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DIY New Zealand

Manawatu Estuary Trust

Last updated:
September 2010


Jill Rapson - DIY New Zealand

This page contains advice on touring New Zealand botanically by yourself if you should choose to do so.

New Zealand is an isolated island nation of the Southern Hemisphere, sitting below and east of Australia, 3 hours away by plane. Its small area includes mountains and plains in close proximity, and a large length of coastline, generating a strong east-west climate gradient. Its isolation has resulted in high levels of endemism in native plants (80%), but many introduced species find the country to their liking (50% of the flora) and have greatly affected the native vegetation. Prior to human arrival the only land mammals were three taxa of bat, and birds dominated the fauna.

DIY Travel in New Zealand
DIY New Zealand for Botanists

General topics
I want to spend some time in New Zealand. When is best?
Where do I go if I want to see kiwi?
I want to see kiwi in the wild, but where do I go?
What are DoC's huts like?
What are DoC's tracks like?
I want to collect some plants; how do I go about this?
How do I go about doing some serious tramping/hiking in New Zealand?

North Island
Cape Reinga (PR van Essen) Where can I see kauri forest?
What if I want to see kauri but I haven't a lot of time?
What if I've got oodles of time and I want to head to the far north?
Oh, bother, I'm stuck in Auckland. What should I do?
What can I do if I'm visiting Great Barrier Island?
I'm heading south to Palmerston North but want an overnight stop on the way.
I'm heading towards Tongariro National Park; what should I do when I get there?
What if I really want to go to Mt Egmont National Park?
What if I've done the touristy things and I'd like to go east?
I'm in Palmerston North; what shall I do?
What shall I do while in Wellington?
How do I cross Cook Strait?

South Island
Venus Hut, Kahurangi National Park What can I do in Nelson and Marlborough?
Should I head west or east from Nelson?
Now I want to see rainforest, but where do I go?
What about the Queenstown area?
Is the Te Anau-Manapouri area as great as it sounds?
What can I do in Dunedin?
What do I do when I get to Christchurch?
What about Southland?
What should I do on Stewart Island?
How do I walk the Milford Track?
Where do I want to go if I really want to see some wild wet areas?
I really want a remote experience somewhere unusual.

DIY Travel in New Zealand

New Zealand mapNew Zealand is a small country and easy to travel around. The North Island of New Zealand is home to some two thirds of the population, and so it has a greater number of towns which are in closer proximity to one another. New Zealand's main centres are Auckland (the largest city), Wellington (the capital city), and Christchurch; Queenstown and Rotorua are also major tourist destinations. A third of New Zealand's landmass is in parks, National Parks, and reserves.

February is the peak of the summer tourist season in New Zealand. There is more demand for services during this time, so if you are visiting then and your heart is set on some activity or lodging, you may be better off if you book in advance. The Milford Track. for example, can be booked out months in advance. During winter a lot of the tours and businesses may shut down so check their off-season dates carefully. Winter is, however, the ski season.

Accommodation is covered fairly comprehensively in the slew of other websites that offer information of accommodation for all around New Zealand (type "New Zealand accommodation" into a search engine and pick a site that suits you). Telecom's Yellow Pages are also helpful.

There are a variety of possible places to stay.

  • Backpackers are cheap places that provide you with a bed in a dorm, shared facilities, and the minimum of everything. They're better for singles than couples, and are not recommended for families.
  • Motels are the usual overnight accommodation for travelling New Zealanders and come in a range of prices. They're good for couples and families, providing a small furnished apartment with a living area, bedroom(s), washroom (shower, toilet, but usually no bath), and kitchen or kitchenette with all linen included. All have communal laundry facilities and many offer swimming pools, or spas you can book. Most motels charge by the couple, but will often offer a discount (e.g. NZ$10) for singles. Additional people (over the couple) are normally charged at the same rate (NZ$10-15 per head). Some motels will offer a discount for a longer stay, e.g. five to six nights, and others have attached restaurants. Some motels offer studio units which have bed-sitting-kitchen facilities combined and a bathroom - these are suitable for singles or couples. Linen and towels are provided but motels are not usually serviced, though towels are usually changed daily. Older motels haven't yet grasped the notion that people like to have a washcloth (facecloth) provided (!), so it pays to have one in your luggage, or ask at the desk! The rule of staying in motels is that apart from the bed and the towels, you leave it as neat and tidy and clean as you find it (i.e. do the dishes!). Motels are excellent for travellers, as you can take your own breakfast and other food materials from motel to motel in a chilly bin, cooler, or eskie. No tipping is expected in motels (except in restaurants).
  • Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) aren't commonly used by New Zealanders, and may not be near to campus. They are usually fairly upmarket places, and are better for couples than singles. If you're freedom travelling in New Zealand and wanting to use B&Bs, then there are booklets now available listing places, but be prepared to pay for the opportunity of interacting with real kiwis in their homes. (Farm stays are generally cheaper!)
  • Hotels tend to be upmarket and expensive, because, for historical reasons, they have a liquor licence and a licenced restaurant and so cater to businessmen. A 10% tip is normally given for good service in hotel restaurants. There's no porter service in most New Zealand hotels; you've carried your case this far, so I think you can cope!

Likely Accommodation Prices
Backpackers NZ$25 per person per night US$14 12€
Bed and Breakfast NZ$45 - 200 ppn US$30 - 135 25€ - 110
Motels NZ$80 - 120 for 1 - 4 people US$55 - 85 45€ - 70
Hotels NZ$120 - 220 ppn US$85 - 150 70€ - 125

Conversions to US dollars and euro are approximate; use as a guide only.

As well as the accommodation types above, New Zealand also provides many camping grounds, motorcamps, and caravanparks for an outdoors experience.

You can usually find accommodation the day before you need it, or even on the morning or early afternoon of the day you want it. However, beware of large sports events and other gatherings that may consume an area's accommodation. You should book in advance in the smaller, more touristy areas, especially in the South Island and particularly if your travels are time-sensitive. Usually two to three days in advance is plenty, but if you haven't booked, try to arrive at your destination very early afternoon, when some accommodation may still be available. Usually a town has a "duty motel" which knows what accommodation is still available locally.


Flights are available between the major cities and tourist destinations. Air New Zealand provides the greatest coverage, with flights to 25 destinations. Qantas covers Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Rotorua, and Queenstown. The North Island is better covered by the airlines.

There are also smaller companies which operate in localised areas. air2there does flights around the top of the South Island and the bottom of the North Island, including some smaller centres. Air West Coast flies Wellington-Westport-Greymouth, with the option of scenic flights along the West Coast. Air Fiordland and many other local companies specialise in scenic flights from Queenstown and Te Anau. The two straits each have a dedicated airservice; Soundsair flies across the Cook Strait, travelling between Wellington and Picton, while Stewart Island Flights crosses the Foveaux Strait and travels between Invercargill and Stewart Island.

Ferry travel is your other option for crossing between the islands. It should be booked in advance, especially if taking a vehicle across, and is weather dependent - if the weather is bad you may be forced to stay overnight in Nelson or Wellington while waiting for it to clear. The Interisland line runs several ferries across the Cook Strait between Wellington (North Island) and Picton (South Island), including the Interislander ferries, which make the trip in 3 hours, and the Lynx fast ferry, which takes 2 hours. Bluebridge also runs a Cook Strait ferry service, the trip taking nearly 3 and a half hours.

The Stewart Island Ferry runs between Bluff and Stewart Island. Fullers and Sealink run ferry services around the Hauraki Gulf (mainly Waiheke Island and Great Barrier Island).

