This 14 day itinerary ensures you get to experience the essential must see destinations of each island. From the City of Sails to the golden sand beaches of the Coromandel and the adventure and culture of Rotorua, the wine regions of Napier and the capital of Wellington. Cross to the South Island and its rugged mountains, glaciers and lakes. A true classic driving tour, perfect to customise to your ideal holiday.
You will be met at the Auckland airport by the driver and transferred to your Auckland accommodation.
Auckland, New Zealand's self-proclaimed "City of Sails" is the country's largest metro area. Resting between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, this urban paradise has something for everyone. Surrounded by native bush, rainforests, and an abundance of beaches, Auckland is a playground for both the city savvy and those with an eye for adventure. Explore the central museums and galleries on foot, or get out onto the water to experience the best views of the city.
This tour can be priced with any of the rental cars available in our fantastic range, from economy hatchbacks to prestige saloons and SUV's.
Navigating New Zealand can be done easily in two ways. If you have a smartphone, you will be able to connect it to the USB of your rental car and your maps and other apps will display on the screen in the centre console of your vehicle, with the sound coming through the car speakers.
If you don't have a smartphone, chat to us to ensure we book you a car with a portable GPS system. Your portable GPS features a simple touch screen interface, with automatic route calculation and turn-by-turn voice-prompted directions, which announces street names. The automotive-grade GPS unit is easy to use and has multiple language options.
As you leave the Auckland city boundary the landscape changes to lush farmland. You'll cross the fertile Hauraki Plains - one of New Zealand's largest dairy producing regions. Pass the Thames Estuary, a haven for wildlife and shore birds.Take a short detour to nearby Miranda (well sign posted) to see the large flocks of godwits and oystercatchers. Arriving into the old gold mining town of Thames, there are two different routes to the east coast of the Coromandel. Directly over the Coromandel Ranges will deliver you to the coast in a snappy 45 minutes or if you're after more leisurely route, head North to the Coromandel Township along the Pohutukawa Coast (part of the Pacific Coast Highway). This is one of the most spectacular drives in the region and not to be missed. Continue down the coast to arrive in the picturesque town of Whitianga.
Your accommodation: Beachside ResortBeachside Resort is located just a three minute stroll to Whitianga's main street and only a minute to the beautiful Buffalo Beach. The modern fully equipped apartments are the perfect base for exploring the region.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 207 kms / 129 miles : 3.0 hours
Heading south from the Coromandel Peninsula you pass through the seaside town of Whangamata, a popular location for Kiwi holidaymakers and home to one of the best beaches in the region. Next, you come to the old mining town of Waihi which still has an operating open cast gold mine (Martha Mine) that can be viewed from a vantage point just above the town centre.
For rail enthusiasts, the Goldfields Railway operates passenger trains along a scenic and historic section of track towards Waikino. The route now takes you into the Bay of Plenty and the port town of Tauranga before you head along the scenic Pyes Pa Road to Rotorua. For Lord of the Rings fans, a detour to Matamata is recommended as this is the location of the Hobbiton film set. Arriving in Rotorua from the north you are welcomed by the spectacular view of the lake.
Rotorua sits on top of one of the world's most active volcanic regions. Below the surface the earth's crust grinds and moves producing heat and molten rock. Throughout the city and its surrounds the evidence of this is surprisingly common. Steam rising from cracks in the road, bubbling and hissing water in pools along the lakes edge and of course the strong smell of sulphur. The original Maori inhabitants recognised the great potential of this natural resource and applied it to cook their food and a plentiful supply of hot water to relax and bathe in didn't go unnoticed by the early European tourists.
