The South Island of New Zealand is one of the world’s unspoilt wonders and Christchurch is a great starting point for your South Island to North Island adventure. On arrival at Christchurch Airport, head across to the friendly GO Rentals team and pick up your lovely new hire car which will become your new best friend over the next 18 days as you explore some of the magnificence of the New Zealand’s South Island before heading across the Cook Strait and the North Island.
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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Although you’ve just picked up your new GO Rentals car, don’t be in too big a hurry to leave Christchurch as there is plenty to explore. Take the time on your first day to explore the ‘Garden City’, the largest city in the South Island where you can relax your way into your latest adventure.
Christchurch has unfortunately made headlines in recent times for a string of earthquakes that caused serious damage to the city – but its charm remains untouched and the city is rebuilding.
The tree-lined Avon River and Christchurch’s many parks and gardens give the city its reputation as the Garden City so make sure you check out the botanical gardens and the beautiful parks. 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.
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2Christchurch to Lake Tekapo (227km – 2 hours 50 mins)
Before you head off on your journey south, there is still a chance to check out some other places on interest in and around Christchurch. The Antigua Boatsheds offer lots of ways to get active on the river as well as giving visitors and locals alike a great photo opportunity in the picturesque riverbank settings.
After a leisurely start to this trip in and around Christchurch it’s time to hit the road proper and get out to take in the sights of the lower South Island. Heading out of Christchurch, a stop off at Lyttelton is well worth the detour and it’s a great place to grab some breakfast if you’re out nice and early. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – there’s a great road over to Lyttelton which 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 start this road trip.
Akaroa (264km – 3 hours 58 mins from Kaikoura)
Located 75km south of Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great stop off as you head down towards Queenstown and beyond. 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). If you didn’t have the chance to head up to Kaikoura, GO Play partner Black Cat Cruises offer an amazing opportunity to swim with the rare Hector’s dolphins which are only found in these waters. With a 10% discount, you’d be a fool not to!
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (280km – 4 hours 10 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 – a perfect spot for you romantics out there as Lake Tekapo has been the scene of many a wooing! If you can park here for the night, you’ll 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).
Lake Tekapo and Mt John are located about 3 hour drive south of Christchurch.
3Lake Tekapo to Queenstown (256km – 3 hours 26 mins)
A relatively short drive south (around 3.5 hours) will take you to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, and some say the world. It won’t take you long to figure out why as your senses are bombarded with countless flyers showing you all the adrenaline fuelled activities available in this all-action city.
With so much to see and do, it can be tricky to pick but with plenty of time today and tomorrow, you should be able to squeeze in the maximum amount of adventure possible! Here are our top tips:
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
Hopefully you managed an action packed first day but if you didn’t manage to fit everything in, there is more time today which is great news for you – if you chickened out on the bungy jump today could be the day! There is of course lots more to Queenstown than just the adventure stuff and if you fancy a drive out then there is loads of cool stuff on your doorstep.
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 drive for about 20kms until you hit Bendigo. The tourist information station will provide you with more information about the area and things to do.
Arrowtown/Cromwell (20.1km – 22 mins from Queenstown)
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 the 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.
5Queenstown to Te Anau (172kms 2 hours 5 mins)
The drive down to Te Anau is truly stunning and many people whizz by in their attempts to get to Milford Sound before all the tour buses. This itinerary ensures you can take your time and enjoy the journey down – make regular stops on your way at any number of the rest stops and look out points along the way.
The road to Te Anau winds around the shores of Lake Wakatipu and with the magnificent mountain range aptly named The Remarkables in the backdrop, make sure your camera is charged as this is definite GO Snap Happy country!
As you leave Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu behind you, Lake Te Anau, the largest of the South Island’s many lakes comes into view and before you know it you will have reached Te Anau which is your final destination for the evening.
Te Anau is a picturesque township with lots going on in and around the town if you made it down here in good time. 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.
There are loads of accommodation options in Te Anau and plenty of restaurants to choose from in the evening making this a perfect stop off on your way down to Milford Sound.