Bus services operate throughout the country, either as straight transport between cities or as sightseeing tours. Intercity Coachlines covers the North and South Islands. Newmans Coach Lines provides transport to parts of the North and South Islands as well as day-trips. Magic Travellers Network provides backpacker travel. Tranzit Coachlines and Great Sights provide tours. NZ Tourism Online provides a comprehensive list of bus services in New Zealand.

Train travel is available through TranzScenic, New Zealand's only passenger rail service, operating from Christchurch to Arthur's Pass or Blenheim. But there is no passenger rail service elsewhere, except for commuter trains in Auckland and Wellington.

Rental cars and campervans are available in all cities and many towns (they may be cheaper if attached to your airfares). Campervans are also known as RVs or motorhomes. Many rental car companies have an office at the local airport or will meet you there if requested. Offer the driver a lift back into town if you can! Below is a random selection of rental car companies, found by searching on Google with the words "New Zealand rental cars". Many more are also available. If you're looking for a vehicle from a specific town and plan to return there, add the name to the search terms above.

Apex Car Rentals - branches at half a dozen main locations.
Car Rental NZ - campervans also available.
Budget - more than 50 branches throughout New Zealand.
New Zealand Rental Cars - branches at half a dozen main locations.
Ezy Rentals - branches in the main centres; campervans available.
Thrifty Car Rental - branches throughout New Zealand.
Pegasus Rental Cars - over 20 locations throughout New Zealand; campervans available.
Avis - over 20 branches throughout New Zealand.
National Car Rental - more than 20 locations throughout New Zealand.
New Zealand Rental Car Specialists - nearly 20 locations throughout New Zealand; campervans available.
New Zealand Rent A Car - 20 branches throughout New Zealand.
Omega Rental Cars - branches at half a dozen main locations.
Ace Rental Cars - half a dozen main locations; campervans available.
Maui - branches in the main centres; focus on campervan hire.
First Choice Rental Cars - branches at 30 locations throughout New Zealand.
Go Rentals - branches in the main centres.
Britz - branches in the main centres; campervans available.
Auto Rentals Kiwi Travels - branches at half a dozen main locations; campervans available.
ARF Rental Cars - branches in the main centres.
A2B Rentals Ltd - branches in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
Holiday Rental Cars - a handful of branches, including the main centres.
Rent A Dent Car Rentals - locations throughout New Zealand.
Hertz - branches throughout New Zealand.

Be sure to check out a company's rules before hiring from them. Some rental companies allow you to take their cars on the interisland ferries, while others don't. Campervans are okay on the ferries, but booking at least a few days ahead is probably advisable. There are also some roads where you are not permitted to take rental vehicles (these are usually in interesting places, so check carefully). The insurance rates for hiring vehicles if you're under 25 are expensive. See Kiwiana for notes on driving in New Zealand.

Note too, that New Zealand abounds with camping grounds where you can park a car and get a bunk or a hut with shared facilities or even a motel (like a self-contained, furnished apartment), or where you can park a campervan. Also, there are many roadside rest areas, and other spots you can park off-road, or by a river or lake or beach for a night. But if there is a sign saying "No camping", please respect the locals' wishes (and the local ecology).

Travel tips

Franz Josef Glacier, WestlandIt is often cheaper to take a rental car from south to north, so consider planning your route in reverse from the obvious. This is especially so for campervans. You might want to consider buying an eskie, coolie bin, or chilly bin and some ice pads, or even a small car fridge to keep your food fresh in transit.

If driving on backcountry roads, certain courtesies prevail. If you meet an oncoming vehicle on a narrow strip of seal (there are a few in the remote South Island especially), then it is polite to put your left wheels off the seal and onto the gravel, while the other vehicle does the same. Pass slowly, to avoid flinging up gravel. Only campervans are exempt from this rule (they need to keep out of gravel), but slow down and give a friendly wave to the other vehicle.

In some areas there are signs asking you not to stay overnight in your campervan. Please do as asked - the locals generally have their reasons! Otherwise you are usually free to park in any quiet corner you can find. This is especially nice in coastal or bush areas in the South Island.

Maps are available in bookshops and AA centres, as well as at Information Centres (aka i-sites), and DoC operates many visitors' centres too. Information Centres are useful little buildings present in most towns to provide visitors with up-to-date information, including maps and ideas about the highlights of the area, and are open seven days a week. Ask the local staff for help, but don't expect them to be botanists! A pdf of i-site locations and contact details can be found here. They are signposted on main approach roads to centres by large green i's, so just follow the signs:

Information Centre sign


The insurance premiums for hiring rental vehicles if you're under 25 are expensive. The excess (the bit you have to pay regardless of fault) is even worse. You may be carrying additional insurance on your credit card, often to cover "excess" charges, but it is not always adequate, so check your coverage in advance.

You should arrange for travel insurance whilst in New Zealand. You need both medical insurance to cover serious injury or illness, and of course insurance for your personal possessions.


Most kiwis use Eftpos (Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale; i.e. plastic cards with pin numbers), which are accepted by most merchants. Credit cards are less welcome, dues to the fees charged, but all larger businesses or accommodation businesses will take them. Do not offer large denomination notes (NZ$20 is usual) as many businesses do not carry much change. ATM (Automated Teller Machine) machines abound (2,000+ in New Zealand), and if you have a Cirrus or Visa/Plus logo on your card you can use it in New Zealand machines. Check your bank's foreign exchange charges though - these can be high!

Travelling safely

New Zealand is pretty safe and you are not likely to have any troubles at all. Nevertheless, be realistic and do not go walking by yourself in quiet vegetated areas near urban areas around dusk or dawn. Two people (or three females) will be safe, though. Also, avoid centres of town late at night when there are drunks or hoons around, just as you would at home.

Sadly it is becoming more common for tourists to be targeted by thieves in quiet car parks, near urban areas in particular. Try not to look like tourists - keep your luggage out of sight in the car boot, and do not leave hire-car brochures lying about inside the cab. Also, take irreplaceables like souvenirs out of bags/cases and store them separately and obviously - no thief really wants your photos! By preference, leave someone near the vehicle - they will be perfectly safe, as thieves like to be invisible. But if not, then ensure your valuables are with you when you go walking.

Hitchhiking is not advised unless there's a pair of you (in which case no one will pick you up). You're much safer on public transport if freedom travelling without a vehicle.

Many hotels do not have small personal safes, so you are better to carry your valuable papers at all times. Be especially careful to keep track of your credit cards, etc.

DIY New Zealand for Botanists

Here are some ideas to help you do some botanising on your own. (For a list of contents, see the top of the page.)


Question: I want to spend some time in New Zealand. When is best?

New Zealand is on holiday from Christmas Eve, pretty much until 4th January, and many smaller businesses stay closed until mid to late January. The primary schools generally go back late January and the secondary schools early February. Universities go back late February. Travelling is easier outside school holidays. February is the warmest month, though March is second best. The alpine flowers are best in November/December, when weather can be quite stable and warm.

Question: Where do I go if I want to see kiwi?

Kiwi are actually birds not plants, but if you want to see them then you need to go to a nocturnal house, a place where kiwi get up in the day thinking it's night. There are kiwi houses at Heritage Park in Whangarei, Kiwi House and Native Bird Park in Otorohanga, Whakarewarewa in Rotorua, Mt Bruce (which is one of the accompanying persons' excursions), and at Southern Encounter Aquarium and Kiwi House in Christchurch.

Question: I want to see kiwi in the wild, but where do I go?

