If you want to see New Zealand, and see it properly, you should plan a road trip exploring both the North Island and the South Island. Each island is vastly diverse from the other, but the thing they do have in common, is they are both perfect destinations for campervan travel. But with so many great landscapes to see, mountains to climb, and places to camp, it can be a little hard to choose where to prioritise, especially if you are short on time.

We have put together this 21-day Auckland to Queenstown road trip itinerary, highlighting our favourite must-see destinations along the way.

Auckland to Queenstown Distance

This route spans a distance of 1,757 km and will take roughly 25 hours to cover. What makes this journey unique is the inclusion of a ferry ride, which adds an extra element of adventure to the experience. As you cross over the blue waters and see the picturesque views around it, you’ll appreciate the chance to stretch your legs and take in the beautiful scenery of the north and south islands. Whether you’re a business traveller or a tourist, this route is definitely worth taking if you have the time and want to explore the best of what New Zealand has to offer.

Quick stats

1640km trip distance

21 day roadtrip

Campervan recommended

road trip map

Day 1-2: Auckland

Auckland cityscape, New Zealand

Starting in the North Island, pick up your campervan in Auckland and get ready for adventure! We recommend spending a full 1 or 2 days in Auckland, as there’s a lot to see and do here in New Zealand’s most populated city. Sprawling over volcanic hills and around twin harbours, Auckland is home to an exciting mix of natural wonders and urban activities. There’s plenty of amazing food and wine to enjoy, as well as kayaking and hiking experiences right within the city.

Sightseeing #1: Sky Tower

At a staggering 328 metres tall, this imposing structure is not only the tallest in New Zealand but also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. From the top, visitors can take in the stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area, stretching out for up to 80 kilometres in every direction. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker looking for a daring SkyJump or simply wanting to sip a cocktail at the stunning Sky Cafe, the Sky Tower is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Auckland.

Sightseeing #2: Auckland Zoo

Discover the wonders of Auckland Zoo, an internationally acclaimed destination boasting an impressive array of native and exotic species nestled within 17 hectares of verdant parkland. As a leader in wildlife research, conservation, and cutting-edge zoo design, Auckland Zoo has earned numerous national and international accolades. Conveniently located just minutes from central Auckland, you can immerse yourself in this captivating sanctuary daily (excluding Christmas Day) from 9:30 am. Don’t miss your chance to experience the unparalleled beauty and remarkable diversity that awaits you at New Zealand’s largest zoological garden – Auckland Zoo.

Day 3: Auckland to Hobbiton

Travel time: 2 hours
In little Hobbit town, Matamata New Zealand

Heading two hours south, make your way to Hobbiton. A trip in New Zealand’s North Island wouldn’t be complete without visiting the world-famous film set of the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Visit Hobbiton for a day of frolicking around the set by taking a guided tour. It’s the perfect place for that iconic Instagram shot sitting at the front of the Hobbit house, and the rolling green hills surrounding it are spectacular, too!

Sightseeing #1: Hobbiton Village

Nestled in lush green hills and dotted with hobbit holes and gardens, Hobbiton Village is a place where you can step back in time and feel as though you’ve been transported to a fantasy land. The attention to detail in the design and architecture is second to none, and it’s hard not to be swept away by the small-town charm of this magical place.

Day 4-5: Hobbiton to Rotorua

Travel time: 1 hour
Thermal Pool in Rotorua, New Zealand

On your next leg of the journey, drive 1 hour southeast to Rotorua – the region most famous for its bubbling mud pools, explosive geysers, natural hot springs, and rich Maori culture. Don’t skip this destination while on the North Island – it’s a unique highlight of New Zealand and has one of the world’s most active geothermal fields. Top experiences we recommend include; a soak in the thermal Polynesian Spa, witness Pohutu Geyser, and check out Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

Sightseeing #1: Te Puia

As the home of the prestigious New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, Te Puia offers an extraordinary opportunity to witness the preservation and celebration of traditional Māori craftsmanship. Additionally, with its state-of-the-art Kiwi Conservation Centre, you’ll find yourself closer than ever before to the nation’s cherished native bird – the elusive Kiwi. Don’t miss this unparalleled chance to experience the captivating blend of culture, artistry, and wildlife that awaits you at Te Puia.

Sightseeing #2: Whakarewarewa

Immerse yourself in over 700 years of Māori history as you gain valuable insights into the traditional lifestyles and customs of the Tuhourangi and Ngati Wahiao people. Marvel at the geothermal wonders that surround you, from steaming hot pools to mesmerizing bubbling mud, all set amidst a stunning natural landscape. As you explore this captivating village, learn about its deep connection to the famed Pink and White Terraces, tragically lost during the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. A visit to the Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village promises to be an unforgettable experience filled with awe-inspiring beauty and a profound understanding of an ancient culture.

