- 14 Days -
We're just assembling some amazing activities to choose from - wont be long!
Almost two-thirds of the population of New Zealand live in the Auckland region. The city lies on a massive harbor, called The Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, dotted with over 50 islands. There are great restaurants and shopping opportunities and a thriving cultural life. Close by is outstanding scenery. Start an optional Wish List by selecting the activities that appeal to you in Auckland and use the the maps to see your daily progress.
Also see our Great Barrier Island Blog
This will be a long day of driving, but with many interesting activities to enjoy along the way. The highlight for most will be the world famous Waitomo Caves. A great start to your self drive North Island tour.
This massive high country plateau, a World Heritage Park, is an incredibly diverse region of tussock grassland, wild rivers, forests and birdlife with the three volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu dominating the landscape. There are great walking and biking trails, white water rafting, some of the best trout fishing in the world and the highlight of any visit, the Tongariro Crossing. The ultimate destination for any adventurer.
Instead of taking the the main road south, follow the beautiful Whanganui River Road for 80 miles, passing rural landscapes and enjoying forest and river views until you reach the town of Wanganui. From Wanganui, rejoin the main road south for an easy drive, following the coastline and reaching the capital city of Wellington two hours later.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the country's most cosmopolitan city. Since the opening of the new National Museum "Te Papa" it has become an increasingly popular destination for international visitors and food lovers will appreciate the large number of excellent boutique cafes and ethnic restaurants that are a feature of the city.
This morning we leave Wellington and fly to beautiful Queenstown in the heart of New Zealand's alpine region.
Queenstown lies at the heart of one of the world's most diverse and beautiful places, a gateway to the world famous rainforests and fiords of the south-west. This is a place of world class resorts, adrenelin pumping adventures and excellent restaurants and cafes. Some will prefer to base themselves at Wanaka over these days, which we offer as an alternative in the option below. We'll talk this through with you when we discuss your Wish List. We have two blogs involving Queenstown, one is a collection of photos of the vineyards of Queenstown and the other is a story about an interesting local vineyard owner that might surprise you.
As Queenstown has grown in popularity and size over recent decades, Wanaka, an hours drive away, has become a favorite choice for those who prefer a quieter and more peaceful place to stay. It's location, on Lake Wanaka and close to some of the best hiking trails in the region, makes Wanaka an attractive option to the more frenetic pace of Queenstown.
Today you will cross the forest clad Haast Pass, southern gateway to the rain forested beauty of New Zealand's wild West Coast.
A long days driving from Queenstown will see you arriving at Franz Josef in the late afternoon. Early this evening will be your opportunity to experience something very special, an excursion to see one of the world's rarest birds in the wild, the native Kiwi.
Today's drive was described by Lonely Planet Travel Magazine as "one of the Top 10 coastal drives in the world" - and you're about to discover why.
An idyllic and peacful place with many optional activities, including hiking and spectacular beach walks. This is where you'll enjoy a visit to the famous Pancake Rocks. We'll arrange accommodation for you at one of our favorite New Zealand lodges, set in forest surroundings with spectacular sea views.
We have three equally attractive options for your travel today. Nominate the one that interests you most and add it to your Wish List. We'll discuss these options in more detail with you when we talk so you can be confident that you've made the right choice.
Without doubt the most fascinating and inspirational city in New Zealand, achieving second place in The New York Times '52 Places to Go in 2014' - a city in the process of rebuilding as it recovers from the devastating earthquake of February 2011. A wander around the downtown area to admire some of the innovative buildings that have been completed or to see the progress of new ones taking shape will particularly appeal to those with an interest in architecture. Read our informative Christchurch Blogs here and here for a story about nearby Akaroa.
Today you take an afternoon flight back to Auckland in time to connect with your homeward flight to the USA. Kia Ora New Zealand and please return one day soon.
Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf is one of New Zealand's most important bird conservation projects and one of the few places where you can see and walk amongst rare native birds in their natural habitat. Over the years more than 300,000 native trees have been planted by volunteers and a number of threatened bird species and small animals re-introduced. These include the flightless takahe, one of the world’s rarest species, and the fascinating and ancient lizard like tuatara.
Rangitoto Island is a large extinct island volcano just a 25 minute ferry ride from the city. On arrival make your way to the summit, an easy walk of about one hour with spectacular views of nearby islands, the harbor and city. On the way pass through black volcanic lava fields covered by fern glens and the largest forest of native pōhutukawa trees in the world. An exciting new development was the announcement in 2011 that the island was now predator-free and this has seen native birds return to the island in large numbers.
Closed in 2007 for 4 years of extensive renovations, this wonderful gallery has now re-opened as one of the country's most iconic buildings. Experience world-class touring exhibitions, immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and atmosphere of traditional and contemporary international works of art and discover the largest permanent collection of New Zealand art right in the heart of Auckland City.
This is a terrific opportunity to experience some of New Zealand’s best walking tracks along the trails of the wild West Coast, just 40 minutes from Auckland. Your guide for the day will also take you to waterfalls and rainforest scenery that will take your breath away! A basic level of fitness is required as are good walking shoes
Beautiful white sand beaches, vineyards and outstanding scenery are just some of the attractions of Waiheke Island. After a 45 ferry ride from downtown Auckland, you'll be greeted by your local guide, followed by a scenic tour of the island and tastings at three local boutique vineyards. A two-hour lunch stop at a village café or one of the vineyard restaurants completes an interesting and relaxing day.
The Saturday morning Matakana Farmers' Market is a showcase for local artisans, growers and farmers. Enjoy freshly brewed coffee, artisan baking, organic chocolates and fine wines. Nestled on the banks of the picturesque Matakana River, the village is a great place to visit on any day of the week, just a 40 minute drive from Auckland; be there in time for a delicious cafe breakfast and afterwards visit this nearby "secret spot", one of our favorite beaches in all of New Zealand
Auckland, also known as 'The City of Sails' is the city that provided the core of the team that first won the America’s Cup in 1995 in San Diego. Here's your opportunity to feel the thrill of sailing an authentic America’s Cup yacht. Take the helm to help steer, work hard on the grinders to hoist the mainsail or simply sit back and enjoy the scenery.
We can help you arrange a free self-guided walk around the city or for a more in-depth experience, you can walk with an expert guide to discover some of the hidden treasures of Auckland City. From the must-see highlights and picturesque views, to the trendy backstreets and cultural offerings, there will be a range of experiences on offer and stories about how this young city emerged from a narrow volcanic isthmus to become a bustling, cosmopolitan city on the edge of the world.
This is one New Zealand's iconic visitor attractions. The glow worm, Arachnocampa luminosa is unique to New Zealand and thousands of these tiny creatures radiate their unmistakable luminescent light as your expert guides explains the Caves' historical and geological significance. A highlight of a visit to Waitomo Caves is the river boat ride under the thousands of magical glowworms.
If you depart from Auckland nice and early you'll have time to include a drive of one hour round-trip to the colorful seaside town of Raglan, the place made famous by film-maker Bruce Brown in his legendary surfing documentary 'The Endless Summer' A must-do for anyone with even the vaguest connection with surfing. We have a blog about our visit to Raglan here.
In 2011, local resident Barry Cox decided to construct a unique church on his remote rural farm, made of living trees. He never imagined it ever becoming a tourist attraction but there's been so much interest in his project that his Tree Church Gardens is now available for public viewing. Enjoy first-hand the living Church, the labyrinth walk and the extensive gardens. Read about our visits to the Tree Church in our blog - North Island Highlights - The Tree Church & The Warden
Towards the end of todays drive, take this excursion, away from the main route south, into one of the most remote parts of the North Island, the tiny settlement of Kakahi. Here you are able to visit their Glow Worm Caves, much less known than their famous cousins at Waitomo but offering the advantage of a free visit. Also, keep an eye out for local delicacy, freshwater mussels.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is widely regarded as the best one-day trek available in New Zealand and is ranked among the top ten single-day treks in the world. This will be a long day and a challenging one, traversing a remarkable volcanic landscape. Ever present as you walk is the brooding Mount Ngauruhoe, used by filmmaker Peter Jackson as Mt Doom in his Lord of The Rings and Hobbit movies.
