The New Zealand road trip is a rite of passage for a summer holiday. Arm yourself with snacks, patience and sunscreen and go on an epic adventure!
Travelling by road gives you freedom to stop and go as you please, heading off to investigate things that interest you, going off the beaten tourist path.
But New Zealand roads can be harsh places with difficult terrain. The weather can change abruptly, especially in the mountain passes. There can be long stretches without houses, towns or petrol, so you need to be organised. You’ll want to stop often, for adventures or food… or just to take photos of the incredible scenery.
- Dunedin, New Zealand by Rosan Harmens
NZ roadtrip essentials
- Flashlight- there are places to explore along the way, like Tunnel Hill in the Catlins.
- Sunscreen – NZ sun is brutal. Always wear sunscreen.
- Hat and sunglasses
- Bottle opener (always handy)
- Bottles of water than you can refill at your next stop
- Motion sickness medication if you’re prone to car sickness
- Maps- download Google maps to your phone in case signal runs out.
- Charging cable for electronic devices
If you want to do justice to NZ, each Island will take one week minimum - two weeks preferably. While the country is small, the things to explore on the way take time. The following trips are a selection of short and long trips, so look up State NZ, grab your travel insurance, fill up the tank and hit the road!
Pick a roadtrip that matches your interests
- For Hermits and Wild Adventurers: The Great Coast RoadThis trip takes you from Westport to Greymouth in the South Island. This is a sparsely populated but highly beautiful part of NZ. You’ll want to stop at Punakaiki Rocks and check out the unusual rock formations- and the blowhole. The area has few people but a rugged coastline and inhospitable forests. This is a great road to escape the city life and blow away the cobwebs.
- The Wine Trail: Marlborough SoundsThe Queen Charlotte drive is only 40km long, but it takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of NZ. Blue waters, lush forests, cliffs, lonely inlets and birdsong. Once you’re thoroughly thirsty, head to the wine trail throughout the Marlborough area (taking your sober driver of course). These are some of the best wineries in NZ and you’ll find the best sauvignon blanc here.
- The Adrenaline Hunter: Crown RangeQueenstown is home to the first bungy jump in the world, there is a luge in town which has a slow and fast track, and there is also jetboating in the river here, wild and terrifying. Once you’ve exhausted your adrenalin, head to Wanaka along the Crown Range. This is a much-travelled road from Queenstown to Wanaka, taking you through winding hairpin turns and an alpine pass. There are spots to stop and take photos- so take your time. Once you’ve reach Wanaka, you’re close to some of the best Skiing in the world (in winter) and water sports like water skiing (in summer).
- The Visual Symphony: Te Anau to Milford SoundStarting in Te Anau with its beautiful blue lake and lush forests, you’ll travel a remote road with untamed scenery through to Milford Sound. You’ll drive through the Homer Tunnel, popping out from a craggy mountain range (complete with Keas) to a long valley. Travel down that gorgeous valley and you’ll be met with Mitre Peak and Milford Sound, a jaw-droppingly beautiful spot. You have to travel out the same way you came in, so you get to see it all again in reverse.
- The Instagram Dream: Mt Cook- Aoraki Mount Cook by Pablo Heimplatz
Starting from Twizel, enjoy the flat roads and McKenzie Country scenery with the Southern Alps bordering the arid rocky landscape. Then turn off to Mt Cook. On a fine day, you can see Mt Cook loom closer and close, a true craggy beauty. Take a walk at the end of the road to the glacier-fed lake and Insta that scene to your hearts content. Afterwards, continue on to Tekapo, passing by the stunning blue Lake Pukaki. This is top notch IG material, give your likers a visual feast.
- The Kiwi Purist: Tauranga to NapierStarting in this peaceful seaside town, head to Napier. Lots of lovely roads, winding through beautiful scenery, and ending in Napier, the home of art deco in NZ. This trail takes you through classic Kiwi scenery.
- History Seekers: Napier to RotoruaNapier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931. It was promptly rebuilt and everything was constructed in the fashion at the time- Art Deco. From this cute town with cool architecture, head to Rotorua- full of wheezing sulphurous hot pools. This area was a thriving part of the M?ori history and evidence of this still remains.
- The Far North: M?ori HistoryHeading north from Auckland, you’ll encounter some of the most startling NZ scenery. In Waipoua forest, you’ll find Tane Mahuta, the gigantic Kauri tree. Kaitaia is the gateway to the isolated 90 mile beach (which is not 90 miles long) and Cape Reinga. The Cape is the more northern tip of NZ and the place M?ori believe spirits leave NZ after death.
- Surf Highway 45: New Plymouth- New PlymouthIf you’re a surfer, this is your road. Start in New Plymouth and enjoy the hollow waves. Then Oakura, only half an hour away, is a small coastal town with lots of surf spots. Try Ahu Ahu and Komene Beach is great for learners. Opunake is your next stop, with a nice right hand wave over a shallow reef. Also check out Parihaka in the area, a famous site of M?ori peaceful resistance during the land wars.
- The Fishing Loop: North IslandIf you’re less about surfing and more about fishing, start in Auckland and drive to Lake Taupo. The road is beautiful, through rolling farmlands you may recognise from The Lord of The Rings. Lake Taupo has great fishing, stick around for a while. Then head to Turangi. The fishing here is said to result in the fattest trout- that’s a challenge for the anglers out there! Then, Rotorua for fly fishing- there are 13 fishable lakes in the area with rainbow and tiger trout. Head back to Auckland via Hobbiton (for the kids, since you’ve been fishing the entire week).