A Guide to North New Zealand – The Land of Scenic Thrills

10 Days North New Zealand Self-Drive: An Adventure of a Lifetime

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Travel Writing Contest

The following itinerary is written by the champion of our writing contest, June.

Introduction

The following itinerary will allow you to discover the best of North New Zealand, starting from Auckland, driving South, towards Wellington.

As this itinerary involves some extreme activities, we recommend that travellers have at least a medium level of fitness to fully experience the wonders of the country.

Restaurants that make the mark are included as meal suggestions on certain days. Totally optional!

Getting around

A camper van is a popular option as it provides the convenience of having accommodation and transportation all in one. Depending on the type of campervans, you may be able to cook, sleep, shower and some even come with a toilet!

It eliminates the cost of a hotel since it doubles up as an accommodation. JUCY and Britz seemed to be 2 very popular campervan rental companies. 

We opted for a 4WD car rental with Thrifty as we were travelling as a family of 5, so a campervan wouldn’t be ideal for us.

The Thrifty Car rental booth can be easily located as we exit the gates. They read to us the Terms and Conditions, shared the type of gas to pump, and it was time to collect our car at the car park! 

Tip: Remember to examine your car for any scratches or dents and report to the attendant if there is any that has not been flagged out yet. Otherwise, you may be liable to pay for these ‘damages’ too. A good way would be to snap a picture of the car at all angles. That way, no disputes with the rental company!

Read also: Amsterdam 3 Days Itinerary!

Day 1 (Arrival at Auckland)

Suggested TimeDescription
1630Mt Eden (Catch sunset)
1930Viaduct Harbour (Dinner)

We took an overnight flight via Quantas (stopover in Sydney) and arrived at Auckland at 2.30pm. Collected our cars after immigration and started our day!

Mt Eden

Cr: June Oh (SingaporeGO!)

Mt Eden is the highest volcano in Auckland and a 50 meters deep crater was created from the last eruption more than 50 years ago. A dormant volcano now, Mt Eden used serve as New Zealand’s post office for radio communications.

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It was a 30 minutes trek to Mt Eden via the Bush track. Once at the top, enjoy the 360-degree view of Auckland. You will be able to spot the Skytower too!

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Address: Google map – Mt Eden summit
Entrance fee: Not applicable
Operating hours: 7am – 8.30pm
Estimated duration of activity: 1.5 hour

Viaduct Harbour

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Viaduct Harbour is situated in the middle of Auckland’s central business district and houses multiple restaurants and bars. Spoil yourself with the range of food choices available in this area. Walk around the harbour after dinner or choose a bar to chill through the night.

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Try the Sky Screamer Reverse Bungy if you are keen for some bungy action!

Parking charges here are one of the most expensive; we were shocked when the parking machine prompted us to pay NZD20++ just for a 2 hour plus parking! Download ParkMate App and link your credit card for a more convenient way of paying as most of the parking machines here do not accept cash payment.

Day 2 (Auckland 🡪 Waitomo)

Suggested TimeDescription
1015Skywalk
1200Skytower
1400Auckland Botanic Garden
1845Ruakuri Walk Glowworms

Skywalk and Skytower

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Take a walk at the top of New Zealand’s highest building. At 192m above ground, some may find it daunting without any handrails at the side! Follow the crew and head out for some adrenaline-fuelled challenges as you savour the 360-degree view of the city!

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Book your tickets at least 15 days in advance to enjoy a NZ$15 discount. The skywalk ticket includes a ticket to the Skydeck. So, we head back up after your skywalk to enjoy the view of Auckland again.

Address: 72 Victoria St W, Auckland, 1141, New Zealand
Cost: NZ$150 / adult (direct booking)
Operating hours: Every 30min from 10.00am – 4.30pm
Estimated duration of activity: 2 hours

Skytower

We collected our tickets from the counter after Skywalk and headed to Skydeck, located on the 60th floor. It offers amazing views of the city through the virtually seamless glass.

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Great option for those who prefer to stay in the comfort of walls / glass!

