Awesome news! You’ve got a pretty much a month to explore New Zealand from bottom to top starting off in the adventure capital of the world – Queenstown! This trip is going to take you on a real kiwi adventure through amazing landscapes from the Southern Alps to the southernmost tip of New Zealand at Stewart Island and from the capital city to the northern most tip at Cape Reinga and back again – a true Hobbit’s tale! With all this adventure to fit in, there really is no time to waste – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Queenstown to Wanaka (68.6km – 1 hour 12 mins)
It’s only a short drive ahead of you today so you will have plenty of time to get involved in some activities in and around Queenstown but you’re going to have to pick your activity wisely from the action-packed to the more sedate – here are some of 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) Arrowtown (22.1km – 22mins) – head out in your new GO Rentals hire car and check out this small town which was at the heart of the NZ gold rush. There are lots of nice shops, bars and places to eat as well as relaxing walks.
After all the excitement and adrenaline of Queenstown it’s going to be time to hit the road but thankfully for you, it’s a short trip in your new best friend to your next stop off in Wanaka. Although Wanaka offers many of the same adrenaline fuelled adventures as Queenstown, from snowboarding to mountain biking, it’s also the perfect place to relax and chill out by the side of the lake.
If none of these float your boat, you can also check out our Queenstown guide for some more ideas.
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Wanaka and around
Rob Roy Glacier
If you do fancy a stretch of the legs there are over 750km of walking tracks in and around Wanaka whether you want a short stroll or a full day hike. About an hour’s drive from Wanaka is Rob Roy Glacier, an ideal entry point to the Mt Aspiring National Park. From the Raspberry Creek car park, you will find a stunning walk up the valley brings you outstanding views of Rob Roy Glacier. It’s about a 4 hour round trip so this one is not for the feint hearted.
A trip to Wanaka is just not the same without a trip to Puzzling World and it’s a definite favourite of the GO Rentals team. With 1.5km of passages in the ‘Great Maze’, it’s a great place to get lost for a few hours and act like a big kid as you race your mates to the four corners and back to the middle. It’s also really funny when someone gets themselves lost! Throw in a few weird and wonderful illusions like water running uphill (what’s that all about?!) and this makes for the perfect start to any day.
Beer fans take note! For something a bit different, why not have a drive out to the Wanaka Beerworks where you can sample the local beers and ales as well as taking a tour and finding out about the history of beer making (it’s actually harder than you think!). Make sure you take home a sample selection to keep you going throughout the rest of your trip.
This small classic movie theatre located in Wanaka is a real find. With comfy old sofas and 3 seats in an old Morris Minor this is a truly quirky place to spend a few hours unwinding. There is a cafe and bar serving delicious meals before, during or after the movie, homemade ice cream and some world-famous hot cookies baked fresh for every intermission. Expect a warm and friendly welcome from the staff to boot.
Mercure Oakridge Resort
After another full on day, it’s great to relax and unwind and there’s no better place than the Grand Mercure Oakridge resort where you can make the most of the heated outdoor rock pools and spa complex. We’ve heard this sort of thing goes down really well with the ladies so why not treat the special one in your life to a day pass (you can always take the beer tour!) or even better, splash out and stay the night. Win win.
Speight’s Ale House
A perfect place to grab a bite to eat is at the Wanaka Speight’s Ale House. A traditional Kiwi experience awaits along with the full range of Speight’s ales. Highly recommended come the fish and chips served in a traditional paper bag washed down with a pint of Speight’s Summit Lager – delicious! You wanted the full on Kiwi experience – it doesn’t get much more Kiwi than that.
2Wanaka to Mt Cook Village (206kms – 2 hours 17 mins)
After a busy first day in action-packed Queenstown and Wanaka, it’s time to hit the road and head for the hills! It’s only just over 2 hours to drive to Mt Cook Village though so you will still have plenty of time this morning to explore Wanaka and tackle any of the activities you may have missed yesterday. Heading out of Wanaka, there are some great stop off on the way up to Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Arrowtown (20.5km – 24 mins)
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.
Cromwell (47.6kms – 37 mins from Arrowtown)
Located on the shores of Lake Dunstan, the town has a modern feel but in fact has a rich history dating back to the 1800s and the gold rush. You can get a feel for what the town would have been like by taking a trip through Old Cromwell Town – a feature attraction for tourists that’s a fascinating look back in time.
Your journey north will take you towards Twizel and over the Lindis Pass – a spectacular drive where you will often see snow down to the roadside throughout much of the year. If you’re making this drive in the winter months, be sure to check the conditions of the road before heading out as things can get a bit precarious and the weather can soon close in up above 900m.
