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Self Drive Tours

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Self Drive Tours

Ten of our favourite places to visit in New Zealand

Having lived in New Zealand all our lives our team have had time to explore all the ‘nooks and crannies’ in New Zealand.  We also know the spots that our guests love when they visit.  We could list a 100 but here are just ten of our favourite places to visit in New Zealand.

Wanaka, South Island

No matter what the season I love visiting Wanaka.  It’s stunning in Autumn, it’s vibrant and busy in Summer, Winter means cool clear air and lots of skiers and spring shows the Wanaka gardens at their best.

Sitting on the edge of Lake Wanaka the town itself offers a slightly more peaceful experience than Queenstown. I love to walk and there are so many options – from one to two hours duration to full hikes.  My colleague Jeanette recently did the Rob Roy one day hike – it is the second most popular hike in NZ – and loved it.  For me the walk or cycle from Albert Town along the Clutha River and then around Lake Wanaka is one of the best – it never fails to make me feel closer to nature.  The surrounding area hosts amazing Wineries – a favourite winery is Rippon Valley where you can sit with your glass of wine and ‘drink’ in the view. Yummy coffee is to be found Relishes café; my favourite place to sit outdoors and watch people enjoying the Lake.


The day walks in Wanaka are some of my favourite in the whole of NZ.

Bay of Islands, North Island

Recently I spent some time in the treasure trove that is the Bay of Islands.  The area provides a unique opportunity to experience Maori Culture, Kayaking (my partner and I discovered that sharing a kayak is not the best experience for us – separate ones next time) – early NZ history and a beautiful, accessible coast line.  We found the boat  trip across to the historic town of Russell very scenic and the town quirky and full of interesting spaces.  A lot of New Zealand’s history is on show at Waitangi, where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed between local Chiefs and the the British Crown.

Each town in the Bay of Islands has its own unique culture and lifestyle – there are many opportunities to meet “real” New Zealanders. I loved the quieter pace of life, the beauty, the beaches and the history which all contribute to wanting to go back soon.

Rotorua,  North Island

Best known for its Geo Thermal pools, relaxing spa’s and the opportunity to experience Maori culture and hospitality, I love visiting Rotorua. There are so many things to do and every time I visit I find Rotorua changing and evolving.

One of my favourite experiences was doing a guided visit through  the living Maori Village which is called Whakarewarewa. This geothermal wonderland makes you appreciate the power of nature.  The Geothermal geysers, the boiling mud pools, the colours of the earth are all unique, while I found the Maori guides to be passionate about the village and they go out of their way to leave you with long lasting memories.  Biking through the Redwood forest is another highlight – those magnificent trees!  I am never without something to do in Rotorua.

Nelson – Golden Bay, South Island

A favourite holiday spot for me over many years, Nelson and the surrounds is for Art lovers, foodies, (try the fish at the Restaurant on the Wharf at Mapua) and all the water sports you can think of.  Quirky Café’s abound – I always call into Motueka for a coffee at Up The Garden Path and check out the local artworks on the walls. Everywhere you drive there are gorgeous views of the sea and many beaches.

The Able Tasman Walk begins here and it is one of the most popular walks in New Zealand – attracting not just New Zealanders who are ticking it off their list of `things to do’ – but thousands of tourists – especially in the Summer. Together with a group of friends I did the four day hike over the Easter period which meant less people on the track and more availability of accommodation along the way.  The accommodation is great, there is a great restaurant at Awaroa, the beaches are ‘stunning’.  The weather in the Nelson area is generally warmer than elsewhere in the South Island – and they rate very high in the sunshine stakes.

Nelson Market Souviners

The Nelson Market is a great place to buy NZ-made crafts of excellent quality.

Te Anau/Milford Sound/Doubtful Sound, South Island

My first trip in to Milford (by road) lived up to everything I had been told by my sea faring relatives when I was growing up.  My colleague, Jeanette has experienced the Doubtful Sound trip and it is definitely on my ‘to do’ list.  It’s a great idea take the Coach into Milford, the drivers are wonderful guides and provide a great insight into the region’s history and geology.  The road is a little tricky and why not relax and enjoy the journey.

