Your vacation in paradise..
It is advisable on any visit to New Zealand to allow about 40% of time in the North Island and 60% in the South Island. Another good rule to consider is to plan on travelling a comfortable 2-300 kilometres per day - perhaps less for visits of more than eight weeks duration. Try also to allow an occasional few nights in one location to avoid having to move on every day. If you are particularly organised with your itinerary planning, creating a plan that is a little shorter than your rental duration will provide you with extra time up your sleeve with which to spend in locations you particularly enjoy or to travel to those additional points of interest you hear about along the way.
Most visitors to New Zealand are pleasantly impressed by the standard of our roads. Although you'll only find a couple of hundred kilometres of motorway in the entire country (around a handful of the major cities), all main highways are well maintained and have a 100-km/hr speed limit. There are over 100 000 kilometres of roads in New Zealand, with State Highway No1 stretching around 2000 kilometres from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. You'll rarely be more than 50 kilometres from the next gas station, even while off the beaten track.
Tourist Information Centres are everywhere and are excellent, the locals are friendly, and there are plenty of opportunities to free-camp in peaceful locations. Along the way you'll get to practise your pronunciation of Maori place names, some of which rate among the longest anywhere in the world! Their meanings are usually either a geographical reference or tell stories of past events nearby. Although 90% of New Zealanders live within 30 minutes of the sea, the diversity of the geography means that within a short drive of the coast you can find yourself among truly alpine scenery, while a half-day's drive can easily take you through several completely different landscapes.
If you're lucky enough to be staying longer than the average three weeks' duration, the 60/40 split between islands provides enough time to consider travelling north of Auckland to visit the Bay of Islands where you'll find beautiful beaches and marine activities such as cruises, diving, deep sea fishing and swimming with dolphins, not to mention some of our nation's most important history and oldest buildings. The road through the Waipoua Kauri Forest provides one of the country's nicest drives through massive trees that are up to 1500 years old. There's a good chance of seeing our huge native wood pigeon in this area, along with the more abundant Pukeko swamp hen. You may even wish to travel all the way up to the end of the road at Cape Reinga, 400 km from Auckland, from where you can see the Tasman Sea meet the Pacific Ocean. Don't forget the Tutukaka Coast near Whangarei on the return trip southward - this stretch of quiet coastal back road passes through beautiful ocean-side communities, including the departure point for charter boat trips to the Poor Knights Islands, regarded as one of the better diving locations in the world with sea caves and wreck attractions.
Auckland is well worth spending a day checking out, with islands to visit in the beautiful Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf beyond, great views from atop the dozens of extinct volcanoes, excellent museums and more parkland than any other city in the world. Auckland also boasts enough pleasure boats to ensure that there's usually plenty to see from the seaside suburbs of more than 100 sandy beaches.
South of Auckland you'll find farmland where the grass grows up to a centimetre every day, supporting millions of cows that produce up to 50 million litres of milk daily. You may wish to consider touring the popular Coromandel Peninsular with its Pohutukawa trees and more coastal scenery. Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove are essential stops.
Rotorua is also a 'must see' centre for the presentation of our native Maori culture, as well as having abundant thermal activity that includes mud pools and geysers. You can even visit a village buried by an eruption that was heard from almost one end of the country to the other. Rotorua is a great place to get acquainted with a popular theme of New Zealand tourism - adventure! You can raft a waterfall, skydive, quad bike, mountain bike - or just play golf or sit in a hot pool.
A drive around the East Coast region gets you off the beaten track to isolated coastal settlements, among which is the village where the movie Whale Rider was filmed. Napier city in the Hawkes Bay was rebuilt in the 1930's in the Art Deco style of the period, after a tragic earthquake had destroyed the entire region. Nearby are more great opportunities to get close up to wildlife with a spectacular gannet colony.
The central North Island includes the Waitomo region with extensive cave networks and has New Zealand's largest lake - the 620 square kilometre Lake Taupo. Here you'll find geothermal activity - there are even hot springs on the lake floor - good trout fishing and excellent hiking among the three active volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park. In the winter months hiking gives way to skiing and there are Lord of the Rings movie locations throughout the region. There's great kayaking on the Whanganui River which has it's own national park, while the North Island's western Taranaki region is renown for great gardens and the almost perfect 2800 meter cone of Mt Taranaki.
The North Island's southern most point is home to our capital city of Wellington - a vibrant harbour city with a wild coastline providing wonderful drives, historic government buildings and a world-class national museum to visit.
Although Cook Strait, which separates our two main islands, is only 23 kilometres across at it's narrowest point, the ferry trip from Wellington to Picton is a 100-kilometer cruise, of which only half is in open waters.
