So you want a holiday that will surpass every other holiday that you have ever had. You want to see some of the best, if not the best scenery in the world, and you want to eat the best food, and drink the best wine and water. Welcome to New Zealand my friends.
For some of you, just getting to New Zealand might be a long adventure in itself. That is what makes visiting New Zealand so magical. It is it's utter remoteness that makes it so pristine. Weathered by centuries of some of the harshest weather on this planet, it's ruggedness and purity are intoxicating, it's untouched beauty are evident around each and every corner. So get your camera, put on a jacket, and let's get going, we have a road trip to do, and boy, oh boy you are not going to forget this one.
Most of you will choose to arrive in Auckland. It's not the capital of New Zealand, many think it is, that right is reserved for Wellington at the other end of the North Island.
While Auckland is New Zealand's most populated city, therefore house prices are highest, along with most every other thing you want to buy. It also has the largest international airport in the country, so your arrival options will be more plentiful. Upon arrival my first tip is, get your Motorhome from the airport ( plenty of operators offer great deals), spend a day in Auckland city, and then hit the road. There is so much to see in this country of our's and you probably don't have enough time to see it all. (no one ever does.)
Our first destination is going to be the spectacular Coromandel Peninsula. We are essentially heading east as we leave Auckland behind. The reason I have chosen this part of New Zealand to start our 'Kiwi Adventure' is because within just an hour and a half you will already be immersed in what makes New Zealand so incredible. Head for the small township named Thames. Thames is the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula and is just 114kms from Auckland.
Remember in planning your road trip in New Zealand, that unlike in Europe and the USA, New Zealand doesn't have an extensive, nor expansive highway network. For the most part you will be driving on two lane roads, along, twisting, and undulating terrain.
Just before arriving in Thames at a small place called Kopu, you will see a turn off for State Highway No 25a that heads towards a place called Tairua. Take this turn, and then follow this road as it takes you over some of the most spectacular terrain in the country. Have your selfie sticks, video cameras and binoculars ready at every turn, there is truly breathtaking scenery along this stretch of road.
Tairua is a comfortable two hours from Auckland, so you could stop for lunch, or keep going. I would suggest you head to Whitianga and stop there for a night. There are plenty of cool things to do in Whitianga, there are some great beaches to explore, or you can take the tiny ferry (5 min trip) from 'downtown' over to Hot Water Beach, and check out a local tourist attraction. Yes, the beach really does have hot water. There are plenty of superb places to stay the night with great facilities along the beach front (Simpsons Beach) in Whitianga.
The next day complete your loop of the Coromandel as you head north east up to Coromandel township, and along to Whangapoua. Then you can travel down the west side of the Peninsula back through Thames. Make sure you stop and try the local seafood up this way. It is to die for, and you will be left saying "this never tasted this good anywhere else I've had it".
Head south down Highway No 26 from Thames , and join Highway No 2 heading to Tauranga. Another comfortable drive that is about an hour and a half. Tauranga is the gateway to the Bay of Plenty. You can climb / walk up Mt Maunganui and enjoy the magnificent views out to Mayor and Motiti Islands. If you are a keen diver then put a trip to Mayor Island onto your bucket list. It has some of the best diving in New Zealand, or so they say.
Staying in or near by to Tauranga for a night would be a good idea. There are a number of excursions you can take from here to nearby islands and places of interest.
From Tauranga we are heading down State Highway No 29, and then join State Highway No 36 as we head across to Rotorua, or as many call it, 'Rottenrua' . In local joke that one, based on the frequent strong smells of sulphur generated by the thermal activity and boiling mud pools in and around the city. Don't let that thought put you off visiting this magical part of New Zealand. Rotorua is a must for anyone visiting New Zealand.
There is an ample supply of real true Maori history on display in and around Rotorua. I strongly suggest you visit a 'marae' and get to see, hear and taste what Maori life is all about. As the indigenous owners of the land of New Zealand known as Aoteoroa the Maori way of life and history is fascinating, and as in most occupied lands, isn't respected, shared and communicated anywhere near enough.
Stay a night in Rotorua, again there are plenty of places to park your Motorhome and refuel her for the next day. I wonder how you are enjoying driving on the 'wrong side' of the road by now.
The next day we are going to continue to head south, this time down State Highway No 5 in the direction of Taupo. In just over an hour from Rotorua, Taupo has some great sights for you to explore. So make sure you get away from Rotorua early enough in the morning to give yourself near enough a full day in Taupo.