There are several options for taking a scenic cruise on the Sound and a day spent there is a day never to be forgotten.  Te Anau is the base for visiting the sounds and we love this little town which offers great accommodation options and lots of restaurants and café’s.  Check out the Sandfly Café – our personal favourite.

Glacier Country, South Island

When we visit Glacier Country on the West Coast of the South Island, we visit a collection of towns and scenic wonders.  Whataroa, Okarito, Lake Mapourika, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Lake Matheson and Gillespies Beach are generally always on the list.

The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are among the most accessible glaciers in the world – walking on to the Fox Glacier gave me a tiny little glimpse of what Antarctica would be like!  You can take a hike with or without a guide.  Our native birds are finally becoming the focus of a concerted effort to protect any that are endangered and a visit to see the bird life in the forest at Okarito is a must do.  It is hard to spot in the day light but the forest has a population of New Zealand’s rarest bird – the Kiwi.

Christchurch, South Island

I couldn’t miss Christchurch off the list – I am unashamedly biased as MNZV is based here and it is where I live.  Unfortunately Christchurch’s most recent history is best known for the earthquake which happened in February 2011.  The good news is that Christchurch has moved on from that disaster, and is now an exciting and vibrant place to visit.

The river and the gardens are as beautiful as ever.  Dozens of quirky cafés have been built and there are many new restaurants with food to rival any restaurant in the world.  The skyline of the rebuild is really interesting and you see some of our historic buildings that have been ‘made safe’ but not yet fixed and some stunning new builds that are already becoming icons of the City.  The Christchurch Arts Centre has under gone a huge restoration and is ‘something to be seen.’  The Gap Filler projects that were ‘temporary’ measures to bring life back into the city are still able to be seen.  Try dancing on the Dance O Mat!  Add Christchurch to your list of inspiring places to visit.

Dunedin, South Island

My colleague Jeanette loves Dunedin – why? Because it’s a small vibrant city, with a big heart and strong traditions. Overlooking the Otago Harbour, its early links with Scotland (Dunedin was founded predominantly by Scottish settlers) and much loved Victorian buildings continue to be evident throughout.

During term time the more than 20,000 students (‘Scarfies’ to the locals) who attend Otago University, provide an additional dimension to city-life. The University itself is New Zealand’s oldest and regarded as one of its most prestigious. A short drive from the city centre, the rugged Otago Peninsula offers a total contrast and numerous opportunities to view the prolific wildlife including penguins, albatross and seals. The local operators work hard to give visitors access to the wildlife without interrupting the rhythm of nature.  We love to visit and soak up the difference a small city offers.

Banks Peninsula & Akaroa, South Island

Banks Peninsula east of Christchurch is Jeanette’s ‘home base’.  With its rolling countryside and picturesque bays and beaches she has hiked many of the options on offer of varying duration and difficulty. What makes these hikes all so highly memorable are the stunning coastal views. In addition the quaint village of Akaroa is unique in New Zealand’s history having been settled by both the French and the British. Situated beside the Akaroa Harbour, (the crater of an extinct volcano) some of Akaroa’s early settlement is still evident in its distinctive colonial architecture.

One of the activities Jeanette highly recommends when visiting Akaroa is to take a relaxing stroll around the bay to the ‘world famous’ fish and chip shop located near the wharf. It takes a lot to beat sitting outside overlooking the water on a sunny day while enjoying Akaroa’s fish and chips and sipping on a glass of NZ wine!

Akaroa Wharf

Banks Peninsula, Canterbury – Jeanette’s ‘Home Base’

Wellington, North Island

Although headquarters to the New Zealand Government, Wellington is nothing like a ‘government city’.  Absolutely Positively Wellington is the city’s mantra and this is reflected in the vibrancy of the waterfront area with all it’s cafes and restaurants.  One of my favourites is The Crab Shack – delicious fare.  ‘Wellingtonians’ love their art and Wellington showcases “WOW – World of Wearable Art show” annually for several weeks.  Entries come from all around the world and the show tickets are highly sort after.  I love the street Art and very often when I am there something special is on by way of music or theatre.

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