The South Island of New Zealand is one of the world’s unspoilt wonders and Christchurch is a great starting point for your South Island to North Island adventure. On arrival at Christchurch Airport, head across to the friendly GO Rentals team and pick up your lovely new hire car which will become your new best friend over the next 24 days as you explore some of the magnificence of the New Zealand’s South Island before heading across the Cook Strait and the North Island. If you’re still in the planning stage of your trip, make sure you check out the great deals on car hire in Christchurch or our rental cars in Auckland – we’re not New Zealand’s favourite rental car company for no reason!
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Although you’ve just picked up your new GO Rentals car, don’t be in too big a hurry to leave Christchurch as there is plenty to explore. Take the time on your first day to explore the ‘Garden City’, the largest city in the South Island where you can relax your way into your latest adventure.
Christchurch has unfortunately made headlines in recent times for a string of earthquakes that caused serious damage to the city – but its charm remains untouched and the city is rebuilding.
Christchurch Complete Guide
The tree-lined Avon River and Christchurch’s many parks and gardens give the city its reputation as the Garden City so make sure you check out the botanical gardens and the beautiful parks. Check out the several Gap Filler projects that volunteers have created to temporarily “activate” sites left empty by the earthquakes – you’ll be able to see some unique and really creative work that is proof of Christchurch’s charm and resilience.
2Christchurch to Lake Tekapo (227km – 2 hours 50 mins)
Before you head off on your journey south, there’s still a chance to check out some other places on interest in and around Christchurch. The Antigua Boatsheds offer lots of ways to get active on the river as well as giving visitors and locals alike a great photo opportunity in the picturesque riverbank settings.
After a leisurely start to this trip in and around Christchurch it’s time to hit the road proper and get out to take in the sights of the lower South Island. Heading out of Christchurch, a stop off at Lyttelton is well worth the detour and it’s a great place to grab some breakfast if you’re out nice and early. Hit by the earthquakes, Lyttelton has now rebuilt and is a thriving village with lots of bars and cafes – there’s a great road over to Lyttelton which offers you some fantastic views looking down to the city and the harbour as well as down to the Southern Alps – a great way to start this road trip.
Akaroa (264km – 3 hours 58 mins from Kaikoura)
Located 75km south of Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great stop off as you head down towards Queenstown and beyond. This village is located on Banks Peninsula within a harbour of the same name and is considered “the most French town” in New Zealand, as it was the only French settlement in the country. Spend some time exploring the small town and then head to the harbour for the best fish and chips meal of your life (at least that’s Akaroa’s claim so you be the judge and let us know). If you didn’t have the chance to head up to Kaikoura, GO Play partner Black Cat Cruises offer an amazing opportunity to swim with the rare Hector’s dolphins which are only found in these waters. With a 10% discount, you’d be a fool not to!
Use your GO Play card here
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (280km – 4 hours 10 mins)
Stargazers all over the world know Mt John and Lake Tekapo, in the Aoraki/Mount Cook Mackenzie region, as one of the absolute best places to look at the stars (and even catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights – Aurora Australis).
Lake Tekapo is also famous for its unique turquoise colour, as well as its beautiful starry nights – a perfect spot for you romantics out there as Lake Tekapo has been the scene of many a wooing! If you can park here for the night, you’ll not regret it. Mt John, just above the Tekapo township, is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world, home to 6 telescopes, including New Zealand’s biggest telescope, which can observe 50 million stars each clear night (yes, you read that right).
Lake Tekapo and Mt John are located about 3 hour drive south of Christchurch.
3Lake Tekapo to Queenstown (256km – 3 hours 26 mins)
A relatively short drive south (around 3.5 hours) will take you to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, and some say the world. It won’t take you long to figure out why as your senses are bombarded with countless flyers showing you all the adrenaline fuelled activities available in this all-action city. With so much to see and do, it can be tricky to pick but with plenty of time today and tomorrow, you should be able to squeeze in the maximum amount of adventure possible! Here are our top tips:
Adrenaline fuelled adventure
For those who have headed to Queenstown for adrenaline fuelled adventure, these are our highlights of things to do in a day:
1) AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy – Australasia’s highest bungy at 134m, this is not for the feint hearted – 8.5 seconds of freefall will have you screaming like a lunatic!
2) Skippers Canyon Jet – reaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Shotover Canyon is sure to get your pulse racing. The 360 degree spins will get you closer to the wall than you feel comfortable with! Skippers Canyon Jet is also a GO Play partner. Bonus!
