Great NZ Road Trips
Planning an itinerary obviously depends on what style of traveller you are and what types of things you want to see. You might be a relaxed motorhomer who prefers to drive at a leisurely pace, allowing yourself the time to stop at whatever river or park takes your fancy on the way, or you may want to travel at a fairly swift pace. You might be interested in scenery or hiking alone, or you may want a balance between nature, cultural attractions, and seeing the main centres.
Think about what you’ll actually be doing day to day:
- Do you want to be in a holiday park each night, or just some nights?
- Do you want to stop at a destination each day, spend a few nights in each place, or spend a few days just driving, absorbing the sights from your motorhome?
- If you’re travelling with kids, consider what family-friendly attractions exist in each place
- Be conscious of whether you’ll want a day here and there to just rest and relax, without travelling or doing strenuous activities.
- How much flexibility do you want to give yourself? Do you want to plan a rigid schedule or play it by ear some of the time?
Make sure you consider interspersing rest or relaxation days after days that will be particularly strenuous, such as a day-long hike. This is particularly important if you are doing a long drive the next day. Here are some sample campervan itineraries of various lengths – seven days, 14 days and 21 days. Mix and match them to create your own perfect plan if you like.
Seven-Day Itinerary Options
As it’s just not possible to see everything in either island in just seven days, we’ve given you a few different realistic options, one for each section of each island.
Option One: Northland, Auckland and Rotorua
Balmy beaches and bubbling mud!
Day One – Arrive in Auckland, drive north to Paihia in the Bay of Islands (4h15m). If arriving after long haul, stay the night in Auckland and pick your camper up the next day. Leave early and drive to Paihia.
Day Two – Explore the Bay of Islands, take a 10 minute boat trip to Russell (NZ’s original capital), or visit Cape Reinga at the northernmost tip (4h30m)
Day Three – Leave early, drive down to the geothermal region of Rotorua (7h30m) View the town by gondola
Day Four – Spend the day viewing Rotorua’s many attractions
Day Five – Drive back to Auckland (3h50m) via Waitomo – visit the glow worm caves or go black water rafting
Day Six – Spend the day in Auckland. Ascend the Sky Tower or have lunch at a winery on Waiheke Island (40 minute ferry crossing)
Day Seven – Depart Auckland
Option Two: Central North Island
Stunning coastline, food and wine
Day One – Arrive in Auckland, drive to the Coromandel Peninsula (2h40m). Stay in Whitianga (If arriving after long haul, stay the night in Auckland and pick your camper up the next day. Leave early and drive to the Coromandel).
Day Two – Explore the Coromandel’s many beaches – make sure you see Cathedral Cove at Hahei, and make your own hot spring at Hot Water Beach
Day Three – Drive to Gisborne around the East Cape on Highway 35 (8h). Stay the night and see the first light in the world at sunrise
Day Four – Drive to Hawke’s Bay (3h25m) and visit some wineries in Napier
Day Five – Drive back to Auckland (6h30m), stopping for lunch at Lake Taupo
Day Six – Explore Auckland. Shop or take the ferry to Waiheke Island (40 minute ferry crossing) or Devonport (12 minute ferry crossing) for lunch
Day Seven – Depart Auckland
Option Three: West Coast and Central North Island
Worms, walks and the Wild West
Day One – Arrive in Auckland, drive to Waitomo (1h55m) to see the glow worm caves, then across to Raglan (45minutes). If arriving after long haul, stay the night in Auckland and pick your camper up the next day. Leave early and drive to Taupo (4h5m) via Waitomo.
Day Two – Drive to Taupo (2h10m) via Putaruru, stopping at the famous Blue Spring
Day Three – Visit Tongariro National Park, do the day-long Tongariro Crossing
Day Four – Drive to New Plymouth (5h25m), visit the Govett-Brewster Art gallery
Day Five – Do the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway for views of Mt Egmont and the Sugar Loaf Islands, and swimming at Ngamotu Beach. Have dinner in Stratford
Day Six – Drive back up the coast to Auckland (6h20m) via State Highways 3 and 39
Day Seven – Depart Auckland
Option One: Lower South Island
A scenery spectacular!
Day One – Arrive in Christchurch and spend the day. Include a visit to Banks Peninsula (1h5m)
Day Two – Drive to Wanaka (6h30m), explore in the afternoon and have dinner
Day Three – Drive to Queenstown (1h50m) and do a bungy jump, skydive or jet boat ride
Day Four – Drive to Te Anau (2h45m), see the glow worm caves and visit the lake
Day Five – Drive to Milford Sound (2h20m) and do a boat tour (overnight ones are available and recommended!)
