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Written by Savi, 93 Comments

This is Part 1 of our 4 part series on planning the ultimate New Zealand road trip. We will cover every aspect – itinerary, accommodation, packing, driving, budgeting – of planning an unforgettable drive through the north and south islands in New Zealand:

 

Read Part 2 – Where to stay in New Zealand (opens in new tab)

Read Part 3 – Travel Fashion – What to pack for a trip in New Zealand (opens in new tab)

Read Part 4- How much will that Road Trip in New Zealand cost (opens in new tab)

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They say a road trip in New Zealand shouldn’t be the first one you go on because it spoils you rotten. It offers so much that any other road trip you might take in the future just leaves you hankering for more. Having driven through the length and breadth of the country, we can tell you it’s true!

 

I travel for images. When I think of our summer in New Zealand I think of bees buzzing over symmetrical rows of fragrant lavender, magnetic fuchsia lupins sprouting from the ground, sun-soaked beaches, hissing volcanoes and geysers spitting steam to fields full of flowers, and perfectly-preened alpine villages. It truly doesn’t get more scenic than this!

 

Highlights of our New Zealand road trip

Here are some things you shouldn’t miss for the world when you are in New Zealand:

  • Turquoise lakes in Pukaki and Mackenzie country
  • Drives and hikes around Queenstown, especially Coronet Peak and Crown Range
  • Thermal wonderlands in Rotorua. Spitting volcanoes, geysers, mudbaths, and steamy fumaroles – Rotorua has it all.
  • Clouds suspended over South Island’s lakes each morning
  • The coffee! New Zealand is a coffee lover’s paradise. You will find great coffee everywhere, even at gas stations.
  • The night sky over Lake Wanaka
  • Picnics amidst sun-drenched landscapes with freshly-picked berries and Kiwi wine. We loved locally-produced Pinot Noir.

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary
Views on a summer road trip in New Zealand

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary queenstown night sky
Thousands of twinkling stars and the Milky Way in Queenstown, New Zealand

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Otago winery
Vineyards in Otago near Queenstown

 

This is the route we followed while we were in New Zealand. Our day by day account will give you further details of our road trip. The official New Zealand tourism website also has great options for hikes, day trips etc. It’s worth consulting when you’re in the area. Let’s go:

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary map
The route we took while driving through New Zealand

 

Day 1: Fly into Auckland and gear up for your road trip

Write away this day as you’ll fly into New Zealand. The long flight is bound to leave you tired, so spend the rest of the day collecting your rental car and stocking up on groceries for your trip. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep before beginning your road trip in New Zealand.

 

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about renting a car in New Zealand:

  • Unlike Iceland, you don’t need a 4X4 for New Zealand unless you’re travelling in a large group and need a spacious vehicle. A basic car will suffice as roads are in excellent condition and all landmarks are accessible via paved roads.
  • Camping is extremely popular in New Zealand and there are tons of free/affordable camping sites in the country. Most car rental providers have a number of motorhomes and campervans on offer.
  • You will need to drop off your rental car at the ferry terminal in North Island before boarding a ferry to South Island. You can pick up another car at the ferry terminal on South Island. We rented an economy car with Hertz. We booked the car online before flying to New Zealand. We picked up our first car at Auckland Airport and dropped it at the ferry terminal on North Island. We took the ferry, crossed over to the South Island and picked up our second car at the terminal itself. The process is seamless. Our ferry was delayed by an hour but the Hertz office at Picton remained open beyond official opening hours. We dropped off the second car at Christchurch Airport before boarding our flight back home. All in all, a seamless experience with Hertz when it came to car rental.

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary driving
Our Hertz car – loved driving through New Zealand 🙂

 

Sleep – We got to Auckland at an unearthly hour (2.30 am), so we slept at an airport hotel. We stayed at Ibis Hotel Auckland Airport. It’s a 5 minute cab ride/15 minute walk from the arrival gates. There’s a large supermarket next door where you can stock up on groceries and snacks.

 

Day2: The fun begins in Auckland

Explore the city of Auckland during the day and drive to the rugged Muriwai beach in the evening. A gorgeous drive through pick-your-own farms and picturesque pastures takes one to Muriwai beach. The beach is just 40 minutes away from Auckland but its stark wild beauty stuns. It is home to an impressive colony of Gannet birds between August & March. Forces of nature are at their best and fiercest here: huge waves crash against rocks as nesting birds rest on clifftops. Muriwai’s dramatic coastline is especially stunning during sunset. Entry: Free, Parking: Free

 

Sleep – We stayed at a private ensuite room at Haka Lodge, Auckland City.

 

New Zealand road trip budget
A colony of gannet birds and a stunning sunset near Auckland, New Zealand

 

New Zealand Road Trip Auckland drive
Drive to Muriwai Beach just outside Auckland

 

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua via Coromandel Peninsula

If you love your roadtrips as much as we do, then take a long-winded detour to the Coromandel Peninsula before ending up in Rotorua. Sure you’ll be on the road for 3 extra hours, but it’s worth it!

 

The Coromandel Peninsula, jutting out at the eastern corner of the North Island, is home to spectacular beaches and woodlands. Leave Auckland early in the morning, picnic along the way, and head to the one of Coromandel Peninsula’s famous beaches for the afternoon. We spent most of our time at Cathedral Cove, a dramatic cerulean beach framed by volcanic rocks. There is a park-and-ride facility to ferry visitors from the car park to the entrance. Entry is free and the park-and-ride ticket costs NZD 5/person. The beach is a 40 minute walk from the entrance.

