Road trip of a Lifetime in New Zealand

Updated on Apr 03, 2024 | New Zealand eTA

Road Tripping Guide to New Zealand

In case you are looking for a shorter trip, it would be better to stick to one island. But this itinerary will encompass both islands requiring a longer duration of time.

It is highly recommended to avoid ferrying one vehicle from one island to another as it comes with a high price. Instead, you can catch a flight after you’re done travelling through one island, catch a flight to the other island and rent a car there to carry on with your road trip. But, if you’re looking to enjoy the sea-breeze brush against your hair and skin, and relax while watching the waves of the ocean, the ferry ride will not disappoint.

If you’re looking for the complete experience of a road trip, the motorhome is ideal for you as you can live amidst nature and experience the thrills of living in the wild. If you’re only interested in the drive and would like to stay in the comfort of a hotel room then a rental car is your ideal choice!

You must get adequate rest as when travelling from far-off lands to New Zealand, it will take a toll on your body clock, and over-burdening yourself with long drives could prove to have adverse effects on your health.

Where to start?

The South Island is more picturesque and beautiful, hence, best saved for the latter half of your trip and Auckland is the ideal place, to begin with being an easy access point via flight from any country. But in case you are travelling during Autumn, you could begin from Christchurch and work your way backward to Auckland.

North Island

Staring your drive from Auckland, I would suggest you don’t waste much time exploring any city as experiencing living in nature is the most wholesome affair in New Zealand.
In and around Auckland, the must-visit places are Mt. Eden, west coast beaches, and the Sky Tower.

Mount Eden

In case you are there early, you could take a short ferry ride to the Waiheke islands where the white-sand beaches, and the vineyard are two places you should visit.
Unless you are looking to rest or relax in a luxurious city hotel, set off from Auckland to feel the serenity and rawness of the nature that New Zealand has to offer.
From Auckland, head towards the north until you will reach the northernmost tip of the country, Cape Reinga.This drive will take you around 5 and a half hours.

Cape Reinga

There are no villages around the cape, so be sure to be well-stocked before reaching there. The Te Werahi Beach track is a trek you should not miss out on when at the Cape. The other places close to the Cape that you should head to the Te Paki dunes, Rarawa white-sand beach, and spending the night in Tapotupotu campsite.
While on your way from the Cape, stop at Whangarei where the falls are a beautiful spectacle to watch and the surrounding tracks and sceneries are beautiful. The drive from the cape will take you around three and a half hours to get here. Finally driving down to the village of Puhoi where the library is a haven for book-nerds and the historic tearoom sells the aromatic and zesty tea. It will take you one and a half hours from Whangarei to get here.
It is highly recommended to head to the Coromandel Peninsula from here while staying in the town of Hahei is an excellent place to stay and is accessible to places to see around the region. While there, explore the Cathedral cove, engage in adventures at Hot Water Beach, and be amazed by the Karangahake gorge.

Coromandel Peninsula

Coromandel Peninsula

The ride to Hahei from Puhoi will take you around three hours.
You can stay at the Hahei Bed and Breakfast or Holiday homes for a hotel experience and in case you are in a campervan you can park at the Hahei Holiday Resort.
Now head towards south towards Hobbiton which is a bucket-list place for the Lord of the Rings fans, but is a must-visit place as while staying there you can visit Mount Maunganui where the sunrise will leave you awe-struck. The White Island Volcano is also close to this place and is the most active Volcano in the country, but as the place is a risky-visit, be sure you are up for it.

The ride from Hahei to Hobbiton will take you around three hours and in case you want to stay here you can stay at the fun hobbit holes but as they are quite popular you must book them in advance.
As you head southwards, your next destination to visit is Rotorua which is the central cultural universe of the native Maori of New Zealand. The geothermal lakes, cultural spectacles of the Maori, white water rafting, and treks in redwood forests make this the most beautiful place where culture and nature come together in New Zealand.
In case you don’t want to stay in Hobbiton, you can stay in Rotorua and experience the Maori culture in its true form and live in their resting houses as it is less than an hour’s ride away.
Travelling further south, you head towards Taupo where in Waitomo you can marvel in the spectacle of the Glowworm and Waitomo caves and the blackwater rafting is a highly sought after adventure sport you can partake in at the caves.
The Tongariro crossing hike will offer you sightings of the 3 active volcanoes in New Zealand and as the hike is quite tiring, it is recommended to take the rest of the time resting in Taupo.
Taupo is only an hour’s drive away from Rotorua but as there are lots of sites to see here, staying in Taupo’s Hilton Lake and Haka lodge or to camp at Lake Taupo Holiday Resort is highly recommended.
In case you are willing to spend a few more days in the North Island, you can travel westward towards New Plymouth and visit the Mount Taranaki and the Mount Egmont National Park. The things you should not miss out on here is traversing the Pouakai crossing and Goblin forest.

Read about Maori and Rotorua - It is the best place to experience the Maori culture in its pure form and is the centre of the Maori universe

The road to Mt. Taranaki

Mt Taranaki

New Plymouth is a three and a half hours drive from Taupo and the places to stay here are King and Queen Hotel, Millenium Hotel, Plymouth International, or camp at Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park.
Finally head to the capital of the country Wellington, from here you can choose to take a flight to the Southern Island or ferry across with your car to the Island which comes down to your personal preference as well as your budget.

