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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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 !
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
For more incredible hotels in New Zealand, head to BOOKING.COM!
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.
- 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.
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!
Planning a trip to New Zealand for nature lovers is basically planning any trip there, but here are the unmissable places by 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.
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?
- 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.
Trekking, power walking, and hikes are all present in this wondrous country. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, adventure awaits!
- 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.
- 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!
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!
- 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!
- 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!
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!
- Mercury Bay Estate: A boutique vineyard close to Whitianga serving delicious lunch with wooden fried pizza and wine tasting!
- 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!
Travel with a Silver Lining Beyond the Best Road Trips in New Zealand
- Head to the New Zealand section of the blog for more posts on this beautiful country!
- If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, why not add Australia to the mix? Check out my posts about the land Down Under: The 17 Best Instagram Spots in Sydney, 12 Things to Do in Melbourne Off the Beaten Path, and my two hotel reviews in Tasmania: Eagles Nest and Freycinet Lodge.
- For those who loved the best road trips in New Zealand, read about our other fun road trips: Key West, Cuba, and the Algarve and Amalfi Coasts!
- Check out my top 3 posts: My Lisbon Instagram Guide, My Favorite Trendy Restaurants in Moscow, and my Amalfi Coast Photography Guide.
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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