Today Rotorua offers a myriad of activities for all to enjoy. Its compact city centre is ideal to stroll and enjoy the cuisine and hospitality. Government gardens provide a wonderful respite and in the centre the Rotorua Museum is a must see. A walk along the lake edge will deliver you to one of the country's oldest Maori villages at Ohinemutu or a float plane can whisk you over the craters of nearby Mt. Tarawera. Surrounding the city are thermal reserves such as Whakawerawera and Wai-O-Tapu, and here you can walk amongst bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers and sulphur ponds. Just a few minutes from the town centre Mt. Ngongotaha and the Skyline Gondola and luge overlook the lake and a little further on the Agrodome centre is where you head for adventure and an adrenalin rush. Here you can ride the Zorb, travel at up to 100kph on a jet boat, simulate sky diving or take the plunge on a giant swing. An agricultural exhibition and show is also based here. No visit to Rotorua would be complete without experiencing Rotorua's original tourist attraction - a relaxing spa treatment.
Your accommodation: Silver Fern Suites & SpaSilver Fern Suites & Spa is located just minutes from Rotorua's city centre and close to popular thermal attractions, cafes, restaurants and golf courses. Suites have a private spa pool or double spa bath for you to unwind and relax.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 220 kms / 137 miles : 3.4 hours
This drive will take you through the thermal region just south of Rotorua. Home to a plethora of unique geothermal attractions including boiling mud pits, natural hot springs and steaming geysers, this area is a must do before you move on to Napier. Notable attractions are Wai-O-Tapu, Waimangu and Craters of the Moon.
Continue on to Taupo and marvel at the lake, a giant crater formed following a volcanic eruption in the year 180 CE. As you approach the city, be sure to stop at Huka Falls to view the spectacular sight of hundreds of cubic metres of water spilling every second down the narrow 11 metre drop.
For an extra thrill take a jet-boat ride to the base of the falls. Leaving Taupo, follow the road as it climbs the rugged Ahimanawa Range before descending back down the Pacific Coast to art deco Napier.
Your accommodation: The Nautilus NapierThe Nautilus is an Art Deco-inspired waterfront accommodation offering self-contained, luxurious rooms. All featuring stunning panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Facilities include a fully-licensed restaurant and bar. Located on Marine Parade it is an ideal location to experience Napier.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 210 kms / 131 miles : 2.4 hours
The rolling countryside of the Hawke's Bay leads you into some of New Zealand’s richest farmland, located around the Manawatu region. Passing along the Manawatu Gorge the Wairarapa welcomes you. Masterton is home to the golden shears sheep shearing competition while just further south Greytown boasts the largest concentration of historic wooden buildings in the country.
Nearby Martinborough is home to dozens of boutique wineries. The route takes you over the Rimutaka Range and along the magnificent natural harbour that the capital city of Wellington sits upon.
Your accommodation: CityLife WellingtonCity Life Wellington is a suite style hotel with every amenity required for a comfortable stay, as well as being in a superb location to explore the compact city centre. Situated on Lambton Quay, you’ll find the best shopping, tourist attractions and cultural landmarks all within easy walking distance.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 322 kms / 200 miles : 4.1 hours
The 92 km journey between Wellington and Picton takes around 3 hours and has been described as 'one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world'. Leaving Wellington Harbour you pass many interesting points such as Pencarrow Head on top of which is New Zealand's oldest lighthouse (1859). Red Rocks is home to a seal colony and Oterangi Bay is the site which recorded the country's highest ever wind speed of 268 kph (167 mph).
From the Cook Strait spectacular views of the Kaikoura Ranges on the South Island can be enjoyed and dolphins and many sea birds are often seen. Around one hour of the cruise takes you through the Marlborough Sounds and this region of bush covered mountains, small islands, crystal clear waters and secluded bays offer remarkable photographic opportunities. The final leg of your cruise travels through Queen Charlotte Sound before coming to an end in the picturesque town of Picton.
This tour can be priced with any of the rental cars available in our fantastic range, from economy hatchbacks to prestige saloons and SUV's.
Queen Charlotte Drive travels the Marlborough Sounds coastline between Picton and Havelock. Magnificent views of the sounds can be had from many vantage points so allow plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. If you can spare the time take the narrow windy road to Portage along Mahau Sound and Kenepuru Sound with their bush clad hillsides and secluded sandy coves.
