The Great New Zealand Road Trip

Whether you’re keen to explore more of your backyard or venture further afield, we’ve got the perfect New Zealand road trip for you.

From cities to national parks, the mountains to the sea, there’s almost too much goodness to choose from! Don’t worry; we're here to help with tips on where to go and activities to try.

Planning your New Zealand road trip

Our North Island and South Island road trip itineraries work as shorter, standalone adventures or can be combined to really make the most of your time on the road.  Check out our suggestions, and have fun planning your route!

Before you go

Once you’re ready to start your road trip you’ll need to make sure your vehicle is also good to go. First up, check you’re up to date with:

  • Warrant of fitness (WoF) or Certificate of fitness (CoF) for motorhome or Registration (rego)
  • Road user charges (diesel ks)Vehicle insurance – you may need to add additional drivers to your policy

You’ll also want to make sure that the vehicle is roadworthy; breaking down in a remote area won’t add to your fun. Check:

  • Tyre pressure and tread
  • Oil
  • Water
  • Snow chains – for alpine roads. Check you have the correct size and know how to fit them
  • Windscreen washer fluid
  • Lights

All set? Let’s hit the road!


North Island New Zealand Road Trips

Auckland to the East Coast

Best for: City experience, beaches, Māori culture

Allow: 4-5 days

Road trip add-on: If you’re starting your journey from the East Coast and finishing in Auckland, we recommend heading to the Bay of Islands next.



Even if you’re someone who prefers the great outdoors to the fast pace of city life, it’s worth including New Zealand’s largest city, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, on your North Island road trip itinerary. A central city sightseeing trip can easily be turned into an adrenaline-fuelled adventure for those who choose.

How about Bungee jumping from the Sky Tower or climbing over the top of the Auckland Harbour Bridge?  For those who prefer a more traditional city break, you’ll love the shops, restaurants, museums and galleries that this supercity has to offer. Either way, there’s so much to see and do here we recommend spending at least a couple of days in Auckland.

No matter where you are in the city, you’re never far from the ocean. Auckland sits between two harbours, and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf are less than an hour’s ferry ride from the city centre. Take a day trip to Waiheke Island and enjoy lunch at one of the local wineries, or visit Rangitoto Island, one of 53 volcanoes which make up Auckland’s volcanic field – thankfully, all are now either extinct or dormant.

The Viaduct Harbour is the place to stop for a drink or a meal once you're ready to put your feet up. Sit back, relax and watch the world – and the super yachts – go by.



It’s a seven-hour drive from Auckland to Gisborne, the main town on New Zealand’s East Coast, so how about breaking up your journey with a visit to Hobbiton? Not just for families and film buffs; there’s a little bit of magic here for everyone.

The movie set for the much-loved Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, Hobbiton, is located 15 minutes from the town of Matamata, a two-hour drive from Auckland. Here, you can take a guided tour and, in true Hobbit style, even enjoy a feast! The Evening Banquet Tour is a good excuse to see the Shire by night, and it’s a good option if you’re on a tight schedule – sightseeing and dinner ticked off at the same time! The tours do sell out, so booking ahead is advised.


Gisborne and the East Coast

As the country’s easternmost city, Gisborne is the first to see the sun every day. If you love beach life and surfing especially, this is your ideal road trip. If time allows, spend a couple of days following the coastal road around the East Cape and exploring the many beautiful beaches and bays along the way.

Along with the stunning scenery and relaxed way of life, you’ll be drawn by the proud sense of Māori culture and heritage in this region. It was here that the first Māori arrived in Aotearoa, New Zealand, travelling by waka (canoe) from Polynesia, also here, several hundred years later, where Captain James Cook first came ashore at Tolaga Bay. Stop here and take a stroll along the Cooks Cove Walkway.

Gisborne is the only city on the East Cape and makes a good place to stop over, whether it’s to enjoy the ocean or relax with a glass of wine from one of the many local vineyards. You don’t have to go far from the city centre to find a spot to surf or swim – Waikanae Beach is a five-minute walk away. Wainui Beach, another 10-minute drive around the coast, is a popular spot for experienced surfers and delivers consistently good waves all year round.

