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New Zealand is one of the most beautiful and biodiverse countries in the world, well worth a visit for all nature lovers and adventurers. Consisting of two large islands (North and South) plus around 600 smaller ones, planning a trip to New Zealand can seem daunting. That’s why I’ve written three travel guides through the country, also including the best road trips in New Zealand!

This southwestern Pacific country hosts majestic landscapes, a little like Scandinavia – only even more beautiful and dramatic. Home to mountains, glaciers, sandy beaches, vineyards, delicious food, green rolling hills and endless movie sets, it’s a land of wonder. 

A New Zealand Morning in Whitianga!
A New Zealand Morning in Whitianga!

Don’t forget to read my South Island and North Island travel guides. And for the most incredible tours and experiences all over New Zealand, head to my go-to website GET YOUR GUIDE!

9 Tips When Planning a Trip to New Zealand

Here’s everything you need to know before embarking on the best road trips in New Zealand. And for another incredible road trip in the southern hemisphere, read about our drive through Australia’s Great Ocean Road!

1. General Information

New Zealand is a dreamy location for nature and adventure travel: not only is it beautiful, but it’s also well organized. The country is very safe and orderly and the people are very nice and welcoming. 

Good Morning New Zealand!
Good Morning New Zealand!

When planning a trip to New Zealand, remember this is a very developed country with high standards in lodgings, restaurants and roads. An easy and pleasant experience!

best road trips in New Zealan: food stop by the beach!
One of many yummy meals! The Seafood here is amazing!

2. When to Take the Best Road Trips in New Zealand?

Remember the seasons are reversed from the north: when it’s winter in Europe, it’s summer here. For a warm experience, between December and February are best, though it gets crowded. However, local weather is unpredictable, so make sure to pack a raincoat and sweaters, as it can get chilly even in the summer. But that shouldn’t stop you from packing swimwear, as some of the best road trips in New Zealand include fabulous beaches!

One of my favorite NZ spots... the colors at Lake Tekapo are just stunning!
One of my favorite NZ spots… the colors at Lake Tekapo are just stunning!
best road trips in New Zealand: The Hobbiton Movie Set!
Up for some fairytale vibes? Then make sure you do not miss the Hobbiton Movie Set!

We visited in November, and while it was less crowded, the spring weather was a true rollercoaster, much like in Sweden. Still we got some great sunny days!

If you’re into winter sports, planning a trip to New Zealand between June and August should be your goal!

planning a trip to New Zealand: Hiking in Tongariro Crossing
Tongariro Crossing! One of the best hikes in New Zealand but the weather was not with us this day!

3. Time Needed when Planning a Trip to New Zealand?

To plan around the best road trips in New Zealand, first you should see how much available time you have. Our trip covered the North and South islands in 18 days, but in retrospect it was a bit rushed. For a more relaxed experience, I’d recommend about 1 week in the North and 2 in the South. If you want to explore in-depth, I’d recommend 2-3 weeks in North Island and 3-4 weeks in the South one. 

It’ll all depend on what you want to see and do, of course!

best road trips in New Zealand: Magical view of the North Island
The North Island offers magical views & green rolling hills wherever you look!

4. How to Get to New Zealand?

You’ll find 5 international airports throughout New Zealand’s two main islands, though the most common flights are between Auckland and Queenstown. Make things easier by crafting your itinerary around your flight. I’d recommend going on one direction, either from north to south or vice versa, instead of having a “HQ” in the centre. That way you won’t have to drive back!

Planning a trip to New Zealand: Magical views from the plan
Quite a view flying over the Milford Sounds area!

Map in hand, you can plan between:

  • Auckland Airport (AKL)
  • Wellington Airport (WLG)
  • Christchurch (CHC)
  • Queenstown (ZQN)
  • Dunedin (DUD)

When planning a trip to New Zealand, also keep in mind that domestic flights are top-notch. Air New Zealand is really great, and I loved how they served olives and Sauvignon Blanc on the flight!

Get to New Zealand at the best price by booking through Momondo!

Beautiful Queenstown in New Zealand! A must visit!
Beautiful Queenstown! A must visit!

5. How to get around on the Best Road Trips in New Zealand?

Preparing for the best road trips in New Zealand starts by making a choice: car or camper. The best option is to simply rent at the airport, and as every major car rental company works in New Zealand, just choose your preferred one. You can also rent at one site and then return at another, but it comes with a price.

planning a trip to new zealand rent a car
We went for a car on the north island and this cute camper on the south!

You can find a great overview of rental prices at Discover Cars where you can compare the companies’ prices and features. Book well in advance, especially if you go high season !

planning a trip to new zealand road trip: On the road!
Freedom! Rent a car and go wherever you want!

