Driving New Zealand in 1 Week!
Yes, it can be done. But make no mistake, you will not see both islands in their entirety, but you will certainly gain a great appreciation for this marvelous country.
We departed on Air New Zealand from LAX.. The flight time was expected to be 12.5 hours and to be perfectly honest even though I had moments of anxiety about this long haul flight; I found the flight less grueling than a transatlantic crossing. With a multimedia system to keep you entertained with a string of hit movies, games and music all at your fingertips, the hours simply disappeared.
Day 1- Auckland
Our first night in New Zealand was to be the Hyatt Regency Auckland. A newer very clean, modern hotel with a great restaurant and spa facilities. Located within walking distance of the downtown shopping district and harbor. View some Hyatt Auckland Photos
Auckland sits between two natural harbors: Waitemata, to the East, and Manukau, to the West. It's called the city of sails as it is said that every resident in the city owns a boat. I might tend to agree with that.
Dominating the sky line is the Sky Tower a hypodermic needle looking sort of structure with a restaurant and observation floor with not a only a nice panoramic view of the surrounding area, but also glass floor panels which give vertiginous views.
A short 10 minute ferry ride across Waitamata Harbor and your dropped off at Devenport which you will find has a more intimate and affluent atmosphere, with a marina, lots of cafes, shops selling books, crafts souvenirs and antiques. Put on your walking shoes and make for the foot path leading up Mt. Victoria. Once at the top of this hill, you will have an excellent view of downtown Auckland from across the harbor.
After catching the ferry back to mainland Auckland which runs every 30 minutes, we strolled through the shopping area in the downtown shopping district before retiring back to our hotel for dinner and some well earned rest.
After springing my car from the hotels parking structure ($15NZ) and some last minute reassurances from the hotel staff that the journey we where about to embark on wasn't totally crazy, we left for Taupo. With a 280KM drive ahead of us, a break about midway at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves was most welcome.
Waitomo from above ground looks like any typical farmland, but the farmland and resort village itself give no clue as to what lies beneath. This underground tour can last up to 3 hours if you combine the Waitomo walkway and the glow worm caves. We elected with our time constraints to go with the glow worm caves tour. Party's of three or more can get the "family" entrance fee ($26NZ)and given that there was just the two of us ($30NZ), and true to my Scots form I searched for a third companion. The ticket person finally gave in and let us in at the family rate. The truth is it was off season and they weren't really that busy. But it still felt like a win for me.
This cave network is Waitomo's biggest attraction, and the most commercial, drawing almost 250,000 visitors annually. The cave network was first explored in 1887 by a local Maori and an English surveyor. The caves where opened to the public in 1889. The tour begins with a walking decent on pathways where some careful ducking is required. Effective lighting brings out the colors and formation in the limestone.The highlight of the 45 minute tour - the silent trip up to the glow worms colony by boat is truly magical. The glow worm is unique to New Zealand, and is the laval stage of a two winged insect that emits light to attract it's prey- thankfully not humans. As we emerge once again into the sunlight, squinting like moles our guide yells "cheese" a great flash, and for $5NZ take the moment home forever.
Day 2 - Taupo continued
Moving on, we continue South on Highway 1 for Taupo. Another brief photo opportunity stop at Huka Falls here the Waikato River is squashed into a 50 foot wide cleft of solid rock creating a thundering waterfall. Nearby also, further up the Waikato River is the Orakei Korako Thermal Reserve. A walkway guides you past boiling pools, colorful algae-covered silica, geysers and bubbling mud. There are also subterranean caves to explore with warm water pools. Allow approximately 3 hours to explore this park.
Arriving at Taupo, a lake side resort, we make for the Terraces Hotel. A magnificently restored 1800's hotel with a 21st century interior design. Sitting somewhat on a hill, the hotel offered a nice view of Lake Taupo. We ate at the Plateau restaurant in town which offered excellent food and local wine and beer. No tipping is required in New Zealand, unless you feel you have had exemplary service.
