24 days: Christchurch – Auckland, 3,498km Head south to the high-country lakes and Mt Cook then back to Dunedin on the east coast. Take the road west to Milford Sound then north to Queenstown and Wanaka. Follow the west coast north to the glaciers then Nelson and Marlborough. Take the ferry to Wellington before heading north by taking one of two routes to Napier. Head through the central North Island taking in Taupo, Rotorua and Waitomo enroute to Auckland.
Highlights/Top Things to Do
- Swimming with rare dolphins in Akaroa
- The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo
- The strange formations of the Moeraki Boulders
- Penguins and albatross in Dunedin
- The scenic splendour of Milford Sound
- A scenic fight over the glaciers
- Hiking national parks around Nelson
- The beautiful ferry trip over the Cook Strait
- The art deco city of Napier
- Maori culture and geothermal geysers in Rotorua
- Ancient forest at Sanctuary Mountain
- A visit to a volcano in Auckland
Spend the day enjoying Christchurch or perhaps take a drive to the beautiful French settlement of Akaroa, 75km from Christchurch. Overnight in Christchurch.
CHRISTCHURCH – MT. COOK (331km, 4hours 45mins)
Depart Christchurch for the drive to Mt Cook via Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. Stop on the shores of Lake Tekapo and visit the Church of the Good Shepherd (a historic church dedicated to the early pioneers of this area) and the sheepdog statue (a tribute to the high-country farmers’ best friend).
If you have some spare time, you could extend your visit and drive to Mt Cook via Methven on State Highway 72, the Inland Scenic Route. This route is slightly longer, but it is an incredible mountain-side drive.
Alternatively, continue to Mt Cook via State Highway 1 through Ashburton, the commercial centre of one of New Zealand’s richest agricultural and pastoral regions. While this route isn’t as scenic as the other two, it will get you there the fastest. Arrive at Mt Cook and spend the afternoon exploring. Overnight at Mt Cook.
MT. COOK – DUNEDIN (260km, 3hours 15mins)
Travel south to Oamaru, a town which prospered from gold discovered in Central Otago.
The restored Whitestone historic precinct with Victorian shops and eateries is a perfect place to stop. Once you have had some kai (food), head to Moeraki. This region is home to the Moeraki Boulders.
From Oamaru take highway 1 to Dunedin, passing through Palmerston. Spend the afternoon in Dunedin. This university city of Scottish heritage is home to the Speights Brewery, Cadbury factory, New Zealand’s steepest street and oldest university, incredible wildlife and even a castle.
Overnight in Dunedin.
DUNEDIN – TE ANAU (290km, 4hours 10mins)
Travel along State Highway 1 on the east coast until you reach State Highway 94. Then head towards Te Anau.
Arrive in Te Anau and spend the afternoon exploring this gateway to the Fiordland National Park. Overnight in Te Anau.
TE ANAU – MILFORD SOUND (121km, 2hours 20 mins)
Depart Te Anau today for the spectacular drive to Milford Sound.
The road to Milford is a wonderful alpine drive. From Te Anau the road winds down the Eglinton and Hollyford Valleys, then through the Homer Tunnel before being greeted by Mitre Peak towering from the glassy waters of Milford Sound.
Arrive around midday or early afternoon. Overnight in Te Anau or Milford Sound – the road to Te Anau is approximately two to 2.5 hours long, so if you don’t want to make the return trip, you can overnight at Milford Sound.
MILFORD SOUND – QUEENSTOWN (291km, 4hours 10mins)
Take a journey through mountains and alongside lakes on State Highways 94 and 6, arriving in Queenstown late morning.
Spend the afternoon in Queenstown enjoying the many activities and attractions in the area.
Overnight in Queenstown. 7 QUEENSTOWN Spend today in Queenstown. There’s so much to see and do here. Overnight in Queenstown.
QUEENSTOWN TO WANAKA VIA SH6 (117km, 1hour 40mins)
Drive the short distance on State Highway 6 detouring to the old gold mining village of Arrowtown.
Spend the rest of the day and evening in beautiful Wanaka. There is always something to do in Wanaka, no matter what the season.
Overnight in Wanaka.
WANAKA – FOX GLACIER (264km, 3hours 45mins)
The journey from Wanaka winds around Lakes Hawea and Wanaka. Lake Hawea is worth stopping at for a coffee lakeside if you have a spare 30 minutes or so.
The Department of Conservation has set up various short walkways along this route that offer visitors an opportunity to get away from the road and visit the beautiful scenery of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and river valleys.
We encourage you to get out and about and enjoy every minute of it. Continue on the journey to Haast and from there to to Fox Glacier. The drive from Haast Junction to Fox Glacier takes approximately one hour 45 minutes.
The journey through Haast Pass is very rugged and scenic, so it is recommended visitors stop along the way. Spend the afternoon exploring Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
Overnight in Glacier Country.
FRANZ JOSEF – GREYMOUTH (177km, 2hours 30mins)
Depart the Glaciers for Greymouth. En-route, you could stop by Hokitika, the third largest town on the West Coast.
