Well, let us start by congratulating you on making an awesome decision – 26 days in New Zealand is plenty of time to immerse yourself into the kiwi lifestyle, take a step back from the fast lane and slow it all down. It gives us loads of time to explore the North and South Islands, from top to bottom and east to west so buckle up and strap yourself in for an amazing month traveling around our beautiful Islands. If you’re all set, let’s GO!
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Wellington is small but has no shortage of things to see. Head for the CBD, park your rental car and wander around the small streets.
Wellington Complete Guide
Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand so check for yourself), 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).
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).
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2Wellington to Tongariro Crossing (324km – 3 hours 57 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 Tongariro Crossing 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 elevensies – 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!
Tongariro National Park (93.9km – 1 hour 5 mins from Taihape)
Your final destination for the day is at the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, 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.
Make sure you book your return bus at the place you are staying – they will usually allow for a 10 hour day so people can take their time and enjoy the walk.
3Tongariro Alpine Crossing
So, a day out of your beloved hire car and a chance to stretch your own legs. The Tongariro Crossing is a must do on many people’s lists when they head to NZ so make the most of your day. 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.
By the end of the walk, you’ll probably feel like Frodo and Sam so treat yourself to a big feed and a cold beer at the end of a great day.
4Tongariro National Park to the Coromandel Peninsula (353km – 4 hours 31 mins)
After a day off the driving, you have a big day ahead of you but it will be worth it as it’s time to hit the coastline of the Coromandel Peninsula. With gorgeous sandy beaches and idyllic bays, the long drive will be totally worth it when you’re relaxing on the beach tomorrow and besides, we wouldn’t just leave you hanging, there’s tons of cool stop offs on the way today so think less about the distance and more about the fun – you’re in a GO Rentals car, it’s going to be an awesome day!
Taupo (72.7km – 57mins)
Heading out from Tongariro your day starts with a scenic drive around the shores of NZ’s largest lake to the town that shares the same name – Taupo. There is plenty to see and do in and around Taupo so definitely put aside a couple of hours on the way up to Auckland to explore.
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.
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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?
Tokoroa (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?
Paeroa (110km – 1 hour 25 mins)
There isn’t much to this small town but it’s known for being the birthplace of L&P, the iconic kiwi drink that is “world famous in New Zealand”. This soft drink was originally produced using lemon and mineral water from Paeroa (hence L&P). The giant L&P bottle landmark is a mandatory photo stop for any self-respecting tourist so make sure you strike a pose in front of it too – make sure you send your photo in to our GO Snap Happy collection on the GO Rentals website for your chance to win back the cost of your rental – can’t say fairer than that!
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (7.7kms – 7 mins from Paeroa)
Dust off the hiking boots, we’re going for a little walk. Well, sort of little – 7 kilometres.
The Karangahake Gorge Walkway features the remains of a historical railway nestled in a natural gorge setting. The walk will take you through relics of back in the day when the area was a big gold mining region. It follows the railway line through the gorge and alongside the Ohinemuri River, through the Victoria Battery Complex and ending in the Waikino Station (which includes a cafe for a much deserved post-walk beverage).
To get to the start of the walkway, park your rental car at the Karangahake Domain Car Park on SH2 between Paeroa and your next stop at Waihi, get your hiking boots on and off you go!
Waihi (13.2km – 12 mins from Karangahake Gorge)
As you head up towards 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.
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From here you have just over 100kms to go to reach the town of Whitianga. There are loads of places to stay on the Peninsula but Whitanga is one of our favourites – a lovely little fishing town, there are some fantastic restaurants and a great vibe to the place.
Coromandel Complete Guide
5Around the Coromandel Peninsula
Make sure your camera is well charged head up and over to the Coromandel Township for a glimpse into life in small town New Zealand. 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.
New Chums Beach (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 will find is an example of the really pristine and unspoiled natural wonders of New Zealand.
The beach that not even many Kiwis know about is located in Wainuiototo Bay, approximately 15 kilometres northeast of Coromandel Township. Take the roughly 30-minute walk following the shoreline and you will find the golden sand beach, lined up by pohutukawa trees. You’ll understand why it stays in the memory of everyone who visits.
