We spent 12+ months tiki touring (Kiwi lingo for doing a chilled exploratory road trip) around New Zealand. We have now put together an itinerary for you that crisscrosses the whole country – from the very top of the North Island to the very bottom of the South Island, and from the very East to as far West as you can go.
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Don’t have that much time? Don’t fret. Pick the parts of the itinerary that you like the most and (if possible) come back for a few years down the track.
We’ve got you hooked? Awesome. Not convinced yet of the self-drive idea? Check out these important basics for a fun and safe road trip around New Zealand.
Your itinerary for the North Island will take you from Auckland to Wellington (or vice versa). The itinerary is made up of 15 stages, with driving distances ranging from 80 kilometres/50 miles to 350 kilometres/217 miles.
Assuming you collect your vehicle in Auckland, you first head up north for a loop around Northland (stages 1-3). After exploring Auckland and its surroundings on your return (stage 4), you head east, following the blue line on the map. After exploring the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty, the East Cape and Hawkes Bay (stages 5-10), you head back inland (stages 11/12) and west (stages 13/14). You complete your North Island itinerary in Wellington (stage 15), New Zealand’s capital and southernmost city on the North Island.
Recommended Travel Distance and Stay Duration
|Stage||Approximate Driving Distance||Suggested Minimum Stay||Destination|
|Start of Journey: Auckland|
|1||250 kilometres / 155 miles||2 nights||Bay of Islands|
|2||200 kilometres / 124 miles||1 night||Cape Reinga|
|3||230 kilometres / 143 miles||1 night||Waipoua Kauri Forest|
|4||250 kilometres / 155 miles||4 nights||Auckland and surrounds|
|5||250 kilometres / 155 miles||1 night||Coromandel Peninsula|
|6||200 kilometres / 124 miles||2 nights||North-East Waikato|
|7||80 kilometres / 50 miles||3 nights||Rotorua|
|8||310 kilometres / 193 miles||2 nights||East Cape|
|9||280 kiloemetres / 174 miles||1 night||Mahia Peninsula|
|10||180 kilometres / 112 miles||2 nights||Hawkes Bay|
|11||160 kilometres / 99 miles||2 nights||Taupo|
|12||200 kilometres / 124 miles||3 nights||Tongariro National Park|
|13||150 kilometres / 93 miles||1 night||Waitomo|
|14||160 kilometres / 99 miles||2 nights||New Plymouth and Egmont National Park|
|15||350 kilometres / 217 miles||3 nights||Wellington and surrounds|
|End of Journey: Wellington (Continue to South Island by Ferry)|
|Total||3,250 kilometres / 2,017 miles||30 nights|
Ferry Crossing Options
Both islands are connected by regular ferry services, which are provided by these two companies:
Each has slightly different fares and departs from different ferry terminals in Wellington. So, do pay attention to which one you booked. Both offer discounts (to backpackers, students, families and seniors, and to members of automobile and motor caravan associations). Especially during the summer months, you may need to book your crossing (a few days) in advance.
Your ultimate South Island itinerary is made up of 15 stages that loop around the South Island in an anti-clockwise direction, following the blue line on the map. Driving distances range from 30 kilometres/19 miles to 350 kilometres/217 miles.
The itinerary assumes you take the ferry across from the North Island. If you want to focus on the South Island only, it’s best to start and finish in Christchurch.
If you choose the latter, collect your vehicle in Christchurch and head north to Kaikoura (stage 15). From Kaikoura continue north to Blenheim (stage 1). Travelling from Christchurch to Kaikoura and on to Blenheim would add 100 kilometres/61 miles to stage 1 but reduce your overall travel distance on the South Island to 3,150 kilometers/1,957 miles.
Recommended Travel Distance and Stay Duration
|Stage||Approximate Driving Distance||Suggested Minimum Stay||Destination - Click on links for more information|
|Start of Journey: Picton (Alternative: Christchurch via Kaikoura)|
|1||30 kilometres / 19 miles from Picton; 130 kilometres / 80 miles from Kaikoura||1 night||Blenheim and the Marlborough wineries|
|2||180 kilometres / 112 miles||2 nights||Abel Tasman National Park|
|3||100 kilometres / 62 miles||2 nights||Golden Bay and Kahurangi National Park|
|4||200 kilometres / 124 miles||2 nights||Nelson Lakes National Park|
|5||280 kilometres / 174 miles||1 night||West Coast|
|6||130 kilometres / 81 miles||1 night||Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers|
|7||350 kilometres / 217 miles||4 nights||Queenstown Lakes District|
|8||290 kilometres / 180 miles||2 nights||Fiordland|
|9||330 kilometres / 205 miles||3 nights||Stewart Island|
|10||180 kilometres / 112 miles||1 night||Catlins|
|11||110 kilometres / 168 miles||3 nights||Dunedin and surrounds|
|12||320 kilometres / 199 miles||2 nights||Mackenzie Region: Lake Pukaki and Aoraki / Mt Cook|
|13||110 kilometres / 68 miles||2 nights||Mackenzie Region: Lake Tekapo|
|14||260 kilometres / 162miles||3 nights||Christchurch and surrounds|
|15||180 kilometres / 112 miles||1 night||Kaikoura|
|180 kilometres / 112 miles||End of Journey: Christchurch|
|Total||3,230 kilometres / 2,007 miles||30 nights|
Above ultimate itinerary does cover a big chunk of Aotearoa, but it can’t cover every single nook and cranny, of course. So if you have been here, and we didn’t mention your favourite sunrise/sunset spot, that epic hike or amazing surf break please share it in the comments below (or keep your secret :-).
Have you done an epic road trip around New Zealand? What other great places can you recommend? Please leave a comment below.