The is one of New Zealand's best river rafting experiences. After an on-shore safety briefing and paddle instructions with an experienced guide you begin your white water rafting journey on grade 3 rapids – an ideal grade for experienced paddlers or first-time rafters. In 2.5 hours you navigate over 60 roller coaster rapids with your expert guide at the helm and treated to sights only accessed by raft.
Taranaki Falls is a 20-minutes drive away from National Park Village where most of our New Zealand Vacations customers will stay. An easy 2 hours loop, the Taranaki Falls Walk leads to the waterfalls lookout, and then to the waterfall's base. The track is awesome! The first part of the track goes through the alpine grassland with amazing views of the volcanoes. The second part of the loop goes through the beech forest with some river crossings (all bridged) and small waterfalls.
This beautiful lake is a 25 minute drive from the town of National Park where most of our New Zealand Vacations customers will stay. From the Rotopounamu car park it's just a 20 minute walk to the lake or 2 hours if you choose to walk around the 3 mile loop trail. Beautiful Rotopounamu (the greenstone lake) is nestled into the side of Mt Pihanga and is a favorite place for birdwatchers, walkers and swimmers.
Just 25 minutes south of Tongariro is a side road to Pipiriki, the access point one of the most remote and beautiful rivers in New Zealand, The Whanganui River. You'll travel by jet boat exploring magnificent forest scenery, deep ravines covered in mosses and an array of native ferns.
This option will require an extra day to be added to your vacation, but it's a choice you will never regret. Stay overnight at The Bridge to Nowhere Lodge deep in the Whanganui National Park wilderness, perched high above the river and accessible only by jet boat, canoe, by foot or helicopter. The canoe journey downstream, back to Pipiriki is simply breathtaking
At the town of Waikenae, an hour and a half south of Wanganui is a pleasant forest walk, situated at the nearby Hemi Matenga Scenic Reserve. The shortest forest trail takes just 30 minutes, but if you have time there's also an easy, well signposted walk to the summit at 1300 feet that will take you an extra hour. From here there are excellent views of the surrounding countryside and out to nearby Kapiti Island.
Kapiti Island is our favorite nature reserve, a place where you will encounter many of New Zealand's most beautiful and endangered species in the wild, including the elusive Kiwi. You can visit Kapiti Island for a day or to truly experience all the island has to offer, make an overnight stay at the lodge. Whichever of these options you choose, it will add a day to the duration of your vacation.
New Zealand Vacations director Jerry Bridge also owns the company "What To Do in Wellington" To support us in our launch year Jerry says that as long as he's in town (which he usually is) he will personally provide New Zealand Vacations customers with an exclusive and free personalized tour of Wellington visiting the main points of interest, some "off the beaten path" places and maybe some places of your own choosing. All you'll be responsible for are entry fees at the places you choose to visit. Thank's Jerry and the "What To Do in Wellington" team.
Te Papa is a state of the art museum bringing together under one roof the Maori & European history of New Zealand. It is New Zealand's national museum, the largest cultural project in New Zealand's history, completed in 1998 at a cost of $317 million. You will encounter Maori, New Zealand's indigenous people, through authentic portrayals of their traditions and living culture including an opportunity to visit a unique Marae (communal meeting place) The best introduction to Te Papa is this 90 minute guided tour that explains Maori culture and treasures, art and New Zealand's colonial history.
The Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary is an outstanding example of efforts to save New Zealand most endangered native birds and animals. Visit in late afternoon to hear the dusk chorus of the birds before the nocturnal animals come to life or consider a night tour for a special experience. This will be the best opportunity on your itinerary to see such a wide variety of beautiful native birds and other native wildlife.
