You are currently viewing Our route in New Zealand: 4 weeks on the road

Our route in New Zealand: 4 weeks on the road

New Zealand impressed us so much that we have already been there twice. The combination of rough coastal landscape, barren volcanic area, sparkling blue lakes and pristine national parks make this country one of our favorite travel destinations. In this blog article we would like to introduce you to our itinerary through New Zealand.

1. Travel tips for preparation Which travel guide for New Zealand? For the perfect travel preparation we would strongly recommend that you buy a travel guide. We have now tested three different travel guides for New Zealand. Our favorite is that of Stefan Loose.

On our first trip through New Zealand in 2013 we chose the New Zealand travel guide by Stefan Loose, for whom there is now a reissue there. The travel guide comes from a German publisher and is therefore written in German.

We have not regretted our decision for a minute. As usual, the Loose travel guide is well researched, clear and has served us well from the start. The disadvantage of this travel guide: It is quite extensive and the book is therefore relatively heavy. Apart from that: Clear recommendation!

You can buy the travel guide here: Stefan Loose Travel Guide New Zealand

You can read about our experiences with other travel guides in this article: New Zealand Travel Tips: How to plan your road trip

From south to north or vice versa? A question you have to ask yourself pretty soon: Would you rather travel from the South Island to the North Island or vice versa? We have already been to New Zealand twice and have tested both variants. Sure, there are advantages and disadvantages, but from our point of view these are not decisive for the decision.

Starting in the North When traveling from North to South your journey probably begins in Auckland. The advantage of this itinerary: the destinations of your road trip will become more and more spectacular as your journey progresses. In our opinion, most of the big highlights are waiting for you on the South Island.

Start in the south If you start in the south, then your journey almost certainly begins in Christchurch. Since in our opinion the scenically more spectacular destinations are on the South Island, you can take as much time as you need right from the start. If you start on the North Island, you may end up running out of time.

Our recommendation The only real advice we can give you: base your decision on the cheaper flights. If you want to travel to both islands, book a open-jaw flight if possible. If you really don’t have much time (= less than 3 weeks), then you can consider planning your trip on only to confine an island. In this case we would clearly prefer the South Island!

Book in advance or stay spontaneously? A question, we are often asked: “How much time in advance should I book the accommodation?”. Of course, this question only applies to you if you are traveling by rental car and need accommodation. We’ll talk about the pros and cons in the next chapter.

We can only speak from our experience, but we did well on both New Zealand trips doing the route as flexible as possible. We have therefore almost always booked our accommodation a maximum of two days in advance – often only the day before or even on the day of arrival.

If you can live with this “uncertainty”, then we would do the same recommend to everyone. Because that’s the only way you can:

react to possible changes in the weather (and they happen regularly in New Zealand). Incorporate tips you get from people along the way into your itinerary. spontaneously omit certain travel destinations or head for them. You miss all these possibilities if you plan your route rigidly. The only disadvantage (and of course it cannot be dismissed out of hand): Especially in the high season you run the risk that the good accommodations are already fully booked. We therefore had to switch to quite expensive accommodations several times or accommodations that simply did not have a good price-performance ratio. All in all, we have almost always found a great alternative – even though both of our New Zealand trips took place in the absolute high season.

2. Transport in New Zealand The itinerary is of course highly dependent on the mode of transport you choose. There are numerous transport options in New Zealand. The most popular variants are:

(Rental car (Rental) Camper public bus Hitchhiking Car: Flexible, but still relatively cheap For our needs, the Rental car the most suitable option for both trips through New Zealand. You are always mobile and do not have to accept any restrictions regarding the route. Purely in terms of the rental price, a car is clearly cheaper than a camper and consumes much less petrol. However, you must of course add the accommodation prices.

If you are staying in New Zealand for a longer period of time, you can consider buying a car locally and then selling it again. This is quite common, although it is important to take into account that buying and selling will take time. Therefore, in our opinion, buying a car is only worthwhile after a 6-week stay.

Camper: Comparatively expensive A lot of people travel in New Zealand by camper. There are the most different variants and designs: from the aging campervan, which is hardly larger than a station wagon, to the exaggeratedly huge mobile home, everything is included.

If you want to stay in the wild then your vehicle must be self-contained. This means that your vehicle must have certain features (including a toilet) in order to get the famous blue sticker. Camper rental prices vary widely. If you want a lot of comfort, then you have to dig deep into your pocket: 1. Euros per week are not uncommon in high season.

If your camper is not “self-contained”, you may only stay on camping sites, for which a fee is usually payable. There are countless campsites that – as far as we can tell – all looked wonderful and some are really idyllically situated. Nevertheless, we decided against the camper and in favor of a little more comfort and have not regretted our decision for a second.