Desmoschoenus spiralis dunes, Stewart IslandYes, don't we all! Occasionally in quiet parts of New Zealand you can still hear kiwi at night. The only place where Jill's ever seen them in the wild is Stewart Island, a small island down the bottom of the South Island which is awfully jolly and well worth the trip. You can take a plane to Invercargill, a catamaran across the strait (weather permitting), and once in Oban you can visit Mason Bay, where kiwi are diurnal, presumably because: a) the days are so long there's no point in being nocturnal, b) there's so little food that parents need to look all the time, and c) fathers help rear chicks so there are more birds about. The easiest way to get to Mason Bay is probably to take a taxi plane from Oban or Invercargill which can land you on the Mason Bay beach. A half hour toddle through the dunes will take you to the Mason Bay Hut which sleeps about 20 and has the distinction of having the worst DoC loo Jill has ever seen. Because a lot of backpacker tourists visit Mason Bay, you can meet some quite inexperienced hutters here who are very unfamiliar with hut etiquette, but the rule of huts is that anyone and everyone is entitled to share equally, regardless of order of arrival, and that all must consider the comfort and convenience of others. I would plan on hanging around the hut for a couple of nights to give you time to wander about the area and hopefully encounter kiwi. Do not approach the birds too closely. From there you can take an almost dead flat 14km walk across the bottom of Freshwater Swamp to Freshwater Landing, where there is a hut if you need to stay overnight, and from there you can catch a prebooked (this must be arranged in advance) water taxi back to Oban (tide dependent). There is a route along part of the Northern Circuit Track but the section from Freshwater Landing to Oban is reputed to be a killer!

Question: What are DoC's huts like?

Adelaide Tarn Hut, Kahurangi National Park Trevor Carter Hut, Kahurangi National Park
The Department of Conservation (DoC) has nearly a thousand backcountry huts sprinkled throughout New Zealand. They're all absolutely adorable, especially in wet weather. They range from mansions on popular routes - sleeping 20-30 people, sometimes in individual bunks, sometimes on sleeping pads, sometimes with 2-3 bunkrooms, and always with a cooking area - to remote backcountry huts which can be 2-4 bunks, occasionally with dirt floors, but still very acceptable in bad weather. Some huts have bottled gas provided, while others have closed stoves on which you can cook. But it is sensible to take your own primus and cater for yourself in case the facilities are in use or the gas has run out. The smaller huts are less popular with visitors and therefore more used by kiwis. Remember hut etiquette: anyone who comes must be accommodated even if that means everyone double bunking or sleeping on the floor. Huts are inflammable, so try not to set them on fire, and ensure that any fires or candles you light are supervised at all times. Leave a hut cleaner than you find it! I.e., do your share of the chores!

On the Great Walks, huts must be booked, so check before planning to use these huts. Great Walk Huts cost between NZ$10 and $45 a night, serviced huts cost NZ$10 - $35 a night, standard huts cost NZ$5, and some remote backcountry shelters are free. See the DoC website for details. Kiwis who do a lot of tramping buy an annual hut pass (~ NZ$90) which allows you to stay in all but the Great Walk huts at no charge as long as you display your plastic pass on your pack. You can buy single hut tickets from DoC offices, for NZ$5 each, and you insert these into the box in every hut you stay in. Some huts have wardens to check that you've paid, but the expectation of all kiwis is that you do pay for your stay even if no one is there to check on you - DoC relies on these hut fees to maintain the huts. Whenever you are passing a hut whilst out tramping, even if not planning to stay in it, go in and write your name and trip plans in the hut book. It is there for that purpose and it makes it much easier to find you when you're lost.

Question: What are DoC's tracks like?

Tracks vary from "motorways" intended to carry several hundred people a day (usually short tracks around visitors' centres) to well-paved and maintained routes which have substantial traffic (e.g. Milford Track) and carry 60-odd people a day , through to forest and hill-country tracks which are generally either extremely clear or very well marked. "Routes" are different from tracks, as these are routes which trampers have made for themselves and not officially formed tracks; therefore they are for experienced trampers only as they often have difficult obstacles or are less than clearly marked. When tramping in bush, ensure you are aware of the way in which your particular track is marked (e.g. with white flashing or orange triangles, etc.). Some areas are extensively managed for possums and have a network of possum tracks cut across the landscape for DoC hunters to use. These will be also marked (though differently from your track) and are usually just cut routes, to make them negotiable. If you blunder onto one you will have your work cut out - they usually laid out on a grid regardless of topography. At all times, though, it is your responsibility to ensure you stay on the track and know where you're going. In dense New Zealand bush you can be 5m from the track and not find it.

Question: I want to collect some plants; how do I go about this?

Dr Seuss trees (Dracophyllum latifolium), Mt Arthur You need a permit to collect material in New Zealand, although nicking bits from roadside reserves is acceptable if the roadside is in TransitNZ hands and not on Department of Conservation estate. Most of the reserves are managed by the Department of Conservation; however, many smaller reserves are managed by regional councils or even city councils, and consequently it can be hard to find out who to ask. If you have particular collection needs the best approach is to apply for a Department of Conservation permit, covering all the reserves that you are likely to visit. It is very hard to get a global collecting permit out of DoC - you have to be specific about where and give a range of dates. In order to get a permit you need to fill in a form, click here for a low-impact collecting permit which will allow you to remove small pieces of foliage of non-rare species (there is usually a cost). Note that you'll need to explain to DoC why they will be interested in helping you. Also, you'll need to consider whether or not you can import collected material into your home country, bearing in mind it will probably only be partly dry (if at all), not pressed, and not in a herbarium to herbarium transfer. If you wish to collect a lot of material, then negotiating with a herbarium such as MPN (email to dry and then export your material for you might be a good strategy. But it is your responsibility to ensure the paperwork is acceptable!

Question: How do I go about doing some serious tramping/hiking in New Zealand?

Serious tramping (or hiking) is a serious business in New Zealand, as many areas are either remote or dangerous, and the bush is extremely dense and it can be very hard even to figure out which way is north in some weather conditions. Most areas have no cellphone reception, and GPS signals won't be picked up in dense bush. Many tramping shops will hire out emergency locator beacons which you should consider carrying.

The best thing you can do if you want to do real tramping is to consult one of the many tramping books, such as Lonely Planet's Tramping in New Zealand. In addition, there are many other books about tramping or walking in New Zealand that you can access, including:

Gavalas, M (2003). Day walks of Northland. Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, Auckland.
Peat, N (2002). Wanaka: The Lake Wanaka region. Raindow Print Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Pickering, M (1996). Wild walks: Sixty short North Island walks. Shoal Bay Press, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Ombler, K (1993). Ruahine Forest Park: A guide to family walks, tramping tracks and routes. Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, New Zealand.
Trafford, I (2004). Day walks of Nelson. Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, Auckland.

Also, all DoC offices and most visitors' centres will have lots of brochures about local tracks and ideas to help you plan your trips. You really need, though, to plan on travelling with a party for safety's sake. Already this year 5 visitors to New Zealand have died in the outdoors, and this is generating pressure on kiwi Search and Rescue resources. We would be grateful if you didn't add to their work, so please make sure you are properly equipped, properly experienced, and properly prepared. If in doubt, or even if you're confident, go to the NZ Mountain Safety Council's website and have a look around. As well as free pamphlets, which you can download as pdfs, they have a range of very useful books, manuals, and DVDs in their online store with lots of useful tips for surviving your trip into the great outdoors.

If you have particular trips in mind that you can't find any information about, even via the DoC website, feel free to contact Jill ( and she will pass on what she knows or can find out.


Question: Where can I see kauri forest?

