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Naturally New Zealand Self Drive Tour

The diversity of scenery within a relatively small geographic area is what makes New Zealand such an interesting country to explore. The Naturally New Zealand Self Drive Tour provides some of the most scenic driving routes in the country.

Milford Sound Cruise, Hot Pools Franz Josef Glacier, Te Puia Geothermal Rotorua, Cook Strait Ferry Crossing, Great Lake Taupo, Hobbiton Movie Set, Wine Tour Waiheke Island, Pancake Rocks.

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Itinerary

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1
Welcome to Queenstown!

Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and ringed by towering mountains, Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s ultimate holiday destinations. It may be the adventure capital of the world, but it’s also home to an excellent food and wine scene as well as great shopping, hiking and endless opportunities to relax. It’s just as easy to go fishing, golfing, gold panning or wine tasting as it is to bungy jump or sky dive. Famed for its international winter skiing profile and outdoor beauty, Queenstown is a brilliant destination to visit year-round. One thing is certain here: you won’t run out of things to do.  

Accommodation Queenstown - 3 nights

2
Nature Cruise on Beautiful Milford Sound

When it comes to visiting New Zealand’s famous Milford Sound, the journey is just as amazing as the destination. The Milford Road winds through the heart of Fiordland National Park; showcasing beautiful, tussock-filled valleys; stunning lakes, soaring mountains and rugged granite cliffs. Allow plenty of time for this 291km (180 mile) journey, as opportunities for spectacular photos await around every corner. There are a number of short nature walks dotted along the road as well. Experiencing the road by coach is a great option if you would prefer to relax and let someone else do the driving.

At Milford Sound join an informative cruise that sails the full length of Milford Sound - highlights such as the 150m (492 ft) Stirling falls, and the immensity of the high peaks above ranging from 300m to 900m (1000 to 3000 ft.).

3
Explore the Lakes District

Take the time to today to explore this beautiful location. Options include visiting historic Arrowtown, driving over to Glenorchy Township on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu - Make sure you visit Paradise found only 20 minutes from Glenorchy. Visit the vintners in the ‘Valley of the Vines’. Queenstown’s Gibbston Valley is one of the most scenic wine growing areas you’ll ever encounter, vineyards here are perched between rugged schist mountains and the turquoise-blue waters of the Kawarau River. Pinot Noir is the signature drop, with more than 70% of the valley’s grapes being of this variety.

Recommended excursions in and around Queenstown

Routeburn Track Guided Day Walk Explore Historic Arrowtown Highest Bungy Jump
Wine Tasting Tour Central Otago Biking Skippers Canyon Round at Millbrook Golf Resort
TSS Earnslaw Steamboat Cruise Dart River Jetboat Safari Gibbston Valley Wine Trail
 
4
Beautiful Haast Pass to Glacier Country

Your driving days do not get much better than this. Farewell the aquamarine vibrancy of the Shotover River and Wanaka lakes, and take on the Haast Pass leading in to the beech forests of th Mt Aspiring National Park. Heading further north into the National park known as ‘Glacier Country’ – in parts, huge valleys of ice tumble down almost to sea level. Also blessed with lakes, rivers and wetlands; Westland is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Here, the landscapes are highly revered by those kiwis who have lived here for generations, as well as by the local Ngai Tahu tribe who hold this wild place in high spiritual esteem.

On arrival at Franz Josef Glacier, nestled in lush rainforest enjoy the option to soak in the fabulous Glacier Hot Pools, a perfect way to unwind after your days drive.

Approximate Distance: 352 kms | 219 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours 30 mins

Accommodation Franz Josef - 1 night

5
Punakaiki - home of the Pancake Rocks

An easy drive today - perhaps take a coffee break in the handicraft town of Hokitika. Your destination today is Punakaiki. The heaving, rugged swells of the Tasman Sea have carved the coastline of the South Island’s West Coast over millions of years, creating unique, otherworldly geological formations. Nowhere is this effect on the landscape more profound than on the Punakaiki coastline. Here, sandstone cliffs and ravines tower high above the ocean, complete with hundreds of horizontal slices along their vertical faces, closely resembling huge stacks of Pancake Rocks. Deep inside these formations lie narrow, vertical air shafts that are met with horizontal tunnels. Around high tide or during stormy weather, ocean swells rush through these blowholes, throwing up columns of dazzling ocean spray high into the air. When the sun is peeking through spectacular cloud formations at the same time, reaching its rays through the columns of water, the effect is dazzling - Punakaiki is a must on the Naturally New Zealand Self Drive Tour.

Approximate Distance: 218 kms | 136 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 50 mins

Accommodation Punakaiki - 1 night

6
Inter-Island Cruise to Wellington

Todays drive will find you traveling inland, following the Buller River before skirting past the beautiful Nelson Lakes Forest and following the Tophouse Road into the Marlborough District. You are left under no illusions as to the major industry here as grapevines cloak the Marlborough Valleys and plains in orderley rows. Enjoy the seaside town of Picton before returning your rental car and taking your Interisland Cruise to Wellington. This stretch of water connects the Tasman Sea to the Southern Pacific Ocean and the South to the North Island. 

Approximate Distance: 328 kms | 204 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 50 mins

Accommodation Wellington - 2 nights

7
Wellington at Leisure

Located in at the southernmost end of New Zealand's North Island, Wellington is the nation’s capital city. A magnificent landscape of steep sided hills sits beside a beautiful harbour, and the city itself bustles with a vibrant creative culture. Renowned for its eclectic, arty atmosphere, Wellington is a real kiwi cultural treat and numerous galleries and character-filled shops line its colourful streets. 