 

You could stop at the little town of Tairua for a cup of coffee and head onwards to Rotorua. If you drive through the Coromandel Peninsula, you’ll reach Rotorua in the evening. Sleep early and get a good night’s rest after a long day on the road 🙂

 

Sleep – We stayed at Shula Lake House on Days 3-5, a quaint and beautiful B&B overlooking Lake Rotorua

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove Beach at Coromandel Peninsula – worth a long detour!!

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary Cathedral Cove Coromandel Peninsula
Walking to Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula

 

Day 4: Explore New Zealand’s Thermal Wonderlands In Rotorua

Locals joke that you can smell Rotorua before you see it and it’s true. The town is famous for its sulphur pools and bubbling geothermal areas and you can smell the sulphur EVERYWHERE. Rotorua is the site of incredible thermal activity. Unfortunately you will have to pay entrance fee to enter all geothermal reserves in New Zealand. Unlike Iceland or Bolivia, most Geothermal Areas, especially the dramatic ones, are all charged here 🙁

 

But Rotorua’s geothermal areas are astounding and you shouldn’t miss them for the world. In fact, they were one of the highlights of our road trip in New Zealand. There are many options to choose from, so we chose 2 based on locals’ recommendations:

 

1. The aptly named Hell’s Gate is one of the most dramatic geothermal reserves we’ve ever visited. This is because the heat source is very close to the surface of the Earth here: the Earth’s crust is extremely thin in certain places here, so visitors are constantly warned not to steer off the designated paths. There are bubbling sulphurous springs, volcanic mud pools, steaming fumaroles, highly acidic Sulphur baths, a unique cooking pool, and the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot waterfall. The temperature of the pools ranges from 40 degrees celsius to a whopping 145 degrees. The bubbling lava, hissing steam, inferno pools and unique mud volcanoes will have you marveling at Mother Nature.

 

Maori people used these naturally occurring sulphurous and acidic waters for treating aches, pains, and war wounds. Today it’s not possible to touch these formations. But if you want to get deep and dirty, it’s possible to take a dip in the adjoining mud baths at Hells Gate. The mud here is said to have healing properties, so slather away…..

 

2. We also visited the popular Wai-o-tapu reserve, also known as a Thermal Wonderland. Wonderland is the right word because here at Wai-o-tapu it’s possible to see some incredibly colourful manifestations of thermal activity – entire pools of orange, green, and yellow lie next to steaming geysers and dreamy white terraces. These unique natural formations left us completely gobsmacked. I couldn’t get enough of the Artist’s Pallette, a large pool deftly coloured in shades of blue, green, yellow, and orange by naturally-occurring minerals. The intensity of the colours keeps changing according to water levels, the direction of the wind, and sunlight, so I found it hard to tear myself away from it.

 

The adjoining Champagne Pool is no less dramatic. Greens, oranges, and metallic outline the pool and complement the bubbling CO2 : the result is a surreal formation that seems to have walked right out of a postcard. Then there is Devil’s Bath, a cloudy green lake, that keeps changing colour with the wear. One thing’s for sure – you, like us, won’t forget your visit to Wai-o-tapu for a long long time

 

Top Tip: Wear sturdy shoes to explore geo-thermal areas and go early to avoid crowds. We reached Hell’s Gate at 9.00 am and almost had the entire reserve to ourselves.

 

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary rotorua geothermal park
Rotorua’s thermal areas – steam, fumaroles, volcanoes, and geysers everywhere!

 

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary rotorua geothermal park
The Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu is green & orange as a result of naturally occurring minerals. Yes that’s steam rising from the water.

 

New Zealand Road Trip Rotorua geothermal reserve devil's lake
An electric GREEN LAKE housed inside a volcanic crater!

 

Day 5: Enjoy Rotorua’s Free Attractions and relax at a spa

Fortunately there is also plenty of free stuff to be enjoyed in Rotorua. Drive by Ohinemutu to see a modern day Maori Village for yourself. This isn’t a cultural attraction perse, so it’s a good way to peak into the real lives of Maori locals in 21st century New Zealand. Kuirau Park has some sulphur activity and it’s free to witness : however it is nowhere near as dramatic as the geothermal activity in the paid parks.

 

We recommend spending the better part of the day driving along Lake Rotorua, the famed Blue and Green Lakes, and Lake Tarawera. Picnic by the banks of the Blue Lake and spend the rest of the afternoon walking around the absolutely dreamy Redwood Forest. The Redwoods are home to tall trees and boast of dozens of walking trails.

 

Spend the evening at one of Rotorua’s famed thermal pools. We spent it at Polynesian Spa, which is a bit of a legend in Rotorua. It is home to naturally acidic waters, said to vanish aches and pains. Local rugby players are said to swear by these hot pools. It also boasts of alkaline pools with antiseptic properties – according to local legend, this water is the elixir for ageless beauty! We don’t know about the veracity of those claims, but a dip in Rotorua’s thermal spring water did leave us invigorated. Polynesian Spa has a variety of pools – we rented one of their tiny private pools, at quite a reasonable rate (NZD 27/person for 30 minutes).

 

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary Rotorua
Exploring lakes and woodlands in Rotorua 🙂

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Rotorua polynesia spa
Naturally-healing waters at Polynesia Spa in Rotorua

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary redwood forest
Dreamy trees at Redwood Forest

 

Day 6 The Thermal Explorer Highway and Taupo

It’s time to leave your hotel in Rotorua and get back to the road. However New Zealand’s geothermal areas don’t end with Rotorua – geysers, mudpools, hot springs continue along the route known as The Thermal Explorer Highway.

 

Evidence of volcanic activity and sulphur springs is everywhere to be seen. Drive down to the bustling town of Taupo via the Waireki Terraces. The chalky silica terraces, surrounding bright blue pools of bubbling water, are one of the most unique things you’ll see in New Zealand. The complex also has some rather beautiful thermal pools but we skipped them as we’d had our fair share of soaking in thermal pools in Rotorua. Entry to the the terrace walkway costs NZD 12.50 and there’s an additional charge for using the pools.

