New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Island

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, Mount Cook, Instagram spots in New Zealand, best photo spots South Island, road to Mount Cook

The road to Mount Cook

Road tripping around New Zealand will undoubtedly be one of your greatest travel adventures of all time. You’ll need a good New Zealand road trip itinerary! Little beats those empty, open roads and the inevitable gasps of joy around every corner. I spent just over 3 weeks exploring the North and South Islands by camper van. I’ll have in depth posts coming on each island and the main towns soon but in the mean time, wanted to share my route as well as some advice!

Plan, and plan for things to go wrong!

New Zealand is a large country of few roads. If one shuts – which happens often due to the somewhat tumultuous nature of the mountains! – then your only option is going to be to divert. In our case, that diversion looked something like 12 hours all the way over to the other side of the island round again! There was stress. There were tears. Above all I am so glad our itinerary was relaxed enough to allow a spontaneous overhaul!

Book your van with RatPack Travel!

You may know from my Great Ocean Road itinerary what a fan I am of the team at RatPack. They provide a down to earth, informal and personalised camper van booking service. Using their relationship with all the key players in the rental industry, they take the hassle out of trawling countless web pages, stressing over which is right for you. Let Sammy know your needs and he’ll find you the perfect camper and beat any direct quote by at least 10% (quote ‘Beth10)! It’s an absolute no brainer!

Not only will you save money but you’ll also have friendly WhatsApp support on the road. These guys really know their stuff, whether you’ve got an issue with your van and need roadside support or you just want to know where to find the best burger! They’ve been there, done that, invented the t-shirt! WhatsApp Sammy on +61 450381801 to kick start the process.

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, Sunrise breakfast at Lake Tarawera, camper van life, road trip life, on the road

Breakfast at sunrise at Lake Tarawera; camper van life!

Fly into the North Island and out of the South Island

New Zealand is not built for a loop road trip. You might be tempted to fly in to and out of Auckland – or Christchurch depending on which way round you’re going – but this will only cost you unnecessary time and money! Instead, fly into one and out of the other. You’ll forego the second ferry crossing (expensive), fuel and time which would otherwise be spent likely driving past places you’ve already been! Even the one way fee on a hire van still makes this the best option.

Dedicate 80% of your time to the South Island

The North Island is nice but once you hit the South Island you will not want to leave.

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, Lake Tekapo, Mount John Observatory Tekapo

View of Lake Tekapo from Mount John Observatory

The North Island

You might think my North Island itinerary seems a tad illogical but unless you’re planning a circular route, it’s very difficult to see both the east and west coast. The drive up the Coromandel was one of the most stunning in New Zealand, and certainly of the North Island. Meanwhile, we had rugby tickets for Hamilton and really wanted to see Raglan too. In any case, driving in New Zealand isn’t exactly a hardship!

Of course, there’s also lots to see on the coasts, around Napier, north of Auckland and between Taupo and Wellington but, keen to maximise time on the South Island, we decided to head for the ferry.

Auckland > Coromandel > Raglan > Hamilton > Rotorua > Taupo > Wellington

Must see stops on the way:

  • Sunrise at Lake Tarawera (south of Rotorua)
  • Aratiatia Rapids (en route to Taupo)
  • Huka Falls (just north of Taupo)
  • Redwoods forest in Rotorua
  • George’s Beach Club for lunch in Raglan
  • Manu Bay in Raglan to watch the surfers

You’ll notice the famous Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel did not make my list! We drove an hour to Hot Water Beach only to find a tiny patch with geothermal activity flooded with about 100 tourists with their $10 rental spades. On the plus side, the cafe did great muffins and kombucha. Cathedral Cove is said to be stunning but requires a bit of forward planning as you must park in the nearby town, take a bus, then walk 45 minutes down to the beach.

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, sunrise at Lake Tarawera, photography spots New ZealandSunrise at Lake Tarawera

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, Rotorua Redwood forestRotorua Redwood Forest

The South Island

with Arthur’s Pass

Picton > Queen Charlotte Drive (Marlborough Sounds) > Nelson > Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) > Arthur’s Pass > Lake Tekapo > Lake Pukaki > Mount Cook > Wanaka > Queenstown > Milford Sound > Queenstown > Lake Pukaki/Tekapo > Christchurch

without Arthur’s Pass

Picton > Queen Charlotte Drive (Marlborough Sounds) > Nelson > Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) > Franz Josef or Fox Glacier  > Wanaka > Queenstown > Milford Sound > Queenstown > Lake Pukaki > Mount Cook > Lake Tekapo > Christchurch

Arthur’s Pass is one of the most stunning drives in the world. It’s well worth fitting into your New Zealand road trip itinerary, even if it does mean a diversion.

Of course the Abel Tasman is well worth a visit too but we unfortunately visited during the wildfires when a lot of the freedom camps in the area were closed so had to give it a miss.

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, Mount Cook, Instagram spots in New Zealand, Milford SoundMilford Sound

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, Mount Cook, Instagram spots in New Zealand, Three Creeks Trading PostThree Creeks Trading Post (outside Tekapo)

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, Mount Cook, Instagram spots in New Zealand, Punakaiki, Pancake rocks, blowholesBlowholes at Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands, Mount Cook, Instagram spots in New Zealand, Lake TekapoLake Tekapo evening dip!

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New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary: North and South Islands

5 Responses

  1. Wow this post was a real treat – beautiful, inspiring and packed with lots of useful information! NZ is on my travel wish list and I know your post will come in very handy when we start to plan for the trip. Thank you so much! I hope you’re having the best time in your travels so far! <3

    Kriselle x
    http://kriselle.co.uk/

  2. We are leaving to go to New Zealand on Saturday and loving the inspo on your page! We have family in Auckand so will spend most of our time in the North Island however have reached out to Sammy based on your advice – he could not be more helpful!
    Love your blog xx

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