Ultimate New Zealand

Tour highlights

  • The beautiful beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula

  • Kaikoura, New Zealand’s whale watching capital

  • Arthur’s Pass TranzAlpine Train

  • The glorious peaks of the Southern Alps

  • Invercargill, New Zealand’s southernmost city

  • Doubtful Sound Cruise

  • New Plymouth and Mt. Taranaki

  • Waitomo with its labyrinth of caves

Day 1 – 10: Auckland to Lake Taupo

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Days 1 - 4: Auckland

Fly from the UK, arriving in Auckland on day three due to the difference in time zones. Unwind after the flight and enjoy this harbourside city. Explore at your leisure, perhaps taking in the views from the top of the Sky Tower or enjoying a boat trip across the harbour to one of the neighbouring islands. On day four, you'll meet your fellow travellers and tour guides for a welcome dinner.

Days 5 - 6: Coromandel Peninsula
Distance: 168km / 105 miles

Your first destination is the Coromandel Peninsula, a beautiful, rugged area with plenty of beaches to explore. Many Kiwis choose to escape the hustle and bustle of city life here, and it's easy to see why. You can dig out your very own hot pool metres from the Pacific Ocean at world-famous Hot Water Beach, or head for Cathedral Cove where a huge arched cavern passes through the headland, joining up two secluded coves. Relax in the cafes and enjoy the art galleries or just taking in the wonderful scenery.

Days 7 - 8: Rotorua
Distance: 209km / 131 miles

Driving on, you come to the geothermal region of Rotorua. A highlight is the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Reserve, where you'll find bubbling mud pools, the 62-metre deep Champagne Pool, and the famous Lady Knox geyser.

Take the cable car ‘gondola’ up Mount Ngongotaha and in return you’ll get amazing views. Rotorua is a key part of the Maori heartland so there’s always the chance to learn about Maori culture and traditions. Go along to an included evening feast or Hangi for a traditional banquet with dancing and Maori culture. You may even find yourself performing the haka!

Days 9 - 10: Lake Taupo
Distance: 80km / 50 miles

Near Lake Taupo you'll find the Huka Falls, one of New Zealand’s most visited natural sights. Marvel at the power of nature as the mighty Waikato River is forced through a gorge just 15 metres wide. Nearby at the Craters of the Moon, a meandering trail leads you through a slightly surreal and steaming heathland of bubbling pools and crevices.

Further on lies Lake Taupo, a vast volcanic crater, now the largest lake in the country. If you have time head out to see the spectacular Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay, only accessible from the water. Beyond Taupo is the volcanic Tongariro National Park and the unmistakable sight of its three active volcanic mountains.

Day 11 – 20: Napier to Christchurch

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Days 11 - 12: Napier
Distance: 142km / 89 miles

Often referred to as the Art Deco capital of the world, Napier is in the Hawke’s Bay region which is famous for its vineyards. Many of these serve gourmet food to accompany their award-winning wines, giving you the opportunity to enjoy some mouth-watering cuisine. A Gourmet Food and Wine Tour of the Hawke's Bay region is included on day 12.

Days 13 - 14: Martinborough
Distance: 271km / 169 miles

As you leave the rolling countryside of the Hawke's Bay you'll be greeted with some of New Zealand’s richest dairy farmland in the Manawatu Gorge. Continue through the Wairarapa region and perhaps make a stop in the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre, where you can see some of the country's native animals. Take another break in Masterson and visit the interactive Woolshed Museum to learn about sheep farming in New Zealand. As you drive south, a visit to historic Greytown is a must. Take in the restored Victorian buildings and make time for a cup of tea at one of its quaint cafes. Leaving state highway 2 you will cross over the Ruamahanga River into Martinborough wine country - your destination for the day.

Days 15 - 16: Wellington
Distance: 80km / 50 miles

Travel to the southern end of the North Island today and the city of Wellington. Explore the country’s capital city with a visit to the Te Papa museum, the national museum of New Zealand. Or take a trip up Mount Victoria for views out over the city. 

Days 17 - 18: Kaikoura 
Distance: 156km / 98 miles

Take the InterIslander ferry to Picton where you’ll pick up the road south to Kaikoura. Here you’ll find whales and dolphins passing close to the shore and often clearly visible from the coastal walkway. A popular option is to join a whale-watching cruise where you have a better chance of getting up close.

Days 19 - 20: Christchurch
Distance: 181km / 113 miles 

Today’s journey takes you along the edge of the rugged coastal ranges. From Cheviot you can detour to Gore Bay to see the fascinating cliff formations. The landscape becomes gentler as you approach Waipara - a region known for its vineyards and olive groves. The last leg of your journey takes you past the surf beaches of Amberley, Leithfield, Waikuku and Woodend. A trip on the TranzAlpine Train through the stunning scenery of Arthur’s Pass is included on day 20.