 

Instead of the thermal pools, we chose to spend our evening at Huka Falls. There are various scenic points overlooking the falls and there is a pleasant 1 hour walk around the falls if you’re craving some activity. Both entry to the falls and parking are free

 

Sleep: We slept in a private room at Haka Lodge, Taupo on days 6&7

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary Huka Falls taupo
Huka Falls

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary Waireki silica terraces taupo
Waireki Terraces: White silica terraces with steam rising from them in Taupo, New Zealand

 

Day 7: Explore Taupo

Lake Taupo (toe-paw) was formed thousands of years ago by a volcanic eruption. Its volcanic character ensures a proliferation of steaming mud pools, silica terraces, and thermal valleys. The Lake itself is the focal point of all activity: its shores are lined with restaurants, cafes, and bars. We were in Taupo on a dreary grey day, so we spent it lazing on the shores of the lake, enjoying a languorous lunch in the town, and devouring one too many cups of coffee at Ozone Coffee Roasters (highly recommended).

 

In case you’re in the mood for something more adventurous, Taupo is the getaway for a gorgeous 17 km hike to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We didn’t get a chance to go on the hike but heard great things about it from fellow travellers.

 

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo at sunset

 

Day 8: Interislander Ferry Terminal via Wellington

This was a long day that took us through some of the most scenic panoramas on the North Island of New Zealand. Taupo’s volcanic environs give way to a sensational stretch of highway through a desert, which in turn swiftly gives way to fields of flowers and vineyards, with towering mountains on the horizon. This part of the drive through the North Island of New Zealand is sure to cast a spell on the most skeptical of tourists – sunlight spills over through the windows as the car glides through villages dotted with picture-perfect cottages, orchards laden with fruit, and bright purple flowers billowing in the wind.

 

Plan your route for the day depending on the schedule of the ferry that will take you to the South Island. We booked an afternoon ferry with Interislander – we left Taupo early in the morning and had a gorgeous brunch in Wellington, walked around and finally reached the ferry terminal by 1 pm, dropped our rental car, and checked in our bags. If you’ve booked a rental car with international providers such as Hertz then you will have to drop the car off and pick another vehicle on the South Island.

 

Our ferry was delayed a bit. Don’t think of the ferry crossing as a mere commute – the Interislander ferry passes through the scenic Cook Strait and there are great vistas on offer. There’s wifi on board, so I spent a bit of time indoors. Needless to say, Vid was on the deck clicking photos throughout the 3 hour ferry ride. Urgh photographers 😉

 

Top Tip: Have a leisure lunch at a winery in Hawke’s Bay on this day. If you don’t want to splurge at a winery in Hawke’s Bay or find a restaurant in Wellington, pack a picnic because there are plenty of opportunities along the way.

 

Sleep: We slept at at a ‘luxury’ apartment in Picton, but it was quite a let down, so we can’t recommend it. But we would recommend spending this night in Picton (search for accommodation here), where the ferry pulls up, instead of driving onto Kaikoura.

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary drive
Driving to the ferry terminal on North Island, New Zealand

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary ferry crossing
Views from the Interislander Ferry – crossing over from North Island to South Island isn’t a chore, it’s fun!

 

Day 9: Whale watching and hiking in Kaikoura

Kaikoura is THE place to go whale watching on your road trip in New Zealand. We were there on a day when the probability of spotting whales was low and most tours were cancelled, so we had to give it a miss. Oh well!!

 

Instead we went for a long rambly walk on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway – the well-maintained walkway traverses the cliffs of Kaikoura and offers stunning views of the Kaikoura Peninsula. There’s a colony of seals, rare birds (sparrows, titis, albatrosses) and plenty of flora along the way to keep you occupied. Golden fields overlook the azure ocean, ensuring an invigorating experience. We were there on a grey, dreary day and still loved it. I can imagine it being absolutely spectacular on a clear day. Parking and entry to the walkway is free. The entire walk takes around 3 hours but you can turn back anytime. Take your camera, water, and raincoat.

 

Once you’ve worked up an appetite and made your way back to the car park, head to town to sample Kaikoura’s fresh seafood. There are plenty of restaurants in town but Kaikoura Seafood BBQ seems to the most popular. The take-away has been featured in Lonely Planet and locals love it too.

 

Top Tip: Don’t book your whale watching tour in advance. Kaikoura’s weather is notorious and tours get cancelled at the last minute quite frequently. It’s best to enquire about whale-watching conditions once you are there and then book a tour.

Sleep: We slept at Brook House B&B for the night.

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary Kaikoura
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway on a grey day

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary Kaikoura
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is perfect to spot sea lions and birds

 

Days 10 & 11 –Arthur’s Pass National Park (New Zealand You BEAUTY!!)

This part of South Island is where the fun truly begins for any road trip enthusiast. We have no qualms in admitting we enjoyed the scenery of South Island much more than North Island. As far as drives are concerned, this is the stretch where the magic begins. The drive along the Great Alpine Highway is sensational – clouds suspended over mountains and lakes dilly dally with daisies and lupins.

 

You will cross Castle Hill, where Maori and European settlers cleared the forest centuries ago. The huge limestone boulders are said to have provided shelter for Maoris. The boulders are unmissable and definitely worthy of a stop. Castle Hill, home to one of the most scenic public toilets in the whole wide world. If it seems familiar, it’s because portions of ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ were shot here.

