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20 Days New Zealand Small Towns & Byways

New Zealand

20 Days New Zealand Small Towns & Byways

20 Days | All of New Zealand

Leave the highways behind and enjoy a relaxing meander of New Zealand's quieter small towns and rural villages. Immerse yourself in genuine Kiwi hospitality and outstanding scenery.

Indicative Price

01 October 2019 -

30 September 2020

NZ$2,712 per person


Price Includes:

  • 19 nights accommodation
  • 19 days small rental car hire
  • InterIslander ferry Wellilngton to Picton for 2 adults
  • welcome voucher wallet & driving maps
  • expert itinerary planning & booking service
  • 15% Goods and Services Tax (GST)
  • Prices are per person, share twin/double room and in NZ$

Trip Details

From the beautiful beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula, seaside town Whakatane to the geothermal mecca of Rotorua.  Renowned for its outstanding trout fishing Turangi's volcanic backdrop of the stunning Tongariro National Park is contrasted by the demure village green of Martinborough, the heart of the Wairarapa region's wine district.  Motueka is the gateway to the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park, followed by a stay on the fringe of the Nelson Lakes National Park at St Arnaud.  The vibrant greens of the West Coast greet you at Hokitika and Haast before reaching the extraordinary southern lakes of Wanaka, Wakatipu and Te Anau.  This unique itinerary culminates at Twizel, stepping off point to the amazing Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

Brave the Backcountry!

Day 1. Arrive Auckland. Pick up rental car on arrival. 

Kia ora, welcome to Auckland, the "City of Sails', New Zealand's largest and very multi-cultural city. Stroll the waterfront at Viaduct Harbour, famous for America's Cup sailing, savour the dining scene at adjacent Wynyard Quarter, enjoy beautiful beaches as well as boutique shopping at the Britomart, High Street and along Queen Street. The iconic SkyTower offers splendid views of the Harbour Bridge.

Day 2. Drive Auckland - Whangamata (approx 2 hours 15 mins) 

Take a leisurely drive south through Pukekohe before setting your compass east to the Lower Coromandel region and the idyllic seaside resort of Whangamata.  The combination of the Coromandel Forest Park rainforest and the spectacular beach make this one of New Zealand's most popular holiday destinations.  Safe swimming and some of the best surf breaks truly earn the town's reputation as the place for sun, sand and surf.

Day 3Drive Whangamata - Whakatane (approx 2 hours 50 mins)

A day for beach hopping and wide Pacific seascapes.  Katikati is a town full of historic charm, known as the “Mural Town of New Zealand” for its main street bursting with colour courtesy of the town’s artistic talent.  The termal pool at Sapphire Springs and a stroll around the Katikati Bird Gardens are worthwhile. Tauranga’s dazzling harbour, sunny climate and outstanding parks and gardens make this a popular destination.  Nearby Mt Maunganui’s iconic con-shaped mountain stands proudly above the resort seaside town with its golden sand and great surf.   Whakatane has some of New Zealand’s most popular beaches on its doorstep.  Offshore, White Island is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano which attracts visitors from around the world.

Day 4. Drive Whakatane - Rotorua (approx 1 hour 30 mins) 

A short drive featuring languid blue waters of bush-fringed Lake Rotoma, Lake Rotoehu and Lake Rotoiti.  The geothermal city of Rotorua, New Zealand's coolest hot spot,  nestles on the shores of Lake Rotorua.  Stunning scenic flights, lake cruises, nature reserves and geothermal parks make Rotorua a very enticing holiday destination.

Day 5In Rotorua at leisure. 

Make the most of Rotorua's many activities and attractions.  Adventurous mountain bike trails and cycle ways, thrilling river jet boating, 4WD outback trips, take to the forest canopy by zip line, scenic helicopter flights over Mt Tarawera and neighbouring lakes.  The cultural side of Rotorua offers you traditional and modern Maori performances, hangi feasts and insights into genuine Maori maraes (meeting houses).  Self guided and guided tours of geothermal reserves including Te Puia, Waiotapu and Waimangu Valley.  The award winning Polynesian Spa is one of the many offerings of spa therapies, so make the most of Rotorua's geo thermal region. 

Day 6Drive Rotorua - Turangi (approx 1 hour/50 mins) 

Geothermal reserves, vast forests and lush native bush feature en route to Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake. Worthwhile stopovers en route include Waimangu and Waiotapu geothermal reserves, Aratiatia Rapids and the thundering Huka Falls. The resort town of Taupo sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake and is known as a trout fishing paradise and for its adventure activities. With the mighty volcanic cones of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro in sight, shirt the shores of Lake Taupo to the alpine town of Turangi at the start of the Tongariro National Park (World Heritage Site). Located on the banks of the Tongariro River, Turangi is the unofficial trout fishing headquarters of New Zealand.

