A country made for driving; New Zealand’s roads, trails and paths cut, wind and twist through incredibly diverse landscapes. From snow-capped peaks, vertigo-inducing mountain passes and glacial lakes to subtropical forests, rocky coastlines and lush plains; New Zealand is an adventure worthy of four wheels.
Whilst touring New Zealand is possible by other means -rail, bus, plane-, nothing can promise to ignite the wanderlust in you as much as driving yourself through these jaw-dropping landscapes from one destination to the next.
A nation of free camping, New Zealand laws (or lack there of) allow you to park up almost anywhere without parking or camping fees. This little fact is great if you are considering a campervan self-drive holiday in New Zealand – but we’ll get to that a little later.
The entirety of New Zealand offers incredible sights which is why when it comes to planning a self-drive tour, it may be difficult to know where to start. That’s why we’ve gathered together five epic New Zealand road trips that will showcase the best of this stunning country;
But first, let’s talk safety and the need-to-knows.
Things You Need to Know Before Planning a Self-Drive New Zealand Tour
To ensure your NZ self-drive tour goes without a hitch, here are some key things to bear in mind;
Pick a Car to Suit Your Journey
Okay, this may seem obvious but this is very important and may determine what type of trip you have. The weather, terrain, how far you plan to travel and comfort are all key determinants of which car or van you choose. When it comes down to car hire in New Zealand, it is one of the most economical ways to travel with the average rate being around US$40 a day.
Planning on camping? This campervan holiday in New Zealand may be just what you’re looking for.
Watch Out for Wildlife
It’s not uncommon for your journey to be held up by cattle or sheep grazing on the sides of the roads or just meandering along them at their own pace. The best thing to do is just relax, take time to pass safely and enjoy the slow pace.
Don’t Just Stop Anywhere
Of course, this may sound contradictory to the earlier statement about New Zealand’s free camping laws but this is where common sense comes into play.
A highway is still a highway even if it is next to a stunning lake view or mountain landscape. There are plenty of safe places to pull in and get out of the car so don’t just stop anywhere.
Drive on the Left
If you’re coming across the pond from Australia or the UK, this is second nature to you. But it’s worth mentioning if you’re coming from a country that drives on the right that you’ll have to take some time to get used to this style of driving.
Be Careful on Unsealed and Gravel Roads
Again, this is where planning your journey and picking the right car comes into play. If you’re looking to get off the beaten track in New Zealand (which you absolutely should), you may encounter some gravel or unsealed roads. Take it easy and perhaps hire a more robust car if your journey will involve lots of these roads.
Keep Fuelled Up
Both you and your vehicle.
When planning your trip, you should plan your fuel stops and make sure that you don’t ever run too low on fuel as it could be a long way to the next fuel stop. The same goes for snacks and drinks; keep a good supply in the car and it will keep you going on longer journeys. Finally, plan your toilet breaks on your journey too so you don’t get caught out.
Weather is Changeable
The weather as you traverse New Zealand can be unpredictable, especially if you are travelling through mountainous areas. Heavy rains could mean landslides and wild winds won’t be pleasant to drive in.
Make sure to check the weather forecast ahead of setting off and keep an eye out for any weather warnings on your journey.
A Good Playlist is Vital
It goes without saying that we all have those special songs that emote particular feelings in us; your road trip playlist should be no different!
Take Your Time
Give yourself plenty of time to travel between destinations so that you aren’t rushing. The beauty of a self-drive tour in New Zealand is that you have the freedom to stop whenever and wherever you like. You’ll want to make sure that your itinerary doesn’t restrict that.
“Help! It All Sounds Amazing”
If this is all feeling a little overwhelming, then don’t worry. Our Local Experts at Tripfuser have been planning dream trips like this for people from all walks of life for years; they take any request (no matter how big or small) to design your perfect New Zealand road trip.
Our Local Experts also make sure to make your road trip itinerary roomy enough for you to travel at your own pace and take stops whenever you like.
Five New Zealand Road Trips to Add to Your Bucket List
Now, onto the fun stuff;
North Island Road Trip: Auckland to Wellington
Winding its way through the stunning national parks, incredible volcanic activity and cosmopolitan cities of the North Island, this ten-day adventure is a great route to tick off some sites.
