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Discover back road places, country hospitality and nature in the wild. Explore the Coromandel Peninsula and dig a hot pool in the sand. Experience Maori culture in Rotorua. Enjoy private lunches at Lake Tarawera and in a mid-Canterbury farmhouse. Visit Napier and Wellington. Cruise across Cook Strait. Drive the spectacular Kaikoura coastline to Mt Somers in the foothills of the Alps and stay at Mt Cook. Drive to Milford Sound to cruise by Mitre Peak. Fly back to Queenstown and travel on to Wanaka, the West Coast rainforests, waterfalls, glaciers, Punakaiki Pancake rocks and Arthur’s Pass.
Prices from £3695 per person, based on 2 people sharing a room and include daily breakfast, 3 lunches and 4 dinners. Single traveller price from £4685.
Please note, prices quoted are for the tour only and do not include international flights.
Having driven the length and breadth of this awesome country, Steph is your self-drive guru and will be happy to take you through our tempting driving holiday options.
If you have any questions why not send Steph McLeish a message or contact Steph McLeish directly on 0844 332 9366
Highlights & Inclusions
Day 1: Auckland - Thames Coast Highway - Coromandel Peninsula – Whitianga
Heading south from Auckland over the Bombay Hills and into the dairy farming heartland of the Waikato ("full flowing water"). Driving east across the Hauraki Plains, the jagged ranges of the Coromandel Peninsula dominate the skyline. Thames, once a thriving gold rush town, lies at the southern end of the Hauraki Gulf. From here we drive the scenic western side of the Peninsula to our special lunch at Rapaura Watergardens where you can wander through native bush to a cascading waterfall and lily ponds.
Travelling further north along this picturesque coastline, we arrive at Coromandel where the town’s gold mining past is visible in the restored wooden buildings lining the main street. This afternoon we cross the ranges to visit the stunning east coast beaches of Whangapoua (Harbour of Shellfish), Matarangi (Headland in the Sky), Kuaotunu (Young of Eels) and Otama (of my son). No wonder this beautiful coastline is a favourite holiday playground for Kiwis. We stay the night in Whitianga on Mercury Bay.
Day 2: Whitianga - Rotorua
We start the day with a short ferry ride across the Whitianga estuary to Cook’s Landing to meet your coach. Alternatively, take a cruise (optional) to and on to Hahei Beach. On the coast just north of Hahei is Cathedral Cove, a sublime beach of white sands and limestone outcrops. Nearby at Hot Water Beach natural thermal hot springs bubble up through the sand. Depending on tide times you can dig your very own hot pool. We continue south to Tairua, Whangamata and Waihi to the Bay of Plenty, the centre of the kiwifruit industry. Near Katikati we take the road less travelled, for a forest walk to a giant 800-year-old kauri tree. Driving beside three bush-fringed lakes, Rotoma, Rotoehu and Rotoiti we reach Rotorua, our home for two nights.
Day 3: Rotorua sightseeing
A leisurely day in this lakeside town at the heart of Maori culture. Our first highlight is a cruise on Lake Rotoiti on a 53ft catamaran “Tiua” exploring secluded coves with the chance to take the helm, fish for trout, swim in the lake or soak in hot pools. The skipper and crew share local legends and point out historic sites. We come ashore to “go bush” driving to the Blue Lake (Tikitapu), and the Green Lake (Rotokakahi). Above Lake Tarawera relax over an exclusive lunch at Pounamu Lodge with our hosts David and Karen. Karen has stories to tell of her ancestor Guide Sophia who lead visitors to safety when the Pink and White Terraces were destroyed when Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886. After lunch we learn about Maori culture with a personal experience at Ohinemutu Village before finishing the day at Rotorua's exceptional Museum. This evening you will be touched by the warmth of a Maori concert – the traditional welcome to visitors – and a dinner that includes hangi food steamed in an earth oven.
