New Zealand’s green and friendly isles, situated in the vast South Pacific Ocean, are ranked among the world’s most popular holiday destinations.
The track winds through a 'moonscape' of bizarre lava sculptures and up onto the shoulder of a towering volcanic cone, draped with a skirt of shifting cinders. Onward it goes, past red cliffs, active geothermal areas, silent emerald and blue lakes.
The Waimangu Cauldron steams away at a seething 53° Centigrade as you stroll downhill past Frying Pan Lake, the world's largest hot spring. Nearby is Inferno Crater, an inverted cone with strangely fluctuating water levels and a swirling head of steam.
The ridge-top road winds its undulating way through a patchwork of paddocks and a sparse human population. Otago Harbour is a long ribbon of silky-smooth water far below and Dunedin City, the 'Edinburgh of the South' nestles in its green belt against a dramatic backdrop of forested hills.
Travel anywhere in the Taranaki region and you will have the constant presence of this striking, dormant, strato-volcano (also known as Mt Egmont). From most scenic viewpoints the old volcano appears as a perfectly symmetrical cone, tapering to a 2,518 metre summit in the classic style of Japan's Mt Fuji.
Drive along Lake Pukaki's shoreline and you will be impressed by its pale glacial blue colour. On a sunny day the sky will be a contrasting deep blue and at a certain turn in the road the huge white bulk of the Cook Range will suddenly be revealed.
The tour coach zig-zags down into the depths of the Cleddau Canyon and turns under a dense canopy of rainforest into the village at the head of the sound. Across the silky-black waters, a sharp-edged pyramid of rock rises abruptly out of the depths and soars 1,700 metres to a conical peak that appears to pierce the sky.
Ease your kayak around a bushclad headland and drift silently under overhanging branches into a secret cove. The dark green foliage of the forest is reflected in the calm, clear water, and streaks of sunlight seem to dance over the ripples from your wake.
Sit awhile on the willow-fringed shoreline in Wanaka township and soak up the view. Crystal clear waters lap the pebbly shore and take on a deep blue hue further out, dramatically reflecting a dozen snow-capped peaks in the Mt Aspiring National Park.
'Thar She Blows!' The cry goes out and our cruise boat heads off in hot pursuit of a broaching sperm whale. The skipper adroitly positions the vessel parallel to the mammoth creature, staying the mandatory distance away.
As the beech forest canopy opens up to reveal majestic snow-capped mountains, you know for sure this is one of New Zealand's finest scenic highways. Mirror lakes fringe the Eglinton Valley road and ferns, mosses and lichens carpet the forest floor.
A gigantic arched cavern separates your luxurious beach from Mare's Leg Cove. Through the yawning cavern are views of lush native forest on the Whitianga shoreline. Offshore is a pristine marine reserve, alive with many species of sea life.