Day 3 -Wellington
As we prepare to leave the Terraces Hotel the staff inform us the the Desert Highway,a re-named stretch of Highway 1, and so named because of it's high altitude and barren landscape, was closed due to snow! This was a problem as the alternate route weaves around the mountains adding hours to our journey. I decided to chance it in the hopes the freeway would clear after the night time freeze lifted and snow ploughs had a chance to clear the highway. Heading South once again towards heavy white clouds and a heavy heart, we where extremely pleased to find the highway was open, but travel warnings where being emitted from flashing signs at every turn. I spent the next hour with white knuckles, defrosting my windshield of snow and ice, trying to keep my wheels in the ruts cleared by a truck in front of me. All the while I kept saying it cant be snow, it's May! Welcome to the Southern Hemisphere!
We arrive mid afternoon in Wellington, New Zealand's capital and terminus for all traffic from the South Island. When you arrive by road, your delivered right into the city's high rise heart, within a stones throw of Lambton Quay, the main business and shopping district. As it happened this was exactly where our next hotel was located. We decided to treat ourselves and spend the night at the Intercontinental Hotel. I needed pampering after driving the length of the North island from Auckland to Wellington. I was very relieved to hand the car keys over to the valet service, even if only for one night.
Wellington's streets are lined with restaurants and cafes and with excellent shopping. The city is sandwiched between green hills and the waterfront. A must do in Wellington is a ride on the red 1902 cable car on a 5 minute 440feet climb to the botanical gardens. A drive to Mount Victoria lookout to see the modern Byrd Memorial (an Arctic explorer) a pyramid shaped colorful....thing. The treat however is the view of harbor and the city. Getting there can be a bit of a challenge, driving is recommended. We thoroughly enjoyed this city and felt relaxed and comfortable.
Day 4- Sailing across the Cook Strait to Pickton, New Zealand's South Island
Rental vehicles are prohibited from leaving the North island, so we dropped of our rental car at the budget desk in the harbor terminal before embarking on our crossing to the South Island. We had prepaid our ferry tickets at The Interislander web site. It is advisable to purchase ahead of time as the ferry may over book with large tour groups, and with only two sailings per day one in the morning and one mid-afternoon and a tight schedule. It wasn't worth the risk.
The crossing can be rather rough as high winds are not uncommon on this stretch of turbulent waters. The crossing takes approximately 3 hours or 2 hours depending on what vessel you take. On board there is a bar and a restaurant, TV's, play areas for children and even a mini movie theatre.
Day 5-Pickton to Christchurch
The South Island is by far my favorite of the two islands. The drive from Pickton to Christchurch is absolutely breathtaking. We first pass through the Marlborough region with it's more than 50 wineries which produce some of the best Sauvignon blanc in the world. Tours and wine tasting is available at most of the wineries that you pass.
The highway then turns from the fertile valley and clings to the Pacific coastline with mile after mile of uninhabited beach with a haze of ocean spray from the crashing waves. Along the coast line you can stop and visit seal and penguin colony's. Try and get there when there are no tour busses, and you can have the moment practically to your self. The Southern Alps come into full view with their snow covered peaks creating a magnificent backdrop to this surreal country side.
We arrived at Christchurch city center and checked into the Camelot Cathedral Hotel. We couldn't ask to be any more centrally located than this. A clean hotel with the Element Restaurant and Pizzeria located within. Take advantage of the unique and diverse retail outlets, experience the multitude of must-see visitor attractions such as the Botanic Gardens, The Arts Center and Art Gallery. Visit Cathedral Square where you will find, Chalice, artwork by internationally renowned sculptor Neil Dawson. Known as the Garden City, Christchurch has many parks available for you to enjoy.
Christchurch is also a jump on point for train trips across the Southern Alps to Queenstown. I wished we had more time to experience this- next time. I expect we will be back and will have another chance to explore more of the rugged mountainous West coast of the South Island. But our time was up, and we needed to get back to Aukland and instead of driving, we flew. Christchurch to Aukland is about an hour flying time. A fraction of the time it took us to travel both islands, but I wouldn't change how we did it for the world.
If you are interested in visiting New Zealand, do not hesitate to contact our agency @ 248-723-1754 or email me at
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