35 day NZ van tour
Self-drive touring New Zealand is the best way to explore this beautiful country. We recommend you allocate at least 35 days to travel New Zealand properly. This gives you some flexibility to allow for weather and spend some extra time in places you fall in love with along the way. This is bound to happen!
Firstly you need to collect your travel companion – your trusty Spaceships. From there you are on the road. Driving in New Zealand is pretty easy as it is not big travel distances and not much traffic, particularly in the South Island.
Below is our New Zealand self-drive itinerary based on 35 days starting in Auckland and finishing in Christchurch.
We also have a range of other New Zealand self-drive itineraries based on different time frames of 7, 14 and 21 days.
Auckland to Paihia
Head north to the stunning Bay of Islands, on the way you can learn about the rich local European and Maori history. Turn off the main highway to explore Goat Island, New Zealand’s first Marine Reserve. Cruise up the coast road and have a picnic lunch on the beach before entering the Bay of Islands.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Native Bird Recovery Centre (gold coin donation, weekdays only) Snorkeling at Goat Island or glass bottom boat trip, tree-hugging a huge kauri tree at Parry Kauri Forest.
Paihia to Cape Reinga
Drive to the top of New Zealand. Check out the mighty Kauri forests, 90 Mile Beach and the clashing of Pacific and Tasman Oceans at Cape Reinga.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Traditional Kiwi fish and chips option for dinner, Dune surfing, walk through native forest.
Cape Reinga to Auckland
Make your way back to the big smoke (Auckland). You may want to check out the Kai Iwi Lakes.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Sailing, swimming with dolphins and kayaking. Fishing, skydiving or catch the ferry to historic Russell. Visit the historic Treaty grounds. Walk around Paihia or Haruru Falls or relax on a number of beautiful Northland beaches.
Auckland to Hahei Beach (The Coromandel)
Drive south travelling towards the Coromandel Peninsula via the old colonial town of Thames. Follow the coastal road, which hugs the ocean up to Coromandel. This is the scenic route which loops back around to Whitianga and onto Hahei.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Kayak around beautiful bays to Cathedral Cove, Walk to Cathedral Cove, dig your own hot pool in the sand, relax on the beach.
Hahei to Raglan
Drive across to the West Coast to the world-renowned Raglan surf beach. Enjoy a short walk to Bridal Veil Falls on the way. Chill out or go hard in this funky surf and arts town.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Learn to surf and then relax on the beach, bush walks, glow worms, west coast sunset.
Raglan (via Waitomo) to Whakatane
Head to the rural town of Waitomo. Make sure you make the time to explore its famous caves and glow worms. Then head across to Whakatane and consider the boat trip out to White Island.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Waitomo must-do caving options – Haggas Honking Holes, Lost World, Tumu Tumu Toobing, or a glow-worm tour. Walk around Ruakuri Reserve, Waitomo Valley Caves walk, Arapuni suspension bridge.
Whakatane (via Opotiki) to Gisborne
Head to the rural town of Opotiki. Stop in the gorge for a picnic by the Waioka River then head through the gorge, which is a beautiful drive.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Surfing, wine tasting, fishing, watch the sunrise.
Gisborne to Maraehako Bay
Wake up early to witness the ‘first sunrise in the world’ before heading off north up and around the East Cape. Continuing on the East Cape’s coastal road there are more beautiful bays and beaches to see, along with slow- paced Maori communities. Visit NZ’s easternmost lighthouse and go for a walk along NZ's longest pier. Hit the beach for a swim, surf or to just chill.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Surfing, fishing, sunbathing, walks and relaxing on beaches.
Shark-diving, stingray feeding, and rock- sliding.
Maraehako Bay to Taupo
Venture around beautiful lakes and stunning East Cape coastline to Maraehako Bay.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Crayfishing, boat fishing, horseriding, Swimming, kayaking, or snorkeling to check out the marine life.
Taupo to Whakahoro
Head to Blue Duck Lodge, one of the most remote parts of the North Island. A 9,000-acre farm that is both a working station and an environmental conservation leader. Once you arrive, there are plenty of activities for you to partake in. Spend the evening sitting around, listening to tales from this unique region.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: A 4WD farm tour, horse trek or a fully guided kayak tour. Tokaanu geothermal walk, walk around the truly amazing property at Whakahoro and just take in the lush scenery, kayak around the Kaiwhakauka waterfall, enjoy your host Dan’s fantastic hospitality and stories on the local wildlife and history.
Whakahoro to National Park
Head back the same way to the active volcanoes and dual World Heritage of ‘Tongariro National Park’. Walk one of the top rated one day walks in the world - the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. In the evening, reward yourself at the bar or just relax in the spa at an alpine lodge or campground.
Optional Free or Paid Activities: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (there is a transport/concession fee to do this hike).Taranaki Falls walk, visit the Volcanic Centre.