Although famous for their award winning work on movies like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy, the
With its ancient rain forests and abundant wildlife Doubtful Sound is quite simply breathtaking. Practically untouched by humans the physical grandeur of towering peaks, outstanding waterfalls like The Browne Falls that cascade 2,000 feet into the fiord, and calm inland seas combine to create a powerful atmosphere of solitude and serenity. Crested penguins, bottlenose dolphins and New Zealand fur seals will among the wildlife that might be encountered. Our blog also explores the adjacent Dusky Sound tours, a very special experience.
Since 1970 over 2 million adrenalin-rushed passengers have enjoyed the thrills of the world's most exciting Jetboat ride, The Shotover Jet. It's a thrilling ride - skimming past rocky outcrops at close range in your Shotover Jet 'Big Red', as you twist and turn through the narrow canyons at breath taking speeds. And hold tight for the world famous Shotover Jet full 360 degree spins!
Begin with an unforgettable coach trip into Skippers Canyon where you meet your river guide and set out on your white water rafting journey through the spectacular Shotover Canyon. Rafting over peaceful waters at first, you'll head towards the exhilarating rapids of the lower canyon before shooting Cascade Rapid to complete your white-knuckle adventure. Before returning to Queenstown, enjoy a sauna and hot shower at Cavell's Rafting Lodge.
This is an ideal way for visitors to enjoy one of New Zealand's famous walking trails, the Routeburn, in just one day. You'll be driven around the shores of Lake Wakatipu to the start of the trail in the Mount Aspiring National Park. As you make your way along the trail your guide will point out native plants and birdlife while providing a real insight into the history and geology of this fascinating region. After a picnic lunch you are returned to Queenstown.
This guided tour is a great way to enjoy the best scenery in the wider Queenstown region combined with a wine tour that is tailored to suit the tastes of everyone on board. There will be many scenic stops to capture the exceptional scenery and 3 wineries will be visited with a platter lunch of local and seasonal delights included. A highlight will be a stunning drive over the Crown Range Alpine Pass. You can see some great shots of vineyards in this region on our blog. Just click here.
Arrowtown is a historic former gold mining town and one of New Zealand’s iconic visitor destinations. The spectacular setting, the distinct four seasons and tranquil atmosphere, make Arrowtown a must do for visitors. The town has maintained its historic buildings and is now a vibrant meeting place with world class food and beverage, shopping and attractions.
Attach your rental mountain bike to your Gondola and enjoy the leisurely uphill Gondola ride. At the summit (1500 ft) detach your bike and take on the challenges of the Queenstown Bike Park. We like the idea that most of your ride will be downhill, just choose from more than 27 world class mountain biking trails of varying terrain suitable for all abilities and don't forget to enjoy the spectacular views. ,
This is one of the most spectacular hiking trails in New Zealand and includes the alpine scenery, snowfields, glaciers, sheer rock cliffs, forests, wildflowers and waterfalls of the Mt Aspiring National Park. It starts in the Matukituki Valley, about an hour’s drive from Wanaka. The trail is well formed and requires a moderate level of fitness but the glorious views of the Rob Roy Glacier from the viewing platform at the turnaround point makes the effort of getting there totally worthwhile.
This is a fantastic introduction to kayaking, with an easy guided paddle that explores the beautiful Lake Wanaka coastline. The scenery you'll encounter as you paddle is outstanding. Light snacks and refreshments provided and no prior experience of kayaking is required
The Cardrona Distillery is a family-owned artisan single malt distillery nestled high in the Cardrona Valley between Wanaka and Queenstown. It uses time-honoured traditional methods, hand-crafting spirits from scratch, starting with just malted barley, water, and yeast. Luxuriously rich vodka, hand crafted New Zealand rose hip gin, and delectably zesty New Zealand orange liqueur are all on offer. All from the world’s most southerly distillery.