When you get to Taupo make sure you get out on the lake. There are a few cruise options available for lunches or dinners as well. Make sure you do this as it provides for stunning vista of the surrounding area. Just six kilometres north of Taupo are the spectacular Huka Falls. Make sure you visit the falls during your time here. There are some great spots to park for lunch near the falls, and if you are keen, you can even take one of those adventurous jet boat rides up to the face of the falls.
Stay in Taupo the night, enjoy all she has to offer. Re supply your motor home with your favourite things, don't forget the Chocolate Fish, Buzz Bars and some Hokey Pokey ice cream, all New Zealand delicacies.
Depending what time of the year your visit is will depend on what we do next. If you are exploring New Zealand during her winter time, June through August, then skiing comes into the equation. Not far from Taupo are the North Island ski fields of Mt Ruapehu. Whakapapa and Turoa are the names of the two ski fields on Mt Ruapehu. You can park your motor home almost of the snow-line, and walk to the chair lifts.
For our trip though, we are going to somewhere very different. Not many travellers to New Zealand know about, or have heard about the Worlds Forgotten Highway. That's where I am going to take you next.
From Taupo head south along the eastern shores of the lake along State Highway No 1 direction Turangi. You will have plenty of opportunities to stop and take pictures and selfies along the shores of Lake Taupo. The winds can be bitterly cold here, so don that scarf and beanie and please stay warm.
Once in Turangi take head northwest on State Highway No 41 direction Taumaranui, this is where the fun begins. Upon reaching Taumaranui you turn onto State Highway No 43 and you are now officially on the Worlds Forgotten Highway. A world heritage listed stretch of road, for the next 149kms, you will enjoy some of the most incredible driving experiences you can have in a vehicle. The central part of the North Island will appear beneath you as you climb up and over saddles. It may just be a two hour drive, but if you haven't stopped and filled up your cameras SD card with stunning photos then you are not doing this experience justice.
At 'the other end' of the Worlds Forgotten Highway you will pop out in a small farming town called Stratford at the base of Mt Taranaki. Depending on the weather and your schedule I really recommend you climb the mountain (best done in summer months, December through February. If that idea doesn't float your boat then head for the coastal city of New Plymouth just 40 kms up the road.
I would like you to see this particular place as it is where I was born, and spent my school years. There is a great walk along the waterfront that literally takes you from one side of town to the other. You can hire bikes and do it as well. Visit Pukekura Park in the middle of the town, take a stroll through her magnificent gardens, and then settle in for the night as tomorrow is going to be a big day.
We start early the next day, and head toward Opunake from New Plymouth along State Highway 45. Today we are heading to Wellington, New Zealand's capital city and one of the windiest places on the planet. It's a four and a half hours drive from New Plymouth to Wellington. Along the way stop off at Whanganui, and Palmerston North, one of them would be ideal for lunch. The closer you get to Wellington you can top up on seafood sold on the side of the road, so keep an eye open for mobile stalls popping up here and there.
Wellington has well and truly evolved over the years. Always known as the more 'artsy' city in New Zealands North Island, it is a great place to visit and explore. With a population of just over 200'000 people it is a University city, so there are plenty of places to go and watch theatre, drink, and to eat. Check out the waterfront area as there are a plentiful supply of eateries along there, and also the home of the world famous Te Papa Museum, the New Zealand Museum.
Take a trip up the cable car and see if you can brave the wind and cold at the Observatory at the top. It's a great view over the city from the top, and one not to miss when you spend some time in Wellington. After a long days drive relax and enjoy this great place. If you want to spend an extra day in Wellington you will find plenty to do, all along the harbour there are places to explore and if the weather is nice getting around on foot is also a great way to see the city.
Wellington is the staging point for taking vehicular traffic ferry across to the South island. This is where you will drive your motor home onto the inter island ferry and cross the famous Cook Strait. Cook Strait is the stretch of ocean the joins the Tasman Sea to the west to the Pacific Ocean to the east. It takes just over three hours on the ferry to cross from Wellington to Picton in the South island. It is arguably one of the most magnificent ferry trips in the world.
There are forty nine crossings per week of Cook Strait by the ferries, so you should be able to secure a time and day that works for your schedule. Once in the south Island your holiday adventure of New Zealand takes on a different dimension. Gone will be the sweeping pastural lands of the North Island replaced with the rugged mountains, and breathtaking lakes and rivers of the Southern Island.
