If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, which you totally should because it is awesome, it can be quite daunting to determine where to go. New Zealand is a incredibly beautiful country and with so much to see, choosing a realistic travel itinerary can be a challenge.
That is why I wrote this detailed post about the 43-day (6 week) trip I made around the North and South Island of New Zealand. For each day I list the itinerary, campsites and highlights, you can find them in the map below as well.
Even if you have less time available to explore Kiwi Country, I hope my self drive itinerary will inspire you and help you plan your visit to New Zealand. You can customize this itinerary, make it shorter or travel just the North or South Island.
My advice? Don’t try to squeeze in too much, the last think you want is to feel rushed! Because one of the best things about New Zealand is being able to stay a little bit longer at that perfect secluded spot you found… Anyway, I digress, let’s get to my 6-week New Zealand itinerary!
Plan the perfect New Zealand road trip
I traveled together with my husband; we started our trip in Christchurch and ended it in Auckland. We hired a camper van, enabling us to explore New Zealand at our own pace and via our preferred itinerary. If you want to know more about:
- The costs of this trip => check my New Zealand budget breakdown post.
- The campsites we stayed at => I wrote a post with a short description of every campsite.
- The camper van we rented => I wrote the ultimate guide to renting a campervan.
- The activities we did => in my post 10 awesome activities to do in New Zealand, I describe the 10 paid activities we did; all other activities mentioned below are free!
- Hiking in New Zealand => check my post 19 awesome hikes on the North and South island of New Zealand, where I have written about all the hikes we did.
Our 6 week New Zealand road trip itinerary
Itinerary: Christchurch International Airport – Christchurch city center – Jailhouse Accommodation
Practical information: Bus number 29 – Airport to City via Fendalton costs 8NZD per person and departs every 30 minutes.
• Botanic Gardens: Beautiful park, huge trees and a nice rose garden. Good place to sleep on a bench in the sun after two days of flying…
• Christchurch city center: it was nice to see that the city center was rebuilt (after the earthquake of 2011) in a very creative way. Because it was summer holiday the city center was completely empty!
• Staying at the Jailhouse Accommodation: how often do you get to spend a night in a former prison! Don’t worry, you can get out whenever you want…
Itinerary: Jailhouse Accommodation – Rental Car Village – Akaroa – Arundel Bridge Reserve
• Scenic drive over Summit Road: a beautiful winding road offering great views of the bay.
• Akaroa: a cute historic village (founded by French settlers in 1840!) with beautiful colonial houses.
Itinerary: Arundel Bridge Reserve – Peel Forest – Lake Tekapo – Camping Lake McGregor
• Hiking in Peel Forest: lots of tracks to choose from, I did the ‘Big Tree Walk’ which lead to a huge Totara tree of 8,4 meter wide, the ‘Acland Falls track’ which took me to a mystic looking waterfall and the ‘Kahikatea walk’ leading me through a swamp forest. Read more about these hike here.
• Lake Tekapo: the drive to the lake (coming from Geraldine) is already stunning because of the snowy Southern Alps on the background. But Lake Tekapo is just out of this world. The beautiful blue color is something that you cannot catch on a photo and the surroundings are breathtaking. I loved this place, it was one of my favorite places of our entire trip.
• Church of the Good Shepherd: I don’t think there is a church anywhere in the world located on a spot more beautiful than this one. If you don’t believe in God, the view from the church might just persuade you.
• Stargazing at Lake McGregor: the area around Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve. I have never seen so many stars, it was incredible.
Itinerary: Camping Lake McGregor – Mount John Observatory – Lake Pukaki Lookout – Mount Cook – Twizel – Campsite next to SH8, south of Twizel
• Hiking the Mt John track via lakeshore: three hour walk with a fantastic view over Lake Tekapo. There is a nice cafe at the top of Mt. John.
• Lake Pukaki and scenic road to Mount Cook: beautiful view over Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook, the tallest mountain of New Zealand, in the background. The 50km road to Mount Cook is a stunning drive, definitely worthwhile!
• Hiking the Tasman Glacier track: this was quite a steep track after already having hiked the entire morning! Nevertheless, it was worth the effort. The picture showing the difference in size of the glacier are impressive, it’s melting so fast…
Itinerary: Campsite next to SH8 south of Twizel – Elephant Rocks – Oamaru – All Day Bay recreation reserve
• Elephant Rocks: such crazy rock formations in the middle of farmland. I can totally understand why this landscape is used in the Narnia movies!
• Oamaru city center: I really liked this village with its steam punk art and historic buildings from 1860-1880.
Itinerary: All Day Bay recreation reserve – Moeraki Boulders – Dunedin – Mosgiel Motor Camp
• Moeraki Boulders: crazy rocks, some of the boulders are up to 3 meters in diameter!