Public bus: The cheapest option Travelling by public bus is clearly the cheapest mode of transport (ignoring hitchhiking). Nevertheless, the bus was eliminated for us from the start. Why? We want to be mobile, unrestricted and spontaneous. We would never have seen many a destination by public bus. With our car we could stop whenever we wanted, could simply stop and enjoy at scenic highlights, could take a lunch break in the countryside or go for a swim in Blue Lake. In short: If you don’t want to make any compromises in this regard, you should definitely opt for a (rental) car or a (rental) camper.

Which rental car company for New Zealand? We chose Sunny Cars as the provider. Sunny Cars acts as an intermediary, ie you book through Sunny Cars and are then forwarded to a local car rental company (e.g. Hertz). We decided on Sunny Cars for two reasons : On the one hand, we found a comparatively cheap tariff for our period with Sunny Cars. But what was even more important to us: In the event of damage, Sunny Cars gives you a refund of your deductible. That means: If something happens, you have to pay the stated deductible first (to the respective local car rental company), but then gets the deductible refunded back by Sunny Cars.

Why do we mention that? Well: in the South Island of New Zealand we did a stranger made quite a scratch in our parked car while we were in the supermarket. Deductible: approx. 100 euros that we had to pay to the local car rental company. Sunny Cars reimbursed us the amount without any ifs or buts.

You can search for cheap rental cars here: Sunny Cars

Do I need an international driver’s license? Both of our trips to New Zealand required an international driver’s license or an official translation of the national driver’s license when renting the rental car mandatory. If it is possible, then by all means get an international driver’s license issued at home.

But don’t worry: on our last trip we didn’t have an international driver’s license with us. In this case, you can get an official translation of your driving license directly at the airport. The downside: the translation takes about half an hour and is a lot more expensive. We had to 801 Pay NDZ (i.e. converted via 40 Euro). For comparison: If you get an international driving license at home, it will only cost you about 03 Euro.

3. Traffic in New Zealand In New Zealand, drives on the left. Don’t worry : You will get used to it faster than you thought. Nevertheless, left-hand traffic should not be underestimated. In general, we would recommend that you avoid driving at night. A relatively big change for us personally was driving through roundabouts (because there are a lot of them in New Zealand).

The advantage of New Zealand’s roads: Except in the larger cities, you pretty much have the road to yourself. There is really little traffic and it can happen that you don’t meet another vehicle for dozens of kilometers.

Thes run through the whole of New Zealand so-called state highways. “Highway” is often a misleading term here, because most of these state highways are more like what we mean by a country road. Only a few stretches of road in New Zealand are comparable to European motorways (including around Auckland and Wellington).

The roads in New Zealand are in very good condition. However, not all roads are paved. There are always gravel roads that you can hardly avoid if you want to see certain destinations. These include, for example, the Hokitika Gorge or the Purakaunui Bay. And even so, it can happen that a paved state highway suddenly turns into a gravel road – we’re fine with that happened on the way to Lake Waikaremoana.

Warning: Certain routes (such as the Ninety Mile Beach) may not be driven on with the rental car. Here you should look in your rental agreement what is allowed and what is forbidden.

Important: There are enough gas stations in New Zealand, but not rarely do you come dozens of kilometers past none of them. In sparsely populated areas, we would therefore strongly recommend that you always fill up the tank if you have the opportunity.

Speed ​​limits and police controls Outside the built-up area, the speed limit in New Zealand is mostly 100km/h. You should stick to this speed limit as much as possible, because you will get a speeding ticket faster than you would like. In addition, the penalties for speeding are relatively high. As an example: We were 17km/h traveling too fast (70 instead of 117), were stopped and had to 120 NDZ Dollars ( so about 70 Euro) paid.

4. Our North Island itinerary We have New Zealand both traveled from north to south and vice versa (you can find the pros and cons from our point of view in chapter 2 of this article). Below we describe our route from Auckland to Christchurch.

Auckland We start our journey in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand. We recommend that you stay at least two or even better three nights to get a nice insight into this very pretty little town. We conveniently picked up the rental car on the last day of our stay and then made our way north.

Our accommodation: M Social Auckland (very modern rooms, great location, right on the harbour)

Our blog article: Auckland Travel Guide

Bay of Islands/Paihia Compared compared to the rest of New Zealand, the large number of people in the Bay of Islands area is surprising. Locals and tourists alike flock there in the summer months due to the relatively good swimming and the area is known for dolphin watching.