Day 7Drive Turangi - Martinborough (approx 4 hours 35 mins) 

The three mountains of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe are a trio of active volcanoes in the Central Plateau region and are part of the Tongariro National Park which has dual World Heritage status.  Waiouru, a military town, is used as the main training base for the New Zealand Army.  It is 815m above sea level with cold winters and hot summers and is home to the renowned National Army Museum which houses military artifacts.  Further south the Manawatu region has Palmerston North at its heart, with The Square in the middle of a vibrant shopping and business district.  Palmerston North has a diverse art and cultural scene and is well known for its collection of public sculptures around the inner city.  The New Zealand Rugby Museum is a must-see while you are here. The Wairarapa region offers a peaceful retreat, with the wine village of Martinborough packed with colonial charm and over 20 wineries.

Day 8. Drive Martinborough - Wellington (approx 1 hour,10 min)

A short drive to Featherston, the rugged Rimutaka Gorge to the Hutt Valley, the northern entrance way to Wellington, New Zealand's Capital City.   It is a creative and culinary haven with strong coffee, streets filled with art, world famous film production facilities and New Zealand's national museum,  all packed in to a little harbourside city.  Often referred to as the "coolest little capital in the world" Wellington's theatres, galleries, restaurants, cafes and high street stores offer a delightful mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine. Wellington - Picton (by InterIslander ferry approx 3 hours) Cruise from the inner harbour of Wellington, across Cook Strait and through the Tory Channel to the sheltered waters of the magical Queen Charlotte Sound. There's extraordinary scenery all the way before you reach the picturesque seaside town of Picton. Pick up replacement rental car in Picton

Day 9Drive Picton -  Motueka (approx 2 hours 40 mins) 

Enjoy stunning scenery as you leave the Marlborough Sounds along serene Queen Charlotte Drive to the marina town of Havelock.  Mussels are on the menu in Havelock, the town is best known as the Greenshell Mussel Capital of the World.   Continue alongside the Pelorus River into the dense pine tree lined Rai Valley to the vibrant beachside city of Nelson.  Relaxation and rejuvenation are priorities here. As well as high sunshine hours, the white curve of Tahunanui Beach and street side cafes, Nelson is full of fantastic original arts.  Visit the workshop of a local painter, sculptor, fashion designer, glass blower or jeweller for wonderful displays.  The picturesque scenic highway links Nelson to Motueka, a great base to the Abel Tasman region.

Day 10Drive Motueka - St Arnaud (approx 1 hour 40 mins) 

The Motueka River Valley’s undulating hills of farmland and forest escort you via the small rural township of Tapawera southwards to the captivating Nelson Lakes National Park region.  This magnificent park is centred on two beautiful glacier-carved alpine lakes, Rotoiti and Rotoroa.  There are wonderful lakeside tracks, short walks and safe swimming to enjoy.  Serene St Arnaud is an alpine village situated beside Lake Rotoiti.  Only a tiny town, it’s perfectly positioned to serve travellers who want to explore the national park and its walking and kayaking activities.

Day 11Drive St Arnaud - Hokitika (approx 3 hours 50 mins) 

Gateway to the southern entrance of the Kahurangi National Park, Murchison offers some of the best white-water kayaking and rafting on the nearby Buller River.  The Buller Gorge Swingbridge is NZ’s longest at  110m long.  Westport was first a gold town, then a coal town but now is known for its adventure activities, awesome scenery and local arts.  Nearby Tauranga Bay & Cape Foulwind offer an excellent walking track to NZ’s most accessible fur seal colony. The drive south hugs the dramatic coastline to remarkable Punakaiki with its enormous stacks of rocks and blowholes, known as Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.  The blowholes perform best around high tide. The cool little town of Hokitika offers a coastal experience that’s great in any weather.  A walk along the wild and driftwood-strewn beach lets you feel the power of the Tasman Sea.  Local “must do’s” are its art and craft trail, nearby scenic Lake Kaniere, stunning Hokitika Gorge and an evening stroll to the local glow worm dell.

Day 12Drive Hokitika - Haast (approx 4 hours 20 mins) 

Leaving Hokitika, the beautiful green native forests thicken as you continue south and into the glacier region, crossing blue flowing rivers and passing scenic lakes of Ianthe and Wahapo - which also make for great lunch spots! Pass through the glacier town of Franz Josef and through the impressive wild West Coast style forest of Westland National Park set against dominating alpine peaks as you approach the charming town of Fox Glacier.   Further south the settlement of Haast offers mainly outdoor attractions such as hiking, nature tours, scenic flights, river safaris and jet-boat rides.  The area is also a haven for bird-watchers with fantail, tui, bellbird, pigeon, silvereye, kaka and kiwi all located in the lowland forests.

