I stumbled across a little secret the first time I visited Wellington; Mount Kaukau.
Most visitors opt for the look-out point that is Mount Victoria but the locals will tell you that Mt Kaukau is the summit you really should visit, and how true I have found that to be!
Kaukau is on the western side of Wellington harbour near the pretty districts of Johnsonville and Khandallah. The summit is 445 metres above sea level and is the most visible point in the Wellington area.
It provides stunning views of the city, harbour and the Rimutaka and Tararua Ranges.
Every time I go back to Wellington I make a point of walking up Kaukau. I have also at different times run up it and biked down it - it's fantastic for mountain bikers!
The view is inspiring; the green rolling hills of Crofton Down, looking down into Wellington city and harbour, or looking across the Cook Strait to the snow-capped Mt. Tapuaeoenuku on the Inward Kaikoura Ranges in the South Island, Mt Kaukau demands solitude and silence to fully appreciate its glory.
On a sunny day the view is endless and majestic. When the storms roll into Wellington from across the Tasman Sea, the power of the wind and rain makes Mt Kaukau not for the fainthearted. Yet if anything, it adds to the mystique and grandeur of the place.
Go there and you won’t be disappointed; I never am whenever I go back.
Train: Johnsonville Line train from Wellington Station to either Simla Crescent, Box Hill or Khandallah.
Buses: From Courtenay Place or Lambton Quay in Wellington. Services 43, 44, 45 to Khandallah or 53 to Johnsonville West.
Golden Bay is a unique and gorgeous area hidden away right at the northwestern tip of the South Island, and could just be the country's most complete destination.
It is sandwiched between two national parks (Abel Tasman and Kahurangi - lots of walking and adventure options) and stretches back toward the mountains from a strip of coast with loads of different beaches: from golden sands and perfect swimming (e.g. Tata Beach, Paton's Rock) to the vast, wild, and often deserted west coast ones, such as the unmissable Wharariki. There are also mountains, rivers, springs, forests, caves, limestone cliffs etc.
Yet, not only is the scenery totally stunning and worth a visit for its own sake, but the various little settlements of the Bay (Takaka is the main town) feature a wonderfully characterful jumble of shops, cafes, restaurants and accommodation ranging from old school rural to laid-back contemporary, via quirky hippie/traveller (the place has long been a magnet for alternative lifestylers).
You will be spoiled for choice for food and drink whether you want to chill out with a perfect coffee and cake and watch the world go by (or the sea - there's even a cafe based on an old (moored) boat of Jaques Cousteau's, scoff fish and chips by the water (Golden Fries in Takaka is tops, and the sea a five-minute drive away), drink a nice cold pint of award-winning beer brewed onsite at the Mussel Inn, or savour the delicious nightly set-menu at the Sans Souci Inn.
There are plenty of cheap camping and backpacking options to be had and a good selection of mid-range, although if you want to splash some cash there are also some seriously luxurious places to stay. Just make sure you book accommodation ahead during high season (December-February), as the most popular places fill up fast.
And finally, make sure you save some time (and money) for dropping into the legions of home-based studios and galleries dotted all over the area, as the natural beauty of the area has long made it irresistible to artists and craftspeople.
Listing all this, I just can't wait to go back myself!
From Nelson head to Richmond and take State Highway 60, through Motueka and then over the Takaka Hill. Follow the signs for Takaka and/or Collingwood - there is a well-stocked information centre on the left just as you arrive into Takaka which can sort you out with maps, brochures, bookings and knowledgeable advice.
The 'Church in the Rock' is the most striking piece of religious architecture in Helsinki.
The chuch was hewn from a huge chunk of granite, the walls left as jagged bedrock, into which a concrete altar was poured. The copper roof seems to float above the church as the light come from a circular window on to which the roof sits. A proper 'wow' moment.
Lutherinkatu 3, Helsinki
Slope Head is the most southerly point on mainland New Zealand which was cold, wild and waterlogged but provided a photo opportunity next to the signpost pointing to Antarctica in one direction and the Equator in the other, before heading for Bluff and half a dozen of its famous oysters and a pint of Guinness. Actually it was the end of June, and the only place advertising this delicacy was closed.
The coast road between Invercargill and Dunedin.
More remote, much bigger and far less crowded than the more well-known Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is one of those rare places that justifies the word ‘awesome’.
Book an overnight tour on a three-masted boat and discover a place that is equal part-myth and geology. You can launch a kayak off the boat and discover one of the Sound’s many creeks up close, as the cliffs tower above you and the water flows like molten glass beneath your oars.
Then it’s back on board for a hot shower, a glass of wine and the camaraderie of people who’ve shared something quite spellbinding.
