Table of Contents

Itinerary - 4 Week Road Trip to New Zealand

Our four week road trip around the beautiful country of  New Zealand began in the subtropical and volcanic North Island and then across to explore then sub Antarctic South Island before returning home to the UK via Australia (Sydney) and Dubai.

Four weeks is plenty of time to see all the best that New Zealand has to offer at a fairly relaxed pace.

New Zealand Abel Tasman Coastal Tramp Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park
4 week Self-Drive New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Best time to visit New Zealand

We visited at the end of January – Summer time in New Zealand and the middle of Winter in the UK, making it a good choice if you want to avoid the cold Winter weather.  Maybe we were just unlucky, but we had an awful lot of rain while we were there.  The sun shone a lot too though – so you just have to be prepared for changeable weather and pack for every eventuality – a bit like a trip to the UK I guess, but the other way up!

Top Ten "Must-Dos" for a road trip to New Zealand

  1. Walk the Coromandel Coastal Walkway
  2. Tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  3. Take a cruise through the Abel Tasman National Park
  4. See the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki
  5. Visit Hot Water Beach
  6. See a Maori Cultural Performance
  7. Overnight Cruise on Doubtful Sound
  8. To bungy … or not to bungy?!
  9. See a kiwi in Queenstown
  10. Go as far north as you can go – Cape Reinga Lighthouse

New Zealand - Best Hotel Award

Punga Cove Resort wins the best hotel award for this trip. The food in New Zealand was pretty good overall, but rather dull/lack lustre in our experience.  Punga Cove had by far the best restaurant as well as a drop dead gorgeous location tucked away in the depths of Marlborough Sounds.  Comfortable and peaceful – a retreat away from it all but with plenty to entertain you.  We wished we could have stayed a bit longer.

Sanctuary in the Sounds - Punga Cove Resort Restaurant - starter salads
Punga Cove Resort Restaurant - starter salads

New Zealand - Glad I Packed

You need to pack for changeable weather.  We had a LOT of rain on this trip.  You also need to be prepared for long days hiking, so alternative shoes depending on the weather and how your feet feel are well worth the space in your luggage.  Shoes are the one thing it isn’t always easy to buy when you are actually on the trip./Don’t travel without:

  • Umbrella
  • Raincoat
  • Hiking Boots
  • Walking Trainers
  • Walking Sandals
  • Sun hat
  • Daypack rucksack
  • Waterbottle
  • Insect repellant – there are a few mosquitos
  • Water shoes (reefies)
  • A torch
Western Australia What I'm Packing sun hat

Flora and Fauna

New Zealand is all about the scenery.  There is flora and fauna there, of course, but – I definitely wouldn’t make it your main reason for visiting. Once, although there were insects and birds here, there was only one species of mammal  – a small bat.  Many of the birds were flightless as there was no exposure to predators.  Click on Flora and Fauna in the cloud tag in the sidebar to find out more.

KeriKeri New Zealand Agapanthus
Beautiful blue agapanthus
Sanctuary in the Sounds Weka New Zealand
Wairarapa ... Learning the Lingo in Milford Sound Seals dancing in the rain
Milford Sound Seals dancing in the rain

Foodie Firsts

Search for “Foodie Firsts” to discover more about the New Zealand Foodie scene – or click on the links below to take you to the relevant post and look for the “Foodie Firsts” heading.

Fascinating Facts

If you are into your facts and figures, search for “Fascinating Facts” to learn more about New Zealand.  Here are a few to wet your appetite.

  1. Only 40/500 tribes actually signed up to the Treaty giving rise to the expression “Hobson’s choice” for the rest.

  2. The ratio of sheep to people in NZ is 6:1 – the world’s highest ratio.  This is down from 22:1 in 1982.

  3. NZ’s heftiest ever fleece (27g) belonged to a ram named Shrek – who was shorn in 2004.  The heftiest fleece on record is 41kg, belonging to Chris an Australian sheep who overtook Shrek in 2015.  The average weight is 4.5kg.

  4. ​Fiordland covers a larger area than Yellowstone and Yosemite put together.  I have been to both – that is MASSIVE!

