Dawn’s Self-Drive Itinerary
In February 2013 I traveled with my husband, Derek, to New Zealand for a fun packed, adventurous trip of a lifetime! Please take a look at our itinerary and let me know how I can tailor-make a similar trip just for you. I have added in my personal thoughts and used all my own photos so please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have – Dawn
Fly Los Angeles to Auckland – arrive two days later
Day 1 – Auckland
We arrived in Auckland after a great overnight flight from Los Angeles, feeling all refreshed and ready to start our adventure. We collected our rental car at the airport and drove the short journey to our Auckland city accommodation. After checking in we spent the remainder of the day enjoying the many sights of the city including the harbour area and went to the top of the SkyTower.
AUCKLAND – an exciting, sporting and cultural city, sprawled on a narrow isthmus, between two harbours. The Waitemata and Manukau Harbours, are a main feature of the city, along with numerous volcanic cones such as Mount Eden and Rangitoto Island. The city’s many beaches, marinas and parks, make it ideal for outdoor pursuits such as yachting, rugby, cricket or a day at the beach. The Auckland metropolitan area is New Zealand’s biggest city, and the population mix of European, Maori, and Pacific Islander, make Auckland the largest Polynesian city in the World.
Accommodation: The Quadrant (1 night)
Day 2 – Auckland to Rotorua via Waitomo
Today we were awake quite early (probably a little jetlagged!) and got an early start on the drive from Auckland to Waitomo (120 miles). The roads were quiet once we left the city and the suburban scenery gradually gave way to the farmland of South Auckland, an area favoured by bloodstock breeders. The Waikato River accompanied us for much of our journey through the green countryside. The Waitomo Caves region is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface of this ancient limestone region is a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms. Some caves open to the public, and are easy to walk through, others require specialised caving equipment.
Our guided tour at Waitomo Glowworm Caves took us through over 250 metres of stunning underground scenery commencing with the impressive Cathedral. The tour began at the upper entrance of the cave and proceeded along a low narrow passage to the Tomo, a deep limestone shaft. The experienced tour guide delivered a highly informative commentary about the formations and the history of the area. The highlight of the tour was an unrivalled boat trip through the spectacular Glowworm Grotto. We marvelled at Mother Nature’s light display as we glided silently through the starry wonderland of the Glowworm Grotto then meandered underground along the Waitomo River and gazed in silence at the myriad of glow worm lights that make up the Glowworm Grotto. As we entered this galaxy of tiny living lights we immediately experienced a serene ambience and were fascinated and intrigued by tiny glowworms that lit our way.
After a short, five minute drive, we joined a three hour Black Water Rafting, Black Labyrinth Tour. Black Labyrinth is Waitomo’s original and amazing underground cave tubing experience that is known and talked about all around the world. Over three hours we worked our way through squeezes, took leaps of faith over cascading underground waterfalls and floated serenely down river as we enjoyed the glowworm show on the vaulted limestone galleries up above. I must admit, I was a little apprehensive at first but it was so much fun – jumping off a waterfall into a tube in the dark was a great experience! Once we dried off and warmed up with a hot cup of soup and a bagel we continued on to Matamata to check out the Hobbits! (67 miles)
Hobbiton Movie Set Tour – I totally loved this place! Even though I’m not a huge fan of the movies and have only seen the first Lord of the Rings movie this tour was awesome! We discovered the real Middle-earth on the most picturesque private farmland when we visited the Hobbiton Movie Set from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogy in a fascinating two-hour guided tour. The Green Dragon Inn was open for a cool beverage and is a special feature of the tour. There were spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges from the rolling green hills of the movie set, which is still a working sheep and beef farm. As the Hobbiton Movie Set is located on a real New Zealand farm, they also offer the opportunity to cuddle and bottle feed the pet lambs. You can relax and soak up the unique atmosphere with a great cup of coffee or a light meal in The Shires Rest Café or visit The Shire Store for some special souvenirs to remind you of your visit.
Then we drove from Matamata to Rotorua (45 miles) after a very busy and wonderful day!
