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10 Awesome New Zealand Road Trip Itineraries – Plan Your NZ Road Trip Route

Last updated : March 19th, 2020

New Zealand road trip ideas


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This blog includes a list of 10 awesome New Zealand road trip itinerary ideas. I’ve included road trip itineraries for both the South and North Islands varying by the number of days and places visited. These detailed New Zealand road trip itineraries will help your plan your own self-driven NZ road trip!


Road tripping through New Zealand’s stunning landscapes is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have in the country. It’s both the best way to see New Zealand and likely the cheapest!

Having a home on wheels that takes you wherever you want to go is convenient and easy to do in New Zealand. There are thousands of blogs, apps, and info centers that make it a stress-free experience.

Pouakai Hut on our New Zealand road trip on the north island
The Pouakai Hut Mt Taranaki – this is a must-do and included in some of our North Island itineraries.

However, there is one stressful part of your New Zealand road trip and that’s picking the best New Zealand self-drive itinerary that suits your timeframe and budget. It means choosing a route that hits every place you’ve dreamed of visiting and more.

For that reason, I want to list 10 different New Zealand self-drive itineraries (routes) to help plan and inspire your trip of a lifetime! Here are my New Zealand road trip itinerary ideas to help plan your New Zealand road trip.

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Related Read:   The Truth about Living in a Van: Pros and Cons


Getting Around for your NZ Road Trip

Kiwi Motorhomes driving around New Zealand
Road tripping New Zealand with Kiwi Motorhomes!

The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)

You can search for rental cars online in advance to compare car models and prices.

You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!

Personally, we have rented a campervan from the company called Mad Campers before and had a great experience. Mad Campers is for budget travelers and they offer 1 and 2 berth campervans that are very comfortable and perfect for a road trip in New Zealand! You can read our full Mad Campers review for more info!

We also have a discount code for our readers. Use DTRAVEL5 at checkout to get 5% off your campervan rental with Mad Campers!

Kiwi Motorhomes is another company we personally recommend, but for motorhomes! They offer luxury motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates. Check out our full review on them as well as more info specific on renting a motorhome in NZ!

Kiwi Motorhomes has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DEST5 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental!

I’m not saying these are the only two good companies out there, because there really are lots! But both of these guys are great value and come approved by us – plus you get a discount!

CompanyDiscount %Code for Discount
Mad Campers5%DTRAVEL5
Kiwi Motorhomes5%DEST5
Tui Rentals5% TUI05

New Zealand Road Trip Itineraries on the South Island

If you only want to explore the South Island of New Zealand I have created 4 different road trip itineraries below. They range in length of time and route. So, depending on what you want to do and how long you have, you can find an itinerary for you below!

1-Week South Island Itinerary: 6-8 Days

Start: Queenstown or Christchurch

Duration: Fast-paced=6 days, relaxed=8 days+

Distance: 608km/ 8 hours of driving total

The Queenstown to Christchurch 1-week South Island itinerary is the shortest road trip itinerary on this list. It’s short but sweet hitting some amazing locations along the way.

Some of the highlights along this route are adventure activities and tours in Queenstown, a scenic boat ride in Milford Sound, hiking in Mount Cook National Park, and taking in incredible mountain views!

The stops on this self-drive NZ road trip itinerary are:

  • Queenstown
  • Wanaka
  • Mount Cook Village
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Christchurch
Beautiful roads on a self drive NZ itinerary
The views you can expect on a South Island New Zealand itinerary! This photo of Bailey was taken on the road to Milford Sound.

The great thing about this road trip is that you don’t have to loop back to your starting point and instead book your flights and campervan accordingly. It’s perfect for those who don’t have the time for a long road trip.

In 6 days you could complete this road trip, however, the pace would be quite fast. In 9 you could move at a much slower pace leaving time to both relax and see some pretty amazing sites.

Tip: Be sure to do a day tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound as you won’t want to miss this beautiful spot.


2-Week Southern Alps Itinerary: 10-14 Days

2 week South Island itinerary
Southern Alps explorer

Start: Can be started from any location on the map but Queenstown or Christchurch are most ideal.

Duration: Fast-paced=10 days, relaxed=2 weeks+

Distance: 1,454km/ 19 hours of driving total

The Southern Alps explorer is a great road trip idea for those who love the mountains. It’s likely the most popular route and each destination on the road trip is a tourist hot spot.

The stops are:

  • Christchurch
  • Punakaiki
  • Franz Joseph
  • Mount Cook village
  • Lake Tekapo
Mount cook on our New Zealand road trip
You can’t miss visiting Mount Cook on your New Zealand road trip! We absolutely love it there!

On this New Zealand road trip itinerary, you will get to travel the famous Arthur’s Pass, drive the stunningly green West Coast, relax in Queenstown and Wanaka, and explore stunning mountain peaks walking the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park.

