Chris, Adrian, Michael, & Kaitlin explore the beautiful scenery of North and South New Zealand with this 2 week road trip itinerary!
Week 1: south island Via Campervan
New Zealand Itinerary: activities
Since we were in a campervan, travel was a bit different: Going into metropolitan areas were tough and we were able to explore more of the countryside. Our first night was at Lake Pukaki (always said with a snort and a laugh) and it was gorgeous. No facilities, but the view was beautiful and the lake was tranquil. It was the perfect first stop on our New Zealand itinerary.
Miford sound fjord
The South Island is famous for its wintery environment: glaciers, sounds, and a plethora of rain. It’s hard to visit one of New Zealand’s more famous fjords, Milford Sound without fairly crappy weather and we were no exception. It was misty and dark but the views were still stunning. The smaller the watercraft you take to explore the Sound, the better the experience. We pulled right up to the waterfalls! Going to one of the Sounds is a must.
Next stop on our 2 week itinerary was one of the larger towns on the South Island: Queenstown. “Large” is extremely relative: Queenstown is home to about 28,000 people and is one of the most populated cities in the South. But it’s got a great little downtown area that will whet your appetite. We tried our best to be as touristy as possible: we took a ski lift to the top of one of the mountains and rode little luge carts down! It was awesome.
One stop I’d recommend on any New Zealand itinerary is Hokitika Gorge. When you see pictures, your initial thought is “there’s no way that’s real”. It’s a 10 minute walk through a forest until you get to the bluest body of water you’ve ever seen. I’m talking Clorox toilet cleaner blue. It’s as intense as the sandflies.
We didn’t have a bad meal. Since we were trying to be as conservative as possible, we made most of our meals in the campervan (lots of New Zealand wine and cheese!)
fat duck in te anau
Chris liked the Fat Duck in Te Anau: the boys had HUGE burger with a steak of venison and bacon on it (probably not choice for vegetarians).
madam woos in queenstown
I liked Madam Woos in Queenstown: It’s a very hip vibe with delicious homestyle chinese food. They have cocktails in little buddha statues: ’nuff said.
Lake Pukaki: Gorgeous views but no facilities. Get there earlier as space fills up quickly!
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Park – Te Anau: Best holiday park we stayed at. AWESOME BATHROOMS! (It’s all about priorities)
Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park – Queenstown: The easiest holiday park closest to the downtown area. A bit sketchy.
Rainforest Holiday Park – Franz Josef Glacier: Private and nice Slab.
Hut Creek Campground – Reefton: Standard campsite.
Pelorus Bridge Campground – Marlborough: They filmed a scene of LOTR here. It would be fantastic in Summer. You can take an intertube down the river.
Campervan! It’s very popular but also stressful. Make sure you’re keeping up with car traffic and pulling over when there are 5+ vehicles behind you. We got pulled over on our second day and berated for 10 minutes by a very angry Kiwi for not pulling over. I would still recommend it though: You can explore a lot more and be flexible about your schedule.
Week 2: north island Via Rental Car
Okay, yes, it’s very nerdy. But, even as someone who wouldn’t consider herself a LOTR fan, I highly recommend Hobbiton. As long as you’ve seen the movies, you’ll enjoy it. It’s a beautiful area and it’s fun to actually be walking through a movie set! You also get to drink a craft brew in The Green Dragon at the end of the tour.
Wellington is basically the San Francisco of NZ. Tight streets, hordes of hipsters, cool art, and very delicious food. We wish we had spent more time there.
Not enough can be said of this town, Hahei. This is a must see on any New Zealand itinerary! We debated for a while which beach town to stay in and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Our lodgings were right on the beach and the water was clear and warm. It’s what I imagine a beach in Fiji would be like.
We went to Hot Water Beach which was quite an experience! There’s active lava many yards below the sand so at low tide, you dig yourself your own little hot tub. In Hahei, we also ate the best seafood I’ve ever had and stumbled upon a wonderful relaxing winery/distillery. It was the perfect ending to our trip.
The Chippery in Wellington
Chris says The Chippery in Wellington was the best fish and chips he’s ever had and I’d agree. They have a window of all their current fresh fish from which you choose your fare, and then you decide what kind of breading and dips you want!
Indian Star in Rotorua
There’s a restaurant row right by the water in Rotorua with tons of options. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but, as I said, we did not have a bad meal anywhere and you’d probably luck out at any of the eateries. HOWEVER, we ate at the Indian Star and it was DELICIOUS. It’s been a while since I’ve had Indian so it might’ve just been the shock of flavor, but it was very tasty and modestly priced.
The Pour House in Coromandel
The Pour House in Coromandel was my favorite meal of the trip. The seafood in New Zealand is incredible and when you’re on the coast, you have to order it. We ended up ordering Coromandel mussels in a coconut curry sauce. Omg, I cannot begin to do those mussels justice here. Firstly, they were the LARGEST mussels I have ever seen in my life. The size of Shaq’s thumb, no joke. Secondly, the coconut curry sauce, which I was weary of, was the perfect accompaniment. And they were perfect. Did I mention they were huge?
Purangi Winery in Coromandel
The Purangi WInery in Coromandel was an unexpected gem. Upon entering, we were entertained non-stop, and we were given samples of some delicious liquors they make! Turns out, kiwifruit isn’t really kiwifruit there: They consider pineapple guava the true kiwi fruit. We samples some pineapple guava liquor, ginger liquor, strawberry guava liquor, limoncello, and some delicious wines! We ended up bringing back a Meyer lemon gin that’s delicious.
Fenton Court Motel, Rotorua
Fenton Court Motel in Rotorua was a nice accommodation as they provide a delicious personalized breakfast as well! The bathtub was huge!
Hotel Coachman, Palmerston North
Hotel Coachman in Palmerston North was just a pit stop between Rotorua and where our ferry landed. It was nice enough and we had a nice drink at the bar.
Hahei Holiday Resort, Hahei
Hahei Holiday Resort in Hahei was the best. Walk 5 minutes to a beautiful beach, clean nice rooms, and a 18 minute walk to the BEST MUSSELS OF YOUR LIFE (see The Pour House, above).
We rented a car on the North Island. Public transit isn’t possible to really delve into New Zealand since each town is sparse and far between.
new Zealand Travel tips:
Best time to visit – We went in NZ’s autumn – March/April – and it was nice because it wasn’t terribly crowded. December (summer) is the busiest month.
Health – If you go to New Zealand, buy sandfly spray there. Think, mosquito, but smaller, who travels with 50 of his buddies with a bite that leaves a scar for a good month and itches for just as long.
Voltage – Make sure you pack a converter.
Packing – Pack layers: the weather is highly unpredictable and you can assume you’ll encounter rain at least one or two days.
Ease of travel – Everything is fairly accessible and easy to get to. Everyone we met (except the angry driver) was extremely friendly and helpful. Go with the flow and ask the people working at your hostel/holiday park what they would recommend doing! We ended up on an unintended boat ride in Hahei that was so much fun and found a really great winery!
Travel Prep – If I did it again, I’d probably research more while home: We didn’t really have internet access anywhere because of the roaming fees.
Again, sandflies, sandflies, sandflies!
Other travel guides you might like:
Phuket, Koh Phi Phi & Bangkok, Thailand – Adventure Through Phuket, Koh Phi Phi & Bangkok
Hanoi & Hue, Vietnam – Female Travelers’ Guide to Backpacking Vietnam
Dublin & Galway, Ireland – Guide to Driving Across Ireland
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