Twizel (140kms – 1 hour 35 mins from Cromwell)
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.
3Aoraki/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 so 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:
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, chances are you can do it down here from fishing to golf, cycling to horse trekking and lots in between. You can visit the official Department of Conservation website for more ideas of things to do in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Whether you’re a sporting enthusiast, adventure junkie or a nature lover, this place is a truly special location to spend a day and night.
This part of the world also gives you the perfect opportunity to get involved in 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?!!
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4Aoraki/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. There are plenty of interesting stop offs on the way though so let’s get GOing.
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 (284km – 3 hours 38 mins)
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 third day of this road trip.
From here it’s only another 18kms into Christchurch where you will stay for the night.
5Christchurch to Dunedin (361kms – 4 hours 36 mins)
It’s going to be a bit of a whistle stop trip of Christchurch but you should have time this morning to explore Christchurch before you hit the road for the trip south down the east coast to Dunedin. Christchurch is a city on the mend after the devastating earthquakes of 2011 and there is plenty to do here – you may decide to give yourself an extra day here and cut something out of this itinerary later down the line – we can’t blame you as it’s an awesome place to spend the day but for now, we’ve got to get going in order to fit everything in to these 26 days.
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.
After spending a couple of hours exploring the city, it’s time to hit the road and the first big stop of the day will be Timaru.
Timaru (164kms – 2 hours 9 mins)
After passing through some of interesting towns and villages on the way including Ashburton and Geraldine, Timaru will be the first big stop off planned on this trip down to Dunedin. Timaru sits almost exactly half way between Christchurch and Dunedin and is Canterbury’s second largest city. As with any good pit stop location, there’s plenty to do in Timaru to pass a couple of hours and spend some time out of the car, from the beautiful Caroline Bay which is great for a dip in the warm summer months to the historic precinct which houses some grand old buildings like the old Customs House.
There are plenty of cafes and bars that link the beach with the main shopping area so grab a bite to eat – we still have a few miles ahead of us!
Oamaru (87.8kms – 1 hour 10 mins)
Although we may still have a few miles ahead of us, your next stop is only just over an hour away and marks the start of a busy run in to Dunedin with lots of interesting stops on the way. Oamaru provides you with an awesome opportunity to catch a glimpse of the blue penguin (Korora) up close. These little fellas head 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.
Totara Estate (8.4kms – 10 mins)
This old Mill House dating back to 1874 comes with quite a history. A working mill until the mid-1940s the estate was originally a farm for sheep, cattle and grain but a downturn in wool prices saw the first frozen meat shipment making its way from NZ to England successfully in 1882 and so began the start of a multi-billion dollar industry that formed the basis of New Zealand’s economy.
The old buildings were restored by the Historic Places Trust in the 1980s and are definitely worth a stop off.
Moeraki Boulders (29.2kms – 22 mins)
This is one of the quirkier detours on the trip to go and check out a bunch of rocks! To be fair, these are a pretty impressive collection of boulders which have been formed over a period of 4 million years. The large spherical boulders are scattered all along the Moeraki coastline and two were found to contain dinosaur bones which we think is pretty cool. The beaches are pretty stunning round these parts and very rugged so make sure you check out these ancient bad boys.
From here it’s a straight run into Dunedin which should take you around an hour.
6Dunedin and around
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. On such a tight time schedule, you will only have a few hours today and a couple of hours in the morning to explore so we have tried to include as many highlights as possible below so don’t be shy – get out there and explore:
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.
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7Dunedin to Invercargill via Catlins Coast (244kms – 3 hours 21 mins)
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 Dunedin to Invercargill will be one of the highlights of your trip.
Clutha Country (80 kms – 1 hour 1 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 first stop off point for the day. 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.
The Catlins (186kms – 2 hours 33 mins to Tokanui)
The Catlins are often overlooked by travellers who avoid the loner 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 points 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 Invercargill 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 final stint of this trip.
From Tokanui which is midway along this stretch, it’s another 60kms to Invercargill which will take you around 50 minutes.
8Invercargill 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 crossings 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 crossings 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.
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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 trips 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.
9Invercargill to Milford Sound via Southern Scenic Route (296kms – 3 hours 57 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 as you head north into Fiordland country. There is a more direct route to Milford Sound but this is a trip of discovery, it’s about the road less travelled and it’s about adventure so let’s stick to the Southern Scenic Route which only takes about half an hour longer anyway!
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.