One of the more famous and most visited beaches in these parts is at Cathedral Cove. GO Play partner Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours will give you a 10% discount on a guided tour out to visit the sea caves and check out the towering cliffs of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.
6Coromandel Peninsula to Auckland (169kms – 2 hours 30 mins)
Take the time to enjoy your morning on the Coromandel Peninsula before you head off to New Zealand’s biggest city. Make the most of the peace and quiet and the tranquil walks as things are going to get busy when you arrive in Auckland.
Pokeno Ice Cream (141kms – 1 hour 56 mins)
We know you’ll be excited and itching to get to Auckland for some retail therapy and top notch food, however half an hour out of Auckland is a must for all travellers heading north – it’s 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.
Auckland Complete Guide
7Days 7 & 8 – Auckland
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. The city is the perfect mix of the natural beauty the country is famous for and a hip modern cosmopolitan urban area. Whether you’re looking to wander through luscious bush in the Waitakere Ranges or explore the wild West Coast beaches such as Piha or Muriwai, there’s something for everyone in the Big Little City.
It’s also a geology-lover’s paradise, with over 50 extinct or dormant volcanoes to explore. Climb to the top of the tallest of them all, Mount Eden, for the best view of the city, or take the short ferry ride across the harbour to Rangitoto, the youngest of them all. Whichever you choose to visit, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience. If you’re looking for some real adventure, our GO Play partner Auckland Seaplanes offer 5% discount on scenic flights over Rangitoto. Go on, splash out, you’re on holiday!
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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.
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9Auckland to Paihia (227kms – 2 hours 54 mins)
After a couple of days soaking up the city life in Auckland, it’s time to hit the road again as our road trip takes us north of Auckland up to the Bay of Islands. This is one of the great Kiwi road trips and a favourite amongst those who live in New Zealand’s busiest city. Once again, there are plenty of pitstop opportunities on the way up so don’t speed on through to get there.
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.
Kawakawa (170kms – 2 hours 9 mins)
The next stage of your journey north does not provide much in terms of interesting stops as you pass through commercial hubs like Warkworth and Whangarei. Kawakawa however 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!
Bay of Islands Complete Guide
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 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 checkout your options and get yourself booked on an excursion.
10Around the Bay of Islands
With so many options it is difficult to decide what to do – here is 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.
Use your GO Play card here
Jet Boat Ride – if you’ve never experience 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 Bays whilst giving you a thrill ride at the same time
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.
11Cape Reinga (212.5kms – 2 hours 41 mins)
A trip to Northland wouldn’t be complete without a tip to the Northern most tip of New Zealand where you get 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.
It’s been an epic day of driving but hopefully you will have had a blast. It’s another couple of hours back to Paihia where you’ll be in need of a well-deserved feed and a glass of wine watching the sunset.
12Paihia to Auckland via Waipoua Forest (345kms – 4 hours 50 mins)
Waipoua Forest (113kms – 1 hours 44 mins)
Instead of heading back to Auckland the direct route, we highly recommend a detour on your way back to check out the Kauri forest at Waipoua. Here you’ll 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 it’s time for a night off and a chance to recharge those batteries.
13Auckland to Rotorua (228km – 2 hours 43 mins)
After a few fantastic days exploring Auckland and Northland, it’s time to hit the road south towards Wellington and onto the South Island where your epic kiwi adventure just continues to get better and better.
Matamata (161km – 1 hour 51 mins)
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.
Rotorua Complete Guide
14Rotorua and around
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.
Use your GO Play card here
For stunning examples of Maori culture that you’ll not find anywhere, 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.
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!
Hawke’s Bay Complete Guide
15Rotorua 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 place 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 is 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 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.
16Napier to Wellington (315km – 4 hours)
So, this is your last day in the North Island but there is still time to fit in some morning activities before heading back down towards Wellington to catch the Interlislander ferry which will take you over to your South Island and the second part of your epic NZ adventure.
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 as you need to get to the ferry. With departures leaving up to 8pm, be sure to leave yourself enough time to get to the ferry terminal and make sure you book in advance. We can help you out with things like that if you know you are on a tight schedule so check out our Travel Help section for more helpful tips.
Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary (206km – 2 hours 32 mins)
This is a great little stop off as you get ever closer to Wellington. Home to a whole host of wildlife including the world’s only white kiwi in captivity, the Manukura as well as the Turua, a North Island Brown Kiwi, this is a great place for kids and adults alike. With regular feeding sessions, talks and other activities to keep you entertained, it’s a great way to break up the journey south.
Martinborough (65.5km – 48 mins)
Although it’s a slight detour off the main route into Wellington, Martinborough is well worth a look if you have the time to spare. Martinborough has become the gourmet capital of the lower south island with 25 boutique vineyards and several fantastic restaurants serving delicious local produce. It may be a good shout for an early dinner if you’re catching the late ferry or lunch if you were up and off from Napier at the crack of sparrows.
Be sure to leave enough time to get to the ferry terminal in Wellington – it’s around 80kms from Martinborough and should take in the region of 1 hour 15 mins but allow extra for traffic.
Nelson Complete Guide
17Picton to Nelson (134km – 1 hour 52 mins)
The Snout Track
The Interislander ferry will leave you in Picton, the starting point for your South Island adventure. That’s where you’ll be able to dust off the hiking boots and have a true Kiwi experience by venturing into the great outdoors with a 3.5 hour return hike to awesome views of Queen Charlotte Sound – a good introduction to what the South Island has to offer. From the Snout Track car park, walk along the gravel road to reach the track, then follow the signs to the Snout Head.
The Boulder Bank
The Boulder Bank is another spectacular example of the South Island’s natural wonders. The 13km long bank is one of the very few of its type in the world so you 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 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).
18Abel 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.
Use your GO Play card here
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.
19Nelson to Blenheim (114km – 1 hours 32 mins)
After a day spent exploring the Abel Tasman National Park, it’s time to hit the road again in your GO Rentals hire car. Backtracking on yourself a bit, you’ll be heading back towards Picton before taking the road south towards Blenheim and the famous Marlborough region.
Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Track (134km – 1 hour 52 mins from Nelson)
For those adventurous souls out there who love nothing more than strapping on a pair of hiking boots and heading off into the unknown, the Queen Charlotte Track offers you the perfect opportunity to explore rural New Zealand. Dominated by a bush-clad shoreline, the track takes you on an amazing journey through the Marlborough Sounds and the 70kms of track will energise even the most active.
For those of a less active disposition, the Sounds are famous for the greenshell mussels which are found in abundance so why not treat yourself to a fantastic lunch.
Wine tasting and much more
Marlborough is a world famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through. There are plenty of wineries who will gladly take you through their wide range of vinos from a fruity pinot noir to the flagship wine of the region, Sauvignon Blanc. There are some famous vineyards down here like Cloudy Bay but we recommend sampling some of the more boutique wineries – a great way to get around is on a bike although be careful if you have a few vinos on the way as you may get a bit wobbly! Wine tour by bike offer bike hire or guided tours which helps as they will transport you back to Blenheim.
If wine is not your thing, there are also lots of microbreweries in the region so this is the perfect place to stock up for the road trip ahead.
20Blenheim to Hanmer Springs (259kms – 3 hours 23 mins)
Kaikoura – Swim with the dolphins (157 km – 2 hours 9 mins)
Heading away from Blenheim, take the road south heading towards Christchurch. A great stop off on the way is Kaikoura which is a whale watchers delight. Not only that, this is a great opportunity for you to take a dip and swim with the dolphins at the right time of the year – this must be on a few wish lists so let’s get it ticked off!
Cellar View Café and Restaurant
As you head down from the magnificent wine tasting region of Marlborough you will hit Kaikoura. This is one of New Zealand’s best locations for seeing marine life including whales and dolphins. It is also the home to the Cellar View Cafe and Restaurant. This place serves up some pretty amazing dishes matched only by the stunning views out to the pacific. It’s easy to let an afternoon drift by, enjoying the delicious food and admiring the endless view. Nice.
Swimming with dolphins
GO Play partner Encounter Kaikoura offers a brilliant opportunity to get in the water in the south Pacific and swim with these amazing animals with tours operating three times a day.