• Dunedin city center: Dunedin is the student city of New Zealand and is also known as ‘The Edinburgh of the South’. I visited Edinburgh and can honestly say that might be pushing it, but it is a nice city nonetheless! I visited the Toitu Otago Settlers museum and learned a lot about the history of this part of New Zealand.
Itinerary: Mosgiel Motor Camp – Sandfly Bay – Nugget Point – DOC Purakaunui Bay
• Hiking at Sandfly Bay: a nice walk starting at the end of Seal Point Road and going down to the beach where lots of seals are chilling out. Sandfly bay is named after the fine sand being blown into the air by the hard wind, forming impressive dunes.
• Southern Scenic Route part 1: you have to drive this awesome road! Get the free ‘Southern Scenic Route Guide’’ and ‘Guide to the Catlins’ at an i-Site, these leaflets contain information about all the highlights in the region (there are a lot!).
• Nugget Point: impressive land tongue with a cute lighthouse at the end from where you have a stunning view over the rough ‘nuggets’ rising from the sea. I felt like I was at the end of the world.
• Seeing seals, baby fur seals, a sea lion, two yellow eyed penguins and a dolphin in one day!
Itinerary: DOC Purakaunui Bay – Jack’s blowhole – Surat Bay – Purakaunui Falls – Cathedral Cave – DOC Papatowai
• Hike to Jack’s Blowhole: a very strange 55 meter deep hole, 200 meter from the sea. Sea water flows to the hole through an underground tunnel and pounds against the sides with deep thundering sounds. Impressive!
• Surat Bay: short hike, seen another seal chilling on the beach but unfortunately no sea lions for which this bay is famous.
• Purakaunui Falls: beautiful falls, apparently one of the most photographed waterfalls of New Zealand.
• Cathedral Cave: read more.
• Southern Scenic Route part 2: another day on the Southern Scenic route. And scenic it most definitely is. Winding its way through the dense forest while offering stunning ocean views every other corner, fantastic!
Itinerary: DOC Papatowai – McLean Falls – Curio Bay – Slope Point – Invercargill – Colac Bay
• Hike to McLean Falls: a half an hour hike to one of my favorite falls in New Zealand. I don’t know why exactly I loved McLean Falls so much, I guess I was just really happy that day (I was extremely happy the entire time I was in New Zealand;-). The sun was shining, there was no one around (ok, except that other couple who took our picture), nature was beautiful, life in general was pretty good.
• View over Curio Bay: stunning skies. I don’t think I need to say more. On the tiny, tiny downside: we did not see any Hector Dolphins who frequent this bay.
• Slope Point: the Southernmost post of New Zealand (not counting Steward Island) and the southernmost point I have ever been in my life.
• Southern Scenic Route part 3: the last part of the Southern Scenic route. There are so many beautiful roads in New Zealand, but this was definitely one of my favorites. It just feels so remote… And there are gorgeous and really varied sightseeing spots every couple of kilometers.
Itinerary: Colac Bay – Te Anau – Mirror Lakes – Milford Sound – DOC the Divide
• Scenic drive on Milford Sound Road: the road from Te Anau to the Milford Sound is breathtaking.
• Mirror Lakes: the wind is too hard to be able to see the famous mirroring effect but still very pretty lakes!
Itinerary: DOC The Divide – Milford Sound – The Chasm – Campsite near Lumsden
• The Chasm: it’s raining (like it does 182 days a year in the Milford Sound, so no surprises there) but that makes the Chasm all the more impressive because of the massive amount of water flowing below a natural bridge.
Itinerary: Campsite near Lumsden – Queenstown – DOC Moke Lake
• Drive over the Devil’s Staircase: excellent road with lots of twists and turns, hence the name. Drive carefully!
• Queenstown city center: I think Queenstown is probably the most enviable city in the world. Next to Lake Wakatipu, with the Remarkables in the backdrop. The city center has all the facilities you need but is small enough not to feel like a big city. And home to all kinds of extreme sports off course. We didn’t do any though, no, we went hiking (yes, again;–). But next time… I would love to go skydiving!
• Hike around Moke Lake: one of my favorite walks because the surroundings were stunning (as usual…New Zealand is so incredibly pretty) and we did not come across anyone else during the entire hike of 1,5hours.
Itinerary: DOC Moke Lake – Arrowtown – Luggate Cricket Club
• Chinese settlement in Arrowtown: a historic gold mining town where the Chinese workers created a little settlement with tiny houses made of wood. A Spartan life these people had…
• Scenic drive over the Crown Range Road: from Arrowtown we took the Crown Range Road to Wanaka. A turning and twisting road leading to a 1076 meter high pass,crossing the Cardona river 11 times! Fun Lonely Planet fact: the Crown Range Road is the highest sealed road in New Zealand!