This trip does a complete loop so you can book return flights from one airport and the same with your car rental. This means you can likely save some money on campervan relocation fees and spend it where it counts…on the road!

This New Zealand road trip can be completed in 10 days but that would make for a very rushed trip. I recommend 12 to 14 days to be able to truly see all the sights and enjoy some downtime. If you have a few extra days then skip the Milford Sound day tour and drive to Milford yourself spending a night at the Milford Sound Lodge (they have powered campsites for $35 NZD per person).

Related Read:   7 Best Photo Locations in Mount Cook National Park

Northern South Island Road Trip Itinerary: 10-14 Days

The 10 to 14 day South Island Itinerary
A 2-week road trip itinerary exploring the northern half of New Zealand’s South Island.

Start: Christchurch

Duration: Fast-paced=10 days, relaxed=2 weeks.

Distance: 1,298km/ 19 hours of driving

Not everybody comes to New Zealand for the mountains. If that’s you then this stunning New Zealand road trip through the northern part of the South Island is perfect! Some of the highlights include relaxing at the beach, swimming with wild dolphins, touring vineyards and wine tasting, as well as hiking in Abel Tasman National Park

The stops on this New Zealand road trip itinerary are:

  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
  • Picton
  • Nelson
  • Abel Tasman
  • West Port
  • Punakaiki
  • Hokitika
  • Christchurch
Just another amazing stop in Picton on a new Zealand south island road trip
Staring out into the Marlborough Sounds in Picton

In these regions, you will find stunning beaches, an array of wildlife including dolphins, lush forests, wineries and more. This trip also does a complete loop back to Christchurch, or if you are coming from the North Island, you could alternatively take the Picton, Nelson, Abel Tasman route to the West Coast back to Christchurch.

This road trip itinerary could be done in 10 days but allowing 2 weeks is recommended for a more relaxed trip.

Related Read:   Marlborough Sounds Cruise: Guide to the Marlborough Sounds

Complete South Island Adventure: 21-30 Days

4 week South Island itinerary to all the best places!
3-4 week road trip itinerary on New Zealand’s South Island.

Start: You can start anywhere along this route. Queenstown or Christchurch are great options.

Duration: Fast-paced=3 weeks, relaxed=30 days+

Distance: 2,824km/38 hours of driving

If you’ve come to New Zealand to do some serious exploring in the South Island then this New Zealand road trip itinerary is perfect for you! This long road trip hits so many amazing spots and covers all of the best places to go in the South Island! This road trip itinerary combines the two above trip itineraries plus more for one epic NZ road trip!

Highlights include exploring waterfalls in the Catlins, wildlife watching, skydiving, wine tasting in the Gibbston Valley, a Milford Sound cruise, various hiking opportunities, exploring the rugged coastline, and hanging out at the beach!

The stops on this New Zealand road trip itinerary are:

  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
  • Picton
  • Nelson
  • Punakaiki
  • Franz Josef
  • Wanaka
  • Queenstown
  • Te Anau
  • Milford Sound
  • Back to Te Anau
  • Invercargill
  • Curio Bay
  • Dunedin
  • Oamaru
  • Mount Cook Village
  • Lake Tekapo
Leaving the harbour on a Milford Sound Cruise
Bailey, enjoying a cruise in Milford Sound!

You need at least three weeks for this road trip, but 4 weeks or longer would be ideal and more relaxed. However, if you find yourself ahead of schedule make the extra trip to Abel Tasman National Park. The only reason I didn’t include it originally is that it adds much more driving to a road trip that’s already huge!

For more information on many of the stops mentioned above including things to do, check out our guide to planning the best South Island, New Zealand Road trip.

Related Read:   Freedom camping in New Zealand


New Zealand Road Trip Itineraries on the North Island

Below are 4 different road trip itineraries for exploring New Zealand’s North Island. They all vary in length and highlights included. You can connect these itineraries with the “connecting itineraries” in the next section of this blog to make an epic North and South Island road trip in New Zealand!

A Taste of the North Island: 7-10 Days

new zealand north island road trip itinerary
A taste of the north island

Start: Auckland

Duration: Fast-paced=7 days, relaxed=10 days+

Distance: 722km/ 10 hours of driving

Our first New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary is short and sweet. This trip is tailored to those on a short holiday who want to visit some classic sites. Highlights on this journey are Hobbiton (Waitomo area), the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove, Piha Beach, and much more.

The stops on this road trip are:

  • Auckland
  • Hahei
  • Tauranga
  • Waitomo
  • Raglan
Bridal Veil falls in Raglan
Bridal Veil Falls is a stunning waterfall and a must-visit in Raglan on the North Island!

In seven days you could complete this trip fine. It would be slightly rushed but if you stick to visiting one or two places in each area it can be done. For a very relaxed journey, 10+ days will do it.