For those looking to visit both islands, I’d recommend flying between them, though you can also take the ferry. The fee is around $250 USD, however, so make sure that’s the best choice for you. As stated above, the most efficient way to travel here is to go on one direction, either north to south or vice versa.

6. Camper Rental

Planning a trip to New Zealand means choosing what kind of experience you’re looking to have. If you want to go camping, a recreational vehicle is your best option. The country is a popular camping destination, however, so it’s essential to book in advance.

planning a trip to new zealand: magic view of the landscape
Watching this is just like meditation for the soul

Where to Rent a Camper

  • Find all available brands on Motorhome Republic.
  • For cheap and cool campers, Juicy is a great option. Their green and purple RVs are very popular, with good service and excellent pricing.
  • If you’re looking for a luxurious camper, Britz or Maui are the way to go. They have excellent options, some of which are very modern.
best road trips in New Zealand: View from our camper van
Camper life in Wanaka: Waking up to this in the morning was quite an experience!

Considerations Before Choosing a Camper

  • Size. This will depend on how many people are traveling, comfort levels and the amount of luggage. Keep in mind that larger campers are harder to park and the options are more limited.
  • Bathroom. Self-contained campers include bathroom installations, and while they are more expensive, they’re also more freeing. Non-self-contained campers aren’t allowed at the most natural camping sites, so choosing one of these can ultimately save you per-night costs.
  • Equipment. What’s included? Some of the options are tables, kitchen equipment, barbecue and more. I for one always want to try having breakfast outside!
  • Deposit, Insurance & Contracts. Check terms of conditions thoroughly, as they can vary greatly between companies!
Flower Power at Lake Tekapo New Zealand
Flower Power at Lake Tekapo!

7. New Zealand Hotels

There are plenty of lovely hotels all over the country, catering to your needs during the best road trips in New Zealand. Big cities have plenty of large chain hotels, while the countryside is filled with cute and family-owned B&B’s. I’d strongly recommend the smaller hostel-like option!

If you’re heading to the breathtaking Coromandel Peninsula at the North Island, stay at WoodyHanger Lodge, a beautiful bed and breakfast on top of a mountain on the outskirts of Whitianga. Here, the world will be at your feet, as you breathe living nature every day. You can read all about our stay HERE and book your own HERE!

planning a trip to new zealand woodyhanger lodge
This place was dreamy, have a look at more photos in my blog post

For another dreamy natural getaway, stay at Tongariro Springs Boutique Suites. A  truly unique gem  bordering National Park, where simplicity and nature are the core elements. Book your stay HERE!

planning a trip to New Zealand: Stay at Tongariro Boutique Suites
Tongariro Boutique Suites: A hot pool + nature = all I could ask for!

If you’re going to Queenstown on South Island, I highly recommend staying at St. Moritz Hotel.  A true boutique hotel part of the Sofitel MGallery brand. It’s an alpine design oasis. You can read my review HERE and book your stay HERE.

planning a trip to new zealand st moritz hotel
St. Moritz hotel is on top of my hotel list

For more incredible hotels in New Zealand, head to BOOKING.COM!

Balcony view from St Moritz hotel in Queenstown!
Good Morning Queenstown!

8. The Rules of New Zealand Camping

If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand that includes camping, there are a few things you should know:

  • New Zealand has designated camping areas, so you’ll have to go to proper campsites or assigned camper spots. You can not just park anywhere!
  • You’ll find plenty of sites on both North and South Island. These range from very natural and raw sites without toilets and other facilities to others with far more infrastructure.
planning a trip to new zealand: camping by the beach is a must
Cozy night in the camper van! Loved the natural sites, falling asleep to the sound of the waves!
  • Book the camp sites in advance during high season. The most popular sites can be pretty full, so it’s important to book ahead to avoid unpleasantness.
  • The CamperMate app will become your best friend, showcasing campsite locations, pricing and general information about each place. It’s also useful for Australia camping!
  • Book a couple of nights at beachside campsites. Few things are as wonderful as falling asleep to the sound of the waves to then wake up in your camper to face the ocean.
A morning to remember at Mount Maunganui North New Zealand
A morning to remember at Mount Maunganui!

9. Planning a Trip to New Zealand for Each Traveler

Even if it’s a small country, New Zealand has profoundly varied landscapes and activities. There’s something for everyone!

Nature Lovers

Planning a trip to New Zealand for nature lovers is basically planning any trip there, but here are the unmissable places by island.

North Island

  • Coromandel Peninsula. One of the best road trips in New Zealand, you’ll drive by the majestic beaches and views. Home to paradisiac Cathedral Cove!
  • Rotorua. The country’s thermal wonderland, it’s famous for its hot springs, geysers and intense sulfur smell. It’s also a great place to get to know Maori culture further.
  • Hobbiton. The sets for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies are here, and while very touristy, they’re also lovely. The surroundings are magical, and the drive there will take your breath away.
Perfect match:)! A cute hobbit house at the Hobbiton Movie Set!
Perfect match:)! A cute hobbit house at the Hobbiton Movie Set!

