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Canadians Sandy and Jo share their 33-Day, twin Island, Self Driving, New Zealand Itinerary with us. Complete with a daily summary, tips and ideas and some impressive picture montages - Well worth a read!

Self Drive Tour
The North Island

Day 1 - AKL (arrive from Toronto at 5:00 am, but in first class seats!!!) Stayed at Haka Hotel which had great prices when we booked and they were able to accommodate our arrival time with a free upgraded room. Location wasn't bad, about a 20 minute walk to the ferries. We used Bookme and bought HOHO tickets. They were OK, we walked Mt. Eden and did Devonport military embankment, which were both great places to spend some time. It was wonderful to find out that the swallows we were seeing were called Welcome Swallows. Make sure to do Devonport last as the Hoho hours are limited but the Devonport Ferry has much longer hours.

Day 2 - AKL - Tiritiri Matangi (excellent!, we are hobby birders so it was a great introduction to what we would be seeing the rest of the time). Saw penguin eggs and blue penguins!

Day 3 - AKL to Tongariro, stopped in Waitomo to do the Raikuri walk (well worth it), debated on glow worms but decided to not be touristy just yet. Stayed at Tongariro Suites at the Rocks. Beautiful! We finally felt like we were in NZ.

Day 4 - Tongariro - we knew we weren't up to Tongariro Crossing and instead did Mead's Wall in the snow, as well as Taranaki Falls, Silica Rapids, and Gollum's Pool. Thoroughly enjoyed our day and apparently had the best weather they'd had in a couple of weeks.

Day 5 - Tongariro to Rotorua - started the day with a two hour horseback trip (hindsight we would only do an hour) in Okahune, pouring rain for the most part, enjoyed the scenery as we drove. Stopped in Taupo to eat at McDonalds with the plane. Also stopped at Huka Falls, Aratiatia Dam, and other scenic areas. Checked into our wonderful Airbnb in Lake Okareka. Would stay there again as well. Ate at Capers Epicurean, which was one of my favourite restaurants.

Day 6, Oct 29 – Rotorua - Busy day with Redwoods Treetop Walk, Maori Anglican Church, and Luge Ride. We bought a double ticket for the Redwoods walk, so we were able to do both day and night. Fell in love with the tree ferns and the nighttime display was wonderful. You could probably walk the Redwoods without the treetop walk but there are moments of pure magic on the walk. Luge was great fun and one of husband's favourite activities. We loved the church and the grounds.

Day 7- White Island - loved this but with the recent explosion it doesn't seem right to post much about it.

Day 8- Wai-O-Tomo volcanic park. We were a little concerned that after White Island this would be a letdown, but we enjoyed ourselves enough to feel like we got value for the money. We stopped and did a short hike at Rainbow Mountain, which was also nice, and the mud pools prior to the park were great fun. Decided to make it an early day and relaxed at the room which overlooked the lake. The timing was right to do the Night Market in Rotorua so we did that for an hour or so and would recommend it to others (here's a place where you might need cash).

Day 9 - Rotorua to Te Aroha With stops at Putaruru Blue Springs, Tirau, and Hobbiton. This was a fantastic day, We arrived at our Airbnb happy and tired. We didn't pre-book Hobbiton since we didn't know what time we would arrive. We were able to get on a tour pretty quickly. It didn't feel as touristy as others make it sound and our faces hurt from smiling so much. Tirau was my first taste of caramelized fig ice cream and my first butter chicken pie.

Day 10-Te Aroha to Puhoi. Stopped at Karangahake Gorge and the Oceania Gold Mine Walk, both worth the trip. We did the Windows Walk and it was one of the few places on the trip where we had to circle to find parking. Travelled to Puhoi and Orewa where we had our scariest bit of driving since one of the construction detours put us on a street with the arrows pointing towards us. We were first at the lights and were utterly lost on what to do, but other cars overtook us and showed us the way. We did that intersection a few times and there wasn't any indicator that we were to go into the wrong way street, unlike most other places where construction was clear on what to do. Stayed at a nice Airbnb in Puhoi, would stay there again.

Day 11- Orewa to Paihia, Nov 3 - we did the west coast drive so that we could see the Kauri trees. We were lucky with the weather and had glorious sun all day. Stopped to see the massive fig tree on the way - that was a nice little detour, then stopped at the various forests. We found the forests very majestic feeling, with an ancient calmness to them. I really enjoyed it. Drive wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Some of the trails were closed due to dieback disease. We're glad we got to see them. We had printed off copies of driving routes from here: https:/…journey-maps They were really useful in trying to figure out what to see or do in the Northland. Arrived at Morepork Lodge tired and content. This was our travel agent's suggestion to stay here and it was one of the best lodgings of the trip. What a pleasant treat for them to offer to go get fish and chips for us to eat on our room deck.

