Looking forward to your next self-drive tour in New Zealand?

A common issue with our clients (and most tourists) is that there are so many things to do in New Zealand that planning an itinerary for tours is quite difficult – there’s so much to fit in a limited amount of time!

Tour guides are great options for people who do not want to take their time to plan an itinerary; but for people like you who enjoy freedom in their travels, moving around with a tour guide may not float your boat.

In our post today, we’ll cover some of the best locations in New Zealand for you to craft an excellent itinerary on your trip.

Are self-drive tours right for me?

Before we move on to the itinerary, you may wonder if self-drive tours are the right choice for you.

No worries; we’ve made a short checklist to make sure that you are making the right decision.

Self-drive tours are great for you if:

  • You enjoy the independence of travelling alone or you don’t like the idea of being restricted to a fixed schedule. Some of you may want to spend more time or lesser time in a certain area – self-drive tours allow you to do that as you are not bounded by a schedule; you’re only limited by the local regulations and law. Other than that, you’re free to do whatever you want as long it’s legal!
  • Relationships with your closest ones are important to you. Self-drive tours allow you to bond more with your friends, family, and significant other as you’ll not be bound to anything. It’s up to you to decide where to go and what to do which can bring memorable moments and experiences on your trip.
  • You enjoy the thrill and excitement of travelling. Self-drive tours have an element of surprise to it; you have an idea of where you’re going to but you are not really familiar with anything (unless you’ve been to New Zealand before). This sense of mystery can be exciting to some people while also adding a layer of unexpectedness to your trip.

An itinerary for self-drive tours in New Zealand

new zealand self driving


Depending on where your flight is headed to, the starting point of your trip may differ.
For this itinerary, we assume that you’ll be landing at Auckland International Airport which is New Zealand’s busiest airport.

A flight to New Zealand is going to take up a lot of your time so you’ll probably be jetlagged when you arrive. We advise you to sleep or have a good rest while you are in the plane so that your driving won’t be affected.

After you’ve settled down, a great place to head to is Waiheke Island. You can access Waiheke Island via ferry. If you are worried about leaving your car behind, there are ferries that can also transport cars like SeaLink – ask your rental car providers (or us!) if you are unsure.

Waiheke is only half an hour from downtown. It is a rather glamorous and “hipster” city to be in, as there plenty of wealthy residents living on the island. If you are looking to enjoy that luxury, you can have lunch along the exquisite Waitemata Harbour.

There are also vineyards in the area if you are a fan of fine wine. The locally produced wines are a hit among tourists as they have a distinctive taste to them. Then, you can head over to Oneroa, one more of the more beautiful beaches on Waiheke Island.

If you are here in the summer, it’s not a bad idea to bask yourself in the sun and have a nice stroll along the beachside.

Paihia, Bay of Islands

paihia bay of islands new zealand

Waitangi holds a special place in New Zealander’s hearts; this is the place where New Zealand officially began after a treaty was signed between the local inhabitants and British officials.

If you are a fan of historical artifacts, the carvings in Waitangi’s marae (some sort of meeting ground) is going to be an exciting experience for you. Canoes are also available for tourists who are up for thrilling encounters in Waitangi.

One of the more interesting places to travel from Paihia is the Hokianga coast as well as a visit to New Zealand’s oldest forest, home to the mighty Tane Mahuta kauri tree.

With over 140 islands and bays, Paihia is home to an amazing marine ecosystem. There are plenty of things to do in Paihia such as big game fishing, diving, swimming and boat tours of various kinds.

Paihia is also famous for its whale and dolphin sightings. There are even companies that offer you the chance to swim along these magnificent creatures! Of course, you don’t have to worry a lot about the safety and legality of these companies as all businesses are required to abide by national laws and regulations.

The entire area is chock full of unique scenic landscapes such as giant sand dunes, volcanic rock formations, stands of huge native trees, pristine clear water, bush-lined bays and safe, sandy beaches. If you are a fan of great sights, Paihia is a must-visit destination.


There is a saying that you can “smell” Rotorua before you see it and that’s quite true; Rotorua is well-known for its geothermal activities and sulphur pools. There is plenty of sulphur in the area, but that shouldn’t deter you from visiting Rotorua.