Address: 72 Victoria St W, Auckland, 1141, New Zealand
Cost: NZ$32 / adult (direct booking)
Operating hours (skytower): 9.00am – 10.00pm
Estimated duration of activity: 30 minutes

Read also: 4D3N Maldives Angsana Ihuru

Auckland Botanic Garden

We stopped by Auckland Botanic Gardens on our way out of Auckland. The Garden has 64 hectares of beautiful greenery, boasting a collecting of more than 10,000 plants from around the world.

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There are multiple picnic spots around the garden, so pack your picnic bag and grab a spot under the shade of a tree to enjoy!

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Address: 102 Hill Road Manurewa
Cost: Free
Operating hours: 8.00am – 8.00pm
Estimated duration of activity: 1 hour

Ruakuri Walk

Visit Ruakuri Walk in the evening to enjoy some spectacular light displays put on by the all-famous glowworm in Waitomo. As you enter the cave, look up and be wowed away with the remarkable view.

The lights are created due to the chemical in the glowworm’s tail that reacts with oxygen.

Park at Ruakuri Car Park B for the quickest access to the start of the walk.

Cost: NA
Operating hours: NA  (suggest evening walk)
Estimated duration of activity: 1 hour

 

Day 3 (Waitomo)

Suggested TimeDescription
1000Black Ladyrinth
1530Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk
1700Marokopa Falls Walk

Black water rafting with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company

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We opted for the Black Ladyrinth option with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. They have different types of tours to accommodate different fitness level.

It was an experience as we had to jump off cascading underground waterfalls, weave and climb our way through the narrow passageways and of course, we also had the opportunity to float along the underground river with the help of a tube. It was the best way to enjoy the glowworms as we get to lie on our back and savour the special sight. It could not get better than this!

Bathing facilities are available at base, so remember to bring your towel and bathing essentials.

Treat yourself to a bowl of hot tomato soup and toasted bagels after the rafting session, included as part of the package. Perfect way to end this experience!

Address: 585 Waitomo Village Road, State Highway 37, Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
Cost: SGD129.35 via NZ147 (direct booking)
Operating hours: Regular tour hours: 9:00am, 10:30am, 12:00pm, 1:30pm, 3:00pm, 4:30pm
Estimated duration of activity: 3.5 hour

Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk

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Stop by Mangapohue Natural Bridge for a walk after lunch. Cross the boardwalk through a limestone gorge that will take you beneath a 17m high arch, completely created by nature. This place is an ancient cave system that was inhabited many years ago.

Directions: Te Anga Rd, Te Anga 3988, New Zealand
Cost: Free
Operating hours: NA  
Estimated duration of activity: 30 minutes

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Marokopa Falls Walk

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The 35m high falls are described as the most beautiful in the country.

Marokopa Falls is just a 5 – 10 minutes’ drive away from Mangapohue Natural Bridge. Track across a forested area to get to the viewing platform of Marokopa Fall.

Address: Marokopa Falls, New Zealand
Cost: Free
Operating hours: NA  
Estimated duration of activity: 30 minutes


Day 4 (Waitomo 🡪 Rotorua)

Suggested TimeDescription
1100Whakarewarewa Village
1330Lunch @ Fresh noodles
1530Hell’s gate (Geothermal park then spa)

Whakarewarewa Village

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This village is one of the few surviving Maori village left in the country. Visiting the villages provides you a sense of the Maroi’s way of life. You may want to follow the guided tour, as we did, to understand more about the village life as the native guide explains the history of the place.

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Make sure to view the Pohutu geyser, boiling mud-pools, steam vents and bubbling pools.

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Don’t forget to stop by the Maori cultural performance show for the world-renowned Haka. There are only 2 – 3 shows per day, so do plan your time accordingly!

Address: 17 Tryon St, Whakarewarewa, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand
Cost: SGD41.90 via NZ45 (direct booking)
Operating hours: 8.30am – 5pm  
Estimated duration of activity: 2 hours

Lunch @ Fresh noodles

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Have lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Rotorua area. Fresh Noodles serves only 3 different types of noodles, with a wide range of dumplings. Their dumplings are handmade on the spot and you can choose either the steamed or fried version.

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We ordered the fried kimchi dumplings and a steamed pork dumpling which was very tasty!

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Address: 1186 Hinemoa Street, 2nd floor, Rotorua, New Zealand
Operating hours: 11.00am – 2.00pm, 5.00pm – 8.00pm 

Hell’s Gate

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We purchased the special combo package for a complete experience at Hell’s Gate. We got to enjoy the Geothermal reserve walk as well as soaked ourselves in the mud pool and the sulphur pool.

