In this guide we run through some of the best trips in the North and South Island as well as top do’s and don’ts for road trippin’ in New Zealand. Download the full guide to get all the road trips.

The South Island

Christchurch to Dunedin

  • Route 1 via Lake Tekapo
  • Route 2 via Timaru and Oamaru
  • Route 3 via Middlemarch

Christchurch to Queenstown (Download Version Only)

  • Journey through the middle of the island
  • Take the South-east coast (via Dunedin and Catlins)
  • Travel the West coast (via Arthur’s Pass, Franz Josef Glacier, Wanaka)
The North Island
  • Auckland to Wellington (Coromandel, Taupo and Rotarua)
  • Auckland to Northland (Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga)
  • Auckland to Waiheke Island (Download Version Only) 
Do’s and Don’ts: What you need to know when you’re on a road trip in New Zealand

 

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The South Island.

The South Island of New Zealand is famous for its staggeringly beautiful mountains, lakes and glaciers. The South Island is the largest of the two islands and is bordered by the Cook Strait in the north, the Tasman Sea in the West and the Pacific Ocean in the South and East.

Christchurch to Dunedin: A to B three different Ways

Here are three great routes you might want to consider: if you’re doing a round trip then this is a great opportunity to see more of the South Island!

Christchurch to Dunedin via Lake Tekapo

Total Driving time: 8 – 9 Hours | Recommended: 5 days

 A campervan road trip is the best way to make the journey from Christchurch to Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. This trip can take you as little as five days or you can take things at a more leisurely pace to stretch it out over several weeks.

Once you’ve picked up your campervan in Christchurch head southwest through the green Canterbury Plains. If you opt for State highway 72 then you’ll find yourself on the Inland scenic route. There are lots of great places to stop and explore on the way such as the Pleasant Point Railway or the Waimate Walkway.

After you cross the Raikaia River, known for its salmon fishing, pull up the campervan and stop at Methven, a local Ski town. This is a great place to grab a coffee, take a hike or hire a bike.

Next stop is Lake Tekapo, this stunning turquoise lake is amazing to see in person, during the day and the night. When the sun goes down this is the perfect spot for stargazing. If you want to stop for the night then there are a number of great campsites nearby, try to book one that’s on the harbour or nearby the beach.

Dunedin is another 3.5 hours from here, so when you’re done soaking up the once in a lifetime views and scenery hop back in the campervan and hit the road.

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Christchurch to Dunedin via Timaru and Oamaru

Total Driving time: 8 – 9 Hours Recommended: 5 days

The second route we’re going to recommend keeps you close to the coast and takes you via Timaru and Oamaru. Once you’ve left Christchurch the first main stop is Timaru, located in the region of Canterbury. Once you’ve set up camp why not go for a dip in nearby Caroline Bay or try cooling off in the beautiful botanical gardens. If you are looking for some culture then take a trip to the local museums, they are home to some amazing Maori or Polynesian artefacts.

The next stop is Omaru via Aoraki Mount Cook, this is New Zealand’s highest peak and is truly a sight to behold. Spend a few hours hiking and taking in the breathtaking views. When you arrive in Omaru, get ready to make some furry friends! Omaru is home to a natural colony of Blue Penguins, the smallest penguin in the world.

If you can bring yourself to say goodbye to your new furry friends then the coastal city of Dunedin is only a short 1.5 hour drive away.

mount cook road trip new zealand

Christchurch to Dunedin via Middlemarch

Total Driving time: 6 Hours | Recommended: 4 days

If rural New Zealand is your vibe then you can skip out the stops in the north of the South Island and head straight to Middlemarch. The slow pace of life, stunning landscapes and wide-open never ending sky will make you fall in love with this area instantly. This is the perfect place to park up the campervan, catch your breath and just enjoy your amazing surroundings.

If you’re a fan of The Hobbit then make sure you check out Rock & Pillar Mountain, featured in the movie. Top things to do in the Middlemarch area include bike rides, hikes and Sutton Salt Lake.

The drive to Dunedin will only take you an hour from here, and when you arrive there is plenty to do. This is the country’s first city, which means there is history on every corner. Things to do include taking a tour of New Zealand’s only castle, Larnach Castle, strolling the boardwalk on Aramoana Beach or visiting the nearby Octago Peninsular for scenic views and local wildlife.

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Christchurch to Queenstown: 

Download the full guide for three more unmissable routes from city to city. 

For more inspiration check out our YouTube channel! Search for Travellers Autobarn on YouTube. 

 

The North Island – What to see and where to go

What the North Island lacks in size it makes up for in natural wonders. It’s famous for its volcanic activity, magnificent national parks, and with a larger population it’s also home to Wellington and Auckland, two vibrant and cosmopolitan cities.

A North island adventure – Auckland to Wellington

Total Driving time: 8 – 9 Hours | Recommended: 5 days  

This memorable road trip takes you to some of the North Island’s most desirable destinations. Start the trip by hiring a campervan in Auckland. This northern city is infamous for its iconic Sky Tower that offers views of the Viaduct Harbour and the cityscape for as far as the eye can see. When you’ve finished exploring the city the first leg of this trip takes you on a two hour drive south to Coromandel.

The Coromandel region is renowned for its natural beauty, green pastures, misty rainforests and pristine golden beaches, The Coromandel is blessed with hundreds of natural hideaways, making it an ideal place to escape. A must visit is Hot Water Beach… a beach with naturally heated hot water springs.