The tracks around Lake Wanaka and in the surrounding hills are some of the most enjoyable and scenic in New Zealand. There are tracks suitable for every age group and level of fitness, ranging from high-speed mountain bike trails to the more gentle paced for those who prefer to travel at a more leisurely speed. You can venture out alone or we can organize a group excursion with fellow travelers. If you are going to cycle when in New Zealand, Wanaka is the place to do it!
An hour into today's drive you will reach the Blue Pools Walk, world-renowned as a must-see highlight in this wilderness region. A carefully maintained trail winds through native silver beech forest to a swing bridge strung high above the Makarora River from where the views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking. Next are a series of deep crystal clear glacier-fed pools the color of deep azure blue, so clear that you can see right to the bottom. In summer take a swim!
After leaving The Haast and making your way north, take a short break to enjoy a 30 minute walk into the wild and stunningly beautiful Ship Creek. The water color, the driftwood littered beach, the wild ocean and the unique tree cover create a wonderful experience for any visitor.
Jackson Bay is one of the most isolated and picturesque places on the planet. In places the approach road has fern grottos growing right down to the edges of the road with trees almost forming tunnels across the roadway. This is a one hour side trip so an especially early start will be needed if you want to include this wonderful experience in your day. Keep an eye out for the local pod of dolphins that make the bay their home.
At Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier, nature has combined exactly the right ingredients to create truly stunning reflections of New Zealand's highest peaks - Aoraki (Mount Cook) and Mount Tasman.
The opportunity to see the notoriously shy nocturnal Kiwi in its own natural habitat is something extremely rare. Tonight you join a small group who under the care of an expert and experienced local guide will set off to tray and do just that!
This is an organized boat trip from Franz Josef into the remote bird life sanctuary of the Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve. From mid-September to March, the majestic migratory Kotuku (White Heron) can be seen in all it's pluming glory nesting in the trees on the banks of the river. There's a huge range of other birds to be seen, or heard, and along the way you will also enjoy beautiful New Zealand scenery.
Franz Josef Glacier provides some of the most stunning ‘ice architecture’ of any Glacier in the world, making it one of the must-do's for visitors to New Zealand. The Glacier was in a state of advance until 2008 when it started retreating and following a spectacular collapse of the terminal face in 2012, it is now only accessible by helicopter. Flights operate daily from 8am, depending on weather and seasonal conditions.
Located just south of the town of Hokitika, this is an exhilarating treetop adventure among temperate rainforest giants. Experience life with the birds high in the ancient Rimu and Kamahi tree canopy. Easy access for all to enjoy along a steel platform 65 feet high and nearly 1500 feet long.
We should state from the outset that the access road to the gorge, 20 miles in each direction is quite winding. But those who make the effort will be well rewarded. A viewing platform overlooks a magnificent granite gorge with milky blue-green pools, backed by cliffs and fine rimu forests. This is a hidden gem, off the beaten path that most visitors to New Zealand never get to see. Take your camera!
This really is something quite different. You might meet Pete Pete – aka The Mayor, law enforcement officer, cook and cleaner, gardener and rubbish man! He's the owner of the Puke Pub and the bizarre Bushman Centre at Pukekura (population 2) A visitor in 2011 wrote "Possibly the worst cafe in New Zealand" So bring your sense of humor, watch out for the giant sandfly at the entrance, take a look at the "museum" and do not ask about the possum pie!
Situated close to Greymouth this is a 30 building recreation of a 19th-century gold-mining town, celebrating a time of gold rush in New Zealand history. There's a Steam Train line through the rainforest, the sights and sounds of a working sawmill, a ChinaTown and a sluice gun blasting gold bearing rock. Pan for your own gold - you might have a strike!
Your last thrill of today will be your visit to the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki. They were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants about a mile below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers and then gradual seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed.