Day 4: Rotorua - Napier
Explore our favourite geothermal hideaway, Orakei Korako, (place of adorning) crossing the lake to a wonderland of silica terraces, bubbling mud pools and an enchanting Aladdin’s Cave, Ruatapu (sacred hole in Maori). A hot pool at the bottom of this 120ft deep cave is known as Waiwhakaata, (pool of mirrors). On the road into Taupo we view the turbulent Huka Falls, where the Waikato River thunders through a narrow chasm. From Taupo there are magnificent views across the lake to the three active volcanoes - Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu (2,797 metres), the highest mountain in the North Island. Leaving the lake, the road winds over the ranges to the seaside town of Napier. Renowned for its Art Deco architecture, Napier was rebuilt in this style after anearthquake in 1931. These days it’s also an acclaimed wine region and your guide will introduce you to the premier vineyards before we end the day with a guided art deco tour. Your hotel is right on the waterfront.
Day 5: Napier - Wellington
We start the day with a drive to Havelock North and up Te Mata Peak for fantastic views of the region before heading south through Hawkes Bay’s pastoral landscape of orchards, farms and vineyards to the Wairarapa. At Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre see endangered birds such as kiwi, kaka, kokako and takahe and the tuatara, a “living fossil” reptile that lived at the time of the dinosaurs. We finish the day by traversing the Rimutaka Ranges to Wellington, the capital city. Your contemporary inner city hotel is at the heart of Wellington's eclectic cafe scene.
Day 6: Wellington - Cook Strait - Picton - Blenheim - Kaikoura
This morning we catch the Interislander ferry to cruise for three hours across Cook Strait into Tory Channel and up beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton. With our feet firmly planted on “Te Waka a Maui”, the South Island, we tour Marlborough’s premier wine and food region renowned for sauvignon blanc and the collection of World War 1 flying memorabilia at Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre(optional). Leaving behind the dry hills of Marlborough we drive south to Kaikoura, a small hamlet beside the ocean and beneath the towering Kaikoura Mountains. We stay right on the waterfront. Seafood, especially crayfish, is a specialty in this ocean side town.
Day 7: Explore the Kaikoura coast
Relax on the coast with time for close encounters with seals, seabirds and whales (optional). This afternoon cruise on the “Albatross Encounter”. Kaikoura is the albatross capital of New Zealand, if not the world, with up to 12 species of albatross plus penguins, gannetts, skuas, shearwaters, petrels and terns. Your driver/guide has a day off today.
Day 8: Kaikoura - Akaunui Farm homestead - Mt Somers
The highway continues down the coast and winds inland over the Hunderlee Hills before dropping down to the Canterbury Plains. The wine district of Waipara set on terraces above the river is an ideal coffee stop. Our special lunch destination is Akaunui Farm homestead where we enjoy the warm hospitality of Di and Ian Mackenzie, picking up farming tips from Ian and lunching on fresh produce from Di’s bountiful garden. Later we drive over to the foothills of the Southern Alps and the small village of Mt Somers. There’s time for a walk to the Staveley waterfall at the base of Mt Somers. This evening high country cuisine is on the menu.
Day 9: Mt Somers - Lake Tekapo - Aoraki/Mount Cook
We leave the Canterbury Plains and ascend Burkes Pass as the landscape changes from farmland to dramatic, sweeping vistas of tussock lands, the mountains of the Mackenzie Basin and the aquamarine waters of Lake Tekapo. Nearby the Church of the Good Shepherd and a sculpture celebrating the hard-working high country sheep dog are two irresistible photo stops. We continue our journey to the head of Lake Pukaki and up to the village at the foot of Mt Cook, at 3,754 metres New Zealand's highest mountain known in Maori as Aoraki “the cloud piercer”. This evening we are surrounded by towering mountain peaks and magnificent alpine scenery.
At Mt Cook board the “Glacier Explorer” – a boat ride on the Tasman Glacier. Perhaps treat yourself to a scenic helicopter or fixed wing flight around Aoraki/Mt Cookand over the main divide to the West Coast (optional).
Day 10: Aoraki/Mount Cook - Queenstown
Perhaps take an early morning stroll in the valley before we head down the mountain rimmed Mackenzie Basin, over the golden grass ranges of Lindis Pass and through the craggy Kawarau Gorge into Queenstown. We ride the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak for a scenic overview of this picturesque resort and adrenalin adventure destination. Your hotel is just above the town with views to Lake Wakatipu and Remarkables Range.There’s a great variety of restaurants and cafes and your driver/guide will let you know our favourites.