3) Coronet Peak ski resort (in season) – fantastic resort for pros and beginners alike, Coronet Peak is a GO Rentals favourite in the winter where lots of fun can be had on and off the slopes
Something a bit more…relaxing
We know that jumping off mountains and flipping jet boats is not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s more to Queenstown than adrenaline fuelled adventure. Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:
1) Ben Lommond – a 4 hour walk giving you some awesome views of Queenstown, the lake and surrounding mountains
2) Skyline gondola – take the gondola up Bob’s Peak and enjoy some award winning cuisine and some amazing views. If you want to get down a bit quicker, the luge is a lot of fun!
3) 3) Wine tasting – The Central Otago region is famous for producing world-leading Pinot Noirs – this one is not for the driver but passengers can enjoy sampling some fine wines from the region before hitting the road
Queenstown Complete Guide
After an action packed first day, your second day in Queenstown can either be spent on more all-adventure activities or exploring the local area. There are lots of cool places within relatively short driving distance of Queenstown and it is worth getting out of the hustle and bustle of the city and exploring the beautiful surrounding area.
Bendigo goldfields (80.3km – 1 hour 10 mins)
There’s something about old abandoned ghost towns that makes you reflect on the life that once was there. The Bendigo goldfields include a number of deserted towns from back in the days of the gold rush, surrounded by some of the most spectacular Central Otago scenery. From the town of Bendigo, you can drive up to the deserted towns of Logantown and Welshtown, with crumbling stone cottages to let your mind wander and imagine the days of digging for gold. Take SH8 out of Cromwell and drive for about 20kms until you hit Bendigo. The tourist information station will provide you with more information about the area and things to do.
Arrowtown/Cromwell (20.1km – 22 mins from Queenstown)
Unlike Bendigo, small Arrowtown is far from abandoned. The small historic village, a short 20-minute drive from Queenstown, is bursting with activity and includes a collection of beautiful old heritage buildings and miners’ cottages. The beauty of Arrowtown is that the heritage buildings are more than mere monuments of a time gone past – they’re still used for commerce and you get to experience life before the modern days.
A number of hiking tracks start and end at Arrowtown so, if you feel like a walk, head to the
Information Centre to find out more about these tracks.
5Queenstown to Te Anau (172kms 2 hours 5 mins)
The drive down to Te Anau is truly stunning and many people whizz by in their attempts to get to Milford Sound before all the tour buses. This itinerary ensures you can take your time and enjoy the journey down – make regular stops on your way at any number of the rest stops and look out points along the way.
The road to Te Anau winds around the shores of Lake Wakatipu and with the magnificent mountain range aptly named The Remarkables in the backdrop, make sure your camera is charged as this is definite GO Snap Happy country!
As you leave Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu behind you, Lake Te Anau, the largest of the South Island’s many lakes comes into view and before you know it you will have reached Te Anau which is your final destination for the evening.
Te Anau is a picturesque township with lots going on in and around the town if you made it down here in good time. There are some great walking tracks which take you to the shores of the lake and the glow worm caves are a must if you have never seen anything like this before.
There are loads of accommodation options in Te Anau and plenty of restaurants to choose from in the evening making this a perfect stop off on your way down to Milford Sound.
6Milford Sound (118kms – 1 hours 42 mins)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. The great news for you is that Te Anau is only 118kms from Milford Sound but even this relatively short trip will take you close to 2 hours. We recommend getting up early and getting down to Milford Sound as early as possible – it’s well worth the early start to check out the magnificence of this most spectacular fjord carved out by glaciers during the ice age (that’s a long time ago by the way!).
Once down here, there is plenty to see and do so make a Milford Sound Bucket list and get ticking things off. Here are some of our favourites:
Hop out of your GO Rentals hire car and straight onto a boat as this is a must once you get down there. With a number of companies offering day or night cruises, you’ll not be short of options for exploring the water when you arrive. Find yourself ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ at the spectacular waterfalls, some of which are over 1000 metres high so be sure to pack the camera but also make sure you pack your wet weather gear as inevitably it rains down at Milford Sound. Some say this makes the waterfalls even more spectacular but we’re not too sure about that one!
For those wanting a more hands on experience of Milford Sound, why not give kayaking a go. There’s nothing quite like taking to the open water and paddling yourself out into one of the most inspiring places on planet earth. GO Play partner Real Journeys offer a 4-5 hour trip out on to the water taking in the serene Harrisons Cove and the magnificent Mitre Peak offering some spectacular views up to the Pembroke Glaciers.
Use your GO Play card here
Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory
Due to its unique underwater environment, Milford Sound is home to species of black coral usually found at depths of 500m or more, including magnificent 300 year old ‘trees’ and the best way to check these old timers out is at the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory.
The Discovery Centre will send you on a journey back through the history, geology and wildlife of the Sound where you will also learn about the culture and heritage of this awe-inspiring place from local guides.
