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New Zealand is one of those ‘must see’ road trip destinations. It’s full of untouched beauty, rugged terrains, rainforests, volcanoes, oceans and so much more, all within driving distances of each other. To cover the north and south island’s top attractions it is advisable to allow at least two weeks for a self drive itinerary to see everything unrushed, so that’s why after hours of research I came up with the best two week NZ road trip.
There are a few ways to road trip around NZ’s islands depending on how you like to travel. You can hire a self contained van, join a tour or rent a car as I did and stay at magnificent locations as you go. Rest assured if you are on a budget this is a great option as there are lots of hostels and cheap accommodation around NZ. The roads are easy to drive and the locals are friendly if you find yourself going the wrong way. If you choose this option a tiny car is all you will need, 4WD aren’t necessary (also saving on the budget).
This two week itinerary will cover the majority of all of the natural attractions NZ has to offer and where to stay along the way. This road trip begins in Auckland travelling south, crossing over to the south island and ending in Queenstown spending a week on each island.
Auckland, once the capital city, sits on a gorgeous peninsula and is where you will fly into to begin your NZ road trip. Depending on what time you arrive, spend some time experiencing this beautiful city. Although this isn’t 5 star accommodation, this place is very comfortable and offers everything you need for a single nights stay in the city center. Close to all amenities and easy to access from the airport via Skybus or local train, bus or taxis, NZ is very safe.
Metro Adventurer Backpackers 51 Hobson Street, 1010 Auckland, New Zealand
Close to Skybus / Heart of the city / 24hr reception / WiFi
Pick up your hire vehicle. We used Hertz which were the most affordable at the time, shop around for the type of car you want for your dates, there are quite a few hire companies (Hertz is a short stroll from Surf ‘n’ Snow). Begin your road trip East to explore the Coromandel Peninsula. A gorgeous road that will take you past many sleepy beachside towns. Stop in Coromandel itself for a delicious lunch from local ingredients. Continue on around the Pacific Coast Highway until arriving at the seaside township of Whitianga. Keep an eye on tide times to detour (40mins) out to Hot Water Beach at low tide to dig yourself a thermal pool right on the beach. Or head out to Cathedral Cove for that Insta famous pic.
Mercury Bay Holiday Park 121 Albert Street, 3542 Whitianga, New Zealand
$70pn /Estuary location / Pool / WiFi
Head inland for a dramatic change in scenery as you drive past farming communities on your way to Rotorua. This is a big drive of 3 hours. Spend the afternoon 25min out of Rotorua at Wai o Tapu exploring the geothermal park features. Walk through the thermal wonderland seeing colourful geysers and waters, make sure to stop at the bubbling mud pools as well. On the way back to town make a pit stop at Kerosene Creek for a thermal creek swim like a local. This little waterfall and creek is so pretty and soothing after a long day. Check out the local stores stocking NZ Jade. At night enjoy a nice dinner from one of the many restaurants in Eat St.
The Backyard Inn 60 Tarewa Road, 3010 Rotorua, New Zealand
Right next to the thermal Kuirau Park in the heart of Rotorua / Pool / Café / Attraction vouchers / Kitchen / Bar / WiFi
Drive out to the Hobbiton Movie Set (prebook a tour). Located about an hour from town this is an unmissable tour in NZ even for non-fans of the movies. It’s such a well kept movie set it really is like stepping into a different realm. I recommend the lunch tour for the full buffet. In the afternoon head out to Whakarewarewa to do the Redwoods Treewalk, $35. An enchanting walk through the canopy of giant redwood trees on suspension bridges. For something even more magical stay as the sun dips to experience the beauty of the colourful and unique light art display hidden throughout the forest. End your day at the Hells Gate thermal spa ($79) for something special. Cleanse in the famous Rotorua thermal mud, wash off then spend time relaxing in the thermal and cool plunge pools under the stars.
For some adventure on your NZ road trip head to Waitomo and have fun black water rafting on blow up tubes along an underground river on the Black Labyrinth tour while gazing up at cave rooves filled with glow worms. This underground tour is so fun and lasts about 3hrs for $150, it’s worth it! The hot shower at the end will warm you right back up. Continue your drive back and then South from Rotorua to Taupo, about an hours drive. Make sure to stop at magnificent Huka Falls. They also do Helicopter flights over the falls here for some added adrenalin. Taupo is a beautiful lake to relax away the afternoon next to.
Haka Lodge 56 Kaimanawa Street, 3330 Taupo, New Zealand
$60pn / Private rooms / Upmarket hostel / WiFi / Lake views / Huge bathrooms
Heading South to Wellington now on a 5hr drive. As your NZ road trip takes you past the Tongariro National Park be sure to check out some of the short waterfall hikes just off the highway to break the journey with some gorgeous scenic spots. And for those LOTR fans, the famous Mount Doom of Mordor is also located here.