Recommended Tours: Movie lovers can’t miss this Hobbiton Movie Set Guided Tour and Festive Buffet Lunch! To learn about the beautiful Maori culture, why not booking this Tamaki Maori Village Evening Cultural Experience?

South Island

  • Lake Tekapo. The most gorgeous lake I’ve ever visited, the contrasts between the turquoise water and the mountains around is incredible. Visit between mid-November to the end of the year to see the colorful lupins!
  • Milford Sound. Take a cruise at the most famous New Zealand attraction, in the country’s largest national park, Fiordland. It’s like a little piece of Norway!
  • Scenic drives. Drive across the island and take in the sights. My favourite were the route between Tekapo and Wanaka and going from Christchurch to Picton.
planning a trip to New Zealand: Lake Tekapo is a must stop!
I can not get enough of you & Lake Tekapo!

Adventurers

Trekking, power walking, and hikes are all present in this wondrous country. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, adventure awaits!

North Island

  • One-day Tongariro Crossing trek. Relatively tough, but amateurs in good shape should be able to pull through this majestic walk through the mountains. Look out for glacier lakes.
  • Mount Maunganui. Perfect for beginners, this is a one-hour walk up the mountain. Do it early in the morning for a magnificent sunrise with a view.
Morning View at Mount Maunganui New Zealand
Morning View at Mount Maunganui!

South Island

  • Mount Cook. Here, you can pick between easier and tougher treks. We went for a 3-hour climb to Hooker Valley, and thought it was fairly easy. Majestic setting and lots of hanging suspension bridges!
  • Wannaka. A paradise for trekking and all-around outdoor enthusiasts. We took the Roy Peak trek and the short sunrise trek to Mount Iron with locals, both great. Lots of adventures here, including sea sports, parasailing and more.
  • Queenstown. The adventure capital, the Fly Cruise tour to Milford Sound is a must. The views from your window will astonish you, and Queenstown itself is lovely.

Here’s an experience for your adventurous heart: Tongariro River: Grade 3 Whitewater Rafting!

best road trips in New Zealand: Trek in Mount Cook
Mount Cook – You majestic one!

Beach People

When planning my trip to New Zealand, I didn’t expect the country’s beaches to be so beautiful, so you’re in for a surprise. Plus, you’ll have them practically to yourself!

North Island

  • Mount Maunganui. A perfect mix:  a cute village, white-sand beaches and trekking.
  • Coromandel. The peninsula is full of beautiful beaches offering many different landscapes and experiences. Avoid tourist traps like Hot Water Beach!

Check out this amazing Beaches of Coromandel with Lunch tour from Whitianga!

Mount Maunganui - Did not expect to find beaches like this in NZ!
Mount Maunganui – Did not expect to find beaches like this in NZ!

South Island

  • Nelson Bays. Located at the very top of the island, this eclectic region is full of white sand beaches. For a natural high, combine beach time with a visit to the Abel Tasman National Park!
  • East Coast: A rough and a bit unexplored area but with lovely beaches. You just have to be lucky with the weather!

Wine Lovers 

New Zealand is one of the best wine regions in the world, with a total of 11 specialized districts. We visited one wine estate in the North and two in the South Island and can fully recommend them!

North Island

  • Mercury Bay Estate: A boutique vineyard close to Whitianga serving delicious lunch with wooden fried pizza and wine tasting!
The Mercury Bay Estate New Zealand! Wine & View!
The Mercury Bay Estate. Wine & View!

South Island

  • Marlborough. Well-known for its excellent Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the vineyards here extend as long as the eye can see. Needless to say, I was in heaven. Make a day out of visiting one of the major producers like Cloudy Bay!
  • Nelson. A more “boutique” approach, this is much cosier, with small wineries everywhere. You can also take the bike wine option from the city and explore the districts by yourself!

Book the Marlborough Full-Day Guided Biking Wine Tour here!

Travel with a Silver Lining Beyond the Best Road Trips in New Zealand

Booking Support & Input When Planning a Trip to New Zealand

  • Flight. Fly into New Zealand at the best price by booking your trip through MOMONDO. Don’t forget to download their all-in-one travel app!
  • Transfer. Book a transfer and get to your Auckland hotel as soon as you land!
  • Hotel. Find incredible hotels all over New Zealand through BOOKING.COM!
  • Tours. Discover everything New Zealand has to offer by booking incredible tours and experiences through GET YOUR GUIDE. Check out their Queenstown city widget, below!

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