If you decide not to do the overnight cruise, preferring instead to head out in a kayak or explore the observatory, there are accommodation options at Milford Sound or you can make your way back to Te Anau but be aware that the road back out gets pretty busy with day trippers on their way back to Queenstown.
7Milford Sound to Queenstown (287 kms – 3 hours 43 mins)
Well, after what will hopefully have been an awe-inspiring day down at Milford Sound, it’s time to hit the road and head back to Queenstown. Thankfully if you stayed the night down here, the traffic should not be as busy as you head the opposite way to most people making their way down here for the day. Make sure you take your time – the roads are windy and will still be busy so stick to the speed limit and get back to Queenstown safe and sound.
8Queenstown to Franz Josef (350km – 6 hours 2 mins)
The drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef is one of the most spectacular as you cut through the Haast Pass out of Wanaka (be sure to call in to Wanaka if you have the time). Your GO Rentals hire car will be purring as you wind your way through the mountains and lakes, heading towards the rugged west coast.
Blue pools (129km – 2 hours 1 min from Queenstown)
Heading west along route SH6 is a hidden gem (not so hidden since it made it into the top 10 things to do in NZ list!) not to be missed. The Blue Pools walk can be accessed directly from the Haast Pass and is well signposted along the route. Follow the track into the forest where you’ll find a series of crystal clear pools that have been carved out of the rocks by centuries of erosion. The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom. Jumping in looks tempting but it’s not advised as it will be a particularly cold shock to the system as well as upsetting the resident brown trout and you don’t want to mess with a brown trout unless you like a wet face slap.
Lake Matheson (203km – 3 hours 38 mins from Blue Pools)
One thing not to be missed as you near Franz Josef is Lake Matheson. Turn left at the Fox Township and you’ll find yourself at the idyllic lake which offers perfect reflections of Aoraki/ Mount Cook and will give you the picture to make all your friends jealous. You also get a fantastic view of the Fox Glacier in its full glory so be sure to have your camera charged and ready. We reckon you will end up with at least 39 photos on your camera as the best shot is always just around the corner!
West Coast Complete Guide
9Franz Josef Glacier
After the spectacular but lengthy drive of the previous day, you’ll be glad to be out of the car (the car will surely have a name by now) and stretching the legs and what a site to wake up to – the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier. The Glacier was first explored in 1865 by Austrian Julius Haast and it has been advancing and retreating ever since.
Exploring the glacier
There are several ways to explore the glacier from independent walks to heli-hikes but however you choose to take in the sights and sounds of the stunning glacier, make sure you pack your bag for all weathers as things can change quickly up at the glacier.
There are a number of independent walks you can make which provide great viewpoints of the glacier. The best is probably Sentinel Rock which is 10 minutes from the car park or the Ka Roimate o Hine Hukatere walk which is a more energetic 40 minute walk that leads to the terminal of the glacier.
Without a doubt the best way to experience the glacier is to walk on them. Small group walks with experience guides and equipment provided (amazing socks!) can be booked in the town of Franz and offer half or full day trips up onto the glacier. We cannot recommend highly enough taking the full day hike as this will allow you to get further up the glacier with the chance to find new routes or even undiscovered ice caves. With your crampons on and your ice picks at the ready, this is another great snap for Facebook to show you as the true ‘explorer’ so don’t miss out on this one. Franz Josef Glacier Guides are also a partner of GO Play, offering a 10% discount for guided tours on the ice – cool!
For those with a few more dollars to spare, a heli-hike offers two fantastic opportunities; see the sheer scales of the glacier from the skies but also get onto the glacier much higher up where the ice is much purer. Here you will get the chance to discover blue-ice caves, seracs and pristine ice formations and let’s face it, a trip in a helicopter is pretty cool.
There are so many cool places to go skydiving in New Zealand and Franz Josef is definitely up there with the best of them. If you are looking for bragging rights over your mates, Franz Josef is definitely the place for you. Home of New Zealand’s highest skydive at 19,000ft, Franz Josef is also one of the most scenic places in the world to skydive as you soar down over the spectacular glacier with Mount Cook in the backdrop. Great news for anyone renting with GO Rentals is that Skydive Franz are an exclusive GO Play partner and will give you $30 off when you show your GO Play card. Awesome!
Aoraki Mount Cook
Taking things one step further, Aoraki Mount Cook is within reach of Franz by helicopter with a number of companies running tours to see the highest peak in NZ. These tours can often be combined with a heli-hike on either Franz Josef of Fox glacier and is the ultimate Southern Alps experience. If you do head out on one of these amazing trips, be sure to let us know so we can all be super jealous in the office!