Within walking distance of the Punakaiki Visitor Centre, this loop trail follows a spectacular limestone gorge with dense native forest and a variety of native birds and wildlife; suitable for all ages and rated as one of the best trails in New Zealand. It starts with a crossing of the Punakaiki River via a footbridge, and then follows an easily graded climb to the ridge dividing the Punakaiki and Pororari rivers. When the Pororari River Track junction is reached, it's worth carrying on along the Inland Pack Track for a short distance to the Pororari River, a perfect place for a rest and something to eat. Return to the junction and then follow the Pororari River Track down river to the car park. From there it's less than a mile back to the Visitor Centre.
Your first option for today is to drive to Greymouth in time to return your car and then take the 1:45 pm departure to Christchurch on the TranzAlpine Express, one of the world's great train journeys. Highlights will include thrilling views of deep gorges as you traverse the Southern Alps, eventually following the spectacular ice-fed Waimakariri River and crossing the Canterbury Plains for a late afternoon arrival in Christchurch.
Another option for today is to drive to Christchurch, following a similar route to the TranzAlpine Express via Arthurs Pass but with opportunities to make stops en-route at places that interest you. The road through the Otira Pass gets a little challenging at times, winding and steep, but for a confident driver, this is an experience that will live long in the memory.
A great stop-off point on the Arthurs Pass drive is the small alpine village of Arthurs Pass, located high in the Southern Alps. From here you can access some of the best mountain walking trails, ranging from 30 minutes to 6 hours in duration. Between Arthurs Pass and Christchurch, alongside the main road, is Castle Hill. Take a break and walk up the track to see the interesting rock formations - yet another area that was used during the filming of the Lord of the Rings, and more recently the Chronicles of Narnia. Also a favorite hang-out place for rock climbers.
One of the most impressive waterfalls in New Zealand, Devils Punchbowl Falls is located in the heart of Arthur's Pass National Park. Although the waterfall can be seen from the highway, it's still better to walk up to the waterfall's base by way of a forest covered walkway. Moderate fitness level is required.
This is a longer, gentler and less demanding drive than the Arthurs Pass option. It has as special beauty of its own, providing spectacular views of densely forested mountain slopes and following stunning winding rivers. This also option offers the opportunity to make a stop at the spa pools at Hanmer Springs.
If you choose the Lewis Pass option, the small town of Reefton is an ideal place to take a break and stretch your legs. Starting from the Reefton Visitor Centre, this walk passes twenty four historic buildings, many dating from the 19th century. These include shops, churches, lodges, the courthouse and the Reefton School of Mines. There is a helpful brochure for this walk available at the Visitor Centre. Afterwards indulge in some cookies at the local bakery - legendary!
If you choose the Lewis Pass option between the West Coast and Christchurch, you can visit the Maruia Falls. This wide river waterfall is nestled amongst brilliant scenic landscapes and are easily accessible, just 5 minutes walk from the main roadway.
For those who choose the Lewis Pass option, there's the opportunity to enjoy the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. This is an extensive thermal complex in an alpine environment surrounded by beautiful native gardens. The complex offers thermal mineral, sulphur and freshwater pools, with private thermal pools, sauna and steam rooms available.
Christchurch Airport is the base for Operation Deep Freeze with the US Military responsible for re-supplying those working on the frozen Antarctic bases at the bottom of the world. At the Airport is also the International Antarctic Centre bringing to life the story of Antarctic discovery and science. Visit the snow and ice experience, survive an Antarctic Storm, learn about life in modern day Antarctica and Scott Base, and hang out with Little Blue Penguins!
An iconic Christchurch activity not to be missed. Admire the beautiful Christchurch Botanic Gardens or the changing face of the city centre as you are expertly guided gently along the Avon River on an authentic Edwardian designed punt.
Enjoy a journey through the changing face of Christchurch’s city centre on board a beautifully restored heritage tram. Friendly and knowledgeable drivers will inform you about the city, its landmarks and local sights. Your day-long ticket allows you to get on and off the Tram as often as you please! A great introduction to Christchurch.
The Christchurch Art Gallery, with the formal name of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, is the public art gallery of the city of Christchurch and houses one of the largest art collections in New Zealand. The magnificent new glass encased museum houses a regularly-changing program of national and international touring exhibitions.