Day 12 – Paihia. This was a dink around day, ferry to Russell, stop at the chocolate factory, Rainbow Falls short version, and the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves. There were only three of us on the tour and we enjoyed it very much. Our only glow worms of the trip. The next tour was a bus load so we got very lucky.

Day 13 - Dune Rider Tour to Cape Reinga. We had amazing weather and there were only 13 of us on the bus. I really debated about this trip because I'm not so much of a bus tour person, but we found this very worthwhile. Apparently the weather we had at the Cape was incredibly unusual in that it was bright, sunny, and perfect. Cape Reinga doesn't get a lot of press on TA, but it was up there in my top 5 of the days that we had.

Day 14 - with some sadness we left Morepork Lodge and dropped our rental car off at Kerikeri. We took a flight from Keri Keri to AKL and then AKL to CHC. This worked out really well for us and to do NZ again I would fly more often. The flights were reasonably priced and it avoided the traffic of AKL.

NORTH ISLAND CONCLUSIONS

We found Rotorua a good stopping place and 4 nights was perfect to do everything we wanted to. We probably could have spent a couple of more days in the general area and not been bored. We really needed another day in Northland. Husband would stay in Opononi area to do the things we missed out there on. We would add a day to Tongariro area.

For us, Auckland was just a city and we found the downtown area with all the construction a bit noisy and claustrophobic. But since it got us to Tiritiri Matangi, we have no regrets and I wouldn't change staying there for my first trip.

If we were to visit a second time my itinerary would include Northland, Coromandel, and more of the south part of NI that we didn't get to see. We had such a perfect time in NI that I cannot say that SI was my favourite part of the trip.

The South Island

Day 14 – Christchurch. Arrived and picked up rental car. We were tired and went to a beautiful little Airbnb just outside of town. Went for dinner and a drive but spent most of the time at the Airbnb. It was misting and grey.

Day 15 - Christchurch to Punakaiki. Kura Tawhiti was beautiful! We spent almost two hours there. It was bucketing rain by the time we got to Arthur's Pass. No keas in sight at any of the usual locations. We hiked to Devil's Punchbowl, which was great and somewhat sheltered in the bucketing rain. Stopped at Otira Stagecoach Hotel which was great fun and worth a half hour. Arrived in Punakaiki in the pouring rain. Decided to stay in and attempt to dry our soaking clothes.

Day 16 - Punakaiki to Fox Glacier. Cloudy to start, enjoyed our walk of Pancake Rocks and eating pancakes at pancake rocks :). Bucketed rain pretty much all the way to Fox. We did stop and do Hokitika Gorge, but it wasn't blue. Used Bookme to do the Kiwi Centre at Franz Joseph and spent some time watching the kiwi. Lake Matheson rained out as well. We can't control the weather and had a fairly nice time. Still no kea though everywhere we went people said "oh, I saw them...".

Day 17, 18 Wanaka. We managed to get through Haast Pass without road closures though they were concerned with all the rain. Apparently we were in a "standing front" and bucketing rain was forecast for 10 days. No blue water at Blue Pools though the skies were really interesting due to the forest fires (we found out later). Stayed at a nice little Airbnb in Wanaka. Woke up to bucketing rain and ended up at the Transportation and Toy museum which was great fun and worth the visit on a rainy day. Also did Puzzling World which was interesting. I didn't find out until later that one of the unusual trees outside on the grounds was called a Monkey Puzzle tree and which makes me smile.

The highlight of Wanaka was watching an Edmund Hillary movie at Cinema Paradiso. Husband was on a couch and I was on the floor in front of him in bean bag chairs. Chocolate chip cookies at intermission were amazing! Reservations are strongly encouraged but we got in on standby.

Day 19 Wanaka to Glenorchy via Cromwell. Only cloudy that day. We really enjoyed Cromwell and consider it one of our surprise pleasures of the trip. Did the fast taxi ride around the Highlands Motor park track, great fun. Continued to Glenorchy stopping at the bungy jumping to watch that. Glenorchy drive was beautiful and we really enjoyed Glenorchy for the night.

Day 20, 21 - Round the Mountain Horse trek with High Country Horses. This was spectacular and the weather cleared up the first day to allow them to do the trip. Just us, the guide, and one other person. Second day we woke up to drizzling rain and learned how to horseback ride in chilly and inclement weather. Finished up just out of QTN at a beautiful Airbnb with a view of the Remarkables, which were remarkable. One of the highlights of the trip.

Day 22 - Queenstown to Invercargill - we did this via the Southern Scenic Route and enjoyed the drive very much. Stopped in Te Anau to do the bird sanctuary and were rewarded with a great view of the Takahe. Got to Invercargill just in time to see The Fastest Indian display. Spent the evening at the Government Gardens which were well worth the visit.