ROTORUA – located on a volcanic plateau, and formerly a spa town, Rotorua is most famous for its geothermal activity. Rotorua is the main place in New Zealand where aspects of Maori traditions can be seen, from wood carvings, and meeting houses, to a Hangi Dinner and Maori dances. Native and introduced tree species abound locally and combined with several picturesque lakes, Rotorua is a fascinating mix of culture and nature.
Accommodation: Ibis Rotorua (2 nights)
Day 3 – Rotorua
Today we walked round the beautiful town of Rotorua and went inside the Rotorua Museum of Art and History. It’s a great building and a very interesting museum where we discovered the stories of the Rotorua region through innovative exhibitions and cinema experiences. We learnt about the rich culture, volatile landscape and legendary figures that have shaped this fascinating region and watched two entertaining cinema experiences that brought the museum’s stories to life.
We then drove 10 minutes over to Ogo Rotorua for an experience that I had heard lots about but never seen. The guys there are really nice and showed us around and introduced us to their H2OGO Water Ball! OGO Rotorua is their very own play-paddock where you can spend time rolling down purpose built tracks in a ball of water! Get yourself immersed in the warm water in the H2OGO ball and splish and splash your way down 200 metres of their specifically designed OGO track. I haven’t laughed so much in a loooong time!
After quickly freshening up at the hotel we drove over to Te Puia for the Te Po Hangi and Concert + 90 minute guided visit. We enjoyed a guided tour of the valley with one of Te Puia’s world renowned guides and visited New Zealand’s national carving and weaving schools to witness these disciplines in practice, under the guidance of full-time master carvers and weavers. We visited award winning interactive galleries, saw our first kiwi birds up close and, most importantly, heard stories as told by the descendants of the valley. We concluded the tour by visiting the geyser and mud pools and were then invited to have a short rest prior to the beginning of the evening experience. Traditionally, Te Po is an intimate time for sharing knowledge. Te Po is also Te Puia’s authentic evening cultural experience – a feast of food, culture and friendship. It begins every night at Te-Heketanga-a-Rangi (The Heavenly Origins). The space comprises twelve monumental carvings reaching skywards, each one representing a Maori deity. We heard the stories of the past and saw how these traditions live on today and even got to go on stage and join the warriors doing the haka! Feeding guests is regarded by Maori as an honour and a sign of a tribe’s mana (standing), so a sumptuous banquet was provided. This banquet combined contemporary cuisine with a traditional hangi (earth-cooked oven meal), where kai (food) is steam-cooked by hot rocks in the earth, giving it a delicious smoky flavour. Following dessert, we were transported by people movers to enjoy the spectacular lighting of the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley and wandered around the illuminated natural attractions, including Pohutu geyser.
Day 4 – Rotorua to Napier
This morning we made the short drive from Rotorua to Wai-o-tapu Geothermal Wonderland (19 miles). Thousands of years in the making, a wonderland of stunning geothermal activity, Wai-O-Tapu is considered to be New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attractions. You are introduced to a uniquely different natural landscape – the key to what you see lies below the surface – one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand. Clearly defined tracks provide the visitor with the opportunity to enjoy the diversity of this area through a series of different walks taking from 30 to 75 minutes or more, each with their own unique volcanic vistas to fascinate all ages. Visitors can walk at their own pace and view a wide range of features which include:
– The World Famous Champagne Pool
– Expansive Vistas
– Huge Volcanic Craters
– The Lady Knox Geyser which erupts daily at 10.15am
– Steaming Ground
– Naturally colored hot and cold pools
– Sinter Terrace Formations
– See New Zealand’s largest Bubbling Mud Pool
The natural bush setting adds another dimension to the experience as does the large Visitor Centre with excellent retail and cafe facilities. This was a big surprise, we didn’t realize the area would be so photogenic, so make sure you do leave yourself enough time and camera memory!
We continued our drive from Wai-o-tapu via Taupo to Napier (118 miles) on State Highway 5 to Wairakei, where State Highway 5 joins with State Highway 1 as you continue for a short distance to Taupo. You may like to take a short detour just south of Wairakei and visit the Huka Falls.
