15 Day Rimu (New Zealand)
Haere mai – welcome! We greet your flight and take you to your hotel: situated very centrally and within walking distance to what makes Auckland so special – the sea. Meet your driver-guide for an early evening stroll and some tips on where you might eat this evening: the waterfront has something for everyone.
Rendezvous Grand Hotel, Auckland
- AUCKLAND – COROMANDEL PENINSULA (B)
From Auckland drive through the lush farmland of Waikato to the Firth of Thames. Amazing annual migrations, whirling flocks of thousands of shorebirds, the rare geology of shell bank cheniers and the ebb and flow of the estuary – all of these come together at the Miranda Shorebird Centre, where Keith Woodley and his team are glad to share their enthusiasm (and binoculars) with us during our visit (bird viewing dependent upon tides). Later, we cross the neck of the peninsula for a two-night stay in an idyllic spot on Tairua harbour, where Pacific-Island-style chalets are set in lush gardens that run down to the sea.
Pacific Harbour Lodge, Tairua – 2 nights
- EXPLORE THE COROMANDEL PENINSULA (B)
White cliffs and golden beaches, inviting turquoise waters and green forests are the colours of the Coromandel, with scarlet highlights courtesy of the flowers of Pohutukawa trees in summer, making this one of our favourite regions. Rightly famous is Hot Water Beach, where warm springs bubble up through the sand, and when the tide is right you can dig out your very own ‘spa’ pool for a wallow. Our recommendation for lunch is under the fruit trees at Colenso Café where long-standing chef Carol Whitford may share the secret of her pavlova with you. In the afternoon, it is well worth putting on your boots to walk to Cathedral Cove. This marine reserve is accessible only on foot or by boat: our efforts are rewarded with one of the most photogenic beaches in NZ, with water-worn rock formations sparkling against the blue-green of the Pacific.
- COROMANDEL PENINSULA – ROTORUA (B)
We take the Pacific Coast Highway through the beachside towns of Whangamata and Tauranga in the beautiful Bay of Plenty before turning inland. Rotorua is the epicentre not only of New Zealand’s geothermal activity but of Maori heritage. There is a extensive choice of sites and experiences here, and we start with an included visit to the excellent Rotorua Museum in the former bath-house at the heart of the croquet lawns of Government Gardens. Don’t miss the moving story of WW2’s fearless Maori Battalion. We also take you to Te Puia, not only an active geothermal site, but the nation’s centre for indigenous arts and crafts and a Kiwi conservation project, which may be your best chance of seeing this national icon in the . . . feather.
Distinction Hotel, Rotorua – 2 nights
- ROTORUA (B,D)
This morning we visit the Waimangu Volcanic Valley – site of the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886, which destroyed the world-famous ‘Pink & White’ silica terraces and devastated local Maori villages. This catastrophic event changed the landscape forever and created the valley we now walk through, past boiling craters and jewel-coloured steaming lakes. Take a cruise across Lake Rotomahana to the site of the old silica terraces, hear the story of Guide Sophia and see the new terraces of silica slowly forming. This afternoon we have time out to relax at our hotel before travelling to a local Marae (Maori Village). Maori legend has it that Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga used a magical jawbone as a hook to fish North Island from the depths of the sea and that Hawke’s Bay is that jawbone. On their land experience a formal welcome (powhiri) including the hongi – that is sharing breath. Delve into Maori life, both past and contemporary. Listen to their fascinating reality – how things are and what is important to their family, their connection to their land, the importance of whakapapa (lineage) and life amongst their people. The iwi (tribes) are equal partners in caring for New Zealand’s natural beauty and Maori language and culture have official status, but this equality has been hard-won in the last 100 years. Finally this evening enjoy a powerful cultural performance, storytelling & Hangi (feasting).