Start by walking through the geothermal reserve where you will be awed by the bubbling pots of water from the ground throughout your walk.

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Then, head over to the mud pool after your walk. The mud pool is known for its healing and revitalising properties. The sulphur also has antibacterial properties, which is good for your skin. Fully cover yourself in the mud to ensure you get all the goodness!

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Due to health concerns, there is a maximum of 20 minutes that you can spend in the mud pool. A crew will take note of your time spent in the pool and call you out once you have reached your time limit!

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Address: State Highway 30, Tikitere, Rotorua, New Zealand
Cost: NZ90 (direct booking)
Operating hours: 8.30am – 8.30pm (Winter), 8.30am – 10.00pm (Summer)
Estimated duration of activity: 2.5 hours

Read also: Finland TOP 5!

Day 5 (Rotorua)

Suggested TimeDescription
0830White water rafting (start at 0830)
1230Lunch
1400Luge

White Water Rafting with Kaitiaki adventure

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Your trip to New Zealand will not be complete without rafting down the world-renowned 7 meters Tutea Falls, which is the highest waterfall in the world that you can raft commercially. The Kaituna River features 14 rapids and 3 waterfalls (including the 7m one).

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Put on your gears and enjoy the fun!

Address: 1135 Te Ngae Road, Tikitere, Rotorua 3074, New Zealand
Cost: NZ85 via Backpacker deals or NZ109 (direct booking)
Operating hours: 8:30am, 12:30pm & 2:30pm
Estimated duration of activity: 2.5 hours

 

Lunch at Yaki-Yaki

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Stop by Yaki-Yaki for a sumptuous Korean Fare. We ordered the kimchi soup, stir fried chicken and well as a ginseng chicken soup. Each set meal comes with free rice and free-flow side dishes.

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Address: 1087 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand
Operating hours: 11.00am – 2.00pm, 5.00pm – 8.00pm 

 

Luge

It’s finally Luge time after a hearty meal. We visited the one in Queenstown 7 years ago and we can’t wait to check out the world’s first luge track here at Rotorua!!

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Hop up a gondola to arrive at the main luge platform, grab your helmet and it’s time to whizz your way down. There are 3 tracks to choose from: Scenic Tracks, Intermediate and Advanced tracks. Take the chair-lift up for another ride, cause once is never enough!

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Be sure to head over to the viewing deck for some stunning views of Rotorua City.

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Address: 178 Fairy Springs Road, PO BOX 2353, Rotorua, New Zealand
Cost: NZ66 / pax for Gondola & 7 Luge rides* (direct booking)
Operating hours: 9am – 8pm
Estimated duration of activity: 2hr
*Options available for lesser number of rides

Day 6 (Rotorua)

Suggested TimeDescription
1000Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland
1230Lunch
1400Whakarewarewa Forest
1700Polynesian Spa

Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland

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The wonderland’s main attraction is the Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts at 10.15am daily. Crowds started streaming in to the geyser at around 9.30am to get a good spot.

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Be warned that the 10.15am eruption not a natural phenomena but an entirely man-made one. The host starts by pouring a power-liked substance into the geyser and which caused it to ‘erupt’ within minutes. This has left us feeling quite disappointed.

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After Lady Knox Geyser, drive over to the Geothermal Park to check out the colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. Spot all the colours in the rainbow crater, and don’t miss the champagne pool!

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Address: 201 Waiotapu Loop Road, Rodd 3, Rotorua 3073, New Zealand
Cost: approx. USD22.36 / adult via Viator or NZD32.50 (direct booking)
Operating hours: 8.30am – 6.00pm
Estimated duration of activity: 1h

Whakarewarewa Forest

If time permits, take a walk through the Californian Redwoods. There multiple walking tracks available here for different fitness types. Choose one that is most suitable for you and your family.

Address: Redwoods I-Site Visitor Information Centre, Long Mile Road, Rotorua
Cost: NA
Operating hours: 8.30am – 6.00pm
Estimated duration of activity: 2h – 4h

Polynesian Spa

To end off the night, visit Polynesian Spa – world-leading, natural hot mineral bathing spa retreat. The geothermal waters are said to nourish your skin and can relieve tired muscles, aches and pains.