6Milford Sound (118kms – 1 hours 42 mins)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. The great news for you is that Te Anau is only 118kms from Milford Sound but even this relatively short trip will take you close to 2 hours. We recommend getting up early and getting down to Milford Sound as early as possible – it’s 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!).
Once down here, there is plenty to see and do so make a Milford Sound Bucket list and get ticking things off. Here are some of our favourites:
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.
Use your GO Play card here
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.
If you decide not to do the overnight cruise, preferring instead to head out in a kayak or explore the observatory, there are accommodation options at Milford Sound or you can make your way back to Te Anau but be aware that the road back out gets pretty busy with day trippers on their way back to Queenstown.
7Milford Sound to Queenstown (287 kms – 3 hours 43 mins)
Well, after what will hopefully have been an awe-inspiring day down at Milford Sound, it’s time to hit the road and head back to Queenstown. Thankfully if you stayed the night down here, the traffic should not be as busy as you head the opposite way to most people making their way down here for the day. Make sure you take your time – the roads are windy and will still be busy so stick to the speed limit and get back to Queenstown safe and sound.
8Queenstown to Franz Josef (350km – 6 hours 2 mins)
The drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef is one of the most spectacular as you cut through the Haast Pass out of Wanaka (be sure to call in to Wanaka if you have the time). Your GO Rentals hire car will be purring as you wind your way through the mountains and lakes, heading towards the rugged west coast.
Blue pools (129km – 2 hours 1 min from Queenstown)
Heading west along route SH6 is a hidden gem (not so hidden since it made it into the top 10 things to do in NZ list!) not to be missed. 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’s 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.
Lake Matheson (203km – 3 hours 38 mins from Blue Pools)
One thing not to be missed as you near Franz Josef is Lake Matheson. Turn left at the Fox Township and you’ll find yourself at the idyllic lake which offers perfect reflections of Aoraki/ Mount Cook and will give you the picture to make all your friends jealous. You also get a fantastic view of the Fox Glacier in its full glory so be sure to have your camera charged and ready. We reckon you will end up with at least 39 photos on your camera as the best shot is always just around the corner!
9Franz Josef Glacier
After the spectacular but lengthy drive of 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 a doubt the best way to experience the glacier is to walk on them. Small group walks with experience 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.
Aoraki Mount Cook
Taking things one step further, Aoraki 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!
10Franz Josef to Greymouth (174km – 2 hours 21 mins)
After all the adventure up on the glacier, it’s time to get back in your GO Rentals hire car and hit the road heading north up the West Coast. This is another fantastic drive, with the rugged West Coast on your left hand side as you set out towards Greymouth.
Ross (107km – 1 hour 23 mins from Franz Josef)
It’s about a 3 hour drive from Franz Josef to Greymouth 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.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks (110km – 1 hour 31 mins from Ross)
Although your day is due to end in Greymouth, 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. Chances are you’ll have been driving most of the afternoon so hopefully you will catch the rocks at sunset making for an even more impressive photo.
11Greymouth to Nelson (287km – 4 hours 8 mins)
The next leg of your journey takes you to the far north of the South Island and this day is filled with lots of little gems to break up the journey.
Formerly the Blackball Hilton Hotel (27.4km – 31 mins from Greymouth)
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.
Bev’s Dolls (56.9km – 1 hour from Blackball)
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.
Buller Gorge Swing Bridge (46.2km – 41 mins from Reefton)
After a pretty short drive north on SH6 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 is 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.
Mapua (165km – 2 hours 23 mins from Buller Gorge)
As you approach Nelson, your final stop off point for the day, it’s well worth a stop off in Mapua.
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 tea and a bit of retail therapy before you hit Nelson. From the Jellyfish Café and Bar to Forest Fusion Functional Art, there’s lots to see and do in Mapua as well as taking in the lovely surroundings.
World of Wearable Art Museum (32km – 34 mins from Mapua)
If you get the time when you arrive in Nelson, 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.
12Nelson to Picton (134km – 1 hour 52 mins)
There is so much to do in and around Nelson and if you have time, it’s well worth adding a day onto your trip to go and explore the Abel Tasman national park. If however you’re on a tight schedule, there are a couple of things you can do before you hit to road to Picton which will give you a taste of what the Abel Tasman has to offer.