Day 6-8: Rotorua to Taupo

Travel time: 1 hour
Geyser at Wairakei Terraces in New Zealand

Heading further into the heart of the North Island, make your way to the incredible Taupo region. At the centre of the region is the sparkling Lake Taupo, and surrounding it are the snow-blanketed mountain regions and ancient forests. Here, you can enjoy plenty of outdoor activities, as well as those to get your heart racing, such as rafting, jetboating, and bungy jumping. It’s no wonder Taupo is known as the Queenstown of the North Island!

Sightseeing #1: Huka Falls

Get ready to be blown away by the jaw-dropping Huka Falls, one of New Zealand’s most famous and incredible sights. Just imagine water rushing through a massive 100-meter-wide and four-meter-deep riverbed before squeezing into a slim 15-meter-wide section that’s 10 meters deep. The real showstopper is the 11-meter-high cliff, causing a staggering 35ft drop in the falls. With an ever-changing flow rate, you’ll never see the same view twice. If you’re looking for amazing sightseeing adventures in Taupō, Huka Falls should definitely be on your list.

Sightseeing #2: Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa

Picture yourself unwinding at the Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa in Taupō, a spot treasured by Māori for centuries for its natural healing powers. Soak in the mineral-rich thermal waters, surrounded by the stunning silica terraces, and connect with ancient holistic traditions. Known as ‘taking the waters,’ this soothing practice has been attracting people worldwide since way back when offering lasting benefits and ultimate relaxation. Make sure to treat yourself to this extraordinary oasis of calm during your time in Taupō.

Day 9: Taupo to Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Travel time: 1 hour
Tongariro Alpine Crossing

If you’re a hiking enthusiast, there’s no doubt you already have a Tongariro Alpine Crossing day hike on your to-do list while in New Zealand. Located just past the south end of Lake Taupo, Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and is a dual World Heritage Site. The views on this challenging hike are nothing short of incredible, but it’s not for the feint hearted. To prepare yourself for this hike, we recommend you allow 7-8 hours for completion and make sure you are checking on weather conditions before heading off.

Sightseeing #1: Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting New Zealand. As the country’s oldest national park, Tongariro has a rich cultural history that is interwoven with its breathtaking natural beauty. There’s no doubt you’ll feel awestruck as you explore the park’s stunning landscapes, from the snow-capped peaks of Mount Ngauruhoe to the emerald lakes that dot the trail. The park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is no surprise given its unique cultural and natural heritage.

Sightseeing #2: Whakapapa

Nestled in the heart of Tongariro National Park, Whakapapa Village is a must-see destination for all nature enthusiasts. Home to the iconic Mt Ruapehu, the village boasts endless adventure opportunities all year round. Whether you’re planning on hitting the slopes during winter or hiking the alpine tracks in summer, the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre has got you covered. But Whakapapa Village isn’t just for thrill-seekers! Take a scenic ride on the Sky Waka gondola and experience breathtaking views of the Central Plateau from a whole new perspective.

Day 10: Tongariro Alpine Crossing to Wellington

Travel time: 4 hours
Wellington Cable Car, North Island New Zealand

Head 4 hours south and finish your North Island leg of the journey in New Zealand’s waterfront capital city, Wellington. This vibrant and creative little city is known for its great food, wine, craft beer, and creative culture. Delve into the cities many museums, art galleries, and ride the cable car up the hill to Kelburn for amazing views over the city.

From here, you will need to drive your campervan onto a ferry to cross over to the South Island. There are 2 ferry companies that operate the Wellington to Picton route, and the duration of sailing is about 3.5 hours.

Sightseeing #1: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

When you visit Wellington, make sure to explore the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. This fascinating museum, whose name in Māori means “Our Container of Treasured Things and People from Mother Earth,” attracts countless tourists with its impressive cultural exhibits. Established in 1992 as a merger between The National Art Gallery and The National Museum, it now welcomes over 1.5 million visitors annually, making it the 17th most-visited art destination in New Zealand. Te Papa proudly embraces a bicultural philosophy throughout its displays, ensuring that the stories behind the showcased items are vividly brought to life with purpose and emphasis.

Sightseeing #2: Wellington Cable Car

Don’t miss the chance to experience the iconic Wellington Cable Car during your stay. This unique attraction has been enchanting visitors since 1902. As an engineering marvel of its time, the cable car takes just five minutes to whisk you up and over the hillside terraced houses of Kelburn, offering breathtaking views of the city below. Along the way, you’ll pass through three tunnels and bridges, taking in stunning panoramas of Wellington’s rolling hills and waterfront areas. Be sure to add this must-do journey to your itinerary for a complete overview of what makes Wellington so special.