Wairarapa ... Learning the Lingo in Milford Sound
Milford Sound

Learning the Lingo

  1. Flip-flops are called Jandals here – and everyone wears them with a pair of shorts – all the time!
  2. Kia Ora – Hallo

Highlights and Lowlights

There is a whole lot to love about New Zealand:

  1. It is at ease with itself – a peaceful, tolerant and law abiding place.
  2. The scenery is absolutely stunning.
  3. Kiwis are thrill seekers and it’s a great place to go for adrenalin pumping sporting activities – but my blog probably isn’t the best place to find out about these in any depth as it isn’t really my scene.

There are some downsides too though:

  1. It is pretty busy at peak times – all the popular hikes were fairly crowded when we visited.
  2. Don’t go for wildlife – there really isn’t that much to see there compared to other destinations.
  3. Bring your umbrella!

Tips for Future Travellers

  1. Fill up on gas at every chance you get on South Island.  We discovered that after Fox Glacier, there are no gas stations for the next 330kms!
  2. The most popular restaurant in the small town of Te Anau books up very quickly.  Reserve your table on red or (03)249-7431.
  3. With hindsight, we would only have booked the boat cruise segment on Milford Sound with Trips and Tramps.  The Milford Road is twisty, but easily drivable and the tramps section would have been better done independently than in a group.
  4. Pre booking a Sat Nav for our hire care was a good move – it made navigating so much easier and there were a lot of miles to cover on this trip.
Auckland Sky Tower

Kia Ora New Zealand! Arrival in Auckland

Kia Ora New Zealand!  It was a long flight to Auckland – 24 hours in total.  Emirates made it quite bearable though and the time passed soon enough, albeit with little sleep.  Now, it is just a question of staying awake long enough to go to bed at a reasonable time before collecting the hire car tomorrow and setting off for the Bay of Islands.

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New Zealand
KeriKeri Waitangi Treaty Grounds - Maori Cultural Performance

Family Reunited – Auckland to KeriKeri, the Bay of Islands

A 3 and a half hour drive up Highway 1 today towards KeriKeri will end with a family reunited.  I am staying with my great aunt and cousin and their family in KeriKeri and we haven’t seen each other for many years.  Spending a few days with them is one of the main attractions of this trip for me – probablyway  more fun than some of the big tourist sights!

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New Zealand
Cape Reinga Lighthouse

Putting a pin in Northland’s Toe – Cape Reinga – The Meaning of Life

We visited Cape Reinga lighthouse today which is as far as you can go in New Zealand without falling into the sea – Northland’s Toe.  The lighthouse overlooks where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasmanian Sea, which creates a whirlpool effect – fascinating.  Maori legend has it that this is the Meaning of Life – where female sea meets male sea, creating the beginnings of life. We passed by beautiful Tapotupota Bay and the huge Te Paki sand dunes on the way.

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New Zealand
Coromandel Coastal Walkway New Zealand Jandals

Russell – “The Hell Hole of the Pacific”

After a last lovely evening in Kerikeri, we said our goodbyes and started to make our way South back towards Auckland via Orewa.

We stopped off at Russell en route – the first capital of New Zealand.  Russell has changed a bit since its early days.   It was once known as “The Hell Hole of the Pacific” – a magnet for convicts fleeing Australia and whalers and sailors too drunk to return to sea. 

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New Zealand
Waves Motel Orewa

Accommodation Review:  Waves Motel Orewa

Waves Motel Orewa is a comfortable apartment style hotel just 10 minutes walk from Orewa town centre, which you can reach across the beautiful sandy beach.  It is so much nicer than staying in Auckland.  If you don’t want to shop for your own breakfast, you can order room service at a very reasonable price.

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New Zealand
Copsefield B and B Bedroom

Copsefield B and B – Accommodation Review

The Copsefield B and B offers reasonable accommodation with very welcoming hosts.  It is a real shame that it is 8km away from Whangamata though. We were lucky to have the accommodation all to ourselves for 4 nights – it might have been a bit cramped sharing the communal lounge/laundry facilities and gardens.