Glacier Hot Pools
If hiking up glaciers and early wakeup calls are not your thing, then maybe a dip in the glacier hot pools, right in the middle of the rainforest is more up your street? It sounds just as stunning as it is. The pools are located in the Franz Josef township on Cron Street and open between 1pm to 9pm all year round and if this didn’t sound perfect enough, Glacier Hot Pools are a GO Play partner so you can relax with a few more dollars in your pocket!
Use your GO Play card here
10Franz Josef to Greymouth (174km – 2 hours 21 mins)
After all the adventure up on the glacier, it’s time to get back in your GO Rentals hire car and hit the road heading north up the West Coast. This is another fantastic drive, with the rugged West Coast on your left hand side as you set out towards Greymouth.
Ross (107km – 1 hour 23 mins from Franz Josef)
It’s about a 3 hour drive from Franz Josef to Greymouth and the perfect stop off point on the way is the small gold-mining town of Ross. In 1909, Ross became famous across New Zealand when the largest gold nugget in the country was found weighing in at an impressive 99 ounces. There is some conjecture over the origin of the nugget however with some claiming it was in fact mined in Australia and smuggled over to Ross to inflate the gold prices. Either way, it was purchased by the New Zealand government and presented to King George V as a coronation gift.
Pancake Rocks (110km – 1 hour 31 mins from Ross)
Although your day is due to end in Greymouth, a slight detour north is well worth it to check out the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki and let’s face it, you love driving your GO Rentals car that much by now that this is a great excuse to get some more miles under your belt! Get your camera ready because this is one of those places you’ll want to tell everyone about. The pancake rocks are heavily eroded limestone, layered like pancakes. Who doesn’t love pancakes? Exactly. These particular ones were formed 30 million years ago out of dead marine creatures and plants. Chances are you’ll have been driving most of the afternoon so hopefully you will catch the rocks at sunset making for an even more impressive photo.
11Greymouth to Nelson (287km – 4 hours 8 mins)
The next leg of your journey takes you to the far north of the South Island and this day is filled with lots of little gems to break up the journey.
Formerly the Blackball Hilton Hotel (27.4km – 31 mins from Greymouth)
At first glance, it might look like you’re just in a quiet small town in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand but, in fact, you’re standing in front of a hotel that was subject to global controversy. Well, sort of.
The hotel was built in 1910 and named The Dominion at the time. In the 1970s, the name was changed to The Blackball Hilton. Threats of legal action by you-know-who who owns a big hotel chain with the same name in the US forced the Blackball Hilton to add “Formerly” to the name in order to continue to operate.
The hotel is located on 26 Hart Street and offers both food and accommodation, if you feel like a break.
Bev’s Dolls (56.9km – 1 hour from Blackball)
In a converted garage at 35 Main Street in Reefton, you’ll find Bev’s Dolls – a collection of over 2000 dolls, including a 180-year-old German stone doll and popular contemporary dolls such as the Harry Potter doll collection. Check that Bev is home and, for a fee, she’ll show you her impressive collection.
Buller Gorge Swing Bridge (46.2km – 41 mins from Reefton)
After a pretty short drive north on SH6 there is another chance to stretch the legs and get the adrenaline pumping at the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge. From big thrills to big spills to serene walks, Buller Gorge offers some of the best adventure activities this side of Queenstown. From the comet line, a 160m flying fox zip line to jet boating on the Upper Buller Gorge with GO Play partner Ultimate Descents, there is plenty to keep the most adventurous happy. If you’re of a less adventurous disposition the Buller Gorge is also a great place to explore on foot with some lovely trails and falls to discover.
Mapua (165km – 2 hours 23 mins from Buller Gorge)
As you approach Nelson, your final stop off point for the day, it’s well worth a stop off in Mapua.
Mapua is a very picturesque village situated on a wharf on the Abel Tasman coastline. With a huge range of shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes, this makes the perfect stop off for tea and a bit of retail therapy before you hit Nelson. From the Jellyfish Café and Bar to Forest Fusion Functional Art, there’s lots to see and do in Mapua as well as taking in the lovely surroundings.
World of Wearable Art Museum (32km – 34 mins from Mapua)
If you get the time when you arrive in Nelson, The World of Wearable Art (WoW) is a New Zealand institution in its own right. The first ever show was held in Nelson in 1987 and has since grown (and moved to Wellington where it is currently held). The museum displays some of the supreme winners of the shows. Whether you’re interested in clothes and fashion or not, this is an important slice of New Zealand’s culture – one that you should not miss.
Nelson Complete Guide
12Nelson to Picton (134km – 1 hour 52 mins)
There is so much to do in and around Nelson and if you have time, it’s well worth adding a day onto your trip to go and explore the Abel Tasman national park. If however you’re on a tight schedule, there are a couple of things you can do before you hit to road to Picton which will give you a taste of what the Abel Tasman has to offer.