When you’ve finished having fun in Coromandel then you’re going to head south in the direction of Rotorua. Don’t miss the absolutely stunning Redwoods forest that’s 20 minutes from the city centre. If you’re into mountain biking then you’ll love this place! Rotorua is a geothermal hotspot, which means this is a great destination to visit natural hot springs, bubbling hot mud pools and geysers!

rotorua roadtrip new zealand

This road trip then takes you west along the SH 5 for 2 hours, to Waitomo. Here lies the small village, known for its extensive underground cave systems. The name Waitomo comes from the Maori word wai (water) tomo (hole).  The caves are filled with tiny little glow-worms, unique to New Zealand. Their unmistakable luminescent light is a must see, you’ll feel like you’re in another world.

Taupo is the next stop on your list. This destination is well known for being home to the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. The nearby Huka falls is another must see, it’s where the 200m wide Waikato River forces itself through a small 20m gap creating a stunning blue foam! It’s an amazing sight to see!

If you’re a wine lover then we recommend that you hit up Napier before you pull into Wellington. Napier is home to some great wineries and picture perfect Art Deco style architecture. Last stop on this great North Island road trip is Wellington. The breezy drive south to your final destination takes you through the stunning Wairarapa scenery. If you can take the time to pull into the Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre to see the world’s only white kiwi!

At the bottom of the North Island, you will come to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. Discover New Zealand’s Maori roots in Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, or check out the cool shops along Lambton Quay.

auckland roadtrips

Auckland to Northland

Total Driving time: 8 – 9 Hours | Recommended: 5 – 7 days  

Once you’ve picked up your hired wheels, hit the State Highway 1 that takes you north. The long, sandy beaches of Waipo and Ruakaka make for a first great stop, or if you want to pick up supplies, food and coffee then pull into Whangarei and enjoy a few hours having a picnic or walking along the picturesque river basin.

As you get a few hours north of Auckland you’ll notice a definite shift in pace as the laid-back vibes of the Northland take over. The must-see destination in this area is the famous Bay of Islands. The Bay of Islands is a subtropical micro-region known for its stunning beauty & history. For those that love hanging by the beach and water activities, it’s absolute paradise.

Spend a couple of days exploring this area before packing up the campervan and hitting the road again. Another highlight of the North Island is Doubtless Bay. This large coastal area encompasses the distance from Mangonui, through to Coopers Beach, Cable Bay, Taipa and then out along Karikari Peninsula.

You can’t end a road trip to the top of New Zealand without a visit to Cape Reinga. This is not only the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and the currents collide, but it’s also an important place in Maori spiritual traditions. Don’t leave without stopping by 90 mile beach, (in reality it’s more like 90 km in length), but it’s still mighty impressive to see.

If you want to extend your trip then other things to do in this area include:

  • Hiking the Tane Mahuta Walk
  • Viewing the majestic kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest
  • Taking the Haruru Falls and Waitangi River Tour on a Traditional Maori Waka
  • Completing the 12 tree-top challenge in Adventure Forest in Whangarei‎

 

Auckland and Waiheke Island:

Download the full guide for more details on this route! 

 roadtrip ideas in new zealand

Do’s and Don’ts: What you need to know when you’re on a road trip in New Zealand

New Zealand might seem like two small islands with a relatively small population, but do not be fooled. These small islands are mighty fierce! Embarking on a road trip is undoubtedly the most cost-effective, easiest and fun ways to travel around, but here are some top tips you should follow to help ensure you have an amazing and safe journey.

  • Do – consider whether you need a campervan or just a car

When you’re working out which vehicle is right for you consider your budget, the route and itinerary you want to take and your personal preference when it comes to accommodation. if your idea of camping is carrying your suitcase into a hotel room for the night then a campervan might not be right for you.

However, if you plan on staying in hotels and hostels then consider that they are in short supply and will sell out in the summer seasons. If you plan on hiring a campervan then one of the plus sides is that you can often ‘freedom camp’, which means you get to cut out paying for accommodation all together! However, you can only legally free camp in certain places – so plan your stops carefully. Check out http://www.freedomcamping.org/ for more details.  

  • Do – think about the length and locations of your road trip

Start planning your New Zealand road trip by listing out all the places you want to visit and how long it takes you drive between each. If you’re on a tight timeframe then you may need to cut a few stops out – trying to fit too much in will end up with you spending more time behind the wheel and less time actually exploring.

New Zealand is small but the roads are often narrow and windy, plus in winter they may be covered with snow and ice. This means you’ll have to take it slow! We recommend you always allow for extra time between destinations.

road trip ideas in new zealand

  • Don’t – abuse freedom camping regulations in New Zealand

There are lots of places that you can legally free camp in New Zealand, (e.g. pull up the campervan and sleep by the roadside). However, there are also lots of places where it isn’t legal and if in doubt don’t assume it’s ok. It’s a law that’s taken seriously.

Freedom camping laws are there to help prevent litter, waste and unwanted guests – so plan ahead before you park up for the night. http://www.freedomcamping.org/

  • Don’t – forget to drive on the left or follow other road customs

Remember that in New Zealand you drive on the left. If you’re from the UK then this is the norm anyway, however if you’ve travelled from the US or mainland Europe this may come as a shock. When you’re starting out take it slow and concentrate, (that might mean turning down the tunes or telling the passengers to pipe down!).

Driving a large campervan is certainly different to zipping round in the cars you’re probably used to so you’ll be forgiven for driving a little slow. However, if you notice faster traffic starting to line up behind you, pull over and let them pass safely.

If you are after more Campervan Travel  Guides please check out our New Zealand Campervan Travel Guide section…