Day 21 – 32: Mount Cook to Wanaka

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Days 21 - 22: Mount Cook
Distance: 309km/193 miles

Leaving Christchurch, you’ll head across the Canterbury plains towards Mount Cook. Be sure to stop at Lake Tekapo where the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd is a photographer’s dream, offering sweeping lake views surrounded by swathes of lupins (when in season).

The beautiful views continue as you pass the turquoise blue waters of Lake Pukaki approaching Mount Cook village. Surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, all part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, there are sublime sunrises and sunsets over the snowy peaks. Explore the glacial lakes and hike the trails of Hooker Valley (mostly easy going with loose surfaces).

Days 23 - 24: Dunedin
Distance: 294km/184 miles

Heading towards Dunedin you’ll travel south through the Waitaki Valley. As you follow the coast be sure to stop at the mysterious Moeraki Boulders. Nestled on the beach and appearing to emerge from the sands at low tide, these boulders have another-worldly feel to them. Then continue onto to Dunedin, affectionately known as ‘the Edinburgh of the South’. It is an endearing city of classical Victorian and Edwardian architecture and is the gateway to the diverse wildlife of the Otago Peninsula.

Half or full-day cruises and tours of the Otago Peninsula are available, taking in the region’s wildlife, scenery and historic buildings including Lanarch Castle, the Royal Albatross Centre and Penguin Place. Options in Dunedin include tours of Cadbury Chocolate World and Speights Brewery, home of New Zealand’s most popular beer.

Days 25 - 26: Invercargill 
Distance: 204km/128 miles

Continue your journey south through the winding roads of the Caitlins where you can spot seals, sea lions, dolphins, several species of penguins and the petrified forest in Curio Bay. The area is full of wilderness beaches, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers that provide nonstop scenery as you drive.

Days 27 - 28: Te Anau
Distance: 158km/99 miles

Cross the rich farmlands of Central Otago as you make your way to Te Anau, the gateway to the Fiordland National Park. You can go via Gore, set on the Mataura River, or you may like to take the slightly longer route which takes you south via the Catlins.

Once in Te Anau, options here include an exhilarating jetboat ride, stopping at 3 Lord of the Rings filming locations, or you can visit the Te Anau Glowworm Caves where a mystical underground world of waterfalls and incredible rock formations awaits. A cruise across Doubtful Sound is included on day 28.

Days 29 - 30: Arrowtown
Distance: 180km/113 miles

Skirt the shores of Lake Wakatipu as you make your way to Queenstown, an alpine resort regarded as New Zealand’s premier holiday destination. Continue to Arrowtown, one of the most picturesque settlements in New Zealand established in 1862, during the height of the Otago gold rush. A trip to the Queenstown Skyline Gondola is included on day 30, alongside dinner at the Stratosfare Restaurant overlooking Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Days 31 - 32: Wanaka 
Distance: 54km/34 miles

Drive via the amazing Crown Range, a stunningly scenic drive through mountains and valleys, to Lake Wanaka. Here you'll enjoy breathtaking mountain and lake views and spend a couple of nights taking it all in.

Days 33 - 43: Franz Josef to Whanganui

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Days 33 - 34: Franz Josef 
Distance: 286km / 179 miles

View incredible scenery as you travel past the untouched native forests and pristine lakes of the World Heritage Westland National Park to the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Here you'll discover the glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef, which are unusual in that they are so close to the sea. We recommend a guided walk onto the glacier itself to appreciate the scale of it close up.

Once you’ve had enough of the ice you can take a walk through the rain forest trail around Lake Matheson, near Fox, for fantastic mirror lake views of the Southern Alps, or you might prefer to relax in the Franz Josef Glacier hot pools, nestled in lush rainforest.

Days 35 - 36: Carters Beach 
Distance: 275km / 172 miles

Travel along the rugged west coast with its towering rainforests, rushing rivers and tranquil lakes. With the Tasman Sea on one side and the Southern Alps mountain range rising up on the other, take it slow and enjoy this scenic drive. Be sure to stop at Punakaiki and marvel at the bizarre limestone landscapes and powerful vents of ‘Pancake Rocks’, formed millions of years ago. Then make your way to Carters Beach for a two-night stay.

Days 37 - 39: Abel Tasman 
Distance: 238km / 149 miles

The landscape gradually becomes softer as you leave the mountainous west coast behind. The rolling hills and forested slopes give way to orchards and fertile fields as you approach Nelson and the north coast. With white-sand beaches, palm trees and jauntily painted houses, Nelson appears almost subtropical. And with seaside promenades and a bustling marina, you could imagine yourself on the Côte d’Azur. 

