Are you embarking on a New Zealand road trip and looking for the best places to visit in New Zealand? If you want to go on a New Zealand road trip on the North Island and the South Island, then you’re in luck, because this is the ultimate 2-week New Zealand road trip itinerary that must go on your New Zealand bucket list!
In this blog post, I’m going to highlight the best things to do in New Zealand, the best places to visit in New Zealand and the best adventures to go on. This is the blog post for you whether or not you are looking for the best hikes in New Zealand, the best places to visit on the North Island or the South Island or the next destination for your New Zealand road trip. The nature and the tranquility of a road trip in New Zealand couldn’t be further from the hustle and bustle that you might experience in your daily life, and it’s definitely somewhere you should experience once in your lifetime.
This 2-week New Zealand road trip is perfect for those who want a real taste for what New Zealand has to offer. Whether you like hikes and bikes, horse riding, wine tasting or National Parks, this New Zealand road trip itinerary is an absolute must for international travellers visiting New Zealand as well as locals looking for a domestic trip that feels like you have gone on an international adventure. With its contrasting landscapes, natural beauty and range of adventure activities, you could spend months in New Zealand and not even scratch the surface. The downside? For the majority of people, this simply isn’t possible, which is why this ultimate two week road trip in New Zealand is going to help you see the highlights!
Be warned, this ultimate New Zealand road trip covers a distance of 1150 miles from the South Island through to the North Island. It is not for the faint hearted, but I promise you a journey you will never forget! Of course, this New Zealand road trip itinerary is going to assume you have a car or van. However, if you have booked to stay in one place during your time in New Zealand, or if you’re backpacking in New Zealand and you’re looking for places to visit in New Zealand at a slower pace, you may want to use this post to inspire day trips or extensions to where you’re going to be based.
If you want to know more about renting a campervan in New Zealand, check out this blog post.
Other New Zealand blog posts you might be interested in…
- The best things to do in New Zealand
- How to plan for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- How to get a working holiday visa for New Zealand
- Everything you need to know about hiring a camper van in New Zealand
- The best hikes in Queenstown, New Zealand
- Top tips for visiting New Zealand
- Top tips for budgeting for backpacking New Zealand
- How to save money when you’re in New Zealand
- The best hikes in New Zealand
Getting to New Zealand…
Most international flights to New Zealand arrive in Auckland, the country’s most populous city on the North Island. However, since we were departing from Sydney, Australia, Queenstown on the South Island was a great option for us to fly into instead, providing an alternative starting point for the roadtrip. Nevertheless, this itinerary can also be done in reverse.
Getting around New Zealand…
Car hire: It’s not a road trip without some wheels! We hired our car from Rental Cars which allowed us to choose an appropriate car suited to our budget. A couple of things to consider when choosing who to go with are;
- whether they charge a one way drop off fee or not
- whether they specify a maximum number of miles which can be driven or if they have unlimited mileage
Both are not in line with the spirit of a great road trip and seem to differ between providers, so just something to watch out for!
Ferry: Halfway through this New Zealand road trip itinerary you will need to cross from one island to the other via the ferry. You can purchase tickets directly from the Ferry provider (Interislander or Bluebridge).
Where to stay in New Zealand…
During this ultimate two week road trip itinerary for New Zealand, we alternated between Airbnb’s and motels/hotels. Most locations offer a variety of accommodations suitable for all budgets. However, in the more remote areas (particularly the west coast of the South Island), we found the accommodation to be limited, more expensive and booked up fast in peak season.
Wild camping is allowed in certain parts of New Zealand. In some places it is not allowed at all (you should see clear “no overnight camping” signs. If you’re not sure whether you can or cannot camp in certain areas, the best thing to do is to ask the local Visitor Information Centre or phone the local council to ask!
The ultimate 2-week New Zealand road trip itinerary...
Days 1 and 2: Queenstown
Winning the title for being the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is sure one of the best places to visit in New Zealand; it certainly was for me! Situated in the south west of the South Island, this picturesque town is nestled between looming mountains and the turquoise waters of Lake Wakatipu.
While you’re in Queenstown, make sure to ride the Skyline Gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak to take in the most incredible views looking over the town. An even greater way to soak in your surroundings, is to ride the scenic luge. Just watching the sheer joy on my mum’s face as she beetled around the track was enough entertainment for me.
There are many adventure activities to choose from in the area, but if you’d rather not jump off a ledge, I recommend the Shotover Jet. This takes you on a high speed boat through the canyons, with the drivers performing 360 degree spins and stunts, whilst narrowly missing (by millimetres!) the cliff edges. It’s got to be one of the best things to do in New Zealand!
