A grand New Zealand self-drive itinerary

With two & three night stopovers in the Bay of Islands, Coromandel, Rotorua, Napier, Nelson, Franz Josef, Akaroa, Dunedin & Queenstown.

Day 1.    Arrive Auckland

Auckland is New Zealand's largest and most vibrant city, offering an exciting array of cosmopolitan experiences. Family attractions abound and the city has plenty of adrenaline for adventure lovers. Indulge in auckland's shopping, nightlife and unrivalled cuisine. Discover why Auckland is one of the best places in the world to live - and visit.

Day 2.    Auckland – Bay of Islands

Travel north over the Harbour Bridge and along the Hibiscus Coast to arrive in Paihia, a seaside town nestled on the shores of this National Maritime Park in the Bay of Islands. On arrival visit the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds, New Zealand’s most historic site where the Treaty was signed between the Maori Chiefs and the British Crown. 

Day 3.    Cape Brett and the Bay of Islands at Leisure

You can relax today and enjoy the Bay of Islands in a number of ways. Perhaps a cruise to the famous Hole in the Rock & Cape Brett for you this morning? You'll journey out through game fishing waters to the Cape Brett Lighthouse. Next is Motukokako Island and the famous "Hole in the Rock" where you'll make a passage through the Hole and on to the Grand Cathedral Cave. On the return journey the cruise takes its time and meanders through the inner islands. View sandy beaches, beautiful bays and marine wildlife as your skipper gives an informative commentary. Included is an island stopover on beautiful Urupukapuka Island. On the way back you might like to stop off at Russell (New Zealand’s first capital) which was also known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific” It’s now a quaint seaside village where you can take some time to wander around and enjoy.

Kerikeri, only 15 minutes drive from Paihia, is worth a visit. Kerikeri Mission House, the country’s oldest house built by John Butler in 1821, and the Mission’s Stone Store dating from 1832 is New Zealand’s oldest stone building. The area is well known for its orchards, vineyards and art galleries. There’s a lively cafe scene, good restaurants and wineries as well as several gourmet food producers to visit – indulge in delicious handmade chocolates or locally made macadamia liqueur.

Day 4.    Bay of Islands – Takapuna

Head south from Paihia and at Whangarei, take the turn-off to Dargaville. Home to the original Dalmatian gum diggers and kauri loggers who made the area their own in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and whose lives are charted in the local museum. Approximately 40 kms south of Dargaville is Matakohe, home to the Kauri Museum (admission included). This amazing museum tells the fascinating story of the pioneering days through the use of kauri timber and kauri gum. Explore the many exceptional displays and galleries inside the museum from the magnificent collection of antique kauri furniture and the largest collection of kauri gum in the world to restored machinery including New Zealand’s earliest tractor, a 1929 Cat 60, and a turning steam sawmill. Leaving Matakohe, rejoin the main highway and a two hour drive brings you back to Auckland.

Day 5.    Takapuna – Coromandel

This morning you continue your journey to the Coromandel through Auckland and along the Pacific Coast Highway, traversing the spectacular east coast of the North Island, is one of the great touring routes in the world. The Pacific Coast Highway is well signposted along the entire route, giving a safe and easy way to navigate through some of the most spectacular coastal scenery New Zealand has to offer.

Day 6.    Coromandel

The Coromandel Peninsula is an unspoilt haven. Today you have a full day of leisure. You may choose to enjoy stunning Cathedral Cove. Accessible only on foot or by boat, famous Cathedral Cove is one of the "must visit" sites on the Coromandel Peninsula. The track begins at the northern end of Hahei. You can also choose to dig your own spa pool using the thermal waters in the sand at Hot Water Beach. Some volcanos develop huge underground reservoirs of superheated water. Over time, this water escapes to the surface — cooling on the way. There are two fissures at Hot Water Beach issuing water as hot as 64ºC (147ºF)! This water contains large amounts of salt (NOT salt water), calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine and silica. There are other hot water springs nearby but the location of these two springs on the beach make them unique. You can only dig your own spa pool 1 hour either side of low tide.