Itinerary: Luggate Cricket Club – Wanaka – DOC Lake Paringa
• Beer tasting and tour Wanaka Beerworks: good beer! Read more.
• Scenic drive over Haast Pass: another drive through the astonishing landscapes of New Zealand. I still cannot believe there is a country in this world that is so beautiful…
Itinerary: DOC Lake Paringa – Fox Glacier – Lake Matheson – DOC Otto/Mc Donald
• Hike to Fox Glacier: a 20 minute hike (and another 20 minutes to get back;-). I am again taken aback by the rapid shrinking of the glacier…
• Hike around Lake Matheson: a mirror picture!
Itinerary: DOC Otto/Mc Donald – Franz Josef Glacier – Hokitika – DOC Lake Mahinãpua
• Hike to Franz Josef Glacier: a 40 minute hike. Though we cannot get as close to the glacier as to the Fox glacier yesterday, we constantly hear rocks falling and see ice chucks breaking off. The glacier is on the move!
• Eating a MASSIVE Cookie and Cream Cheesecake at 88 Asian Fusion Restaurant & Lounge Bar. I am actually relieved I forgot to take a picture, it would be embarrassing to have visual evidence of the gigantic size of the cheesecake and me eating every last crumb.
• Sunset point: what’s in the name… We witness a beautiful sunset.
• Glowworm dell: in a small, dark and most dell hundreds of lights come alive one by one. The glowworms are like tiny stars and it’s a truly magical experience!
Itinerary: DOC Lake Mahinãpua – Hokitika Gorge – Pancake Rocks – Jack’s Gasthof
• Hokitika Gorge: another specular sight in stunning New Zealand. The glacier flour colors the water a vivid blue which contrasts with the bright white rocks, unbelievably pretty.
• Scenic drive over Great coast road: one of the most, if not the most, spectacular drives in New Zealand. Every bay is more beautiful than the last one.
• Pancake Rocks: there are so many phenomenal places to visit in New Zealand and the Pancake Rocks are definitely one of them. Strange layered rocks shaped and sculpted by wind and ocean below a perfect blue sky.
Itinerary: Jack’s Gasthof – Westport – Carters beach – Alpine Holiday Park Hanmar Springs
• Westport: a definite highlight was finding our little espresso maker!
• Carters beach: too cold to swim but still a nice place to spend a couple of hours.
Itinerary: Alpine Holiday Park Hanmar Springs – Hanmar Springs thermal – DOC Puhi Puhi Valley Kaikoura
• Hanmar Springs thermal: blissful hot baths (read more).
Itinerary: DOC Puhi Puhi Valley Kaikoura – Kaikoura – Donovan House B&B
• Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway: nice three hour hike (the first hour is not that interesting, I suggest starting at the parking lot at Point Kean viewpoint instead of in the town itself) with beautiful views over the bay.
Itinerary: Donovan House B&B – Picton – Maitai Valley Motor Camp
• Picton Village Bakery: deliciously baked goodies…
• Scenic Queen Charlotte Drive: another gorgeous drive, 35 kilometers of twists and turns and beautiful bay views between Picton and Havelock.
Itinerary: Maitai Valley Motor Camp – Nelson – Kina Beach camp
• Nelson Farmers Market: eating our way around the farmers market, jummie.
• Nelson city center: I found Nelson a very relaxed city with a lively atmosphere and a couple of nice buildings.
Itinerary: Kina Beach camp – Marahau – Uruwhena Bridge
• Kayak Abel Tasman park: awesome activity on a glorious sunny day, read more.
Itinerary: Uruwhena Bridge – Collingwood – Farewell Spit – Uruwhena Bridge
• Hike around Farewell Spit: 12km hike over the beach and through the dunes. I have never seen so many different kinds of birds in a single day.
• Pupu Springs: this was such an unexpected highlight and the most beautiful pool I have ever seen in my life. 14.000 liter of water per second bubbles from underground vents which creates a unique underwater environment and crystal clear water. Very, very beautiful.
Itinerary: Uruwhena Bridge – Motueka – Waitohi domain Picton
• Picton city center: I did not expect much of Picton; perhaps that is why it exceeded my expectations. There was a nice harbor, a boulevard and a park to relax in the sun.
This was our last day on the South Island of New Zealand, we spent day 26-43 on the North Island.
Itinerary: Waitohi domain Picton – Cook Strait – Camp Elson Poriru
• Cook Strait: crossing the Cook Strait is as much a necessity if you want to get to the Northern Island, as an activity in itself. The ferry sails through the Marlborough Sounds, which are very beautiful. Unfortunately, the weather is not great so we stayed inside most of the journey.
