When we were planning our trip around New Zealand, we decided on a fairly unorthodox route. This was because we had certain dates that we were meeting up with a friend who was living there and it made sense for us. It might not be the best approach for you, but you should definitely consider that you don’t just have to do what the guidebooks would recommend.
We started in Auckland, but we only stayed one night because we knew that we would spend more time there at the end of the trip. From there we travelled down the east coast of the North Island and then got the ferry over to Picton, in the South Island. We then travelled in a big loop all the way round the South Island, starting by heading down the east coast and then crossing over via Queenstown to Christchurch and the west coast. We then flew back to Wellington from Christchurch and travelled up the west coast to Auckland.
Auckland (Day 1; Days 26-28)
Auckland is a great base for New Zealand because it has the biggest international airport and it’s generally the cheapest place to fly into. I would say though, you probably shouldn’t plan to spend too much time here. I think that it would be a nice place to visit if you knew someone who lived there, but it feels like quite a functional city; there are good bars and restaurants but not many touristy things to do. We spent one night here when we first arrived and then three nights at the end, but this was definitely too much.
The Coromandel (Days 2 and 3)
The Coromandel peninsula is absolutely beautiful and well worth a visit. It’s not too far from Auckland so it’s a good starting point for your roadtrip. We went to Coromandel town, Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. I would say that Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove are unmissable sites for the North Island.
Rotorua (Days 4 and 5)
From the Coromanadel we headed to Rotorua, which is one of the most geothermally active places in New Zealand. Rotorua was one of my favourite places (although I think I will say that a number of times throughout this post). We went to the Polynesian Spa which is amazing and not very expensive and then Te Puia which was absolutely amazing. You can find out more about my time in Rotorua here. On day 5 we headed to Matamata to visit Hobbiton, which was an absolute must see for us, on our way to Taupo.
Taupo (Days 6 and 7)
Taupo was another beautiful place and is the main town on the banks of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. We went on a boat trip to see some famous Maori carvings in the lake; visited the Huka falls and went to yet another geothermal park (they honestly never got old – we loved them all!). We also went to a world famous McDonalds (don’t judge, it’s genuinely famous look!)
Napier (Days 7-8)
Napier is a beautiful Art Deco town on the East coast of the North Island. It is in one of New Zealand’s best wine regions too, Hawkes Bay, so it is well worth a visit. You can read more about my time in Napier here.
Travel to South Island (Day 9)
We drove from Napier to Wellington to get the ferry over to Picton. I am glad that I experienced the crossing on the ferry, but we decided for our way back to the North Island to fly from Christchurch to Wellington because it was so much faster and actually cheaper, so if you’re short on time or money it’s definitely worth looking into flights.
Abel Tasman (Day 10)
We spent our first day in the South Island in the Abel Tasman National Park which was absolutely beautiful. We went sea kayaking which was really fun and generally just enjoyed being reunited with our friends, who we had met in Picton. We stayed at Westport on this night, which is about halfway between Abel Tasman and the Franz Josef glacier, which was our next destination.
West Port to Franz Josef (Day 11)
This was a day of travelling. We stopped at Pancake Rocks and Hokitika Gorge and Hokitika Beach. All of our stops were very picturesque and it was a really nice way to break up the drive and see some more of the west coast.
Franz Josef (Day 12)
Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier was one of the most unforgettable experiences we had in New Zealand, especially as it was followed up by relaxing in the Hot Pools. You can find out more about our day here.
Franz Josef to Queenstown (Day 13)
This was another travelling day with stops at Lake Matheson and Wanaka. Lake Matheson in particular was absolutely amazing and well worth a stop!
Queenstown (Days 14-16)
Queenstown was our half way point so we had a combination of chilling out and sampling all of the activities that Queenstown is famous for! Read more about my time in Queenstown here.
Milford Sound (Day 17)
It was a pretty big detour for us to go to Milford Sound between our stops in Queenstown and Dunedin but it was 100% worth it. We did have a bit of a stressful journey out of Milford because there was a weather warning and the threat of the road closing for up to 14 days due to snow, but we made it out and it really was a spectacular day.
Dunedin (Day 18)
Dunedin was a great stop for us because it was basically designed as a mini Edinburgh – all of the street names were the same and there was a huge amount of history about the Scottish settlers who first went there.
Oamaru (Day 19)
Oamaru was a nice stop between Dunedin and Christchurch. It’s quite a small place but has a strong arts scene with lots of independent shops. Oamaru is also famous for penguins.
Christchurch (Day 20)
Wandering around Christchurch was so interesting but also very upsetting because it’s very much a town under construction since the earthquakes of 2011. This was quite eye opening for me, because I have never seen the devastation that an earthquake can cause first hand before. It is definitely worth a visit.
Kaikoura (Day 21)
We travelled to Kaikoura from Christchurch to go Whale watching. Unfortunately our boat trip was cancelled due to weather, but luckily we were able to book a flight on a small sightseeing plane and managed to see lots of whales!
Canterbury Balloons, near Christchurch (Day 22)
You can read about our day ballooning here. It was such an unforgettable experience.
Wellington (Days 23 and 24)
We flew to Wellington from Christchurch to spend a couple of days in the capital. You can read about my top three things to do in Wellington here.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Day 25)
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing was one of the things on our must-do list. Unfortunately the weather meant that we couldn’t do the whole crossing so we did the first 5k to Soda Springs and the Taranaki Falls walk which was 7k. Both of the walks we managed to do were beautiful and we got to see Mount Doom (or Mount Naraghoe, as it’s officially called).
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves (Day 26)
We travelled from Tongariro to Auckland, with a stop at Waitomo Glow Worm caves, which were amazing. The caves were unlike anything I have ever seen before. There are a lot of companies offering Glow Worm Cave trips but we choose this one.