This journey takes you from New Zealand's largest city through beautiful beach towns, volcanic landscapes and our cool little capital to the South Island. Here you'll discover delicious wine, lush rainforests and ancient glaciers as you travel down the West Coast and through stunning alpine resorts, before ending your journey in the innovative city of Christchurch.
Auckland, New Zealand's largest centre is an exciting and scenic city. Take some time to explore before making your way to the Coromandel Peninsula, a favourite holiday spot for Kiwis and visitors alike. Formerly a gold-mining and timber town, Coromandel township is now a haven for artists, craftspeople and conservationists. There are several good walks in the area and a railway enthusiast has created an hour-long train trip at Driving Creek.
On the other side of the peninsula, you'll find Whitianga a vibrant beach town with plenty to do. Two must-see sites in this area are Cathedral Cove (a picturesque photo spot) and Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own natural spa.
Mud pools, adventure and unique Maori culture
Take your leave from Whitianga and drive to the prosperous city of Tauranga, which sprawls along the edge of an attractive harbour. Stop here for lunch or try a spot of fishing, snorkelling or dolphin watching. Nearby, Mount Maunganui is great for surfing and beach walking. When you're ready, continue your journey inland to Rotorua.
Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire and volcanic activity is visible everywhere you look. Explore the geothermal areas and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people. Or try one of Rotorua's many adrenaline-fuelled adventure activities.
Consider adding a night in Tauranga before travelling on to Rotorua.
It's a short journey from Rotorua to Taupo today, but there is plenty to keep you entertained along the way. Like Rotorua, this area is alive with geothermal activity and you'll find turn-offs to geothermal parks such as Craters of the Moon, Orakei Korako Cave and Wairakei Terraces en route. Discover geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud.
The resort town of Taupo sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake. This is a great destination for fishing, kayaking and jet boating. A boat trip to the Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay is a wonderful way to learn more about the Lake and its people.
Taupo also has the largest commercialised skydive drop zone in the world.
The journey from Taupo to Napier is lined with fantastic scenery, from rugged hills and beautiful valleys to gentle plains and huge vistas. Stops along the way include the hot springs at Tarawera and the Waiarua Falls lookout.
In the twin cities of Napier and Hasting, you'll find beautiful Art Deco architecture, the result of a 1931 earthquake which destroyed many of the original buildings. Visit the local MTG museum for the story of this fascinating history. Hawke's Bay is also home to a plethora of vineyards, many within easy cycling distance of Napier. Other attractions are the gannet colony and the premier golf course at Cape Kidnappers.
You'll pass through a number of charming provincial towns on your way south to Wellington today. One of New Zealand’s largest provincial cities, Palmerston North has an attractive historic heart. Many of the original stores from the 1920s and 1930s, have been restored and now function as boutiques, cafes and restaurants. The rose gardens and the town's Rugby Museum may also catch your interest.
Continue along the Kapiti Coast. Offshore from Waikanae is Kapiti Island, a nature reserve for close encounters with rare birds. A car museum and a gourmet cheese factory are other attractions in this area. From here, it's less than an hour's drive to central Wellington.
Spend a day exploring our country's capital. Wellington is compact, cultured and full of character. Nestled between the harbour and the hills, the downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Enjoy cafes, restaurants, museums (including Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum) and all kinds of shops. Dance, theatre and musical performances are a Wellington speciality.
Today you'll cross from the North Island to the South Island by ferry. The passage across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds is one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world. Highlights include Cook’s Lookout, Tory Channel and Red Rocks seal colony.
From Picton, continue west to Nelson. Along the way, take time to stop at Pelorus Bridge, where you can enjoy a forest walk or a swim. Havelock is the place for a seafood meal – particularly Greenshell Mussels, which are a speciality here.
Nelson is home to a fascinating community of beach, nature and art lovers. From here, you can organise yourself an eco-adventure or become immersed in the local creative culture.