Day 11-12: Wellington to Kaikoura

Travel time: 6 hours
Dolphins jumping our of water in Kaikoura

Once off the ferry, head down the South Island’s stunning east coast until you make it to Kaikoura. It would have been a long day of travel, so rest up the night at a campground and get ready for your South Island adventures! Kaikoura is a base for wildlife experiences of all kinds – particularly whales, dolphins, and fur seals. We recommend a Kaikoura Kayak experience – in which you’re almost guaranteed to encounter dusky dolphins diving and playing in the waters surrounding.

Sightseeing Stop #1: Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

This scenic track takes about three hours to complete, but if you’re short on time, you can explore its various sections, each offering a unique experience. As you stroll along the walkway, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of New Zealand’s South Island’s east coast, with snow-capped mountains adding to the beauty during winter months. Keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife, such as whales, dolphins, seals, birds, and even crayfish! Don’t forget to check out the informational panels that detail the area’s rich history and biodiversity.

Sightseeing #2: Ohau Point Seal Colony

Make sure to visit the Ohau Point Seal Colony while in Kaikoura for a truly unique experience. Witness the captivating sight of New Zealand fur seals as they rest and play on the rocks, creating a mesmerizing scene you’ll remember forever. Admire their beauty and watch their impressive swimming skills as they alternate between sunbathing and taking dips in the ocean. This extraordinary encounter with nature will leave a lasting impression long after your journey has ended.

Day 13: Kaikoura to Christchurch

Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Gardens in New Zealand

A further 180km south of Kaikoura, stop in at Christchurch, the largest city of the South Island. This vibrant city was largely decimated in the earthquakes that shook it a decade ago, but it has creatively rebuilt and recovered the city in a beautiful way. A destination rich with museums, culture, and beautiful gardens, it’s worth checking out along your journey.

Sightseeing #1: Christchurch Botanic Gardens

You seriously need to experience the Christchurch Botanic Gardens – it’s like walking into a lush, green oasis that’s been the heart of the Garden City for over 150 years! Just imagine: wandering through 21 hectares of stunning landscaped gardens, surrounded by towering trees and vast lawns, all nestled along the peaceful Avon River. And oh, the rose garden – it’s a sensory delight filled with vibrant colours and delightful fragrances. But that’s not all; you can also discover the New Zealand garden, which showcases gorgeous native plants, and the incredible conservatory complex, home to everything from funky cacti and exotic orchids to fascinating carnivorous plants.

Sightseeing #2: Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Looking for an authentic New Zealand wildlife experience? Then visit Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch. Here, you’ll encounter the country’s “Big 5” – the kiwi, kaka, tuatara, kea, and takahe. And with Willowbank’s “Kiwi Guarantee,” you can see these elusive birds up close in New Zealand’s largest Kiwi viewing area. But the reserve offers more than just kiwis – you can wander the grounds, feed the animals, or even hang out with lemurs or capybaras during an Encounter experience.

Day 14: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Travel time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

About three hours south-west of Christchurch in the Southern Alps, you will reach Lake Tekapo. Picturesque by day and dazzling by nice, Lake Tekapo offers one of New Zealand’s brightest, turquoise coloured lakes, and best locations for stargazing. If you are visiting in spring, you can also feast your eyes on the blooming purple lupin fields, which contrast beautifully by the blue skies and shimmering lake.

Sightseeing #1: Lake Tekapo

Imagine yourself surrounded by the majestic Southern Alps in New Zealand’s stunning Mackenzie Region – that’s where you’ll find the breathtaking Lake Tekapo. With a wealth of activities to enjoy, like kayaking, boating, and trekking along picturesque trails, there’s no shortage of adventure. And if that’s not enough, you can also explore the nearby hot springs, giving you an unforgettable taste of New Zealand’s mesmerizing landscape.

Sightseeing #2: Dark Sky Project

If you’re a fan of stargazing, you won’t want to miss the Dark Sky Project (previously known as Earth & Sky). This unique astro-tourism experience offers exclusive views of the southern skies through powerful optical telescopes. Thanks to their dedication to maintaining minimal light pollution, which is often compromised in more populated areas, you’ll have the rare opportunity to uncover a hidden world beyond the darkness that would otherwise go unnoticed. So, get ready to be amazed by the celestial wonders above!

