How To Plan A Self-Drive Tour In New Zealand

categories: pacific travel

New Zealand is a beautiful country with so much to offer. This little piece of heaven is multicultural and diverse, with beautiful beaches, rugged landscapes, spectacular volcanoes and geothermal areas, a pleasant climate, and mind-blowing animal and plant life.

Coromandel Peninsula

Coromandel Peninsula

One of the best ways of exploring New Zealand and partaking in the adventure is by road. You can take a road trip through New Zealand and explore all the beautiful sights. And with the diverse terrain that is often narrow, windy, full of sharp corners, and hilly, you’ll be getting an experience that comes once in a lifetime.

You’ll have to plan early and be very organized to enjoy your self-drive vacation. As a result, you have to decide on the places you’ll stay, your eating experience, and all the activities you hope to participate in when getting to a new destination.

The best way to experience and indulge in everything New Zealand offers is by settling on a travel itinerary. This itinerary will guide you on the number of days you spend on the road and your starting and end destinations. It may also highlight what to enjoy in terms of food and activities.

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Hot Water Beach - Coromandel Peninsula

Hot Water Beach – Coromandel Peninsula

Warnings about a New Zealand Self-Drive Tour

You might need to keep some things in mind. For instance, if you choose to take a self-drive trip, there are laws to adhere to and additional factors to consider. In particular, you must avoid drinking and driving as New Zealand has strict penalties. And to stay on the right side of the law, ensure that you are twenty years or over if you choose to drink.

Remember to avoid underestimating your driving time when looking at a map. Take into account all the factors that might slow you down, including windy roads that are common in New Zealand.

Take time to also be aware of road conditions before leaving for your destinations. For instance, if you are driving during the summer holidays, keep in mind that there might be more traffic; thus, you may need to look for alternative routes.

You’ll also need to be aware of the weather conditions as you might experience different seasons on the same day of travel. As a result, set aside sufficient time to ensure you are safe. Now that you’ve understood why planning is essential, you may need to find the perfect way to do it.

Whangarei Falls

Whangarei Falls

Settle On A Destination

Settling on the right destination is the first step to planning a self-drive trip to New Zealand. When choosing travel sites, you need to consider the season you prefer.

If you have any activities in mind, ensure that they fall in the right season. In addition, you have to consider the driving condition of each season. Even though New Zealand roads are typically well maintained, you still need to consider the seasons.

For instance, if you drive during winter, most roads tend to be closed. And on rainy days, the roadways might be slippery, and you’ll need to be extra careful when driving. In addition to seasons, you’ll need to consider the activity you can enjoy before choosing your destination.

Most activities tend to be available all year round, with some exceptions. For instance, if you choose a destination with walking tracks, you might have to avoid the months between April and late October when they may be closed or dangerous due to the weather.

In addition, you should stay away from overnight cruises during the winter months as they cease to exist during this season. If you enjoy skiing, you should settle in on months between mid-June to late September. Overall, if you have specific activities, you should check with the destination you settle on to ensure it’s available and suitable.

Mt Mauganui

Mt Mauganui

Find The Right Vehicle

The right vehicle for your route depends on the terrain you’ll take and the distance you’ll have to cover. To choose the right motorcar, you have several factors to consider, including;

Style Of Car – you might have to choose the car style based on the distance, budget, and the amount of luggage you have. For instance, if you are setting up a long self-drive trip that might go on for weeks, you should consider getting a home on wheels.

One of the best choices has to be a motor home from This vehicle type will be perfect as you can bring it along for a camp overnight and avoid paying for accommodation.

Fuel efficiency – You will have to choose the appropriate car for the self-drive trip based on the distance you will cover and your budget. For instance, you can’t settle on a motor home if you are planning for a short route as it consumes more energy than needed.

Instead, you can settle for a vehicle with diesel engines that can be efficient. And since diesel is significantly cheaper, you can stick to your budget by choosing this vehicle type.

Manual Or Automatic – if you are self-driving over a long distance, a manual car might be the better option. However, it might increase driver fatigue as you must continuously press the clutch on and off.

If you are used to urban driving, then you should consider sticking to an automatic car. But you can expect to have a limited sense of control.

Insurance – having a vehicle with insurance is vital as these trips can be unpredictable. Insurance will ensure that you are covered from the theft of car parts that might occur. In addition, some insurance companies tend to cover accidental damages that may happen when on the road for a long time.

Cars tend to break down when on the road due to different issues. If your car breaks down, the insurance may offer you a courtesy car while your vehicle is being repaired. Additionally, you might encounter uncommon risks that probably won’t be insured. As a result, consider enhancing your cover just in case anything happens.

Choose Your Preferred Routes

You can take several routes depending on the scene you want to enjoy. Finding a suitable travel route will help you create a great itinerary and estimate the number of days you’ll be on the road. These two main routes below would be perfect when planning a self-drive trip.


South Island – Christchurch to Queenstown Via Haast Pass

If you have limited time and are looking for a short route, consider driving from Christchurch to Queenstown. This route is the most popular as many short hiking trails surround it. You can enjoy well-marked trails which help you budget your time.

You can follow the Waimakariri river and start your trip in the town of Greymouth. Afterward, consider heading south along the rugged coastline and visiting the Franz Josef glaciers. Then, descend to Queenstown and enjoy all the fun it has to offer.