Day Six – Drive back to Queenstown (5h), visit gardens and wineries. If you’re leaving Christchurch in the first half of the next day, depart Queenstown in the evening and stay the night in Timaru (5h)
Day Seven – Drive back to Christchurch (7h15m from Queenstown, 2h10m from Timaru) and depart
Option Two: Upper South Island
Serene, relaxing and peaceful
Day One – Arrive Christchurch, drive to Hamner Springs (1h45m) and have a relaxing soak If arriving after long haul, stay the night in Christchurch and pick your camper up the next day. Leave early and drive to Blenheim (5h) via Hamner Springs.
Day Two – Drive to Blenheim (4.25h) along the Wairau River. Take a walking track in the valley or visit a winery in Renwick on the way
Day Three – Drive up to Nelson and the Golden Bay area (2h), and kayak Abel Tasman National Park
Day Four – Drive to Kaikoura (3h45m) and go whale-watching from the sky or a boat. Eat crayfish for dinner
Day Five – Go llama trekking in Kaikoura then drive down the coast, stopping at Gore bay (1h) to see the cliff formations
Day Six – make your way back to Christchurch (1h15), stopping in Waipara Valley at a vineyard for lunch
Day Seven – depart Christchurch
Fourteen-Day Itinerary Options
Option One: North Island
Two weeks is a perfect amount of time to see the North Island properly. You’ll be able to see all the main centres and points of interest comfortably.
Day One – Arrive Auckland, check out the city and the Sky Tower
Day Two – Drive to Northland (anywhere from 3h – 8h) and visit some cultural attractions
Day Three – Drive to the Coromandel Peninsula (5h50 from Whangarei) and check out its many beaches
Day Four – Drive to the Waikato region (3h) via the Firth of Thames
Day Five – Drive to New Plymouth (5h), tour the Sugar Loaf Islands marine park
Day Six – Climb to the summit of Mt Taranaki
Day Seven – Drive to Wellington (5h10m), shop in the city and go out for dinner
Day Eight – Visit Wellington’s Te Papa Tongarewa – The Museum of New Zealand
Day Nine – Drive to Napier (4h30m) and go on a wine trail
Day Ten – Drive to Te Urewera National Park in northern Hawke’s Bay (2h)
Day Eleven – Drive to Taupo (1h20m) and catch a trout from the lake
Day Twelve – Drive to Rotorua (1h20m) and check out the geothermal activity
Day Thirteen – Explore more Rotorua and relax at the Polynesian Spa
Day Fourteen – Drive to and depart Auckland (3h50m)
Option Two: South Island
Two weeks is also an ideal amount of time to spend touring the South Island. While most New Zealanders and main centres are located in the North Island, the South Island’s spectacular scenery cannot be rushed!
Day One - arrive, pick up campervan in Christchurch, rest and explore Christchurch the next day. Try exploring from a different angle with a scenic balloon ride
Day Three - drive to Franz Joseph Glacier (6h40m), do a heli-hike
Day Four – drive to and explore Lake Tekapo (6h)
Day Five - drive to Dunedin (3h45m), explore the Otago peninsula
Day Six – continue to explore Otago, do the Elm Wildlife Tour
Day Seven - drive to Te Anau (3h40m), explore, see the glow-worm caves
Day Eight - Doubtful Sound overnight cruise (2h from Te Anau). Book this asap!
Day Nine - drive to Queenstown (4h15), go on the Skyline gondola and luge
Day Ten – Explore Arrowtown/Cromwell area (45m), tour some wineries
Day Eleven - head up to Wanaka area (1h30m), explore and see a couple more wineries
Day Twelve - drive on to Hokitika (6h10m), see the Gorge, Lake Kaniere, Dorothy Falls
Day Thirteen - drive to Hamner Springs (3h10)
Day Fourteen- drive back to Christchurch (1h30m), depart
Option Three: Both Islands
We’ve included an option for seeing both the North and South Islands in 14 days, but bear in mind that it will be quite rushed – consider doing just one island thoroughly if you only have two weeks, or adding an extra couple of days to your trip.
