Road trip: 21 Day Auckland to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Day 9Tongariro 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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 14Lake Tekapo
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.
Day 15-16Mount Cook
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.
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.
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.
Travellers Autobarn is only a few minutes’ drive from the airport, making it easy to simply pick-up & return your campervan. When you hire your campervan with us, be sure to add on a porta potti which means your campervan will be self-contained and you have access to free camping grounds, also known as freedom camping – something that is becoming increasingly popular throughout New Zealand and for good reason, as who doesn’t love a good saving.
For other amazing road trip ideas on the New Zealand North Island please visit our North Island Road Trip section…
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