The Wainui Falls are located inside the Abel Tasman National Park and are 20 metre waterfalls, a welcome reward at the end of an easy bush walk. The hike takes about one hour (return).
The Boulder Bank
The Boulder Bank is another spectacular example of the South Island’s natural wonders. The 13km long bank is one of the very few of its type in the world so you are in the presence of something very unique. It has been formed from large granodiorite boulders that have been moved by wind, water and tide to form the spectacular line in front of you.
The lighthouse was made in Bath (England) and shipped in parts to New Zealand, then assembled in 1861.
You can access the bank by turning off SH6 and driving along Boulder Bank Drive, 7km north of Nelson.
The Snout Track
Heading towards Picton to catch the Interislander ferry, there is one last trip to make before your South Island adventure ends and you head to the North Island. If you haven’t done enough already, dust off the hiking boots for one last time and have a true Kiwi experience by venturing into the great outdoors with a 3.5 hour return hike to awesome views of Queen Charlotte Sound. From the Snout Track car park, walk along the gravel road to reach the track, then follow the signs to the Snout Head.
Make sure you prepare in advance and book your place on the Interlislander ferry about a week in advance, ensuring you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your last day on the South Island booking late on day 12 or first thing on day 13 of your trip.
It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.
After arriving on the ferry, park your car and head for a walk around the waterfront where you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s board room and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s not far from New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa – a futuristic multi-storeyed complex that forms one of the largest new museums in the world, with numerous interactive displays.
Wellington Complete Guide
For the best panoramic views of the city and Port Nicholson all the way across to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria. The historic cannon on the summit was installed in 1877 and was fired each day as a time signal for many years. If you look down below, in the suburbs, you will spot the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve, not far from the Colonial Cottage Museum on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.
Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) and visit the cool one-of-a kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool Bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).
Treaty of Waitangi
A visit to Archives New Zealand on 10 Mulgrave Street allows you to see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament, if you’re feeling politically-inclined before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars (including some decent craft beer spots).
If you have some free time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. Weta is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, including creatures, makeup and digital special effects for movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.
You can take the 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-the scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.
There are so many things to do in Wellington – if you are looking for more ideas, check out our guide to Wellington.
14Wellington to Taupo (370km – 5 hours 5 mins)
Stonehenge Aotearoa (84.2km – 1 hour 14 mins from Wellington)
Heading north out of Wellington, we’re going to take a slightly longer route towards Palmerston North, with a pit stop in Carterton.
Take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to Stonehenge Aotearoa to see a full scale model of Stonehenge located on the hills of the Wairarapa, pretty much as far from actual Stonehenge as anything can be. You’ll be able to learn a bit about astronomy, both ancient and modern methods, and find out more about Maori astrology too.
Whanganui (193km – 2 hours 41 mins)
From Carterton, we have just short of 3 hours to drive before we hit our next destination,
There is plenty to see in Whanganui so you’ll have to be a bit selective. We suggest a look at the Cooks Gardens, on St Hill Street, right in the centre of town. These are famous because they were the location where Peter Snell ran the famous sub-four minute mile in January 1962 (that’s crazy fast). If you’re feeling particularly fit, you can try attempting your fastest mile time here too, right where Snell did it in front of 13,000 people.
Afterwards, take some time to wander around the Whanganui Regional Museum, on Watt Street, which displays the impressive work of Gottfried Lindauer, one of the most famous colonial artists in the country. The museum also includes one of the most important collections of Moa bones, including some complete skeletons of the extinct giant bird.
Hop back in your GO Rentals car for the last trip of the day up to Taupo which should take you around 3.5 hours.
15Lake Taupo to Rotorua (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)
Having arrived pretty late in Taupo the previous day, a new dawn awaits with plenty of options in this town situated on the shore of New Zealand’s largest lake.
Make sure you stop at the Huka Falls, a set of incredibly impressive waterfalls along the Waikato River, with about 220,000 litres of water flowing per second (that’s a lot of water). Next, stop at the Huka Prawn Park (Karetoto Rd) for a visit (you’ll need a couple of hours if you want to take the tour) and some seafood deliciousness.
Lake Taupo itself is pretty impressive and, not far from the township, along the Desert Road, you’ll get to see Mount Ruapehu (Mount Doom for you Lord of the Rings fans) and its neighbouring (and equally impressive) volcanoes.
The Desert Road itself is worth the drive as the scenery is not something you’ll find anywhere else (alpine deserts such as this one are a rare sight anywhere else in the world) so take your time to soak in the views.
Although this is a guide to off-the-beaten track adventures it would seem wrong if we failed to mention the amazing skydiving to be had over Lake Taupo. The views are simply stunning as you plummet from 13,000 feet heading towards the lake. A further bonus is that Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner and will kindly offer you a 5% discount for the pleasure of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good aeroplane!