Clifden (12.5kms – 10 mins)
Hop back in your GO Rentals car and head 10 minutes north before your next stop 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.
Manapouri (66.9kms – 52 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 10 day 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.
For those of you who resist the temptation to head to Doubtful Sound, we will carry on our journey north to what Rudyard Kipling once described as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ – Milford Sound.
Te Anau (21.7kms – 18 mins)
There is one final stop off before we get to Milford Sound and this is a good place to base yourself for the night as accommodation options down at Milford Sound are limited. 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 up to Milford Sound.
For those who may be staying in Milford Sound lodge for the night, it’s another 118kms which will take you just short of 2 hours so make sure you leave plenty of time.
Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. As you know, 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.
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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.
11Milford 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 down here for the night, the traffic shouldn’t be as busy as you head back this morning – 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.
Amazingly your route back to Queenstown will see you continuing to following the Southern Scenic Route which you have been on since you left Dunedin and has been a mainstay of your trip to the lower South Island.
The journey today will take you close to 4 hours and depending on traffic it could be more so make sure you leave plenty of time to get back to Queenstown. If you arrive back in Queenstown in good time, there is always the opportunity to get involved in any of the activities you may have missed out on day one before it’s time to take this adventure north.
12Queenstown to Franz Josef (350km – 6 hours 2 mins)
Although it’s a long drive to Franz Josef, it’s a beauty! There are so many stunning places to stop off along the way that you are going to have to ration yourself otherwise you will never make it! Your drive will first take you up towards Wanaka and if you get the chance, this is a great place for your first stop of the day but with so much to fit in, there may not be time!
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!
13Franz 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!
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!
Glacier Hot Pools
If hiking up glaciers and early wakeup calls are not your thing, then maybe a dip in the glacier hot pools, right in the middle of the rainforest is more up your street? 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 this didn’t sound perfect enough, Glacier Hot Pools are a GO Play partner so you can relax with a few more dollars in your pocket!
Use your GO Play card here
14Franz 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.
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.
15Greymouth 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.
16Exploring the Abel Tasman National Park (59.7km – 1 hour from Nelson)
From Nelson, you’ll 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’re feeling a bit more energetic, we highly recommend hiring a sea kayak for the day and heading out into the park. You’ll 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.
Wainui Falls – located inside the Abel Tasman National Park these 20 metre waterfalls are a welcome reward at the end of an easy bush walk. The hike takes about one hour (return).
If you don’t fancy a drive all the way into the Abel Tasman National Park, there are loads of other things to do in the area. One of our favourites is to visit the Boulder Bank:
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.
Then of course you cannot forget 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. Nelson is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand and even in the colder months, the sun will often be shining so make the most of it and have a blast.
17Nelson to Wellington (134km – 1 hour 52mins to Picton where you catch the ferry)
We recommend an early start today to give yourself the chance to explore Wellington when you arrive, hopefully around lunchtime. Depending on what time you get up and when you book your ferry, there may be the chance to squeeze in one last walk in the South Island before you head north.
The Snout Track
As your time in the South Island draws to an end and you head to Picton to catch the ferry, there is one last chance to pull on 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 great way to end your South Island adventure. From the Snout Track car park, walk along the gravel road to reach the track, then follow the signs to the Snout Head.
From the Snout Track, it’s a short hop to the ferry terminal to catch the Interislander ferry across to Wellington.
It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.
After arriving on the ferry, 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.
There are loads more things to do in this awesome city – you can check out our Wellington guide for some more ideas.
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18Wellington to Taupo (370km – 5 hours 5 mins)
After a day exploring our capital city, it’s time to give your new best friend a bit of a leg stretch and the drive out of Wellington and up to the Taupo is a great place to start. Heading up SH1, your route will take you up the lower west coast of the North Island.
Palmerston North (140km – 1 hour 53 mins)
The first stop of the day will be in the small farming town of Palmerston North. As you drive up 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. Although it’s the biggest town between Wellington and Taupo, 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 (29.8km – 25 mins from Palmerston North)
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!
Taihape (84.8km – 1 hour from Bulls)
Another quirky stop off on your way north is 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!
Taupo (141km – 1 hour 43mins)
The last leg of the day takes you from gumboot throwing to the shores of Lake Taupo and the town of the same name.
19Lake Taupo to Rotorua (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)
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 will 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 Tigers 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?