The Yakas, a grove of kauri (_Agathis australis_)If you want to see kauri (Agathis australis) you've really got to go up to Waipoua, which is about 4 hours' driving north of Auckland. The places to visit are Waipoua Forest and Trounsen Park, both of which have short walks which take you into kauri forest. Waipoua, of course, has the famous Tane Mahuta, which is the sixteenth biggest kauri in New Zealand (and the world). It is only a ten minute walk and is really quite special, but very touristy. At Waipoua also there is a charming half hour track called the Yakas, which has much more of a bush feel about it. Realistically, northern kauri forest needs to be a full day or overnight excursion. Accommodation is available in the area, north of Waipoua at Omapere or south of Waipoua at Dargaville. If you've got the time to go further north still, then Puketi Forest near Kerikeri has some very nice walks and equally huggable kauri, though access to the forest is via a slow road. It is much less visited, and therefore more attractive.

It's harder to see gumlands in this area, gumlands being a successional phase of kauri forest (we think). However, you can see some gumland type scrub at Maitahi about 10km north of Dargaville. Turn left and drive along the road about 500m. Anywhere you can park you will find gumland shrubbery on your left.

On your way back from this neck of the woods, stop at Matakohe between Dargaville and Brynderwyn to visit the Matakohe Kauri Museum. You'll want to spend at least a couple of hours at the museum, you'll find.

Question: What if I want to see kauri, but I haven't a lot of time?

Head south from Auckland and take the road to Thames, about two hours' driving. If you've got a bit of time, branch off before you get to Thames and go up the western side of the Firth of Thames to Miranda, which is a shorebird sanctuary. Along the route you will see mangroves at almost their southern limit and nice salt marsh and salt marsh ribbonwood (Plagianthus divaricatus). At Thames you can go up the Kauaeranga Valley just behind town, which is an old kauri logging area and has a DoC visitor centre towards the end of the road. Near the visitors' centre is a cute wee scaled-down model of a kauri dam, about 4m high. These dams were used extensively in logging kauri, to float trunks down stream courses to the ocean for gathering and milling. Further up the road behind the visitors' centre are many tracks, some of which are quite dangerous, others of which are very popular and therefore quite crowded. I recommend the Tarawaere Dam track, which is about 2 hours each way. You have a quiet and gentle wander through the bush (which has been logged, of course) admiring really interesting species like the climbing fern Lygodium articulatum, before following up a creek for about a kilometre to the remnant of an old kauri dam (full scale).

To see big kauri in this area, drive from Thames north to Tapu and take the Coroglen road for about 8km to the Square kauri, about 5 minutes' walk from the road. This large tree was spared by loggers and is really quite impressive. To see a kauri grove comfortably you need to drive to Coromandel (an hour from Thames) and take the 309 Road to Whitianga. About 10km along that road is a charming little kauri scenic reserve called The Kauri Grove, with a 30 minute walk round some fine trees. If you've less time to drive but are prepared to do some leg work, drive a kilometre north of Thames to Tararu, turn inland, drive to the end of the road, and walk for about half an hour up an old logging track to a ridge where there are very fine kauri. This is not a regular tourist track, so be careful.

Spirit Bay's spinifex dunes, Northland
Take labour if you want to do 90 Mile Beach.
Question: What if I've got oodles of time and I want to head to the far north?

It's going to take you oodles of time. It is a full day's drive to get from Auckland to North Cape. This involves driving, interspersed with interludes of crawling. You will not be able to get the serpentine area at Surville cliffs (so cross it off your list!), but you can drive to Cape Reinga. There is duneland vegetation near the Cape, and also at Spirits Bay. Accommodation is available at Waitaki Landing (where there is a nearby DoC office but not really a visitors' centre) and also at Houhora half way up the peninsula. Kaitaia, at the base of the spit, is the main service town for the area and has plenty of accommodation. If you're driving a rental car you won't be allowed to travel along 90 Mile Beach (which is about 60km long). Many tourist companies based in Kaitaia, or even Whangarei further south, run day trips up to Cape Reinga, going up or down the beach depending on the tide. If you're driving, however, you'll probably get more fun out of driving yourself and skipping 90 Mile Beach. West of Kaitaia, behind Ahipara, are winding gravel roads that go into vast areas of remnant gumland. Don't try this in the rain! East of Kaitaia at Lake Ohia is a road that goes up the Karikari peninsula. Along this road are gumhole sites where Dalmatians and Maori alike dug for kauri gum.

See the info in Where can I see kauri forest? above for other places to visit. The Bay of Islands and Whangarei are also crawling with touristy activities such as cruises, historical sites, etc., along with many Maori links and little patches of bush, as well as having plenty of accommodation.

Question: Oh bother, I'm stuck in Auckland. What should I do?

The obvious thing to do with a day in Auckland is to leave it. Get down to the centre of town and take the Fullers Ferry to Rangitoto Island. The ferry will drop you on the island for about 5 hours, which will give you time to wander up to the summit of this 800 year old cindercone which is being progressively invaded by pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) forest. If you don't want to walk, take the road tractor-train up to the top and walk down. Take a torch so you can go down the lava tube, which is rather fun. If all this seems a bit energetic, wander along the coastal track to Motutapu Island, which is joined to Rangitoto by a very short causeway. Motutapu is largely farmed but there are small remnants of bush. More interesting is the actual coastal walk to Motutapu. Watch out for Ephedra on the coastal rocks. Note that Rangitoto has minimal facilities, so take lunch and don't miss the boat home.

Although largely neglected by Aucklanders, there are actually quite a lot of bush remnants around the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours. They're a bit hard to target without a car, but you could always inquire about buses or take a taxi. The ferry across to Devonport is fun, though not botanically interesting. From the centre of town you can walk towards Parnell (a cafe circuit, but getting rough at night, I gather) across the botanic gardens and past the Auckland Museum, where the herbarium is housed. It sounds corny, but the Sky Tower actually has wonderful views over this largely volcanic landscape. One Tree Hill, which is an old cone, is worth a visit just to see the crater which is now grassed. If you're feeling really adventurous in Auckland and have a bit of time and a vehicle, then I can recommend Whatipu at the northern Manukau Heads, though it's an hour's drive. It was the subject of a recent and interesting paper by Pegman and Rapson. Further north, crossing the Waitakere Ranges is the famous surfing beach of Piha, an attractive spot with some remnant coastal forest and very dangerous swimming. There are many tracks through the Waitakere Ranges, but they're not as easy going as they look, so take care.

Question: What can I do if I'm visiting Great Barrier Island?

Lucky you - a lovely spot, very laid back, and on manyana time. Suggestions for visiting: Go everywhere. You can hire a car on the island - usually these are beat up and pretty cheap, but very handy, as the island is bigger than it looks, and roads are mostly slow. You can also easily arrange pickups, etc., for the summit track at either end.

Kauri remnants in Windy Canyon, Great Barrier IslandIf you've plenty of time, I suggest a visit to the North End track - you can get up onto the ridge there, and work your way along peaceably for a morning, before turning round. It is a major expedition to get to the far end of the track, and I gather it is rougher further along, so don't even think it!. And of course, you have to do Windy Canyon, a 10 minute walk from the road pass, towards Mt Hirikimata (Hobson), and nearby (30 minutes) heathland. You could spend hours round Windy Canyon, but don't go off the track!

Then for a longish day, go over Mt Hirikimata through Windy Canyon (no stopping today), and on to the summit,  past the kauri forest and kauri dam, and then down to Kaiarara Bay, and walk on round to Fitzroy. Further than it looks, but only half as much uphill from the Windy Canyon side. If reluctant to work so hard, do the summit forest from the Windy Canyon side, two hours one way, returning the same way on a day trip, and on another day, go up from Kaiarara Bay as far as the kauri dam - then you will have seen all the vegetation types! Potter round Kaiarara Bay amongst saltmarsh and mangroves. A visit to the rock outcrop above Port Fitzroy is also a pleasant lazy half hour trip. Then there is the waterfall track opposite the DoC office in Fitzroy Bay (round the corner from the harbour) - allow 1-2 hours for botanists! I would also recommend the track into the hot pools across Kaitoke Swamp - I gather there is a board walk now, as it used to have a very muddy stretch! A lovely fossick, for half a day or so. All the beaches are great for a fossick too, along the margins, etc. There are a few other tracks, etc. for the odd hour or two!