North Island Highlights New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: 14-18 Days

North island new Zealand road trip itinerary
North Island highlights

Start: Auckland

Duration: Fast-pace=14 days, relaxed=18 days

Distance: 1,314km/ 19 hours of driving

This North Island highlights road trip itinerary hits many of the most popular spots on the North Island. It travels is a full circle to stop backtracking and maximize your time seeing the places you’ve always wanted too.

Some of the best things to do on this itinerary include visiting some of the best beaches in the North Island (the West Coast as well as the Coromandel), having a Maori experience in Rotorua, seeing glow worms, exploring Tongariro National Park, and hiking around Mt Taranaki or staying in the Pouakai Hut!

The stops on this road trip are:

  • Auckland
  • Piha (for the day or stay the night)
  • Hahei
  • Tauranga
  • Rotorua
  • Taupo
  • Whakapapa
  • New Plymouth
  • Waitomo
  • Auckland
Cathedral cove is a stunning stop on a new Zealand road trip through the north island
This is the stunning Cathedral Cove near Hahei Beach! Aren’t we cute?!

You could cover this road trip in as little as 14 days however that won’t leave much time to spend more than one in most places place. Instead, 18 days will give you plenty of rest days lounging on the beach or hiking in the mountains!

Related Read:   10 Absolute BEST Day Trips from Auckland

Journey to the South Road Trip: 8-12 Days

A new zealand road trip itinerary to the south island
Journey to the South Island

Start: Auckland or Wellington depending on your direction of travel.

Duration: Fast-paced=8 – 9 days, relaxed=12 days

Distance: 950km/ 13 hours of driving

Our first New Zealand itinerary to get you to the South Island includes many highlights and is centered around not missing Hobbiton. Other highlights on the trip are the Tongariro Crossing, Hot Water Beach, Waitomo Caves, Muriwai Beach and other West Coast beaches (from Auckland), Whanganui Journey, Bridal Veil Falls (Raglan), and more.

The stops on the road trip itinerary are:

  • Auckland
  • Hahei
  • Raglan
  • Waitomo
  • Whakapapa
  • Whanganui
  • Wellington
Glow worms on a New Zealand road tripNew Zealand
Don’t miss seeing the stunning Waitomo glow worm caves!

This road trip itinerary could be done in as little as 8 days but would be very rushed. If that’s all the time you have, consider skipping Hahei. In 12 days you could really see most of the sights and have a relaxing trip.

Related Read:   15 Best Things to do in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Ultimate Journey to the South Island: 15-20 Days

New Zealand north island rod trip to the south island
The ultimate journey to the south island road trip

Start: Auckland

Duration: Fast-paced =15 days, relaxed =20 days

Distance: 1,466km/ 21 hours of driving

Our last New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary is a full-on adventure. This trip visits so many amazing places all while getting you to your next adventure on the South Island.

Its highlights include the West Coast beaches not far from Auckland, the Coromandel Penninsula (including Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove), Tauranga, Rotorua Maori Experience, Bridal Veil Falls (Raglan), Hobbiton, Waitomo Caves, Lake Taupo, Tongariro Crossing, Mt Taranaki (New Plymouth), Whanganui, and Wellington.

Tip: Please note that in summer Hobbiton must be booked in advance! You can book your Hobbiton ticket here!

The stops on this New Zealand road trip itinerary are:

  • Auckland
  • Hahei
  • Tauranga
  • Rotorua
  • Raglan
  • Waitomo
  • Taupo
  • Whakapapa
  • New Plymouth
  • Wellington
Visiting the gannet colony near Auckland on a new Zealand road trip
The stunning landscapes and wildlife at Muriewi Beach around 45 minutes from Auckland

This road trip will take much more time than the above road trips. 15 days would be rushed and involve lots of driving days. To take it easy, allow 20 days.

Related Read:   2 Days in Auckland - An Ideal 48 Hour Itinerary

South Island AND North Island Connecting Itineraries

The below road trip itineraries connect a trip ending in Wellington to a trip on the South Island. You can use these itineraries to create an epic New Zealand road trip itinerary that includes BOTH islands!

South to North Island East Coast Road Trip: 10-14 Days

The south to north island New Zealand road trip idea
South to north route 1

Start: Queenstown or Picton depending on the direction

Duration: Fast-paced=10 days, Relaxed=14 days

Distance: 945km (without the ferry) / 13 hours of driving

Many travelers choose to road trip both the South and the North Island of New Zealand. So I thought I would include a few New Zealand road trip itineraries to suit this. This first one is the most popular as it visits the Mount Cook area on your way from Queenstown to Picton before continuing to the North Island.

Need to book the ferry to the North Island? Book it in advance online to secure your departure date!

