This „Hiking New Zealand“ self drive tour takes you to some of our major national parks and world class day hikes. Experience the volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park and enjoy a swim at the golden beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park. See stunning water falls in the Milford Sounds and explore the Southland.
This is a fantastic route to many of the iconic places across the country. Learn more about Maori Culture, our land, our people, our incredible nature. Enjoy three weeks full of daily outstanding experiences.
Welcome to one of the top hiking and travel destinations of the world!
21 x breakfast
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The following summary lists driving information for each major driving day of your itinerary. Times and distances are based on ideal conditions without stops. Plan to take longer to allow time to explore and enjoy some stops. While in New Zealand we offer 24 hour support – details on how to contact us at any time will be well documented.
Kia Ora! Welcome to New Zealand.
Arrive at Auckland Airport and pick up your rental car. During the journey to your hotel you will first get acquainted with the City of Sails, as Auckland is often called. You can drive up to Mount Eden, an extinct volcanic cone, from where you can get beautiful views over the city, or to the elegant suburb of Parnell and on to the port of Auckland. The rest of the day is at your leisure.
In Auckland’s harbour you board a ship to Rangitoto Island, one of the youngest volcanic islands on earth. A hiking trail leads over solidified lava masses to the summit (260m) of this conically shaped island, which was formed about 700 years ago in several eruptions. Alternatively you can go swimming or fishing, relax or watch the birds and nature.
In the morning you leave the big city of Auckland and head to The Coromandel. The Coromandel Peninsula impresses everyone who visits it, with its different types of landscape, such as wildly rugged mountains, rough and steep rocky cliffs as well as sandy beaches like those of the Pacific. Along the east coast you drive to Tairua and can continue to Hahei, near which Hot Water Beach is located. Enjoy a walk on the white sandy beach or swim in the inviting clear sea. Especially spectacular is a walk to Cathedral Cove, a bizarrely and beautifully sculpted rock bay.
Today you will drive across the Bay of Plenty towards Rotorua, one of the main attractions of the North Island. This thermal city was built around the numerous hot mineral springs. Rotorua is also the centre of Maori culture. The afternoon is at your free disposal.
Today you will take part in a tour with Kaitaki Adventures. The first part of the tour is to go up to Mt Tarawera, a volcano which is known for its explosive eruption in 1886. There you will go on a guided hike and enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding lakes and volcanoes.
In Waimangu Volcanic Valley the mud pools bubble, the geysers hiss and the lakes steam. This thermal valley was only created in 1886, when the Mt Tarawera volcanic eruption tore open the earth’s crust.
On an easy hike you can admire hot springs and steaming cliffs, as well as the mysterious Inferno Crater, which rises and falls by 8 meters in a 38-day cycle. You will reach a lake, at the bottom of which are buried the white and pink sinter terraces that were blown up during the Tarawera eruption. Continue your journey and drive to Lake Taupo, with a stopover at the famous Huka Falls.
Continue to Tongariro National Park, marked by the 3 active volcanoes, Mt Ruapehu (2797m), Mt Tongariro (1967m) and Mt Ngauruhoe (2291m). Its landscape of black ash, brown dust desert and mountain streams lined with native beech trees impresses everyone.
Early this morning a shuttle bus will take you to the start of Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
This track that has become one of the most popular day hikes in New Zealand (and the world!) due to the ever-changing, sometimes moon-like landscape and spectacular views. From Mt. Tongariro (1968 m), you will look across at the sister volcanoes Mt. Ngauruhoe (2291 m) and Mt. Ruapehu (2797 m).
You cross several craters, pass fumaroles and hot springs, and admire the bright turquoise Emerald Lakes. At the end of the 6-8 hour hike, the shuttle bus will bring you back to your accommodation.
Today you will drive south and experience an interesting change of vegetation. The drive through barren landscape, surrounded by peaks up to 2800m, takes you to the green, fertile farm areas of Rangitikei and Manawatu.
Afterwards, you will pass Taihape, the self-proclaimed „Wellington boot capital of New Zealand“, before heading towards the capital, Wellington, arriving in the afternoon.
In the middle of a beautiful landscape, directly on the famous Cook Strait, you will discover Wellington, also often called the „Windy City“. The strong westerly wind that blows from time to time gave the city, which was founded in 1839 and separates the North Island of New Zealand from the South Island, its nickname. Surrounded by nature and fuelled by creative energy, Wellington is a compact city with a powerful mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine.
Fuel your visit with strong coffee and world-class craft beer – Wellingtonians are masters of casual dining, with plenty of great restaurants, night markets and food trucks. Make sure to visit Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum, take the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens or relax in Oriental Bay.
Today you will board the Interislander ferry. First, you will cross the Cook Strait, which separates the North and South Island. You will then glide through the Marlborough Sounds, an area of drowned valleys created by the geological subsidence of a low mountain range. Steep ridges still bear witness to the original mountain range, which today emerge as narrow peninsulas between deep sea trenches. The steep banks have a fiord-like character in places. You will reach the small harbour town of Picton.
Your day starts early as you are hiking a section of the famous Queen Charlotte Track today. This 67km coastal trail stretches from historic Ship Cove to Anakiwa in the spectacular Marlborough Sounds. Through beech trees, rimu trees and around bays, the track offers breathtaking views into the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. The lush subtropical bush is home to many typical New Zealand bird species.
A boat transfer from Beachcomber Cruises will take you to Ship Cove. From here you will have a 15 km walk to Furneaux Lodge. Along the way you will be rewarded with beautiful views.