Use your GO Play card here
You could easily spend most of your day in Taupo, especially if you get involved with the sky diving but with a relatively short drive to Rotorua awaiting, make sure you enjoy all the delights of Taupo before hitting the road north.
Rotorua Complete Guide
16Rotorua and around
You probably noticed it as soon as you drove into Rotorua – that sulphuric smell (no that wasn’t your fellow passengers!), the vents on the ground letting steam off, the boiling mud everywhere. You’ve arrived in New Zealand’s thermal wonderland.
Rotorua is bubbling (see what we did there?) with geothermal activity and you can see it (and smell it) wherever you look. But one of the best places to see it in all its glory is Wai-O-Tapu, a place that encompasses a range of different volcanic activity, including the world famous Champagne Pool and the Lady Knox Geyser. You’ll want to spend a good couple of hours wandering around Wai-O-Tapu and visiting all the different lakes, mud pools and geysers. And…Wai-O-Tapu is a GO Play partner so you get all this geothermal fun with a 10% discount. Result.
For stunning examples of Maori culture that you’ll not find anywhere else, pay a visit to Te Puia (about five minutes from the centre of town).
You’ll learn about Maori culture and costumes from Maori people themselves, as well as witness a few more examples of geothermal activity (we’re still in Rotorua after all). Make sure you attend the Maori culture performance at the Marae (by the entrance) and visit the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute located inside as well. Te Puia also includes a live kiwi bird enclosure (a rare opportunity to see the New Zealand icon) and the famous Pohutu Geyser.
Right, that’s enough walking around, it’s time for some adrenaline. Head to the Zorb (149 Western Road in Rotorua), another GO Play partner, for a few minutes of adrenaline infused adventure.
Zorbing first started in New Zealand so what better place to experience it than right in the heart of the country where it all began? Zorbing (which is basically rolling down some hills inside a giant inflatable ball) is one of those activities on many people’s bucket lists. Tick that off yours now before we continue heading south.
Our next stop is Mamaku Blue (311 Maraeroa Rd) for a more relaxed, less adrenaline-infused activity. This is where you’ll find out that, in case you didn’t know, blueberries are the solution to all your problems. At Mamaku Blue, everything is blueberry-based, from the wine to the toiletries. Did you even know you could get blueberry wine? The cafe only serves blueberry-based food and you’ll have the chance to learn all about how this fruit can heal pretty much anything.
New Zealand Caterpillar Experience
The New Zealand Caterpillar Experience will be another one of those unique places you probably don’t expect to find anywhere.
Located on 171 Fairy Springs Road, this is the work of Lindsay Willis, a man who has been collecting Caterpillar equipment for most of his life. We’re talking heavy machinery here, no small stuff. This is the world’s foremost collection of this sort of equipment and Willis keeps it all in excellent condition (with some of the oldest ones still in working order).
The displays are set alongside footage of some of the machinery at work, way back in the day, and you’ll get to see some trucks and bulldozers that are now the only examples left of their kind. Impressive stuff!
17Rotorua to Coromandel Peninsula (208km – 2 hours 57 mins)
Chainsaw Collection at the New Zealand Timber Museum (54.2km – 47 mins from Rotorua)
Not exactly the most obvious choice for a recommended touristic attraction but we’re talking about unique and quaint experiences that you will only get in New Zealand, right? So here’s one: a chainsaw collection at a Timber Museum in the small town of Putaruru, about an hour south of Hamilton. You don’t find that in many other places.
Before you head out of Putaruru, stop for a visit to the international acclaimed Blue Spring with crystal clear blue waters. Pack a picnic and head along the Te Waihou Walkway to reach the spring. The walk takes about 1.5 hours each way and passes through rolling farmland, New Zealand native bush and even some waterfalls.
Mandatory waterfall photo taken, it’s time to keep heading south. Our next stop is Matamata.
Matamata (29.8km – 28 mins from Putaruru)
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, this is the place for you. If you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan (we don’t judge), you’ll still enjoy the stop in Matamata.
The town includes the set of Hobbiton from Peter Jackson’s movies and a guided tour of the movie set (starting from the Information Centre right on the main street) is a must-do for any visitor. You’ll be able to visit 44 unique hobbit holes (just like in the movies), including Bag End (Bilbo Baggins’ house), as you make your way through the Shire, passing iconic locations such as the Green Dragon Pub, the double arched bridge and the Party Tree.
After that, it’s time to continue north. Our next stop: Paeroa.