TAUPO – located on the edge of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, Taupo is a pretty town, renowned for its trout fishing, the Huka Falls and the Wairakei Geothermal Power station. On a clear day, stunning views across the lake to the snow capped mountains of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe can be enjoyed. Its close proximity to these mountains in winter makes it a great place to base yourself for skiing.
We then traveled through the Taupo township and continued south for a short distance before turning off State Highway 1 onto State Highway 5 to Napier, ensuring we had enough petrol as this region is quite isolated! It was a stunning drive, you travel past the Kaimanawa Forest Park, once the largest man-made forest in the world and on a clear day you get views across to the snowy mountains of the Tongariro National Park, before heading across the Kaweka Range and down into Napier.
NAPIER – the largest city in the Hawke’s Bay, whose port handles the province’s huge volumes of produce, spreads around the wedge of Bluff Hill, sometimes still referred to as “Scinde Island.” Napier was almost completely surrounded by water before the severe 1931 earthquake flattened the city but uplifted vast areas of the surrounding seabed. As a result of the disaster, the city was almost completely rebuilt during the 1930′s, giving it an Art Deco style of architecture, unique to a New Zealand city.
After checking in to our hotel then joined an Art Deco Walk through the city. The 2 hour guided walk brought Napier’s fascinating architectural history to life as we strolled through the compact Art Deco quarter in Napier’s vibrant city centre. Napier was destroyed by the earthquake and fire of 1931, and was rebuilt in the styles of the times – Spanish Mission, Stripped Classical and above all, Art Deco, the style that expressed the confidence, optimism and vigour of the early 20th century.
Accommodation: Quest Napier (1 night)
Day 5 – Napier to Wellington
Today we took our time and drove from Napier to Wellington (196 miles). After departing the Napier area we took State Highway 2 south via Waipaua, Dannevirke, Masterton and Upper Hutt to Wellington. We suggest a stop at the winery village of Martinborough and perhaps experience a meal or taste some of the famous Pinot Noir the area is now famous for or lunch at Vangie’s Kitchen, a great pie shop in Dannevirke. At certain times of year you will see wonderful sunflower fields as far as the eye can see.
Before going to our hotel we drove the 19 mile Marine Drive tour – hugging the coastline from Oriental Bay to Owhiro Bay, this route is one of New Zealand’s great coastal drives, being both picturesque on a cloudless day and awe-inspiring when Wellington’s famous southerly gales whip up pounding waves. The route takes visitors past numerous small bays and sheltered, sandy beaches and passes through several suburbs where wooden villas perch on what seem precarious sites high above the road, and around steep, uninhabited hillsides covered with trees that come down to the water’s edge.
WELLINGTON – the Capital city of New Zealand since 1865, is situated around Wellington harbour, its houses clinging precipitously to the steep hillsides. Wellington is renowned for its wind which is channelled through the Cook Strait, and causes the wind to blow most days. A clever blend of buildings, old and new, beautiful vistas of the city and harbour, and a cosmopolitan mix of culture and arts give Wellington its heart, and vibrant atmosphere. Visit Te Pau Museum with exciting exhibitions, free of charge.
Accommodation: The Bolton Hotel (1 night)
Day 6 – Wellington to Ocean Ridge
Today was a fun day with travel from Wellington to Ocean Ridge by car and ferry. We dropped our car at Wellington Ferry Terminal and board the Interislander Ferry from the North Island to the South Island. The Premium Lounge on board offered the most comfortable and luxurious way to cross the Cook Strait! A Kaitaki Plus ticket allowed us access to an exclusive, premium, onboard lounge providing comfortable lounge style seating, free internet access and wi-fi, the latest magazines and newspapers, and a full cooked breakfast, all of which we enjoyed before heading outside to admire the view. What a truly wonderful journey this is, heading across the Cook Strait and through the mountainous region of Queen Charlotte Sound before arriving in Picton.