- ROTORUA – NAPIER (B,D)
Today we head south, past Huka Falls to the vast Lake Taupo – more inland sea than lake, though its fresh waters teem with trout. Across the lake – weather permitting – we should see the mighty peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro rear their heads. There lies ‘Mordor’, the volcanic terrain that was such an ideal film location for The Lord of the Rings. Napier is one of the world’s most complete examples of Art Deco architecture, second (arguably) only to Miami Beach. And yet this joyful seaside town had a tragic birth, being virtually levelled by fierce fires that followed the devastating 1931 earthquake. With typical Kiwi spirit Napier was rebuilt in just two years in the most up-to-date style of the time, which today we call Art Deco. This afternoon our local guide brings history and architecture alive with entertaining stories as we discover Napier on foot. Today’s journey has brought us to the North Island’s wine country, so this evening’s treat is a dinner, with a glass of wine, at the Mission Estate Winery. French missionaries planted the first vines here in the mid-19th century: today award-winning wines are produced and we enjoy a tour before dinner in the restored seminary buildings that offer sweeping views of Napier, where we sleep tonight at a waterfront hotel.
Scenic Hotel Te Pania
- NAPIER – WELLINGTON (B)
After breakfast we travel through vineyards and orchards through the bush-clad ranges of the Wairarapa, which has an off-the-beaten-track charm that belies its proximity to New Zealand’s capital. An afternoon and an evening is barely time to explore Wellington, ‘the coolest little capital in the world’, according to Lonely Planet guides. Full of artists, writers and film-makers – the most famous of whom is Sir Peter Jackson – Wellington has a lively arts scene and café culture. We take the funicular to the Kelburn Lookout, walk down through the Botanic Gardens and enjoy tea in the Lady Rosewood Garden. A visit to Te Papa, one of the most exciting museums in the world, is highly recommended for New Zealand insights - the shaping of its land, the spirit of its diverse peoples, its unique wildlife, landscapes and its distinctive popular culture.
Hotel Grand Chancellor James Cook, Wellington
- WELLINGTON – NELSON (B)
We board the Interislander ferry to cross the Cook Strait on a journey of 3½ hours that’s often accompanied by dolphins riding the bow wave, before entering Queen Charlotte Sound and disembarking in Picton. This corner of South Island is blessed with a sunny microclimate which has long been a draw to artists and adventurers alike, many of them settling in the delightful town of Nelson, our base for two nights. We stretch our legs along the pleasant Matai River on a section of the Centre of New Zealand Walkway that leads into town. With a wide range of eateries, you are free to make your own choice for dinner, though we can recommend the bay scallops, not to mention the local Sauvignon Blanc!
Local B&B’s, Nelson – 2 nights
- ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK (B,L)
Paradise found! Abel Tasman National Park is a mosaic of golden coves and turquoise lagoons sheltered by forested ranges to the south. With few roads in this pristine wilderness, most journeys are made by boat, so today we put ourselves into the expert hands of the Knaap family. At Kaiteriteri, we board a small cruiser for a day of exploration, with opportunities for swimming and walking, dreaming and discovering. We suggest landing at Bark Bay for an easy 4-hour hike through the sub-tropical bush to Torrent Bay and its beautiful tidal lagoon where we rejoin our cruiser for the trip home.
- NELSON – PUNAKAIKI (B)
Turning inland we follow the Buller River Gorge: its Maori name of Kawitiri describes the power of ‘water flowing swiftly’. This is one of the world’s best but least-known scenic drives, carved out of the forest by 19th century prospectors, it follows the deep river gorge, often crossing it on single-track bridges. We emerge from the forest at Westport to stretch our legs on rocky Cape Foulwind, so named in 1770 by Capt Cook after the Endeavour was blown off-shore by the ‘foul winds’. The point is reached by an excellent track to viewing platforms where we may see fur seals, sooty shearwaters and blue penguins. Then to Charleston to catch the ‘Rainforest Train’ to discover the underground cave system of the Nile River: as well as superb stalactite and stalagmites, the highlight is seeing the magical glimmer of glowworms in their natural environment in the recently-discovered Metro cave. Back on the road, we follow the rugged coast to Punakaiki and its extraordinary rock formations at Dolomite Point. Layers of limestone formed over millennia from dead sea-creatures were first forced up to the surface, then weathered by wind and water into formations that look like thousands of stacked pancakes! The short trail also brings us to ‘blowholes’ that can put on a real show when the wind is whipping the Tasman Sea into these narrow fissures.
