Land of the Long White Cloud
Your first two days are spent traveling. Sure, New Zealand’s a long way from the UK but wow, it’s worth it. Take the time to relax on your flight, enjoy the journey and arrive raring to go.
You’ll be met at Auckland airport and a guide will transfer you to the SkyCity hotel where you’ll check-in for two nights. The laidback metropolis of Auckland is on your doorstep, so head straight out on a leisurely stroll to Viaduct Harbour and end your day with sundowners on the waterfront.
The next day is yours to explore Auckland. Begin with a trip up the Sky Tower for a 360-degree view over the city, harbors and surrounding volcanic landscape. In the afternoon, you could head over to Waiheke Island on the ferry. It’s a haven of vineyards and olive groves where Aucklanders flock to escape the city. Swim and kayak off the sandy beaches of Oneroa, Palm Beach and Onetangi and stay for a picnic.
On the next day, you’ll collect a hire car and drive to Rotorua. The journey will take three hours, but it’s best to make an early start and plan lots of stops along the way. En route, you’ll pass the famous Waitomo glow worm caves, plus you can do a little ‘set-jetting’ with a visit to the Hobbiton movie set where Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed.
As the afternoon draws to a close, you’ll arrive at the Prince’s Gate hotel for a two-night stay. It’s a classically styled hotel that will make you feel warmly welcomed. Get a good night’s sleep, the next day you’ll be exploring Rotorua. Sitting within the Pacific Rim of Fire, it’s a geothermal wonderland that’s famed for gurgling mud pools, hissing geysers, and natural hot springs. But that’s not all – Rotorua is home to an impressive array of adventure sports and world-class mountain biking trails. Or you can clamber over suspension bridges through the forests, then whizz through the trees on a zipline.
We’ve planned a cultural experience at the Tamaki Maori Village on your sixth night. Your hosts will welcome you with a traditional ceremony before inviting you to learn the haka and poi dances. You will learn how a traditional hangi meal is cooked in the ground (thanks to those geothermal properties) before experiencing a powerful cultural performance within the village meeting house. Your evening ends with a traditional hangi buffet before you head back to Prince’s Gate.
Your journey south continues on Day 7 with a four-hour drive to Napier on the east coast of North Island. Break the journey up and stop for lunch at the enormous Lake Taupo. You’ll have time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and you could pop along to see the thundering Huka Falls too.
Later, you’ll arrive at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel in Napier. It’s perfectly situated on the waterfront in the midst of Napier’s highly acclaimed art deco architecture. If there’s time, take a walk along the palm-lined promenade. It guides you to the Pania of the Reef statue that depicts a Maori maiden.
On Day 8, you’ll head off on a group tour to Hawke’s Bay. Your journey will take you through pretty countryside to the heart of the wine region. Here, you’ll visit four or five world-class wineries and be expertly guided as you sample the wine – the cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah are particularly notable. You’ll stop for lunch at one of the wineries, overlooking the vineyards in the sunny and dry climate this part of New Zealand enjoys. In the afternoon, you’ll continue to the Te Mata Peak to enjoy the far-reaching views before returning to Napier.
On Day 9, you’ll wave goodbye to Napier and drive for five hours to Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand at the south point of North Island.
After a day filled with ever-changing and beautiful scenery, you’ll arrive in the city and hand back the keys to your hire car. You’ll probably want to stretch your legs and grab some dinner – fortunately, there are lots of good dining options around the area of the smart and sophisticated QT Museum Hotel where you’ll have checked in for two nights. After you’ve grabbed a bite, we’d recommend heading to the Zealandia eco-sanctuary for a night tour. It’s the best way to see some of New Zealand’s fascinating nocturnal wildlife emerge, including the elusive kiwi.
Day 10 is yours to explore Wellington in your own time. Perhaps you’ll start your day with a tour of Te Papa, the highly acclaimed national museum. Or if the sun is shining, head to the top of Mount Victoria to catch the panoramic views. Wellington’s botanical gardens are especially lovely for a stroll, and the boutiques of Lambton Quay will be beckoning shopaholics. Come evening, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants and bars (try bohemian Cuba Street for the trendiest offerings).
