A road trip is a quintessential part of a New Zealand holiday, here we consider it a rite of passage.
Anywhere and everything worth visiting in our awesome country can be reached in a vehicle. Drive yourself to the top of one of our incredible extinct volcanoes with panoramic views of the city below, navigate to one of our breathtaking national parks for a hike, park up at a scenic beach town for fish and chips and a swim. We truly think you are spoiled for choice on a Kiwi holiday.
One question we get asked often is how feasible it would be to drive around New Zealand in one trip. It’s easy to be mistaken that New Zealand is compact enough for a short and sweet road trip. Yeah, our neighbour Australia is considerably larger, but we pack a punch for our size and we can’t guarantee that everywhere you want to visit is only an hours drive away.
New Zealand, or Aotearoa, is the combination of two main islands – the North and South Island, both with unique characteristics and attractions. Unfortunately because of this, driving non-stop isn’t a practical option. If it was realistic it would take approximately 26 hours of non-stop driving in perfect conditions, spanning 103,483 miles of land (not including the ferry from the North to the South Island) – yikes.
Breaking up your drive into two parts with a realistic time-frame estimate for your trip is the best way to accomplish your goal when travelling the country, particularly when you are constrained by flights.
Any road trip worth doing is an undertaking and we reckon the journey itself to our famous natural sights is just as impressive and more than well worth your time.
North Island estimated travel time:
Driving from the top of the North Island to the bottom, technically speaking, will take you close to 13 hours. This is without any rest stops or time for sightseeing.
We recommend breaking up the trip so that you can take full advantage of the detours for sightseeing that you will undoubtedly want to explore throughout your journey.
If you were to begin your journey at the top of the North Island in Cape Reinga with Wellington at the bottom as your end goal, you’ll have driven a total of 1070 km. Giving yourself between 5 days to two weeks to travel the North Island will ensure that you have ample time to check items off your bucket-list and means that you won’t be rushing to reach them.
The most logical way to start would be flying into Auckland to check the city out and pick up your campervan and journey either up or down from there. Alternatively, you could fly into Wellington and drive from the bottom to the top of the North Island. For some itinerary recommendations check out this link.
Some of our “must-visit” locations in the North Island include:
- Ninety Mile beach in Cape Reinga
- Waitomo Caves
- Tongariro National Park
- Lake Taupo and Huka Falls
- Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel Peninsula
- Hobbiton Movie set in Matamata
- Polynesian Spa in Rotorua
- Mount Maunganui
- Auckland Domain
- Waiheke Island
- Cape Kidnappers
- Tiritiri Matangi
- Zealandia Ecosanctuary in Wellington
- Wellington Cable Car
South Island estimated travel time:
The South Island is home to some of our countries most magnificent sights, boasting World renowned lakes, mountains and glaciers. Larger of the two islands, the South Island comprises of 14 urban areas and a whole lot of picturesque undeveloped land.
In fact, the South Island is 12th largest island in the world, with this in mind you will want to dedicate slightly more time for this half of your trip. The distance between Picton at the top of the South Island and Invercargill at the very bottom is 895 km and driving non-stop will take close to two days, no small feat.
We recommend dedicating 7 days to 2 weeks in the South Island. If you plan on continuing your campervan trip from the bottom of North Island to the South Island, hop on the ferry in Wellington that crosses Cook Strait and drops you off in Picton. Another popular option is flying to Christchurch, hiring a campervan and starting central from there.
Some of our “must-visit” locations in the South Island include:
- Aoraki/Mount Cook
- Fiordland National Park
- Abel Tasman National Park
- Lake Wanaka
- Larnach Castle in Dunedin
- Marlborough Sounds
- Mt Aspiring National Park in Wanaka
- Avon River in Christchurch
Don’t forget to see our ferry crossings information page for travelling between the north and south island.
Our pre-roadie checklist includes:
- GPS – even the most road-savvy need one of these
- Researching where you can freedom camp versus where you will need to book at a campsite/accommodation
- Check freedom camping rules/laws in New Zealand
- Check weather and driving conditions before you hit the road
- Familiarise yourself with road rules and standard speeds
- Valid driver’s license in reaching distance
- Sunnies, not only will you look awesome but you’ll find driving easier in New Zealand’s brutal sun
- Motion sickness pills for battling the winding roads
Hiring an Escape Rentals campervan guarantees you a “kiwi-as” road-trip experience. With 200 different camper designs, you’ll be sure to make your mark with every stop across the country. Our self-contained campervans are easy to drive, economical to run and comfortable to sleep in, we want them to feel like your home away from home.
While many of our cities are known for having exquisite cuisine, wine and coffee, you’ll definitely encounter days where you need to cook up your meals at remote locations – which is why we love the fact that our campers are fully equipped with a funky and practical kitchen.