New Zealand: four weeks, two islands and countless highlights

Wanaka

Silver Travel writer Solange Hando explores New Zealand’s North and South Islands on the Great New Zealand Discovery Tour with Titan Travel

We travelled across both islands, beautifully pristine and colourful yet totally different. Sweeping landscapes, dramatic mountains and fjords, the South Island had amazing scenery, remote and wild. Then across Cook Strait, the North Island beckoned with fine beaches and volcanic wonders, Maori culture and city life.

South Island 

Christchurch

We landed in Christchurch, agapanthus blooming along the lanes and the quiet river leading to world famous Botanical Gardens. So much colour, so much fragrance, this was the perfect way to relax after a long flight.

Christchurch River Avon
Christchurch River Avon

Come morning, we drove over the mountain to Akaroa, a pretty French style ‘village’ on the Banks Peninsula created by a volcano. Water shimmering as blue as the sky, we sailed towards the ocean in search of dolphins, penguins and seals.

Otago Peninsula                    

We headed south on day three, past the intriguing Moeraki boulders, down to Dunedin with its ‘Octagon’ central plaza, ‘gingerbread’ station and massive commercial harbour.

But follow the coastal road out of town and the headland greets you with radiant meandering bays and up on the cliff, the Royal Albatross Centre. There, in a glassed observatory, we watched the magnificent birds, wings up to three metres wide and the world’s only colony breeding on mainland.

Otago Peninsula
Otago Peninsula

Doubtful Sound   

The following day we travelled across lush farmland to the ‘Fiordland National Park’ on the west coast. Our choice was the hidden Doubtful Sound, accessed via the Manapouri Lake then a narrow lane over a mountain pass.

There we cruised through stunning landscape with a chance to kayak or explore on a tender craftand even brave the Tasman Sea before dropping anchor in calmer waters. The sky was full of stars, the silence so intense it felt like a dream.

Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound

Queenstown

A fair drive away, Queenstown was a treat, three nights by Lake Wakatipu nestling in striking mountains, including the Remarkables. Don’t miss the gondola for fabulous views, while down on the water you might dine on a steam boat or enjoy a ’million dollar cruise’. Boutiques, gardens, promenade, this was a lovely place.

Now ready for adventure, we joined a 4WD safari in soaring heights, a bumpy track squeezing through Hell and Heaven gates, towering rocks and vertiginous drops. The shot-over river called us far below so in the Skippers Canyon we panned for gold, full of hope.

Wanaka, river and train    

Our next stop was Wanaka and its iconic tree rising from the lake.

Wanaka
Wanaka

After an exhilarating ride on the Haast river, we arrived in Franz Joseph, however there was barely a glint of the glacier as dark clouds tumbled across the sky. This meant no helicopter trip sadly, but as they say, you can’t control the weather.

In the morning, the sun was back and we boarded the TranzAlpine train, which was a delightful change from the coach. It was easy to be overwhelmed by the brilliant panorama from verdant hills to awesome peaks beyond Arthur’s pass. 

Kaikoura

Back on the east coast, en route to the ferry, our final highlight was Kaikoura, an attractive resort, framed by mountains, lofty pines along the shore and a scenic trail around the cape. You can look out for seals or hop on a boat to see the whales, visit the historic Fyffe House and watch the sunrise over the ocean.

Kaikoura sunrise
Kaikoura sunrise

Now it was time to leave the South Island and beyond the vineyards, we reached Picton and the Bluebridge ferry to Wellington. ‘Gentle waves’, said the captain, we were lucky…

North Island      

Wellington the capital

Up we climbed to Mount Victoria for panoramic views and our first Maori statue, so lofty it took my breath away. Down in town we marvelled at the most impressive buildings, especially the Parliament and its ‘Bee Hive’ executive wing.

Wellington Parliament
Wellington Parliament

The next day we jumped in the ‘cable car’ to the hilltop Botanic Gardens and the free minibus to the Zealandia Wildlife Reserve, home to rare creatures and exotic birds. Later we walked back through the gardens, down steep flowery slopes all the way to the waterfront.

Napier & Taupo

It was a long drive to Napier, a colourful place, rebuilt in Art Deco style after an earthquake. We enjoyed the gardens and in the National Aquarium I fell in love with little blue penguins.

Our next night was in Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, and that night I dreamed of the wide Waikato river crashing down into a frightening canyon. This was nature at its most powerful and you hear the Huka Falls long before you see them.

Huka Falls
Huka Falls

Rotorua

This was an enchanting place to stroll along the lake, gazing at black swans and birds, Tudor style buildings, cool fountains, flowers and trees. A World War II amphibian ‘duck’ took us around the city and across the romantic Blue Lake, perfect on Valentine Day.

Then in the big dormant crater, you can see the bubbling mud pools, and geysers emitting clouds of steam, you can also bathe in hot springs or unwind in the Polynesian Spa. Yet top for me was the traditional Maori evening where deep in the scented forest, we discovered the ancient culture, song, dance and tasty food.

Coromandel Peninsula          

Draped in native forest, mountain peaks and 400 kms of beaches, this is ‘pure’ New Zealand, unspoilt and laid back. Our chalets for the night were scattered among the trees, looking down on a deserted beach, blue sea dotted with volcanic rocks and islands. Just stunning.

Coromandel
Coromandel

We continued towards Auckland, past nature reserves and the Hot Water Beach, where it’s possible to just dig up a hole when the tide is right and bathe in a hot muddy pool, we’re told it’s good for your health.

Auckland

Auckland was by far the busiest city, but it delighted us with so much open space from the vast harbour and its elegant bridge, to the glinting sands of Mission Beach. We visited the Bastion Museum before testing our skills in an ‘All Blacks Experience’.

Auckland Sky Tower
Auckland Sky Tower

But most eye-catching was the Sky Tower where on the 60th floor you look down on the dazzling bay, the tree-lined city, the one tree Maori Hill and more, while the youngest volcano looms on nearby Rangitoto island.

Bay of Islands       

Turquoise water, golden sand, and over 100 islands. You can enjoy this sub-tropical paradise from a helicopter or cruise to the legendary Rock with a Hole, sacred to the Maori. Having canoed all the way from Polynesia, they sailed through the crack to the land of their dreams.

Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands

Centuries later the British arrived and in 1840 the Waitangi Treaty was signed on the shore, British and Maori founding the new country. We explored this historic site on our last day, Maori vibes tingling all around as we wandered through ancient trees.

True to its name, the Great New Zealand Discovery includes incredible highlights across both islands. Expect long drives and a busy schedule but there is also free time, a full day occasionally, when you can explore on your own, join optional excursions or just relax in the pool.

Next Steps

Solange Hando travelled with Titan Travel on the 27-day escorted tour around New Zealand.

Find out more, get a quote and make your holiday booking through Silver Travel Advisor on 0800 412 5678.

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Solange Hando

Award-winning travel writer & member of BGTW

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