The Wainui Falls are located inside the Abel Tasman National Park and are 20 metre waterfalls, a welcome reward at the end of an easy bush walk. The hike takes about one hour (return).
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 are 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.
The Snout Track
Heading towards Picton to catch the Interislander ferry, there is one last trip to make before your South Island adventure ends and you head to the North Island. If you haven’t done enough already, dust off the hiking boots for one last time 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. From the Snout Track car park, walk along the gravel road to reach the track, then follow the signs to the Snout Head.
Make sure you prepare in advance and book your place on the Interlislander ferry about a week in advance, ensuring you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your last day on the South Island.
13Wellington to Napier (315kms – 4 hours 3 mins)
Although you have only just landed in Wellington, this itinerary ends back here in the capital city so we are proposing you make tracks and head straight out and we can leave the final day for exploring Wellington before you fly out or return home to Wellington.
Martinborough (80.1kms – 1 hour 10 mins from Wellington)
Although there are quicker drives to Napier, we always love to take this slight detour up the east side of the lower north island so we can stop off in Martinborough for a great feed and to sample some pretty awesome wines. New Zealand has such a diverse wine culture in the different regions and the lower North Island can sometimes slip under the radar. Martinborough however has become the cuisine capital of the lower North Island with over 30 local vineyards and local restaurants stocking local, super fresh produce.
Stonehenge Aotearoa, Carterton (28.7kms – 23 mins from Martinborough)
Continuing north from Martinborough, a great pit stop is at Stonehenge Aotearoa.
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.
Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary (40.9km – 30 mins)
This is a great little stop off as you make your way towards Napier. 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.
Hastings (179kms – 2 hours 8 mins)
Devastated by a huge earthquake in 1931, Hastings was rebuilt using architectural styles of the time which has led to a very art deco look and feel to the place. If you’ve not managed to grab a bite to eat since you left Wellington this morning, Hastings is a great stop off point for a late lunch. With restaurants serving local produce, you’re in for more culinary delights on your first day of this road trip. Couple this with some great local vineyards and it may be tricky to drag yourself away from Hastings to your final destination of Napier (obviously just the soft drinks for the driver!).
Napier is just a short drive away (20.8kms – 23 mins) where you can recharge your batteries, have a wander and get ready for the next full day of exploring.
As with Hastings, Napier was also hit by the 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 ride 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.
Use your GO Play card here
15Napier to Taupo (142kms – 1 hour 47 mins)
After a full on day in Napier, it’s time to hit the road again. For the early birds, we can highly recommend a morning jaunt up Te Mata to catch the sunrise – we managed it once and it was truly spectacular!
The drive up SH5 to Taupo passes through some rugged landscapes although not much else in terms of stops offs so pack up some treats for the road trip before you leave Napier. Taupo is another one of New Zealand’s iconic stop over destinations and extremely popular with tourists. A lot of people come for the adventure activities like skydiving, but there is plenty more to this lakeside town.
Although this is a guide to off the beaten track activities, it wouldn’t be right for us not to mention the amazing sky diving over Lake Taupo. As you’ll be aware, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and sky diving opportunities are abundant all over the country but Lake Taupo is a GO Rentals favourite and luckily for you, Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner giving you a 5% discount. The views as you hurtle out of the plane towards the lake are spectacular and if you can, we recommend you get the photo pack – it’s well worth the extra dollars to remember this day.
For you budding Rorys out there, Lake Taupo throws up a challenge – can you land your ball on a green floating in the middle of the lake? If the answer is yes, and more importantly, if you can get a hole in one, your trip to Lake Taupo just got a whole bunch better as there are some big prizes up for grabs. Even if you don’t play golf, it’s pretty satisfying just whacking balls into the lake!
This is a great little detour as you head out of Taupo and well worth it as it’s not every day you get to see a river that is usually 100m wide get squeezed through a gap which is only 20m wide over a 20m drop! Apparently 220,000 litres of water gushes over the falls every second (that is a LOT of water) – we haven’t as yet managed to see any salmon leaping up the falls and we’re not sure it’s possible – what do you reckon?