It’s not just dolphins that pass through the waters around Kaikoura though and if you time things right, there is also the chance to see various species of whale as well as seals and birds.
Use your GO Play card here
From here it is a relatively short trip to your resting place for the night, Hanmer Springs (130km – 2 hours 6 mins)
After an awesome couple of days road tripping down from Nelson, a day in Hanmer is just what the doctor ordered. Surrounded by the beautiful Southern Alps with crisp alpine air, relax and unwind in the award-winning thermal pools or simply enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Hanmer Village and surrounding areas.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa
The thermal pools and spa complex in Hanmer has been soothing peoples’ aches and pains away for the best part of 125 years and all those who have been before you can’t be wrong! Relax in one of 15 open air pools or try out one of the 3 aquatherapy pools. Families and children are catered for too since a recent redevelopment has added three waterslides and a lazy river to keep even the liveliest of kids entertained.
Wai Ariki Farm Park
If getting crinkly is not your thing, there are plenty of other attractions in Hanmer and one of the best is the Wai Ariki Farm Park. Offering a hands-on experience, Wai Ariki is home to some weird and wonderful animals which are sure to keep kids and adults amused for the morning. The Tibetan Yak are a particular favourite!
After a couple of days off the beaten track exploring the Abel Tasman and Marlborough Sounds, we know some of you will be missing the shops and Hanmer is just the place to see to your needs. With a fantastic range of boutique outlets including the quirky ‘Up the Garden Path’ and ‘Wink’, we’re sure you’ll find the retail therapy as relaxing as a trip to the thermal pools.
Monteith’s Brewery Bar
If you’ve not managed to sample the delights of one of New Zealand’s favourite beers, fear not! Although it may not offer the full brewery tour experience, The Monteith’s brew pub in Hanmer is certainly a great place to go and try your favourite Monteith’s ale and relax and unwind. Situated right in the heart of the town, there is a great vibe to match the great beer so whatever you have been up to during the day, this is a great place to end your night. Our top tip is the Monteith’s Southern Pale Ale. When in Rome as they say!
22Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (134km – 1 hour 55mins)
After a lovely day relaxing in Hanmer, you’ll be ready to reacquaint yourself with your GO Rentals dream machine and a short-ish journey awaits you to the South Island’s largest city – Christchurch.
Christchurch Complete Guide
The garden city
Christchurch was named as number 2 on the New York Times top 50 places to visit in 2014 and there are plenty of reasons for that. Following the earthquakes of 2010-11 the city has now emerged as a vibrant city with plenty to see and do. Known as the Garden City, Christchurch has an abundance of parks and gardens including the gorgeous botanical gardens. Add in to this mix the tranquil Avon River and you can see why people rave so much about the city.
Eat | Drink | Shop
Christchurch is a vibrant place for eating and drinking whether you’re looking for 5 star opulence or a backstreet café. Re:START is an outdoor retail space opened in late 2011 made from shipping containers. Scattered with a mix of premium brands and home grown products, Re:START is a quirky experience which tells of the cities resilience and ability to come back following the destruction of the earthquakes. Located within Re:START you will also find Quake City, a multi-media attraction which tells the story of the earthquakes that hit Christchurch and the Canterbury region.
Check out the several Gap Filler projects that volunteers have created to temporarily “activate” sites left empty by the earthquakes – you’ll be able to see some unique and really creative work that is proof of Christchurch’s charm and resilience.
For more ideas on things to do in Christchurch, check out our city centre guide.
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23Christchurch to Lake Wanaka (427km – 5 hours 51 mins)
Heading out of Christchurch, a stop off a 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 is 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 the next leg of your road trip.
Akaroa (81.3km – 1 hour 29 mins from Christchurch)
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 Wanaka. 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 time in Kaikoura, GO Play partner Black Cat Cruises offer a great trip out of Akaroa Wharf to swim with the rare Hectors’ dolphins which are only found in these waters. Take the plunge!
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (280km – 4 hours 10 mins from Akaroa)
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).
From Lake Tekapo it’s a 200km trip to Wanaka which will take around 2 hours 40 mins.
