New Zealand was the place on this trip that we were both most excited about. We devoted almost a month to the country, and it still wasn’t enough! New Zealand surpassed every expectation with breathtakingly beautiful scenery, interesting wildlife, and extremely nice people. Since we found others’ blogs so helpful in our research of New Zealand, we wanted to share where we went. So below is our complete New Zealand itinerary. Click on any of the links for more information.
A few notes for context:
- We wanted to see both North and South Islands.
- We rented a car, not a campervan.
- We wanted to make all our sleeping accommodations in advance.
- Sarah doesn’t drive, so since Justin would be doing all the driving, we tried to build in some days with little to no driving.
- Since Sarah has a lung disease, major hiking (longer than one or two hours or on ice/glaciers) wasn’t on our agenda and we weren’t going to be participating in any adventure sports (e.g., bungee jumping, skydiving, etc.).
North Island itinerary
We flew into Auckland direct from Adelaide, Australia on Air New Zealand. We spent three nights in Auckland, in the Ponsonby neighborhood. We spent one day on Waiheke Island, and think it should be included on any trip to Auckland!
The drive from Auckland to Rotorua took about three and a half hours. It was pouring (or bucketing as they say in New Zealand), so we didn’t get to explore the surrounding area much during our one-night stay. We had planned to stop at Hobbiton on our way to Rotorua, but due to the rain scrapped that plan.
The drive from Rotorua to Taupo is only about an hour, but there are some cool stops in between. We visited Orakei Korako Geothermal Park and would highly recommend it. It’s in the middle of the two towns and the drive there is through some lovely rolling green hills.
When we read about a home stay in the Hawke’s Bay area on a farm with two golden retrievers, we knew we had to stay there. Our two-night stay at Redcliffe Homestead in Taradale was definitely a highlight of our trip.
The drive to the area from Taupo was also really great. It was two hours to get to popular Napier through lovely rolling green hills, pine tree farms, and clouds. And Taradale was about twenty minutes from there.
There are plenty of stops along the way including Tui Brewery and Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre where you can see many native New Zealand birds including kiwis. We had a great day, but messed up our timing a bit and didn’t have a chance to explore Martinborough’s great wineries. We did, however, hit their brewery!
No one warned us about the drive from Martinborough to Wellington (which we thought odd because people warned us about every other drive on this journey!). The drive only took about an hour and a half, but a large part of it was through twisty-turny roads in the mountains, and we were driving at rush hour with a whole bunch of logging trucks.
South Island itinerary
We picked up our car and drove approximately four hours south to Oamaru. The drive was the most boring yet, but we were prepared for it. And come on, how boring can driving in New Zealand really be! We stayed one night about a half hour south of the center, but would recommend staying in town since there’s a bunch of things to see and do.
The drive to our B&B about halfway along the peninsula’s infamous Portobello Road was about 30 minutes. We had been warned about this one – it’s a super narrow, twisty-turny road with rock wall on one side and a drop to the water on the other.
In all it took us about five hours. We stayed a total of three nights in Te Anau but it was split up by one night at Milford Sound. We spent one full day on the Doubtful Sound cruise.
We (seriously) splurged on one night at the Milford Sound Lodge. This allowed us to take our time on our drives between Te Anau and Milford Sound and not feel rushed when we wanted to stop for a hike or pictures. The drive between the two is incredible but harrowing at points. You can do it in about two hours without stopping, but you wouldn’t want to. We spent the most time on our drive there with three major stops for hiking and sightseeing. The next day, we woke up for an early-morning Milford Sound cruise.
Friends recommended that we stay in Arrowtown instead of Queenstown since it is more relaxed and we’re not the “Adventure City” types. We were very happy with our three days there, which included several walks around the area. We also thoroughly enjoyed the three hour drive from Te Anau, even though it includes a portion called the Devil’s Staircase.
We did a one-night stop in Twizel so we could wake up early and drive to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to do a hike (we didn’t want to stay at Mount Cook Village). The drive from Arrowtown took about four hours, which included a long stop for lunch and a walk in Wanaka.
Per the above, we drove from Twizel to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to Lake Tekapo (which involved retracing the drive along the side of Lake Pukaki). Including our hike, it took about five hours. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is unbelievably stunning, but it depends on the weather. In the morning, driving into the area, it was covered in a blanket of cloud. Driving out a couple hours later, the clouds had started to part to reveal that we were surrounded by gorgeous mountains.
Christchurch is undergoing major construction as they are rebuilding everything destroyed by the 2011 earthquake, which was pretty much everything in the city center. We enjoyed our time there, but could have kept it to one night instead of two.
New Zealand tips
- Add quite a bit of time to whatever Google Maps says a drive will take to account for: photo stops, road work requiring one to thread the car through hundreds of traffic cones, twisty turny roads up mountains or along water, slow tourists not used to driving on the left, and being a slow tourist yourself!
- Drive carefully and let faster cars (typically locals) pass.
- Stop for gas when you see it – there aren’t a lot of gas stations, especially on the South Island – and we even ran into one that took neither foreign credit cards or cash.
- When you leave your car in a carpark of a tourist attraction, bring all of your valuables and try not to let your belongings show in the car – they are frequently broken into. We didn’t have any problems, but heard many horror stories.
- When flying into New Zealand, declare everything – they will scan your luggage and fine you if you haven’t declared something; you have the chance to toss anything not allowed in the country before you go through customs.
- New Zealand was a budget-buster for us, from the rental car and gas, to the sights and attractions, to more expensive accommodations and food overall. But it was worth every penny… and probably more. We had the most incredible time and will never forget it.