There are a few Priest Pools in the common area but these are closed to the public. These Pools have history dating back to the 1870; it was said that a Priest who was unable to walk was carried to the pools and after soaking in the acidic waters, he was able to walk back home!!

Swimsuits, swimming shorts, and towel are available for rent at Polynesian Spa.

Address: 1000 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua, New Zealand
Cost: SGD27.19 via NZD30
Operating hours: 8.00am – 11.00pm
Estimated duration of activity: 2h

Read also: TOP 9 places in BALI

Dinner at New Zealand Supreme Gourmet House

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This restaurant offers a set menu option for 4-5pax and it cost only NZ88. The set includes 5 dishes, rice, soup and drinks (water / tea). We highly recommend this place as the food is great and it is value for money!

Address: 225 Amohau Street, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand
Operating hours: 11.00am – 2.00pm, 5.00pm – 8.30pm 

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Day 7 (Rotorua 🡪 Taupo)

Suggested TimeDescription
11301 hour drive from Rotorua to Taupo
1230Taopo Tandem Skydiving
1530Huka Falls track
1700Huka

Taopo Tandem Skydiving

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Here comes the fun! We initially booked the 9,000 ft jump but upgraded to 18,500ft at the base! Best decision ever! With 75 seconds of freefall time, we soared through the clear blue New Zealand skies, reaching up to speeds of 200km/hour.  Ultimate adrenaline rush, especially the second before you jump out of the airplane!

After the freefall, the jumpmaster will shift your harness and you will be able to go into a sitting position. Feel on top of the world as you look down Lake Rotorua and absorb the beautiful sights. Absolutely spectacular view of the city!

Address: Taupo Airport (TUO), Anzac Memorial Drive, Wharewaka, Taupo 3378
Cost: NZ399 / adult (18,500 ft)
Operating hours: 8.00am – 6.00pm
Estimated duration of activity: 3h

Huka Falls

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Huka Falls, north of Taupo, is New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. The Waikato River drains water from Lake Taupo and at the point of Huka Falls, it narrows to only 15 metres across, creating a hugely powerful turquoise-coloured waterfall that flows at over 220,000 litres per second!

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A pleasant walk for the whole family along the riverbank of the Waikato River.

The Huka Fall Tracks brings you across the Spa Walk, then there is a well-defined track that continues along the riverbank of Waikato River, offering lovely views throughout your walk.  This is a 6km, approximately 2hour walk.

You can bring along your tower and stop by the spa park for some relaxing time before continuing the journey. The spa park is definitely a popular spot as we see many New Zealanders enjoying themselves!

The second option is to drive to Huka Falls carpark directly. From the car park, it’s a short 5 minutes walk before reaching the natural Huka Falls.

For an additional SG82 per pax, you can add on a Huka Falls Jet for a closer look from below.

Address: (Google) Huka Falls Track
Cost: NA
Operating hours: 8.00am – 5.30pm
Estimated duration of activity: 2h

Day 8 (Taupo)

Suggested TimeDescription
1100Taupo Bungy
1230Lunch at Siam Thai Cafe
1400Lake Taupo
1530Craters of the moon

Taupo in the North reminds me of Queenstown in the South. Lots of Adrenaline Activities here! Perfect place for adrenaline junkies like me! Adrenaline rush for today is Taupo Bungy.

Taupo Bungy

You may want to note that it’s only NZ50 if you repeat the same activity on the same day. There’s a also 50% off if you choose to do the same or different activity after you have completed your first! What a steal!

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Address: 202 Spa Road, Taupo, New Zealand
Cost: Bungy NZ$180
Operating hours: 9.30am – 5.30pm
Estimated duration of activity: 1h

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Lunch at Siam Thai Café

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Drive over to Lake Taupo for lunch and we had settled for some Thai Food it’s Thai food. Food was delicious but the portion was really small. So make sure to order more variety to satisfy your stomach.

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Address: 22 Heuheu Street, Taupo 3330, New Zealand

Lake Taupo

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I find it interesting that Lake Taupo is about the size of Singapore! It’s the perfect time to enjoy a walk along lake taupo after lunch.