Day 23, 24 Stewart Island - took the morning ferry to Stewart Island and were met at the ferry by our lodging hostess, the very beautiful Fiona. We stayed at the Raikiura Retreat which included a car in the price. This worked out really well as we were able to drive to the various hike and tour locations. We did the Horseshoe Bay hike and were lucky to see a Fjordland crested penguin. Kaka came to visit the lodging and tapped on our windows to make sure we knew of their presence. We went to Ulva Island (once again bucketing rain) and were graced with a daytime viewing of a kiwi! Stewart Island is one of the highlights of our trip.

Day 25, 26 - Curio Bay. We specifically chose Curio Bay Accommodations based on reading from DeSchenke that they had penguins nesting under the deck. This would be one of my top five locations in NZ. Within five minutes of putting into our room we saw Hector's dolphins playing in the surf. The next day we went and saw the local sights including Sterling Point (we got hailed on but saw some spectacular rainbows) and the yellow eyed penguins at Curio Bay (at least three of them). Once again weathered out we spent a happy afternoon and evening in our lodging. Woke up when the blue penguins started calling, turned on our red light, and watched one of them groom itself by the deck for a good half hour.

It's funny, when mentioning to the locals where we were going, everytime we mentioned Curio Bay there would be a gentle sigh of "ahhh, Curio bay..." and that's exactly how we found it.

Day 27, 28 Dunedin (sort of). Drove from Curio Bay to Larnach Castle where we stayed for two nights. Beautiful view of the room. We stopped along the way at a few places and spent almost two hours at Nugget Point because it was just that beautiful! Fun to watch the seals playing. The next day we had an Elm Wildlife Tour scheduled and when we first got on the bus we were sceptical because we had already seen the birds and wildlife that they were promising us to see, but we very quickly changed our minds and really enjoyed the tour. Do do the Monarch cruise option if you can - we got up close to several different albatrosses. We didn't see much of Dunedin because we were happy with the Castle grounds. Would definitely stay here again.

Day 29 - 30 - Mount Cook. I was expecting the drive from Dunedin to Mount Cook to be long and tiring, but despite the distance it turned out to be fairly easy. First stop at Moeraki boulders. We did this at almost high tide but still had a good view. It was worth the short visit. Next stop was Elephant Rocks, which were similar in feel to the Castle Hill Rocks, but smaller in grandeur, though they had sheep. The drive was quite pretty to them as well. Decided we had time to do the Clay Cliffs and they didn't disappoint.

We found Mount Cook the only minor let down on the trip. Perhaps it was our lodging, which had a nice view, but was recessed, or perhaps it was the crowds on the Hooker Valley Track, we don't know, but we both felt that way. We did enjoy the short hike to the bottom of the lake where the icebergs accumulate though. It was cloudy for the most part so we didn't get specular night skies. To do it again we would stay at Twizel or Glentanner as the drive is really amazing. I liken it to a trip that we did in the US Southwest where we had done more obscure stuff prior and then came into the crowds at Grand Canyon. And it's not that it was terrible, it's just that it didn't have the same sense of awe that we had everywhere else.

Day 31 - Stavely. We originally chose this as a midway stopping point so that we could get to the Purepod in a reasonable time. This location was also one of our surprise gems of the trip. We booked last minute through Bookme for a jetboat tour of Rakaia Gorge. The tour operator didn't have to honour the tickets as there wasn't enough demand, but he gave us a private tour of the Gorge and it was stunning. We ended up paying him the balance of the fare as a tip as it felt like good karma to do so. We also did the Washpen Falls hike, which we hadn't heard of. This hike was amazing and you see all of NZ on this hike other than possibly a close up view of the ocean. Probably our top hike of the trip. Stayed at Stavely Heights B&B and loved it here.

Day 32, last night in NZ. Drove from Stavely to the Purepod Atatu. In a word, perfection! Look at the website and the pictures are true, not exaggerated in the least. What a perfect way to end our trip to NZ.

Day 33, fly from Christchurch to home. Not much to say here other than we bid for a Sky Couch (also known as the cuddle couch) to share between us and we got it. It actually worked well. We took a sleeping pill once we started cuddling and each had about six hours sleep, then took turns sitting up and got another couple of hours sleep. I would bid again for this.

SOUTH ISLAND SUMMARY

We found things to enjoy every day. I would return to the south of SI in a heartbeat. We enjoyed the road less travelled portions of the trip very much. We saw most of what we wanted to see (never did see a kea) and some things that we hadn't planned to see. Any disappointments were minor and were eclipsed by the joys, both small and large on the trip.

The Review

Hi Christine,

We’re at the airport at CHC. We’ve had such a spectacular time. Know that we spent most of the trip smiling and many of those were attributable to you and how you worked with me.

I can’t thank you enough!

Sandy and Joe - Canada

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Travel Stories
Elizabeth Marshall
Submitted by
Elizabeth Marshall
: 30 Jan 2020 (Last updated: 11 Mar 2020)

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