New Zealand is an island country located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses (the North Island and the South Island) and numerous smaller islands. The geography of New Zealand is highly varies, from snowcapped mountains to lowland plains.
We travel north through the wine growing district of Kumeu and Huapai and on to Helensville. From here we skirt the shoreline of the Kaipara Harbour, one of the world’s largest inland tidal estuaries. There are elevated views of the harbour as we travel to Wellsford and on to the Matakohe Kauri Museum, dedicated to the mighty kauri tree, growing to over 50 metres tall with 16 metres girth and living for 2000 years. Take a launch ride across Hokianga Harbour to explore the sand dunes. North of Dargaville we enter the primeval Forest of Waipoua (translated as water falling at night), the largest kauri forest in New Zealand. At twilight we accompany Footprints Waipoua, a group of young Maori dedicated to preserving the traditions and culture of Ngapuhi, the northern Maori tribe, to visit both Tane Mahuta (the God of the forest) 51 metres tall, girth 13.8 metres. This journey will give you a deeper understanding of this unique forest from both an ecological and Maori perspective.
The Hokianga harbour providing shelter from the Tasman Sea has not changed since the time of Kupe, the Polynesian sea captain and navigator who is credited with discovering New Zealand 1000 years ago. From this harbour Kupe sailed for home to Hawaiiki the ancestral homeland of Maori (hence the name Hokianga Nui A Kupe meaning “great returning place of Kupe”). This morning we cruise out onto the Hokianga Harbour with the MV Hokianga Express. This beautiful waterway is a significant and spiritual place for Maori, something that is made evident to us as we cruise this great harbour. We have a chance to explore the sand dunes and, if you are adventurous, ride a body board down the dunes. We leave Omapere for the tiny town of Rawene on the southern side of the Hokianga. The vehicle ferry takes us from here to Kohukohu (the place of mist) to the northern side of the inlet. In the afternoon we tour the scenic coastal road to Matauri Bay following the picturesque coastline with views to the Cavalli Islands and the resting place of the Green Peace flagship the Rainbow Warrior. Kerikeri is a thriving town known for citrus orchards and arts and crafts. We visit the Stone Store and Kemp House, New Zealand's oldest stone building. Our destination is Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. The sparkling blue waters of this maritime park are dotted with islands - paradise for beach lovers and sailors.
Step on board at Paihia this morning to cruise out to a martime park of 144 islands, Cape Brett and the Hole in the Rock Cruise and Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island. The catamaran is purpose built for Dolphin viewing and swimming. Encounter these intelligent and playful mammals. Get ready with the provided mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit. Once we find a pod of dolphins, Department of Conservation regulations will determine whether a swim is possible. Swimming is optional. Your cruise returns to Russell at 1.10pm approximately. The first capital of New Zealand, Russell (Kororareka) has a rollicking 19th century past when it was known as the “hell hole of the South Pacific” and was a favourite haunt of whalers and sealers. The missionaries were there too - building Christ Church, Russell / Te Whare Karakia o Kororareka in 1836 and Pompallier House, the headquarters for the French Catholic mission in 1841. We drive up to Flagstaff Hill for wide views over the Bay before catching the vehicular ferry to Opua and return to Waitangi.
We visit Waitangi Treaty House where local Maori signed the Waitangi Treaty with Queen Victoria’s representatives in 1840 – a significant event in New Zealand’s history. From Waitangi’s lawns there are magnificent views out over the Bay of Islands. We tour the Kawiti glowworm caves then at Hikurangi we leave civilization behind and head to the coast to the beautiful beaches of Woolleys Bay, Sandy Bay, Whale Bay and Matapouri. From here to Tutukaka, departure point for the Poor Knight Islands to Ngunguru, the city of Whangarei and on over the Brynderwyn hills to Auckland, the city of sails. Enjoy this vibrant city from your waterside hotel.
Heading south from Auckland over the Bombay Hills and into the dairy farming heartland of the Waikato ("full flowing water"). Driving east across the Hauraki Plains, the jagged ranges of the Coromandel Peninsula dominate the skyline. Thames, once a thriving gold rush town, lies at the southern end of the Hauraki Gulf. From here we drive the scenic western side of the Peninsula to our special lunch at Rapaura Watergardens where you can wander through native bush to a cascading waterfall and lily ponds. Travelling further north along this picturesque coastline, we arrive at Coromandel where the town’s gold mining past is visible in the restored wooden buildings lining the main street. This afternoon we cross the ranges to visit the stunning east coast beaches of Whangapoua (Harbour of Shellfish), Matarangi (Headland in the Sky), Kuaotunu (Young of Eels) and Otama (of my son). No wonder this beautiful coastline is a favourite holiday playground for Kiwis. We stay the night in Whitianga on Mercury Bay.