You’ll board a flight to Christchurch this morning – it’s just a short hop away and is less than an hour’s flying time. On arrival, you’ll take a cab to Hotel 115 where you’ll check-in for a night. The rest of the day is yours to decide what to do. Handily, the city’s tram travels through the hotel. It makes a 60-minute loop of the city, complete with driver commentary, so it’s a good way to get your bearings and learn a little more about Christchurch. You can hop on and off, taking the time to explore Cathedral Square and New Regent Street.
Christchurch is the largest city on South Island and in a period of transition and rebuilding after the earthquakes that struck in 2010 and 2011. You can learn more about the impact of disasters at Quake City, a museum in the city center.
Franz Josef Glacier
Activity and Adventure
Today you’ll make your way to the train station ready for your TranzAlpine train ride. You board the train and set off on a four-hour journey, traveling across the flat farmlands of Canterbury before you enter into the vast and spectacular Southern Alps. On the way, you’ll travel through 19 tunnels and across four viaducts, including the Staircase Viaduct, high above the Waimakariri River. You’ll arrive at Greymouth, where you’ll pick up a hire car and drive for two hours down the west coast of South Island to the Franz Josef Glacier and check into Glenfern Villas, simple yet stylish apartment-style accommodation in the most striking of landscapes.
Get a good night’s sleep – Day 13 has an epic heli-hike in store. Your guide will talk you through the skill of walking across an ice field and kit you out with everything you need for the adventure. You’ll board a helicopter and soar over the astounding terrain, before landing on the Franz Josef glacier and hiking over, under and through otherworldly ice formations. Back at base, there’s a hot pool to relax in and recount every last detail of your incredible glacier experience.
Day 14 is a travel day. But crikey, it’s a good one. You’ll drive for five hours through some of the most insanely beautiful scenery. Take our advice and spend a whole day tackling this journey. You’re bound for Wanaka, but to reach it you’ll travel over the Haast Pass along the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park. You must stop and take one of the walking trails that lead away from the roadside. They will guide you to wonderful waterfalls in rainforests.
Later, you’ll arrive at Wanaka Edgewater. It’s a cosy place in idyllic surroundings. Head out for dinner in Wanaka and choose from the impressive selection of excellent restaurants and bars.
Activity and Adventure
You’ll spend the morning in Wanaka. Deciding what to do will be a tough call – there’s a lot going on in this adventurous town. For something chilled, take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront and just enjoy the scenery. But thrill-seekers won’t be able to resist the activities on offer here – you could choose canyoning, climbing, horse trekking, boating or skydiving.
As hard as it will be to tear yourself away from vibrant Wanaka, more adventure in Queenstown awaits. Your journey continues across the Crown Ranges today – the highest road in New Zealand. You’ll only be on the road for an hour (but you’ll want to allow more time for plenty of scenic stops) and we’d suggest breaking the short journey with lunch at the charming and rustic Cardrona Hotel.
When you reach Queenstown, you’ll check into the super stylish St Moritz hotel where you’ll be staying for three fun-filled nights. It’s got a prime position in Queenstown, overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range. Having checked out the views and feeling refreshed, the excitement of Queenstown won’t wait – this is the adventure capital of New Zealand, a hedonistic playground of activities and sports. Its reputation may have preceded it, but it’s not just skydiving, paragliding and bungee jumping. There’s plenty for everyone in Queenstown, whether you want to take a leisurely gondola ride through the pinewood forests or enjoy one of the many attractions in the centre. Come evening, the town comes alive with a busy restaurant and bar scene.
Day 17 marks your last full day in New Zealand, and it will be a good one. You’ll board a scenic flight to the Milford Sound, soaring above the back-country of Central Otago and heading west to where glacial rivers flow into Lake Wakatipu. You’ll be buzzing from this experience, but the best is yet to come – you’ll board a boat and cruise out to the Tasman Sea in New Zealand’s Fiordland in search of dolphins, fur seals and penguins. The scenery of the Milford Sound will dazzle you with its beauty - imposing mountains, serene waters and mesmerising rainbow-scattered waterfalls. Your experience finishes with another scenic flight back to Queenstown where you’ll finally catch your breath again.
You’ve got a final morning in Queenstown, on Day 18, before heading to the airport and boarding a flight from Queenstown to Auckland. From there, you’ll connect with your international flight back to the UK. And if you’re anything like us, you’ll be planning your next adventure all the way home.