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New Zealand
Ruapehu Country Lodge Ohakune Bedroom

Accommodation Review: Ruapehu Country Lodge

The Ruapehu Country Lodge is a great choice of accommodation close to the Tongariro National Park.  It is a very comfortable lodge with tea/coffee making facilities in the rooms and is a convenient 15kms from the edge of Tongariro National Park.  There is a hot tub in the garden which is nice to relax inn after a hard day’s waking.  Very friendly hosts who can’t do enough for you, including a laundry service ($15).

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New Zealand
Sanctuary in the Sounds Punga Cove Resort

Sanctuary in the Sounds – Punga Cove Resort – Queen Charlotte Sound

Punga Cove Resort – Sanctuary in the Sounds

It was a day’s drive from Tongariro to Wellington via the twisting, scenic Wanganui River Road.  The next day, we boarded the Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton – a 3 and a half hour journey.  From there, we boarded a pre-booked water taxi (operated by Cougar Line and arrived at beautiful Sanctuary in the Sounds of Punga Cove Resort  – an hour and a half later.

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New Zealand
Punga Cove Resort View

Accommodation Review: Punga Cove Resort, Endeavour Inlet

Punga Cove Resort is a really lovely complex with 19 cabins built up the hillside with good facilities including a swimming pool, hot tubs, hammocks, sea kayaks and a table tennis table.  Our large cabin was a well equipped suite with kitchen facilities if required.  It is a pity we are only staying two nights here – you could easily spend longer as it is a lovely spot.

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New Zealand
New Zealand Abel Tasman Coastal Tramp Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman Coastal Tramp – Dip your Toes into Cool Clear Turquoise

Abel Tasman Coastal Tramp.  We took a scenic cruise today inside the Abel Tasman National Park, booked through Wilsons –  The boat takes you up to Totaranui Bay at the top of the coastal stretch covered by the park and stops by a NZ fur seal colony on the way back before dropping you off at Medlands Beach to walk the 11.8kms back to Anchorage Bay.  It is a beautiful stretch of coast line, but it was tough going on a very hot day.

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New Zealand
Ocean View Chalets Marahau Beach View

Accommodation Review:  Ocean View Chalets Marahau Beach

The Ocean View Chalets Marahau Beach offers extremely well equipped chalets with full kitchen facilities, laundry space and within easy walking distance of two reasonable restaurants – perfect!  The lovely sea views are a bonus too.  This was a great choice of accommodation for this portion of the trip and ticked all our boxes.

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New Zealand
Pancakes in Punakaiki Pancake Rocks Punakaiki

Pancakes in Punakaiki – Paparoa National Park

Pancakes in Punakaiki.  A 3 hour drive brought us into different countryside again.  The West coast of South Island is much wilder than the East≥. There were 8km high waves here during the recent cyclone which had a king tide.  They are bracing themselves and hoping that Cyclone Gita stays North and does ‘t real and more havoc down South.  We are obviously keeping our fingers crossed on that one too. ​We had time to fit in a visit to Pancake rocks this afternoon – worth the trip..

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New Zealand
Pororari River Tramp - Swingbridge

Beach, Bush and Rain Forest – Pororari River Tramp

Today we took a long walk along the beach first thing.  The sand in Paparoa National Park is grey and very coarse – very different from the golden, coarse sand at Abel Tasman NP.  There is a 23km beach here – and only we are on it – all morning.  Awesome! The rest of the day we clocked up another 12kms on the beautiful Pororari River Tramp through lush, dense rain forest.  Thankfully, the sun kept shining and the tree canopy gave some welcome shade.

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New Zealand
The Rocks Homestay Punakaiki Bedroom

Accommodation Review:  The Rocks Homestay Punakaiki

The Rocks Homestay Punakaiki is a reasonable choice of B&B with lovely views of the sea.  It is a short drive to Punakaiki from here, but it isn’t walkable.  There are a couple of restaurant options in the village, but you won’t find much beyond steak & chips/fish & chips or pizza.  The rooms are air conditioned which is welcome with the humidity of the pre-cyclone weather currently.  There is also good wi fi reception here.