Tip: This is a very popular destination around Christmas and New Year when Gisborne plays host to the Rhythm and Vines music festival. You’ll know whether you’d prefer to embrace the party vibe or save your visit for a less lively time!

 Holding map out window of car

Auckland to the Bay of Islands

Best for: Scenery, beaches, history

Allow: 3-4 days

Road trip add-on: From Auckland, why not travel to the East Coast.

Head north from Auckland to the beautiful Bay of Islands, where you can cruise around the subtropical islands, relax on one of the stunning beaches, snorkel the reefs, and visit the historical towns and settlements that have played such an important part in New Zealand’s history.

A three-hour drive from Auckland will take you to Paihia, where you'll be spoilt for choice on what to do. Top of the list are a boat trip to explore the islands, visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and exploring the nearby waterfall at Haruru.

Taking the 15-minute ferry ride across to Russell is also highly recommended, and there is an option to take the car if you wish. Russell was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand and wears its history proudly. Many of the original buildings are still standing and have been beautifully maintained.

You can easily spend a day strolling the streets, stopping off at art galleries and cafes and simply enjoying the charm of this place. If you do find yourself in search of something more adventurous, game fishing and sailing can also be added to the itinerary.

Kerikeri, another half an hour drive from Paihia, has a rich and colourful history and is home to some of the oldest standing buildings in the country: the Stone Store and Kemp House at Kerikeri Mission Estate. Learn about the formidable Māori chief Hongi Hika, who lived here over two hundred years ago.

Take a walk along the Kerikeri River Track to visit the Wharepuke and Rainbow Falls. It’s around eight kilometres there and back and a good option for a picnic lunch and a refreshing swim.


South Island New Zealand Road Trips

Milford Sound and Te Anau

Best for: scenery and adventure

Allow: 2-3 days

Road trip add-on: Wānaka and the West Coast


Milford Sound

Milford Sound is a bucket list destination for many Kiwis, and for good reason – it is one of the most beautiful scenic locations in the country. We recommend starting your road trip from either Queenstown (a four-hour drive) or Te Anau (a two-hour drive).

A visit to Milford Sound is almost like going back in time; it’s not often you get to experience such unspoiled natural landscapes and absolute tranquillity. Mitre Peak rises dramatically out of the deep, crystal-clear water while waterfalls cascade down steep forest-clad cliffs; here’s the place to come to really experience the power of nature. Milford Sound is located at the heart of the UNESCO-listed Fiordland National Park, the largest of New Zealand’s National Parks and accessed via The Milford Road. Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking of this as any old road or simply the route to your real destination.

It's a 121km drive from Te Anau, and you could cover this in a little over two hours, but our advice is not to rush. The road is winding and can be busy, so extreme care is needed. By allowing a little longer, you’ll also have time to soak up such fairytale delights as the Mirror Lakes and the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain. You might even meet a cheeky kea along the way.

Once you reach the Sound, the best way to explore is by boat. Scenic cruises run throughout the day, and there’s also an option for an overnight cruise for the ultimate chance to unwind and enjoy this untouched wilderness.


  • It rains a lot in Milford Sound, but that’s a good thing – the waterfalls are even more stunning! Take warm, waterproof clothing and embrace the weather.
  • For such a remote location, the road can be very busy, so leave plenty of time to get there.

Te Anau

The picturesque lakeside town of Te Anau serves as the gateway to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound but is also well worth a stopover. You’ll want to give yourself a whole day to explore Milford Sound, so staying in Te Anau the night before is a good plan. This also means you’ll have time to enjoy other activities like scenic flights, kayaking, lake cruises, or a visit to the magical Te Anau Glowworm Caves.

You’ll find plenty of options for accommodation and restaurants in Te Anau, but booking ahead is advisable as the town also serves as a hub for three of the Great Walks: the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn Tracks. If you enjoy walking but don’t quite have time to take these on, there are several day hikes or shorter walks to try.


New Zealand road

Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook 

Best for: City experience, alpine adventure

Allow: 3-4 days

Road trip add-on: from Lake Tekapo, head to Wānaka; from Christchurch, head to Kaikōura and Nelson.