- PUNAKAIKI – GLACIER COUNTRY (B)
At the height of the gold rush, in the 1870s, over 10,000 miners sought their fortune in the hills above the West Coast, with coastal towns springing up to provide supplies – and alcohol – to thirsty prospectors. One such was Hokitika which still has the air of a frontier town, though with fewer bars today! Our stop allows time to visit the small mining-era museum and craft co-operatives offering genuine and well-priced mementos, including pounamu (local jade). This afternoon we reach Westland National Park, an amazing place where ice meets rainforest at the foot of the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. We base ourselves in laid-back Franz Josef township for ease of access to the slowly moving ‘river’ of ice. As we walk up for our first view of the glacier, keep an eye out for cheeky keas (alpine parrots) which love to nibble a rucksack!
Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier
- FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER – QUEENSTOWN (B)
Ensure you have your camera for our visit to nearby Lake Matheson which, when conditions are right, perfectly mirrors beautiful Mount Cook in its still waters. This land is the heart of Te Wahipounamu – the place of the greenstone – explored by generations of Maori but penetrated by Europeans only 150 years ago. We head up over the Haast Pass along the river road, which took more than 40 years to complete, travelling beside the icy river and deep into Mt Aspiring National Park. The atmosphere lightens as we reach lovely Lake Wanaka, reflecting the mountain peaks that in winter offer superb skiing. We stop for afternoon refreshments at the Cardrona Pub. Said to be the most photographed pub in New Zealand, this gold-rush era inn is on the spectacular Crown Range Road to Queenstown. We get our first glimpse of Lake Wakatipu as we come over the hill and down to Queenstown, and our central lakeside hotel.
Novotel Lakeside, Queenstown – 3 nights
- QUEENSTOWN (B)
Queenstown is New Zealand’s adventure capital, and is a bustling tourist centre in summer and winter alike. There is so much to do here and so little time! Queenstown offers a huge choice of activities, so today is free for you to do your own thing. Thrill-seekers may zip-line at Bob’s Peak, get drenched on a Shotover jet-boat ride or go white-water rafting. But there is much more to Queenstown than bungy jumping and other adventure sports: less hair-raising, but no less enjoyable is the gondola ride up to Bob’s Peak, or a 4x4 safari to Skippers Canyon and Arrowtown. Boutique wineries and local gardens welcome visitors and the classic steamship TSS Earnslaw is an elegant way to discover Lake Wakatipu during a cruise to Walter Peak High Country Farm. And when it comes to eating out, you are spoiled for choice, so you are free to make your own arrangements for dinner.
- QUEENSTOWN – MILFORD MARINER OVERNIGHT CRUISE (B, D)
For many, the journey deep into Fiordland National Park is the highlight of their time in South Island. There is only one road into Milford Sound and it winds through deep valleys past the aptly-named Mirror Lakes, through the Homer Tunnel and the ‘Chasm’ in the Cleddau Valley to reach the fiord, where we take ship to explore. But not just any ship: we board the Milford Mariner to cruise the full length of the Sound, learning about its geology, flora and fauna from the on-board expert, before anchoring in a sheltered cove. Absorb the beauty from a seat on deck, or go exploring in the ship’s tender or even a kayak to get closer to Milford’s mystery. Dinner, an en-suite cabin and breakfast are all included in this overnight trip. We continue to debate which is the most memorable experience: the quality of the silence at night, or seeing the sun rise over the Sound.
Milford Mariner Overnight, Milford Sound
- DEPART QUEENSTOWN (B)
Retracing the road out of Fiordland we travel along the shore of Lake Te Anau whose calm waters reflect the Franklin Mountain peaks. If you are leaving New Zealand today, we transfer you to Queenstown Airport for your flight home. Alternatively we can transfer you to your Queenstown accommodation should you choose to extend your stay in Queenstown or arrange onward independent touring for you. Either way, sadly we must say farewell, and hope that you go home with amazing memories of your time in New Zealand.