Itinerary: Camp Elson Poriru – Wellington – Owhiro Bay, Te Kopahou reserve
• Te Papa museum: discovering more about New Zealand history, very interesting!
Itinerary: Owhiro Bay, Te Kopahou reserve – Wellington – Owhiro Bay, Te Kopahou reserve
• Te Papa museum: Te Papa means ‘container of treasures’ which is definitely true, I spent a day and a half in this museum and still hadn’t seen everything.
• Wellington Cable Car and Botanic Gardens: the famous red cable car takes us up to the top of a 120 meter high hill with beautiful views over the bay. We walk back down to the city through the Botanic Gardens.
• Old Saint Paul’s: a church completely made of all kinds of New Zealand woods and build in just 9 months!
Itinerary: Owhiro Bay, Te Kopahou reserve – Clifton Motor camp Te Awanga
• Weta Cave: being LOTR and movie fans in general, we decide to visit Weta Cave where they make all the costumes and design complete virtual words for LOTR, the Hobbit, Avatar, King Kong and many other blockbusters.
Itinerary: Clifton Motor camp Te Awanga – Napier – Hastings – Glenfalls campsite
• Napier city center: very pretty town rebuild completely in Art Deco style after being destroyed completely by an earthquake in the 30’s.
• Hasting evening market: dumplings, pizza and tortilla chicken wrap, delicious.
Itinerary: Glenfalls campsite – Taupo – Huka Falls – Urchin campsite
• Huka Falls: nice hike to the Huka Falls, which is more a giant rapid than a waterfall, pretty spectacular.
Itinerary: Urchin campsite – Tongariro Park – Reid’s Farm reserve
• Tongariro Crossing: I have written a separate post about hiking the Tongariro crossing, squishing it in this already too long post wouldn’t do it justice. I will always remember it as the day I climbed Mount Doom.
Itinerary: Reid’s Farm reserve – Willowhaven Holiday Park
• Not moving a muscle after hiking the Tongariro Crossing the day before…
Itinerary: Willowhaven Holiday Park – Whakarewarewa – DOC Dickey Flat
• Whakarewarewa thermal village: very interesting Maori village build around the hot pools and geysers. Read more.
Itinerary: DOC Dickey Flat – Tairua Holiday park
• Goldmine Waihi: I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer size of this mine!
• Watching three episodes of our favorite show in the back of the van thanks to the free Wi-Fi from the library located behind our campsite.
Itinerary: Tairua Holiday park – Cathedral Cove – Coromandel Town – Carpark Hauraki District Council, Ngatea
• Cathedral Cove: a 45 minute hike over the cliffs leads us to Cathedral Cove, an impressive natural bridge. The constant pounding of the ocean against the white rocks illustrates perfectly how this bridge was formed.
• Scenic drive road 309: a famous gravel road crossing from the West side of Coromandel Peninsula to the East side. 21 kilometers of driving slowly and carefully while enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
Itinerary: Carpark Hauraki District Council, Ngatea – Auckland – i-site car park Whangarei
• Auckland city center: we do the Lonely Planet city walk and see some nice buildings, parks and the revamped boulevard with quirky cafes and art.
Itinerary: i-site car park Whangarei – Whangarei Falls – Paihia – Forest Pools campsite
• Dolphins cruise: even though we don’t get to swim with the dolphins, it is still very impressive to see them swimming and jumping around the boat. Read more.
Itinerary: Forest Pools campsite – Karikari peninsula – Utea Park
• Beach Karikari peninsula: we find our own private bay where we relax on the beach.
Itinerary: Utea park (the first day we did not drive a single mile!)
• Enjoying how simple life can be. Breakfast in the sun, a good cup of coffee, reading a book. What a wonderful life:-)
Itinerary: Utea park – Whangarei Heads – Waipu Hotel
• Making it to Whangarei on the absolute last drops of petrol where we get 40,3 liter of petrol (in a 40 liter tank!)
• Mount Manaia: steep climb (400 meters!) but with a rewarding view from the top.
• Drinking ice-cold Rekorderlig Passion Fruit Cider at Waipu hotel, which reminds me of London (where I lived for four months and have totally fallen in love with).
Itinerary: Waipu Hotel – Mangawhai – Erin Pools
• Mangawhai Clifftop Walk: a brilliant hike with such varied landscapes: beach, hills, tropical looking forest and steeps cliffs. A good way to end our hiking adventures in New Zealand.
Itinerary: Erin Pools – Rental Car Village Auckland – Ibis Budget hotel Auckland Airport
• Handing in our beloved van and saying goodbye to New Zealand: I always have a hard time saying goodbye. Ending and saying goodbye to one of the happiest periods in my life is even harder… But onto our next adventure: the Philippines!
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