You can stop among destinations and enjoy different activities, including skydiving, bungee jumping, and white-water rafting, amongst many others.

You can pass through Haast pass and take a short forest track where you’ll see Thunder Creek Falls. This route is perfect as you’ll be able to drive through the World Heritage region.

The best time to take this route is in Autumn when it’s slightly warmer, and you can stay away from busy crowds that tend to fall between summer and winter. To enjoy this route, consider setting aside close to seven nights, allowing you enough time to enjoy everything this route offers.

Another alternative route to take in South Island is to explore Christchurch South Loop. When exploring New Zealand, this route starts with the TranzAlphine rail journey, which will take you across New Zealand.

Russell Lupins. Lake Tekapo.NZ

You should continue down south and enjoy the stunning beaches and glaciers on the west coast. This route will land you in Queenstown, where you can enjoy everything the path offers before ending your adventure at Lake Tekapo. After enjoying the starry skies of lake Tekapo, finish off at Christchurch.

Consider taking the trip between November and March as it is the best time, thanks to the warmer temperatures. To enjoy this route, plan your trip for fourteen to seventeen days.

If the two routes don’t cater to all the activities you hope to enjoy, consider taking the route of Christchurch North Loop. This route is perfect if you want to explore New Zealand wildlife, wine, and winding roads.

You’ll go to Kaikoura, a seaside town heading north from Christchurch. You can try the local delicacy of crayfish and then enjoy whale watching in Kaikoura, then head up far north of the South Island. After enjoying the outdoor activities galore, drive to lake Nelson and get ready to visit Abel Tasman National Park. 

Afterward, head south to Hokitika and drive through Arthur pass, which returns you to Christchurch. The best time to take this route is between November to March, taking fourteen to eighteen days.

North Island – Auckland To Wellington And Bay Of Islands Loop

The North Island route has a lot to offer with different shorter travel routes that could boost your adventure. One of the routes begins in Auckland, where you can spot dolphins 4 hours north at the Bay of Islands. And if you want to enjoy some sun on the beach, you can stop over on the endless Omapere beaches with breathtaking ocean views.

After enjoying time on the beach, drive south towards Waiheke Island towards the vineyards. The beauty of traveling down this route is that you can get off the beaten track and take the adventure at your own pace.

Driving also helps you explore all the hidden delights that most tourist trails may not cover. You can take this route all year round, making it perfect for a week’s drive.

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

If you are a big fan of the movie Lord of the Rings, you will surely enjoy the route between Auckland to Wellington as it is its Weta movie studio. You can drive south and discover different geothermal delights that range from bubbling geysers to the volcanic crater of Lake Taupo.

This route is perfect as it passes through Martinborough and captures the best scenic North Island. After some time, you’ll arrive in Wellington to enjoy the spectacular atmosphere. This route has remarkable national parks, natural spas, and rugged mountains that are great for hiking.

The best time to go through this route is between November and December, as this time has pleasant temperatures and quiet sights. You can set aside between twelve to sixteen days for time to explore.

Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock

Draw Up Your Itinerary

New Zealand offers a lot and is best known for its scenic landscapes and rugged mountains. However, when looking to draw up your itinerary, below are some things you shouldn’t miss.

  • Driving and hiking around Queenstown thanks to all the marked trails. These trails are located in Crown Range and Coronet Peak.
  • Try out all the great coffee that New Zealand has to offer. The beauty of driving through New Zealand is that you can enjoy a delicious cup of coffee anywhere you go.
  • You can bask in the glory of the starry night sky above Lake Wanaka or enjoy the clouds suspended over South Island’s lakes each morning.
  • If you love picnics, you can enjoy the sun-kissed landscapes with fresh fruits and wine. Alternatively, you can explore thermal wonderlands in Rotorua, spitting volcanos, mud baths, geysers, and steamy fumaroles.


Include All The Stops

When planning a self-drive trip, you’ll need to take regular breaks to fill up on gas and get more things needed. As a result, consider researching and finding the right stops along your route. These stops should also include all the scenic views you can enjoy along your trip.

Bottom Line

New Zealand is a stunning country with much to offer if you love adventure and exploring nature. As a result, before choosing to plan a self-drive trip, ensure you consider all things. The most crucial thing to consider is getting a tune-up for your car to get to the destination safely.

How To Plan A Self-Drive Tour In New Zealand #new-zealand #road-trip #travel #vacation #trip #holiday How To Plan A Self-Drive Tour In New Zealand #new-zealand #road-trip #travel #vacation #trip #holiday

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Gayle Stevens

by Gayle Stevens

Gayle Stevens is a tourist guide based in New Zealand. She writes blogs to share travel tips with worldwide tourists. In her free time, Gayle enjoys backpacking and camping with her friends.

One Response to “How To Plan A Self-Drive Tour In New Zealand”



The advice in this is spot on, although it has been a while since we did any driving/road trips in New Zealand. It is a beautiful country, the scenery varies greatly from north to south. Kiwis (the people not the flightless bird) are very supportive of artists, culture and small businesses focused on crafting sustainable, quality products so avoid the souvenir shops and mass produced ‘carvings’.

Eating takeaway or dining out was quite expensive, but again, they love and produce good food so don’t avoid eating out altogether. If you want to save money on food, the supermarkets have a wonderful range of affordable products that you can store in your motorhome, from NZ and Australian wines to delicious cheeses, ice cream seafood, and fresh fruit.

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