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Explore New Zealand’s most iconic landscapes and indulge in world-class walking on this 14-day highlights drive and hike tour.
New Zealand most definitely has it all and on this journey you will walk to the summit of Rangitoto, a volcanic island, view landscapes with intense geothermal activity such as geysers and mud pools in Rotorua, walk in the Southern Alps and in forests and beside lakes, immerse yourself in the glacier and Fiordland region of the South Island and take a Milford Sound Cruise with its views of jagged peaks and amazing wildlife.
This drive and hike tour allows you to experience the very best that New Zealand’s North and South Island’s have to offer within 2-weeks.
A private transfer brings you from the airport to the centre of Auckland (20-30 mins), a city blessed with a wonderful location, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Tasman Sea to the east. It is regularly rated one of the world's top cities to live in and you will enjoy exploring it today.
Of course you will also be getting over your jetlag (depending on where you have flown in from) so if this is the case an early night may be a good idea so you can embark on your epic journey through New Zealand feeling nice and refreshed.
This morning, after a short walk to Queen’s Wharf in Auckland, take a ferry (25 mins) to Rangitoto, a volcanic island which arose from the sea in fiery explosions a mere 600 years ago.
Walk along the coastline through terrain that was formed from liquid lava, then make your way up to the summit, which is a great place to have a picnic lunch. There are 360 degree views over Waitemata Harbour and other islands and seeing Auckland from this alternate perspective is special.
Walk: 12 km
This morning you will be transferred to the car rental office and here you can pick up your rental car. Drive south to Rotorua (3H). Situated in the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua is the world’s most concentrated geothermal area, with spouting geysers, hot steaming pools, boiling mud and terraces. It is truly a volcanists dream! It also has an amazing Maori heritage and over 34% of its population is home to the Awara people.
There will be free time this afternoon to explore. Some highlights are the “Buried Village” which shows a first-hand insight into the chaos and mayhem that transpired on the night Mount Tarawera erupted, Hells Gate Geothermal Park which is set in 50 acres of land with a large variety of thermal features and Hamurana Springs, famous for its beautiful crystal clear fresh water springs which emanate from the ground and flow downstream into Lake Rotorua. It is the deepest natural spring in the North Island. At Hamurana Springs you will find a very picturesque 20 minute walking track which is suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
This morning drive to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley (25 mins) where you can hike through the valley and past the hot craters, springs and lakes of this unique hydrothermal and volcanic environment. This scenic reserve has an unspoilt beauty and is not to be missed.
Next, make your way to Orakei Korako Geyserland and Thermal Park, (40 mins) also known as the Hidden Valley. There are up to 23 active natural geysers throughout the area and you can take bush walks through areas of native flora and fauna. Drive to Taupo (35 mins) and from your accommodation experience amazing views over the lake.
Walks: Around 6 km
Overnight: Lake Taupo
Today drive to Tongariro National Park (1H) and enjoy the stunning beauty of this geothermal and volcanic terrain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The track to Taranaki Falls has excellent mountain views and crosses a range of land forms. The upper and lower tracks form a loop with the 20m falls situated around the halfway point. If you wish to take a longer walk you can continue on to Tama Lakes, which is well worth it as you will be surrounded by volcanoes. Tonight stay in a lodge within the Tongariro National Park.
Walk: 7 or 20km
It’s a long drive today to reach the south of the North Island. (4H45) However, the scenery is excellent as you drive through rolling green farmland and in the distance you can spot snow-capped mountain peaks.
Arrive in Martinborough this afternoon, a little village surrounded by 35 vineyards. It is a very friendly community with nice shops and restaurants.
Drive to Wellington (1H) and explore New Zealand’s capital city. Even though, as cities go, it is rather small, its compact nature gives it a bigger-city vibe. Being the capital, it has plenty of museums (we recommend the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa), theatres and galleries. It is nicknamed "Windy Wellington" due to its location in the Roaring 40's.
Drop off your car at Wellington Airport and take a flight to Queenstown (1H20) in the South Island, then drive to Te Anau (2H).
Walk: 5 km
Drive up to Milford Sound from Te Anau (1H45), then sit back and relax as your cruise departs from Milford Sound Wharf, and makes its way out past the iconic Mitre Peak. Be sure to keep an eye out for seals basking in the sun, pods of dolphins or rare Fiordland Crested Penguins that can be found seasonally within the region.
On your way back down the Milford Highway you will pass the car park for the Divide, the beginning of the Routeburn Track. Park here and walk up to Key Summit. Immediately panoramic views of snow-capped peaks begin to unfold. Take the turn off to Key Summit and see views from the top which are unforgettable.
Ringed by snow-capped peaks, Te Anau stretches along New Zealand’s deepest and grandest lake of the same name.