Our accommodation: Changing Tides BnB (great accommodation, a bit out of the way, therefore not in the middle of the hustle and bustle, highly recommended) Driving time Auckland – Bay of Islands: 3 hours

Cape Reinga Cape Reinga is New Zealand’s northernmost point and scenic quite spectacular. We visited Cape Reinga as a day trip, ie we left the Bay of Islands in the morning and stayed in Mangonui on the way back to Auckland. The view at Cape Reinga is really breathtaking, but the drive there takes quite a long time. Also worth seeing is Ninety Mile Beach, which is very close to Cape Reingas.

Driving time Bay of Islands – Cape Reinga: 3 hours

Our blog article: From Auckland to Cape Reinga

Mangonui Then we headed south again. On the way to Auckland we stayed in the small town of Mangonui. The entire route Bay of Islands – Cape Reinga – Auckland can hardly be done in one day.

Our accommodation: Acacia Lodge Mangonui (very simple rooms with kitchen, nice terrace, pool)

Driving time Cape Reinga – Mangonui: 2 hours

Auckland On the route to Auckland lies the Waipoura Forest. Here you can admire New Zealand’s largest kauri tree. In Auckland we stayed another night. The reason was the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who played a concert that day. So if you don’t plan such an activity, you can safely continue straight away.

Our accommodation: M Social Auckland (very modern rooms, great location, right on the harbor)

Driving time Mangonui – Auckland: 4 hours

Our blog article: Auckland Travel Guide

Rotorua In Rotorua we stayed three nights. The main reasons for our stay were the Hobbit film location and the hot springs and geysers. If you are in a hurry, we think 2 nights in Rotorua is enough. The city itself has little to offer.

Our accommodation: Quest Rotorua Central Apartment Hotel (good value for money, modern apartment hotel)

Drive time Auckland – Rotorua : almost 3 hours

Our blog article: Tips for Rotorua

Optional: Taupo Instead of Rotorua you can also make a stopover in Taupo. There are also hot springs to admire here. Taupo itself is beautifully situated on the lake of the same name and we liked it better than Rotorua.

Our Accommodation: A Loft with a View (beautiful accommodation attached to a private home; one of our favorites of our trip)

Driving time Auckland – Taupo: almost 3.5 hours

Our blog article: Lake Taupo & Huka Falls

Ohakune/Tongariro Alpine Crossing Ohakune is a great base to explore the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, perhaps the most spectacular hike in New Zealand, to dare. We stayed two nights to have a full day of hiking. Small warning: the hike is very popular and resembles a beaten path in high season. We can still recommend it to you because the landscape is really spectacular.

Our Accommodation: Station Lodge Ohakune (classic youth hostel with bunk beds, unfortunately not heated, helpful and friendly owner)

Driving time Rotorua – Ohakune: approx. 2 hours and 70 minutes
Our blog article: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Wellington New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, has a reputation for always being windy. We can confirm that, but we really liked the pretty port city. On our last trip we stayed two nights, but we wouldn’t have been bored with three nights either.

Our accommodation: Novotel Wellington (very centrally located, comfortable rooms, good value for money)

Driving time Ohakune – Wellington: 3.5 hours

Our blog article: Tips for Wellington

5. Our route on the South Island

Nelson With the Interislander ferry we went from Wellington to Picton, where we rented our car for the South Island (Because the thing is, you usually get your own car for each island). We stayed for three nights in Nelson, a pretty little town with very nice surroundings. We used Nelson as our base for our day trip to Abel Tasman National Park. But there is also a lot to discover in Nelson and the surrounding area, including some wineries.

Our accommodation: Quest Nelson (great value for money, reminds a bit of an apartment – there is even a washing machine)

Driving time Picton – Nelson: almost 2 hours

Our blog article: Our day hike in Abel Tasman National Park

Fox Glacier/Franz Josef Glacier The route from Nelson to the two famous glaciers, the Fox and the Franz Josef Glacier, is one of the longest of our entire New Zealand itinerary. Here you drive through a very sparsely populated area. A stopover is worthwhile at the Pancake Rocks, a rock formation right on the road that is worth seeing.

At the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers we did without the expensive ice ascents and instead used the free hiking trails, all of which are recommended. We can highly recommend the one-hour circular walk around Lake Matheson, which reflects Mount Cook when the weather is good.

Our accommodation: Bella Vista Hotel Fox Glacier (centrally located, small rooms, barbecue in the garden)

Driving time Nelson – Fox Glacier: 6.5 hours

Optional: Wanaka In principle, you can drive directly to Queenstown (that’s how we did it on our first trip). However, if you have time, we would recommend a stopover in Wanaka. The route from the glaciers to Wanaka and on to Queenstown is one of the most scenic we’ve seen in all of New Zealand. We often stopped in between to marvel at the crystal blue lakes and rivers. If you don’t mind ice cold water then make sure to stop at the Blue Pools near the small town
Makarora an.