After all that adrenaline, take some time to relax, explore and eat in one of the many restaurants on offer amongst the spectacular scenery. A particular highlight for me was tucking into a delicious pizza at Fat Badgers Pizza Bar, followed by indulging on churros at the waterfront as I watched the sunset over the lake.
Day 3: Wanaka & Haast
It’s time to say goodbye to Queenstown on this New Zealand road trip and set off first thing towards Haast, on one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand with jaw dropping landscapes and twisty roads.
If you love old Western movies, make a quick stop in the quaint and historic town of Arrowtown between Queenstown and Wanaka.
As you arrive into Wanaka, you will be met with another magnificent lake set against a backdrop of blue mountains. Often seen as a rival of Queenstown, you won’t be short of things to do and see here and if you have longer than 2 weeks, I recommend staying here for a couple of nights. As we are only passing through, grab a bite to eat at one of the lakeside restaurants, admire the calmness of the water and go check out the most instagrammed tree #thatwanakatree, one of the best places to visit in New Zealand.
For the last leg of today’s drive on our New Zealand road trip, you will find yourself on the Haast Pass. There are several beautiful spots along the way, including the ‘Blue Pools’. Here, the water is clear and fresh and you guessed it, blue!
As you arrive into Haast to settle down for the night, you may notice one thing: how remote you are. Haast is considered one of New Zealand’s most isolated towns. You won’t have any signal, WiFi is limited and restaurants/shops are far and few between, but that’s the beauty of it.
Day 4: Franz Josef
Prepare to leave early as you continue along this ultimate 2-week New Zealand road trip to Franz Josef. If you thought your surroundings from the previous day couldn’t get any better, well you’ll be pleased to know you are wrong! The next leg of your journey is like driving through Jurassic Park, with lush rainforest on one side, and the rugged coastline on the other. The only thing missing were the dinosaurs! Make sure to stop off at Knights Point Lookout for an epic view of the Tasman Sea.
Franz Josef is known for its accessible glacier, but unfortunately it is retreating at a rapid rate. Spend the afternoon either taking a heli hike to the glacier for an up and personal, but pricier experience, or the other free option is to park in the allocated car park and walk for an hour or so to the base of the glacier and view it from there. Whilst I found the view at the end rather underwhelming, the walk in itself is enjoyable among the tropical ferns and you can even spot a couple of (small) waterfalls.
Grab dinner in the small, yet lively and well equipped town, before turning in for the night.
Day 5: Punakaiki
Rise and shine, it’s time to continue your prehistoric journey onto, in my opinion, the one of the most underrated but best places to visit:in New Zealand; Punakaiki. There are a couple of big(ger) towns along the way, Hokitika and Greymouth, but I would only stop there for a quick coffee and to stretch your legs.
Punakaiki is at the entrance to Paparoa National Park and has several hiking trails which allow you to explore the rich native forest. If you like horses, I recommend taking a ride through the valley instead. Organised by the owners of our accommodation, this 2.5 hour ride took us through the bush, along the Punakaiki River (and even crossing it at several low points), before finishing up with a canter from one end of the beach to the other… a truly unforgettable experience and definitely one of the best things to do in New Zealand!
To top off the day, capture one of the most beautiful sunsets on the west coast, as the sun disappears slowly over the Tasman Sea.
Day 6: Pancake Rocks, Cape Foulwind & Blenheim
Before setting off for day 6 of this New Zealand road trip, visit the Pancake Rocks first thing. These are natural rock formations which look like… pancakes! The loop trail is an easy 20-minute walk and has awesome coastal views.
Next, head towards Cape Foulwind which is home to a seal breeding colony; it’s time to get your cute fix! There is a short 10-minute track from the car park which leads you directly to a viewing platform where you can spot these gorgeous water fur babies in their natural habitat; and you won’t forget the adorable noises they make.
As you make your way to Blenheim through rich vegetation, enjoy the magnificent road following the path of the Buller River before entering the Marlborough region. You’ll notice the changing landscape once more as you are now in the heart of New Zealand’s wine industry.
Day 7: Marlborough, Pichton & ferry to the North Island
What better way to spend your last day on the South Island on this New Zealand road trip than by going wine tasting! Unfortunately, here is the moment you need a designated driver. As my mum is a huge lover of wine and me, not so much, the decision was very obvious.