Day 7.    Coromandel – Rotorua

Depart today and travel along the Bay of Plenty coastline through the subtropical orchards of kiwi fruit and citrus. Head inland through massive pine forests, passing many of the regions crystal clear lakes en route to Rotorua. You have time to spend a relaxing afternoon exploring Rotorua. (B)

Day 8.    Rotorua Sightseeing

Free time to explore Rotorua this today. You may like to visit the Agrodome or take a gondola ride to the top of Mt Ngongotaha for spectacular views of Rotorua. Later this afternoon visit Te Puia geothermal area to view the boiling mudpools and cascading Pohutu geyser that make Rotorua famous as New Zealand’s thermal city. This evening experience Te Po, Te Puia’s cultural experience. It is a feast of cultural storytelling, entertainment and Maori kai (indigenous food). After a formal Maori welcome, relax and enjoy a performance including the beautiful songs, haka and poi dance. After dinner you will be transported by people movers to enjoy the spectacular lighting of the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley and hot chocolate. 

Day 9.    Rotorua – Lake Taupo – Napier

This morning depart Rotorua and head to Wai-O-Tapu. Walk at your own pace and marvel at the reserve’s unique features that include the world famous Champagne Pool, geysers, bubbling mud, steaming ground, expansive vistas, huge volcanic craters and sinter terrace formations. Stop at the mighty Huka Falls and Wairakei Geothermal project then wander around the popular lakeside resort of Taupo. Continue on to Napier, one of the world’s finest Art Deco cities.

Day 10. Napier

You have the morning to relax or explore Napier at your leisure. Hawke’s Bay has also become well known as a leading food and wine region in New Zealand, so head out on a wine tour this afternoon. Meet like-minded people and share an appreciation of Hawke's Bay's fantastic wines.

Day 11. Napier – Wellington

Drive south today to the Wairarapa, a rural retreat in the very heart of New Zealand. Stop in at Martinborough, a unique wine village with over 20 boutique vineyards before continuing onto Wellington, the nation’s capital. A visit to Te Papa, the national museum, is highly recommended. 

Day 12. Wellington – Picton – Nelson

Today you will travel across Cook Strait, the stretch of water that separates the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The journey across Cook Strait has a dramatic beauty all of its own. Both Islands can be viewed, including the magnificent Kaikoura ranges, and there is often the chance to see wildlife such as seabirds, dolphins, seals, whales and orca. On arrival in Picton, drive onto Nelson, a stunning seaside town and gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park.

Day 13. Nelson

Today is at leisure to explore this beautiful region caught between sweeping coastline and the northern edge of the Southern Alps. Nelson is home to diverse communities that have blossomed on rich land in a Mediterranean climate. It is a true lifestyle destination based on adventure, art and nature. Highly recommended is a trip to Abel Tasman National Park. 

Day 14. Nelson – Akaroa

Travel south today along the stunning Kaikoura Coast stopping at the fur seal colony and then maybe enjoy a whale-watching cruise or flight. Then drive onto the Banks Peninsula, known for its stunning scenery and amazing wildlife. Stay in the quaint village of Akaroa Harbour, home to the early French settlers of the 1840s. 

Day 15. Wildlife Harbour Cruise

Your wildlife harbour cruise today will be fully narrated by your skipper who has extensive knowledge of the nature, wildlife and history of the harbour. The highlight of this trip is undoubtedly the sighting of one of the world's smallest and rarest dolphins, the Hector's or New Zealand Dolphin. These friendly and inquisitive mammals meet the boat most days throughout the year and their calves can be seen between October and March. Also on the trip you may catch glimpses of the White Flippered Blue Penguin, the smallest penguin in the world. There are many different bird species in the Harbour, including five different cormorant species and there is the chance of sighting the endangered yellow-eyed penguin.