 

Arthur’s Pass, nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, is the highest pass across the Southern Alps. It will definitely be one of the most scenic places you will see on your road trip through New Zealand. Arthur’s Pass Village, an alpine village surrounded by forests and mountains on all sides. Just 5 minutes from the village is the spectacular Bealey Valley. You’ll find glacier views, entire fields full of flowers, stunning drives, and forests in the area. It offers a lot of hiking and photography opportunities and we stayed in a rustic cabin overlooking the valley.

 

We spent the afternoon walking to the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls. The return loop takes about 1 hour. If you want something shorter and less strenuous, try the Millennium Walk:This walks takes you over a little stone bridge where you can see Avalanche Creek Waterfall. If you want something longer, look up the stunning Bealey Spur Walk.

 

Sleep: We slept at The Bealey Hotel – they’re comfortable (not luxurious) and the location is exceptional.

New Zealand road trip accommodation
Individual self-serviced cottages at Bealey Hotel – look at THAT scenery!

 

new zealand road trip itinerary arthurs pass national park
Bright purple lupins peeping out of the Earth

 

new zealand road trip itinerary arthurs pass national park
Vid at Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfalls.

 

new zealand road trip itinerary arthurs pass national park
Drives at the Arthur’s Pass National Park

 

new zealand road trip itinerary arthurs pass national park
Stop and stare – The Arthur’s Pass National Park is sensational!

 

new zealand road trip itinerary arthurs pass national park
The riverbed right next to The Bealey Hotel

 

Day 12 – Wanaka via Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier, and Franz Jozef Glacier

It’s hard to get enough of the pristine Alpine beauty of this area of New Zealand. Barren river beds, glacial valleys, New Zealand’s characteristic purple lupins swaying in the wind, daisies peeking out of rugged cliffs, and gorgeous villages populated with colourful cottages along the way. This is where the drive becomes truly special. Stop for a picnic and take a short helicopter tour and hike at Franz Jozef Glacier. The drive to Wanaka through Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier, and Franz Jozef Glacier is a long and tiring one – you might consider breaking it and spending a night around Fox Glacier.

Sleep: We slept in a private ensuite room at Base Wanaka for 2 nights in Wanaka.

 

new zealand road trip itinerary fox glacier
Can you see Fox Glacier in the distance?

 

new zealand road trip itinerary fox glacier
Our picnic spot overlooking Fox Glacier

 

new zealand road trip itinerary drive to Wanaka
THOSE clouds – The drive to Wanaka will leave you gobsmacked!

 

Day 13 – Explore Wanaka

After the long drive on Day 12, it’s best to relax on this day. However if you’re feeling active (and we were!), opt for a short trek to the Diamond Lake lookout or Lake Hawea lookout. We chose for the former. The Diamond Lake circuit is just 45 minutes long but you can continue onto the Wanaka lookout point. We went all the way upto the Wanaka lookout and the entire circuit took about 2 hours.

 

Wanaka is a compact town and it’s easy to explore on foot. Spend a leisurely morning walking along the lake – you could also go kayaking or sunbathe on the shores. Try the scrumptious coffee and ice-cream at Patagonia Chocolates. Make sure you grab an afternoon nap because we recommend going star-gazing at night. The night-sky at Lake Wanaka on a clear day is mesmerising – in fact, we’ve never seen so many stars even when we were deep in the Bolivian Wilderness

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary lake wanaka
Glistening waters at Lake Wanaka

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary lake wanaka
Lake Wanaka’s famous solitary tree

 

New Zealand road trip itinerary diamond lake wanaka
The Diamond Lake from the Diamond Lake lookout point

 

New Zealand travel fashion hiking
The view from the Lake Wanaka lookout point on the Diamond Lake trek

 

That wanaka tree lake wanaka night sky
The night sky over Lake Wanaka

 

Day 14 – Drive to Queenstown

Queenstown is a short drive from Wanaka but it’s one that takes ages. That’s because you will feel compelled to stop and take photos every 2 minutes. There are 2 ways to get to Queenstown but make sure you take the Crown Range route to Queenstown –  this is the highest main road in New Zealand and it’s a beautiful drive. There are plenty of lookout points as you drive through New Zealand’s Lake District. This drive offers a bit of everything – glistening lakes, ice-capped peaks, and stunning roads. Try to spot keas (mountain parrots) and enjoy the journey – it truly doesn’t get better than this. You’ll also pass Cardrona, a small township where you can stop for coffee.

 

Sleep: We slept at Lake’s End Lodge for 4 nights in Kingston, close to Queenstown

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Queenstown drive
Driving from Wanaka to Queenstown – spectacular and then some!

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary
New Zealand’s glistening lakes *sigh*

 

Day 15: Explore Queenstown

Choose lake-side accommodation and you could wake upto clouds suspended over Lake Wakatipu. Spend a leisurely day exploring everything that Queenstown has to offer: drives, picnicking in the countryside, and panoramic points of view. Queenstown is so picturesque, it will definitely leave you gobsmacked! If you’re into adventure sports, Queenstown is also extremely popular for bungee jumping and sky diving.

 

If there’s one thing you need to do see in and around Queenstown, it’s Glenorchy. I know I said that drives don’t get better than Wanaka-Queenstown  –  I lied! The 40 minute drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is probably the most scenic drive you’ll ever experience. No wonder then, there’s a place called Paradise just up the road from Glenorchy. A number of movies including The Lord of The Rings and Wolverine have been shot here – one look at the grand landscapes and you’ll know why!! On your way back from Glenorchy to Queenstown, take a li’l detour on a gravel road for Lake Moke. It’s a perfectly secluded picnic spot – we loved it!

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Queenstown drive
Look at that road! The Queenstown-Glenorchy drive is amongst the best in the world!