National Park to Wellington
Head to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city via Ohakune, Taihape and Bulls.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Check out some of the great cafes and bars. Do a Lord of the Rings tour or visit the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary. Walk ‘Oriental Parade’, head up Mt Victoria for fantastic views, and visit ‘Te Papa’ - our national museum.
Wellington to Marahau (Abel Tasman)
Catch the ferry across to the Mainland (South Island) then drive through the famous Marlborough vineyard area and the coastal town of Nelson, before heading onto Motueka and then to the edge of the amazing Abel Tasman National Park.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Wine tasting, skydiving or pilot your own stunt plane. Swim, full day sailing trip and kayaking. Water taxi, horse riding or hang gliding. Walk in the National Park or just relax on one of the golden sand beaches!
Marahau (Abel Tasman) to Greymouth
Head south through the Buller Gorge to the ‘wild’ West Coast.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Westport seal colony, walk around the awesome Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and their mighty blowholes, meet some of the quirky locals.
Greymouth to Franz Josef
Keep heading south into the heart of the West Coast - where time almost stands still. Stop at Franz Josef or Fox Glacier to experience the mighty glaciers right on the Tasman Sea.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Make a bone or jade carving with the locals (a unique, highly recommended activity) Take a hike down into the temperate rainforests of the Paparoa National Park along the Truman Track. Visit a greenstone factory and Bushman’s Centre to explore the glacier. Take a guided glacier walk or a 'helicopter hike' to get onto the glacier, go ice climbing, relax in the local hot pools.
Franz Josef to Queenstown
Head to Lake Matheson for the amazing mirror lake then travel through to the mountainous Haast pass and Makarora. Check out the beautiful lakes Wanaka and Hawea and stop in Wanaka township for lunch and a look around. Visit the famous A.J. Hackett bungy site and then head to the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’! Queenstown offers a big (make that huge) night out with excellent restaurants, pubs and live music.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Jetboating in Makarora, bungy jumping, big night out! Mirror Lake walk, Blue Pools walk, Thundercreek Falls, walk, explore Wanaka, watch people jump off a bridge!
Queenstown to Te Anau (Via Milford Sound)
Head south to Te Anua and on to Milford Sound via the scenic drive around Lake Wakatipu. The drive into Milford sound is amazing as you enter glacial carved valleys and towering mountains. Go out with Real Journeys for a look at Mitre Peak. If you have time do an overnight trip in Doubtful Sound also. This is amazing!
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Bush walks, Historic Gunns Camp, fishing, diving, boat cruise, helicopter flights, overnight in Doubtful Sound, Hollyford track.
Te Anau to Invercargill and Stewart Island
Head through the middle of Southland to Invercargill, next stop Stewart Island!
Optional Free and Paid Activities: See Stewart Island and maybe a Great White Shark! On Stewart Island - fishing, hire a scooter, go to Ulva Island. Explore the island, amazing birdlife, walks through the native parkland.
Invercargill/Stewart Island to Queenstown
Drive back to Queenstown. You may like to go via part of the Catlins.
Queenstown to Aoraki/Mt Cook
Head over the Lindis Pass through the beautiful Mackenzie Country and Lake Pukaki then head north to the base of New Zealand's highest mountain Aoraki/ Mt Cook.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Take a boat to check out the Tasman glacier, visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Take photos of awe-inspiring scenery, do one of the many great short walks to the Hooker glacial lake.
Mt Cook to Rangitata
Make your way to the ‘Lord of the Rings’ landscape of Rangitata. Head past the scenic Lake Tekapo. On a beautiful still day the reflections can be amazing. Get some photos and check out the Church of the Good Shepherd. Go via Geraldine for a pie, and then head through to the Rangitata.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Do an amazing rafting trip, go for a mountain bike, walk or horse ride through Peel Forest. Take photos of stunning scenery, go for a walk. Visit Lord Of The Rings country.
Rangitata to Christchurch
Drive through the vast Canterbury plains to Christchurch. Check out the beautiful gardens of Christchurch. You could head inland via the old west coast road to Arthurs Pass.
Optional Free and Paid Activities: There are unique rock formations, an underground stream, numerous mountain lakes, fishing and walks all within 2 hours of Christchurch.
Christchurch to Kaikoura
Head up the coast for a beautiful drive to Kaikoura via the rugged coastal road. You have options of swimming with the seals, piloting your own plane, whale watching and swimming with dolphins (pre booking is advised in peak season).
Optional Free and Paid Activities: Whale watch, seal colony, fishing charter, seafood lunch in Kaikoura.
Kaikoura to Christchurch
Return your Spaceship and catch your flight back home. The other option is to continue north, catch the ferry again and drive back to Auckland.
If you fly into Christchurch first just reverse the order of the itinerary.