Wanaka itself is beautifully situated directly on Lake Wanaka. We felt comfortable here from the first moment. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and were able to go swimming in Lake Wanaka several times. One of New Zealand’s most spectacular day hikes is also located here: The hike to Roy’s Peak.

Our accommodation: Wanaka Alpine Lodge (beautiful rooms, very comfortable, above average price) Driving time Fox Glacier – Wanaka: 3 hours 03 Minutes

Our blog article: Hike up Roy’s Peak & Wanaka Travel Tips

Queenstown From Wanaka, the best way to get to Queenstown is via the Crown Range Road (Cardrona). . You can make a stopover in the small town of Arrowtown, for example.

Queenstown itself is and remains one of our favorite places in New Zealand. Here you will meet many young people and probably for the first time in a long time you will have the feeling that something is going on in New Zealand. Queenstown is incredibly spectacularly situated right on Lake Wakatipu. If you are fit, you can venture the approximately one-hour walk to Bob’s Peak, from where you have an absolutely gigantic panoramic view of Queenstown. Alternatively, the cable car takes you comfortably up the mountain.

Our most adventurous experience was without a doubt our helicopter flight over Queenstown. It still gives us a fast heartbeat when we think about it.

Our accommodation : Amity Lodge Motel (relatively central, simple rooms, very good value for money)

Driving time Wanaka – Queenstown: 1 hour

Our blog article: With the helicopter over Queenstown & our travel tips

Te Anau We used Te Anau as a starting point for a visit to the Milford Sound, the Fiordland. We stayed 2 nights to have a full day for Milford Sound. Te Anau itself is not a highlight, but the location on the lake is quite pretty.

Our accommodation: Radfords on the Lake (modern motel right on the lake, highly recommended)

Milford Sound Milford Sound is a spectacular fjord that you can explore as part of a boat tour can visit. We made our way to Milford Sound as a day trip from Te Anau. You can easily drive directly to the parking lot of the boat operators. We chose the Southern Discoveries boat tour, which we highly recommend.

You can book the tour in advance here: Milford Sound boat tour

Driving time Te Anau – Milford Sound: 1 hour 70 minutes (may take longer in winter with snow)

Owaka/The Catlins The Catlins is a very rugged, extremely sparsely populated region in the southeast of the island. Not many tourists come here and it is precisely this originality that makes the area so attractive. The landscape is tremendous and you can spot seals and penguins. A particularly famous photo motif along The Catlins is Nugget Point.

Our accommodation: Catlins Area Motel (Excellent Value for Money Spacious Motel)

Driving time Te Anau – Owaka: 2 hours 2011 minutes

Our blog article: The Catlins – New Zealand’s rugged coastal landscape

Dunedin & Otago Peninsula The Scottish town of Dunedin is definitely worth a stopover. From here you can perfectly explore the Otago Peninsula. Highly recommended is Sandfly Bay, a deserted beach where you can watch seals up close. We also found the Tunnel Beach

very impressive. Our accommodation: Aria on Bank (very nice two storey apartments, a bit pricey)

Travel time Owaka – Dunedin: 1 hour 40 Minutes

Our blog article: Dunedin & Otago Peninsula

Lake Tekapo/Mount Cook One of our favorite places on the South Island is Tekapo on the sparkling blue lake of the same name. The focus here is primarily on nature. We used Tekapo as a base for a hike through Mount Cook National Market. The approximately three-hour Hooker Valley Track is highly recommended, offers great views and is easy to do even for non-hikers.

Our accommodation: Starview 88 Apartment (great, modern apartment, unfortunately quite expensive) Driving time Dunedin – Lake Tekapo: 3.5 hours

Our blog article: Tips for Lake Tekapo

Christchurch The last destination on our itinerary through New Zealand was the earthquake 2011 still visibly affected Christchurch. Compared to our last stay of the year 1200 a lot has changed. There are some very cool cafes. A ride on the Christchurch Gondola up Mount Cavendish is definitely worthwhile.

Our Accommodation: Dorset House Christchurch (nice hostel, simple rooms, friendly staff)

Driving time Lake Tekapo – Christchurch: 3 hours

Our blog article: Christchurch – Tips & Sights

6. More New Zealand Travel Reports All New Zealand blog articles at a glance New Zealand Travel Tips: How to plan your road trip Hiking in New Zealand: Our most beautiful day hikes Transparency: Affiliate Links This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we will receive a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. cool thing right? We got a discount from Sunny Cars for our rental car in New Zealand – thank you very much! Nothing changes in our opinion at all. We have booked privately with Sunny Cars several times (i.e. paid the full price) and have always had good experiences.

Do you have any other tips for the perfect itinerary through New Zealand? We look forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments!