10 New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary Ideas – Plan Your New Zealand Route

This blog includes a list of 10 of the best New Zealand road trip itinerary ideas. It includes all the information to start planning your journey through New Zealand.

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary Routes

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 the most of 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 online, apps and info centers that make it a stress-free experience.
However, there is one stressful part to your New Zealand road trip and that’s picking an itinerary that suits your timeframe in New Zealand. It means picking a route that hits every place you’ve dreamed of visiting and more.
For that reason, I want to list 10 different New Zealand road trip itinerary’s (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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New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary – South Island

You can check out all of our blogs about the South Island for more detailed information on the places you want to go!

Queenstown to Christchurch Scenic Drive

Start: Queenstown or Christchurch
Duration: Fast Paced – 6 days, relaxed – 8 days+
Distance: 608km/ 8 hours of driving total

New Zealand Rad trip ideas
Queenstown to Christchurch

The Queenstown to Christchurch Scenic Drive 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 New Zealand road trip itinerary are:

  • Queenstown
  • Wanaka
  • Mount Cook Village
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Christchurch

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 longer road trip. Be sure to do a day tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound as you won’t want to miss this beautiful spot.
In 6 days you could complete the trip, however, the pace would be quite fast. In 9 you could move at a much slowers pace leaving time to both relax and see some pretty amazing sites.

Beautiful roads on a new Zealand road trip
The views you can expect on a South Island New Zealand road trip!

Southern Alps Explorer – New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Start: Can be started from any located 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

New Zealadn road trip idea - 10 day southern alp explorer
Southern Alps explorer

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

Check out all of our blogs on Queenstown for tons more information!

On this road trip, you will get to travel the famous Arthur’s Pass, drive the stunningly green West Coast, relax in Queenstown and Wanaka, and explore the stunning mountain peaks walking the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park.
This trip does a complete loop so you can book your 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).

Mount cook on our New Zealand road trip
You can’t miss visiting Mount Cook on your New Zealand road trip

Northern Journey – Road Trip Itinerary

Start: Christchurch
Duration: Fast paced – 10 days, relaxed – 2 weeks.
Distance: 1,298km/ 19 hours of driving

New Zealand Road trip itinerary 4 N
Northern Journey

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 for you! 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

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.

Just another amazing stop in Picton on a new Zealand south island road trip
Staring out into the Marlborough Sounds in Picton

South Island Adventure – The most thorough South Island Road Trip Itinerary

Start: You can start anywhere along this journey however Queenstown or Christchurch are great options.
Duration: fast-paced – 3 weeks, relaxed – 30 days+
Distance: 2,824km/38 hours of driving

The longest New Zealand road trip on the list of New Zealand road trips, the south island adventure
South Island Adventure

If you have 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 combines the two above trip itineraries plus more for one crazy road trip!
Highlights include exploring waterfalls in the very south, wildlife watching, skydiving, wineries, Milford Sound, 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

You need at least three weeks for this trip but a month 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. I only didn’t include it as 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.

One of the best stops on New Zealand road trip is Milford Sound
The stunning Milford Sound! It’s such a prehistoric place to visit!

If you are planning on renting a self-contained vehicle for your NZ holiday, consider booking with the company Mad Campers, they are a local company offering affordable one and two person self-contained vehicles. If you use our discount code, DEST5, you’ll get 5% off your entire booking!

 

South Island AND North Island Connecting Itineraries

South to North Island – 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

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

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? Click here!

The stops are:

  • Queenstown
  • Wanaka
  • Mount Cook Village
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
  • Picton
  • Wellington

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 would mean you would have to time the ferry right with your arrival. However, allowing 14 days would be perfect!

Hiking Roy's Peak just as the sun is rising on our New Zealand road trip
Standing on Roy’s Peak viewpoint just as the sun is rising!

South to North Island – 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

New Zealand Road trip itinerary
South to North Route 2

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:

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 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.

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!

For more detailed information, check out our blog on the best stops on the Sout Island’s West Coast!


New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary – North Island

A Taste of the North Island

Start: Auckland
Duration: Fast pace – 7 days, relaxed – 10 days+
Distance: 722km/ 10 hours of driving

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

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 (from Auckland) and much more.
The stops on this road trip are:

  • Auckland
  • Hahei
  • Tauranga
  • Waitomo
  • Raglan

In seven days you could complete this trip fine. It would be slightly rushed but if you stick to visiting 1 or two places in each area it can be done. For a very relaxed journey, 10+ days will do it.

north island new Zealand road trip itinerary 1
The stunning coastal areas of Raglan!

North Island Highlights New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Start: Auckland
Duration: Fast pace – 14 days, relaxed 18 days
Distance: 1,314km/ 19 hours of driving

North island new Zealand road trip itinerary
North Island highlights

This North Island highlights road trip itinerary hits many of the most popular spots in the North Island. It travels is a full circle to stop backtracking to 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 Pouaki 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

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!

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!

The Journey to the South Road Trip

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

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

Our first road trip 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, Piha 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

This journey 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.

Glow worms on a New Zealand road tripNew Zealand
Don’t miss seeing the stunning Waitomo glow worm caves!

The Ultimate Journey to the South Island Road Trip Itinerary

Start: Auckland
Duration: Fast Paced – 15 days, relaxed – 20 days
Distance: 1,466km/ 21 hours of driving

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

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 in 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.

*Please note that in summer Hobbiton must be booked in advance! You can book your Hobbiton Tour here!

The stops on this New Zealand road trip itinerary are:

  • Auckland
  • Hahei
  • Tauranga
  • Rotorua
  • Raglan
  • Waitomo
  • Taupo
  • Whakapapa
  • New Plymouth
  • Wellington

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 alow 20 days.

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

Important Tips and Info

Packing

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 Zealdn 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.


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.
 
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!

For more information on traveling around New Zealand check out our entire collection of New Zealand blogs here.

-Daniel

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new zealand road trip itineraries

 

Don’t forget travel insurance!

Travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years. World Nomads is a great company to use because they are affordable and cover many adventure activities that other companies don’t!

 

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