- 18 Days -
We're just assembling some amazing activities to choose from - wont be long!
With a population of 1.4 million, Auckland is by far New Zealand's largest city, and during your visit you'll have opportunities to experience some of the cities finest art. You'll be met on arrival by your hosts Fine Art Tours and after a guided tour of the city, you'll enjoy an informative briefing on New Zealand art and heritage. In the afternoon explore the downtown city on an easy guided bike tour, a great way to stretch out after your flight from North America. Choose from the options below, the things you would like to experience during your stay and add them to your Wish List. You might even be tempted to enjoy a longer stay in Auckland than suggested here.
This morning depart Auckland, driving south by rental car to Waitomo where you'll experience one of New Zealand's iconic scenic experiences, the incredible underground glowworm caves. Your overnight stay will be in a charming B&B or a nearby luxury lodge. We have suggested some interesting optional stops you might like to make on the drive from Auckland to Waitomo (see below)
Today's drive offers several optional routes as you drive to one of our favorite New Zealand cities, the coastal regional capital of of New Plymouth. On the way, make a stop off at the 'Three Sisters' Beach and take a short and easy walk to view the rock formations and Mt Taranaki in the distance.
Then at Waitara visit 'The Garden Shed Chocolate Studio' always tempting passing drivers to make a coffee stop, and with good reason. Or consider a different routing altogether, venturing into the wild Tongariro National Park for some outdoor adventure.
The Len Lye Centre, The beachside Wind Wand, The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, the recently opened Coastal Walkway and some outstanding restaurants are some of the options available in this friendly coastal city. For those on our art appreciation tour we'll arrange a 'Behind The Scenes' tour of the Len Lye Centre and later you can enjoy one of the many fine parks that the city is famous for.
These include the Pukekura Gardens and Tupare Arts & Crafts Centre. At Pukeiti Gardens enjoy their marvellous displays of rhondodendrons, set against a backdrop of mist covered rainforest. During your stay we will also arrange visits to local galleries and artisan studios.
Another day of spectacular scenery, with magnificent Mt Taranaki looming above the passing farms and forests as you continue southwards. A fascinating diversion is recommended to visit the Jerusalem Settlement located on the Whanganui River Road, a tiny village with an intriguing past.
This is where you can visit the Sisters of Compassion Catholic Convent, a place of pilgrimage for both Catholics and creatives, founded by Mother Aubert in 1892. In recognition of the life she lived at Jerusalem, plans are well advanced to making Mother Aubert New Zealand's first Saint. We can even arrange for you to stay a night at the Convent. The accommodation is basic but for many people, this experience will be one of the highlights of their visit to New Zealand.
Or continue on to the town of Whanganui for your overnight stay. Be sure you visit the Sarjeant Gallery before you leave.
This mainly coastal drive offers many fascinating places to stop and explore, including rural towns like Bulls (antiques and local produce) and Otaki Beach. Visitors from the USA will be interested in visiting Queen Elizabeth Park at Paekakariki, adjacent to a major base that was a temporary home for US Marines fighting in the Pacific Campaigns during WWII. There's also a historically important vintage railway in the Paekakariki village.
Celebrated as New Zealand’s cultural capital, the country’s creativity pulses through Wellington. The city is home to the innovative Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and is famed for its public art trails and Bohemian lifestyle. What makes Wellington New Zealand’s cultural capital is its spirit – its enthusiasm and passion for the arts.
The city’s compact nature makes it a great place for following public art trails and enjoying dinner out, followed by a night at the theatre. You’ll find a show on almost every night in the theatre district – centred around Courtenay Place – or for more impromptu demonstrations of dance and music, head to vibrant Cuba Street. During your time in Wellington, you'll have the options of enjoying a privately guided Wellington Gourmet Tasting Tour and an intriguing "Behind The Scenes" tour at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Wellington is also the home of the highly acclaimed New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Royal New Zealand Ballet. Be sure to also try and attend the electrifying New Zealand School of Dance for the best in contemporary dance performances.
Finally, if you're lucky enough to be in Wellington between February 23 and March 18 next year, the city will be alive with local and international theatre performances, dance, music and the visual arts, all participating in The New Zealand Festival 2018.
This morning you'll bid farewell to Wellington before departing on the Interislander Ferry, crossing Cook Strait to Picton in the South Island. Only half an hour of the 3-hour crossing is in open sea, most of the time is cruising through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds.
Then it's a breathtaking scenic drive from Picton to Nelson. Recommended stops for today include Kaipupu Point, a wildlife sanctuary accessible by water taxi from Picton, Pelorus Bridge and Cullen Point Lookout for stunning views across the Marlborough Sounds.
The city of Nelson has much of interest to offer to art enthusiasts and during you'll enjoy visiting some of the most interesting sites and meeting local crafts people. We'll arrange visits to local galleries, studios and gardens that will inspire and delight. As well as these ‘meet the artisan’ opportunities we will visit and meet with the owners at Thackwood Gardens, officially designated as "New Zealand gardens of significance"
You might even consider extending your stay to enjoy some of the activities highlighted below -
Your destination today is Hanmer Springs, a picturesque alpine village, best known for its natural hot pools and stunning landscapes.