We picked up a new car at Picton Ferry Port and commenced our drive to Kaikoura (100 miles). From Picton we take State Highway 1 south via Blenheim to Kaikoura, stopping along the way at different places to admire the view, walk on the beach and take photos. Approximately 20 miles south of Blenheim you can take a detour to your left, to the Lake Grasmere solar saltworks where seawater is evaporated from wide shallow ponds to produce salt for consumers.
KAIKOURA – means “to eat crayfish”, from the Maori words “Kai” meaning food, and Koura meaning crayfish. You can savour crayfish here in Kaikoura, view whales and dolphins at play, or visit local galleries and craft shops, or take a walk along the Peninsula Walkway. If you travel out onto the Kaikoura Peninsula and look back towards the mountains, an amazing tableau will appear before you. The seaward Kaikoura Range appears to rise from the sea, with the snow-capped Southern Alps as a backdrop.
After a walk round Kaikoura we checked in at our accommodation, The Fairways at Ocean Ridge. We decided we’d like to cook out so bought some wonderful steaks and some wine from the local store and, after a hike up the hill behind our villa to admire the view, Derek made us a wonderful gourmet BBQ dinner in our private garden overlooking the mountains!
Accommodation: The Fairways at Ocean Ridge (1 night)
Day 7 – Ocean Ridge to Christchurch/Rakaia Gorge
This morning we were up early to go on a trip out to sea with Whale Watch Kaikoura. A typical whale watch tour may encounter New Zealand fur seals, pods of dusky dolphins and the endangered wandering albatross. Depending on the season you may also see migrating humpback whales, pilot whales, blue whales and southern right whales. Kaikoura often hosts the world’s largest dolphin, the orca, and is home to the world’s smallest and rarest, the hector’s. Kaikoura also attracts the largest concentration and variety of seabirds on mainland New Zealand including 13 species of albatross, 14 varieties of petrels and seven types of shearwater. The weather was a little grey and wet but this totally added to the atmosphere and standing out on deck looking for or first whale. And there he was, right next to the boat, what a majestic sight, truly worth the trip out to sea! Then we went and relaxed inside for a short time before going back out to watch as dolphins swam around the boat and jumped up to say hello, and see seals lazing on the rocks at sea.
After our awesome whalewatching tour we drive from Kaikoura to Christchurch (113 miles) for a walk around the city. We walked through the award-winning Botanic Gardens and walked the perimeter of the Red Zone, the area of central Christchurch damaged in the 2011 earthquake. Although this was very hard to see it was interesting to see the rebuilding of a once magnificent city and to purchase a few souvenirs to help out the local economy a little.
Then we drove over to the airport area and went inside the International Antarctic Centre to embark on a journey through Antarctica without leaving Christchurch! One of New Zealand’s best tourist attractions, the International Antarctic Centre provides visitors of all ages with an interactive, fun and exciting experience of Antarctica. You’ll experience snow and ice, a storm, learn about life in modern day Antarctica and Scott Base, and hang out with Little Blue Penguins! There’s also the famously exciting Hagglund ride and an awesome simulated cruise plus heaps more!
We continued our drive from Christchurch to Rakaia Gorge (53 miles) to the wonderful Terrace Downs Golf Resort.
Accommodation: Terrace Downs Golf Resort (1 night)
Day 8 – Rakaia Gorge to Mount Cook
Today we started our day with a drive from Rakaia Gorge to Mount Cook (158 mi). We returned to State Highway 77 to Windwhistle then on to Geraldine, Fairlie and Tekapo. Lake Tekapo is a place of exceptional beauty and clarity and the town is worth a stop to grab a picnic and relax by the lake. Like Lake Tekape, Lake Pukaki is a place of majestic scenery wit State Highway 8 having many picnic areas with stunning views of Mount Cook and, on a clear day, you will see the magnificent mountain reflected in the waters of the lake.
MOUNT COOK – whose Maori name “Aorangi” means “Cloud Piercer” is some 3753.5 metres high and surrounded by a host of massive peaks. Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, and can quite often be surrounded by cloud, constantly vulnerable to the fast changing weather patterns of an alpine climate.