Day 11: Queenstown - Te Anau - Milford Sound - Nature Cruise - Scenic Flight - Queenstown
You are picked up from your hotel to travel alongside Lake Wakatipu to Te Anau and Milford Sound deep in the heart of Fiordland National Park. The Milford Road is a panorama of high mountains and deep valleys studded with glaciers, waterfalls and mirror lakes. Cruise down Milford Sound, a majestic fiord dominated by iconic Mitre Peak, and out to the Tasman Sea. Return to Queenstown on a stunning scenic flight over the mountaintops.
Day 12: Queenstown - Cardrona Valley - Wanaka
The morning is free to further explore Queenstown. Perhaps cruise on the Tss Earnslaw (optional), take a jet boat ride (optional) on the remote and beautiful Dart River in The Lord of the Rings scenery or walk the lakeshore. This afternoon our first destination is the leafy village of Arrowtown where gold mining history comes alive beside the Arrow River. Heading into tussock country, the road climbs up the Crown Range with expansive views of the Gibbston Valley. We call into the Cardrona Hotel, its history also traced back to the goldmining era then continue on to Wanaka amid a panorama of mountain peaks. Tonight we dine in a private homestead with warm hosts and stunning lake views
Day 13: Wanaka - Haast Pass - Franz Josef
We drive beside Lake Hawea and the top of Lake Wanaka before heading into pristine mountain and river scenery of the Haast Pass in Mt Aspiring National Park. Well-maintained tracks through native beech forests lead us to cascading waterfalls and clear blue pools where trout lurk. Leaving the mountains, the road winds along the edge of the river to Haast where the Department of Conservation Centre documents the region’s colourful history, flora and fauna. Continue north through the lush, primeval rainforest of Westland World Heritage Park, stopping at Ship Creek for a stroll on the beach to the dune lake and through swampland rainforest. Lake Matheson is famous for reflections of the Alps and at Franz Josef we view the advancing glacier descending through rainforest.
Day 14: Franz Josef - Okarito Lagoon - Franz Josef
Today relax and enjoy the beauty of this remote World Heritage Park. Perhaps take an early morning flight over the Southern Alps to Aoraki/Mt Cook and experience the thrill of landing on a glacier(optional) or join a guided hike onto the glacier (optional). We drive out to the coast to visit the tiny, isolated settlement of Okarito nestled between the Tasman Sea and Okarito Lagoon. You could kayak (optional) on the shallow waters of the lagoon, a feeding ground of the rare white heron (kotuku) which breeds nearby in the Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve, a 1,000-year-old kahikatea rainforest. Or, for close up take a jet boat ride(optional) from Whataroa down the river to an exclusive hide tucked away in the rainforest. At the end of the day there’s nothing better than to soak in Franz Josef’s hot pools(optional) fed by pure glacier water before dining in the village.
Day 15: Franz Josef - Hokitika - Punakaiki
Travel up the coast passing mirror lakes, boulder-laden rivers and catching glimpses of the Southern Alps. At Hokitika there’s time to visit a host of craft galleries – Pounamu (greenstone) carving, glass blowing, wood and copper artisans. A beautiful coastal road following part of the ancient Pounamu trails used by Maori leads to your hotel on the coast at Punakaiki. Unique coastal flora includes the southernmost nikau palms. A little further up the road is the leading local attraction - the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, sculpted limestone sea stacks and towering cliffs. If the tide is right, blowholes thunder spreading clouds of spray. We celebrate our travels this evening in the hotel’s Jacob's restaurant.
Day 16: Punakaiki - Arthur's Pass - Christchurch
Retracing our steps down the coast we drive up the Otira Gorge on a spectacular cantilevered road through towering mountains to Arthur’s Pass National Park stopping at the lookout to watch the mischievous antics of the keas. Stretch your legs in the beech forests at Arthur’s Pass village and at the massive limestone rocks rising out of bare pasture at Castle Hill before we descend Porter’s Pass to the Canterbury Plains reaching Christchurch in the late afternoon where your tour ends.
Tour Dates available, starting in Auckland:
2013: Apr 26; May 10; Jun 7; Jul 5; Aug 9; Sep 6; Oct 11; Nov 8; Dec 6.
2014: Jan 10, 17, 24, 31; Feb 7, 14, 21, 28; Mar 7, 21; Apr 11.