While the British and Irish Lions Tour that starts in June will already take you to some of the most marvelous places around New Zealand, there are some destinations that you just can’t miss out on while in this country of adventure and natural wonders.
With the right itinerary planning, you can swing by these amazing places that are only a few hours drive from each of the stops in the tour:
Whangarei gets you close to the tip of the “Winterless North” where you’ll find Ninety Mile Beach, the only sand highway in the country. At the very tip of New Zealand stands a lighthouse in Cape Reinga overlooking the Tasman Sea.
(Cape Reinga – © itravelNZ®, Flickr)
If you’re coming from Rotorua, Taupo is just a few hours’ drive away. The town sits at the edge of Australasia’s largest lake. The lakeside town offers a great base for skiing Mount Ruapehu and accessing the Huka Falls. On the lake, you can take boat tour or a guided kayak expedition to see the Mine Bay rock carvings.
The green pastures and the beautiful rolling hills of the Hamilton – Waikato region made it easy for Director Peter Jackson to pick the lush pasture land as the setting for Hobbiton and Lord of the Rings’ Shire. In Matamata, you can actually see the movie set used for the movies which has 44 unique hobbit holes, including Bilbo’s house Bag End.
Bay of Plenty
This area is most known for its stunning beaches and the country’s only active marine volcano. The year-round sunny climate makes it a great place to visit in winter. Spend time at a working kiwifruit orchard or visit the Elms Mission House to learn about the region’s history.
You can take a ferry from Wellington to get to Picton. Here, you’ll find Queen Charlotte Sound with its glorious deep coves and bays. The sunny town of Blenheim in Marlborough is perfect to explore by bike as you go from one vineyard to another. There are more than 30 wineries in easily reachable from town – most of them open for wine tasting and cellar door sales.
About a two-hour drive from Christchurch, Kaikoura town is popular for its thriving marine life, particularly whales, fur seals and dolphins which you’ll find in the coastal waters. Several whale-watching trips depart from town throughout the day. The natural setting is particularly astounding as the town sits between the Kaikoura range which is covered in snow in winter and the Pacific Ocean.
About two hours from Wellington is Hawke’s Bay – a known wine region in the country but also famous for the art deco centre of Napier. The town was rebuilt in 1930 after a devastating earthquake. There’s plenty to do when you are in this area. You can take a bike ride up Te Mata peak for a 360-degree view of Hawke’s Bay. Grab a food and wine trail map and cycle from one winery to the next. Sauvignon Blanc and gourmet cheeses are often the pairing of choice for Hawke’s Bay. You can also visit the farmer’s market in Hastings for fresh produce and organic food.
(Napier – © Bruce Tuten, Flickr)
Just an hour’s drive from Wellington, you’ll enjoy the spectacular experience of driving over the Rimutaka Ranges to get to the quaint colonial town of Martinborough which has more than 20 boutique wineries – most of which are within cycling or walking distance from the village square. It offers some of the best pinot noir in the world.
There’s a reason tourists flock to Queenstown making it one of New Zealand’s most popular destinations. As the plane descends, you’ll soon realise why. It sits on the shore of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It also offers a plethora of activities for the sports and active lifestyle enthusiast, from lake cruises, bungy jumping to canyon swinging, sky diving to jet boating, there’s so much you can check of your adventure bucketlist at Queenstown.
Writer Rudyard Kipling calls it the “eighth wonder of the world” and it’s not hard to see why. Cliffs that rise from the dark waters, alpine mountain peaks that touch the clouds and thundering waterfalls that cascade towards the earth from a height of 1,000 meters. You can view Milford Sound from above; by plane or helicopter – or see the amazing rock formations from the water on a Milford Sound Cruise.