The stops are:

  • Queenstown
  • Wanaka
  • Mount Cook Village
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
  • Picton
  • Wellington
Another shot from Roy's Peak, Wanaka looking down at Lake Wanaka

This would be my recommended route as the highlights of exploring Mount Cook National Park, relaxing on Lake Tekapo, and watching the dolphins in Kaikoura are just too amazing to miss.

This trip could be done in 10 days but that would leave little time in Queenstown and means you would have to time the ferry right with your arrival. However, allowing 14 days would be perfect!


South to North Island West Coast Road Trip: 11-15 Days

New Zealand Road trip itinerary
South to North Route 2

Start: Queenstown or Picton depending on your direction of travel

Duration: Fast-paced=11 days, relaxed=15 days

Distance: 1,186km/ 18 hours of driving without the ferry

The next route from south to north that connects both islands heads up the stunning West Coast. This journey takes a little longer to complete as it heads through the windy roads between Punakaiki and Nelson.

The stops on this New Zealand road trip itinerary are:

A helicopter is a great idea on a new Zealand road rip
Flying high above the Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier in a helicopter on our New Zealand road trip!

Although not my first choice, this road trip is still stunning! If you still want to see the dolphins on the east coast you could always take Arthur’s Pass over to the east coast to explore Kaikoura.

To allow for the windy roads and the slightly longer distance you need to allow 10 days at a minimum to complete this road trip. This would still be very rushed and 15 days would be more ideal.

Related Read:   Guide to Exploring the Blue Pools, New Zealand

Important Tips and Info for Planning you NZ Road Trip

Now that you have your itinerary route all planned out, there are a few other things you need to do to prepare for your road trip in New Zealand! Here is some other important information to help you out!

Packing for an NZ Road Trip

The views on day two of the kepler track one of New Zealand's great walks
The only way to get the best views is to go hiking!

Packing the right items for your New Zealand road trip is super important. Some items often forgotten are:

  • Travel adaptor – Try to get one with the USB plugins as well as a standard power plug.
  • Flynet – In the South Island, the sandflies are bad. Getting a fly net for your face will protect it during your road trip from nasty bites that can last weeks.
  • Lifestraw drink bottle – On many of the hikes in the New Zealand the water is generally safe to drink. However, to be sure a Life Straw Water Bottle is a, well, lifesaver!
  • Reef-safe sunscreen – Protecting New Zealand’s pristine waterways is super important. Reef safe sunscreen is a great way to do your part.
  • Sand-proof towel – These towels are amazing. I can’t go back to a normal beach towel anymore.
  • DEET-free bug repellent – The main ingredient in New Zealand bug repellent is DEET. Its really bad for both humans and bugs and DEET free options are just as effective.

Booking accommodation in New Zealand

The view of Queenstown, New Zealand from Bob's Peak
The view of Queenstown, New Zealand from Bob’s Peak. This tiny town is busy and accommodation can sometimes be difficult to get!

Would you believe it I told you Bailey and I have made over 250 hotel bookings since we started blogging! That’s a lot of bookings!

We could literally recommend any booking site and make a commission, however, the only website we use to make bookings is Booking.com (aside from the odd booking on Hostelworld).

They are the best in our opinion and there price match guarantee (we have used this before) means you’ll always get the best deal. If you’re planning your New Zealand road trip and need a place to stay (we all need some luxury here and there!) or campground Booking.com is the best way!

Insurance

  • Travel insurance – Travel insurance to cover yourself in case of injury is very important in any country and New Zealand is no different.
  • Car rental insurance – Did you know you can now get insurance for your rental excess. This new insurance is especially needed for campervans or motorhomes as the excesses on these vehicles can be $8,000 +.

Booking the Inter-Island Ferry

Booking your Inter-Island Ferry in advance is a great way to save money and hassle during your New Zealand Road trip. You can book the Inter-Island Ferry here.

Booking Flights

A great company to book flights to and from New Zealand and internally is Kiwi.com. We have used them many times and find them to be one of the cheapest.
 


Before you go…

selfie hiking in new zealand
Thanks for reading!

From the North Island to the South Island the places to visit are endless. These New Zealand road trip itineraries don’t cover every possibility but are a great start to planning your own unique road trip. Regardless of the road trip you choose, an adventure through New Zealand is a great idea and one you won’t regret.

If you found this article helpful or have any questions please leave them below in the comments section and we will get back to you.

If you need help planning your NZ trip, contact us today! We can create some amazing itineraries and can even secure discounts for our readers!

Keep reading…

If you liked this post be sure to check out all our NZ content from our New Zealand landing page. It’s the best resource for planning your trip and links to all the best places to visit and the blogs we have on those areas!

-Daniel


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new zealand road trip itineraries

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance! 

Travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars many times. World Nomads is a great company to use if you are an adventure traveler like us!

About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

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