Tokaroa (66.1km – 48mins)
Heading out of Taupo, we avoid the obvious route up to Rotorua – we’re saving that for the way back down and instead head up SH1 towards Tokoroa. Surrounded by the Kinleith forest, it’s perhaps not so surprising that Tokoroa is a logging town with not a whole bunch going on. The thing we love about Tokoroa though is the man size portions of food served up in just about every eatery in town. Even their website doesn’t beat about the bush ‘No pretensions here; just honest kiwi hospitality and lumberjack-sized meals’ – lunch anyone?
Cambridge (63.7km – 48mins)
As you approach Hamilton, a great little stop off is the quaint little town of Cambridge. As the name might suggest, it does have an air of England about it and is a great place to take a stroll in one of the pretty parks. If you haven’t eaten yet, you can also get a mean pie in this town.
Having arrived pretty late the night before, wake up to the sights and sounds of NZ’s largest city, home to 1.3 million people and known as the City of Sails. After a nice stroll in downtown Auckland, checking out the Viaduct area and maybe grabbing a bite to eat it’s time for a little trip out in your lovely hire car. A perfect place for a short run out is to head out west through the suburbs and out to the Waitakere range. With heaps of tracks through the lush forest, there is plenty to keep you busy here. If walking is 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.
There are so many things to do in the big little city that getting lost for a day won’t be a problem.
Use your GO Play card here
21Auckland to Paihia (227kms – 2 hours 54 mins)
Although your final destination is up in the Bay of Islands, the drive North up State Highway 1 offers up some great stop off points on the way so take your time and make the most of some of these little unknown beauties.
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.
22Around the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is packed with things to do so we recommend taking the 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.
If you are feeling really adventurous, you could head on up to Cape Reinga for the day but this is going to mean a big day behind the wheel to get back to Auckland in the evening.
A trip to the Northern most tip of New Zealand provides an opportunity to see the rare occurrence of 2 oceans colliding which can be spectacular on a stormy day. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean cross over at the tip of Cape Reinga and from the lighthouse, you get some fantastic views out over the spectacle.
The drive north will take you up alongside 90 mile beach and it’s well worth a stop off on your way up or on your way back down.
90 Mile Beach
Officially a highway, 90 mile beach is only recommended for 4WD vehicles and unfortunately our GO cars are not insured to be driven on the sand. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still have lots of fun up here. From surfing the waves to riding the sand dunes, there are plenty of activities on both the land and sea to keep you entertained.
After a full on morning exploring the local area, it’s time to hit the road. If you do want more time in the Bay of Islands, you can always set off a bit later and go the direct route which will take you around 3 hours but if you want to see the magnificent site of the largest kauri tree in New Zealand, try the longer route which will take you 4+ hours but we think it’s worth the stop.
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.
23Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsula (168km – 2 hours 30 mins)
After a night spent in Auckland, it’s time to start heading south again and back towards Wellington. The first stop off however will take you on a slight detour to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula so pack your swimming togs, we’re off to the seaside!
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.
Once you have decided where to stay, your next decision will be what to squeeze into this trip! With a relatively short drive down from Auckland, you should have plenty of time to explore once to arrive so pick your activities wisely!
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!
24Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua (214.9kms – 3 hours 37 mins)
Well, it was a bit of a whistle stop tour but hopefully it was worth it! Today you head for Rotorua and another busy day awaits so there is no time for hanging around – get your skates on!
Waihi (108km – 1 hour 52 mins from Coromandel Township)
As you head out of the peninsula, make sure you stop by the impressive Martha’s Mine in Waihi. 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.
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 Waihi and Paeroa, get your hiking boots on and off you go!
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!
Matamata (58km – 59 mins from Paeroa)
Matamata – so good they named it twice! If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, this is the place for you. If you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan (we don’t judge), you’ll still enjoy the stop in Matamata.
The town includes the set of Hobbiton from Peter Jackson’s movies and a guided tour of the movie set (starting from the Information Centre right on the main street) is a must-do for any visitor. You’ll be able to visit 44 unique hobbit holes (just like in the movies), including Bag End (Bilbo Baggins’ house), as you make your way through the Shire, passing iconic locations such as the Green Dragon Pub, the double arched bridge and the Party Tree. Another great photo op awaits so show us your best Frodo pose or maybe you’re more of a Legolas!
After that, it’s time to continue south. Our next stop: Putaruru.
Chainsaw Collection at the New Zealand Timber Museum (29.9km – 28mins from Matamata)
Not exactly the most obvious choice for a recommended touristic attraction but we’re talking about unique and quaint experiences that you will only get in New Zealand, right? So here’s one: a chainsaw collection at a Timber Museum in the small town of Putaruru, about an hour south of Hamilton. You don’t find that in many other places.
