New Zealand is the perfect place for a road trip. The landscape is diverse and some of the most beautiful places can only be reached by car. Every year millions of tourists embark on a New Zealand road trip and it has quickly become one of the most popular ways to travel the country.

But a road trip in New Zealand isn’t without its challenges. Preparing for a road trip in NZ can be somewhat daunting and it is important that you plan properly in order to ensure you have the best time possible. That’s why in this blog we reveal everything you need to know in order to prepare for your very own New Zealand road trip including planning your route, what to pack, and more!

Decide on “Must-Visit” Places

New Zealand must visit places

The most crucial step in preparing for a road trip in New Zealand is the planning. Deciding on exactly where you want to go and what you want to do before you start your trip is the only way to ensure you don’t miss a thing.

Some of the most incredible places that you should consider checking out during your travels in New Zealand are:

  • Milford Sound – Often known as the “8th Wonder of the World” this glacier-carved valley was formed thousands of years ago and is an important part of Maori history. Going on a scenic cruise or flight here is nothing short of breathtaking.
  • Mount Cook National Park – Cook National park is located deep in the Southern Alps. Not only does this place boast stunning hikes but it’s also home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain – Mount Cook. The Hooker Valley track is a popular hike in the national park and is often considered the best day walk in New Zealand.
  • Queenstown – This small town is big on adventure. From skydiving to skiing to canyoning, there is something for everyone. Queenstown is easily the most popular tourist town in all of New Zealand!
  • Wanaka – Only an hour from Queenstown is Wanaka, another lakeside town. Wanaka is just as scenic as Queenstown but less busy. Wanaka is the closest town to the famous Cardrona Ski Resort which is a base for many professional skiers and snowboarders in the winter.
  • The Catlins – At the very bottom of the South Island is a region called the Catlins. It is a popular place to road trip as there are plenty of scenic stops on the side of the road such as waterfalls, caves, and lookouts. However, many tourists make the journey here for the unique wildlife such as dolphins, seals, whales, and penguins (including the Yellow Crested Penguin which is one of the rarest penguins in the world.)
  • WellingtonWellington is New Zealand’s capital city (not Auckland as many people think!) Wellington is a beautiful seaside city and also where you catch the ferry from the north island to the South Island. But besides just catching the ferry, in Wellington, you can visit New Zealand’s national museum, explore one of the many markets, or even go to the beach!
  • The Coromandel – Some of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand are located on the Coromandel Peninsula. Some popular spots include Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own hot spa in the sand, and Cathedral Cove, which was made famous from the Narnia films.
  • Tongariro National Park – Tongariro National Park is another place made famous by a Hollywood film. In fact, the Tongariro Crossing was the film set of Mordor in Lord of the Rings and the place where Frodo finally destroyed the ring. When hiking the crossing, you will actually pass Mount Ngauruhoe (which is more commonly referred to as “Mount Doom” thanks to the LOTR trilogy.)

Plan Your Road Trip Itinerary

Location New Zealand. Red pin on the map.

Photo: Zerophoto / Adobe Stock

After you’ve decided on the places you want to see, you must plan your route!

It is important to know that New Zealand is made of two different islands, the North Island and the South Island. In order to get between the islands, you can take a ferry or fly. If you are on a road trip though, the easiest way is to take the ferry between Wellington and Picton and take your vehicle with you. This ferry does fill up during peak seasons so booking in advance is a great idea!

It is important to also know that although New Zealand looks small, it can take quite a lot of time to get from one destination to the next. In the South Island, in particular, the roads can be narrow and windy so even though the distances seem short, the drive can take longer than anticipated. Sit down with Google Maps and make sure you map out the drive times in between destinations. Also, be sure to allow enough time for plenty of scenic photo stops along the way!

New Zealand road trip couple

Related: If planning your own road trip itinerary is too daunting, consider booking one of our self-drive tours. We plan the best routes for you and can tailor our routes to suit your needs!

What to Pack

Packing for your New Zealand road trip is important. The weather in New Zealand can be extreme and it is vital that you are properly prepared! In the winter, temperatures can get well below zero, and in the summer you can expect to be on a beach in the hot sun. But at any time of the year, the weather can change quickly especially at higher altitudes.

Some great things to consider packing for your travels in New Zealand are:

  • Warm jacket –You will need a warm jacket (especially in the winter.) If you plan on spending any time in the snow then gloves and a warm hat is also a good idea.
  • Rain jacket – It can rain at any time of the year in New Zealand. Having a rain jacket will come in handy!
  • Sunscreen – The New Zealand sun is harsh. In both the summer and the winter you will need sunscreen otherwise you will get sunburned very quickly.
  • Bug repellent – Sandflies are a problem in many places in NZ especially on the South Island’s west coast. A strong bug repellent will help keep these little guys from biting you.
  • Good walking/hiking shoes – There are a ton of amazing walks in New Zealand. Make sure you bring a good pair of walking shoes, or even hiking boots if you plan on going on any multi-day hikes.
  • Your smartphone – There are tons of apps and maps you can use on your phone that come in very handy while on your NZ road trip! Even if you don’t have cellphone data in New Zealand, some apps allow you to pre-download their information. “Campermate” is an app that is perfect for finding places to camp as well as nearby attractions. Google Maps is great for directions and planning your routes.

Type of Car Rental

New Zealand road trip car rental

Before heading off on your road trip, it is essential that you book a rental vehicle. The type of vehicle you choose should depend largely on whether you want to camp or not. In the summer, many people rent campervans or motorhomes and camp all over the country. This is the perfect option for those who love the outdoors and there are some really gorgeous camping spots spread throughout the country.

If camping is not your thing, then just rent a normal car and stay in hotels or holiday homes. There is no shortage of gorgeous hotels or unique holidays homes in New Zealand and you are sure to have tons of options to choose from no matter where you are!

No matter how you decide to go about your New Zealand road trip, we have some great self-drive or guided tours to suit you! Get in touch with us today to start preparing for your very own NZ road trip!