 

New Zealand road trip accommodation
The tiny settlement of Glenorchy has a quaint feel to it

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Queenstown drive Lake Moke
Lake Moke is worth a little detour on a gravel path

 

Day 16: Milford Sound 

Help me, I’m running out of superlatives here! Leave your hotel in Queenstown early for a drive to the heart of New Zealand’s Fjordland on Day 16. Milford Sound was referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, so we had high expectations from it. As with everything else in New Zealand, it delivered!!

 

The drive to Milford Sound is a long and scenic one. Make sure you stop at the reflective Mirror Lake to stretch your legs. Grab some snacks and get your fuel tank topped up at Te Anau because there are no gas stations or supermarkets between Te Anau and Milford Sound.

 

You’ll start spotting hand rugged cliffs as you inch closer to Milford Sound. Once there, Mitre Peak, the distinctive mountain you’ll spot on most postcards, will greet you. That’s the cue to look around and absorb jaw-dropping 360° views of New Zealand’s Fjordland. The views multiply manifold as you hop on a short cruise at Milford Sound. We took an afternoon cruise with Cruise Milford, which allowed us to get up close and personal with waterfalls, rainbows, sea-lions, and the gorgeous scenery at Milford Sound. The landscape here reminded both of us of the Norwegian Fjords.

 

Optional: We’ve spent a lot of time exploring fjords in Scandinavia, so we opted for a short afternoon cruise at Milford Sound. However if this is your first time exploring Fjords or they simply fascinate you to no end, you could opt for a long multi-day trip to Doubtful Sound.

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Queenstown drive mirror lake
Mirror Lakes on the way to Milford Sound

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Milford Sound drive
Driving to Milford Sound – we stopped way too many times!

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Milford Sound drive
Cruising along Milford Sound in New Zealand

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Milford Sound cruise
A sea-lion stares at a waterfall at Milford Sound in New Zealand. A cruise gives tourists the opportunity to get extremely close to waterfalls!

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Milford Sound cruise
Milford Sound is overwhelming – check out the size of the boat compared to the fjord and cliffs!

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Milford Sound cruise
Glistening waters, rainbows, waterfalls, and a fjord at Milford Sound

 

Day 17: Otago’s wineries & scenic drives in New Zealand

Now that you’ve had your fair share of glistening crystal lakes and craggy peaks, it’s time to enjoy the finer things in life. Spend the morning exploring Otago’s wineries. Book a wine-tasting tour or simply drop by a winery (Amisfield and Mt. Difficulty are two of the most popular options!) for a leisurely lunch. Sample some wines as you go along. If wines aren’t your thing, walk up Queenstown Hill or take the Skyline Gondola for stunning views of Queenstown.

 

Spend the evening in Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town. Take Gorge road from Queenstown towards Arrowtown  and go up Coronet Peak for some incredible views. Once you’re in Arrowtown, just walk around the charming historic settlement full of vintage candy shops, restored cottages, and restaurants. You could also explore gold-mining sites or the Chinese settlement by the river before you grab dinner in Arrowtown. End your stay in Queenstown with a spot of star-gazing – you can spot the elusive Milky Way on most clear nights.

 

Optional: Spend two days in Dunedin to see yellow penguins and visit the Otago Peninsula for the Albatross Colony.

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Queenstown drive
Drive around Queenstown for gorgeous views

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Otago winery
An overview of a vineyard in Otago

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary queenstown night sky
Night skies in Queenstown, New Zealand

 

Coronet peak Queenstown
Enjoying panoramic views near Coronet peak

 

Day 18: Drive to Christchurch via Mt. Cook and Lake Tekapo

After 4 nights in Queenstown, it’s time to leave it and drive onward to Mt. Cook National Park, famous for its flora. The drive will take you through Lake Hayes, perfectly-manicured vineyards and wineries in Gibbston, and fruit farms and orchards in Cromwell. Spend the afternoon exploring the unmitigatedly turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki (check out this short video we recorded at Lake Pukaki). This entire area is overrun by bright purple lupins in the summer and it will cast a spell on you! Spend the entire day exploring the flora of Mackenzie and Canterbury and driving through Mount Cook National Park. Check into your hotel in Christchurch at night.

 

Optional: If you have an extra day or two spend it in a hotel near Lake Tekapo. The night skies here are legendary because it is a part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve.

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Mt. Cook National Park lavender field
Lavender field on the drive to Mt. Cook

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Lake Tekapo
Purple lupins near Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary
Driving to Mt. Cook – Views on a summer road trip in New Zealand are incredible

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki in all its glory 🙂

 

Day 19: Snooze in Christchurch

I’ll be honest. 4000 kms and so many new places later, we just wanted to sleep in Christchurch. We ventured out only to sample some amazing coffee at Pure Café and grab some eats.  We spent a lazy afternoon walking through Hagley Park, observing tourists punting on the Avon, and acquainting ourselves with dozens of varieties of roses at Central Rose Garden. If you are craving another jam-packed day, there is no dearth of things to do and see in Christchurch.

 

Sleep: We slept in a spacious serviced apartment at All Stars Inn in Christchurch

 

Day 20: Fly back to your home country

20 days and 4000 kms later, it’s time to fly back home. We’re sure you’ll spend the flight back home dreaming of crystal lakes that act as mirrors to surrounding glaciers, winding roads that hide secret lookouts, romantic long-winded walks, countryside lodges laden dripping with flowers, and New Zealand’s night skies that you experienced on your epic road trip. We don’t blame you one bit! 🙂

 

New Zealand Road Trip itinerary Christchurch couple travellers
That was our memorable road trip in New Zealand

 

Here’s a short video of all the fun we had driving in New Zealand 🙂

 

Has our New Zealand road trip itinerary convinced you to book your flights to this breathtakingly gorgeous corner of the world? If you need more convincing, have a look at all our New Zealand posts.