Trek Global Backpackers 9 O’Reily Ave, 5016 Wellington, New Zealand
$70pn / WiFi / Shared living spaces / Close to city centre and airport
Check out Weta Workshop, take a tour ($28) and see how they create movie sets, miniatures, props, costumes and much more that go into movies like Avatar and LOTR and some games. Spend a few hours walking around Zealandia ($22), a bio-diverse sanctuary for native flora and fauna. Wander around the lake spotting as many animals as you can. Enjoy the capital city and spend a nice night out on the town.
Trip on the Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton (3 and a half hrs, $60pp). Leave your car at the terminal and collect a new car at Picton, it’s much cheaper. Drive around 2 hours to the coastal town of Kaikoura. Stop and watch the seal colony on the rocks at the peninsula, buy some local fish and chips and spend the afternoon relaxing.
Dolphin Lodge 15 Deal Street, 7300 Kaikoura, New Zealand
Great views / Walk to town / WiFi / Gardens
Wake up early to take part in the famous Kaikoura Dolphin Encounter where you are able to swim with wild dusky dolphins (See my blog on swimming with the wild dusky dolphins here). It’s an incredible experience of a lifetime not to be missed ($210 for 3 and a half hrs- prebook). Drive South West along the winding road towards Arthurs Pass, around 4hrs. Stop for some gorgeous photographs along the way as you head up into the beautiful mountains.
Rata Lodge Otira 6492 Otira Highway Otira, 7875 Otira, New Zealand
Mountain view / Cottage feel / Gardens / WiFi / Movies
Continue the drive over to the west coast of the South Island to the town of Franz Josef, just under 3hrs. Join a walking tour or helicopter tour to the spectacular ice glacier Franz Josef. As the glacier recedes, the walking tour gets longer taking you through the forest, past waterfalls and up the river bed where the glacier once was. Enjoy a nice dinner in one of the restaurants on the main street of town.
Chateau Backpackers and Motels 8-10 Cron Street, 7856 Franz Josef, New Zealand
$65pn / Sleeping pods / Fire pits / Free soup and breakfast
Just outside of town there’s a short hike to see Fox Glacier. Continue to drive South towards Wanaka, 4hrs. This road takes you through Mt Aspiring National Park, a mixture of forest, rugged coastlines, waterfalls and all round amazing scenery. Take advantage of these short hikes along the road, especially Blue Pools. They’ll add about an extra 2hrs to your trip but they are worth it. Arrive at Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka just in time for one of the best sunsets. There’s some really nice restaurants in Wanaka and of course the most photographed tree on the lake must be photographed.
$63pn Lodge room / Bar and restaurant / Lake views / 10min to Wanaka / WiFi
Drive the final hour of the driving portion of your road trip through NZ to Queenstown where you’ll drop off the rental car. Queenstown is very small so save some money and ditch the car. Take a gondola ride on the Skyline up to Bob’s Peak for amazing views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Wander the streets of Queenstown and people watch around the lake. Book a ride on the Shotover Jet boat to experience Queenstown from the water. Eat some Fergburger and Cookie Time for dessert!
Jucy Snooze 47 Camp Street, 9300 Queenstown, New Zealand
$37pn / Pods / Restaurant and bar / Games / WiFi / Views / Tour desk
Full day tour to Milford Sound. It’s about a 4-6hr drive one way through farms, winding lake roads, past waterfalls and towns. A glass rooved bus makes the trip relaxing and fun. Prices are a reflection of the tour you choose. It’s a big day with the drive and boat cruise on the sound. You have the option to book the tour you want to do, including meals, overnight on the sound, helicopter flights, it’s really endless and there are many providers (we had rain so had to turnback after lunch).
Spend your very last day of your NZ road trip doing some souvenir shopping and relaxing. If you really want to relax I suggest heading out to Onsen Hot Pools for a thermal soak and massage to really end your holiday on a great note. It’s quite pricey starting around $300, but the experience is pretty cool and you get a private tub overlooking the mountains.
There are many experiences not listed on this itinerary that are quite possible to include into your trip. It’s yours to fully customise!
Some popular experiences include:
- Bungee jumping
- Winery visits
- Dark sky star experience
- Tongariro crossing
- Pureora Forest
- Doubtful Sound
- Whale watching
- Skiing/snowboarding in winter
- Bay of Islands
- Black sand beaches of Auckland
- Kiwi encounters
- Fear Factory
I hope you find this 2 week NZ road trip itinerary useful when planning your own special adventure. NZ is truly one of the most visually stunning places I’ve visited and the unique and sudden changes to the scenery just has to be seen to be believed.
If you head to NZ using this road trip itinerary as your guide I’d love to hear how much fun you have. If you find some interesting places or experiences along the way share them below!
Happy wandering x