By that time you will be needing a holiday! Accommodation: the several backpackers are very good for the money, as is the cottage and lodge at Fitzroy (though rather dearer), and the Great Barrier Lodge looks nice too. Busy in summer, so you do need to book!

Question: I'm heading south to Palmerston North but want an overnight stop on the way.

Champagne pool, RotoruaYou've got two obvious choices. One is Rotorua, which is a thermal area so impressive that tourism hasn't damaged its appeal. There are swags of accommodation (but please make sure your bedroom's well ventilated!). Mudpools and steam vents abound in the town, adding to its distinctive smell. The Rotorua Municipal Motorcamp has hotpools and its own mudpool, amongst overnight cabins, all available at very modest charge. Mudpools can kill, though - do not try to walk on one! Whakarewarewa is the dominant thermal field here and is well worth a visit. The Pohutu Geyser erupts here, usually every hour, reaching heights of up to 30m. Stick to the tracks, admiring the cooked vegetation - thermal areas are dangerous if you don't watch your feet. The kiwi nocturnal house is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Slightly north of Rotorua, along the lake, is the Forest Research Institute which has a fine arboretum including some huge redwoods, and a visit to Te Wairoa on the edge of Lake Tarawera is fascinating. This Maori village was covered in ash during the Tarawera eruption in 1886 that destroyed the Pink and White Terraces, which were large layered calcium carbonate deposits.

The second overnight accommodation spot is Taupo, on the shores of New Zealand's largest lake. Taupo has large numbers of motels and hotels. Just north of Taupo at Waimangu is a DoC operated thermal area where entrance is by donation. This thermal area sprang up when they started taking steam for power generation at Waireki, but is still quite spectacular and affords an easy look at the impoverished and beaten down/struggling thermal flora. There are other thermal areas in the vicinity, Orakei-Korako and Waiotapu, the latter towards Rotorua. Waiotapu has charming mudpools, but again they are dangerous, particularly if you fall into them. That mud is never as firm as it looks. Head south of Taupo along the shores of the lake, and you will approach Tongariro National Park. See below for details.

Question: I'm heading towards Tongariro National Park; what should I do when I get there?

The first thing you need is a good sleep after that long drive. There is accommodation nearby at Turangi and also some at National Park, which is a township towards the west of the Tongariro National Park, and also there is a limited choice of accommodation at Whakapapa itself inside the Park at Chateau Tongariro and Skotel, though the motorcamp offers cheap lodges and cabins.

One of the nicest short walks in the Park is north of the main part of the Park, towards Lake Taupo, at Lake Rotopounamu. Take the back road from Turangi to Whakapapa. There is a walk of about an hour around this little lake through lovely red beech (Nothfagus fusca) forest after a short climb from the road. At the track junction on the saddle, a careful botanist may spot Botrichium and Ophioglossum, but may not touch!

Taranaki Falls, Tongariro National ParkThe Tongariro Crossing is one of the famous alpine walks in New Zealand. This is a premier volcanic landscape and well worth visiting, but can only be undertaken if the weather permits and you need to be prepared to turn back if the weather packs in. Fitness is needed as it is a 17 km walk with an 800m ascent and a 1200m descent. You need to arrange transport for both ends of the walk, starting at the Mangatepopo Road End. From there you walk along an attractive grassy valley before climbing steeply onto Mt Tongariro, walking around various crater rims (largely a botanical desert). A dash up Mt Ngauruhoe, a 1975 cinder cone (2287m) may be undertaken. Past the Blue Lakes the track continues to Ketatahi Hut with tussock and heathland (sadly the hotpools are on private land and are now closed!), before making a gradual descent down to the Ketatahi Road end. It is not to be taken lightly and has killed inexperienced and poorly prepared walkers.

At Whakapapa itself there is a pleasant 10 minute track to the Tawhai Falls. A 4 hour loop from past the Chateau and Skotel goes to the Taranaki Falls through tussock-heathland (if you take the upper track first from the road end, as I recommend) dropping down a lava bluff (take care) to the Falls for a quick dip if you fancy. Then walk back through mountain beech (Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides) forest to near the Skotel.

Another great track from the village is the Silica Rapids mire, about 2 hours. Thumb a ride up the Bruce Road to the start of the track, about 2km uphill of the village, and follow along the track through subalpine herbfield and shrubland, past the corner with the Springs, and down through beech forest, which returns you to the village. A longer track is further up the road; getting out of your transport (it's sure to be safe to hitchhike here, but there won't be many vehicles with room for you) you'll find yourself in a gravel wilderness. Head across the gravel fields and plunge over the ridge down towards the Whakapapaiti Hut. You might like to inspect this - it's pretty typical back-country accommodation for trampers, with communal bunkrooms, a sink, some cooking facilities or cooking space, and a long drop out the back. Travel on down past the hut through damp alpine herbfield and then into beech forest, contouring through the forest, passing the Silica Rapids track, and on to the village. Downhill of the village is the Whakapapanui track, which takes you through an area of collapsed beech forest (Nothofagus solandri shows gap regeneration dynamics). The golf course at the village features some quite interesting turf weeds. If you get up towards Iwikau ski village, you will find some interesting fellfield patches along with white woolly moss Racomitrium pruinosum on stable slopes.

The Turoa area, on the western side of Ruapehu, exhibits an excellent altitudinal vegetation sequence as this side of the mountain escaped most of the damage of the Taupo eruption (c. AD186). Access is via a skifield road.

Question: What if I really want to go to Mt Egmont National Park?

Good choice! Head south from Auckland to Te Kuiti (passing Waitomo Caves on the way) and take the coast road towards New Plymouth. You will reach the coast near Mokau. Drive south from there to the Tongaporutu River. Drive towards the river mouth - on the hill above you is a remarkably accessible little patch of coastal broadleaf forest which includes some Marratia salicina quite close to the road. Further south again, you will cross the saddle of Mt Messenger. There's parking on the saddle, and about 50m north of the saddle is the start of the Mt Messenger White Cliffs Walkway. (It's a bit hard to spot.) It's a major effort to get to the beach from here, so instead spend an hour or two walking along the track, first uphill and then along part of the ridgeline. Be careful though, it's steep on either side. Driving south again, you will reach Urunui, just before which is the Sir Peter Buck memorial and reserve just off to your left on the hillslope. Behind it is an old pa site with much karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus), but an interesting range of native species.

There's plenty of accommodation at New Plymouth, and it's warmer and sunnier than on the mountain. Just behind New Plymouth on the outskirts of the town is a tiny reserve called Ratapihipihi, off Cowling Road, which has a ten minute loop track through it. This can take botanists ages and bryologists hours! Right on the foreshore are rocks which are old volcanic plugs, representing the oldest volcanic site on the Egmont chain, at about 2 million years. You can climb up Paritutu, the tallest, itself; it used to be a challenge but I gather they've "improved" the track. The view is interesting but the botany is not.

Heading along the coastal roads towards Oakura you will find Lucy's Gully at the base of the Kaitake Range, which has warm coastal podocarp-broadleaved forest containing kohekohe (Dysoxylum spectabile). You need to head a bit up the track for this and if you're adventurous you can even get onto the tops of the Kaitake Range. Between the Kaitake Range and the Pouakai Range is the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust garden, at its best in November, which has a small bush walk.