Before you make your way south, spend a couple of days exploring the top of New Zealand's South Island, you wont regret it. From the incredible beauty of Abel Tasman to the wineries of Nelson and beyond. There are some of New Zealand's best cuisine and wines on offer in this region, and by pulling into any of the local information centres you can explore wine trails, and get maps on where are the best places to go.
From the northern tip of the South Island it's time to head toward New Zealand's wonderland. If you haven't got time to traverse the whole of New Zealand in a motor home I strongly recommend you prioritise the South Island over the North. I say this because you can experience all of New Zealand just in the South Island, where as the North Island does not have the same kind of beauty it's southerly sister has.
A drive down along the battered and bruised West Coast of the South Island is a must. The towns of Westport and Greymouth await. It's a three hour drive from Nelson to Westport, and then a further 100kms onto Greymouth. This exposed coastline will present you with many wonderful spectacles, even if she is shrouded in mist or rain, there is a drama around every corner.
Two hours south of Greymouth will see you arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier was named after Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria by the German explorer, Julius von Haast in 1865. Following the passage of the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998, the name of the glacier was officially altered to Franz Josef Glacier / Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere.
Twenty three kilometres South West of the Franz Josef Glacier is the Fox Glacier. Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier descends 2,600 m (8,500 ft) on its 13 km journey from the Southern Alps towards the coast, finishing near rainforest 300 metres (980 ft) above sea level. After retreating for most of the previous 100 years, it advanced between 1985 and 2009.
This is a definitely must on your trip of the South Island, and your next chance to play with any ice or snow. The only highway south is highway 6, so yes, you are on the right road. One hundred and twenty kilometres further south, or a little under one and a half hours, is the sleepy town of Haast. Haast is the start or end of, depending on what way you are travelling, of your journey along the Haast Pass.
Make sure you stick to Highway 6, because at this juncture the options are very limited and somewhat potentially dire if you were to miss a turn. There are no further road connections along the South Island coastline past Haast, the next stop by sea is Antartica and unless you are a penguin or a seal then your chances of survival are not looking too good.
The Haast Pass is a mountain pass. It is named for Julius von Haast, a 19th-century explorer who was also geologist for the Provincial government of Canterbury. The pass was used by Māori in pre-European times, but not on a regular basis.
It is one of the three passes where a road crosses over the Southern Alps, the other two being Lewis Pass and Arthur's Pass, although the Homer Tunnel also passes under the Main Divide. The road through Haast Pass (State Highway 6) was converted from a rough track to a formed road in 1966. and finally received a complete tarmac surface by 1995.
This is where your senses will take on another dimension. You are about to enter New Zealand's divine sanctuary. Heaven on earth, that very spectacular landscape that dawns those beautiful television commercials that are seen across the world from the land of the long white cloud.
This is where your camera will never be good enough to capture the truth, your written words will not be able to describe her richness, your tweets and selfies will be over shadowed by her stunningly breathtaking presence. This is where you need to surrender your soul to nature, to breathe in her purity, and to feel her enlightenment. New Zealand will change you, it will challenge you, and this my friends is where all of that happens.
Two hours from Haast and you will arrive in Wanaka. After passing both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea along the way, your camera will now be in meltdown mode. Despite the magnificence on each side of the road please keep your eyes firmly on the tarmac in front of you if you are the driver. This is usually when fights break out over who doesn't want to drive during this part of the trip. Now you have bigger decisions to make.
Where to next?
You are now in amongst New Zealand's true playground, choices are plenty, diversity is everywhere, so maybe the best way for me to advise you now is to list some options.
If you want snow, skiing, or thrills and spills , then you can head off to Queenstown just 62kms down the road from Wanaka. Near by you will find great skiing at Cardrona, or the Remarkables.
Heli-skiing is another option for those who want to go higher still. In Queenstown you can find all of the adventure junkie hideouts that you can ever wish to conquer. From bungee jumping in canyons, to jet boat rides up rivers with little water, to rides down ancient gold diggers tracks. If that's not your style then maybe you could meander Highway No 6 along the shores of Lake Wakatipu and take in the beautiful township of Kingston.
