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21 day new zealand discovery | back to itineraries index

Day 1: Auckland - Whitanga
Distance 214km, approximate drive time 4 hours

Follow the Pacific Coast Highway to The Coromandel. The Peninsula has kilometres of spectacular coastline. Stop in Thames, known as the gateway to Coromandel, for a break mid-morning. Continue driving up the west side of the Peninsula, through secluded bays and coastal villages offering locally made art and craft, to Coromandel Town to soak up some of the small-town atmosphere. Take State Highway 25 to Whitianga. Whitianga is a great beach holiday spot and the relatively sheltered waters of the bay are great for all water sports. In the evening dine out and indulge in a seafood fest at one of Whitianga's restaurants. (Suggested Coromandel accommodation)

TaurangaDay 2: Whitianga - Tauranga
Distance 167km, approximate drive time 3 hours

Depart Whitianga for Tauranga along the Pacific Coast Highway, passing through the coastal townships of Tairua and Whangamata. Be sure to take in Whangamata's 'Ocean Beach' - mile after mile of white sandy beach, complemented by the blue waters of the Pacific. Arrive in the Bay of Plenty region early afternoon and spend the rest of the day exploring the growing city of Tauranga. This region seems to have it all - a mild, sunny climate, some of the country's most popular beaches and an abundance of orchards, especially kiwifruit, avocado and citrus. (Suggested Bay of Plenty accommodation)

Day 3: Tauranga - Rotorua
Distance 86km, approximate drive time 1 hour 30 minutes

Take State Highway 33 to Rotorua, leaving the Pacific Coast Highway touring route behind. Spend the remainder of Day Four in Rotorua. From the moment people arrive in Rotorua they know they're somewhere quite different. At nearby geothermal hotspots there are geysers spouting, mud pools bubbling and belching and warm geothermal springs and ponds that create a kaleidoscope of colour. In the evening, entertainment could include a Maori cultural performance or a swim in a hot mineral pool to relax and unwind after a busy day. (Suggested Rotorua accommodation)

Day 4: Rotorua - Gisborne
Distance 286km, approximate drive time 4 hours 50 minutes

Take State Highway 30 to Whakatane and then turn inland and take State Highway 2 to Gisborne. This road is known as the Waioeka Scenic Highway, a magnificent drive that winds through native forest. The Waioeka Scenic Reserve is a great environment for fishing, river swimming and rafting. Blue waters, white sands, lush forested hills, big surf and sheltered coves, sun, wine, seafood and a blend of history and culture aptly describes the Eastland region. Gisborne is well known for its Chardonnay wines, so spend time in the afternoon tasting some award-winning wines from the region. (Suggested Gisborne accommodation)

NapierDay 5: Gisborne - Napier
Distance 216, approximate drive time 3 hours 25 minutes

Continue the journey on the Pacific Coast Highway touring route (State Highway 2) to Napier. Stop enroute at Mahia Peninsula Scenic Reserve and beach - a great spot for fishing, surfing, swimming and diving. Basking in a Mediterranean climate, the Hawke's Bay region is known for its wine, food and fabulous scenery. Over 30 vineyards offer visitors a wine tasting and indoor/outdoor dining experience. Napier and Hastings, the two main centres in the region, have a high concentration of Art Deco and Spanish Mission architecture. Overnight in Napier. (Suggested Napier accommodation)

Day 6: Napier - Taupo - Napier
Distance 286km, approximate drive time 4 hours return

Drive north from Napier on State Highway 2 and turn left at the Napier/Taupo intersection onto State Highway 5. Travellers will now find themselves on the Thermal Explorer Highway touring route to Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo, created from a major volcanic eruption and New Zealand's largest lake, is one of the North Island's most popular holiday destinations both in summer and in winter. Return to Napier for the night. (Suggested Napier accommodation)

Day 7: Napier - Wellington
Distance 335km, approximate drive time 5 hours

Depart Napier for Wellington on State Highway 2 which heads south through the Wairarapa and arrives into Wellington over the Rimutaka Hill and through the Hutt Valley. Options include stopping at the small country towns of Carterton, Greytown, Featherston and Martinborough in the Wairarapa on the way through. Arrive in Wellington late afternoon, and overnight. Wellington is the nation's capital and the political headquarters for the country. It is also home to Te Papa - the interactive Museum of New Zealand. (Suggested Wellington accommodation)

WellingtonDay 8: Wellington
Spend the day in New Zealand's capital city. The city is compact and interesting, nestled between a dramatic harbour and bush clad hills. Downtown Wellington is made up of four quarters each with their own distinct mix of shopping, cafes, transport and accommodation. Visit the Parliament Buildings (and drop into the Backbencher Pub and Café in Molesworth Street, the other hangout for politicians). Or for an evening of culture, Wellington is home to the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the National Opera. (Suggested Wellington accommodation)

Day 9: Wellington - New Plymouth
Distance 355km, approximate drive time 5 hours 10 minutes