From the rainforest-clad city of Auckland, you’ll meander through incredible landscapes to the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua. The Hobbit fans will be delighted at the stop at the Hobbiton Movie Set. Maori culture and thrilling adventures will define your next few days before you hit the road to Hawke’s Bay where wine-tasting and winery tours are top of the list.
Travelling through Marlborough, you’ll traverse the Rimutaka Ranges before landing in the cosmopolitan capital of Wellington to soak up the lively atmosphere.
North of the North: Discover the Bay of Islands Loop
Perfect if you’re short on time, this North Island road trip loop is a three-day journey from Auckland. You’ll discover the beauty of the Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga and the Matakana Wine Region.
If you don’t shy away from activities, this loop will suit you down to the ground. You’ll journey to the historic town of Russell, exploring the memorable Waipoua Forest en route with its huge kauri trees. One of your days will be spent cruising the Bay of Islands, visiting the famous Hole in the Rock and spotting dolphins. Finally, you’ll journey back to your starting point but not before stopping to visit Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the Matakana wine region, the Kawiti Glowworm Caves, the stunning Orewa Beach and Wenderholm Regional Park.
Coastal South Island Road Trip: Christchurch to Queenstown & Back
It is said that of the two, the South Island pips the North Island to the post when it comes to scenery. This South Island road trip kicks off with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean as you travel south from Christchurch.
You’ll meander through the Otago Peninsula and follow the Catlins Coastline all the way to the bottom tip of the South Island. The highlights of this self-drive New Zealand tour are abundant and include a cruise on the Milford Sound, stopping by the remarkable Punakaiki Pancake Rocks as you drive along the rugged West Coast Road, the calm waters of the Abel Tasman National Park and the Marlborough Sounds.
If your finger is hovering over the book button, why not connect with one of our Local Experts in New Zealand and customise this New Zealand road trip to make it yours!
The Whole Shabang: North Island to South Island in a Campervan!
We’ve established that driving yourself is a great way to explore New Zealand. But driving yourself around New Zealand in a campervan is a whole other level! Over twelve days, you’ll travel from Auckland on the North Island to Queenstown on the South Island, encountering numerous must-see New Zealand treasures on the way.
The glowworm caves of Waitomo, the bubbling geysers of Rotorua, Maori culture at Te Puia, Lake Taupo; whale watching in Kaikoura; the wonders of Lake Tekapo, the Mount Cook National Park and Tasman Glacier, as well as New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown and Milford Sound – it’s all in this campervan trip!
What’s better is that this New Zealand by campervan holiday is part of our Free Cancellation* guarantee!
*See our website for terms and conditions.
The Most Scenic: Southern Alps & Lakes Self-Drive Tour
Any self-drive New Zealand trip will blow your socks off but this Alps and lakes tour of the South Island is particularly impressive.
Journeying south from Christchurch, you’ll wind through the Mackenzie high country past Lake Tekapo before landing in Mount Cook National Park. As Queenstown calls, you’ll travel over the Lindis Pass, one of New Zealand’s highest roads with a summit of 971 metres.
When you’ve had your fill of adrenaline, the West Coast Glaciers are your base for the next two nights, allowing you to revel in the many guided walks and not-to-be-missed scenic flights. If all that wasn’t enough, you’ll finish your trip with a journey by rail on the world-famous TranzAlpine Scenic Train back to Christchurch!
If this South Island road trip is a bit of you, then take advantage of our Free Cancellation* offer and get it booked!
*See our website for terms and conditions.
Tempted by a New Zealand Road Trip?
We thought so.
Putting together road trips like these takes time, plenty of research and a good deal of local knowledge. Luckily for you, our Local Experts have years of knowledge and expertise ready to put into your perfect trip.
Connect with one of our Local Experts by customising one of our New Zealand trips or designing your own from scratch by answering a few simple questions. You’ll then have an itinerary tailored to your budget, needs and travel style delivered to you!
It’s time to hit the road – New Zealand is calling!