The largest city in the South Island, Christchurch, is the perfect road trip hub. From here, you have the option to continue up the east coast towards Kaikōura and Nelson or head inland for Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook. First, though, you’ll want to soak up the energy of this vibrant city, which has experienced an exciting transformation over the past few years.

Heading straight to the heart of the city, the hop-on hop-off tram is an easy option for taking in popular stops like The Riverside Markets, The Terrace and New Regent Street. Enjoy some shopping before stopping off at one of the many cafés, bars and restaurants on the route.

If relaxation is what you’re after, punting on the Avon River is the way to go, and if you really want to see the sights, the Christchurch Gondola will give you a fabulous panoramic view of the city. Christchurch has also become something of a mountain bikers’ paradise in recent years, so if you’ve brought the bikes on the road, add the Christchurch Adventure Park to your must-do list.

With the walking and mountain bike trails of the Port Hills and the sandy beaches of Sumner and Scarborough within a short driving distance of the city centre, it’s easy to escape the hustle and bustle as soon as you’re ready.


Lake Tekapo/ Takapō

Famous for its majestic views over the turquoise-coloured lake to Mt Cook and the mighty Southern Alps, Lake Tekapo is also a stunning spot to visit by night. Located three hours’ drive from Christchurch, the lakeside town is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve and a unique opportunity for stargazing. Enjoy a guided experience, including a visit to the world-renowned Mt John Observatory, or simply find yourself a comfy spot on the lakeshore, sit back and enjoy. For a real treat, why not soak in the stars while luxuriating in a natural hot spring spa?

Aoraki Mt Cook

Mount Cook National Park boasts some of the best mountaineering in the country, but even if you’re not quite ready to follow in the footsteps of the great Sir Edmund Hillary you can enjoy your own alpine experience. The drive to Mount Cook from Lake Tekapo takes approximately an hour and a quarter if you don’t stop. Plan to take more time if you can, though, as you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping views, including beautiful Lake Pukaki, all the way there.

You may imagine getting to New Zealand’s highest mountain would take some serious effort, but it’s a surprisingly accessible journey to Mt Cook Village along State Highway 80. The road is sealed, but, as always in the alpine regions of NZ, chains could still be required during the winter months.

The village offers a range of accommodation from backpackers and campgrounds to the historic and more luxurious Hermitage Hotel. There’s every reason to stay the night with mountain walks, glacier viewing, skiing, and scenic helicopter flights, which are all on the activity list.

Tip: Spring and summer are the best times to enjoy the walking trails in Mt Cook National Park, but if it’s views you’re after, you can’t beat mountain peaks in wintertime.


Christchurch - Kaikōura - Nelson

Best for: Scenery, food and wine, wildlife, arts

Allow: 3-4 days

Road trip add-on: Finishing in Nelson, head to the West Coast; if you’re doing this trip in reverse and finishing in Christchurch, carry on to Tekapo and Mount Cook.



If you’re planning to head north from Christchurch, make Kaikōura the next stop on your itinerary. Fantastic scenery, delicious fresh seafood, and a unique chance to see marine wildlife like sperm whales up close are just some of the reasons why Kaikōura is a favourite destination on a South Island road trip.

Kaikōura is an easy two-and-a-half-hour drive from Christchurch. If time allows, it is worth making the most of this drive, which takes you through some of our top wine regions. 45 minutes outside of Christchurch, you’ll come to the picturesque Waipara Valley. It’s a great place to stop for lunch and sample the local Riesling and Pinot Noir at one of the vineyard restaurants.

This road trip is one for the foodies. The name Kaikōura means “eat crayfish” in te reo Māori, and if you’re a seafood lover, we recommend following this advice! From roadside kiosks to the local pubs, restaurants and fish and chip shops, you’ll find this local delicacy on every menu. If fishing is your thing, take a charter with one of the Kaikōura fishing boats and catch your own.

Getting out on the water is the thing to do in Kaikōura, whether it’s a whale-watching tour, swimming with dolphins, surfing, or kayaking around the Kaikōura Peninsula. If you do prefer dry land, however, there are also plenty of hiking trails and coastal walks where you’ll spot fur seals, dolphins and an array of seabirds, including albatross. You can even go trekking with llamas if you’re looking for something completely different.



