A road trip in New Zealand is an unforgettable adventure, no matter where it takes you. They say that travel is about the journey, not the destination, and to drive around “God’s Own Country” is to immerse yourself in a constant journey of discovery. Along the way there are friendly small towns, pockets of scenery to stop you in your tracks, endless walking trails leading to hidden natural gems, stunning stretches of coastline and so much more that will make your road trip memorable.
To craft an itinerary that will take you through the wonders of NZ, you’ll need destinations. We have put together a list of seven places around the nation which we believe have earned a rightful place on any road trip plan. These are spots which present some of the best of New Zealand, the things you see in the travel brochures - and on the way there, you might see and experience the incredible things not featured in any magazine. Take a look at our guide to driving in New Zealand, and read on for our must-dos.
This lakeside town in Otago, in the south of the South Island, has it all for the intrepid traveller: a ridiculously beautiful combination of lake and mountains, a buzzing town centre with top-notch dining and nightlife, and adventure activities galore in the surrounding area. People flock here to skydive, bungy jump, jet boat, river raft and raise their adrenaline levels by many other means, all while gazing upon some of the most incredible landscapes in the world. You can start your road trip here too, with a Queenstown Airport car rental.
2. The Glaciers of the West Coast
The entirety of the South Island’s wild, desolate west coast is spectacular - but as you journey along State Highway 6 and enjoy the eye candy and experiences along the way, there is one place that stands out as a destination. The two glaciers and their adjoining small towns/tourist depots are called Fox and Franz Josef, and you can sign on for guided glacier climbs, heli tours or just walk up and have a look from a safe distance - then retire to the local hot pools in the evening.
3. Marlborough Sounds
Moving on up in the world, we have a must-visit destination which is not just about what you can see, but also what you can taste. The Marlborough Sounds (near Blenheim and just a few hours north of Christchurch) are a gorgeous, rugged section of coast where green slopes plunge into the sea, and peaceful, perfect coves and bays hide around every headland. They are also part of a world-renowned wine region, so as well as a boat cruise, you may wish to leave your keys at your accommodation and sign on for a tour of the vineyards.
This part of the country was ranked number two in global “Regions to Visit” by Lonely Planet in 2017, and who are we to argue with such a heavy hitter in the travel industry? With imposing and impressive Mount Taranaki as its icon and New Plymouth as its urban centre, this incredible protrusion on the west coast of the North Island is mandatory for all road trippers. Climb the mountain if you are feeling up to it, or enjoy the surf beaches and pastoral prettiness.
5. Rotorua and Hobbiton
The bubbling city-on-a-lake that is Rotorua first makes its presence known by the scent of sulphur, a sign of the geothermal activity that lies beneath. The city centre is pleasant enough, but the real delights are to be found at places like Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland, where you can experience the craziness and beauty of nature firsthand. Hobbiton is just an hour’s drive from Rotorua, the destination to end them all for fans of Lord of the Rings.
6. Coromandel Peninsula
This special slice of paradise is particularly perfect for a summer roadie. Generations of Kiwi kids have enjoyed their holidays here, and there are small towns with requisite ice cream shops everywhere you go. All the beaches here are wonderful, but Cathedral Cove really takes the cake - this bay requires a half-hour hike to get there, but boasts stunning rock formations that featured in the Chronicles of Narnia film series. For a unique experience, head to nearby Hot Water Beach at low tide and dig a personal hot pool thanks to the natural hot springs that well up in the sand. It’s a short drive to the Peninsula when you pick up a rental car from Auckland Airport.
7. Cape Reinga
If you’re road tripping through the North Island, you should add Cape Reinga to your list of destinations and go right to the very top. The tip of the island is a gorgeous spot, located a few hours north of Whangarei, with a long and craggy headland stretching down to a white lighthouse, beyond which the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean visibly clash and mingle together. It’s an iconic pic to snap for your Instagram collection, but also a spiritually important place to the native Maori people and a genuinely moving sight to see.
With those seven must-dos on your list, you’ll hit the major sights of New Zealand and also the treasures along the way. It’s about the journey for sure, but the destinations in this country are pretty incredible too.
To start planning, head over to our New Zealand car rental page and let your imagination wander!