 

Read about all our favourite road trips from around the world 🙂

93 thoughts on “An Epic New Zealand Road Trip – Itinerary, Tips, and Planning

    1. Great tip Sarah – we chose Picton because we were knackered after the ferry ride and didn’t want to drive at all. Kissing Gate sounds good 😀

    1. Thanks Leah – you’re absolutely right! We really enjoyed New Zealand and Vid spent most of his time photographing the country 😉 PS You should hop over to Iceland when you get a chance – think you’ll enjoy it! It’s very similar to NZ just more rugged and handsome

  1. Stunning photographs.
    I am traveling to NZ next week and wanted to know what else can we do near Christchurch? I am driving to Mount Cook from Christchurch, staying a day and then coming back. Any other suggestions?

    Looking at your photographs, I must say I can’t wait to be there 🙂

    1. Thanks Jayesh. Have fun in New Zealand. Mt. Cook is gorgeous. You could also drive to Arthur’s Pass National Park Jayesh. Alternatively Waipara has some really good wineries 🙂

    2. If you’re looking for things to do near Christchurch you could try Akaroa, Governor’s Bay, Hamner Springs or Kaikoura. All of those can be done in a day or easy overnight from Christchurch.

    1. Hey Rekha We’d say Iceland and South Island, NZ are at par with each other. Both have grand panoramas and stunning landscapes. However Iceland is more rugged and there’s always a sense of discovery involved while traveling in Iceland. NZ seems a tad preened and prettier in comparison. It’s a hard choice 🙂

  2. these photos seem totally heavenly !!! what views !!! vid is undoubtedly the bestest (spare the error ;)) photographer !!!! just cant believe all the photos are real !!! totally ethereal guys !!! the outfits are perfect and so is the post !!! 😀

    1. Aww thanks a million Surabhi 🙂 Vid spends loads of time honing his photography skills, so I must make him read your comment

  3. Those are probably the best views of NZ, collected all in one place:) Was following your trip on Instagram, you’re such an amazing and inspiring travelers. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience:)

    Ksenia,
    thestylejungle.ru

  4. This is a fantastic post guys! I’m a Kiwi so it’s always interesting to me to see what tourists get up to when they’re visiting. Your itinerary was packed but great. And your photos…. just wow! Especially all those night sky shots. You’ve got me wanting to do more exploring here in my own backyard.

    1. Thanks Bethaney – always love hearing from you 🙂 We had an absolutely great time in NZ – such a gorgeous country

    1. Hey Randhir – we’d say New Zealand is more scenic of the two. South Africa is more adventurous 😀

  5. I was so amazed with your photo really beautiful I could feel the happiness if only from the pictures trimakasih , I’m from Indonesia Did you ever to my country here many beautiful places I want you come to my country to take lots of pictures to post in this blog..

  6. ohk ..is New zealand more scenic than iceland too ?

    The reason I’m asking is coz I want to take off on the most scenic road trip next year.

    1. Hey Randhir – both countries are extremely scenic. New Zealand is prettier while Iceland is more rugged.

  7. New Zealand or South Africa for me in 2017, since 2016 is done ! Difficult choice ! You guys just made it all the more difficult with all these pictures.

    1. That’s a hard choice indeed – you’ll love whichever one you choose. Do send us photos from your trip in 2017 🙂

  8. Hi guys,

    I live in Australia and have been to NZ once. Your itinerary just makes me want to go there again. What an incredible holiday it seems you had, amazing photographs by Vid and very well described by Savi. Just 1 question if I were to do South Island separately would 10 days be sufficient?

  9. Hi Guys,

    That’s an awesome journey and chronicled so nicely! One can actually feel the excitement that you guys experienced. It really seems like a road trip is THE way to explore NZ.

    I’m planning to visit NZ mid-October this year, but I only have 10 days plan, so obviously I’m now confused as to where to explore given so many places that you’ve mentioned here. I have planned my North Island trip (4 days), but it’s getting difficult to pick places in the remaining 5 in South Island. Could you suggest me the top places to go to? Also, does Hertz charge you again for the car hire once you drop-off your car at North Island and pick-up again in South Island? Or do they only continue to charge the per day rentals?

    1. Hey Tanmay – you should head straight to South Island and spend the 10 days you have exploring just the South Island. You’ll love it.

      Hertz doesn’t charge for dropping off at North Island at Wellington/picking-up in South Island at Picton. However when you’re booking the car just choose a one way rental from Auckland to Christchurch.

  10. Hi Guys,

    Love your blog and especially the photos!

    I was wondering what route you would recommend to a fellow British person who only has a week to spend in New Zealand and has never been there?

  11. Hi Savi & Vid! Love your blog and your experience in New Zealand is inspiring us to take our next vacation there. While December to February is the popular season, is October or November also a good time to go there hoping none of the places are closed.

    1. Hey Prerit – October & November are great months to visit NZ. You’ll get there before the tourist hordes hit the main attractions, which is always a good thing 🙂

      1. For navigation and directions, did you guys rent a GPS from the rental care company? Paid for data to use google maps? could you please share the option you chose and the cost.

  12. Savi/Vid,

    Thank you so much for an detailed explanation. I am getting married in Jan and thanks, thanks to you both, I am daring to go on my honeymoon trip without any tours and travels but on my own as I love Driving. I am looking to spend 7-10 days, so as you folks suggested in some comments, will directly head to South. Can you please let me know what do you think I will miss the most if I do NOT travel to North ?

    Looking forward to hear from you and trust me, reading your post has increased by excitement level to optimum

    1. Hey Rohit – that’s awesome. Send us photos from NZ. You won’t regret doing the self-drive trip instead of a guided tour. If you have 7-10 days exploring only South Island makes sense. The highlights of North Island, which you’ll miss are the thermal springs and limestone formations in Rotorua.

