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.
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.
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.
Sunrise at Lake Tarawera
Rotorua 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.
Three Creeks Trading Post (outside Tekapo)
Blowholes at Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki
Lake Tekapo evening dip!
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