The more adventurous will enjoy local forest hikes, mountain biking, horse trekking, bungy jumping or jet boating.
On the road to Hanmer we'll offer some interesting detours, including the Motueka wine district (Nuedorf Vineyards produces world famous Sauvignon Blanc) and a stop at the village of St Arnaud that has some of the best short forest walks in the South Island. Others will be tempted to forgo Hanmer in favor of a visit to some of the places featured below, on the remote and beautiful West Coast.
But the main themes for today are "relaxation" and "rejuvenation" when enjoying the natural hot pools at Hanmer Springs.
This is an enjoyable and easy drive, leaving the hills of Hanmer Springs before reaching the flat expanses of the vast Canterbury Plains and the city of Christchurch.
In the afternoon Fine Art Tours will host you on a privately guided Creative Christchurch tour.
We also have some optional stopovers you can consider along the way.
The small village of Akaroa is located on a quiet bay on Banks Peninsula about 25 miles from Christchurch, reached by way of a delightful scenic drive. It was originally established in 1840, by a group of 60 French settlers, the first step by the French in their plans to eventually colonize all of New Zealand as part of a French empire.
In an agreement with local Māori tribes, Akaroa and the surrounding Banks Peninsula (440 square miles) was purchased by the French for "2 cloaks, 6 pairs of trousers, 12 hats, 2 pairs of shoes, some pistols, axes and 2 shirts" with the balance due to be "paid later" when the Frenchman in charge of the settlers, a Captain Jean-François Langlois, returned from a visit to France.
Events were somewhat complicated by the fact that by the time Langlois returned, both Akaroa and Banks Peninsula had been resold several times over, as was often Māori custom at the time! No doubt Captain Jean-François Langlois was not at all amused by this turn of events.
In fact, the French plans were thwarted before they even started, because in the same year, 1840, Māori chiefs had collectively signed 'The Treaty of Waitangi' which effectively made New Zealand a British colony. So the French enclave was abandoned, and although the locals have managed to retain much of the charm and character of the original settlement, the only real evidence of the French stay in Akaroa is the street names, most of which remain French.
There are art galleries in the village, many displaying the works of local artists as well as boutique shops and the relaxed atmosphere and peaceful setting makes Akaroa a popular day trip for both locals and visitors.
Read our blog about a recent visit to Akaroa Harbor by a friendly pod of Orca (Killer) whales.
Recommended stops on today's drive to Oamaru include The Trotts Garden at Ashburton and The Temuka Pottery Shop. On arrival at Oamaru enjoy a self-guided e-bike tour around Oamaru district (easy grade). The whitestone townscape of Oamaru contains some of the best-preserved heritage buildings in New Zealand. In the late 19th century, the town prospered through gold mining, quarrying and timber milling. Some of the wealth was spent on elegant stone buildings made from local limestone.
The Harbour-Tyne Street area is particularly special, much of it lovingly restored, and the shopping is great too. After exploring the Victorian precinct, swing by the steampunk playground and museum.
This will be one the most enjoyable drives of your stay in New Zealand. You'll be travelling inland and then crossing the Lindis Pass, an easy drive with sweeping views of the valleys and plains and the Southern Alps providing a picture perfect backdrop.
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 quiet and 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.
The passing New Zealand scenery just keep getting better as you set out on the short drive to New Zealand's premier vacation destination, the lakefront town of Queenstown. We recommend a stop at the luxury Hills Lodge before you arrive in Queenstown, to enjoy a gourmet lunch and maybe even a round of golf.
The Lodge boasts a stunning collection of paintings and sculpture curated by Sir Michael and Lady Christine for their own and their guests' enjoyment.There is also the world renowned private sculpture park as part of The Hills golf course with works by New Zealand and international artists.
Or you might prefer a self-guided visit to Gibbston Valley where you'll find artisan food & wine producers in a region that's world famous for its Pinot Noir's. On arrival we can arrange a self-guided tour around Lake Wakatipu, to enjoy stunning scenery, see public artworks, take some forest walks or follow some easy bike trails.
This will be your last day in New Zealand, flying from Queenstown to Auckland in time to connect with your homeward flight to North America. If schedules allow, during your layover in Auckland we can arrange a privately guided tour and lunch at the Villa Maria Vineyards, just 20 minutes from the airport or the nearby Pah Homestead Art Center.
This 18 day itinerary is just one of the many art-themed tours we can arrange in conjunction with our travel specialist partners Fine Art Tours. We hope you are inspired by what you have seen here and we look forward to working with you to create an itinerary that has a focus on your particular interests. Contact our Santa Barbara, CA office if you would like to know more.
This is a privately guided visit to one of the world's most unique and exciting privately-owned sculpture parks, located at Gibbs Farm just 30 minutes out of the city. The only way to gain some appreciation of the scale of this internationally renowned site, set on a working farm, is to visit this page and to then click on the names of the artists, where you will see examples of their works that are on display. Breathtaking! You can also read our blog and see more photos about Gibbs Farm. But be warned, opportunities to visit Gibbs Farm are limited by the owners and demand is high, so an early registration of interest is most important and always subject to availability when booking.
Connells Bay Sculpture Park is located on nearby Waiheke Island and features a collection New Zealand's most well-known contemporary sculptures, overlooking stunning seaside scenery. We'll introduce you to the owners, two high profile New Zealand art benefactors, before visiting one of the island's beautiful vineyards to enjoy a delicious lunch. Afterwards return to the city, a ferry trip of 45 minutes.
Just 45 minutes to the north of Auckland is the village of Matakana, best known for its popular Farmer's Market that takes place every Saturday morning of the year. It's also a popular retreat for artists of all types and today we will arrange a privately guided visit to one of the local studios, based on your particular interests. Close to Matakana are beautiful beaches, a nature reserve and a marine reserve that will be optional visits. There's also a small but thriving wine growing industry and one of the local vineyards will host a wine tasting and lunch.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
The Kiwi House at the small town of Otorohanga, has been conserving New Zealand's national bird, The Kiwi since 1971. The highlight of your visit will be learning about their active kiwi breeding program. Kiwi House is a ‘non-profit’ charity dedicated to the conservation of New Zealand's native wildlife through education, display and breeding programs.
This popular wildlife sanctuary has keeper talks & feeding displays throughout the day. Get up close and personal with their large collection of unique NZ birds and reptiles. There are also opportunities to help feed the animals each day.
Walk through New Zealand's largest free-flight dome aviary
See the unique tuatara, a native New Zealand reptile, which pre-dated the dinosaurs
Open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9.00 am – 5.00 pm
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.
The Forgotten World Highway is a fantastic adventure option for driving to New Plymouth. It wriggles its way over four mountain saddles, through an eerie one-lane tunnel and along a sinuous river gorge. The only significant settlement on the way is 'The Republic of Whangamomona' with it's historic hotel, famous for it's hospitality.
This high country plateau is an incredibly diverse park of tussock grassland, wild rivers, forests and birdlife with the three volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu dominating the landscape. A region long recognized by the Maori for its spiritual importance, the park covers nearly 200,000 acres. Drive south of Taupo, along the lakefront to Turangi and then drive into the Park for a day of exploration and great mountain scenery.
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.
For a full description of this amazing new gallery, read the blogs we wrote after our recent visit to New Plymouth - North Island Highlights - New Plymouth & Len Lye Center
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.
Although famous for their award winning work on movies like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy, the
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.
Only a minute off the road to Motueka this gallery displays 60 World of WearableArt award-winning creations submitted for competition by designers from all over the world. Anyone with even the slightest interest in fashion and design will be thrilled by what they experience here. The adjacent antique car collection will be enjoyed by motoring enthusiasts.
This is not only the smallest national park in New Zealand, it is also the most popular. Golden sand beaches, crystal clear waters, superb forests, abundant bird and sea life draw visitors from all around the world. A favorite experience is to be dropped by water-taxi at a golden sand beach and to then walk along the beautiful coastline track to be picked up again at a pre-arranged pick-up point.
Cape Farewell is the northernmost point of the South Island, located on the coast at the start of Farewell Spit. It provides homes for sea mammals and over 90 species of birds including up to 20,000 godwits, 30,000 knots plus curlews, whimbrels and turnstones. To make the most of this experience, New Zealand Vacations can arrange a one day 4WD guided tour from Motueka, the best way to learn about the history, the wildlife and ecology of the region from a qualified guide. Bring cameras and binoculars to make the most of a visit to this nature-lover's paradise.
For an exhilarating experience, make a stop at Charleston and go underground tubing in the spectacular Nile River Cave System. You'll float along small rapids and through natural underground chambers that are home to millions of glow worms. The beauty of the surrounding bushland is a another feature of this unforgettable experience.
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!
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.
This is a beautiful place where towering mountain chains meet an ocean rich in marine wildlife, the most famous being the worlds largest toothed predator the Sperm Whale. So incredibly deep are the coastal waters of Kaikoura that the whales are able to live here throughout the year and that means a 95% success rate in whale sightings by local whale watching operators.
Swim with, or watch the dolphins in their natural environment off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand. Whether you choose to view these delightful mammals from the boat or join them in the ocean, you will have a unique and enjoyable experience.
Just 15 miles north of Kaikoura at Half Moon Bay you can view seals playing or sunning themselves on the boulders and beach below the road. Between May & October also walk up the adjacent Ohau Falls Track (10 min) to view dozens of baby seals playing in a large pool below the falls. Probably the "cutest" of the experiences you will enjoy in New Zealand, so don't forget your camera.