Before you head out of Putaruru, stop for a visit to the international acclaimed Blue Spring with crystal clear blue waters. Pack a picnic and head along the Te Waihou Walkway to reach the spring. The walk takes about 1.5 hours each way and passes through rolling farmland, New Zealand native bush and even some waterfalls.
Mandatory waterfall photo taken, it’s time to keep heading south. Our next stop is Rotorua and should take you about 50 minutes.
You probably noticed it as soon as you drove into Rotorua – that sulphuric smell (no that wasn’t your fellow passengers!), the vents on the ground letting steam off, the boiling mud everywhere. You’ve arrived in New Zealand’s thermal wonderland.
Rotorua is bubbling (see what we did there?) with geothermal activity and you can see it (and smell it) wherever you look. But one of the best places to see it in all its glory is Wai-O-Tapu, a place that encompasses a range of different volcanic activity, including the world famous Champagne Pool and the Lady Knox Geyser. You’ll want to spend a good couple of hours wandering around Wai-O-Tapu and visiting all the different lakes, mud pools and geysers. And…Wai-O-Tapu is a GO Play partner so you get all this geothermal fun with a 10% discount. Result.
For stunning examples of Maori culture that you’ll not find anywhere else, pay a visit to Te Puia (about five minutes from the centre of town).
You’ll learn about Maori culture and costumes from Maori people themselves, as well as witness a few more examples of geothermal activity (we’re still in Rotorua after all). Make sure you attend the Maori culture performance at the Marae (by the entrance) and visit the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute located inside as well. Te Puia also includes a live kiwi bird enclosure (a rare opportunity to see the New Zealand icon) and the famous Pohutu Geyser.
Right, that’s enough walking around, it’s time for some adrenaline. Head to the Zorb (149 Western Road in Rotorua), another GO Play partner, for a few minutes of adrenaline-infused adventure.
Zorbing first started in New Zealand so what better place to experience it than right in the heart of the country where it all began? Zorbing (which is basically rolling down some hills inside a giant inflatable ball) is one of those activities on many people’s bucket lists. Tick that off yours now before we continue heading south.
Use your GO Play card here
Our next stop is Mamaku Blue (311 Maraeroa Rd) for a more relaxed, less adrenaline-infused activity. This is where you’ll find out that, in case you didn’t know, blueberries are the solution to all your problems. At Mamaku Blue, everything is blueberry-based, from the wine to the toiletries. Did you even know you could get blueberry wine? The cafe only serves blueberry-based food and you’ll have the chance to learn all about how this fruit can heal pretty much anything.
New Zealand Caterpillar Experience
The New Zealand Caterpillar Experience will be another one of those unique places you probably don’t expect to find anywhere.
Located on 171 Fairy Springs Road, this is the work of Lindsay Willis, a man who has been collecting Caterpillar equipment for most of his life. We’re talking heavy machinery here, no small stuff. This is the world’s foremost collection of this sort of equipment and Willis keeps it all in excellent condition (with some of the oldest ones still in working order).
The displays are set alongside footage of some of the machinery at work, way back in the day, and you’ll get to see some trucks and bulldozers that are now the only examples left of their kind. Impressive stuff!
25Rotorua to Napier (221km – 2 hours 39mins)
After a full day relaxing, it’s time to get your skates on and head on over east side to Napier – the wine growing heart of the North Island and a placed where sunshine is usually the order of the day. The drive down to Napier will take you back through Taupo so if you missed a skydive opportunity or that hole in one is still playing on your mind, you can always pop in but remember there’s plenty to do in Napier and only a day to do it all!
From Taupo take the SH5 heading east and follow the signs for Napier. It’s a lovely drive down with plenty of little villages along the way if you want a taste of kiwiana or just a stretch of the legs – the main event of the day awaits in Napier though.
With so many things to do in Napier, hopefully you’ll have arrived in good time to cram it all into one day (and the next morning – shhh!). 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.
26Napier to Wellington (315km – 4 hours)
So this is the last day of your 4 week kiwi adventure and we hope you have had a blast. There is still plenty to see and do on your way back down to Wellington today though.
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 is 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. It’s a great shout for a later lunch or early dinner before you have to get that car back to Wellington and the end of your kiwi road trip.
And that brings to an end this pretty awesome 26 day trip around New Zealand’s North and South Islands. We hope you have had a blast and we would love to see some photos of your trip so make sure you get in touch via our GO Explore Facebook page. If you uncovered any hidden gems on your route, we’d love to add them in to our itinerary so be sure to share them with us!