One of the most common requests we get from people planning trips to New Zealand is for assistance with driving routes. New Zealand is a relatively small country (only a little larger than the UK), but has a surprisingly large number of attractions, spread out from top to bottom. Being long and thin, with winding roads and few highways, driving times can be deceptively long – 300km can easy be a four or five hour drive, for instance. As a result, it’s important to plan a sensible route to make the most of your time and avoid spending all of your holiday staring at the back of the campervan in front of you… In this, the first of a two-part series, we provide some suggestions and tips for road-tripping around the North Island. Note that unlike the the Australian visa rules, many nationalities visiting New Zealand do not need to arrange a visa ahead of time. — With most international flights arriving in Auckland, it makes sense to start a North Island route there. If you’re arriving in Wellington instead, either by plane or ferry, just adjust the driving plans accordingly. Two week North Island road trip: Auckland (1 night) – Start in the City of Sails, giving yourself a night to recover from the long flight and explore a little. Stay somewhere reasonably central to avoid having to drive too much in this, New Zealand’s largest and most congested city. Raglan (1 night) – Drive south to Raglan, New Zealand’s premier surf town. With a relaxed beach vibe, black sand beaches and plenty of opportunity to for surf lessons and board hire if that’s your thing, it’s a...Read More
New Zealand’s capital and most bohemian city, Wellington fits a lot of cool into a small space. The variable weather means that there are plenty of things to do both inside and out – beaches, kayaking and hiking abound when the sun is out, while galleries, fantastic restaurants and cafes and the best museum in the country await when the wind and rain blow in. No matter where your interests lie, Wellington will easily provide plenty of entertainment. High on most visitor’s list is Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. Entry is free and spending several hours wandering around the interactive exhibitions and collections is highly recommended to learn more about New Zealand’s history and culture. Given that Peter Jackson’s Weta Studios are based in the city and much of the filming was done nearby, it’s no surprise that Wellington makes the most of it’s Lord of the Rings connections. There’s plenty of opportunity to go hobbit spotting at the various film locations in the area, either self-guided or as part of a tour. Cuba Street is the cultural heart of Wellington, with dozens of great bars and cafes, quirky shops and equally quirky inhabitants. Other awesome areas to check out are the pubs and clubs in Courtenay Place, the boutique shopping in Lambton Quay and College St and the various weekend craft and food markets dotted all around the city. The city plays host to literally dozens of festivals and exhibitions every year – to find out what is on while you’re in town, check out the regularly updated list of upcoming events here. Consider booking your accommodation well in advance if you’re going to be...Read More
Often called the best one-day walk in the country, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing features high on the list of things to do in New Zealand for many visitors. Traversing the slopes of an active volcano, this 20km trail takes hikers through an other-worldly landscape forged by eruptions and volcanic activity over millions of years. Brightly coloured lakes, steaming vents, solidified lava flows and hot springs abound for almost the entire length of the track before it descends through native forest at the end, seven to nine hours of strenuous walking from the starting point. It is possible to break the journey for the night at one of two Department of Conservation huts – an option highly recommended for the hardy few who attempt the four-hour return Mt Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings!) side-trip as well. Transport to and from the ends of the track can be difficult given the remote locations involved. As the track finishes 20km from the starting point, assistance is required with transportation – local tour operators provide a shuttle service in the morning and evening to the National Park village while other buses provide day-trip options from as far afield as Taupo. A fair degree of fitness is required to attempt the Tongariro Crossing at any time of year. In summer the loose volcanic material underfoot make descents tricky, while in winter much of the route is covered in ice and snow and may only be attempted with an experienced guide. If you are up for the challenge however, the rewards are high, with hiking and views unlike anything else in New Zealand. Also in the Tongariro National Park is Mt Ruapehu, home...Read More
If you’re a scuba diver – or would like to be – check out the small town of Tutukaka, on the North Island’s east coast.
The coastline is stunning, with rocky shores, pristine white sand beaches, and gorgeous sheltered bays that barely see a visitor even in the height of summer. There are some brilliant coastal walks along these rocky shores too.
The best part of this part of the country, though, is the diving. With the wonderful Poor Knights Marine Reserve just offshore, there’s an abundance of great dive spots within easy reach. Tutakaka was voted as one of the ‘Top Ten Must-Do’s in New Zealand,” and it’s not hard to see why as soon as you get there.Read More
Flying into Auckland is a memorable experience, with the city and harbour sparkling below you as the plane comes in to land. There are plenty of airlines that fly into New Zealand’s largest city, and if your favourite carrier does not, it is worth checking to see if their partners do. For instance, there are no direct Jetblue flights into Auckland, but partners such as Singapore Airlines and Emirates operate regular services to the city.Read More
Nelson is known as the sunshine capital of New Zealand, and with good reason. Along with the highest number of sunshine hours in the country, the town boasts great beaches, wonderful vineyards and outdoor adventures within easy reach, a thriving local art scene, award winning restaurants and a burgeoning café culture.