Highway to Wellington

The ride from New Plymouth to Wellington is a long one which takes almost four and a half hours. In case you are taking a break and wish to stay here you can stay at Homestay, Intercontinental or camp at Kainui reserve, and Camp Wellington.
If you decide to stay on and take a break and explore Wellington for a day, then visit Mt. Victoria, the museum Le Tapa, and the Weta Caves. Finally head to the capital of the country Wellington, from here you can choose to take a flight to the Southern Island or ferry across with your car to the Island which comes down to your personal preference as well as your budget.

South Island

In case you are taking a flight, you should take one to Christchurch as it does not have an international airport for you to leave New Zealand and end the trip at Queenstown.

If you’re taking the ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait, you catch the first glimpse of the Marlborough Sounds and its beauty when you get down at Picton. The two main ferry companies running ferries are Interislander and Bluebridge.

Even in case you are in Christchurch take your vehicle and head straight to Picton as it is the northernmost point in the Southern Islands.

At Picton, you get to swim with wild dolphins, explore the beautiful Marlborough sounds on foot or by boat, bicycle and walk through the vineyard and take the picturesque drive from Picton to Havelock.

You could stay at Picton in Picton B and B, Picton Beachcomber Inn, and camp at Picton Campervan Park or Alexanders Holiday Park.

Learn about amazing adventures that New Zealand has to offer.

From there head towards Abel Tasman National Park which is New Zealand’s smallest National Park, where you should head to Wharariki beach, hike to Wainui falls, and the beautiful white and sandy beaches of the national park are also known for their water sports for the adventurer in you!

Abel Tasman National Park

A pretty short drive away by you will find the Nelson Lakes National Park, it is known for its great hikes and backcountry huts close to lakes like Rotoiti and Angelus.

You can visit both parks while staying in Picton as Abel Tasman Park is 2 and half hours away and the Nelson Lakes Park is one and a half hours away.

Coming down south you have the option to travel westwards or eastwards, my recommendation would be to take on the longer and a bit tricky drive on the west coast as the views and locations will be worth the travelling.

If you are taking the east coast road you must stop at Kaikoura as it is the best place to go whale watching, swim with the dolphins and beyond Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa are two other beautiful locations. 

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The view on the way to Akaroa


Christchurch was quite damaged in the earthquake and does not offer much to see so you can stop over here for rest at Chapter Stay and Greenwood stay. For camping, you can stay at Omaka Scout camp or North-South Holiday Park.

In case you take the more challenging, yet rewarding west coast road you will first stop at Punakaiki, this place is the gateway to the Paparoa National Park where you will bear witness to New Zealand’s famous pancake rocks which have to give you the vibe of being in a Jurassic Park.

Pancake Rocks

Punakaiki is a four and a half-hour ride away from Picton and will tire you out, stay here at Punakaiki B and B, or camp at the Punakaiki Beach Camp.

From there you should drive to the Arthur’s Pass National Park where the two hikes you have to visit are the Bealy Spur track which offers spectacular views of mountain peaks and the Waimakariri river in the background and Avalanche peak which is the most famous trek in the National park is difficult to traverse but offers great views from the top of the summit. The other places to visit from here are Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall and Lake Pearson.

Highway to Arthurs Pass National Park

The two glaciers Franz Josef and Fox are the reason the west coast is the route you should take, here you can take on heli-hiking in the glacier valleys, hike to the lake Matheson, and the Alex Knob track all of which culminate into a beautiful experience with great views of the glaciers.

You can visit the Arthur’s Pass National Park while staying at Punakaiki as it is only an hour and a half away and the glaciers are only two and a half hours away.

At this point both the routes can head to Mt Cook National Park that is home to the highest peak of New Zealand, with breathtaking views offered from its various treks, it is also home to the world’s largest dark sky reserve and the clear blue waters of the Lake Tekapo on the way make this drive worth every second.

Mount Cook National Park is around three hours away from Punakaiki and three and a half hours away from Christchurch. Stay there at the Aoraki Pine Lodge or Hermitage Hotel Mount Cook and camp at the Whitehorse hill campground.

State Highway 80 (Mount Cook Road)

From there travel to Wanaka where the pristine clear waters of Lake Hawea will make you feel serene and the Blue Pools walk will ensure you feel calm and soothed once you are done with the track. Roy’s peak hike in Wanaka is famous as people swarm the hike to view the Wanaka tree which is a sole tree in the sea.

The drive from Mount Cook to Wanaka will take you around two and a half hours. You can stay here at the Willbrook cottage or Edgewater hotel and camp at Mt. Aspiring Holiday Park where there are plenty of beautiful hikes and picturesque sceneries to visit.

Head to the best tourist attraction in New Zealand which is the Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound where you can take on the hike to Key summit, close to which is the Fjordland National Park home to the most fjords in New Zealand.

Doubtful Sound

It is best to stay at the Fjordland National Park which is a three-hour drive away from Wanaka. You can stay at the Kingston Hotel, Lakefront Lodge, and camp at Getaway Holiday Park or Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park.

Finally, head to Queenstown where you can go on hikes atop the mountain town and visit the lake Wakatipu. From here you can take a flight to destinations in Australia and New Zealand and head back home with a plethora of memories.

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