North Egmont Visitor's CentreMain access to the National Park is through the North Egmont road end up from Egmont village. There is a visitors' centre here and a number of both short and long tracks, some of which reach up into the subalpine vegetation. Summit attempts on Mt Taranaki, the centre of the Park, can be made from here up a route called the Razorback and then up the Lizard. This is a well-worn route undertaken by many walkers, so follow in their footsteps. However, the gravels make climbing up difficult (though going down is fun; scree-running is a kiwi hobby). Additionally this trip is very weather-dependent. The mountain is at its best most days by about 10am and after that it often clouds over. Summit attempts should set off at the crack of dawn, weather permitting. Egmont has the highest kill rate of any National Park in New Zealand because it looks so accessible but isn't, and the weather changes so fast. It will probably take you 3-5 hours to reach the summit from the road end, depending on fitness. A pleasant walk is just to go up the Razorback from the visitors' centre into the subalpine vegetation. If you fancy something less strenuous, take the transmitter road behind the camphouse for half a kilometre through regenerating kaikawaka (Libocedrus bidwillii).

The lowlands of the park are rimu-rata/kamahi forest (Dacrydium cupressinum-Metrosideros robusta/Weinmannia racemosa), changing abruptly into kamahi-mountain totara forest (Weinmannia racemosa-Podocarpus hallii). Note: the area is a "beech gap", meaning that Nothofagus species are missing. Above the forest is a belt of leatherwood (Brachyglottis eleagnifolia) scrub with red tussock (Chionochloa rubra) in herbfield before the gravel fields around the summit.

There are two other entrance routes to the mountain. That through Stratford has vehicle access to the subalpine at the Plateau carpark. The Manganui Lodge is on the skifield above the Plateau carpark. If you're feeling energetic and arrange transport for the other end, from the Manganui Lodge (1200m above sea level) you can go for a 6 hour walk (approx. 12km) around the fairly level Round the Mountain Track to Tahurangi Lodge and on to Holly Hut on Mt Taranaki. From there you can cross the Ahukawakawa Swamp and climb steeply 250m up to the Pouakai Range before dropping 700m on a 4km long slow descent down the northern flank of Pouakai Range.

Just 2km into the Park is a small picnic area with a walk into Potaema Swamp, which is most attractive and offers considerable botanic diversity. There is accommodation half way up the road at Stratford Mountain House. There are also charming walks through the goblin forest around the House. The third entrance to the Park is called Dawson Falls, where there is a luxury lodge. Again there are many short walks through this area, and it provides good access to Fantham's Peak, a satellite cone of Mt Taranaki. The Falls themselves are just a few minutes off the road. Note that moving from one road end to another by vehicle is quite a long, drawn-out process because of the radial drainage of this near-perfect volcanic cone. Sometimes it seems quicker to walk!

Question: What if I've done the touristy things and I'd like to go east?

You can travel from Auckland south to Hamilton or Thames and then onto Tauranga, which is quite an entertaining area in itself. Tauranga has plenty of accommodation again, and Mt Maunganui, an old volcanic cone, is now a park, although vegetation there is extremely disturbed. Heading east from Tauranga takes you to Whakatane, a retirement centre. From here you can take an excursion to White Island, an active volcanic island where regenerating pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) forest was killed by poisonous gases about 5 years ago. The vegetation is a bit sparse, but the thermal experience is fascinating. Obey the instructions of your guides at all times.

Proceeding around East Cape from Whakatane takes you into rather inaccessible country, much of it in private ownership. The drive, however, is interesting, and it's fun to reach East Cape, though accommodation in the whole of the Cape is rather limited. There is some at Hicks Bay and again at Tokomaru Bay if needed. Native vegetation is hard to find, though.

Kaipo Lagoon, WaikareitiA better strategy if you are a bit short on time is to take the inland crossroad from Whatakane to Gisborne. This allows you access to Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera National Park, which has good facilities for tourists, though there is little choice of accommodation. There is a round-the-lake track which takes about four days, which is probably a bit long. Instead I recommend a leisured walk up to nearby Lake Waikareiti, about 1.5 - 2 hours on a cruisey track. This smaller lake was created by a landslide 18,000 years ago. From there you can take a row boat across the lake (get a key and bailer from the DoC office at Lake Waikaremoana first). There is a tramping hut (shelter, no heat) across the lake at Sandy Bay, but staying overnight is risky as weather can change, and prevent you rowing back. Alternately from the shelter you can walk round the lake to Sandy Bay in 3 - 4 hours, through glorious beech forest, and a ground carpet of Dicksonia lanata, the prostrate tree fern. From Sandy Bay, a charming walk is the 3 - 4 hour trip to Kaipo Swamp, a sloping fen past other wetlands in versions stages of infilling. This track is well tagged but somewhat overgrown in places. Remember, this is rainforest - it really, really rains.

From Waikaremoana it is better to drive to Palmerston North over the Wairoa road, rather than taking the back road (which is very rough) to Rotorua. You can take the Napier-Taupo road towards Napier (Dracophyllum subulatum frost flats) or the Napier-Taihape road (remote tussock grassland) on your way south to Palmerston North. Napier is a good overnight base on the way if wished. If you're pushed for time to get to Palmerston North from Napier, don't take either of the above routes but instead go south down the Wairarapa through Dannevirke and Woodville and through the Manawatu Gorge (observe the windmills!) to Palmerston North.

Question: I'm Palmerston North; what shall I do?

Castlepoint, looking out towards the LighthouseSee What to do in Palmerston North. An additional trip which is rather fun but not particularly stunning botanically is the 2.5 hour drive to Castlepoint on the east Wairarapa coast. Go via Masterton - the other roads only look shorter. Castlepoint is a limestone outcrop which embraces attractive bays suitable for swimming. The area attracts many fishermen and has an active fishing fleet which is hauled out onto tractor trailers when off duty. You can walk up to the lighthouse and on to the "moon viewing platform". If you're active and the tide is low, you can walk along the bottom of the lighthouse bluff to the cave that goes right through underneath the rock (you might like to take a torch). Don't try this if the sea is rough or the tide is high. You can also climb towards Castle Rock, up the gentle track through the pine trees and around the ridge line. The last bits on Castle Rock itself are a little frightening, so be careful. Remember there is a steep drop on the far side (so don't try this in a high wind!). The views, however, are charming. Keep an eye out for Brachyglottis compacta, a tree daisy found only at this site, populations of which Jill has been monitoring for the last decade or two.

Question: What shall I do while in Wellington?

If you're staying in Wellington for a few days, either deliberately or because the ferries aren't sailing, then I suggest you do one or all of following.

Te Papa Tongarewa, in the heart of Wellington, is New Zealand's national museum with both local and international displays. It also houses WELT, though you need to arrange access to the herbarium in advance. Karori Wildlife Sanctuary has regenerating lowland forest and a few birds. The sanctuary is enclosed in a predator proof fence to keep out possums, rats, stoats, cats, and hedgehogs. Otari Native Plant gardens and the attached Wilton's Bush will happily occupy a day. Colenso's plant collection at Otari is really first rate if you want to meet strange New Zealand species.

