If New Zealand was an epic movie you would watch the entire film in slow motion! There’s no ‘skipping to the good bit’ in this rollercoaster of highlights, devoid of long drawn out credits you will simply find high definition, hard-hitting geographical perfection.
We’ve picked a full North to South example which we hope will inspire you; this does take 25 days however, so sections of it – especially the North and South Island segments can easily be done as separate shorter tours of 5 to 10 days each.
When to travel
‘Best’ is overrated! I believe that all weather is good – it’s just your clothing that can perhaps be inappropriate. You may find that the off-season is perfect for you, and as it is often less crowded, but there are positives to any time of year in New Zealand.
Summer Touring in New Zealand (hottest months December to February)
- Opposite to our winter so leave the cold behind
- Hot beach weather
- All attractions are open
- All tramping routes will be passable
- Water sports in the ocean and lakes
- Glaciers accessible & mountain peaks still covered in snow
- Very little rainfall
- Outdoor dining and cafe experience
Winter Touring in New Zealand (coldest months June to August)
- Cold enough for snow but mild by most standards (16 degrees in the village!)
- North island is warmer especially in the towns – Auckland rarely sees frost
- Fits in with our summer school holidays
- Blissfully quiet roads
- Ski resorts are open
- It is still sunny!
- Sports like snow mobiling, ice driving, snow tubing
- Events such as the Queenstown Winter Festival
- What is more beautiful than snow-covered mountains?
- Most rental cars are supplied with snow chains
Driving in New Zealand
Kiwi roads are wider and more numerous that they were several years ago and although they are busier they are not on a scale of the UK. You can if you want to prepare fully, take a test that will give you a certificate – see AA’s new Visiting Drivers Training Programme. For those travelling in the winter you may need snow chains so it’s a good idea to check out how to put them on before you set off.
25 days to spare?
You can have it all pretty much! Starting in Auckland we’ve a tour for you that sweeps around the north and criss-crosses the south to take in the dramatic contrasts of mountains, towns, lush countryside, wildlife haunts and coastal magic. The schedule is considerate inasmuch as it allows you time to breathe and smell the flowers – literally!
14 days or less?
With efficient connections New Zealand now makes an ideal destination for the average holiday and you can still do a great amount of exploring. Any section of this longer illustration can be adjusted into an itinerary just for you and your timetable – that is what we do best!
Getting your bearings in Auckland takes no time at all; there is time allowed to explore the city itself, get into its unique Kiwi vibe as well as venturing as far as Northland and the stunning Bay of Islands if you choose.
Live like an Aucklander – this is where the city movers shake it down at the weekends. An area of glorious beaches and lush undulating landscapes is also has marine rich waters – possibly the best diving in the country. You will have access to remote offshore locations by guided kayak tours – definitely recommended if you are at all interested in reefs, pinnacles, marine wildlife and sea birds. These tours are run by great guides in boats of up to four people so don’t worry if you have no experience with a paddle.
You will know you are approaching Rotorua by the unmistakable pungent aroma! This however is a small price to pay for the benefits that the Sulphur City extends and may visitors actually miss it as the leave. A great place to obtain an insight into Maori culture so immerse yourself in bubbling mud pools, marvel at the world-famous Pohutu Geyser, float high on a gondola and zoom recklessly downhill on the exhilarating luge track!
Napier to Wellington
Arriving in Hawkes Bay home to Napier, you may already have driven through acres of vineyards – if not, head out there ASAP and let the Pinot Noir activate your appreciation of this extraordinarily beautiful and historic region. The best vantage point has to be Te Mata Peak whilst the Art Deco Trust in town is the best introduction to its heritage. If you are serious about your wine then you can continue on your wine trail all the way to the capital -windy Wellington. Lap up the cafes, restaurants and bars that entertain the political brains who reside here, meander through galleries and museums. If you happen to visit in summer pack a picnic and sit on the grass to watch cricket – Kiwi style.
You will now have hopped on and off the inter-island ferry and arrived at your first stop in the South Island. You will have arrived in Kaikoura via Picton the highlight of which was possibly the mesmerising Marlborough Sound with its walls of water and mountain but do still take the five minute walk out of town to stroll along the Peninsula Walkway where sightings of seals are not uncommon.
Charming Christchurch, this irrepressible and innovative city has an uplifting spirit and proudly documents its recovery after the 2010/11 earthquakes at Quake City. The centre can be explored by guided bike tours, segway or on foot; the Air Force and Canterbury Museums are well worth a stop and checking out shows at The Court Theatre and the passion of the Haka at Ko Tane is a must.
To Greymouth to Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers
Swapping your car for a ticket on the TranzAlpine buys you so much more than a passage to Greymouth. This astounding feat of engineering allows you to cross the Canterbury Plains, meandering through fertile farmland, traversing deep gorges and gasping at snow-capped peaks flirting mystically past your window. Finally disembarking tantalisingly close to Fox and Franz Josef glaciers the reward is an easy walk to the foot of the ice, passing through steep scarred crevices along frozen ancient river valleys – truly awesome.
Wanaka – Fiordland – Te Anau
If you are arriving in Wanaka in winter you may like to ski Treble Cone and Cardrona Alpine – day passes and ski hire are easy to arrange as are outfits if you need. In Summer the activities continue from this pretty lakeside town full of cafes, restaurants and an eclectic mix of shops; sailing, jetboating and kayaking are popular as are canyoning and skydiving which you can do strapped to an instructor! Driving through Fiordland National Park presents even more enthralling views of moss-carpeted valleys, virgin beech and pod carp forests, rampaging waterfalls and of course the sounds. Milford can be explored on foot, from the air and from any level on or under the water! There is an underground observatory which is a great alternative to scuba diving allowing you to get seriously close to rare coral and fishes. Take time to smell the air here – it’s better than French perfume!
The question is not so much ‘what can I do in Queenstown’ but more ‘what can’t I do’? From snow sports, to lake activities, overland walks, horse-riding, cycling, underground canyoning, airborne trips, adrenaline-filled rafting – the list is endless. The town is also awash with trendy cafes, bars, restaurants and shops, museums, cultural shows, theatre – and did I mention the night sky? In an especially constructed area high above the town, stargazers have access to high quality telescopes for rarely seen views of the iconic Southern Cross, Milky Way and nebulas – this inspirational opportunity really shouldn’t be missed.
Finishing at the southern end of the South Island this tour ends with a flight back up to Auckland; if, however you wished to continue for another 25 days you could meander back by road, maybe after a trip over to the wildlife haven that is Stewart Island, taking in more of the many faces of the land of Zeal.