We start the day with a short ferry ride across the Whitianga estuary to Ferry Landing, Cooks Beach to meet your coach. Alternatively, take a cruise (optional) to Hahei Beach. On the coast just north of Hahei is Cathedral Cove, a sublime beach of white sands and limestone outcrops. Nearby at Hot Water Beach natural thermal hot springs bubble up through the sand. Depending on tide times you can dig your very own hot pool. We continue south to Tairua, Whangamata and Waihi to the Bay of Plenty, the centre of the kiwifruit industry. Driving beside three bush-fringed lakes, Rotoma, Rotoehu and Rotoiti we reach Rotorua, our home for two nights.
A leisurely day in this lakeside town at the heart of Maori culture. Our first highlight is a cruise on Lake Rotoiti on a 53ft catamaran “Tiua” exploring secluded coves with the chance to take the helm, fish for trout, swim in the lake or soak in hot pools. The skipper and crew share local legends and point out historic sites. We come ashore to “go bush” driving to the Blue Lake (Tikitapu), and the Green Lake (Rotokakahi). Above Lake Tarawera relax over an exclusive lunch at Pounamu Lodge with our hosts David and Karen. Karen has stories to tell of her ancestor Guide Sophia who lead visitors to safety when the Pink and White Terraces were destroyed when Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886. After lunch we learn about Maori culture with a personal experience at Ohinemutu Village before finishing the day at Rotorua's exceptional Museum. This evening you will be touched by the warmth of a Maori concert – the traditional welcome to visitors – and a dinner that includes hangi food steamed in an earth oven.
Explore our favourite geothermal hideaway, Orakei Korako, (place of adorning) crossing the lake to a wonderland of silica terraces, bubbling mud pools and an enchanting Aladdin’s Cave, Ruatapu (sacred hole in Maori). A hot pool at the bottom of this 120ft deep cave is known as Waiwhakaata, (pool of mirrors). On the road into Taupo we view the turbulent Huka Falls, where the Waikato River thunders through a narrow chasm. From Taupo there are magnificent views across the lake to the three active volcanoes - Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu (2,797 metres), the highest mountain in the North Island. Leaving the lake, the road winds over the ranges to the seaside town of Napier. Renowned for its Art Deco architecture, Napier was rebuilt in this style after anearthquake in 1931. These days it’s also an acclaimed wine region and your guide will introduce you to the premier vineyards before we end the day with a Guided art deco tour. Your hotel is right on the waterfront.
We start the day with a drive to Havelock North and up Te Mata Peak for fantastic views of the region before heading south through Hawkes Bay’s pastoral landscape of orchards, farms and vineyards to the Wairarapa. At Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre see endangered birds such as kiwi, kaka, kokako and takahe and the tuatara, a “living fossil” reptile that lived at the time of the dinosaurs. We finish the day by traversing the Rimutaka Ranges to Wellington, the capital city. Your contemporary inner city hotel is at the heart of Wellington's eclectic cafe scene.
This morning we catch the Interislander ferry to cruise for three hours across Cook Strait into Tory Channel and up beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton. With our feet firmly planted on “Te Waka a Maui”, the South Island, we tour Marlborough’s premier wine and food region renowned for sauvignon blanc and the collection of World War 1 flying memorabilia at Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre (optional). Leaving behind the dry hills of Marlborough we drive south to Kaikoura, a small hamlet beside the ocean and beneath the towering Kaikoura Mountains. We stay right on the waterfront. Seafood, especially crayfish, is a specialty in this ocean side town.
Relax on the coast with time for close encounters with seals (optional) and whales (optional). This afternoon cruise on the “Albatross Encounter”. Kaikoura is the albatross capital of New Zealand, if not the world, with up to 12 species of albatross plus penguins, gannetts, skuas, shearwaters, petrels and terns. Your driver/guide has a day off today.
The highway continues down the coast and winds inland over the Hunderlee Hills before dropping down to the Canterbury Plains. The wine district of Waipara set on terraces above the river is an ideal coffee stop. Your tour ends in Christchurch prior to lunch. Enjoy the city at your leisure in the afternoon. Ka kite ano – “See you again'”