This morning drive out of Wellington on State Highway 1 to New Plymouth, in the Taranaki region. Enroute travellers will pass through Wanganui city. A break in this attractive city is recommended for lunch at one of the many cafes, or a heritage or scenic walk through the well kept parks, gardens and reserves. The famous Whanganui River flows from one of New Zealand's highest volcanoes, Mt Tongariro, through the spectacular Whanganui National Park, to the coast of the Tasman Sea, and Wanganui city. New Plymouth located in the Taranaki region, which is dominated by Mt Taranaki and the surrounding Egmont National Park. The region is well known for its silver sand surfing beaches and glorious parks and gardens. (Suggested Wellington accommodation)

Waitomo CavesDay 10: New Plymouth - Waitomo Caves
Distance 173km, approximate drive time 3 hours 30 minutes

Depart New Plymouth on State Highway 3 travelling north to Te Kuiti. This drive will take visitors through the scenic Awakino Gorge. If time permits, stop in Mokau for a river cruise - reservations are essential. From Te Kuiti continue north for 10 minutes. Signage will indicate the turn-off to the Waitomo Caves village. On arrival at Waitomo, there are plenty of activities for visitors to choose from. Start at the Museum of Caves to view excellent exhibits on how caves are formed, the flora and fauna that live in them, the history of the caves and cave exploration Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Waitomo area. (Suggested Waitomo accommodation)

Day 11: Waitomo Caves - Auckland
Distance 200km, approximate drive time 3 hours 10 minutes

Spend the morning enjoying the activities in the Waitomo Caves area before driving north to Auckland on State Highway 3. Rejoin State Highway 1 at Hamilton to arrive in Auckland late afternoon. Aucklanders enjoy a warm, humid climate and an outdoor lifestyle. One of the best ways to get out and about is to escape to one of the many islands of the Hauraki Gulf and experience their beautiful scenery. In the afternoon, take a domestic flight from Auckland to Christchurch. (Suggested Christchurch accommodation)

Day 12: Christchurch - Dunedin
DunedinDistance 362km, approximate drive time 5 hours

Depart Christchurch and travel south on State Highway 1 along the east coast to Dunedin. Enroute pass through the towns of Ashburton, Timaru and Oamaru, all of which offer interesting shopping and places to enjoy good food and refreshments. Stop in Oamaru for lunch. Check out the restored whitestone historic precinct with its Victorian shops and eateries. Continue south past the coastal fishing villages of Waitouaiti, Karitane (a detour) and Waitati. Dunedin is a small, thriving city set amidst a magical landscape edged by the sea. Here the streets hum vibrantly with colour and culture, and the beauty of nature can still be found. (Suggested Dunedin accommodation)

Day 13: Dunedin - Te Anau
Distance 290km, approximate drive time 2 hours 15 minutes

Drive south from Dunedin to Gore on State Highway 1, and on to Te Anau on State Highway 94. Gore is well known for brown trout fishing in the Mataura River and its tributaries. Enroute to Te Anau stops could include the Hokonui Moonshine Museum, which reflects the social history of the time of this illicit industry, the Gore Historical Museum, sited in the Hokonui Heritage Centre, the Croydon Aircraft Company at the old Mandeville airfield, which specialises in restoring and repairing vintage planes. Arrive in Te Anau early evening. Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park and is several hours' drive south-west of Queenstown. It is a progressive and attractive holiday resort on the shores of the South Island's largest lake, Lake Te Anau. Overnight in Te Anau. (Suggested Te Anau accommodation)

Day 14: Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau
Distance 242km, approximate drive time 4 hours 40 minutes

Suggested activities for Day Three include a day trip to either Milford Sound, which is accessible from Te Anau by day trip. Milford Sound is the most famous and accessible of the grand, glacially carved fiords along the South Island's lower western coast. Mitre Peak is the jewel of the Sound with its steep sides rising up from the depths of the fiord. Boats cruise the full length of Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea, and stop at various points of interest along the way to view waterfalls and marine life. Cruises leave from the main wharf at Milford Sound. (Suggested Te Anau accommodation)

Day 15: Te Anau - Queenstown
Distance 170km, approximate drive time 2 hours 45 minutes

QueenstownJourney through mountains and alongside lakes on State Highway 94 and State Highway 6, arriving in Queenstown late morning. Here visitors can be as active as they like, or simply soak up the magnificent scenery. Queenstown is set in a picturesque valley and is known for the wide range of adventure and outdoor activities that make the most of the scenery and the environment. Overnight in Queenstown. (Suggested Queenstown accommodation)

Day 16: Queenstown - Wanaka
Distance 117km, approximate drive time 1 hour 30 minutes

