TIPS FOR A DRIVING TRIP IN NEW ZEALAND
Best time to travel is November (Spring) to April (Autumn).
During the school holidays in December
reservations may be difficult.
Click here for local driving regulations and
I have pages for each city or region
under the links at the top of the page to
go with my suggestions
for your itinerary. New Zealand takes longer to cover than
most people realize. There are of course options of different
things to see and ways to get around New Zealand. You can pick
and chose from this itinerary. Listed below are what I would consider the
Here are the top
5 highlights as I perceive them in order of preference.
- Queenstown and Milford.
If time permits Wanaka and Mount Cook
and West Coast, South Island.
- Auckland –
– for Maori culture, green hills and lakes. Huka Lodge if the
- Bay of Islands
– North Island
Nelson, Marlborough Sounds. The beauty of the sounds and wine
country, South Island.
New Zealand is
bigger than people realize and many of the areas have
only one lane in each direction and some
very hilly roads. Travel by road can be
slow. New Zealanders also drive on the opposite side of the road from
the United States. It may be best to fly to certain regions and
other areas where there is less traffic the drives are lovely.
The prime and
not too long and nice scenery
CLICK HERE FOR NORTH ISLAND MAP
Auckland to the Bay of Islands, 3 1/2 hours
Auckland to Rotorua - 3 1/2 hours
Rotorua to Taupo - 1 1/2 hours.
CLICK HERE FOR SOUTH ISLAND MAP
Queenstown to Te Anau and Milford - 2 1/2 hours to Te Anau and
2 1/2 hours to Milford. Total 5 hours.
(This is a long
drive but well worth it - you may consider spending a night in Te
Queenstown to Wanaka - 1 1/2 hours
Queenstown to Mount Cook - 3 1/2 hours
If you take the
from Christchurch to Greymouth then drive
Queenstown via Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and Haast Pass - 8
You need an overnight in the Franz Josef or Fox Village
I think it is a
slow way to go and the scenery payoff may not be there.
Auckland to Wellington - 10 - 12 hours
Rotorua or Taupo to Wellington - 7 hours
Picton or Nelson to Christchurch - 7 - 8 hours
Christchurch to Mount Cook - 5 hours
The full Western Coast of the South Island Nelson to Queenstown - 12
Between the main cities of Auckland,
Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin you will have jet
planes. However, on the shorter hops from Rotorua or Nelson to
Christchurch and Auckland to the Bay of Islands you probably have
propeller type planes. If you are not
comfortable with propeller planes then you should consider land
Another option is public transportation
or tours. There is a good network of trains particularly in
the North Island. Not glamorous by any means but acceptable to
get from point to point. Not what I would really suggest.
Buses are available and in the tourist areas such as Christchurch to
Queenstown they are full and the drives get very long. You can self drive or
arrange transfers. New Zealand accommodations can be heavily booked
during peak tourist seasons. Local tours are
available once you reach your destination.
FOR A LIMITED TIME FRAME - KEY AREAS ONLY
To see many areas of New Zealand means a lot of traveling.
It may be better to see less areas and spend more time in a few
These are personal decisions.
Auckland - 2 to 3 days
Arrive in Auckland.
Spend at least a
2 to 3 of days in Auckland. This is a wonderful
city and there are many day trips to enjoy from Auckland.
The wine country, the beaches and bays. Even an overnight trip
to the Coromandel.
Bay of Islands - 2
Fly or drive to the Bay of Islands. Spend one or two days – rent
a car once you are there. See Waitangi where the
Treaty of Waitangi was signed. A beautiful spot.
Drive or Fly to
Rotorua or Taupo area - 3 days
Spend a night or two here. Stay at
if this lodge is within your budget, visit Whakarewarewa
(thermal activity and Maori center). Visit the
Agradome (all about sheep) Fairy Springs
(all about trout) and see a Maori concert in Rotorua.
Rotorua to Christchurch
- 1 day
Spent one night in
Christchurch to see the Christ Church cathedral and the River Avon.
Fly from Christchurch to Queenstown - 3 or 4 days
- 4 nights in Queenstown. Take a day trip to Milford either
by car or by plane. Rent a car in Queenstown – easy driving.
Consider a day trip to Wanaka. You can even consider driving to
Mount Cook and flying or driving to Christchurch. Most of the drive
from Mount Cook to Christchurch is over the Canterbury Plains. Flat
Queenstown to Auckland and return home.
Total time: 10 - 14 days
Other areas of
the North Island of New Zealand.
Napier, Tauranga, the Coromandel and
The East Coast seaside towns in the North Island of Tauranga
and Napier are nice. The Coromandel Peninsula about 2 hours from
Auckland is also lovely with the famous
Puka Park Lodge. However,
if you are limited on time I would by pass these for the Rotorua/Taupo
of Islands options in the North Island. Wellington is really a one
or two day stop. Tongariro National Park at the Southern end of
the Taupo region is delightful. Here there are three volcanoes Ruapehu,
Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. Ruapehu is the largest and most
active volcano and does become active every two or three years.
Heading south from Tongariro National Park
towards Wellington the drive does not offer as much for the tourist.
Although all New Zealand country side is attractive, with green
hills and sheep everywhere it is
quite a drive I am not sure it is worth the time.
Other areas of
the South Island of New Zealand
Ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island)
across the Cook Strait - takes about 3 hours. Cook Strait can be a
rough stretch of water. If the weather is good sailing into
the Marlborough Sounds is truly spectacular. Then you can drive to
Nelson and visit the wineries and beautiful beaches of this area.
From here you can either drive down the West Coast to Queenstown (at
least a 2 day trip - 3 days would be better) or you can fly from
Nelson to Queenstown or Christchurch.
This is where
you can go whale watching.
Kaikoura is 3 hours by road north of Christchurch and
South of Picton on the East coast. This is a nice
area but it takes a lot of traveling time to
include this in your itinerary. Sperm whales are present year round. Dusky dolphins
are fairly abundant here and you may also see the huge royal
albatross. Best time for Whale and dolphin viewing is between
October and April
Train – Christchurch to Greymouth on the West Coast.
This train journey is ranked one of the top 5 train journeys in
the world. The train travels over the Canterbury Plains (farmland)
then into the mountains. There are about 17 tunnels to pass through
finally going through Arthur’s Pass which is the highest point in
the train ride. The climate and terrain varies tremendously from
one side of the pass to the other. The Canterbury plains side has
dry sunny weather. The West coast side has rainy weather. As much as
10 inches can fall in a 24 hour period. The West coast side has
dense vegetation, very green due to the rainfall. The train time is
4 hours. If you disembark in Greymouth you can take a rent car to
Franz Josef Glacier and Fox village then continue
on to Queenstown. You will
need to spend a night in the Franz Josef or Fox Glacier area.
These are the glaciers on the
coastal side of the Southern alps where Mount Cook is located.
The combination of the Train and then driving down the South Island
through Haast Pass will be a great experience. If you want to
see the remote but beautiful area of the West Coast this is the way
I would suggest doing this area.
To go North from Queenstown to the West
Coast by land you go through the Haast Pass. The scenery is
spectacular and the roads have few vehicles. You can then continue
up the West Coast past Franz Josef Glacier to Greymouth. Here
you can continue on and drive to Nelson or catch the train back to
Christchurch. This is a remote area of New Zealand, usually raining
but still spectacular.