It took a long time to plan out our two months in New Zealand (January – February 2015). There are just so many things to see and do! I read a lot of blogs, including other travelers’ itineraries, and found them infinitely helpful when planning our own journey. So, we’re sharing with you our two month New Zealand road trip itinerary. Hopefully it’s helpful to anyone planning a trip, or gives you something to dream of someday.
OUR MODE OF TRANSPORT
There are many ways to get around New Zealand. The bus system is supposed to work fairly well, especially on the North Island, but we knew we wanted more control over our schedule. About one third of the vehicles we see anywhere in New Zealand are campervans of various sizes; it’s the thing to do. Though there are plenty of holiday parks to camp at and some regions that allow freedom camping, the cost of renting a campervan for two months just didn’t make sense to us, even with the savings we’d have from not needing accommodation. For a few weeks, we browsed listings to buy one with the intention of selling it after two months, but nothing came of it. We ended up renting a tiny car from Jucy, the main rental company in New Zealand. Though we lost two hubcabs on the first day and the volume button on our radio was broken so that it would suddenly blast whatever we were listening to at a deafening full volume, we were truly happy with our decision. It also felt great to have a “home base” after living out of backpacks for the year, even if it was just a dinky car.
Also, we picked up a lot of hitchhikers on travel days. This is the way of life when traveling New Zealand. You might end up with some smelly people (and who isn’t smelly sometimes?), but they will always be interesting and gracious.
OUR TRAVEL DAYS
For the most part, because of the tempo we chose to travel at, our “travel days” from one point to the next generally did not include any other activities, unless they were conveniently in our path. We took our time packing in the morning, having breakfast, and often only drove a few hours to our next stop, where we took our time grocery shopping, exploring the town, and preparing for the coming days. The times given in each description reflect, more or less, the amount of full days we had in each place, not including travel days.
New Zealand has I-Site Centers in every major town and the friendly staff there will help you book activities, or simply answer your questions. Use them. They’re great.
Also, during the high-season of New Zealand summer, we found accommodations were sparse, even booking a month or two beforehand. As care-free as New Zealand makes you feel, do not expect to roll up somewhere and find a room easily without a reservation.
Finally, consider the size of the town you are traveling to. Some on the South Island don’t have more than a large convenience store, so if you’re into fresh vegetables and options besides pasta for dinner, stock up on groceries in bigger towns before you hit the road. (Hint: If a town doesn’t have a Countdown or a New World, it probably doesn’t have a proper grocery store).
AUCKLAND: 4 DAYS
Day Trip to Piha, Kitekite Falls, Karekare
Auckland Coast to Coast Walk
More about Auckland
COROMANDEL, THAMES: 3 DAYS
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway
Coromandel Pinnacles Track
COROMANDEL, WHITIANGA: 2 DAYS
Accommodation: On the Beach Backpacker’s Hostel
Cooks Beach + Shakespeare Cliff
New Chums Beach
More about the Coromandel Peninsula
WAITOMO: 1 DAY
Accommodation: Otorohanga Holiday Park
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Mangapohue Natural Bridge
Marokopa Town + Beach
More about Waitomo
ROTORUA: 1 DAY
Hot Springs within the town center
More about Rotorua
On the drive to Taupo:
TAUPO: 3 DAYS
NAPIER/HASTINGS: 2 DAYS
NEW PLYMOUTH: 2 DAYS
Accommodation: Arcadia Lodge
Mount Taranaki Summit Track
WELLINGTON: 3 DAYS
We planned for time in Wellington to be restful before jumping into more hiking on the South Island, so we simply explored the city, went out to the movies, and hung around our lovely house.
Penthouse Cinema & Cafe
We took a mid-afternoon Bluebridge Ferry from Wellington to Picton, along with our car, so we could arrive at our next stop before dark…
MOTUEKA: 2 DAYS
Abel Tasman National Park
GREYMOUTH: 1 DAY
Accommodation: Noah’s Ark Backpacker’s Hostel
Punakaiki / Pancake Rocks
Point Elizabeth Walkway
Monteith’s Brewing Company
FRANZ JOSEPH GLACIER: 2 DAYS
Accommodation: Sir Cedric’s Glowworm Backpacker’s Hostel
Franz Joseph Glacier Hike via Robert’s Point Track
Fox Glacier Valley Walk
Lake Matheson Walk
More about Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers
WANAKA: 4 DAYS
Accommodation: Airbnb (in Luggate)
Roy’s Peak Trek
Lake Wanaka Beach
Lone Tree of Wanaka
Cinema Paradiso where you sit on couches and they have an actual intermission, during which you can buy warm, freshly baked cookies.
Wanaka Lavender Farm
Head south via Cardrona and it’s historic hotel
More about Wanaka
QUEENSTOWN: 4 DAYS
Day Trip to Glenorchy
Eat a giant burger. This super famous one or this better one.
Weather prevented us from hiking, but the two we planned to do were the Ben Lomond Summit Trek and the Mount Alfred Hike.
More about Queenstown and Glenorchy
TE ANAU: 3 DAYS
Milford Sound Cruise
Lake Marian Hike
Key Summit Trek
Head north via Lindis Pass and leave time to stop at Lake Pukaki
More about Milford Sound/Fjordland National Park
MOUNT COOK VILLAGE: 3 DAYS
Accommodation: YHA Youth Hostel
Kea Point Track
Hooker Valley Track
Lake Tasman and Tasman Glacier
More about Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
TEKAPO: 4 DAYS
Accommodation: Aorangi Motel (Fairlie)
Church of the Good Shepherd
Earth and Sky Stargazing Observatory Tour
Simply enjoy one of the darkest skies in the world at night
CHRISTCHURCH: 2 DAYS
Accommodation: Home of Katie, Alex, and Vilkas, the best Kiwis in the world
Day Trip to Akaroa
Earthquake Memorial: 185 Empty White Chairs
Christchurch Transitional Cathedral
Christchurch Farmer’s Market
After our grand two month tour of New Zealand, Nate and I spent a relaxing few days in a teeny tiny apartment in Auckland before heading off on our separate paths: He to California for a cross-country adventure back to Boston and me to Buenos Aires for three months to learn Spanish.
Experiencing New Zealand over two months was overwhelming but incredible. The country is about the size of Oregon and is jam packed with incredible sights and sparsely sprinkled with super awesome people. Though we feel like we saw all we came to see, we’re looking forward to returning someday, hopefully to Wanaka and Taupo specifically, to relax on a true vacation!