The road to Westport is scenic and interesting. Stop in Murchison for some great white-water rafting or visit the district museum where you can learn about the massive earthquake that shook the region in 1929. In Lyell, you can pan for gold or walk to a pioneer cemetery. Continue past a dramatic rock overhang at Hawks Crag and through the dark, forbidding Buller Gorge to Westport.
Westport is known as a coal-mining town, but it’s also a base for outdoor adventures. Visit the local mining museum, then strap on your walking shoes to investigate the seal colony. Blackwater rafting, jet boating, horse trekking and rafting are other opportunities for outdoor excitement.
Today you'll you travel south through the gold-rush towns of Greymouth and Hokitika to the West Coast Glaciers. Along the way, wild beaches and tempestuous seas will give you a feeling for this rugged and isolated region.
Visit Paparoa National Park, home to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks - a rocky outcrop that looks like stacked pancakes. For some gold-rush history, you can't go past Shantytown, or stop in Hokitika to see carvers sculpt pieces of Pounamu (jade) into beautiful jewellery.
Further south, you'll reach the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. These are some of the most accessible glaciers in the world and there are plenty of ways to explore them from short hikes to flightseeing tours.
Continue your journey south to the settlement of Haast, a town with a touch of the Wild West. Here helicopters fly hunters into the rugged ranges and local pubs make a feature of stuffed animal trophies. Take a moment to refresh before you take on the dramatic twists and turns of the Haast Pass, with its picturesque waterfalls and river scenery.
On arrival in Wanaka, you'll find a lakeside town with an appealing mix of fine living, family fun and adventure. This tranquil town has plenty of cafes, restaurants and boutique shops for you to explore. You’ll also find unique attractions, like the 3D maze at Puzzling World and the boutique Paradiso Cinema.
The shortest route to Queenstown is over the Crown Range. It’s a challenging drive, but the views are amazing. Alternatively, take the route that runs beside the Clutha River, Lake Dunstan and the Shotover River. The vineyards of the Gibbston area and bungy jumpers at the Kawarau River Bridge are interesting distractions along the way.
The alpine resort of Queenstown is exciting, sophisticated and fantastically scenic. It’s the place to source almost any kind of adventure, including bungy, jet boating, horse trekking and rafting. It’s also a destination for luxury experiences – gourmet food and wine, spa treatments and leisurely games of golf.
Decorated with waterfalls and alive with unique wildlife.Read more
Milford Sound is an amazing 22km-long fiord dominated by Mitre Peak and dotted with tall waterfalls, vertical rock faces and seals. Drive yourself or choose a tour, either way, look out for the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain, the Mirror Lakes and the rough-hewn Homer Tunnel that brings you into the Sound.
Spend the night in Te Anau or return to Queenstown.
Caution: If you choose to self-drive, be sure to give yourself plenty of time as conditions varying greatly on this route, particularly in winter.
Today you will travel to Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain.
There are several interesting towns along the way including Omarama. This town is a magnet for gliding enthusiasts due to the thermal that can take glider pilots to 10,000 metres. In Twizel, you can see the world's rarest wading bird – the Black Stilt.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park attracts mountain climbers, hikers and scenery lovers from all over. Heli-skiing, heli-hiking and aerial sightseeing provide amazing ways to explore the region. Or hike one of the many walking trails. From here, you can also take a boat trip to New Zealand's largest glacier, the Tasman.
The road to Christchurch takes you past the settlement of Lake Tekapo. With its shimmering turquoise lake and majestic mountain backdrop, this is a photographer's dream. Be sure to visit the Church of the Good Shepherd and the sheepdog statue before continuing on to Christchurch.
As the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch is packed with charming heritage, innovation and outdoor activities. Punting on the Avon River, heritage tram rides, street art trails, botanical gardens and scenic heli-flights are just some of the things to do here. Spend the afternoon discovering all this city has to offer.