Cost: NA
Operating hours: NA
Estimated duration of activity: 45min

Craters of the Moon

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It was a lovely walk at yet another geothermal park. Soak yourself in the breathtaking landscape here! As you take your walk, notice the steam rising from the ground and multiple craters along the way. Climb all the way to the top for an overview of the area.

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A perfect place to take some Instagram-worth shots here with the stunning landscape!

Address: 171 Karapiti Road, Wairakei Park, Taupo 3377
Cost: NZ$8 per pax (Pay at site)
Operating hours: 8.30am – 6.00pm
Estimated duration of activity: 1.5h

Day 9 (Taupo)

Suggested TimeDescription
1100Taupo Extreme Cliffhanger
1200Aratiatia Rapids
1500Tongariro National Park
1900Dinner

Taupo Extreme Cliffhanger

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Couldn’t leave Taupo without trying the extreme Cliffhanger, so I’m back for more adrenaline.

Address: 202 Spa Road, Taupo, New Zealand
Cost: NZ$155 (pay at site)
Operating hours: 9.30am – 5.30pm
Estimated duration of activity: 1h

Website: https://www.taupobungy.co.nz/

Aratiatia Rapids

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The gates open at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm daily. There are a few places to view the opening of the damn gates. From the main car park, it’s a 5 minute walk to 2 different viewpoints (mid / top). You can also view the opening of the gates up close from the main Aratiatia bridge.

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My recommendation would be to “chope” a spot at the main bridge first. Walk over to the mid viewing point about 3 minutes later. That way, you will be able to see multiple views as it takes some time for the water to reach the mid-point.

Address: Aratiatia Road, Rotokawa, Lake Taupo, 3337, New Zealand
Cost: NA
Gates Opening hours: 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm (summer)
Estimated duration of activity: 30min

Tongariro National Park

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Our destination here was to reach Mangatepopo hut. We started our walk from the Mangatepopo carpark and we passed through fields of yellow tussock before hiking alongside a stream.

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This National Park is unlike any other parks where we hike through layers after layers of trees. With no tall tress blocking our view, the landscape here is definitely worth a visit.

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The more adventurous can go for the Tongariro Alphine Crossing which is almost a day’s hike.

Address: Manawatu-Wanganui 4691, New Zealand (Search for Mangatepopo Carpark)
Cost: NA
Operating hours: NA
Estimated duration of activity: 1h – 3h

Day 10 (Taupo 🡪 Wellington)

Suggested TimeDescription
4-5 hoursDrive
1700Wellington Cable car

Prep yourself as it will be a 4-5hours drive from Taupo to Wellington. Don’t forget to stop along the way for lunch! Remember to get sufficient rest during the trip and also to sleep early the night before!

Our itinerary included Mt Victoria but decided to skip it cause we spent closed to 6 hours driving to Wellington. Do stop by Mt Victora if time permits.

Wellington Cable Car

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Once we reached Wellington, we went directly to Wellington Cable Car which is located at what seemed like Wellington’s Central Business District. The car runs every 10 minutes and there’s a total of 5 stops. It runs from Lambton Quay to Kelburn.

Once at Kelburn Hill, 199m above the city, enjoy the panoramic view of the city. There is a cable car museum here too but it was closed at 5pm. So buffer some time if you are interested in this museum!

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There are 2 ways to get back down. The first one is to take the cable car back down. I would highly recommend the 2nd option – which is to walk down via Wellington’s Botanic Garden. The vibrant colouring of their flowers caught my attention. It was a pleasant walk down. Look out for Begonia house as it houses a plethora of roses!

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Take note that the exit of Botanic Garden does not bring you back to the original place. So get your GPS handy so that you can navigate your way back.

Address: Cable Car Lane, 280 Lambton Quay, Wellington
Cost: One way: SGD4.55 via NZD5 
Operating hours: 7.00am – 10.00pm (Monday – Friday), 8.30am – 10.00pm (Saturday), 8.30am – 9.00pm (Sunday)
The estimated duration of activity: 1.5h

Read also: 6 Days in Osaka under S$500

Final Thoughts

New Zealand has so much to offer that it’s impossible to cover every attraction they have. So focus on the ones that interest you most and get packing!

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