Abel Tasman National Park is just north of Nelson and enjoys New Zealand’s highest levels of sunshine. As a result, the beaches here can have a distinctly Mediterranean feel about them. Enjoy some superb walking trails or take a leisurely water taxi to see the coast from a different perspective.

Kaiteriteri, west of Nelson, is a great place for picking up kayaks and taking a paddle around the headland. Why not join a guided excursion to the incredible Split Apple Rock – it looks just like an enormous split apple and has been there for 120 million years.

Days 40 - 41: Picton
Distance: 168km / 105 miles

Skirting around Nelson on the coast road, you climb up into forested hills and twisting mountain passes to reach Picton. Build-in some time to explore the bays between Anakiwa and Picton, each with its own unique perspective over the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds. The Queen Charlotte Walkway is a great way to stretch your legs and enjoy some amazing scenery.

Just south of Picton lie the world-famous Marlborough vineyards, famous for their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Maybe you’ll pick up a bottle or two?

Days 42 - 43: Whanganui
Distance: 199km / 124 miles

The three-hour InterIslander ferry crossing passes through Queen Charlotte Sound, so enjoy the wonderful scenery as you leave the South Island, hopefully, interspersed with sightings of dolphins playing in the calmer waters.

Across the Cook Strait lies the capital city of Wellington. It’s a bright and breezy city with a vibrant waterfront and superb Te Papa museum – the national museum which brings to life so much of what you’ll see in the country. You can take the cable car up from Lambton Quay to Mount Victoria for magnificent views.

On the road to Wanganui, you’ll see the offshore island of Kapiti, a nature reserve where you can see rare birds and take a tour for a more in-depth visit. Once in Wanganui, take a river cruise on the Steamer Waimarie and visit the interesting museums and the River Market.

Days 44 - 56: New Plymouth to Auckland

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Days 44 - 45: New Plymouth
Distance: 163km / 102 miles

Heading north you’ll pass through idyllic lush countryside dotted with dairy farms, picturesque little towns and views over to Mount Taranaki.

You’ll be faced with a choice when you reach Hawera: for seascapes and beaches follow the Surf Highway around Cape Egmont, for verdant countryside follow the inland route via Stratford. To get closer to Mount Taranaki take a hike along one of the walking trails on its lower slopes.

New Plymouth is an interesting place with the well-known Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre. It’s an impressive contemporary gallery housing one of the artist’s most famous kinetic sculptures.

Days 46 - 47: Waitomo
Distance: 180km / 113 miles

Driving up the coast beside the Tasman Sea you’ll discover plenty of little villages and places to stop for a picnic and a stroll. At Awakino there’s always a chance of sighting the shy and elusive kiwi.

Waitomo is best known for its labyrinth of limestone caves where you can walk or take a boat ride to see the incredible natural spectacle of the glow worms which illuminate the caves in their thousands. The delicate canopy of light above your head is truly magical.

Days 48 - 49: Orewa
Distance: 230km / 144 miles

From Waitomo you’ll head up into the Waikato, real farming country and the dairy heartland of New Zealand. In Hamilton you can see the university, the elegant public gardens and river, while further north you bypass Auckland as you head to Orewa.

Days 50 - 52: Bay of Islands
Distance: 201km / 126 miles

Once you’re ready, it’s time to head north to the Bay of Islands, a National Maritime Park. The scenic Bay of Islands is home to 144 islands and is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the views with a three-night stay. You'll be able to learn more about the history of the region, with nearby Waitangi the location for the signing of the unique treaty between the British and the Maori people in 1840. Alternatively, you might enjoy a boat trip out into the bay, or how about heading to the most northerly point of New Zealand and Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea converge.

On day 51 is an included half-day 'Hole in the Rock' Cruise. The Dolphin Seeker ship will allow you to take in the stunning views as you glide out through the islands and along the Rakaumangamanga Peninsula to Cape Brett, where a historic lighthouse keeps watch over Piercy Island/Motukōkako, or as it is popularly known the ‘Hole in the Rock’. According to Māori legend, local warriors used to paddle through the Hole in the Rock in their canoes before departing for battle. Drops of water from the cave roof above were a good omen. If conditions permit, your skipper will expertly guide the ship through the narrow space... and if you get dripped on, consider yourself lucky.

Days 53 - 54: Auckland
Distance: 233km / 146 miles

Auckland is a harbour city and the locals love nothing more than getting out on the water. You have the opportunity to explore the city at your leisure be it on land or water. A visit to Waiheke Island is a recommended and enjoyable experience that offers spectacular views of the city across the water. The Sky Tower is unmistakable and offers an alternative view of the city.

A farewell dinner is included on the evening of day 54, offering a chance to look back at your Ultimate New Zealand adventure with your fellow travellers and tour hosts.

Days 55 - 56: Auckland

Time to bid farewell to newfound friends, leaving New Zealand with treasured memories that will last a lifetime.

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