It’ll be hard to tear yourself away from the striking views of the Kaikōura Ranges, but don’t worry, you’re in for a treat on the next leg of your road trip to Nelson. Your three-and-a-half-hour journey follows the coastal road for much of the route, and you’ll never get sick of the view.

Your journey will take you into the heart of the Marlborough wine country and you’ll be spoilt for choice of vineyards on the approach to Blenheim. It would be a shame not to schedule a stop, whether for a tasting, a leisurely lunch or the chance to learn more about New Zealand’s largest winegrowing region.

Nelson is known for creativity and sunshine. Home to a thriving arts community, you could spend days browsing the local markets, galleries, parks and museums. It’s also the craft beer brewing capital – so there’s no shortage of refreshments once you decide to stop and put your feet up.

If active relaxation is more your style, you’re only a two-hour drive from the paradise of Abel Tasman National Park with its golden sand beaches, sheltered bays and clear waters. It’s the ideal spot for sailing and kayaking and is home to the Great Walk of the same name. And if skydiving is on your bucket list, here you have a unique opportunity to see both the North and South Islands from the air.

 Person reaching out of car

Wānaka to the West Coast

Best for: Adventure sports, scenery

Allow: 5-7 days

Road trip add-on: You can also make your way to the West Coast from Nelson or from Christchurch via Arthurs Pass National Park.


Only an hour’s drive from Queenstown, Wānaka offers endless options for year-round entertainment. It's the ideal base for a winter ski or snowboard holiday, while summer is all about enjoying water sports on the lake.

This stunning lakeside town at the foothills of the Southern Alps manages to combine a laidback vibe with a spirit of adventure, and the best part is that it’s easy to enjoy both. People are drawn here both for adrenalin-fuelled adventure like skiing, mountain biking and jetboating, as well as the chance to simply relax and take in the stunning views across Lake Wānaka to Mt Aspiring National Park.

Here, you can finish your mountain bike ride with a barista-made coffee at the water’s edge, go waterskiing right before dinner, or enjoy a locally crafted beer by the lake on your way home from the mountain.

Wānaka offers easy access to four ski fields – Treble Cone, Snow Farm, Cardrona and Soho Basin. Queenstown’s Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are also only an hour’s drive away. Mountain biking is big in these parts, with a network of tracks to suit all levels, from beginner to expert.

Quirkiness is also a thing here – take a trip to the movies to eat homemade cookies and ice cream while sitting in an old Morris Minor car, or check out the mega maze and illusion rooms at Puzzling World.

 Tip: you’ll need a 4WD vehicle and/or snow chains if you’re planning to drive up the ski field roads.


The West Coast

The South Island’s West Coast can be reached within a two-hour drive from Wānaka but this stunning journey along the shores of Lakes Wānaka and Hawea and deep into the Westland Tai Poutini National Park really deserves a whole day if you have the time.

Look out for the Department of Conservation (Doc) signs along the road, with lots of options to pull over and take a short (or long if you choose) walk to stunning sights such as The Fantail Falls, The Blue Pools and the Gates of Haast Gorge.

Haast is the first town you’ll come to on the Coast and is popular for whitebaiting, sea fishing and jet boating. The road then winds its way north along the coast and through dense rainforest to the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. And when we say ‘winds’ we really mean it; this coastal road is anything but straight! Take your time and enjoy the experience, there’s nowhere else quite like it in New Zealand.

A stopover at Fox or Franz Josef is an absolute must on this road trip; there are very few places in the world where you can walk right up to the foot of a glacier. If you would like the chance to get onto the ice, there are guided walks as well as helicopter flights and ski planes which will land on the glacier.

The West Coast is also well-known for its pounamu, and it is a pleasure to stop and watch local artists working with this precious greenstone in the local galleries.

Greymouth and Hokitika are the main towns on the West Coast and good places for refuelling. Your fuel gauge is something to keep an eye on during this journey; petrol stations are few and far between on the Coast.

Tip: sandflies are rife on the West Coast, keep covered and use a repellent.

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