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New Zealand
Franz Josef

Franz Josef – Gita’s Gonna Getcha …

Today, we continued our journey south to Franz Josef.  We made an early start (7am) because of the cyclone warnings.  Local schools were all shut and there was talk of closing the coast road, so we didn’t want to take any chances. Despite the early start – things did not go smoothly …

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New Zealand
Franz Josef to Wanaka Fifty Shades of Green

Franz Josef to Wanaka – Fifty Shades of Green …

Today did not start well. We woke up early – worried about the effect of Cyclone Gita overnight.  There was no water in our chalet, so we had to go up to town to buy some.  In town, we discovered that the road from Franz Josef to Wanaka had been closed in both North and South directions.  So, we were stuck, in a place with no power, no water and no fuel.

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New Zealand
Ascent to Mount Perspiring Mount Aspiring Australasia

Ascent to Mount Perspiring (aka Mount Aspiring)

OK – it isn’t really called Mount Perspiring – it is Mount Aspiring and we walked 775m to view its summit today.  Total distance covered in today’s walk was 15kms and we felt it at the end of the walk `as it was very steep in places.  This walk gets a “hard” category in the walking trails booklet – we saw what they meant! The views at the top were awesome though and worth the climb.

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New Zealand
Peak Sportchalet Wanaka Lounge

Accommodation Review:  Peak Sportchalet Lake Wanaka

Peak Sportchalet Lake Wanaka is certainly a very well equipped chalet, with a full sized  oven and all the kitchen utensils you could possibly need.  There is a little private, sunny garden too, which is a great bonus.  Good laundry facilities and very friendly and helpful hosts add to the charm of this accommodation.  The Wi-Fi is free and fast too, which is always an important consideration for me!  

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New Zealand
Puzzling World Wanaka - - find the love in hate - negative space

Puzzling World Wanaka – Can you Find the Love in Hate?

The weather turned chilly, very windy and promised rain in the afternoon.  We managed a leisurely stroll around the lakeside and then paid a visit to Puzzling World Wanaka.  We failed the challenge of exiting the giant maze within the 60 minutes target and gave up when we saw an emergency exit.  If there was one of these back home, it would make a fortune I think! The attraction houses a whole host of illusional exhibits which turn your brain inside out.

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New Zealand
Blue Ridge Boutique B and B Te Anu

Accommodation Review: Blue Ridge Boutique B and B Te Anau

Blue Ridge Boutique B and B Te Anau is upmarket luxuriously appointed accommodation with tea and coffee making facilities in the room.  They even provided bathrobes here, which was nice.  There is a hot tub too.  Breakfast is a generous and conical affair in the host’s own kitchen.  Best of all, it is just a short walk into town where there are a variety of restaurants, so this lodging ticks all the boxes.

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New Zealand
Experience the Sounds of Silence of Shadowland Doubtful Sound

Experience the Sounds of Silence of Shadowland

Yesterday, we took a short cruise with Real Journeys across Lake Manapouri then a coach trip on the remote sub-alpine route over Wilmot Pass and into Doubtful Sound where we docked overnight on the Fiordland Navigator. This is a very peaceful and beautiful place where you can experience the Sounds of Silence of Shadowland.​   The boat turned off its engines and everyone kept a complete silence for five minutes – blissful.

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New Zealand
Fiordland Navigator

Fiordland Navigator – The Best Way to See the Sounds

The Fiordland Navigator has comfortable enough little cabins with a tiny wash basin and a shower.  None of the cabins have a porthole, but this didn’t really matter as we were only on board 1 night.   The evening meal was a reasonable buffet style.  Soup was served mid afternoon and cakes etc. too, so you don’t need to bring a packed lunch.  This is a great way to see the Sounds and stay overnight so you can experience the peace of early mornings here before the crowds descend.

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New Zealand
Milford Sound

Wairarapa … Learning the Lingo in Milford Sound

Today, we took a cruise into Milford Sound.  It was raining which added to the beauty of this remote region immensely.  When it rains, all the non permanent waterfalls really come to life.  Within fifteen minutes of a rain shower stopping, many of the temporary waterfalls stop running,  When it pours with rain, Milford Sound pumps and roars with appreciation.