From Queenstown drive to Wanaka through the Kawerau Gorge on State Highway 6. This area has dramatic scenery and relics of the old goldmining days are plentiful. Detour to Arrowtown, an old goldmining town that provides an interesting journey back in time with its memorabilia of the era as well as boutiques and cafes. Another suggestion is to visit Arrowtown Museum to gain an interesting insight into the settlement and social history of the region. When returning to State Highway 6 from Arrowtown, stop and take in the picturesque scenery around Lake Hayes. If the season is right and visitors are in the Cromwell area during the summer months, they can stop at one of many roadside fruit stalls around Cromwell, known for its pipfruit orchards. From Cromwell drive along the shores of Lake Dunstan to Lake Wanaka and the Wanaka township. Overnight in Wanaka. (Suggested Wanaka accommodation)

Day 17: Wanaka - Franz Josef Glacier
Distance 287km, approximate drive time 4 hours 30 minutes

Franz Josef GlacierFrom Wanaka township, travel beside the twin lakes of Wanaka and Hawea before entering the scenic wilderness of Haast Pass. Stop along the way to take advantage of the many short nature walks and great picnic spots. Visit the Haast Information Centre for excellent displays on the local environment and for information on walks available within the area. On reaching Haast visitors are entering the West Coast region of New Zealand. The West Coast of the South Island is a sparsely populated region with dramatic scenery. Overnight at Franz Josef or Fox Glacier villages. (Suggested Glacier accommodation)

Day 18: Franz Josef Glacier - Greymouth
Distance 177km, approximate drive time 3 hours 10 minutes

Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are approximately 45 minutes' drive apart. Visitors can either walk to the base of the glaciers themselves or join one of the guided glacier walks, which accommodate every level of fitness and experience. There are also scenic flights and helicopter excursions for those who wish to view the glaciers from the air - included are opportunities to land on the glaciers. Depart Franz Josef/Fox Glacier and journey north on State Highway 6 up the rugged West Coast. Visitors will pass through Hokitika, which is the third largest centre on the West Coast. Finish the day's journey in Greymouth, the largest township on the West Coast and the commercial heart of the West Coast. Greymouth, along with its surrounding rural townships, provides a selection of guided tours and walks, adventure, galleries, craft outlets and cafes. This is the home of Shantytown and the daily destination for the TranzAlpine train. (Suggested Greymouth accommodation)

Day 19: Greymouth - Nelson
NelsonDistance 327km, approximate drive time 5 hours 15 minutes

Drive north along the spectacular coastal State Highway 6 to Punakaiki in Paparoa National Park. Drive time to Punakaiki is 40 minutes from Greymouth. Explore Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The Blowholes operate at high tide and are best on a blustery day when there are big seas - tide times can be checked at visitor information centres. This area is part of Paparoa National Park and offers a number of short unguided bush walks for visitors. From Punakaiki drive north through Westport, the third largest centre in the South Island. Stop in Westport to view historic coal-mining sites along the Coal Mining Heritage Trail. Journey through the scenic winding and narrow Buller Gorge, arriving in Nelson late afternoon. Nelson is known for its year-round sunshine, golden beaches, three national parks, 300-plus working artists and craftspeople, boutique wineries, fresh local produce and seafood, historical streetscapes, waterfront cafes and restaurants, and a thoroughly relaxed lifestyle. (Suggested Nelson accommodation)

Day 20: Nelson - Blenheim
Distance 138km, approximate drive time 3 hours

Spend the morning in Nelson discovering the art and craft shops in the area, or find a seaside cafe to appreciate the city's seaside setting. Depart Nelson for Blenheim, a journey of about three hours. Drive through the Mt Richmond Forest Park and stop at Pelorus Bridge, where there is a short unguided bush walk through native forest. From Pelorus Bridge head to the small township of Havelock, the home of New Zealand's mussel farming industry. Stop to try some of the seafood delicacies of this area. In Havelock take the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive, skirting the edges of Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds. Travellers will arrive at the port of Picton, the gateway to the South Island with the ferry terminal and an array of boating trips available to go out and about in the Marlborough Sounds. From here it is a short journey to Blenheim, the main centre of the Marlborough region. Marlborough is New Zealand's largest grape-growing and wine-making region with 65 wineries, 290 grape growers and 4,054 hectares (10,000 acres) in grape production. The majority of the wineries are boutique operations with cellar doors and many have restaurant/café facilities on site. Overnight in Blenheim. (Suggested Blenheim accommodation)

Day 21: Blenheim - Christchurch
Distance 312km, approximate drive time 4 hours 30 minutes

Drive south on State Highway 1 to Kaikoura (along a scenic coastal road). On the way stop at Lake Grassmere Saltworks to see a network of settling ponds that in late summer turn coral pink, and perhaps pause for a cappuccino at Kekerengu. Vantage points along the Highway allow a close-up view of seals basking on the rocks. Kaikoura is world renowned for whale watching(whale watch kaikoura thumbnail) is one of the few places in the world where these magnificent creatures can be seen year round. Dolphin and seal swimming, sea bird watching, fishing, diving and a large number of other land and water-based activities are also available. Spend the afternoon in the marine environment off Kaikoura. Travel to Christchurch late afternoon. (Suggested Christchurch accommodation)


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