The Hermitage is a must when staying in the Mount Cook village. From an intrepid journey through glacial valleys to a mouth-watering culinary dining adventure, The Hermitage Hotel is the perfect ‘base camp’ to discover your Peak Experience. Choose from premium hotel rooms, motel units or cozy chalets. Add world-class activities such as Glacier Explorers, Tasman Valley 4WD and Argo Tours, Big Sky Stargazing, Encounter Day Walks, scenic flights or the visual extravaganza of the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre and you have a unique, year-round alpine adventure perfect for the family holiday or your next romantic getaway.
Accommodation: The Hermitage (1 night)
Day 9 – Mount Cook to Queenstown
This morning we were collected from our hotel for our Glacier Explorers – Tasman Glacier Tour, an up-close amazing encounter with icebergs, on a glacial terminal lake. The bus took us on a pleasant trip to the Tasman Valley, followed by a 30 minute alpine walk through the National Park. Then we boarded our MAC boat, and enjoyed the ever-changing ice face of the Tasman Glacier icebergs on the Tasman Glacier Terminal LLake. A very memorable experience, it’s not every day you get to float on a lake in a small boat among magnificent icebergs!
After our tour we commenced our drive from Mount Cook to Queenstown (149 mi). Have a quick stop in Cromwell to admire the giant fruit statue before taking State Highways 8B and 6 on to Queenstown.
We drove past AJ Hackett Bungy so thought we’d stop off to take a look at what we were letting ourselves in for first thing tomorrow morning! Bad idea ha ha! The Kawarau Bridge Bungy is the World Home of Bungy Jumping. It was from this site in 1988 that Bungy pioneers AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch launched both themselves and an international phenomenon, which has become renowned as one of the most exhilarating things to do in Queenstown – the adventure capital of the world. This has been the world’s best known and best loved Bungy Jump for more than 20 years and it continues to set pulses racing among the extreme enthusiasts who visit from all corners of the globe, whether young in age or young at heart. I told my husband that if I was to do it had to be then and there as I was not going back the next day after what I was sure would be no sleep! So after changing our jump time we both got up on that very scary bridge and jumped off, for the time of our lives! Derek was brave, he jumped straight off, but after three or four false starts I went for it and was so very proud of myself! If you want to be tied up & thrown off with a friend, then this is the site for you, as it offers Queenstown’s only tandem Bungy Jump. Just remember that sharing the thrill doesn’t mean halving the fear! Once on the edge, poised 47 metres above the stunning Kawarau River, your final choice is clear – how wet do you want to get?
As if the excitement of doing a bungy jump wasn’t enough, we then drove over to the Shotover Jet Boat Tour. From the moment the accelerator hits the floor, your adrenaline hits the roof as you speed in mere centimetres of water along the famous Shotover River and deep into the spectacular Shotover River Canyons. It’s an amazing white water ride, as the Shotover Canyon walls tower over you, your expert driver puts your ‘Big Red’ Jet Boat through its paces and skillfully whips it past rocky outcrops, skims around crags and boulders, and speeds through the dramatic and narrow canyons. Rock faces blur in your peripheral vision and the water sprays into myriads of white water crystals with every turn as you speed in your state of the art ‘Big Red’ Jet Boat at up to 85kph over crystal clear water as shallow as 10cm deep.
QUEENSTOWN – is the South Island’s most popular resort, set alongside the shores of Lake Wakatipu, under the gaze of the Remarkables Ranges. See the contrast of smooth glacier rounded hills, and jagged mountain summits that reach high above the ancient ice floor. The town is renowned for its jet boating, bungy-jumping, skiing and awe-inspiring scenery. Local story has it, that the gold prospectors of the 19th century pronounced the town as “fit for any Queen”, and so she was called Queenstown.
Accommodation: Garden Court Suites & Apartments (3 nights)
Day 10 – Queenstown
This morning we walked around Queenstown and enjoyed the city’s laidback ambience and people watching in the park by the lake. At noon we were collected by Appellation Central Wine Tours for an afternoon among the boutique vineyards and splendid scenery of Central Otago. We tasted wines at four of the best boutique vineyards in the Gibbston, Bannockburn and Cromwell regions and enjoyed a delightful gourmet platter lunch at the award winning Carrick Winery.