With its perfect climate and gorgeous weather, we enjoyed the day driving around the various vineyards and soaking in the sun.
Each winery differs in price and their offerings, with you paying a flat fee (anywhere from NZD 5 – 20) to try a variety of their local wines. We stopped at the well known Brancott Estate and Villa Maria, before heading to a much smaller and intimate winery.
After a grape filled day, it’s time to leave the South Island and catch the ferry from Picton to Wellington. If you have some time beforehand, have a walk around the picturesque port town of Picton which gives off a very Mediterranean feel with its palm trees dotted along the waterfront.
You’ll most likely be arriving into Wellington at night, so prepare yourself for a full day ahead to explore the capital city of New Zealand.
Day 8: Wellington
Grab your comfiest walking shoes, put your car keys down for the day and spend your day in Wellington catching the iconic red cable car to the lookout and botanical gardens, which give superb panoramic views over the city.
Next, head to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, which is free, to learn basically everything about the history and geography of the country. Hands down, it was the most fascinating museum I have ever been to, and you can easily spend a good few hours here.
For the rest of the day, explore the many coffee shops and eateries which the city has to offer. It’s a pretty good start to the North Island on this New Zealand road trip!
Day 9: Taupo
Prepare yourself for the longest drive day of this ultimate 2-week road trip in New Zealand. If you are visiting for longer, I would set aside a few more days to experience this area as there are so many fun things to do in Taupo, but for this itinerary, we will just be driving through. The biggest thing that took me by surprise here was how different the South and North Islands are. Swap out lush green ferns for a desert like landscape with an incredible mountain backdrop.
You will notice you are close to reaching the town of Taupo when you spot the absolutely massive lake, Lake Taupo (the largest in Australasia). Depending on the time you arrive, there is an array of things to do both on and off the water (e.g boat cruises, kayaking, skydiving). However, after a long day of driving, we settled for a relaxing afternoon/evening and admired the water from the shore, before getting an early night.
Day 10: Wai-o-Tapu, Rotorua, Hobbiton & Hamilton
Get up early and drive 40 minutes to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, home to some of New Zealand’s most exciting geothermal activity. Just prepare yourself for the sulphur-eggy smell.. it’s pretty strong! Here you can follow an easy loop around the park whilst witnessing bubbling mud pools, collapsed craters with steaming hot water and some very strange coloured pools (especially the green one; you wouldn’t want to fall into there!).
Next, head to Rotorua, New Zealand’s smelliest town (due to the due to the hydrogen sulphide emissions from the hot pools) and grab some lunch. As we are just passing through, this is a short stopover. However, you could easily spend a few days here if you are thinking of extending this New Zealand road trip itinerary.
Calling all Lord of the Rings fans! If you are in this part of the world, you definitely have to visit Hobbiton for a guided tour through the Shire, the movie set for the Hobbit and LOTR. Head here in the afternoon for your selected tour time, and immerse yourself in the tranquil countryside whilst learning about the set and what went on behind the scenes. It’s so cute, I could live there! It’s definitely a must do on your New Zealand bucket list.
Finally, finish your day in Hamilton, one of New Zealand’s busier and more modern cities.
Days 12-13: Bay of Islands
It’s about time we mixed up the landscape once more on this New Zealand road trip, this time in the subtropical north in the Bay of Islands. After a long drive, we called the small town of Kerikeri home for next few nights, the perfect place to relax for the last few days of the trip and a great base to explore the area.
From here you can hike the multiple trails which are on offer, spotting waterfalls along the way, hop on a boat tour from Paihia and witness the coastline/small islands from the blue sea, soak in the sun from the golden Sandy beaches and learn more about New Zealand’s history at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
A favourite day trip of ours was to the small historic town of Russell, the absolute jewel of the Bay of Islands. This gorgeous town has so much charm and is one of the most romantic places I have ever been; there is nothing better than enjoying a drink by the crystal waters and hearing the gentle lapping of waves. You can reach Russell easily by taking the car ferry from Opua which departs regularly.
Day 14: Auckland
As your ultimate 2-week road trip in New Zealand draws to a close, it is time to leave the tranquility of the north and head back south to Auckland. Since we wanted to spend most of our time in the great outdoors, we didn’t schedule much time here. However, as with any large coastal city, enjoying the eateries on the waterfront among the hustle and bustle, as you watch the sails go by is an absolute must.
Where are your favourite places to visit in New Zealand?
What are your top tips for planning a New Zealand road trip itinerary? Anything you’d add?
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