If I was Bill Bryson I'd come to New Zealand and write a book about my travels. As my own favourite past-time is planning itineraries around NZ, I am happy to say to Bill, "Here is the route, Bill - now you find and write the story".
I'd give him three parameters:
(a) No more than 20 days on each main Island
(b) No more than 300 kms traveling on State Highway 1 (SH1), excluding the urban areas
(c) No more than half that amount, 150 kms, traveling twice on the same road
Fasten your seatbelt.
Let's save the best until last and start with the North Island :)
[Click on the map to enlarge it. Numbers in brackets add up to 20 days].
After arriving in Auckland on an early morning flight we head for SH16 and the road to Helensville, stopping for a real fruit ice cream in Kumeu and visiting Minniesdale Chapel (overlooking the Kaipara harbour) en route to Wellsford. Then, sadly, 28kms on SH1. At Maungaturoto its west on SH12, dipping our toes in the Kai-iwi Lakes and 'hugging' Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Kauri Forest. A night in Opononi or Rawene, waking up to views of the Hokianga Harbour. (1 - "are we there yet?" nope).
Over on the car ferry, we find our way to Mangamuka and, sadly, a further 38kms on SH1 before arriving in Kaitaia. We leave the car in Kaitaia and catch a bus to Cape Reinga, traveling both ways (!) on Ninety Mile Beach because we do not have enough SH1-kms to waste here - and 'cos it sounds like fun (2). Then a leisurely drive down SH10, stopping to enjoy the beach-perfection of Matai Bay, fish-n-chipping in Mangonui, detouring to any one of dozens of bays 'n beaches, pilgrimaging off to Marsden Cross at Kapiro Rd, before ending up in Paihia for a couple of nights so as to enjoy the history of the place, everything from missionaries to Maori (3, 4).
Another car ferry - this time to Russell and then the back roads through Parekura Bay, Whangaruru, and Helena Bay before heading, rather sadly, for 5km on SH1. A little loop out to Tutukaka brings us into Whangarei the back way. An unavoidable return to SH1 awaits us, sadly, for the 38km to Waipu. Great pizza place. Then its off to the coast again, making our way back to Wellsford, via Mangawhai and on to Waiwera for a long soak in the hot pools after, sadly, another 46kms on SH1 (5).
Drive south through Auckland, exiting at Papakura for the drive through Clevedon and Miranda and across to SH25, encircling the Coromandel Peninsula. It is up the near coast and across to Whitianga, walking down to Cathedral Cove, and gradually arriving at Whangamata for the night (6). The Bay of Plenty coastline holds us all the way through Waihi to Tauranga and onto Mt Maunganui. A walk around its base gives the semblance of exercise before continuing on SH2 to Edgecumbe and the beautiful drive through the lakes into Rotorua. Okataina is my favourite. Hell's Gate is another world that requires a visit. Then into Rotorua for 2 nights (7, 8). Agrodome, Rainbow Springs, Whakarewarewa, and Buried Village would be my four for Bill, probably meaning a late start the next day.
Ah, driving south from Rotorua into Waikaremoana is a highlight and staying the night in a Fisherman's Cabin with a lakeside view is even better. The walk up to Lake Waikareiti is a must (9). Then it is down through Wairoa and onto Napier. A quick climb up Te Mata Peak (in the car!) and then it is off to Woodville on SH2. Time for a close-up view of Palmerston North's main tourist attraction - the windfarm on them windy hills (!) - before driving onto my latest discovery, taking a left at Masterton for a night on the coast at Castlepoint with its lighthouse and lagoon(10). Oh - we are half way, Bill, why not take an extra day in a remote area to relax? (11)
Over the Rimutakas we go, via the charming trinity of Carterton, Greytown, and Featherston, and down SH2 into the Hutt Valley and find a place to stay (12). Leave the car at home and take the train into Wellington, enjoying Te Papa Museum, the cafes, Oriental Bay, maybe some cricket at the Basin Reserve(!!!) and a most alluring compact little city (13). To avoid SH1 it is up and over the Akatarawas to Waikanae. I've done it once and once was enough! Mindful of our SH1 quota, we spend, sadly 31kms on the way to Levin before detouring on SH57 until we meet SH3 in Palmerston North and head towards Wanganui. It is foot to the floor until Hawera and the gorgeous drive between the mountain and the sea in the evening light on the Surf Highway (SH45) all the way around the bump on the map to New Plymouth. That was a long day (14). Why don't we take an extra one to recover? (15) I'd head for that mountain (Taranaki) and then that sea...
Today is the day for a loitering drive along the Forgotton Highway from Stratford (inland from New Plymouth) to Taumarunui and then south on SH4 and across to The Grand Chateau on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu for the night (16) and much of the next day. Later in the day we head off to the shores of Lake Taupo at Turangi before circling back on the northern route to Taumarunui and on to Te Kuiti for the night (17). Driving through those King Country mountains in the setting sun will be something to savour. Maybe we'll meet Sir Colin Meads in the main street?
A quick trip to the Waitomo Caves after leaving Te Kuiti is a possibility, but then it is SH3 to Te Awamutu where we turn off on the back road to the exquisite little town of Cambridge. Avoiding SH1 we continue onto Morrinsville (and maybe another of my favourites - Te Aroha) and then up SH27, joining SH2 on the road to Pokeno, stopping for a mountainous ice cream cone(up to 10 scoops from memory) and some back roads through Pukekohe and into the Auckland urban area (18). Which leaves 19, 20 for looking around Auckland. I'd walk as many West Coast beaches as possible on one day and climb as many of Auckland's volcanic 'mounds' on the other...
The Great Omissions?
Well, you tell me... I bet Taupo and East Cape head many peoples' lists.