We are looking at taking our four children to explore a part of the South Island this year. Time and cost restraints allow us six or seven days, so we are thinking of concentrating on a top section. Four of us have never experienced a ferry crossing, so that will be an immediate thrill. What highlights would you recommend, and can you recommend an itinerary? - Khymia Warner
Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater reply:
Limiting yourself to one particular region is a great idea. When researching the Lonely Planet New Zealand guidebook we often meet tourists who try to see too much, and inevitably spend most of their trips travelling between destinations. The itinerary below takes in many Nelson and Marlborough highlights without rushing around like maniacs.
When you reach Picton, take the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock. This wiggly, 35km drive provides a great snapshot of the Marlborough Sounds, and there are opportunities for a wharf jump at Momorangi Bay or The Grove.
West of Havelock is DoC's Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, a remnant pocket of forest with short walks and the limpid Pelorus River - beautiful enough to star in The Hobbit. The cafe is lovely, too.
Nelson is nice enough and worth a stop, but we recommend pushing through to Motueka, gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. We're big fans of the Top 10 Holiday Park, a handy, leafy and economical base for exploring the national park. Local operators offer great adventures that combine a boat trip with walking or kayaking.
Next, wind your way up and over the Takaka Hill to laid-back Golden Bay, stopping en route to check out the amazing Ngarua Caves. The children will love them. Good bases for exploring the Bay include down-to-earth Takaka, or Pohara with its epic beach and close proximity to the Totaranui at the northern end of the Abel Tasman park.
Other top attractions in Golden Bay include Farewell Spit Eco Tours, windswept Wharariki Beach, Rosy Glow chocolates in Collingwood, and The Mussel Inn - possibly the best pub in New Zealand. Sup a pint of delicious Captain Cooker while your children run around the rustic garden.
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