      1. Thanks Savi Vid for your response. 1 more input please. I am almost set up with my plan except the one below. What would you suggest between these 2 options for 3 days and why ? Remaining 7 days, I have planned for South New Zealand and that looks fine for me

        1. India to Christchurh. Christchurch, Arthur pass, castle hill, great alpine highway, bealey valley and remaining time in south
        2. India to Auckland. Auckland + Rotoura. Then fly from Rotoura to Christchurch and remaining 7 days in South

        This is the only part of my planning left. Appreciate your help here

        Regards,
        Rohit

        1. Hey Rohit – it really depends on your personal preferences but if you have 10 days, we’d suggest flying to Christchurch and spending them all on the South Island 🙂

  13. Hi Savi and Vid,

    I really enjoyed your trip report. Would you recommend doing both the north and south if I have about 2 weeks? I was hopeful to visit Sydney for NYE prior to NZ, so probably have a total of 18 nights. Thanks!

    1. Hey Melanie – we visited Sydney for NYE prior to our roadtrip in NZ too 🙂 Sure if you have 18 nights, do explore both North and South Island. If you like to take it slow and easy, then stick to just the South Island

  14. Hey guys ! I love reading your blog and it has definitely helped me out in planning my trips especially the german alpine road trip. It was amazing as you said it was. I didnt even know it existed until I read your blog. I am now planning a new zealand road trip and naturally my point of reference was your blog first( I remember reading about it earlier) then I’d google everything else. But I’ve noticed that every single pictures has an ad which pops up. It can get a little bit annoying when the add pops up and I have to cancel it every single time. I love looking at the pictures you take (you guys do take some amazing pictures), is there any other way around this ? Or is this how the blog will be like from now on ? Not trying to sound negative or anything like that, just wondering. I don’t own a blog so I don’t know how it all works. Thanks guys 🙂

    1. Hey Rosh

      Thanks a ton for informing us about this. We don’t mind at all – in fact we really appreciate the feedback. We actually run minimal ads on our website, so will definitely look into why this is happening and address it asap 🙂 So happy to hear that you enjoyed our post on Bavaria and made it there. Yay

  15. Yes we (took my parents too) did enjoy the german alpine trip. It was the highlight of our Europe trip. So many other blogs do not have as much detail/information as yours. If the ad stuff enables you guys to upkeep this blog and continue doing what you guys are doing, then so be it. 🙂 I will just cancel out the ads to see the full picture. Keep travelling and passing on those detailed information and amazing pictures. That is why we all love reading your blog 🙂 Oh and Im originally from Malaysia but have called Australia home for the last 12 years; if you do get the chance to go back to Malaysia, go to Penang ! Its got an amazing food scene, georgetown especially but check out the whole island 🙂

    1. Thanks a ton for your note Rosh – we’ve taken care of the intrusive ads now. Would love to be able to visit Penang soon 🙂

  16. Hi guys am planning a self drive trip nz trip with my kids aged 7 n 3 ..need your help in planning my trip..i have gone through your itenery n liked it a lot..

    1. Hey Bhavik – we wrote all our tips and suggestions in the 4 articles. Do read all 4 while planning your road trip in New Zealand

  17. Hey guys!

    First of all congratulations on such an amazing job with the blog! We were planning our trip to New Zealand when we started following your blog. The blog was extremely helpful and it helped us plan our trip perfectly. Thanks to you we got a lot of information on what to do and what not to do.

    New Zealand was amazing and I loved it! Thanks a lot for everything!

    -Gargi

    1. Hey Gargi – we’re SO happy to hear that our Guide to a roadtrip in New Zealand was helpful for you. Do send us photos from your roadtrip – we’d love to share them with our readers on Facebook and tag you 🙂

  18. Hi guys,

    Thanks for such a detailed itenary. THis really helped us in planning our New Zealand trip. We just returned from our two week road trip in NZ. We had a really packed itenary as we could take only 2 weeks off, but it was totally worth it. I couldn’t find the ozone coffee roasters that you guys mentioned in your post :(. I am a coffee lover and I was in love with New Zealand coffee.

    I love your blogs and bruised passport has become quite a household word between me and my husvand. Thank you once again for being such a great inspiration.

    Athira

    1. Hey Athira,

      So happy to hear that you had a great time in NZ – it’s a gorgeous place, isn’t it? 🙂

      Do share your photos with us – we’d like to share them with the Bruised Passports family!

      Cheers!

  19. I live in New Zealand and have missed a couple of things. Gosh you guys are incredible. Can never get enough. Following your instinct and taking the leap of faith is not everyone’s cup of tea and doing it like this is another deal altogether. More success and adventure to you both <3

  20. Hi Guys…lovely pics and kudos to the passion tht you are living up everyday…This year we are planning for a road trip with our 20 mth old daughter for apprx 10 days somewhere in april or may.

    We are not able to finalize the location though..sometime I think about going to Italy or Austria-Croatia or to discover New Zealand. What will you suggest to us given the time, season, baby and a fair budget allocation? We both love nature over man made creations..I need to refine my location so tht I can build my itinerary..many thanks and take care

    1. Hey Arti – thanks a ton. We would definitely suggest Croatia if you have just 10 days and prefer nature over man-made creations 🙂 It’s family-friendly and you’ll have no trouble driving there.

  21. What an excellent and comprehensive itinerary! Road tripping through New Zealand is one of the most incredible experiences! To explore the country at your leisure, and to stop off at the seemingly endless beautiful sights around the country really gives you a sense of freedom. I’ve written a couple itineraries for New Zealand’s North and South Islands as well! If you plan your trip well beforehand, you’re almost guaranteed to have an excellent time, and I think looking at itineraries is an excellent way to prepare yourself for your tour of this beautiful country!