Day 13Drive Haast - Wanaka (approx 1 hour 50 mins) 

Enjoy waterfalls and river scenery as you leave the coast and climb up the Haast river valley to Haast Pass. The Haast Highway snakes through the Mt Aspiring National Park with the vegetation becoming more sparse as you travel inland.  The highway is considered by some to be New Zealand's most stunning one-day journey.  The Haast Highway has numerous lookouts, walks and waterfalls.  The Blue Pools of Haast are this road's main attraction, being just an easy one hour return walk from the road.  The wilderness town of Makarora is a chance to refuel and refresh. Skirt the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea to the lakeshore township of Wanaka. 

Day 14Drive Wanaka - Queenstown (approx 1 hour) 

Meander through the fruit growing district surrounding Cromwell, perhaps call into historic Old Cromwell Town for a browse of local art galleries and cafes. The dramatic Kawarau Gorge opens to the wide Gibbston Valley with its hillsides of ruler straight grape vines. Arrive in the resort town of Queenstown, hugging the shores of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks.

Day 15. In Queenstown at leisure. 

Queenstown's vast array of outstanding activities includes thrilling river jet boating, out back 4WD trips, white water rafting, bungy jumping, tandem skydiving, hot air ballooning, mountain bike and hiking trails.  For a more relaxing day perhaps choose a scenic lake cruise in the historic TSS Earnslaw, visit a high country farm, play a round of golf at one of the many world class courses, ride on the Skyline Gondola for breathtaking views, take a guided Lord of the Rings film site tour or a guided winery tour. Visit historic Arrowtown for insights into the early gold mining days.  Queenstown's enticing cafes, restaurants and nightlife will complete the day.

Day 16Drive Queenstown - Milford Sound - Te Anau (approx 5 hours 45 mins) 

Skirt Lake Wakatipu's stunning shores as you transcend through small towns and local farmland into the grand Fiordland region today. The road to Milford is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives. The first part is relatively mild farmland, then you’ll ease into beech forest near the entrance to the Fiordland National Park. Look for the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain and the Mirror Lakes. The rough hewn Homer Tunnel brings you into Milford Sound, an amazing 22km-long fiord dominated by Mitre Peak. A cruise on Milford Sound will be an essential component of your time in Fiordland. Tall waterfalls, vertical rock faces and seals are some of the things you’ll remember, while the underwater observatory is an option with most cruises.

Day 17Drive Te Anau - Dunedin (approx 4 hours 10 mins) Depart Te Anau and travel across the Southland Plains through the small townships of Mossburn, Lumsden and rural hub of Gore, sheep farms dominate the landscape. Continue to the Clutha River at Balclutha before heading north crossing the Taieri Plains, pass Lake Waihola to Dunedin. Note you can travel to Dunedin via the rugged Catlins coast, part of the Southern Scenic route, known for its wildlife and fossalised forest. You would need to allow extra time for this drive. Dunedin is said to be the Edinburgh of New Zealand with its well preserved Victorian and Edwardian heritage present throughout the city. Surrounded by hills and featuring a wide harbour, Dunedin's Taieri Gorge, Railway, chocolate factory and Speights Brewery are rewarding visits. A scenic drive along the Peninsula with its rugged beaches and local wildlife is recommended.

Day 18. Drive Dunedin - Twizel (approx 3 hours 45 mins) 

A pause at Moeraki to see the mysterious boulders on the beach is worthwhile before continuing north to historic Oamaru with its distinctive white sandstone public buildings and wide main street. Follow the mighty Waitaki River inland, skirting the shores of Lake Waitaki and Lake Aviemore to reach the junction at Omarama. Perhaps take time to enjoy a luxurious soak in the hot tubs before continuing to Twizel. Twizel is a small township located near Aoraki Mount Cook, which was originally created to provide a home for workers involved with the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme. Today it is a well-positioned base for exploring the Mackenzie Basin and Aoraki Mt Cook National Park.

Day 19. Drive Twizel - Mt Cook - Christchurch (approx 5 hours 40 mins) 

Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo create outstanding photo opportunities of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, dominated by New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook.  Cross Burkes Pass to the peaceful rural towns of Fairlie and Geraldine, before traversing the vast Canterbury Plains to Christchurch. Its location between the Pacific Ocean, snow capped Southern Alps and volcanic hills of the Banks Peninsula gives Christchurch stunning landscapes and an enticing range of attractions.  Ride the historic tramway, punt on the River Avon, stroll the Botanic Gardens and enjoy vibrant restaurants and cafes.

Day 20Depart Christchurch 

You have the day at leisure until you make your way to Christchurch Airport for your departure flight.  Drop off rental car at the airport.


This New Zealand KiwiCombo road trip itinerary can be travelled in reverse and can be modified to suit your individual requirements. Suggested activities are a guideline to some of the special and unique experiences offered in each region but are optional and not included in the KiwiCombo Pass. However we can make reservations for you, just ask!

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