 Here are some suggested excurions in and around Wellington

National Museum - Te Papa Visit Cuba Street Weta Workshop Tour
Zealandia Wildlife Reserve  Wellington Cable Car
 
Carter Observatory 
8
Great Lake Taupo

Today head north out of Wellington passing through several small towns along the way Paraparaumu, Shannon, Taihape and Waiouru (home of the NZ Army). You will travel the desolate alpine beauty of the Desert Road - catch a sunbeam burst through dramatic clouds as the snow capped peaks of Ruapehu and Tongariro loom nearby. Lake Taupo is set amidst rolling green countryside and spectacular mountain scenery. Similar in size to Singapore, Lake Taupo offers an exciting array of adventure activities – skydive from 5000 meters  (15,000 feet) - personally recommended by many First Light Travel staff. Try bungy jumping or take a jet boat to see the impressive Huka Falls. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, enjoy a delicious lunch at the local prawn farm. Thermal activity here includes natural hot pools, steaming craters and boiling mud pools; and the lake is surrounded by some of the largest pine forests in the Southern Hemisphere. Don’t miss taking a Kayak to the Large Maori Rock Carvings on the lake cliffs, or enjoy stretching your legs with a stroll through one of the native bush trails.

Approximate Distance: 365 kms | 227 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours 35 mins

Accommodation Taupo - 1 night

9
Rotorua Icon of Geothermal New Zealand

The heartland of New Zealand’s North Island, Rotorua is host to some of the world’s most incredible geothermal forces. Geysers and clouds of steam are dotted around the city and the un-mistakable smell of sulphur gives the city an otherworldly feel. Here you’ll find natural wonders like the Pohutu geyser, erupting 20 times a day and spouting up to 100 feet, as well as bubbling mud pools, warm geothermal pools and sulphuric terraces in a variety of colours. Nowhere else in New Zealand are the turbulent forces that shape the world more evident. 

But the geothermal wonders of Rotorua are not the only attraction. Considered the Maori cultural centre of New Zealand, Maori history here spans from the 14th century, when the first inhabitants of this region – the Te Arawa Tribe – made practical use of Rotorua’s lively thermal areas. Villages were constructed around these areas, and food was cooked using natural steam and boiling pools. Eliminating the dependence on fire, geothermal elements were also used for warmth and washing. Rotorua is one of the best places in the country to explore the unique culture of the Maori people. 

Approximate Distance: 80 kms | 50 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour

Accommodation Rotorua - 2 nights

10
Te Puia cultural village & Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley

Discover the heart of Maori culture in New Zealand at Te Puia, located in Rotorua in the Central North Island - a region that is surrounded by picturesque lakes and forests. This is also one of the most geothermally active environments in the country and Te Puia's 70 hectare park in the beautiful Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley is right in the heart of the action. Restless forces boil to the surface in the enchanting, superheated mud pools and hot springs and geysers gush hot steam and water in spectacular fashion. The famous Pohutu Geyser erupts approximately every 20 minutes and bursts reach heights of 30m (100ft). Silica terraces, native bush and birdlife and a wonderful insight into Maori culture and tradition rounds off a fascinating and memorable experience.

11
Hobbiton Movie Set Tour | Auckland

Journey to the emerald pastures and rolling hills of The Shire, where Hobbiton was brought to life on a private farm in Matamata. This idyllic village blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Set to the scale of a 3ft Hobbit you’ll feel like you’ve walked into a magical world of smoking chimneys, bluebells, and the Green Dragon Inn. Visit Bag End as well as the other 43 Hobbit Holes on this fully guided 2.5hr Hobbiton tour. Learn about the production of the movies – how did they make Gandalf appear so tall? Why was this exact site chosen to build Hobbiton? The passion and knowledge gleaned from your guide brings this authentic Middle-earth experience to life. Continue on to Auckland.

Approximate Distance: 228 kms | 142 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 10 mins

Accommodaton Auckland - 2 nights

12
The Essence of Waiheke Island Wine Tour

Just 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland, across the beautiful Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island is a tranquil paradise. Since the late 1970's Waiheke Islands benign climate has seen the growth of a flourishing wine industry. A "small is beautiful" philosophy yields low quantities of extremely high quality fruit, which is made into international award-winning wines. 

Visit three of the vineyards accompanied by friendly and knowledgable locals. At each vineyard you will taste a selection of premium wines. the tour inckudes a 2 hour lunch stop at a village or beachside cafe (additional cost). You can stay on the island into the evening with the last ferry departing for the day around 10pm.

13
Homeward Bound

Enjoy a final leisurely breakfast, relax your flight home is more than likley a late evening departure. Take a stroll around our beautiful city, explore the highly acclaimed Waterfront Restaurant Quarter or choose one of the many activities available to give a more in-depth understanding of Auckland and the surrounding area.

If you have time some activities and sightseeing options available are

Explore Waiheke Island Island Kayaking Adventure America’s Cup Sailing
Auckland's Sky Tower Relax on the Beach Rangitoto Island Cruise & Walk
West Coast Wine Tour Whale and Dolphin Safari Muriwai Surf Beach

Haere rā and Bon Voyage!

We know you will enjoy the Naturally New Zealand Self Drive Tour and our promise is to make your travels through New Zealand as hassle-free and hospitable as possible - ensuring that today you leave with a memory card full of photos, and huge smiles on your faces when recalling your time in New Zealand! Have a great homeward journey, farewell and hope to see you again soon in Aotearoa, New Zealand. 

Ready to find out more? Talk to us here in New Zealand about the 'Naturally New Zealand Self Drive Tour'  - We Guarantee it will be the Holiday of a Lifetime!