  22. Thanks for the itinerary. I will be going over your blog again and again since I am planning ‘ my trip. And yours is very helpful!! We are doing a 15 days trip and we have thought to cover most of the places that you have shared.

    1. Hey Priyanka, we are happy to know that you found the information worth while.And also that it has helped you in planning your trip to New Zealand.Hope you have an awesome trip there…Happy travels:)

  23. Hey Guys,
    This article is so beautiful and so well written. Makes me want to pack my bag already.
    Kudos to the two of you!

    Also guys If I were to go and add Abel Tasman to the itinerary how would i be able to do so? Please give your suggestion.

    1. Thanks a lot Pallav. If you want to go to Abel Tasman, you could drive from Blenheim to the park and then drive all the way down to Fox/Franz Joseph. You might have to miss Arthur’s Pass in that case 🙂

  24. Wats ur take on hobbiton …. hobbiton or or cormandel. ..wat should one prefer … also ferry or domestic flight from north to south island….wats ur take ???

    1. Hey Priya,

      We’d recommend Coromandel but that’s our personal choice. We know a lot of people who’d try to fit both into their itinerary for New Zealand 🙂

      As for flight or ferry, well we chose the latter and didn’t feel like we made a bad choice. If you take the ferry, than you can drive from the North tip of the South Island and perhaps fit in Arthur National park too ::)

  25. Hello guys😍 We are planning to go newzeland !!! Which month is best to visit newzeland? N even want to buy new camera can u suggesr the best camera for beginners n which we can easily carry!! Just love ur all pictures awsome pics!!!
    N i love ur blogs very helpful 😊

    1. Thanks a lot Pooja.

      New Zealand is great between November and March however December can get very busy. We went in Jan/Feb and got great weather and fewer tourists. In so far as cameras go, you could look into Nikon D3400 or D5500.

      Have a great trip 🙂

  26. Hi Guys, we are planning a trip to Newzealand in October(mid october to end). We are planning to be there for 16 days. Will October be a good time to Visit? Also, since we have only 16 days we can either do
    Auckland-Bay Of Islands-Auckland-Coromandel-Rotorua-Auckland-Queenstown-Te anau-Wanaka-Franz Joseph-Chirstchurch- Auckland
    OR
    Auckland -Waitomo-Taupo-Rotorua-Christchurch-Kaikoura-Tekapo,Pukai,Aoraki-Wanaka-Franz Joseph-Queenstown-Auckland

    Net Net what I am trying to ask is should we do Bay of Islands or should we go for Waitomo,Taupo?

    1. Hey Binny,

      Even though we did not go to Bay of Islands (and went to Taupo), I’d pick Bay of Islands over Taupo especially since you will go to Rotorua in either case. Bay of Islands will give your trip an added variety 🙂

      I’d go for the former 🙂

      Have a great trip

  27. Hi guys.

    Amazingly well written and beautiful Pictures. I am also planning to go in mid November and I am sure to follow details given by you. Can you suggest a 15-16 days itinerary based on your 20 days trip. And yes I will be on a budget 🙂

  28. I couldnt see any date of the blogpost
    But going by the first comment in Apr, I assume you guys travelled sometime in March-April ?

    That would expect to be time for autumn in NZ
    Yet your piotures are very sunny, suggesting summer

    So when did you guys exactly do this trip ?

  29. Hi guys, love your blog! I’m Thinking about NZ road trip after seeing your post. Just wondering how difficult is it to drive in New Zealand? I never drive on the left side of the road before 😉

    1. Hey Daisy,

      You should definitely go to NZ and drive there. It’s not difficult as long as you follow the rules and general precautions that you would take anywhere you drive 🙂

      Cheers

  30. Hi Savi and Vid!
    Both me and my husband(Age 60 and 66) are planning to do our 1st ever road trip in a foreign land (read Newzealand) in Feb.

    When I Googled for info on the same the first blog that showed up was yours and my search began and ended there!
    You have gone through a great deal of trouble to put together such minute and all the important details of your roadtrip.This has made it all so super easy for travellers like us that I am left with no questions to ask!

    Hats off to both of you and may God bless you with a lifetime of such wonderful holidays where you not only enjoy to the fullest but ensure through your blog that others do too.

    If you have any further tips to give for first timers who shall be driving in New zealand please do let us know.

    1. Dear Deepali – your comment put a huge smile on my face. We put all our tips here, so we don’t have more to offer but so happy we could help you out. Hope you have an amazing time in New Zealand 🙂

  31. Hey Savi and Vid, Your itinerary has helped me just like so many other people to plan my travel as well. Looking forward to see more in future. Thank you 🙂

  32. Hey Guys,

    Your itinerary has helped me a lot. Thanks a lot for that. I had a couple of questions

    1. Do you know about the tongariro alpine crossing trek. Is it worth the effort to trek 19 kms
    2. How was the weather in feb, should we carry a few winter clothes

    Thanks,
    Rahul

    1. Hey Rahul – yes you should definitely try to do the Tongariro alpine crossing trek – we didn’t go but it’s supposed to be amazing. It’s quite warm in February but would still suggest carrying at least 1 warm jacket and 1 jumper as the weather can turn very quickly in New Zealand

  33. Hi Savi/Vid,

    You have rightly stated ‘a road trip through NZ shouldn’t be the first one..’ we did this road trip many moons ago and no other road trip gave us that wow factor! our itinerary was very similar to yours expect that we flew from wellington to Queenstown, as much as we wanted to drive, we were short of time :(. This year we are planning on a road trip through the Canadian rockies and going to follow your itinerary..

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