The small port town of Havelock has a great variety of cafes and restaurants to choose from so plan your journey to arrive in time for lunch. The highway between Nelson and Picton also crosses the Pelorus River and just at this junction is the famous and historic Pelorus Bridge. From here there are a number of forest walks with the most popular the 30 minute loop through beech, rimu and totara forest to the swing-bridge.
Crossing the Bryant Range you arrive onto Tasman Bay and the city of Nelson.
Your accommodation: Tides Hotel (was Trailways Hotel)Centrally located within a few minutes walk of Nelson’s central shopping precinct, theatres, restaurants and cafés, the information centre, and close to the scenic waterfront. Located right on the river, many of the rooms open onto the river view. Also overlooking the river is award-winning The Tides Restaurant and Bar.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 104 kms / 65 miles : 1.6 hours
Leaving Nelson City you will pass through the Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi National Park region. Trees, rivers and valleys accompany you now as you head towards the town of Murchison. Murchison is a quiet place and a great lunch stop. Underneath its sleepy farming facade is an adventurers paradise with white water rafting, jet boating, gold panning, kayaking, 4WD trips and excellent trout fishing.
Heading South towards Westport you will drive along the Buller Gorge, enjoy some wonderful scenery as you follow this magnificent river. Further along the river from the west coast turn off one of the must stop places is Whites Creek and New Zealand's longest swing bridge. Crossing the river you get magnificent views of the gorge and once on the other side there are short bush walks, jet boat rides and some of the historic gold mining remnants.
Continuing on your journey the first major town (by this regions standard) is Inangahua and a small museum tells of the earthquake that hit the region in 1968 leaving 70% of the buildings damaged or inhabitable. Heading south a worthwhile divert is to Cape Foulwind just south of Westport. Home to a seal colony and the short walk provides some spectacular scenery. Continuing south on the road to Punakaiki you will pass through Paparoa National Park. On arrival to Punakaiki you may want to visit Pancake rocks. Pancake rocks are open to the public free of charge all year round. These are awesome natural blow holes and rock formations, the name says it all.
Just a little further south is Greymouth, the administrative centre of the West Coast and a great attraction here is Shantytown, a replica gold mining village.
The township of Hokitika was built on the pioneering spirit of the West Coast settlers. A busy port in its heyday it then became a centre for the West Coast gold rush and more recently has become known for its Jade or Greenstone crafts. Here you will find many shops selling intricately carved pieces as well as other fine arts and souvenirs. The town itself has some great old buildings and you will also find some fine restaurants and cafes.
The windswept beach is often covered with driftwood making for an interesting stroll and the scenery to the mountains is quite spectacular with Mt. Cook very often in view. Around 15 kilometres inland you will find Lake Kaniere, an idyllic spot to take bush walks or simply relax and enjoy the bush clad hill views. Just south of the town on State Highway 6 is Lake Mahinapua Scenic Reserve where you can enjoy some short walks. The Hokitika Gorge, around 45 minutes from the centre of is a magnificent granite gorge lined with beautiful native bush. A swing bridge just 2 minutes from the car park takes you over milky blue green pools and a short walk delivers you to large moss covered boulders to explore.
Your accommodation: Beachfront Hotel HokitikaThe unique location of the Beachfront Hotel Hokitika on the shores of the Tasman Sea and in the heart of Hokitika allows you to beachcomb and shop local artisans' galleries right from your doorstep.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 333 kms / 206 miles : 4.1 hours
Leaving Hokitika you’ll go through the old gold mining town of Ross where some of the original buildings and workings remain. Ross is also home to one of the few working mines left in New Zealand. Continuing South you’ll pass through Harihari, the township Guy Menzies crash landed in after he became the first person to fly solo across the Tasman. Continue on through Whataroa, a small township, home to some of the world's rarest birds - the New Zealand White Heron and the Kotuku. Arriving into the glacier region you’ll catch your first glimpse of the Franz Josef glacier before coming into the township - a lively place with a great atmosphere.