Walk: 7 km
Today will be an amazing drive through the central Otago region and through Fiordland to Wanaka(3H), gateway to some marvellous Great Walks. It is worth visiting Arrowtown en route which is located just north of Queenstown. There is something to delay most folk here amidst quaint streets, intimate restaurants, cool bars, and historic Chinese gold settlements.
On the Roy’s Peak Track you can take in breath-taking views over Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring/Tititea and surrounding peaks after a steep climb through alpine meadows and tussock grasslands to the summit. This is a popular track and one of the best day hikes. Closed between October 1st and approximately November 10th due to lambing, other options are Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Walk, which is shorter with an option to do a low level walk. Wanaka is a walker's paradise and there are plenty of hikes here to choose from.
Drive to the spectacular glaciers region of the South Island (3H). The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers cut through dramatic glacial valleys to flow into temperate rainforest. We recommend taking a day trip with a guide on the Franz Josef as you are not allowed to go onto the glacier by yourself. Booking in advance essential.
Overnight: Franz Josef
Alex Knob Track is only for experienced walkers. You will zig-zag your way up to Rata Lookout for your first views over the Franz Josef Glacier through lowland forest, sub-alpine scrub, alpine meadows and herb fields and to the Alex Knob summit. Forest birds, such as tui, bellbird, kereru (New Zealand wood pigeon), are heard regularly along the track.
An easier walking choice today (but good fitness is still required) is the Roberts Point Track, which again has great views over the surrounding landscapes.
Walks: 15 or 9 km
Head north (2H) to Greymouth. Why not stop off in Hokitika, the cultural centre of the West Coast. This town is sandwiched between surf and river with the mighty Southern Alps as a backdrop, and is also home to the New Zealand’s finest Pounamu, green Jade.
This afternoon, after dropping off your rental car, board the TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch (4H30), one of New Zealand’s and indeed the world’s, great train journeys. This unforgettable train trip takes you through the South Island’s striking natural landscapes, traversing the Southern Alps including Arthur’s Pass. Then follow the Waimakariri river, cross the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury plains.
Upon arrival in Christchurch a transfer to your accommodation is included. This evening explore this world-famous 'Garden City' which has well-established expansive parks and public gardens. The central city area and some eastern suburbs were heavily affected by the earthquake of February 2011 but the rebuild is now in full swing.
A private transfer brings you to Christchurch Airport, from where you may make your onward journeys.
On this tour you will stay in very comfortable, hotels, motels, lodges, B&B’s and guesthouses. All rooms are ensuite and you will receive a very warm welcome from your hosts, especially in the B&B’s and guesthouses which are all family owned. As much as possible we have chosen accommodations with character and where you will meet local hosts. However in some areas, hotels and motels are the best choices.
Here are some examples of the accommodation that we use on this tour. However, if these are not available, we will use others which will be the same standard.
We will be happy to accommodate your party with single rooms if requested, and a single supplement applies. This trip is also available to solo walkers, and a supplement is again payable (as some costs are not shared). Please note that singles may not be of the same standard as twins/doubles.
The Auckland City Hotel is a peaceful sanctuary ideally located in the heart of the Auckland’s entertainment and business district. 150 contemporary guest rooms and suites will make your stay here very comfortable.
Andrew and Jane Williams are your hosts at Fairbairn House. They designed the house themselves and offer warm hospitality. The views over Lake Taupo from this accommodation are stunning!
Plateau Lodge offers the only accommodation right in the village and with a backdrop of the Tongariro volcanoes, it is in a great setting. There are comfortable rooms of different types, and free WiFi.
A beautiful old building full of charm and quirks, The Martinborough Hotel offers boutique accommodation located on the doorstep to everything Martinborough.
Cosy truly describes how you will feel within this warm and modern B&B. A quiet and homely atmosphere is assured. Within 10 minutes walk to the lake front, a home-made buffet breakfast is included.
Situated in a quiet cul-de-sac, just a few minutes walk from the attractions of central Wanaka, this three guest room B&B look out towards the Criffel Range. Relax with a glass of local wine on the sunny deck.
This motel is situated in the small but vibrant Franz Josef Glacier village which is the high snow-capped Alps. All the rooms are well-equipped for all of your needs and comfort.
This drive and hike Highlights of New Zealand trip is bookable between September 15th and May 15th. This is within the spring, autumn/fall and summer months when the weather will be more favourable, although it is subject to change quickly at any time of year!
The busiest months are January, February, March and over the Christmas/New Year season. If you wish to go during these times you will need to book far advance in order to get availability at the accommodations. Please note that normally it will take about 3-5 business days to confirm a booking, due to the length of this itinerary. During busy times and if you do not book 6 months in advance it could take longer.
The best time of year is from September to May which is when this tour operates. In the spring there will be flowers in abundance, it should be warm to hot in the summer (never hot in the mountains though) and in the Autumn/Fall it will be a bit quieter with nice colours.
Breakfast will be provided by your accommodation in most locations. This will either be a continental or cooked breakfast, depending on what that particular accommodation provides. There are a couple of places where breakfast cannot be included, but you can buy it locally in cafés or restaurants.