Day 15-16: Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook

Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Campervan on road with Mount Cook in background

Maybe we’re biased, but we think Mount Cook is one of the most photogenic landscapes in the entire world! When you witness the turquoise blue water of Lake Pukaki and the stunning mountain backdrop, you won’t find it hard to see why. The further down Mount Cook road you travel, the better the perspective you get of the sheer size and beauty of this incredible mountain range. When you reach Mount Cook, there are several amazing hikes and walks to enjoy. We recommend Hooker Valley track for one that’s beautifully scenic and not too difficult.

Sightseeing #1: Mount Cook National Park

Get ready for awe-inspiring alpine scenery at the incredible Mount Cook National Park, which boasts some of the best views in New Zealand alongside Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. With its majestic peaks, glaciers, and pristine snow fields, not to mention fantastic stargazing opportunities, this park is truly a sight to behold. Whether you’re an experienced mountaineer eager to conquer one of the 23 peaks over 3,000 meters high or someone simply looking to trek to stunning viewpoints and explore glaciers, there’s something for everyone.

Sightseeing #2: Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center

Celebrate the life and achievements of the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center. Here, you can delve into his humanitarian work, ambassadorship, and place among history’s greatest explorers. Immerse yourself in the region’s captivating history and beauty through interactive 3D Mount Cook Magic movies (available in Chinese and Japanese), digital dome Planetarium documentaries, and a museum that highlights the pioneering spirit that defines this extraordinary area.

Day 17-18: Mount Cook to Wanaka

Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

A further 2 hours south, make the town that is equally as charming as it is breathtaking your next stop. No one visits Wanaka and doesn’t fall in love with it – whether for its gorgeous natural beauty of mountains, lakes, and forests, its exceptional food and wine, or its excellent outdoor activities. Wake up before the sunrises and take on the famous Roys Peak track for that Insta-famous view over the surrounding mountains.

Sightseeing #1: Lake Wanaka

Get ready to be blown away by the absolutely stunning Lake Wanaka! This massive body of water stretches 45 kilometres long and covers 193 square kilometres, all surrounded by jaw-dropping mountains. There’s so much to do here – you can use a jetboat, sail, or kayak while exploring the many bays and coves like Glendhu, Dublin, and Roys. Don’t forget to check out the islands, such as Stevenson’s Island, Mou Tapu`, and Mou Waho. Plus, with two major rivers – Matukituki and Makarora Rivers – feeding the lake, the scenery is just incredible.

Sightseeing #2: Wanaka Lavender Farm

You’ve got to visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm. It’s this tranquil oasis right in the heart of town where you can stroll through beautiful lavender fields and displays. And if you’re into history, you’ll love exploring the historic farm buildings and learning about New Zealand’s rich farming past. For all the animal lovers out there, get ready to meet some adorable goats, chickens, and sheep. And don’t leave without trying some honey tastings and herbal teas, and grabbing some lavender products – they make perfect gifts or treats for yourself!

Day 19-21: Wanaka to Queenstown

Travel time: 1 hour
View of Queenstown, New Zealand

Though when you reach Queenstown it means the journey has come to an end, we’d say you’ve left the best to last! Queenstown is a dream destination that people flock from all over the world to visit, and it’s not hard to see why many will come for a short visit and stay an extended period. It’s the adventure capital of the world, so if you like the idea of endless adrenaline-inducing activities, Queenstown will be your happy place! There’s also a great amount of fantastic food, wine, and nightlife to enjoy here, and not to mention the stunning scenery that surrounds the town.

Sightseeing #1: Queenstown Gardens

When it comes to sightseeing in Queenstown, the Queenstown Gardens are definitely worth a visit. Just a quick stroll from the town centre, you’ll find yourself surrounded by lush greenery and breathtaking views overlooking the stunning Lake Whakatipu. It’s the perfect place to take a leisurely walk and soak up the natural beauty, or lay out a picnic blanket and enjoy some al fresco dining while taking in the sights. The Queenstown Gardens may be a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, but they are also an essential part of Queenstown’s charm and allure.

Sightseeing #2: Coronet Peak

You’ve got to check out Coronet Peak when you’re in Queenstown during ski season, which runs from June to October. Not only does this mountain offer amazing ski terrain for all skill levels, but even if you’re not skiing, the views from the top are absolutely breathtaking. It’s no wonder this place is a favourite playground for snow sports lovers and outdoor adventurers alike. So, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, there’s something for everyone on this incredible mountain.

Happy Exploring!

Person jumping next to campervan with view of New Zealand lake and mountains

Ready to kick-off your adventure? Our Auckland branch is only a few minutes drive from the airport, making it easy to simply pick-up & return your campervan. So check out our deals and offers on campervan hire in Auckland.

For other amazing road trip ideas on the New Zealand North Island please visit our North Island Road Trip.

Share this page

Find Your Nearest Travellers Autobarn Location