Three national parks lie within a 90 minute drive of the city centre. Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi National Parks are all well worth a visit, with some great short and multi-day hikes. Secluded bays and dense forest have attracted visitors to the area for decades.Read More
It’s not unusual for South Island scenery to impress, and with vast areas of unspoiled nature reserves and gorgeous coastlines Marlborough is no exception. Full of dramatic peaks, superb vineyards and the pristine Marlborough Sounds, this part of the country is renowned for a top-quality wine making industry that exports all over the world.
Exploring the Kaikoura ranges is a worthwhile experience whether on foot or on horseback, and many people descend on the area to do just that. Marlborough has often been referred to as an outdoor paradise, with trout filled rivers, glorious native forests, wonderful coastal tracks, sheltered bays and towering mountain ranges.
Staying in Kaikoura itself for a couple of days is also worthwhile, as this small coastal town acts as the base for several popular activities. Whale watching is the most popular, with a number of different companies offering trips out to see these giant mammals, with a resident population of sperm whales making a sighting extremely likely. Other water-based activities include dolphin spotting, fishing tours, scuba diving and kayaking. If you’d prefer to stay on land, motor biking, horse trekking, hiking and wine tasting are all on offer as well.
At the beginning of February each year the region throws a huge party, celebrating 30 years of wine production in the area with the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival that attracts crowds from all over New Zealand and around the world.
If it’s the sea that attracts you, then head for the shoreline and waters around Marlborough. There are some great cruises to go on around the sounds, including the tranquil areas of the inner Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds.
Kayaking and hiking (tramping) are popular pastimes in Marlborough, with vast tracts of gorgeous coastal forest to hike through and secluded coves and inlets to explore in the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds.
For those people who want to follow in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary, Mt Tapuae-O-Uenuku in the Awatere Valley is the place to go. This is Marlborough’s highest peak, where the famous mountaineer started the preparations for his epic Everest climb.
A slightly easier option is the Cape Campbell walkway, a four day hike that finishes at a historic 150 year old lighthouse with plenty of stunning photo opportunities along the way.
Distances (to Blenheim): 114km from Nelson, 310km from Christchurch
Best time to visit: Summer is a fantastic time to visit the region, especially the long lazy days from January to March. If you can time your visit for the Wine and Food festival, even better.
How long to spend there: It would be easy to spend two or three days in the Marlborough region, using a base in Blenheim to explore the surrounding area. Allow longer if you plan to do any of the multi-day hikes or kayak trips.Read More
Hastings is situated on the east coast of the North Island and enjoys a very temperate climate – it’s no surprise that so many vineyards are located in this region. There are sixty five dotted around the area, and it’s easy to spend a day or two quietly exploring several of them.
Hastings itself is an extremely arty place, the cultural scene is just part of a thriving community in this vibrant town. Restaurants serve internationally renowned cuisine and of course the best New Zealand wines. The café scene is busy and bustling, as are the the local bars.
The region boasts splendid sandy beaches where you can soak up the sunshine or take part in the many water activities along the coast. There is much to see in this part of New Zealand, including a drive up to nearby Te Mata Peak. Hiking in this area is superb, with great views of the world below and out along the coastline.
There are festivals and events in Hastings nearly every month, with thousands of visitors descending on the area every year to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Superb food, outstandingly good wines and long hours of summer sunshine make Hastings a top holiday destination for Kiwis and foreigners alike.
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday morning, be sure to take a tour around the local farmer’s market. You’ll find amazing local fresh produce sold there, but the friendly country atmosphere is the best part. A visit to Rush Munro’s old fashioned ice cream garden is also a must, especially to relax on a warm afternoon after a day spent exploring!
If you want to explore the surrounding areas then take a ride out to Havelock North which is a charming small town surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. There’s an award winning cheese factory to check out, as well as a very sticky honey outlet … and of course you get to sample the goods!
Finding places to stay in and around Hastings is pretty easy and there’s something for everyone in the area. Fishermen can indulge themselves in their passions, adventurers can go off exploring the amazing countryside and adrenalin rush seekers can jet boat or white water raft down the crystal clear rivers in the region.
Best time to visit: The weather is best in summer and early autumn (November through April), with the grape-harvesting season of late summer being the ideal time to visit.
How long to spend there: A day or two in Hastings, another day exploring the vineyards and surrounding areas.