Next, stop at the Huka Prawn Park (Karetoto Rd) for a visit (you’ll need a couple of hours if you want to take the tour) and some seafood deliciousness.
Lake Taupo itself is pretty impressive and, not far from the township, along the Desert Road, you’ll get to see Mount Ruapehu (Mount Doom for you Lord of the Rings fans) and its neighbouring (and equally impressive) volcanoes.
The Desert Road itself is worth the drive as the scenery is not something you’ll find anywhere else (alpine deserts such as this one are a rare sight anywhere else in the world) so take your time to soak in the views.
Although Taupo is a great place to spend the night, this trip is all about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing so we recommend you head on over to National Park Village tonight so you are ready for the early start in the morning. Be sure to organise your return bus transfer to the start and from the end of the walk in advance.
Its 101kms to National Park Village which will take you around an hour and 20 minutes.
16Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is often described as the best one day walk in New Zealand if not the world. There are many places providing accommodation and a lift to the start of the trail which takes you up into the Tongariro National Park. The walk itself is 19.4km and on average takes between 7-9 hours to complete. It reaches altitudes of over 1800m and is covered in snow during the winter months.
The bus will drop you off at the start of the work and they will usually allow for a 10 hour day so you can take your time and enjoy the walk.
The weather can change quickly out on the walk so make sure you pack for all seasons from the sun cream to the warm base layers – even if it’s a lovely sunny day when you set out, things can soon change out on the track.
A gentle start to the walk will soon be replaced by some gradual climbs before the steep ascent to Red Crater where you get some amazing views looking down to the Emerald Lakes. Make sure you have your camera at the ready as there are so many photo opportunities on the walk.
Lord of the Rings Fans
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan (we won’t hold it against you if you’re not – promise!) then this is the place for you. Home to the sinister Mordor, you’ll soon start to recognise landscapes from the trilogy and a look over to Mt Ngauruhoe should bring flashbacks of the infamous Mount Doom. If you have the fitness and the equipment, climbing to the summit of Mount Doom is a possible add on to your day but be aware that this is a steep climb and should only be carried out by experience climbers.
After a full day out on the trail, you will feel like Sam and Frodo after their trip to Mordor but you should have a camera full of amazing pics and that beer is going to taste pretty awesome once you have showered and freshened up. Enjoy!
17Tongariro to Wellington (322kms – 3 hours 54 mins)
If you’ve never experienced the world’s coolest capital city, then today is all about the drive back down to Wellington. You’re first stop is the quirky town of Taihape.
Taihape (93.9kms – 1 hour 5 mins from Tongariro Alpine Crossing)
It’s not every day you get to stop off at the ‘gumboot capital of the world’ – Taihape. The gumboot is the NZ equivalent of the Wellington boot and each year the town hosts Gumboot Day. If you’re lucky enough to be passing through in March, check it out and get involved in a bit of gumboot throwing – definitely one to tell the grandkids about!
Bulls (80.8kms – 53 mins from Taihape)
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!
Palmerston North (29.8km – 25 mins from Bulls)
The last stop of the day before hitting the capital will be in the small farming town of Palmerston North. 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 afternoon tea and cakes – go on, treat yourself to one of those amazing looking muffins!
From Palmerston North it’s only 140kms to Wellington which will take you around 2 hours. Heading down the west coast, you may want to pit stop at any one of the lovely beaches on the way including Foxton, Otaki and Waikanae which are all easily accessible from SH1.
You should arrive in plenty of time to grab dinner out and a few drinks in New Zealand’s hip capital city leaving a full day tomorrow to explore.
It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see. Wellington is the place to be people – come join the party!
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.
Related Blog Posts
- 13 Awesome Places to Surf in New Zealand (easy to extreme)
- 6 of the Best Events in New Zealand in March
- 17 New Zealand Events that are as Kiwi as they get!
- 7 of the Best Events in New Zealand in February
And so that brings to an end this awesome 18 day trip around the North and South Islands of New Zealand. We hope you have had a blast and got tons of amazing memories. We would love to share any of your awesome photos with your fellow adventurers so drop us a line on our Facebook page.