For the more active there are lots of walks in the hills behind Wellington, the southern end of the Tararua Ranges and the Rimutaka Range, but be careful as this is very dangerous country. For very pleasant walks quite close to Wellington drive through Lower Hutt to Wainuiomata and head down the valley to the Rimutaka Forest Headquarters. The Orongorongo Track, near the Catchpool walk, will take you across to the Orongorongo River, the site of the famous DSIR long term field study. If you want to look round that study site, be careful crossing the river. Don't try to cross New Zealand braided rivers that are more than knee high without training, instruction, and someone to hold onto. Ask at the Catchpool visitors' centre before tackling the track and river. The forest is beech with podocarp-broadleaf on the flats including rata (Metrosideros robusta). Some of the higher, drier sites are in kanuka (Kunzea ericoides), with occasional Drosera peltata and miscellaneous orchids.

If you don't fancy that walk, continue driving down towards the coast and go to the end of the road, and then onto a farm track (by foot!) which will take you towards Cape Turakirae. Here there is a sequence of 9,000 years of earthquake-raised beaches (this whole block is progressively tilting west - good news for Wellington). The vegetation is quite disturbed, but there are all sorts of salt marsh and coastal species marooned in strange spots between gravel and old gravel beaches. There are also frequently seals during the spring haul-out season. They look like rocks but have a nasty bite, so be careful not to tread on them.

There are lots of interesting coastal areas around Wellington and the Wellington Botanical Society will give you all sorts of ideas should you approach them. For a longer and rather different jaunt from Wellington head through Upper Hutt and across the Rimutaka Range by road to Featherston and then south on the eastern side of Lake Wairarapa to Lake Ferry, before proceeding along the coast to Cape Palliser. You can stop at the Putangirua Pinnacles for a look at pedestal protected erosion of riverine deposits with miscellaneous scattered native scrub, and then proceed on towards Cape Palliser where there are walks along the coast past the lighthouse. Keep an eye out for Chionochloa beddei.

Question: How do I cross Cook Strait?

If you've got time, take the ferry from Wellington to Picton. If you haven't, Jill's advice is fly, maybe to Christchurch, and use that as your base. See further advice below.


Question: What can I do in Nelson and Marlborough?

Gosh, well, there's so much to do here it's hard to know where to start. There are three national parks and a forest park worthy of your attention, with glorious beaches left, right, and centre, lots of artsy folk around Tasman and Golden Bays, and plenty of other tourism facilities.

Nelson is a charming little town, well geared as a base, and offers many types of accommodation and information sources for your local explorations. Short trips from Nelson which are fun for botanists include the Flora Saddle in Kahurangi National Park, and the track up to Mt Arthur. It's about an hour's drive from Nelson, going through Pokororo with the last bit of the road being pretty steep. There's a spacious carpark at the top which is very popular with local thieves. There are excellent tracks including the one to the Mt Arthur Hut. Vegetation delights include Dr Suess trees, Dracophyllum traversii, and shrubalpine shrubland on this marble massif. Heading north from Nelson past Ruby Bay you will probably miss the entrance to the Moutere Bluff Park - it's below you just as you swing left and uphill. There is good coastal scrub/forest here, well worth a visit. Further north and through Motueka you can access the Abel Tasman National Park; see the web on the subject. The coastal track will be very busy in summer but the inland track will probably be completely deserted. North of Motueka the road climbs steeply over the Takaka Hill which accesses Golden Bay. At the summit is a reserve with kowhai (Sophora microphylla) in it.

Looking towards the head of the Cobb Reservoir From upper Takaka is a delightful drive up to the Cobb Reservoir in Kahurangi National Park. The road is narrow in spots, so watch out for hoons. There are lovely walks in every direction from here; before you reach the lake you can take a leisured contoured walk through red beech (Nothofagus fusca) forest along the old road to Asbestos Mine and Asbestos Cottage, where the Chaffeys lived for about 30 years. From the foot of the lake is a track up to Lake Sylvester where there is patchy alpine herbfield. From the head of the Cobb, a steep climb through beech forest will take you up to Lake Peel. Above the lake is Mt Peel which hosts vegetable sheep in abundance - it's easier to climb up the ridge on the far side of the lake. If you fancy a longer walk from the head of the Cobb reservoir, go past Trilobite Hut and Chaffey Hut to Fenella Hut. It's a pleasant 4 hour walk. A great day walk from Fenella Hut is Kakapo Peak, which has occasional views of Mt Taranaki in the North Island.

In Golden Bay there's plenty of accommodation at Takaka and further north. You might want to book an excursion along the dunes of Farewell Spit from Puponga, where there are other walks. Sadly most of the Spit (a bird sanctuary) has restricted access and you won't be able to see much of its vegetation except for the first 2 km at the base of the Spit, which is not the best bit.

Heading south-west from Nelson takes you to the Nelson Lakes National Park. There are masses of lovely walks through mainly black beech (Nothofagus solandri var. solandri) forest and various routes through which you can access the alpine area. Consult the DoC information centre at St Arnaud township, where there's also plenty of accommodation.

Question: Should I head west or east from Nelson?

Lake Ida area, Canterbury (PR van Essen)You can't lose whatever you do. East is nice, however the native dryland vegetation of south Marlborough and northern Canterbury is a little hard of access, but there are plenty of touristy things to do at Kaikoura including whale watching. A climb up Mt Fyffe along a mix of transmitter mast roads and tracks is suitable for the fit and well-prepared. Other tramps in the area are pretty arduous as water must be carried! Further south still, near Cheviot, is Hanmer Springs and the Lewis Pass, which offers a fascinating gradient from the drylands of the east coast to the rainforest of the West Coast, tracking along the braided rivers. Walks abound left, right, and centre.

If proceeding further south to Christchurch, which is a good base to use, you will notice that native vegetation is very scattered. However, Christchurch offers some interesting wetland and estuarine patches which are receiving intensive management and there are many interesting drives around Banks Peninsula, e.g. over to Diamond Harbour. If you have time to go as far as Akaroa, you can pass Kaitorete Spit which has interesting coastal vegetation patches, though they're not necessarily easy to find, and over at Akaroa itself (a early French settlement still maintaining much character thereof) is Hinewai Reserve, owned by a Trust and managed by botanist Hugh Wilson, a well-known botanical author (see here for an article on the reserve).

Question: Now I want to see rainforest, but where do I go?

Lake Matheson's early morning reflections of Mt CookYou head west from Nelson towards Inangahua and Westport, past many potential walks. From Westport you can head north into the Karamea area, which still retains the feel of the West Coast of 20 to 40 years ago. From Karamea you can explore the bottom few kilometres of the Heaphy Track through coastal forest featuring nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida, the world's southernmost palm). South of Westport is the West Coast highway, which extends as far as Haast. Most people make this road a feature of their South Island excursion, as it passes Paparoa National Park, Westland National Park, and Mt Cook National Park as it heads towards Mt Aspiring National Park. There are visitors' centres in most towns where you can get useful advice on tracks that might take you to vegetation of interest to you. You pass masses of little patches of bush and occasional pakihi (low nutrient rush fens), which you can explore. Further south the native vegetation becomes better and more extensive, and frequently wetter with many lagoons and river flats. The tourist things to do are to stop at Punakaiki Rocks south of Westport, and, further on, at Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers. If you're short on time you can nip down towards the glaciers and then return towards Greymouth and head over the Arthur's Pass to Christchurch. Plan on spending a day on walks around the Arthur's Pass village in the subalpine-alpine vegetation. If you have more time it is well worth going further south where there are many stops (Ship/Cole Creek is especially worth a visit - dunes and wetlands), and over the Haast Pass towards Wanaka.

Question: What about the Queenstown area?

Queenstown is a truly beautiful area which is so wild and exciting topographically that not even a really trendy, glitzy, upmarket tourist town manages to wreck it (if you look the other way). There are masses of things to do of the touristy variety: Shotover River jets, bungy-jumping, taking the Skyline Gondola up to Bob's Peak, visiting Arrowtown with its old buildings in autumn colours, cruising on the lake in the steam ship Earnslaw, looking at backcountry sheepstations, riding the Kingston Flyer steamtrain. Naturally there's a lot of vegetation too if you know where to find it, but almost any road, particularly those going uphill will take you to interesting patches. The best advice is probably to consult the DoC office in town or the tourist information office. Accommodation is pricey and driving can be difficult on many of the non-main roads, but there are thousand of different tours you can take instead. Queenstown gives access to the Rees, Dart, Greenstone, and Caples tracks up at the head of Lake Wakatipu, but these are rather long tracks and involve river crossings. Don't plan on doing these as day trips.

Question: Is the Te Anau-Manapouri area as great as it sounds?

Hunter Valley, FiordlandThe answer is yes, again no thanks to the density of tourists. Te Anau is a great base for cruising the lake, starting on the Milford Track, taking a day trip over to Milford Sound, walking the Hollyford or Routeburn tracks, or accessing the other end of the Caples and Greenstone tracks. Key Summit on the road to Milford Sound is a great day trip up into the alpine zone in good weather. Note that dozens, if not hundreds, of buses head from Te Anau to Milford Sound every morning and come back every afternoon; this can make sharing the road with them an intimidating experience. My advice is join in by sitting in one of the buses, rather than trying to cope on this often narrow road. If you do decide to drive to Key Summit, be very careful and preferably go after the bulk of the buses have left or well before 8am.

There is plenty of accommodation at Te Anau and a little at the nearby settlement at Manapouri which we'll be passing through on the Southern Excursion on the way to Doubtful Sound. If you want to see some of that area from the comfort of your vehicle, then my advice is travel south (from Manapouri if you wish) towards Lake Monowai where there is some backpacker accommodation at the nearby Borland Lodge, besides a well-known peat dome. You can drive along the road above the lodge and into the Hunter Mountains at least as far as the tracks into Island Lake, where you can access the first of the lakes, really alpine tarns, about half an hour from the road. You may be able to drive further along the Grebe River which is spectacular but extremely remote, so do be careful. However it might be a good idea to check first, perhaps at the lodge, if there are any locked gates along the road. This route was constructed to access the Deep Cove power scheme and is no longer fully maintained.

Question: What can I do in Dunedin?

Dunedin is a very old city with an active university right in the middle of the town, which has a great affection for (and tolerance of) students. It's a good base to use for visiting Otago Peninsula which has yellow-eyed penguins and albatross colonies readily available to tourists, and many other interesting areas of vegetation which can be identified by inspecting the publications of Alan F. Mark and J. Bastow Wilson. From Dunedin you can also head inland into Central Otago and inspect the dryland vegetation around Alexandra and Cromwell.

Question: What do I do when I get to Christchurch?

Christchurch is a biggish city so there is a good airport which does have international flights; therefore it's quite a useful base. See Should I head west or east from Nelson? regarding the east coast. You can also head inland from Christchurch into the drylands of mid Canterbury. Travelling up either side of the Rakaia River above the Rakaia Gorge gives you a feeling for station country New Zealand. The landscapes are tussock covered, particularly on the steeper country. The hills are typical eroding Canterbury gravel peaks often covered in snow even as late as Christmas, and the general feeling is of huge open expanses, masses of fresh air, and almost complete solitude. Lake Coleridge, a hydro-settlement, gives only the veneer of civilisation, having no amenities. You can drive from there to the end of the road and look across at Mt Algidus (see Mona Anderson's A River Rules my Life, etc), one of the back country stations which still has no vehicle access today. There is some accommodation on the northern shores of Lake Coleridge at Ryton Peak. Further south at Mt Somers you can swing west up the Ashburton River heading in towards Lakes Clearwater and Heron. Up towards Erewhon is some of the landscape that was used in filming Lord of the Rings. There's not a lot of accommodation around here, so just plan on a day trip, though there is camping along all these fishing lakes. Don't bug the station owners; they really are tired of movie lovers. This is remote country, with few other vehicles on the road, so go prepared.

Question: What about Southland?

Chocolate Bog, SouthlandThere are masses to see and do, but it's probably a good idea to consult locals about your particular interests. There are plenty of peat domes and swamps, but mostly not of easy access. The Catlins Forest Park is about an hour's drive away from Invercargill and offers many interesting patches of vegetation and scenery. You can also use this area as a gateway to Stewart Island. At low tide a fossil forest is visible at Curio Bay.

Question: What should I do on Stewart Island?

See I want to see kiwis in the wild, but where do I go?. Stewart Island lacks beech (Nothfagus sp.) but has a lot of rata-rimu (Metrosideros umbellata-Dacrydium cupressinum) forest. The northern circuit is a very strenuous tramp and not to be undertaken by the inexperienced. Remember it rains on Stewart Island two days out of three. It's very possible to get around Stewart Island using water taxis and small planes which land on the beaches in the right tides, and the dune vegetation is particularly attractive.

Question: How do I walk the Milford Track?

One step at a time! The Milford Track is a very popular walk and because of this it is one of the few tracks in New Zealand that you have to book on because places are limited in the huts. Long before summer arrives the track is fully booked, so if you want to walk the Milford, book well ahead. You can do so by going to the Department of Conservation website. Everyone starts from the Te Anau end. In great weather the track is absolutely mindblowing as it winds through narrow glacier valleys. Let the crowd head off before you and you'll be able to wander along in quiet comfort and enjoy the scenery, the birdlife, and the (frigid) swimming holes. The Sutherland Falls are cute, though rather damp. There is rumoured to be a route to the lake above the falls, but I bet it's hellish. The pass is a bit of a climb, but there's a shelter on the top. If it's raining the valleys resemble one enormous waterfall several kilometres long. Come prepared for the damp. You can either "freedom walk", which means using DoC huts (going only as far as your next hut each day!) and carrying all your own gear, or you can go on a paid trip (food and showers provided; see Ultimate Hikes website) where your gear is ferried for you by helicopter and all you have to carry is your lunch and your clothes. This costs. The last day is long because you have to get out in time to catch the boat, so go prepared. Being a track used by many non-trampers, you'll encounter some strange behaviours, so go prepared to take it easy. Most people who freedom walk break their hearts to be first at the hut to get the best bunk. Why bother doing this? Take your time and enjoy the walk. There'll always be a bunk for you, even if it's at the top of the stack! You'll need to take a bus or plane out from Milford Sound to Te Anau.

Cruising Milford SoundQuestion: Where do I go if I really want to see some wild wet areas?

You want to go to Fiordland. It rains a lot there. High altitudes are quite capable of getting 12m a year; therefore they're not always popular with trampers. Suitable bases for your explorations would be Te Anau or Manapouri. From these areas you can access the Milford Track (though actually it will be booked out months in advance) and dozens of other premiere tramps such as the Hollyford Track and the Routeburn Track. But there are also other tracks which are much less popular with tourists, are more remote, and therefore much quieter. However, these are not recommended unless you're a very experienced tramper, as the weather conditions and the rivers can be very tricky, and tracks are not always straight forward or particularly well worn. Also, such areas should never be tramped by people on their own - you need a party of 3-4 people for safety and make sure you take an emergency locator beacon which you can hire in outdoors shops. Log your plans with the local DoC office, and sign your name in every hut book you pass so you can be found faster if you go missing.

Question: I want a really remote experience somewhere unusual.

You really can't do better than target the Antarctic or subantarctic islands which are very accessible (!) from NZ. There are several firms which offer trips to these and similar areas. Heritage Expeditions has an established programme of cruises down south; check out their website on These expeditions are not cheap but are well worth the money, especially since there's no other mechanism for getting to some of these places.