I can’t think of a country more suited to a road trip than New Zealand. The landscape is incredibly varied and many of the towns are remote, accessible only by car. Even the shape of the islands makes it an obviously choice (long, narrow… you can drive north or south and that’s about it!). I have done the trip four times now, visiting extended family in all four corners of the islands. Have no doubt, there is a lot left for me to see. However, I have done enough of the famous and less famous areas to be able to recommend a pretty comprehensive itinerary! So here is my 2-3 month road trip itinerary for New Zealand! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments, I’ll be sure to get back to you.
Firstly, I recommend you decide between hiring a normal car or a vehicle you can sleep in! This itinerary is directed towards those of you who decide to get a camper or a converted car. My friend Jess and I hired an estate which had a sleeping platform and mattress in the back. There wasn’t a lot of space but it was cheap. There are plenty of camper van hire companies in New Zealand to choose from too and I imagine that would be a lot more comfortable. It depends on your budget. Equally if you’d rather stay in hostels each night you can adapt this itinerary very simply to suit your needs. I will be recommending my favourite hostels as I go. So, now that that is out of the way, lets crack on with this 2-3 month road trip itinerary for New Zealand!
2-3 MONTH ROAD TRIP ITINERARY FOR NEW ZEALAND – PART ONE
AUCKLAND – 4 DAYS
Most 2-3 month road trip itineraries for New Zealand start in Auckland purely because that is where most people land. I couchsurfed for a few days here last time and have also stayed in Nomads Hostel which is decent but not amazing! However, I wouldn’t recommend staying longer than a few days as Auckland isn’t a particularly interesting or beautiful part of the country. However, catching the ferry and hiking up Rangitoto is a lovely way to spend a day in the sun. Long Bay Regional Park is also beautiful and a great place to spot native birds.
PAIHIA & BAY OF ISLANDS – 5 DAYS
For those of you with a little more time in New Zealand, Paihia is the perfect first stop. It is 4 hours north of Auckland and I recommend staying at Base Backpackers or Bay Adventurer Apartments Hostel. Base do a BBQ twice a week which is really fun, Bay has a hot tub! Best things to do in Paihia include the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Haruru Falls Track, day trip to Russell on the ferry and a Hole in the Rock Tour. You’ll probably see dolphins. It is also a great place to hire kayaks and explore. I also recommend day tripping to Cape Reinga from Paihia, stopping off at the sand dunes to do some body boarding, 90mile beach and at a Kauri Tree Forest. If you have less time in NZ then skip Paihia and go straight to The Coromandel after Auckland.
THE COROMANDEL – 2 DAYS
The Coromandel is a beautiful area of New Zealand. However, there is so much else to see in the country so I recommend focusing on Cathedral Cove (stop at Stingray Bay on your walk) and Hot Water Beach. You can go straight to Cathedral Cove from Paihia. It’s under a 6 hour drive but you can also stop off in Auckland to break up the journey.
HOBBITON & WAITOMO GLOW WORM CAVES – 2 DAYS
From Cathedral Cove, the route gets a bit zigzaggy. It is a 2hr drive to Matamata which is where you will find Hobbiton! If you are a Lord Of The Rings fan this is a must. The tickets are cheaper online and I think well worth the price! The Glow Worm Caves in Waitomo are a 3hr drive from Cathedral Cove and again, I think a must on all itineraries. You can use Hamilton as a base, there are lots of hostels there but you could actually squeeze both activities into a day. Ideally two days would be better. If you do have less time and don’t mind a lot of driving, head to Rotorua in the evening.
ROTORUA – 3 DAYS
Not my favourite place in New Zealand due to the STRONG sulphur smell. Rotorua is thermally active which means there are lots of hot pools, mud pools and geysers dotted around. The most of impressive of which you have to pay to see. Te Puia Maori Village is my favourite thermal park. You can wander around the park and see Pōhutu geyser which is massive! And you also attend a Maori welcome ceremony, see kiwis and learn a lot about Maori arts and crafts. If you have time to spend 3 days in Rotorua the Redwood Tree Walk is very cool! On your way to Taupo stop off at Huka Falls. There are also lot’s of free campsites on Huka Falls Road.
LAKE TAUPO – 4 DAYS
The drive south from Rotorua to Taupo takes no time at all along the Thermal Explorer Highway. Lake Taupo is a volcanic crater and the little island in the centre of the lake is the volcano regrowing! The views on a clear day are stunning and this is the perfect place to hire kayaks on your trip. You can visit the famous Maori Rock Carvings. It takes about 4 hours, round trip so if you don’t fancy the upper body work out join a boat trip to see them instead! There are lot’s of places to stay in Taupo and it is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery as well as pit stop and organise a shuttle for the Togariro Alpine Crossing.
TOGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING – 1-2 DAYS
The easiest way to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is to start at the Mangatepopo car park and finish at the Ketetahi car park. It is a one way track (not a loop track) so you have to arrange transport to take you back to your car. There are lots of different affordable shuttle bus companies such as Active Outdoor Adventures who pick you up and take you back to Turangi. Other transport companies will go from car park to car park. Keep in mind, the weather has to be perfect for this hike as it is a long one! But the views are 100% worth it.
MORE TIME – TARANAKI VIA THE FORGOTTEN HIGHWAY – 4 DAYS
Depending on how much time you have in New Zealand you could now head west along The Forgotten Highway (one of the most impressive roads I have ever driven!) to the Taranaki region. There are lot’s of great walks to do around this volcano and the beaches are great for surfing. I also did a week long Workaway while in this area which you could incorporate into your trip. You should head to Wellington via state highway 3 then 1 after exploring Taranaki.
More information on New Zealand:
– My Experience Wwoofing – Detailed Guide to a Workaway in New Zealand
– 16 Must Do Short Walks in New Zealand – Stunning Scenery For All Abilities
LESS TIME – STRAIGHT TO WELLINGTON VIA THE DESERT ROAD – 1 DAY
If you don’t have time to go to Taranaki then I recommend you take the Desert Road south to Wellington via Palmerston North. It is another incredible stretch of road, completely different to The Forgotten Highway. You’ll drive past the three central island volcanoes through sand dunes and desert. It is surreal. Try turning off at the Takino Skifields access road if you are in a 4×4. You can drive up the side of Mount Ruapehu to a decent height and the views are amazing. There isn’t loads to see in Palmerston North but it is a good pit stop if you want to break up the journey.
WELLINGTON – 5 DAYS
Wellington is by far my favourite city in New Zealand. It has a vibrant, creative feel, great nightlife and lot’s to do. I recommend checking out Zealandia to experience native jungle and animals. Te Papa is a must too as well as Weta Workshops for all LOTR fans. If you fancy a short but rewarding walk, go to the top of Mount Victoria. The view of the city and harbour is lovely. From Wellington you will need to catch a ferry to Picton to reach the South Island. The two ferry companies that operate this stretch are Interislander and Bluebridge Cook Straight Ferries. Compare prices on your chosen day and book in advance to get the best deals. And that is that! The first half of the itinerary which in total is 32 days long. Plans and itineraries are hard to follow exactly so remember to be flexible and have an amazing time! As I said, let me know if you have any questions.
Read 2-3 Month Road Trip Itinerary for New Zealand – Part Two for the rest of this itinerary and information on the South Island!