This lovely restaurant is an oasis of calm and quiet (Khajuraho's main street can get hectic!) where you can chill out after temple-gazing in a pretty courtyard with yummy food or watch the setting sun over a lake from the roof terrace.
At dusk thousands of chirruping green parrots fill the sky, pull up a chair and be amazed. Lovely owners Charlie and Sanjay also have a very good guesthouse, and are sweet and helpful hosts. I can't recommend this place enough!
Next to the Archaeological museum (cross the little square on the corner) corner of main road and jain temples road
Lake Atitlan is one of the most breathtaking places on the planet. We travelled around the lake and never found a more peaceful and scenic spot than right out of our cabin door at Lomas de Tzununa.
Thierry and Maria were welcoming hosts and the accommodation was cosy and comfortable. We couldn't bring ourselves to leave!
Take a scenic detour on your way to the Bay of Islands via the Tutukaka coast drive through Ngnunguru and Tutukaka. Stop at Matapouri for a swim, it's a beautiful beach.
If you want to stay, Bluewater Cottages are up in the hills between Matapouri and Tutukaka with beautiful views over the ocean and out to the Poor Knights Islands
Bluewater cottages,Matapouri Rd, 09-434-3423. Approx 26km northeast of Whangarei
Every new year, Valpo is home to the biggest and best fireworks display in South America.
Over a million people from Chile and abroad descend on the city for one huge party. Hotels need to be booked by October at the latest (prices 3-5 times normal) and reconfirmed at least 3-4 times in December to ensure they're honoured.
The fireworks used to be only in Valparaiso but now stretch 20-30km all the way along the cost to Con Con. The display lasts almost half an hour.
The best place to watch them is on Cerro Concepcion and Alegre where the police are out in force making it the safest area to be.
All over Valpo
For a real treat, take a helicopter flight over Mt Cook with the Helicopter Line. The company have various flight options and most include a 'drop down' on to a snowfield for a short walk. You need good weather, but if it is sunny, the views are spectacular.
This part of NZ (where I grew up) is largely untouched by tourism and reflects the real NZ, laid back and multicultural.
The drive from Opotiki to Gisborne around the East Cape has some amazing scenery and a few well spaced apart pubs and cafes for a break - try Two Fish cafe in Opotiki - or pack a picnic and find a shady spot near the sea. Rugged scenery and beautiful coastline.
Returning through the Waioeka is a great drive too. If you can, visit in December when the Pohutukawas are in bloom.
Almost no public transport. www.opotiki.co.nz
Avalanche Peak can be climbed from the road at Arthurs Pass in just a few hours. There's some scrambling involved but it's not difficult. Report to the rangers station before you leave especially if there's snow. And unlike some of the great walks, such as the Queen Charlotte Track, you're above the tree line so the views are great.
Half way between Greymouth and Christchurch, South Island.
The Pacific Highway drive from Whakatane through Opotiki, Kakumoa, East Cape, Waioka Gorge, Matawi, to Gisborne in my opinion knocks Victoria's Great Ocean Road into a proverbial cocked hat.
Take care on the unsufaced roads around East Cape or you'll end up on the rocks. At Kakumoa, The Beach Hostel is literally on the beach.
It's on the map!
My nephew and his family and I were in Queenstown in December 1999. At the edge of the town, we saw a cardboard sign tied around the trunk of a tree with 'Glenorchy' written on it and pointing in its direction.
We drove to Glenorchy and it was the most breathtaking drive I had ever taken. We stopped every few minutes, got out of the car to just take in the unspoiled beauty of the place. It was one time, I wished, I had a camcorder so I could record the whole drive. Do not miss it if ever in Queenstown.
As you drive along SH35 you wonder if anyone else knows about this remote part of the North Island. You can drive for what seems like hours before you see another car. You wave, not because you know them, but you just do!
If you plan to break your journey, book up accommodation before you set out. Whakatane visitor centre can help. Try and go when the pohutukawa trees are flowering.
NZ Walks organise a variety of guided walks at various levels of difficulty. We did the 10 mile Mt. Aspiring National Park walk in a very small group with an excellent guide who carried our lunch! Pick up from various hotels in Queenstown.
The catamaran from Split to Hvar takes one hour, and the ferry takes just over two.
If you're not pressed for time (they cost the same - 38kuna or £3.50), take the ferry as you can sit on the top deck and sunbathe as you pass by beautiful islands.
from Split harbour, Jandrolinja ferries/catamarans
Arriving over the rim of the old volcano from Christchurch, the beautiful town of Akaroa is seen hugging the bay of the inlet.
The French feel of the town is evident in the street names. This is a great place to use as a base for boat trips, walking on the Banks peninsula or enjoying a relaxing time sitting and looking around at the fantastic views all around.
Plenty of places to eat and stay at a reasonable cost to suit all types of tourist.
South of Christchurch on South Island.
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