Heading south you pass through the second glacier town of Fox Glacier before heading along the coast and more classic West Coast bush scenery. Be sure you stop at the Paringa Salmon Farm for lunch or a refreshment make sure you feed the fish, it's very impressive. At Knights Point Lookout elephant seals can often be seen basking on the sandy beaches at the far end of the point.
Crossing the massive Haast River you turn inland and head into the valley climbing through mountains littered with waterfalls.
The Haast Valley offers a spectacular view of the river and its enormous power. The Blue Pools near Makarora are a great 30-minute walk. Lakes Wanaka and Hawea guide you into the township of Wanaka before you head over New Zealand's highest sealed road, Crown Range Road before dropping into Queenstown. This drive should be planned as a whole day to really enjoy the scenery and to allow time to explore the walks, and many stops en route.
Although celebrated as New Zealand's ‘adventure capital’ Queenstown offers far more than a fast paced action-packed holiday. Settled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu beneath a soaring panorama of the Remarkables Mountain Range, this alpine town is surrounded by a plethora of historic, gastronomic and scenic wonders.
Head down the Gibbston wine trail to sample some of the region’s best Pinot or catch a ride on the 100 year old Steamship the TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak Station for dinner and a farm tour. Browse the waterfront cafes and have lunch at Michelin star chef Josh Emett's ‘Rata.’ Check out nearby historic Arrowtown and enhance your experience with a four wheel drive trip to Macetown.
Take a leisurely lakeside stroll or ride the gondola for breathtaking views. Venture further afield into the Fiordland National Park or head over the Crown Range to Wanaka. Drive through Lord Of The Rings country or for the really fanatic, jump aboard one of many dedicated LOTR tours. And after all of that if you do really want the adrenaline rush Queenstown is known for take your pick from the Shotover Jet, Canyon Swing, Zipline, Luge or Heli-ski.
Following the shores of Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables mountain range towers over you as you approach the township of Kingston. You'll venture into Southland before crossing the rolling tussocklands of Mossburn (deer capital of New Zealand) and shortly arriving at Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park.
The drive from Te Anau to Dunedin takes you through classic Southland farmland scenery but if you want to spend the whole day exploring a little off the beaten path than taking the Southern Scenic Route through The Catlins is highly recommended. Following the incredible Otago coastline to Invercargill the route passes through Manapouri and onto Tuatapere before Colac Bay and the fishing town of Riverton. From Invercargill the route hugs the coastline and there are many side-trips to secluded and deserted beaches and bays to explore before you arrive into the remarkable Edwardian City of Dunedin.
Heading north from Dunedin your first stop should be Moeraki to explore the famous and unique Moeraki Boulders strewn on the beach. The town of Oamaru is most famous for its buildings constructed with the unique locally quarried white stone. Explore the old quarter or if you don't mind a late arrival into Christchurch then stay longer to see the blue penguins come ashore at dusk. The port town of Timaru is next and then the vast Canterbury Plains. Crossing New Zealand's longest bridge at Rakaia you can view some great examples of the South Island's famous braided rivers. Arriving into Christchurch City puts you close to the airport and the International Antarctic Centre, a visit is highly recommended. Here you can get as close to experiencing life on the frozen continent without actually visiting plus see New Zealand little blue penguins and ride in a Haaglund Tracked vehicle.
Your accommodation: Quest Cathedral JunctionQuest Cathedral Junction serviced apartment style hotel rooms offer guests a relaxed and comfortable Christchurch accommodation experience. Quest Cathedral Junction is located within the Christchurch CBD, only a short walk to Cathedral Square, New Regent Street Entertainment Precinct, Isaac Royal Theatre, Botanic Gardens.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 346 kms / 215 miles : 4.2 hours
Explore more of Christchurch before dropping your rental car at the airport depot and continuing your onward journey.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 7 kms / 5 miles : 0.2 hours