Whakatane is situated on the Eastern side of the Bay of Plenty and is known as an anglers’ paradise. Fishermen from every corner of the globe descend on this fertile part of North Island to indulge their passion. If it’s fly fishing you’re after then this is one Kiwi destination you have to put on your list, but there is so much more to the area. There are several fabulous natural attractions as well as a few adrenalin activities as well.
The wharf at Whakatane is always busy, teeming with luxury yachts and fishing boats and always worth wandering around. Shopping in town is an experience not to be missed with a great selection of shops selling beautiful hand crafted Kiwi souvenirs.
Outdoor living is one of the fabulous things about New Zealand and during the long summer months there is nothing nicer than touring around exploring and discovering all the great places and sights the country has to offer. Whakatane is geared up for the wonderful summer sunshine with a great choice of restaurants, cafés and bars serving up amazing food on terraces elegantly decorated with Maori carvings and exotic plants.
Forty-eight kilometres off the coast of Whakatane lies the famous White Island volcano. The Maoris call this smoking giant Whakaari and if you want to get up close to it, there are plenty of organised trips from the mainland. If you really want to treat yourself, then a helicopter ride over the island and the surrounding areas is a great experience too.
This whole area is a divers paradise, White Island is one of the best scuba diving zones in New Zealand and offers exciting dives not only because of the marine life but also the amazing underwater steam vents found in the area. Diving among shoals of fish in these waters is an amazing experience, not to mention the regular dolphin sightings in the region.
Just a thirty minute drive to the east of Whakatane lies the town of Opotiki. This quaint Kiwi town is rich in culture, the gateway to the whole of the Eastern Coastal region. A walk along Waiotahe Beach is a real pleasure, as is a road trip along the entire coastline.
It’s the relaxed lifestyle that has attracted visitors to this region for decades, but the pace has picked up in recent years with several adrenalin and outdoor activities making an appearance. White water rafting, kayaking, sea fishing, trout fishing and bungy jumping are all possible in and around Whakatane.
For a more sedate thrill, the superb sandy beaches and gorgeous native forests are well worth exploring, as are the Rangitaiki, Whakatane and Tarawera rivers that flow through the region. They are all great places for trout fishing, whitebaiting and just gently sitting beside.
Distances: 300km from Auckland, 85km from Rotorua
Best time to visit: The weather is best in summer and early autumn (November through April), with long lazy days and warm nights. There’s no bad time to visit though, with the changing seasons bringing different views of the region.
How long to spend there: Allow a day or two to explore Whakatane and surrounding areas, with an extra day if you’re including White Island in your itinerary.Read More
Flying into Auckland is a great experience, the start of an exciting adventure that will take you to places of unbelievable natural beauty and where outdoor living is at its best during the long hot summer months in the southern hemisphere.
Just outside Auckland, Manukau boasts a cosmopolitan community, with a colourful city, stunning coastline and superb beaches. If you enjoy water sports, a short stay in Manukau will give you the chance to indulge your passions. Many Aucklanders get out of the city at the weekends to spend their free time in Manukau – the area has a lot to offer visitors and locals alike.
There are plenty of great restaurants in Manukau and because of the diverse community the choice of cuisine is exceptional. With a wonderful café and bar scene, there is no shortage of places to stop, sit down and relax in a typical laid-back Kiwi atmosphere.
If you’re looking for bit of culture in the area, Manukau has some great art galleries and museums filled with contemporary Kiwi art including some amazing Maori masterpieces on permanent display. With attractions like Butterfly Creek and Rainbow’s End, this is a great place to take the whole family for a day out. Of course, big kids have a lot of fun in these parks too…
Butterfly Creek is home to many tropical animal species like salt water crocodiles, baby alligators, reptiles and a collection of around 750 species of butterflies. There are also an abundance of tropical birds and a marine coral and fresh-water tropical aquaria. It is well worth taking the Red Admiral Express Train that meanders through the surrounding wetlands. The park is open all year round and there’s a great café in the park too that serves up some great Kiwi snacks and cool drinks.
Just a short drive down the coast brings you to many typically Kiwi villages with brilliantly white painted houses. The surrounding landscapes are gorgeous, with many great photo opportunities. There are some lovely places to stay in and around Manukau with something to suit all budgets.
Manukau is that it is just a stone’s throw away from Auckland, which is why so many city dwellers like to spend their free time there. With fabulous beaches, great restaurants serving up an array of dishes with a typical Kiwi flair, a vibrant café scene tand some great bars to spend a few hours in the cool of the evening, it’s definitely worth spending some time there.
Distances: 25km from Auckland
Best time to visit: The weather is warmest in summer (Nov-Mar) if you’re planning on plenty of outdoor activities, but given the range of museums, bars and restaurants there isn’t a bad time to visit.
How long to spend there: Allow two days to explore the city, with another day or two if you plan to venture further afield or check out the theme park.