Day One - Arrive Christchurch, pick up campervan and explore the city
Day Two - Drive to Lake Tekapo (2h45m) and climb Mt. John for 360 degree views of the Southern Alps
Day Three - Stay in Lake Tekapo, hike to Cowan's Hill, take a helicopter flight over the Southern Alps complete with glacier landing
Day Four - Drive to Queenstown (3h15m), stopping at Mt Cook for lunch (1h15m from Lake Tekapo)
Day Five – Drive to Milford Sound (4h15m)
Day Six – Drive back to Queenstown in the morning, have a relaxing day and explore
Day Seven - Drive to Fox and Franz Josef Glacier (5h), stopping at the various waterfalls along Haast Pass (3h15m from Queenstown)
Day Eight – Still at the glaciers, see Peter's Pool at Franz Josef Glacier, and hike some of Roberts Point
Day Nine – Leave early, drive to Picton (6h30m), passing Punakaiki around high tide for the blow holes
Day Ten - Ferry to Wellington (3h20m), explore Wellington
Day Eleven - Drive to Tongariro National Park (4h10m)
Day Twelve - Hike in Tongariro National Park (do the Tongariro Crossing if weather allows)
Day Thirteen - Drive to Auckland via Rotorua for lunch and to see geothermal activity (1h20m then 3h50m)
Day Fourteen - Depart Auckland
Twenty One-Day Itinerary
North and South Island
For this tour, you’ll need to rent from a campervan company that has a reciprocal arrangement between branches in Auckland and Christchurch. Most do.
Day 1 – Arrive Auckland and explore
Day 2 – Pick up your campervan and drive to the Bay of Islands (Paihia – 4h15m)). Explore, perhaps by Excitor, an amphibious vehicle/vessel that takes you from Paihia to Cape Brett and the Cathedral Cave
Day Three – Drive down via Auckland to Waitomo (6h10m), and visit the glowworm caves
Day Four – Drive to Rotorua (1h40m)
Day Five - Spend the whole day in Rotorua, you’re spoiled for choice of attractions to see
Day Six – Save Waiotapu Thermal Reserve just south of Rotorua for the next morning to see the Lady Knox geyser erupt at 10.15am. Drive to Taupo (1h20m), stopping at Huka Falls. Lunch at Lake Taupo, then drive from Taupo to Napier (2h30m)and spend the afternoon
Day Seven - See the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers then drive to Wellington (4h50m), stopping in Martinborough for a glass of wine
Day Eight – Take the whole morning to spend at Te Papa. After lunch, shop or go to the Botanic Gardens
Day Nine – Take the ferry to Picton (3h20m) and explore the town and the Marlborough Sounds. Walk part of the Queen Charlotte Track.
Day Ten – Drive to Nelson (1h45m) via the Queen Charlotte Drive. Relax in Nelson for the afternoon
Day Eleven – Leaving early, drive to Marahau (45m) to explore the Abel Tasman National Park by boat or kayak. At the end of the day, drive back to Nelson
Day Twelve - Drive to Punakaiki (4h), stopping just before it at Cape Foulwind near Westport to visit the seal colony. At Punakaiki, see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.
Day Thirteen - Drive to to Hokitika, famous for its greenstone carving and glass blowing (1h45m) then continue to Franz Josef Glacier (a further 1h45m). Book a heli-hike, then go and see the movie Flowing West, shown in the movie theatre of the Alpine Adventures Centre Building
Day Fourteen - In the morning drive to Lake Matheson, famous for its reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. Then drive back to Franz Joseph for your helicopter tour. In the afternoon drive to Wanaka (3h35m) and relax
Day Fifteen - Drive to Queenstown (1h30m), stopping at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge to look at (or jump from) the world’s first bungy jump site. Take the Skyline Gondola to Bob’s Peak for views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu
Day Sixteen – Do Queenstown’s Shotover Jet Boat Ride, then drive to Te Anau (2h)
Day Seventeen - Drive to the Milford Sound (2h15m) and explore by boat. In the afternoon drive back to Queenstown
Day Eighteen – Drive to Mount Cook Village (3h30m) and visit Mount Cook Salmon Farm (on the shores of Lake Pukaki). Take a scenic flight over the region
Day Nineteen - Drive to Christchurch (4h15m) and visit the Botanic Gardens, check out the Arts Centre or the Canterbury Museum
Day Twenty – Either drive to Kaikoura (2h15m), or book a whale-watching tour from Christchurch. You can also do this by helicopter if you prefer
Day Twenty One – Drop off your campervan and shop for souvenirs before departing Christchurch