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Two scenic self-drive car tours around New Zealand:
The first; a four-week tour of New Zealand's North and South Islands, a round trip distance of some 5,000km (3,000 miles). The tour started and finished at Auckland airport and comprised three legs:
(i) Auckland to Wellington via Northland's Piahia for the Bay of Islands, Waitangi, south Auckland suburb of Howick, Rotorua and Napier.
(ii) Wellington back to Wellington via Picton vehicle ferry, Kaikoura, Ashburton, Twizel for Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, Dunedin and the Otego Peninsula, Windwistle on Rakaia Gorge, Reefton and Nelson.
(iii) Wellington to Auckland via Tongariro, Edgecumbe and Thames.
The second was a four-week circular tour of South Island that started and finished in Christchurch via Ashburton, Aoraki Mount Cook village for the National Park, Otego Peninsula, Catlins, Invercargill for Stewart and Ulva Islands, Te Anau for Doubtful Sound, Wanaka, Fox Glacier, Westport, Takaka, Kaikoura a distance of over 4,00km (2,500 miles).
On both trips we limited each leg of the journey to no more than 400 km (250 miles), to allow plenty of time for lunch stops, detours, sightseeing and taking short walks along the way. En-route stops were up to three days allowing time to explore more interesting localities for nature, landscape, wildlife, scenic short walks photography opportunities.
Northland and Auckland: After an overnight stay at Auckland airport we drove north to Piahia in the Bay of Islands for an overnight stop and sightseeing. The next day we travelled south to Waitangi for another overnight stop and walking the art and heritage trails in the Waitangi town basin. Next day we continue south to Auckland for a couple of nights stay in Howick, a south Auckland suburb and visited Auckland and Devonport using ferries near Howick.
Rotorua: We travelled south from Auckland to Rotorua via Kawakawa Bay and the Firth of Thames, for a couple of nights stay. While in Rotorua we visited Kuirau Park and have a day trip south to the dramatic Wai-o-Tapu and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley geothermal areas, these are arguably better than the Rotorua offerings.
Rotorua to Wellington, via Napier: This part of the journey allowed an afternoon visit and an overnight stay in Napier with en-route stops at Huka Falls and Waipunga Falls. From Napier we continued south to Wellington stopping at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre for a visit and lunch.
Kaikoura: After an overnight stay in Wellington we left early to take the Interislander Ferry to Picton, on the South Island, then we drove south stopping at Ohau Point Seal Colony before continuing to Kaikoura for a couple of nights to see the amazing wildlife: seals, whales, dolphins, albatross and take some attractive scenic walks.
2015 destination activities will be added at a latter date.
Aoraki Mount Cook: In 2012 we we headed south from Kaikoura to Twizel with en-route stop at Christchurch Botanic Gardens before containing on to Ashburton for an overnight stop. The drive from Ashburton to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park passes through some breathtaking and dramatic scenery; we stopped at Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. On our first visit we arrived at the national park for lunch and then walked the Kea Point and Tasman Glacier tracks before driving to Twizel for an overnight stop. In 2015 we stayed for three nights at the Aoraki Court Motel in the village allowing us to walk several tracks including a whole day on the Hooker Valley Track.
Dunedin: In 2012 we left from Twizel driving south to Dunedin stopping at Wairepo Arm, Lake Ruataniwha, Takiroa Maori Rock Art Site and Moeraki Boulders. With a few days in Dunedin, there’s enough time to visit the splendid Botanic Gardens and the amazing Otego Peninsula to see penguins, sea lions and albatross.
2015 destination activities will be added at a latter date.
Dunedin to Wellington: Our return journey north in 2012 had a few of overnight stops, the first at Windwistle on the Rakaia Gorge. Our journey then continued north and east crossing the Southern Alps at Arthur's Pass and then to our second overnight stop in the old mining town of Reefton. From Reefton we drove to Nelson for the last overnight stop. The following morning, we drove to Picton to take the Interislander Ferry to Wellington.
As with football, New Zealand is a game of two halves the North and South Islands each have its own character and attractions. The South Island is more rural, spectacular scenery and the abundance of amazing wildlife but is of course much colder than the North Island. The North is less attractive.
This is a little town about 80km south of Christchurch, not really a tourist destination but has some reasonable accommodation and restaurants so useful for stopovers when driving the SH1 or flying into Christchurch airport and not wishing to stay in the city. We’ve stayed at the Taylors Motel a couple of times; it's good value for money. There's a pub opposite, you just have to cross the railway track. The Christchurch earthquake struck in February 2011 so I guess that was on everyone's mind as Ashburton is in an earthquake zone.
We were passing through Christchurch on our 2012 tour and had planned to stop. Unfortunately, we arrived in bad weather but braved the conditions for a stroll around the gardens, which were disappointing and not looking at their best in the rain.
Dunedin: Has its outstanding botanic Gardens, is close to the wonderful Otego Peninsula and its magnificent wildlife with good scenic walks and has some reasonable restaurants.
Kaikoura: For its stunning wildlife, eye-catching landscapes and attractive scenic walks.
Aorahi/Mount Cook and Tongariro National Parks: For spectacular landscape and stunning walks.
Rotorua: Has dramatic geothermal activity and splendid landscapes.
The cities, towns or districts that are the least interesting are: Napier; not much to see or do, Bay of Islands; it's not the place to be in the wind and rain, and Nelson; not much to see or do even in bright warm sunshine.
Catlins, 2015 destination will be added at a latter date.
Stewart Island, 2015 destination will be added at a latter date.
Te Anau & Doubtful Sound, 2015 destination will be added at a latter date.
Wanaka, 2015 destination will be added at a latter date.
Fox Glacier, 2015 destination will be added at a latter date.
Westport, 2015 destination will be added at a latter date.
Takaka, 2015 destination will be added at a latter date.
Christchurch, 2015 destination will be added at a latter date.