Giant L&P Bottle
Paeroa will be your next stop after the walk. There isn’t much to this small town but it’s known for being the birthplace of L&P, the iconic kiwi drink that is “world famous in New Zealand”. This soft drink was originally produced using lemon and mineral water from Paeroa (hence L&P). The giant L&P bottle landmark is a mandatory photo stop for any self-respecting tourist so make sure you strike a pose in front of it too.
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (7.7km – 7 mins from Paeroa)
Dust off the hiking boots, we’re going for a little walk. Well, sort of little – 7 kilometres.
The Karangahake Gorge Walkway features the remains of a historical railway nestled in a natural gorge setting. The walk will take you through relics of back in the day when the area was a big gold mining region. It follows the railway line through the gorge and alongside the Ohinemuri River, through the Victoria Battery Complex and ending in the Waikino Station (which includes a cafe for a much deserved post-walk beverage).
To get to the start of the walkway, park your rental car at the Karangahake Domain Car Park on SH2 between Waihi and Paeroa, get your hiking boots on and off you go!
Waihi (13.2km – 12 mins from Karangahake)
As you head towards the peninsula, make sure you stop by the impressive Martha’s Mine in Waihi. You can take a goldmine tour and find out more about this important part of New Zealand history. Take some time to learn a bit more about the gold mining history, as there won’t be many other opportunities to do so during the trip.
Use your GO Play card here
From here you head to your final destination – we recommend a stopover in Whitianga which is just short of 2 hours from Waihi.
Coromandel Complete Guide
18Around the Coromandel
There is lots to do on the Coromandel and depending on where you decide to stay (we recommend Whitianga or Hahei) there are a variety of activities to choose from.
Deep sea fishing
The Coromandel is one of the best place in the North Island to head out deep sea fishing with a number of charter companies running trips daily throughout the summer months. Head out on to the water and catch yourself some dinner – red snapper are often in abundance and if you’re lucky you may snag yourself a king fish or even a marlin! It’s a really relaxing way to spend a day out on the water and better still, if you bring home a catch, the local fish and chip shops will batter it for you for about 50 cents! Winner.
New Chums beach in Wainuiototo Bay is something truly special. This little hidden gem is considered by many one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s small and it requires a short hike to get to but what you will find is an example of the really pristine and unspoiled natural wonders of New Zealand.
One of the more famous and most visited beaches in these parts is at Cathedral Cove. There are a number of tour operators who will take you on a guided tour out to visit the sea caves and check out the towering cliffs of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.
19Coromandel Peninsula to Auckland
Take the time to enjoy your morning on the Coromandel Peninsula before you head off to New Zealand’s biggest city. Make the most of the peace and quiet and the tranquil walks as things are going to get busy when you arrive in Auckland.
Pokeno Ice Cream
We know you’ll be excited and itching to get to Auckland for some retail therapy and top notch food, however half an hour out of Auckland is a must for all travellers heading north – it’s an ice cream pit stop. The Pokeno store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country. Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself.
You could spend 24 days in and around Auckland alone there is some much to do but with only 24 days to spare, 1 day in NZ’s largest city, home to 1.3 million people and known as the City of Sails is all we can afford. After a nice stroll in downtown Auckland, checking out the Viaduct area and maybe grabbing a bite to eat it’s time for one last drive out in your hire car. A perfect place to end this adventure is to head out west through the suburbs and out to the Waitakere Ranges. With heaps of tracks through the lush forest, there is plenty to keep you busy here. If walking’s not your thing, keep driving through the forest and end up at one of the superb west coast beaches like Piha or Muriwai. The surf’s good out there and the black volcanic sand makes for an interesting day at the beach.
If you’re looking for something a bit closer to home but still fancy a drive out, head on out to Devonport or even up to one of the North Shore’s laid back locations like Browns Bay where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
Auckland Complete Guide
There are so many things to do in the big little city that getting lost for a day won’t be a problem.
21Auckland to Paihia (227kms – 2 hours 54 mins)
After a day soaking up the city life in Auckland, it’s time to hit the road as our trip takes us north of Auckland up to the Bay of Islands. This is one of the great Kiwi road trips and a favourite amongst those who live in New Zealand’s busiest city. This is your first trip out in your GO Rentals hire car but as much as you love the driving, make sure you take some regular pit stops along the way as there is plenty to see and do on the drive north.
Long Bay Regional Park (23.8kms – 27 mins)
Heading out of Auckland on SH1 a great little detour awaits only half an hour into your journey. Long Bay Regional Park located close to Browns Bay is a great place to soak up some fresh coastal air and have a stroll on the cliff top walk. The bay itself is great for kayaking and paddle boarding so if that floats your boat, give it a whirl.
