New Zealand is a country that you could spend years exploring and still not discover all the hidden gems that it has tucked away. Realistically though, most people only have so much time to visit New Zealand before returning home. A decent compromise is spending around 3 weeks in New Zealand - this will give you a chance to see many of the country’s wonders without taking an unfeasible amount of time off work.
To be fair, 3 weeks in New Zealand isn’t a whole lot of time so you’d really want to make the most of every day you’re in this spectacular nation. That’s why we’ve created this New Zealand road trip itinerary to help you hit many of the best spots before you have to head home again. Of course, there’s no need to take these travel ideas as gospel and you can always adjust your plans as you go, especially with the freedom that a campervan hire in New Zealand provides. Use this as a base and your visit to New Zealand will leave you with amazing stories and the urge to return one day to see even more.
It’s hard to beat Auckland as a place to start your New Zealand trip. For a start, this is where most international flights come into the country, and it’s also by far the nation’s largest city. This means that when you’re looking at campervan hire in Auckland, you’ll likely have a much better selection to choose from than other parts of New Zealand. Besides, there are plenty of urban attractions to enjoy before you head off into the green fields and wilderness.
To get a good idea of what really makes Auckland special, head down to the waterfront in the CBD. Britomart is a major touchpoint for public transport, making it easy to get right into the heart of Auckland’s waterfront without having to worry about parking. There are a few quality cafes and restaurants in Britomart, but to really get the best of the waterfront you’ll want to head a little further westward to Viaduct Harbour and Wynyard Quarter. Between the nightlife spots and eateries of Viaduct Harbour and the sculpture and entertainment venues of Wynyard Quarter, visitors can while away many a happy hour indulging in urbane pleasures.
To gain an entirely different perspective on the area, try heading to West Auckland. Wine aficionados will find an array of cellar doors to tour, sampling various acclaimed vintages along the way. Nature lovers won’t want to miss a visit to the Waitakere Ranges where you can wander amongst ancient forests and discover hidden waterfalls. And for those keen to hit the beach and possibly catch a few waves, spots like Muriwai, Bethells Beach and Piha are heavenly.
But with only a few weeks for your road trip in New Zealand, you’ll want to be heading south soon to find out what the rest of the country has in store.
Located less than three hours south of Auckland, Tauranga sits on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island like a smaller, more low-key version of its northern neighbour. The extraordinarily long golden sand beach gets busy in summertime, but only in some areas - there will always be spots where you can enjoy the warm sands and rolling waves with hardly anyone else around. Climbing to the top of Mauao, a volcanic hill which provides sweeping views over Tauranga and nearby Mount Maunganui, is a must-do activity for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. There’s also the Kaimai Ranges within about 20 minutes drive of the city, which offer all kinds of walking and camping opportunities.
Napier is a delightful city with a selection of attractions that will win over just about anyone. It’s known as New Zealand’s ‘art deco’ city as most of its buildings were built in the 30’s following a major earthquake. For anyone with an eye for architecture, this will be one of the most exciting stops on your road trip across New Zealand. Even if you have zero interest in history or architecture, Napier still has plenty for you to appreciate. For a start, it boasts stunning summer weather which comes in very handy when you’re exploring the area’s world class vineyards. Sitting outside in the Hawkes Bay sunshine with a glass of vino in one hand and a cheeseboard at the other is a special kind of heaven.
The next major stop on your New Zealand road trip itinerary will be the nation’s capital, Wellington. Not only is this the political capital, with visitors welcome to watch Parliament in session, but the city is widely acknowledged as New Zealand’s cultural capital as well. This means that the nightlife is superb (head to Cuba Street or Courtenay Place for some of the best), the cafes are top quality and inventively varied, the theatres offer excellent entertainment and the nation’s most acclaimed cultural museum, Te Papa, is located here. Needless to say, you’ll never be bored in this lively city.
This signals the beginning of the South Island section of your New Zealand itinerary - you can take a car ferry from Wellington across to the tiny town of Picton, and from there it’s only about half an hour’s drive to Blenheim. This is the largest town in Marlborough, a region renowned worldwide as the hub of New Zealand’s wine industry. If you’ve decided to skip wine tours earlier in the trip, this is the one place where you’ll really want to make an effort to sample the region’s bounty. It’s also blessed with excellent weather, so chances are you’ll be able to bask in sun while enjoying the best that Marlborough has to offer.
Christchurch is by far the largest city in the South Island but it doesn’t have a big city vibe by any means. Parts of Christchurch have a very old-world English feel to it, while others have a vivacious, creative buzz. Families in particular will love Christchurch - some particularly exciting highlights include Orana Wildlife Park and the International Antarctic Centre. Centrally located in the South Island, Christchurch makes for an excellent base from which to strike out in any direction across the island.
Head inland from Christchurch to the small but incredibly scenic town of Tekapo. This makes it to the list of New Zealand South Island highlights not only because of its stunning milky-blue lake and surrounding mountains, but the incredibly clear night skies which are perfect for stargazers. It’s well worth taking a tour of the Mt. John Observatory, particularly after the sun goes down, to see for yourself the splendour of the heavens on full display.
Queenstown hasn’t gained the moniker of Adventure Capital of the World for nothing, but even if you’re not the adventurous sort this town is guaranteed to charm you. Amongst all of New Zealand’s highlights, this is undoubtedly a must see destination. Throw yourself into skydiving, bungy jumping, jet boating and more - or simply relax in a lakeside cafe with an elysian view of soaring mountains and sparkling waters in front of you. Queenstown will put the cherry on the top of your New Zealand vacation
Whether you stick to this New Zealand sample itinerary or decide to try out just a few bits of it, there’s no denying that a road trip in New Zealand can treat you to some of the finest travel experiences on earth.