Note: If you are allergic to sulphur, you might want to avoid visiting this place.

Thanks to its incredible thermal activity, Rotorua is a favourite among tourists as there are many beautiful sights to spot. You should bring some spare change along though; accessing these geothermal reserves requires an entrance fee which covers the maintenance of the area.

The popular Wai-o-tapu reserve (also known as the Thermal Wonderland) is a spot that you must go. You’ll be able to see thermal activity that presents itself in multiple colors (blue, green, yellow, etc.) The reserve also contains numerous eye-catching geysers. If you are looking for an area with excellent photoshooting opportunities, Wai-o-tapu is the place.

While you are not allowed to go anywhere near the more dangerous areas, you can (and should) spend your time in Rotorua’s famous thermal pools. Polynesian Spa is a pool that is well-known for its acidic properties and claims to heal pains and aches. There are people who fly to New Zealand just to visit the area to have a dip in the pool.

You might not like the idea of relaxing in the pool with other tourists; there are private pools for you to have a bath in the area. All you have to do is to pay a fee to access these stunning and invigorating pools.


Queenstown is a major tourist spot in the South Island. Its many attractions include Lake Wakatipu which is the third largest lake in New Zealand – one of the must-visit places in your itinerary.

Aside from its beautiful views and peaceful lakeside, Lake Wakatipu hosts a variety of extreme watersports activities such as rafting and kayaking. There are plenty of things popping up every day so make sure to try as much as the activities if you have the time.

Queenstown is also famous for being known as the adventure capital of the world. The nickname comes from the city’s extreme activities – there are plenty of them!

The most notable extreme activity in Queenstown is AJ Hackett bungy which is the first bungee jump attraction in the world. Be prepared for scary jumps of at least a 100 metres!

Besides that, there are several bungee jumps scattered all over Queenstown but they are all unique in their own way. If you are faint-hearted, it’s best to avoid the bungee jumps; if not, there is no reason for you to skip out on this as bungy jumping is the thing to do in Queenstown!

Omarama, North Otago

oamaru public gardens

Don’t forget to scroll through the Oamaru Public Gardens; the gardens is famed for its spectacular collection of flora and fauna. The plantings are divided into “rooms”, a classic Victorian practice that aims to keep the town’s aesthetics like how it used to be.

There are also collections of wonderful specimen trees that stand tall above masses of flowers and foliage, with walkways and bridges leading between them. If you are on a tight budget, no worries; entrance to the garden is free!

Not far away from downtown Oamaru, you can watch one of the world’s rarest penguins come ashore after a day feeding at sea at the Bushy Beach yellow-eyed penguin viewing hide.

The yellow-eyed penguin is unique to New Zealand, so don’t miss out on your chance to see (and snap a photo) of these magnificent creatures.


The drive from Omarama to Cromwell is through Lindis Pass and is really beautiful – and scary, as at some points the road is right on the edge of the mountain, but amazing scenery. Another great drive to add to the list!

Cromwell was originally a mining town during the 1800’s gold rush but has since become an excellent getaway destination and place to go for tourists travelling to New Zealand.

One of the more popular destinations in Cromwell is the Highlands Motorsport Park, which has hosted tons of racing series including the famous V8 Supercars series. Now, with its famous racing history, obviously, you’ll have a chance at riding in one of the supercars yourself – Lamborghinis, anyone?

If cars are not your thing then you can take your time to enjoy the vineyards which you can visit in Cromwell which includes Misha’s Vineyard, The Wooing Tree or Mount Micheal –a great way to spend your time in the summer.

You can also visit the Cromwell Golf Course or the Lake Dunstan and go on the Rail Trail through the historic gold mining villages, pubs and even some off trail adventures.

Further information

Over here at the Road Trip NZ, we provide a variety of tour packages on the South Island.

If you fancy yourself a self-drive tour, check out our 4-day South Island self-drive road trip package where you’ll have the opportunity to explore the island with total freedom.

We also provide an 8-day luxury tour for tourists who seek for maximum comfort and majestic experiences in their travels. We will be providing you 5-star accommodations as well as sights and activities that are on par.

Last but not least, our very popular private guided tours are also available to tourists who want to encounter the very best of the South Island. Our 16-day guided tour package will leave you in awe at the end of the trip!