Some would say New Zealand was made for road trips. It’s a small country but there’s plenty to see on the way, from enormous craters and volcanoes to secluded beaches and sheltered forests. Here is a quick itinerary and things to look for when Road Tripping in New Zealand.
An empty bending road near the towering Mount Cook Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash
New Zealand road trip Itinerary
• Day 1: Start by exploring Auckland, then drive to Hamilton to see the Waikato River. You can also stop in Waitomo to see the glowworm caves.
• Day 2: Drive from Hamilton to Rotorua. Stroll around the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park and learn about Rotorua’s volcanic activity.
• Day 3: Drive from Rotorua to Lake Taupo, then enjoy kayaking on the waters.
• Day 4: Drive from Lake Taupo to Palmerston North. Palmerston North has a lot of culture to discover, including the New Zealand Rugby Museum.
• Day 5: Drive from Palmerston North to Wellington. Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city and has an excellent food scene.
Transport links in New Zealand are generally good, particularly in the larger cities, but taking a road trip will give you much more freedom, and the ability to travel at your own pace. Unlike Iceland, you don’t need a 4 Wheel drive for New Zealand, any basic Sedan would be good as roads are in great condition and all major landmarks are accessible via paved roads. So, what should you look out for on your road trip? Grab your driving license and let’s get going.
1. Forbidden roads
While main roads and smaller roads are generally in very good condition, there are some which are considered too narrow or too uneven to be driven on, so stay alert and stick to a safe route. If you’re renting a car then the company should provide you with a list of forbidden roads — make sure you read it before you set off on your trip. And don’t forget to check your insurance policy. According to 1Cover, 1 in 6 travellers had to make a claim in 2016, so although accidents aren’t common, they do happen.
2. Tricky corners
Some of the more rural roads can be bendy, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes! Slow down as you approach each corner and watch out for the recommended speed limit, which will be displayed on a yellow sign.
3. Herds of sheep
Yes, you read that right: occasionally you may have to share New Zealand’s roads with farm animals. The best thing to do is slow right down and keep your distance — you may even need to come to a complete stop. Listen to instructions from the farmer if they give them, and avoid beeping your horn and causing panic.
4. Places to stop
Sure, the whole idea of a road trip is to drive, but New Zealand has such a beautiful variety of landscapes that it’s worth stopping frequently so you can take them all in. Taking frequent breaks is also good for your concentration and energy levels, especially if you’re the person who’s driving. Head out on foot to admire the view and enjoy the flowers and the fresh air while road tripping in New Zealand.
The lupins in New Zealand bloom from spring to summer (September-February), with peak lupin season is usually from mid-November until right after Christmas.
The best one-day walks in New Zealand:
Don’t miss these one day walks/hikes and add them to your road tripping Itinerary in New Zealand.
• Twilight-Te Werahi Loop: A flat, winding track that takes you through lush forests and across clean, unspoilt beaches.
• Medlands Beach to Anchorage: Park the car, hop on a boat, and cruise over to the start of this 11km track. You’ll hike through fern forests and over golden sand, with picturesque views at every turn.
• Key Summit: Hike through alpine woodland to the summit, which reveals valleys and mountains as far as the eye can see and only takes about an hour and a half to reach.
5. Destinations away from the tourist trail
New Zealand’s most popular attractions are definitely worth a visit — they’re popular for a reason — but take some time to step away from the more traditional destinations. You never know what you might find.
6. New experiences
The best thing about travel is being able to see and do something completely different, so give yourself a good amount of time to explore both islands. While it’s good to have a plan for your road trip, leave room to be spontaneous and take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. You’ll be glad you did.