After a very relaxing afternoon we walked to the meeting point for Onsen Hot Pool for a transfer to the pools. The Onsen Hot Pools experience is all about unwinding and soaking-up Queenstown’s spectacular scenery. Immerse yourself in the views, the pure waters, and the fresh mountain air, as your mind and body surrenders to the deep penetrating warmth and gentle massage of our private pools. Complete privacy, total cleanliness, spectacular scenery, beautiful surroundings.
Day 11 – Queenstown
Today we were collected by Real Journeys for our full day Milford Sound Tour and travelled from Queenstown along the shores of Lake Wakatipu and through rolling countryside to Te Anau. After a short break at Te Anau, we continued via the spectacular Milford Road, to Milford Sound. We boarded the Milford Mariner for a relaxing cruise of Milford Sound. The cruise provides excellent viewing opportunities and plenty of time is available to enjoy waterfalls, rainforest, mountains and wildlife. Return transport by luxury coach to Queenstown, enjoying the glass roof of the coach to admire the surrounding scenery.
MILFORD SOUND – Stunning surroundings at the heart of Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area. In Maori legend, the fiords were created not by rivers of ice, but by Tu Te Raki Whanoa, a godly figure who came wielding a magical adze uttering incantations. Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) is without doubt his finest sculpture. Luxuriant rainforest clings to sheer rock walls washed with waterfalls. In the foreground stands Mitre Peak, dominating the skyline. Whatever the fiord’s mood, teeming with rain or with sun glistening on deep water, it will inspire you.
Day 12 – Queenstown to Franz Josef
After a couple of days off driving, this morning we set off from Queenstown to Franz Josef (220 miles), travelling north to the Fox Glacier, located on the rugged West Coast and on State Highway 6 via Wanaka, Haast and Lake Matheson to Franz Josef Glacier.
We left our car at our accommodation and walked over to The Helicopter Line for our Glacier Heli Hike. The rugged West Coast is hemmed between the Tasman Sea and the imposing Southern Alps, making for spectacular contrasts in the surrounding scenery. Franz Josef Glacier, found in the stunning Westland National Park, is one of the most spectacular glaciers in this region. We combined an awesome scenic helicopter flight over the glacier with a unique guided walk amongst the ice caves, pinnacles and seracs of this pristine, alpine environment. We saw the extraordinary colours of the ice-flow from above and then up close, on an unforgettable guided walk with the highlights being a 10 minute helicopter flight to Franz Josef icefall, glacier landing and pickup, a 2 hour hike amongst glacial ice formations, professional and experienced guides as well as all equipment provided (glacier boots, socks, ice crampons, an ice axe, waterproof jacket).
Accommodation: Punga Grove
Day 13 – Franz Josef to Christchurch
Today was another day of various different forms of transportation. We drove from Franz Josef to Greymouth (108 miles) and were quite sad to say goodbye to our car when we dropped it off at Greymouth Station. We then boarded the TranzAlpine Train through the mountains. Truly one of the world’s great scenic train trips through the dramatic contrast of dry beech forests and tussock land on one side of the Alps and lush green landscapes on the other. From Greymouth pass through sub-tropical rainforests past beautiful Lake Brunner then emerge from the long Otira Tunnel and enjoy to Arthur’s Pass. Cross the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury plains, follow the Waimakariri river, climbing into alpine scenery on a series of spectacular viaducts.
At Christchurch station we took a short taxi ride to our airport hotel for our early flight the next morning.
Accomodation: Sudima Christchurch Airport
Day 14 – Goodbye New Zealand!
As you can see, this really was the trip of a lifetime and so much fun. Looking back, we can’t believe we did so many cool, memorable, scary and fun things in a relatively short space of time! If you would like to visit New Zealand please contact me and I can make a great, tailor-made trip for you and your family. I look forward to hearing from you! – Dawn