You can also stop in Ross, a goldmining town that still has working goldmines, or Whataroa to visit the only nesting colony of the white heron (kotuku) in New Zealand. Then head up the coast to Greymouth.
Overnight in Greymouth.
GREYMOUTH – ST ARNAUD (227km, 3hours 15mins)
Upon leaving Greymouth, take a journey through the scenic winding and narrow Buller Gorge to Westport. Explore Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks and Blowholes on the way.
Stop in Westport and then continue along the Buller river road from Westport to St Arnaud in the Nelson Lakes National Park.
Overnight in St Arnaud.
ST ARNAUD – NELSON (87km, 1hour 15mins)
Take the short drive from St Arnaud to Nelson this morning and spend the rest of the day exploring.
The Nelson region is known for its year-round sunshine, golden beaches, proximity to three National Parks, 300-plus working artists and craftspeople, boutique wineries, fresh local produce and seafood, historical streetscapes, waterfront cafes and restaurants and a relaxed lifestyle.
Overnight in Nelson.
NELSON – BLENHEIM (115km, 1hour 40mins)
Drive from Nelson to Blenheim this morning.
Savour the Flavours of this region during a vineyard lunch while on a tour of the many wineries and breweries, private gardens and craft studios in the area.
Overnight in Blenheim.
BLENHEIM – PICTON (28km, 25mins)
Spend some more time exploring the Marlborough region today before driving to Picton. Overnight in Picton.
PICTON – WELLINGTON via FERRY (3hours)
Catch the morning ferry service across Cook Strait from Picton into Wellington.
The three-hour ferry trip offers breathtaking scenery from the picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound and the rolling hills of the Marlborough Sounds to the rugged rocks and steep cliffs of the Wellington Heads.
Arrive in Wellington around midday and spend the rest of the day exploring New Zealand’s capital city.
Overnight in Wellington.
Spend today enjoying the many delights of the Wellington region or alternatively start your drive north and overnight enroute.
Overnight in Wellington, the Wairarapa region or the Kapiti Coast.
WELLINGTON – NAPIER (323km, 4hours 35mins)
Depart Wellington for Napier.
There are two alternative routes, either via the Wairarapa Region (follow State Highway 2 through the Hutt Valley, over the Rimutaka Hill, and into the Wairarapa region) or via the Kapiti Coast (follow State Highways 1, 57 and 3 via Palmerston North, before linking up with State Highway 2 at Woodville).
Arrive in Napier in the Hawke’s Bay region late afternoon. There are many excellent vineyards and restaurants in the area for dinner tonight.
Overnight in Napier.
NAPIER – TAUPO (143km, 2hours 5mins)
Depart Napier on State Highway 5 for Lake Taupo.
Enjoy the fantastic scenery, take your time and stop in local towns along the way for a taste of real New Zealand.
The popular holiday town of Lake Taupo is a wonderful playground to spend the afternoon exploring.
Overnight in Taupo.
TAUPO – ROTORUA (82km, 1hour 6mins)
Drive to Rotorua this morning and spend the day enjoying the many activities and attractions this region has to offer.
In Rotorua visitors have the opportunity to experience a number of Maori culture activities and attractions as well as geothermal areas, adventure and adrenaline activities, mountain biking, hiking and wildlife and agricultural attractions, beautiful lakes and native forest.
Overnight in Rotorua.
ROTORUA – WAITOMO (166km, 2hours 20 mins)
In the morning, take the journey across to the Waitomo district. This area is where you will nd limestone caves, glowworms and underground adventure activities such as black water rafting.
Overnight in Waitomo.
WAITOMO – MATAMATA (112km, 1hour 30mins)
Depart Waitomo and travel through the rolling hills of the King Country and lush pasture of the Waikato region to Matamata.
Just before Kihikihi turn east and travel through the heart of dairy farming country to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, a wonderful place to stop for a taste of real New Zealand forest.
Then continue across Lake Arapuni and through the rural towns of Putaruru and Tirau. Arrive in Matamata, known for horse racing and the famous Hobbiton Movie Set.
Overnight in Matamata or nearby Te Aroha where you can enjoy the therapeutic waters of the Te Aroha mineral pools.
MATAMATA – AUCKLAND via Hamilton (191km, 2hours 30mins)
Depart Matamata this morning and head to the famous Lake Karapiro and then to the pretty nearby town of Cambridge.
After stopping in Cambridge for coffee, take the easy drive through to Hamilton, New Zealand’s fourth-largest city.
There’s plenty to do in this area and a stop at Hamilton Gardens, voted International Garden of the Year in 2014, is highly recommended.
Continue the easy drive to Auckland along State Highway 1. Overnight in Auckland.
Spend the day in the beautiful harbor city of Auckland. Known as the city of sails, Auckland offers stunning scenery, from the volcanic cones of the city suburbs to the island-studded Hauraki Gulf and the beautiful rainforest of the West Coast.
Visit the Skytower to get your bearings, and perhaps if there’s time take a ferry trip to Waiheke or Rangitoto Island.
Drive from Auckland City back to the Wilderness base today for your departure.