A further 240kms will take you to perhaps the most majestic, and definitely one of the most remotest spots in New Zealand - Milford Sound. While Mitre Peak towers above the dark, cold and almost bottomless fjord, the waterfalls of Stirling and Bowen Falls pound into the abyss below. A staging point for cruise ships, and mosquitos of similar size, Milford Sound welcomes arrivals by boat, road and foot. The absolutely fabulous Milfords Track meanders its way through the rugged high country and demands a certain level of fitness.
It's a four day hike, so if you are planning to do this make sure you plan plenty of time into your New Zealand holiday schedule.
No visit to New Zealand's South Island should be completed without a visit to the bottom of the world, or as we like to call it, the township of Bluff. The three hundred kilometre drive from Milford Sound will be well worth it as you traverse along the side of beautiful Lake Te Anau. Mossburn, Winton, and Invercargill are other towns of note along the way to Bluff.
Arriving in Bluff one can now make two choices. The first is, take the ferry across the infamous Foveaux Strait, the body of water that lies between the Bluff and New Zealand's third largest island, Stewart Island. Foveaux Strait was discovered by an American, O. F. Smith, while searching for seals in 1804. ... Named after Major Joseph Foveaux, an aide of the Governor of New South Wales, it was renamed Tees Strait in 1824 by a Captain Kent. The old name, however, survived
Your second choice is to turn around and to start to head north again, this time heading for Dunedin, a two hundred and thirty kilometre ride back up highways 98, 93 and 1. Dunedin is New Zealand's answer to Scotland. You will find more university students in Dunedin wearing kilts than you would in Glasgow.
Dunedin is definitely worth the stop. Don't think for a minute that the temperature is going to get warmer now that you are heading in a northerly direction again. Temperatures in Dunedin are more suited to seals and other sea mammals than to humans. The two stand out things in Dunedin for me, is a visit to the Railway Station, pictured below,
A trip out to Larnach Castle. Once again all things Scottish will greet you, and take it from me, that's not a bad thing. This beautiful historical castle nestled among the Southern Highlands with weather to match is a great look into New Zealand's past.
Time is running out for your tour of New Zealand. I hope that you have enjoyed it thus far. We aren't quite finished yet. The next chapter of your journey will take you north again along the east coast of the South Island in the direction of Christchurch.
Christchurch is a city that deserves a special mention and support during your tour of New Zealand. At 12.51 p.m. on Tuesday 22 February 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake caused severe damage in Christchurch and Lyttelton, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand. The earthquake's epicentre was near Lyttelton, just 10 km southeast of Christchurch's central business district.
Since that day the people of Christchurch who stayed in town (many left) have worked hard to rebuild their lives and their city. Tourism makes up a big part of the Christchurch economy, and every dollar that is spent there is badly needed. A beautiful city that has it's origins as one of the very first settlements in this fine country.
My own ancestors came to Christchurch on one of the the first four ships to arrive in New Zealand. Setting up milling operations and starting businesses across the Canterbury Plains and even further afield ,there is a special place in my heart for this great southern city.
Just a few kilometres to the east of Christchurch lies the port city of Lyttleton, a beautiful harbour with dolphins and other amazing sea life in abundance. A trip over the hills to explore this and Akaroa, another fascinating 'tourist hot spot' is a must. In Akaroa you will find a french flair. Canterbury's oldest town, Akaroa was founded in August 1840 by French settlers. It has been suggested that French interest in New Zealand speeded up Britain's decision to annex New Zealand. By the time French settlers arrived, the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and Māori chiefs had been signed.
After spending a day or two in Christchurch you are pressed to hand back your motor home and to head to Christchurch Airport to catch your flight home. You have probably put on five extra kilos of weight since you arrived in New Zealand, no apologies for that, I told you at the beginning that our food is good.
You have hundreds of photos to share with family and friends when you arrive home, photos that you will remind you of the time, and of the place that you took them, and how it may your soul feel at that particular point in your life.
Everywhere you travelled in New Zealand you were welcomed by friendly people, great food, and wonderful experiences. This will be a holiday that you will never forget for your entire life time. I hope that you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have advising you along the way. All that is left to say is;
On behalf of myself, and every other Kiwi, I would like to thank you for choosing to come to our end of the world. You may have seen 'middle earth' along the way, but in addition to that, you now know where the heart of planet earth truly beats, and that said in our native Maori language is called Te Whenua o Aotearoa. (Land of the long white cloud)
By Mark Philpott.