A scenic road along the coast will take you to Havelock, located on the edge of the Marlborough Sounds. You will drive over the Pelorus Gorge, where you can enjoy a short walk through native forest. Continue on to Nelson, New Zealand’s sunniest city, and through fertile areas of wine, apples, pears and hops, to the northern coast of the South Island. You will then continue to your accommodation near Abel Tasman National Park.
Accommodation: Kimi Ora Eco Holiday and Health Resort
On your half-day trip today, you will first enjoy the bays and beaches of the National Park from the boat (about an hour’s journey). During a stop at Tonga Island you will get up close to New Zealand fur seals. You will then hike for about 2 hours past golden beaches, viewpoints, through native forest, and over a suspension bridge with a waterfall, to an idyllic bay where the boat picks you up again and brings you back to your starting point in Kaiteriteri. On the way there are several opportunities for a swim.
On a scenic side route you travel south-west through the Motueka river valley. After crossing the Buller Gorge, you will experience an impressive change of flora and reach the subtropical lowland rainforest of the wild west coast.
If there is enough time, you can go on a short hike to Cape Foulwind near Westport and observe a large colony of New Zealand fur seals.
Between Westport and Greymouth a wild and romantic landscape awaits you. Famous are the Pancake Rocks, near the small village of Punakaiki. Wind and sea have eroded the rock, attacking softer intermediate layers of clay or sand to form bizarre rock sculptures. At the Pancake Rocks you will take an easy walk to experience the force of the Tasman Sea, which shoots up through blowholes here at high tide.
You will continue onto Hokitika, where you will stay tonight.
The turquoise Hokitika River forces its way through a canyon, which can be wonderfully viewed on a simple half-hour hike. Walk through dense native forest to a viewing platform and across a suspension bridge to another platform with impressive views of the gorge and river. You continue on to Franz Josef, where you reach the Southern Alps and now have mountains looming directly in front of you. The Franz-Josef and Fox Glaciers are among the few on earth whose glaciers reach down to the rainforest.
In the morning you will have the opportunity to walk around Lake Matheson on an easy walk through the rainforest. When the wind is calm, the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the 3000m high mountains are reflected here, surrounded by the rainforest – a feast for the eyes and a popular photo opportunity!
Your trip continues into Westland Tai Poutini National Park, where you can take a 2-hour hike in the rainforest. Then you continue to Haast and cross the Haast Pass, the water and climate divide of the Southern Alps. Past Mount Aspiring National Park, and surrounded by gigantic mountains, you will drive along Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka to reach Wanaka.
Visitors from around the world are drawn to the Wanaka region by its outstanding beauty. The stunning mountain and lakeside setting, and proximity to Mount Aspiring National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Area, makes it the ultimate base for outdoor activities. There are numerous hiking trails of all levels of difficulty and today you have the opportunity to explore them. Hiring a bike and cycling around the region also comes highly recommended.
Today you first drive to Queenstown. Due to its beautiful mountainous location on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, this small resort has developed into the most popular tourist destination of the South Island. The long lake stretches between steeply rising mountain ranges. Afterwards you will drive to Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest, and at the same time most undeveloped, national park. Hardly any other landscape embodies the term wilderness better than Fjordland. In the west, 14 fiords penetrate deep into the primeval forests of a rugged alpine world like long tongues of the sea, with snow-covered mountain peaks rising up to 2700m above alpine grasslands .
You will first drive to Te Anau, the gateway to this eighth Wonder of the World, and spend the night there.
Today is another highlight on the program. On probably the most beautiful mountain road in New Zealand, you will pass the Mirror Lakes and the dark Homer Tunnel and may even meet keas (alpine parrots) when you stop.
After about 2.5 hours drive you will reach one of the most famous landscapes of New Zealand, and the most beautiful end of the world, Milford Sound. Lush vegetation stands out in front of the reflecting fiord and in the background a huge mountain rises out of the sea.
Already deeply impressed, you begin a boat trip past huge waterfalls and, with a little luck, you will spot seals, penguins and dolphins. After this unforgettable day, you drive back to Te Anau.
Today you continue inland through Mackenzie Country. Sparse rainfall makes this highland appear a barren landscape. Tussock (native grass) spans the hills like a carpet, transforming the landscape into a strange seeming inner alpine basin landscape. At the nearby Lake Pukaki you have the opportunity to admire the magnificent glacial world of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. In this region full of contrasts, you will end another eventful day in Mount Cook Village. Maori call the highest mountain in New Zealand Aoraki, the „Cloud Piercer“.
Today you can go for a hike in the Hooker Valley, with the alpine world as a spectacular backdrop. First you will cross a suspension bridge, before the path winds further between two lateral moraines of the Müller glacier. After another suspension bridge, the path drops slightly and you reach shelter, in a small depression. From here, the valley of Hooker Glacier with Mount Cook in the background can be seen freely. The glacier lake is another 30 minutes away. After a rest you will start the hike back to Mt Cook village (total walking time: 4-5 hours).
Before you leave the Southern Alps, we recommend a stop at the glacial Lake Tekapo.
At the turquoise lake, located in the middle of the mountains, there is a small chapel, The Church of the Good Shepherd, and a monument for herding dogs. Flocks of sheep and colorful flowers complete the idyllic picture with the white mountains in the background. You are now in Mackenzie Country once more, a landscape with character. As far as the eye can see, New Zealand tussock sways in the wind.
Your journey continues through the extensive farm lands of the Canterbury Plain. You will reach Christchurch in the afternoon.
After the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Christchurch is back with innovative new attractions and some popular classics. Its energy can be felt at every turn. Contemporary art galleries, boutiques and open-air markets are all part of the creative atmosphere here.
Today your journey across New Zealand ends. We hope you had an awesome time! You will drive to the airport and return your rental car before starting your onward journey. We wish you a safe journey home.
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