New Zealand's South Island covers about 150 000 square kilometres - almost 60% of the nation's total land area, but has barely 25% of our four million population. The South Island has a rugged backbone created by the meeting of two of the earth's great tectonic plates, forming a long range of mountains rising to over 3000 meters. Roads only pass through the Southern Alps along three spectacular routes, resulting in many visitors choosing to travel down the West Coast and back up the eastern side of the island. Traffic is lighter than in the North Island and gas stations can be further apart.
The top of the South Island has two separate regions worth considering - Marlborough with it's inviting wineries, and the Nelson region with its fruit growing and the Abel Tasman National Park, a popular destination for sea kayaking. Nearby is the half million-hectare Kahurangi National Park, while inland is the tranquil Nelson Lakes National Park.
The West Coast region is wild, isolated and beautifully forested with ancient native pine varieties and nikau palms growing on slopes which rise steeply from the sea to snow capped mountains. Industry here is based around farming, fishing and coal. There are few towns but plenty of history from a wealthier gold mining era. Just south of Greymouth you can travel inland and eventually across to Christchurch via the Arthur's Pass, following the same route as the Trans Alpine rail journey. Alternatively, a more popular itinerary continues southward to include the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers that are very accessible and offer guided glacier walks and flight-seeing opportunities. You should be able to get a photo of our alpine parrot - the kea - while you're there too. Travelling this way, you will turn inland about half way down the west coast of the island, driving over the Haast Pass into the Central Otago region.
You'll need at least a few days here to linger in quaint picture book villages like Arrowtown and the lakeside alpine resorts of Wanaka and Queenstown. The list of activities here is endless... though you'll probably have trouble raising yourself from just gazing at the views! You can visit more wineries, raft or take a jet boat ride on a white water river, take a lake cruise, jump off a bridge with a rubber band attached to your legs, go for a flight in a collection of historic fighter planes, take a lakeside stroll, a gondola up a mountainside, or just relax and wish you could stay forever!
From Queenstown another essential inclusion in your travels is to drive onward to Te Anau. Here you can see some of the world's rarest bird species, including the takahe alpine hen. The most famous of our hiking trails also departs nearby to spend three days passing through a tiny corner of the huge Fiordland National Park en route to Milford Sound. An easier way of getting to Milford Sound is by the 120-kilometer avalanche swept road from Te Anau. Don't forget to take a cruise and a helicopter ride while you're there. Doubtful Sound is an even larger fiord with a 500 kilometre coastline which is also well worth visiting from your base in Te Anau.
The South Island's southern-most Southland region is also worth a lingering drive, with State Highway No1 passing through Invercargill before terminating at Bluff, from where you might like to consider taking the ferry across to Stewart Island if time permits. Stewart Island is the only place in New Zealand where our most famous native bird, the flightless kiwi, is not strictly nocturnal - providing great day-time viewing opportunities. The Catlins coastal district is a popular meandering diversion down in these latitudes, where you're more than half way from the equator to the South Pole.
Our fourth largest city of Dunedin gets snow to sea level in the winter, so it's not surprising that you can visit penguin and albatross colonies on the city's Otago Peninsular. There's a strong Scottish heritage to discover as well, whiskey, kilts and a castle included. Continuing northward, the town of Oamaru has a remarkable heritage preserved in stone architecture.
From here you can deviate inland to the Alps again to visit Mt Cook, our highest peak and one of dozens to rise to over 3000 metres within its surrounding national park. There are more great flight-seeing options here and at the nearby lakeside settlement of Tekapo, which boasts the well-photographed Church of the Good Shepherd.
Back down on the coast is the most English of our major cities, Christchurch. As well as being a cathedral town gifted with parks and museums, in Christchurch you can even go punting on the Avon or take a tram ride through the city centre. The historic Banks Peninsular town of Akaroa is especially picturesque while in this area and has a French history that is unique in New Zealand. Don't miss a stop in the once sleepy fishing village of Kaikoura, north of Christchurch, where close ocean currents provide great feeding for whales, with whale watching now a bigger industry than the lobster fishing.
Naturally it's not possible to provide a full guidebook to activities here and, besides, as you've chosen a motorhome vacation you're probably inspired by the independence of making your own discoveries along the way! Rather than issuing daily route plan options New Zealand Frontiers prefers to leave the spirit of discovery with you to tailor an itinerary or simply to wander freely around localities that meet your interests or attract your curiosity. However, this advice should serve to provide you with an overview of the popular inclusions on any tour of New Zealand - a base from which to launch your plans and possible further research. Once here and on the road, you will find that local i-sites (information centres) are full of friendly, helpful staff who are very knowledgeable and can provide comprehensive advice on local attractions, ensuring you wont miss anything!
To continue with more detailed pre trip planning, or should you still feel that you prefer the security of having a fixed itinerary provided for you, New Zealand Frontiers highly recommends visiting the government operated New Zealand.com website where you will find a comprehensive range of further information from extensive details on each region and activities offered to a selection of touring routes.
More info: New Zealand.com
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