Puhoi (32.3kms – 30 mins)
As SH1 comes to an end in the typical sense of a highway and moves to predominantly a single lane road all the way north, you’ll come across the quaint little village of Puhoi. If cheese is your thing, the Puhoi Valley Café and Cheese Store is well worth a stop off to stock up. They do a delicious blue cheese as well as more traditional cheese varieties that you’ll struggle to find in the supermarkets. They also have some awesome ice creams so whatever the weather, treat yourself!
Kawakawa (170kms – 2 hours 9 mins)
The next stage of your journey north passes through commercial hubs like Warkworth and Whangarei. If you get chance to stop off in and around Warkworth, there are some great little vineyards in and around Matakana if you want to stock up for the weekend. Kawakawa is worth a quick stop off and for the most unusual reason – the public toilets! Designed by renowned Austrian artist Friendensreich Hundertwasser, the toilets are an artistic marvel!
Bay of Islands Complete Guide
Paihia (16.5km – 19 mins)
From Kawakawa it’s only a short drive to your final destination of Paihia, gateway to the Bay of Islands. Hopefully you’ll have arrived in plenty of time to get your bearings and have an explore and maybe book yourself onto a trip for the following day. The best way to explore the Bay of Islands is undoubtedly on the water so check out your options and get yourself booked on an excursion.
22Around the Bay of Islands
With so many options it’s difficult to decide what to do – here’s a list of our highlights from the adventurous to the more sedate:
Bay of Islands Cruise
There are many companies offering a cruise round the harbour including Fullers and the Explore Group. Trips will take you out dolphin watching and to famous landmarks like the Hole in the Rock. Great news for you guys is that Bay of Islands Cruise offer a 15% discount when you present your shiny GO Play card so make sure you take advantage and head out onto the water.
Use your GO Play card here
Jet Boat Ride
If you’ve never experienced the power of a jet boat ride, the Bay of Islands is a great way to break your duck. Traveling along at breakneck speeds, the jet boat experience will get you out into the deep waters to explore the multitude of Islands whilst giving you a thrill ride at the same time. You’ll also get the chance to go and check out the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’.
For a more sedate day, why not catch the ferry across to Russell (20 minutes) and wander the Olde Worlde streets. There are some lovely cafes and restaurants on the sea front where you can easily spend a few hours people watching. The Duke of Marlborough is a particular favourite of the GO Rentals team.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
New Zealand’s premier historic site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 – a partnership between Maori and the British Crown and the founding document of New Zealand. Visit the treaty house and take a look at the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe.
The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s premier deep fishing spots so if this is your thing, get yourself booked onto a charter and out into the deeper waters beyond the Islands. Kingfish, Marlin and Snapper are the order of the day and if you’re successful out at sea, any one of the fish and chip shops located in the town will batter up your catch of the day for around 50 cents – a great end to the day.
23Cape Reinga (212.5kms – 2 hours 41 mins)
A trip to Northland wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Northern most tip of New Zealand where you get to see the rare occurrence of 2 oceans colliding which can be spectacular on a stormy day. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean cross over at the tip of Cape Reinga and from the lighthouse, you get some fantastic views out over the spectacle.
The drive north will take you up alongside 90 mile beach and it’s well worth a stop off on your way up or on your way back down.
90 Mile Beach
Officially a highway, 90 mile beach is only recommended for 4WD vehicles and unfortunately our GO cars are not insured to be driven on the sand. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still have lots of fun up here. From surfing the waves to riding the sand dunes, there are plenty of activities on both the land and sea to keep you entertained.
It will have been a full day of driving but hopefully you have managed a lot of pit stops along the way and really soaked up the best that Northland has to offer. Arriving back in Paihia, there are plenty of options for eating and drinking – two GO Rentals favourites include Only Seafood and the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club who always have a warm welcome for visitors.
24Paihia to Auckland via Waipoua Forest (345kms – 4 hours 45 mins)
Hopefully you will have crammed a lot into your 5 day trip to the Bay of Islands – there is so much to see and do up here that people always leave wishing they had more time. If you’re not in a hurry to get back to Auckland it’s well worth taking a longer route back to the big little city to check out the impressive Kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest.
Waipoua Forest (113kms – 1 hours 44 mins)
Instead of heading back to Auckland the direct route, we highly recommend a detour on your way back to check out the Kauri forest at Waipoua. Here you will find the best preserved and largest of the remaining Kauri forests in New Zealand. Among them is the legendary Tane Mahuta, the ‘Lord of the Forest’ who at 51.5 metres is the largest (by volume) of these ancient trees.
It’s another 232kms back to Auckland which will take you just over 3 hours and brings to a close this epic journey from Christchurch to Auckland. We hope you have had a blast and visited some amazing places on your travels. We would love to know if there are any hidden gems you think we really should be including in our itinerary so drop us a line on our GO Explore Facebook page and we will add the best tips to our itinerary.
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