Fascinating Fact:
There are so many Maori words for water.  Some of the town names really start to make sense once you understand this:

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New Zealand
Beast from the East Kawarau Gorge New Zealand

To Bungy or not to Bungy …

To bungy or not to bungy? The first bungy jump happened here and A.J.  Hackett is still in business with a big centre in town at Kawarau Gorge.  There have been 2 million successful bungy jumps since 1986.  It makes you wonder what the definition of an unsuccessful bungy jump is?!

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New Zealand
Peppers Beacon Queenstown View

Accommodation Review:  Peppers Beacon Queenstown

Peppers Beacon Queenstown is a functional hotel, conveniently located for walking to town and all the restaurants it offers.  Our balcony is very small though and the room is a bit tunnel-like and dark.  There are better rooms with wider windows and really good views of the lake which might be worth the upgrade if you are here for a while.  There is a good guest laundry and a bonus of a hot tub and sauna area too.  The buffet breakfast seemed very impersonal after all the friendly B&Bs we have been getting used to here!

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New Zealand
Sanctuary in the Sounds Punga Cove Resort Wanganui River Road Kiwi

See a Kiwi at Queenstown Kiwi Sanctuary!

We visited the Kiwi Sanctuary in Queenstown today.  It is a great place to see these fascinating creatures.  They are nocturnal and live in the forest, so there really is no easy way to view them without visiting a sanctuary like this.  They are much bigger than I had anticipated – about the size of a rugby ball.  You get really good close up views once your eyes adjust to the darkness, No photo, unfortunately, as the conditions in the bird sanctuary are very carefully controlled:   no cameras; no ‘phones; no talking (as the kiwis are very easily scared)!

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New Zealand
Christchurch Beast from the East 185 White Chairs Memorial Christchurch

Christchurch – Bitten by the “Beast from the East” …

We hadn’t expected to be woken at 4am with the bad news from home that our house had been subject to flood damage during the “Beast from the East” which is gripping Britain currently.  We are still trying to assess the extent of the damage, but it seems as though we will have a real mess to sort out when we get back home.  There is always a context to everything though.  Christchurch was badly hit by earthquakes in 2010/11 and 185 people died – commemorated by a display of empty white chairs in the town centre.

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New Zealand
Christchurch Beast from the East The Hermitage Mount Cook view

Accommodation Review:  The Hermitage Hotel Mount Cook

The Hermitage Hotel Mount Cook has an enviably great location with stunning panoramic views from the restaurant.  Our room here was a bit small though and the kettle didn’t fit under the tap in the small wash basin (?!). There is very little choice of accommodation in this remote spot though and this hotel was as good as any.  Breakfast is a pricey $30 each, if you decide to take it.

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New Zealand
Crowne Plaza Hotel Coogee Beach bedroom

Where to Stay in Sydney – Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach

The Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach is a perfect place to stay in Sydney.  Apart from great facilities it has very friendly and efficient staff.  The breakfast here was well worth the $25 charge.  We had a king sized room with an ocean view which was excellent.  There is a swimming pool too with an ocean view – we didn’t use it. but it looked very well maintained and inviting.  There is also a room you can use to shower and change once you have checked out. Highly recommended!

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New Zealand
Do Buy Dubai - The world's largest gold ring

Do buy Dubai

Do buy Dubai. Dubai is trying very hard to sell itself as a city that delivers both a luxurious experience for tourists and an efficient business hub.  The city needs to achieve this so it has something to fall back on when the oil money runs out.  Everyone is trying to sell you something – from the marketing hype to the souks.  

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New Zealand
Radisson Blu Hotel Media City DubaiSuite

Accommodation Review:  Radisson Blu Hotel Media City Dubai

The Radisson Blu Hotel Media City Dubai is obviously a chain hotel, so we weren’t really expecting too much from it.  We hotel was chosen because of its location in Media City where we had hoped to visit the Food Festival.  In the end, we decided not to to go to the Festival, so a more central choice of hotel in Dubai might have been preferable.

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New Zealand

Read my full trip to New Zealand: