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This 15-day itinerary through New Zealand is for people who love wild places and outdoor adventures.
From the geothermal attractions, volcanoes, and river journeys of the North Island, to the towering mountains, mysterious fiords and alpine villages of the South Island. You will be blown away by the variety of adventures and natural attractions on offer with this journey down the middle of New Zealand from Auckland to Invercargill.
The journey south from Auckland takes you through the fertile dairy farming region of Waikato, accompanied much of the way by the mighty Waikato River. You may want to stop at Matamata and visit Hobbiton Movie Set, where Peter Jackson brought The Shire to life.
In Rotorua, there are signs of geothermal activity everywhere you look. Explore the geothermal areas and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people. Rotorua is also increasingly becoming a hub for thrilling adventure from the familiar such as rafting and mountain biking to the bizarre zorbing and shweeb.
The road to Taupo is brimming with unusual, volcanic geology. If you haven't had your fill of geothermal activity yet, take a side road to visit Orakei Korako Cave & Thermal Park or Craters of the Moon where you’ll discover geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud.
As New Zealand's largest lake, Taupo is the perfect place for water activities. Kayaking, paddle-boarding, boat cruises, jet boating and fishing are all popular activities. For a real thrill try skydiving from the largest commercial tandem dropzone in the world and look down on the stunning volcanic landscape below.
Follow the eastern edge of Lake Taupo to reach Turangi. The town is a perfect base for exploring the stunning landscape of Tongariro National Park with its three volcanic peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.
Arguably, the most famous activity in the park is Tongariro Alpine Crossing, regarded as one of the best one-day walks in the world. However, there are plenty of other things to do in the region, including other short and long hikes, rafting on the Tongariro River and skiing in winter.
Turangi is also a mecca for trout fishers, with famous fishing spots in almost every direction.
There are two ways to get to Whanganui – the long and winding way via Pipiriki takes you into Whanganui National Park, a fantastic place for hiking. The more orthodox route is along State Highway 4, which wanders through a world of rivers and gentle hill country.
The river city of Whanganui has a long history and plenty of beautifully restored heritage areas to discover, including the Durie Hill elevator, one of only two earth-bound elevators in the world. For some adventure, check out the various options for an expedition on the river, there are jet boats, kayaks and canoe adventures available.
Your journey south today is rich with natural wonders and wildlife encounters.
An easy detour from Levin takes you to beautiful dune lakes, surrounded by wetland and lush native forest. Further south, you'll find Kapiti Island, a nature reserve for close encounters with rare birds. The Kapiti Coast is known for its gourmet delights and lovely beaches; take some time to explore the region before making your way to New Zealand's capital city.
Wellington is home to a myriad of cafes, restaurants, museums and live music venues for you to enjoy.
Nestled between the harbour and the hills, Wellington's downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Delve into museums and galleries, sample local craft beers and experience the funky culture of New Zealand's capital city.
For trips further afield, there are plenty of walks, including a coastal walk to the Red Rocks Reserve where you'll find a colony of fur seals. The Rimutaka Cycle Trail is an interesting ride, the full trail takes 2-3 days but you can choose to do a single section in a day.
From Picton, travel on through the town of Havelock (famous for its greenshell mussels) to Nelson. This seaside city is home to an artistic community of over 300 working artists and a plethora of galleries as well as delicious restaurants, wineries and boutique craft breweries. Explore the region by bike, kayak or on foot. Try cycling the Great Taste Trail, a network of trails that connect Nelson with nearby towns.
From Nelson it is a short distance to Abel Tasman National Park.
An enchanting alpine landscape of rugged peaks, forests and stunning glacial lakes.Read more
Travel through a mixture of forest, farmland and hill country until you reach Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park.
The alpine village of St Arnaud, on the edge of the lake, is the perfect base for exploring New Zealand's second largest national park. Magnificent hiking trails, kayaking, river rafting, mountain biking and horse trekking are all popular activities in this region. In winter, nearby Rainbow Ski field offers every type of terrain for skiers and snowboarders.
Hot pools, stunning landscapes and thrilling outdoor adventure.Read more
Traditionally, Hanmer Springs is known as a destination for relaxation and indulgence. You can soak in the hot springs or treat yourself to a range of spa therapies. However, there are also plenty of outdoor adventure activities on offer including forest walks, horse trekking, paintball, rafting, and 4WD Quad bikes.
Farmland, vineyards and olive groves characterise the route to Christchurch. Along the way, you'll pass through the Waipara Valley, one of New Zealand's premier wine regions. The last leg of your journey takes you past the surf beaches of Amberley, Leithfield, Waikuku and Woodend.
As the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch has a fascinating mixture of heritage and innovation. Favourite activities include punting down the Avon River, visiting the International Antarctic Centre, biking in the Port Hills, relaxing on Sumner Beach or encountering wildlife in Akaroa.
Small towns appear regularly as you travel across the Canterbury Plains to Aoraki Mount Cook. Lake Tekapo is a beautiful place to stop along the way, with spectacular views of the turquoise lake framed by towering snow-capped mountains.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home to the highest peak in Australasia (Mt Cook - 3755m), attracting mountain climbers, hikers and nature lovers from all over. Explore the mountains with a heli-skiing, heli-hiking or aerial sightseeing adventure or take a boat trip to visit Tasman Glacier.
Aoraki Mount Cook is also part of the International Dark Sky Reserve, making it a premier spot for stargazing.
Make your way from Aoraki Mount Cook to Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital.
Located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and with The Remarkables mountain range as a backdrop, Queenstown is visually spectacular. It is also the perfect place to source almost any kind of adventure, including bungy, jet boating, horse trekking, rafting and skydiving. When you need a break from the adventure activities, there is a whole range of luxury experiences on offer, from wine tours to indulgent spa treatments and leisurely games of golf.
Decorated with waterfalls and alive with unique wildlife.Read more
The road to Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most scenic routes. Along the way, you'll pass the Mirror Lakes with their amazing reflective views and the rough-hewn Homer Tunnel.
Boat cruises are a great way to experience the sounds; choose either a day trip or a more leisurely overnight cruise. Many cruises offer an underwater observatory, allowing you to see the fiord's fascinating depths. Or hire a kayak and explore at your own pace. Tall waterfalls, vertical rock faces and seals are some of the Sound's highlights.
If you've opted for a day cruise, spend the night in Te Anau.
Caution: If you choose to self-drive, be sure to give yourself plenty of time as conditions can vary greatly on this route, particularly in winter.
There are two routes to Invercargill. The longer, wilder route takes in Lake Manapouri, Tuatapere and Riverton, one of New Zealand’s first settlements. Or take the east road through forested hills, valleys and river plains to Gore, home of the Hokonui Moonshine Museum, which showcases the region’s illicit whisky-making past.
Spend the rest of your journey exploring the country's southernmost region. Visit Transport World in Invercargill or take an excursion to Stewart Island. Alternatively, carry on along the southern coast and explore the wilderness area of the Catlins. Be sure to try the region's famous Bluff Oysters and blue cod before you depart.