea, there are loads of great walks in the area to take in the views of this spectacular coastline. A climb to the top of Mount Karioi is one for the more energetic but well worth it with views down the coastline to Mt Taranaki on fine days.
The township itself is full of character and characters – many of the locals are bohemian types in search of a sustainable way of life so a trip to one of the cafes or bars is sure to be an eye-opener if you get chatting with the locals – you might not want to leave!
26Raglan to Paihia (375kms – 4 hours 48 mins)
Raglan is such a beautiful place to wake up in it will be difficult to drag yourself away and head to the big little city and on to the Bay of Islands. Raglan is a great place to explore first thing in the morning and is often a hive of activity with surfers heading out to catch a wave and morning joggers and walkers out to enjoy the magnificent views.
This is going to be one of the biggest driving days so we recommend heading out bright and early and getting some early kms under your belt back up to Auckland which will take you around 2 hours.
Long Bay Regional Park (23.8kms – 27 mins)
Heading out of Auckland on SH1 a great little detour awaits only half an hour into your journey. Long Bay Regional Park located close to Browns Bay is a great place to soak up some fresh coastal air and have a stroll on the cliff top walk. The bay itself is great for kayaking and paddle boarding so if that floats your boat, give it a whirl.
Puhoi (32.3kms – 30 mins)
As SH1 comes to an end in the typical sense of a highway and moves to predominantly a single lane road all the way north, you’ll come across the quaint little village of Puhoi. If cheese is your thing, the Puhoi Valley Café and Cheese Store is well worth a stop off to stock up. They do a delicious blue cheese as well as more traditional cheese varieties that you’ll struggle to find in the supermarkets. They also have some awesome ice creams so whatever the weather, treat yourself!
Kawakawa (170kms – 2 hours 9 mins)
The next stage of your journey north passes through commercial hubs like Warkworth and Whangarei. If you get chance to stop off in and around Warkworth, there are some great little vineyards in and around Matakana if you want to stock up for the weekend. Kawakawa is worth a quick stop off and for the most unusual reason – the public toilets! Designed by renowned Austrian artist Friendensreich Hundertwasser, the toilets are an artistic marvel!
Paihia (16.5km – 19 mins)
From Kawakawa it’s only a short drive to your final destination of Paihia, gateway to the Bay of Islands. Hopefully you’ll have arrived in plenty of time to get your bearings and have an explore and maybe book yourself onto a trip for the following day. The best way to explore the Bay of Islands is undoubtedly on the water so check out your options and get yourself booked on an excursion.
27Around the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is packed with things to do so we recommend taking your first full day up here to head out on a trip and explore the islands. With so many options it’s difficult to decide what to do – here’s a list of our highlights from the adventurous to the more sedate:
Bay of Islands Cruise
There are many companies offering a cruise round the harbour including Fullers and the Explore Group. Trips will take you out dolphin watching and to famous landmarks like the Hole in the Rock. Great news for you guys is that Bay of Islands Cruise offer a 15% discount when you present your shiny GO Play card so make sure you take advantage and head out onto the water.
Jet Boat Ride
If you’ve never experienced the power of a jet boat ride, the Bay of Islands is a great way to break your duck. Traveling along at breakneck speeds, the jet boat experience will get you out into the deep waters to explore the multitude of Islands whilst giving you a thrill ride at the same time. You’ll also get the chance to go and check out the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’.
For a more sedate day, why not catch the ferry across to Russell (20 minutes) and wander the Olde Worlde streets. There are some lovely cafes and restaurants on the sea front where you can easily spend a few hours people watching. The Duke of Marlborough is a particular favourite of the GO Rentals team.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
New Zealand’s premier historic site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 – a partnership between Maori and the British Crown and the founding document of New Zealand. Visit the treaty house and take a look at the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe.
The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s premier deep fishing spots so if this is your thing, get yourself booked onto a charter and out into the deeper waters beyond the Islands. Kingfish, Marlin and Snapper are the order of the day and if you’re successful out at sea, any one of the fish and chip shops located in the town will batter up your catch of the day for around 50 cents – a great end to the day.
28Paihia to Auckland via Waipoua Forest (345kms – 4 hours 45 mins)
Hopefully you will have crammed a lot into your 28 day trip around the New Zealand – there is so much to see and do up here that people always leave wishing they had more time. If you’re not in a hurry to get back to Auckland it’s well worth taking a longer route back to the big little city to check out the impressive Kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest.
Waipoua Forest (113kms – 1 hours 44 mins)
Here you will find the best preserved and largest of the remaining Kauri forests in New Zealand. Among them is the legendary Tane Mahuta, the ‘Lord of the Forest’ who at 51.5 metres is the largest (by volume) of these ancient trees.
It’s another 232kms back to Auckland which will take you just over 3 hours so make sure you allow plenty of time in your day.
And that concludes this month long itinerary traveling round the North Island. We hope you have had fun and got lots of amazing photos. One thing we always love to hear from our travellers following our itineraries is if we have missed any hidden gems whether it’s a great beach, the best fish and chips ever…whatever it may be we would love to hear from you so make sure you drop us a line on our GO Explore Facebook page.