Owing to a severe lack of overseas options, Kiwis hit the roads of New Zealand in record numbers over the 2020 / 2021 summer holiday period (I assume, I haven’t seen the stats). I was one of them, and I thought I’d hand out a few awards in the hope you’ll get some inspiration for your next kiwi road trip.
We started our NZ summer road trip in Dunedin and drove from there to Christchurch. From there we headed up the east coast to Blenheim via Kaikoura, and then we took the long way round to Picton via Port Underwood. A couple of days in Nelson were followed by a trip through the Buller Gorge to the West Coast, where we stayed in Karamea, Punakaiki, Hokitika and Franz Josef. We finished our trip off with a relaxing night each in Wanaka and Arrowtown.
Best Walk: Kohaihai to Scotts Beach
This is the first section of the Heaphy Track (a Great Walk) if walking from the Karamea end and it’s a great way to get a quick look at Kahurangi National Park. It took us around 90 minutes return and the beach at the end is one of the best you’ll see on the West Coast. There are also some nice views along the way and it’s an easy walk.
Most Scenic Drive: Buller Gorge
There were a lot of options for this award, including the long way round from Blenheim to Picton and the Great Coast Road on the West Coast. The road between Haast and Wanaka is also spectacular, although it was raining when we drove it. You’ll pass through the Buller Gorge when driving between Nelson and the northern parts of the West Coast and it’s quite a ride. There are heaps of places to pull over and admire the views and it feels quite different to the other scenic roads in New Zealand.
Best Beach: Tumbledown Bay, Marlborough Sounds
I’d probably put Scotts Beach if I hadn’t already mentioned it, so we’ll give this award to Tumbledown Bay in the Marlborough Sounds. This is the end of the road in the Port Underwood area and feels very off the beaten path. It’s a long, winding road to get there but more than worth it (there are some good views from the road as well).
Best Tourist Town: Franz Josef
One thing I miss about travelling is hanging out in small tourist towns where everything you need is a walk away. New Zealand isn’t exactly full of such towns, but Franz Josef is definitely one. It’s located beneath beautiful mountains (and a glacier) and the views from town on a nice day are hard to beat. You also have a good selection of walks that start close to town, as well as glow worms, hot pools and plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars. If you want to feel like you’re on holiday in Switzerland, or China, or Laos, or some other place you’d rather be, consider a trip to Franz Josef.
Most Sights Per Square KM: Punakaiki
Punakaiki is so small I wouldn’t really describe it as a town, but I guess it is. It’s famous for its Pancake Rocks, but you’ll also find some great beaches, a cave and a stunning river walk, all within a few kilometres of each other.
Best Meal: Pie, Chips and Gravy in Hokitika
We usually cook our own meals on most of our trips around New Zealand, but this time we decided to splash out. I’d say on the whole the food we ate was somewhere between average and good, but a few meals stood out. The whitebait sandwich we had in Franz Josef (with chips, for $18 at Full of Beans – great deal) was delicious, but I’m going to have to give it to the pie, chips and gravy in Hokitika (Cafe 39 — $10).
Friendliest Local: Bronson
After a long drive on the winding gravel roads of the Marlborough Sounds (close to where we took the photo below) we realised our car wasn’t driving as it should. After ignoring it for a few minutes the sound got louder. We stopped, and soon realised we had a puncture. I’d never been in the that situation before and had no idea how to change it (or even get the tire out of the car) but a friendly local called Bronson stopped and helped us out. He didn’t even make me feel bad for being a 35-year-old man who can’t change his own tire.
Best Photo Spot: Peters Pool
We visited some beautiful places on our NZ summer road trip, but no single view beats the scene at Peters Pool. This small lake was formed by the retreating Franz Josef Glacier and today, on a still, sunny day, you’ll see the most beautiful view of the valley reflected in the tiny lake.
Best Shopping Experience: William Steyn Stonepainter
I usually start complaining (subtly) around two minutes after we enter a shop, but this gallery in Hokitika was different. Firstly, the owner and artist William Steyn is a cool guy to talk to (we were chatting away for quite a while before buying anything) and, most importantly, the art he makes is unique. He paints surreal scenes (lots of kiwis) on rocks found on the rough beaches around Hokitika – we couldn’t resist buying a few.
Best Hotel: Glow Worm Accommodation
We stayed in some nice hotels on this trip, including the famous Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown (which was great, as you’d expect from the price!). My favourite was probably Glow Worm Accommodation in Franz Josef. It was well-priced ($100 with a private bathroom isn’t bad in NZ), came with free breakfast, free popcorn, free vegetable soup every night and a free hot tub. The staff were also friendly, the room was great (small, but with a kitchen and bathroom) and there was a nice little area to sit right outside our room. The restaurants and bars were only a minute away – the perfect spot!
What are your NZ road trip awards? Let me know in the comments below!
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