Although Wanaka offers many of the same adrenaline fuelled adventures as your final destination of Queenstown, from snowboarding to mountain biking, it’s also the perfect place to relax and chill out by the side of the lake.
Rob Roy Glacier
If you do fancy a stretch of the legs however, 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 is 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.
Queenstown Complete Guide
25Wanaka to Queenstown (68.6km – 1 hour 12 mins)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock up until now, you will have heard all about Queenstown and its reputation as the adventure capital of NZ, if not the world. Well, that’s certainly true and for you adventure junkies out there, there’s certainly plenty to get your pulse racing. The good news for you is that it’s a really short drive from Wanaka to Queenstown giving you more time to get stuck in!
AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy
AJ Hackett was the pioneer of Bungy across the world, and the Kawarau Bungy was the first commercial bungy in the World. However, it’s the Nevis Bungy which is like no other. The Nevis is Australasia’s Highest Bungy with a 134m (440 feet) drop and 8.5 seconds of freefall the ground rush is like no other. Getting there is an adventure in itself with a 40 minute drive off road through a sheep station and then you find yourself dangling on a high wire cable across a large valley – for true adventure junkies, this is the ultimate thrill.
Skippers Canyon Jet
Get ready for the thrill of a lifetime with New Zealand’s world famous Skipper Canyon Jet Jet – the ultimate jet boat experience. Reaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Skippers 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!
Use your GO Play card here
Coronet Peak Ski Resort
Coronet Peak is New Zealand’s top Ski Resort. Whether you’re a seasoned downhill pro that would give James Bond a run for his money, or a mere novice who wouldn’t know a snowboard from a surfboard, you’re sure to have a ball here. It’s only 25 minute drive from Queenstown so give it a go. The Apres-Ski can be good fun too!
Something a bit more relaxing
Accessible from the town centre is the 4+ hour walk to the summit of Ben Lomond. With awesome views of the lake and mountains as well as the summit of Mount Aspiring, this walk is perfect for those who have just landed and want to get an idea of the geography of the area. If you’re fit, consider hiking to the top of Ben Lomond summit for an extra-special panorama. Don’t forget the camera!
For those who want the best of both worlds, give the Skyline Gondola a go. The luge is a fantastic place to take the kids, grab a picnic and let the racing commence! We also reckon the top of the gondola is one of the best places to take a date – amazing views which will blow them away – go on, give it a go!
Arrowtown (20.1km – 22 mins)
Hop in your GO Rentals Car and in less than half an hour, you’ll find yourself in historic Arrowtown. It was the heart of gold rush territory in the south and a true step back in time. At the heart of Arrowtown is Buckingham Street, a tree-lined step back in time dotted with shops, bars and great places to eat with no international chain store in sight. If you want to get out and stretch your legs, there are some great walks and biking tracks which can be accessed from the town centre.
At the end of a busy day, Queenstown is a great place to unwind with a huge range of bars to suit everyone. Depending on the time of year, you will either be welcomed in to a roaring fire or sit out enjoying the sun setting over Lake Wakatipu.
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26Milford Sound (303kms – 4 hours 25 mins)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. A great chance to give the GO Rentals hire car one final run out, the 4+ hour drive from Queenstown is well worth the early start to check out the magnificence of this most spectacular fjord carved out by glaciers during the ice age (that’s a long time ago by the way!).
Hop out of your GO Rentals hire car and straight onto a boat as this is a must once you get down there. With a number of companies offering day or night cruises, you’ll not be short of options for exploring the water when you arrive. Find yourself ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ at the spectacular waterfalls, some of which are over 1000 metres high so be sure to pack the camera but also make sure you pack your wet weather gear as inevitably it rains down at Milford Sound. Some say this makes the waterfalls even more spectacular but we’re not too sure about that one!
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 don’t fancy the drive down to Milford (it can be a very long day), GO Play partner Real Journeys offer a bus and fiord cruise trip which will take you from Queenstown to Milford and includes a boat cruise. Oh yeah, they will also give you a 10% discount. Awesome.
Depending on when you need to leave Queenstown and when your GO Rentals car is due back, you may want to witch this out with Day 25 and enjoy a relaxing last day in Queenstown as the 4+ hour drive each way means this is a long day out but worth every second!
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