Day 16. Akaroa – Dunedin

Depart Akaroa today and continue south along the East Coast to reach Moeraki, famous for the fascinating Moeraki Boulders (Maori legend describes them as the food baskets of the gods). Continue south to reach the Scottish influenced city of Dunedin, renowned for its natural history and Otago University. 

Day 17. Dunedin

A morning cruise the length of the beautiful Otago Harbour with Monarch Cruises is a great way to delve into this region. Enjoy a wildlife cruise experience with unrivalled viewing of the exciting diversity of wildlife which abounds on spectacular Taiaroa Head; the only mainland nesting place for Northern Royal Albatross in the world, and home to NZ fur seals, and eight other nesting bird species. You may also see, dolphins, sea lions and a fascinating array of rarely seen ocean birds including other species of albatross, penguins and marine mammals in their natural environment.

This afternoon is at your leisure. You may wish to take a visit to New Zealand's oldest brewery for an entertaining and enlightening heritage tour, and guided Tours of Larnach Castle and the stately home of Olveston House. 

Day 18. Dunedin – Queenstown

Travel today through the historic goldfields of Central Otago to Queenstown, a beautiful alpine resort and regarded as one of New Zealand’s premier holiday destinations. 

Day 19. Milford Sound Day Tour

Coaches follow the southern arm of Lake Wakitipu to Lumsden, and onward to Lake Te Anau. The scenery changes dramatically from tussock covered grasslands to glacier hewn valleys as you enter the Eglington Valley and travel through the breath taking man made Homer Tunnel to reach Milford Sound. Enjoy a cruise on this world famous fiord, dominated by Mitre Peak and the cascading Bowen Falls. On completion you will return to Queenstown by coach, or plump for the scenic flight return option.

Day 20. Queenstown

Nothing you have experienced will have prepared you for the excitement of a Shotover Jet ride as you speed through the towering, rocky canyons of the South Island's river of gold. The major highlight is the famous Shotover Turn, where your boat spins through a full 360 degrees in its own length.

The remainder of the day is at leisure to relax or explore Queenstown. Options include bungy jumping, white water rafting, four wheel driving, cruising on Lake Wakitipu, riding a gondola to the summit of Bob's Peak for panoramic views or simply enjoying the excellent shopping and dining available. 

Day 21. Queenstown – Franz Josef Glacier

Depart Queenstown this morning, travel along the shores of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea to the Haast Pass, gateway to World Heritage Westland National Park. Then continue up the West Coast past spectacular mountain ranges, native forests and lakes to Franz Josef Glacier. 

Day 22. Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier descends from the Southern Alps to just 240 metres above sea level amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest, offering endless opportunities exist to allow you to take in the beauty of this special part of the South Island's West Coast. Take a guided walk or heli-hike to explore the spectacular ice formations; experience the thrill of a scenic flight and place your footprints onto a high alpine snowfield; feel your adrenaline rush on New Zealand's most scenic skydive; visit New Zealand's only White Heron (Kotuku) nesting colony; take in the scenery as you kayak the stunning Okarito lagoon or visit Lake Matheson, renowned for its mirror images of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, New Zealand's highest peaks. (

Day 23. TranzAlpine Train, Christchurch

Depart Franz Josef this morning and travel further north along the rugged West Coast to Greymouth. Your journey features some spectacular countryside with the rugged Tasman Sea to the west and the stunning Southern Alps to the east.

On arrival in Greymouth return your rental car to the Greymouth depot before checking in for your train journey to Christchurch. The TranzAlpine is described as "The Great New Zealand Rail Adventure" and is rated as one of the top six scenic train journeys in the world. Ascend through lush beech forests past the beautiful Lake Brunner via the alpine village of Arthur’s Pass situated 737 metres above sea level, before crossing the spectacular Southern Alps. The TranzAlpine then winds its way over massive viaducts, through spectacular river gorges and the stunning Waimakariri River valley before arriving in Christchurch. 

If you'd like Relaxing Journeys to organise your self drive holiday to New Zealand, visit our wbesite - we'd love to have the opportunity to create your once in a lifetime New Zealand journey!