Lunches and dinners are not provided but you can easily shop for both or eat in local cafes and restaurants. On the walking days you can buy a packed lunch in a local shop/café.
There are many varying types of walks on this itinerary, from easy, flat and short walks, to longer more challenging hilly walks on rough terrain. However they are all optional and therefore you can choose which walks you would like to do. All the walks are available in the Macs Smartphone App, so you can easily find your way using this GPS technology.
Walks are mostly on dirt tracks and trails, which are mostly Department of Conservation walks all very well-maintained. New Zealand is a walkers paradise and well-renowned for its walking tracks, therefore it is all very well organised and sign—posted.
There are walking tracks that are seasonal, but you should be able to do them all as this tour is available in the spring, autumn/fall and summer. However, some walks are weather-dependent and since the weather can change rapidly in New Zealand is it always best to check the forecast, especially walking in high elevations. Also, if there is a Department of Conservation or tourist office nearby, we recommend checking the weather and the condition of the trail before embarking on a walk, particularly the longer walks in high terrain. Some walks are also in avalanche territory, so again, its best to check at a DOC office or on the DOC website for any warnings (see information pack for more details).
The tracks in New Zealand are generally very well-marked and signposted so you should not have a problem finding your way. We have also provided GPX tracks for all the walks, which are accessible on the Macs Smartphone App, so you can simply follow the route on your phone. It will be essential to use the smartphone app for this particular trip as we will not have detailed route notes for all the walks.
Car rental is included in the cost of this tour, as it is a drive and hike itinerary. When you arrive in Auckland, a private transfer is included to take you to your hotel. Car pick up will occur on the morning of Day 3. You will drop the car off at the airport in Wellington before taking a flight to Queenstown and then you will pick up another car on arrival at the airport. This car you will use until you arrive in Greymouth, where you will drop it off before boarding the TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch. You will be able to park your car at all of the accommodations and the walks will mostly have car parks at the start where you can safely leave it. At times you will have to leave your car in a car park with luggage inside, however New Zealand has a very low crime rate and you should feel comfortable doing so. The car will be a Toyota Corolla or equivalent.
The car rental includes tax (GST), unlimited kilometres and insurance, but excludes the first NZ$2500.00 (deductible) of any accident damage to the vehicle.
As part of your car rental a GPS unit will be provided and is included in the cost of the tour. We will provide addresses for all accommodations, sites and walks so that you can easily find your way. In case of any issues we also provide an included New Zealand SIM card so that you can make contact with any accommodation and service providers.
It is a requirement of booking this tour with Macs Adventure that you have suitable travel insurance which covers you for the activity and emergency evacuation and hospital care.
The distances and ascent/descents are approximations of the recommended routes. Please be prepared by packing all necessary items, for example, proper rain gear (jacket and pants), sun hat, sunscreen. Your information pack has a detailed equipment list which includes standard walking gear such as good walking boots or shoes, warm and waterproof clothes for the cooler months and lightweight clothing for summer, and a day pack.
You can fly into Auckland Airport. This airport is served by many airlines, both international and domestic, including Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, American, Thai Airways. Virgin Australia, Etihad and Quatar Airlines.
Upon arrival at Auckland Airport a GK Limousine driver will be waiting for you just outside the sliding doors that you will come though from customs. Your driver will be on the left with your name(s) on his board and will drop you off at your accommodation in the centre of Auckland.
* Please be aware that when booking flights from the UK to New Zealand you will arrive 2 days after you set off and on return you will arrive 1 day after you set off. So, for example, if you leave on a Tuesday you will arrive on a Thursday and on return if you leave on a Saturday you will arrive home on the Sunday. This is obviously because of the time it takes to get there but also because you are travelling back and forth across the International Date Line. Similar principles apply when travelling from other places in Europe and from the USA and Canada.
You can fly out of Christchurch Airport, which is an airport that is served by many airlines, both international and domestic, including Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Emirates.
On your final day a private transfer will bring you to the airport from your accommodation.
It really depends what time of year you want to go. The busiest months are in the height of summer which is January and February, although it will also be busy over Christmas and New Year. If you are planning to go during this time you will need to book quite far in advance.
There are many varying types of walks on this itinerary, from easy, flat and short walks, to longer more challenging hilly walks on rough terrain. However they are all optional and therefore you can choose which walks you would like to do. It would be better if you had a good level of fitness to fully enjoy all the walking options on this drive and hike itinerary.
This tour is a drive and hike. By driving you will be able to see a lot more than if you were to travel by public transportation, which is not exactly very prevalent here. We have set the tour up so that you will pick up your rental car after you have stayed in Auckland. We have also provided a GPS unit. You will then drop this particular car off in Wellington before baording a domestic flight to Queenstown, where you pick up another car. You will then keep the car until you drop it off in Greymouth and before boarding the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch.