Summer in New Zealand is a magical time, where beaches are at their best, ice cream sells in record amounts, the weather is warm, the people are in laidback holiday mode, and the sound of cicadas chirping forms a festive soundtrack. If you are planning to rent a car and embark on a New Zealand summer road trip, you are in for a treat. Prepare to make it even better with our tips for the best possible experience.
The summer is generally pleasantly warm, verging on hot, but there is a lot of variation. Higher altitude areas often retain their chillier evenings and nights, while places like the Canterbury Plains and Northland can be scorching on a fine day. Rain is never off the table in New Zealand, so be prepared for a wet day or two or even a week if summer storms roll in.
If you’re looking for numbers, we suggest preparing for daytime temperatures anywhere between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius, and bring a raincoat as well as sun protection!
What to pack
With the above range of conditions in mind, we have come up with a list of must-haves for an NZ summer road trip - this is not an exhaustive list, of course, so don’t forget your basics like toothbrush and pyjamas, as well as the typical road trip essentials.
● Shorts and t-shirts (Kiwi summer staples)
● “Jandals” (also known as flip-flops)
● All manner of sun protection: hat, cover-ups, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.
● Walking shoes
● A few pairs of long pants, a few sweatshirts and a rain jacket
● Mosquito repellent
● Swimming gear (known in NZ as “togs”) and several towels
● A backpack for excursions
Tips and tricks
A little inside knowledge goes a long way!
● If you are travelling on a budget, buying or bringing a tent and camping some or all nights is a good option in summer. The Department of Conservation operates low-cost campsites all around the country.
● We can’t emphasise enough the need for proper sun protection. New Zealand is under a hole in the ozone layer, so too much sun is dangerous and sunburn happens fast.
● If you are near a lake or river, be prepared for mosquitoes.
● Most towns have a Visitor Information Centre, a great place to call in, chat with the staff and scope out each destination.
Where to go and what to do there
The perfect New Zealand summer road trip itinerary often depends on each person or group and what their travel preferences are. However, here are a few regions (and their highlights) which are fantastic in summer, so you can put together a road trip to rule them all.
● Northland: Stretching above Auckland, this is a relaxed utopia of small communities and beaches. Here you can swim, stroll, fish, chill, eat ice cream, sleep and do it all again. A trip up to Cape Reinga to see the northernmost tip of the country is a great way to spend a day, and bodysurfing down the towering sand dunes at Opononi is a fun activity - particularly if you have little ones along for the ride. On the east coast, enjoy island hopping in the Bay of Islands and be sure to stop in Mangonui for fish and chips.
● The Coromandel: This peninsula has long been a summer holiday Mecca for residents of Auckland, and you’ll understand why as soon as you arrive. Small beach towns sit along the coastlines, with forests full of fantastic hiking trails lying inland. Gorgeous Cathedral Cove is a crowd favourite, along with the lesser-known but similarly remote New Chums Beach. Read our suggested Coromandel itinerary for more.
● Taranaki: Lovers of surfing, Taranaki is the place to be in the summer. Surf beaches ring the shore, and you need only turn your head inland for near-constant views of the amazing Mount Taranaki. Popular activities here include surfing, swimming, hiking on the slopes of the mountain (summer is also the best time to climb to the top) and slowing down to match the pace of life in “The Naki”. Lonely Planet recommends it too!
● Nelson region: At the top of the South Island is the city of Nelson, centre of a beautiful region with abundant natural beauties. You could explore the nearby Abel Tasman National Park and its golden beaches by foot or in a kayak, or take your rental car a little farther south and get lost in the Nelson Lakes National Park, replete with trails. It’s a hiker’s paradise - and the exceptionally pretty Marlborough Sounds are close too, with their famous Queen Charlotte Track.
● Queenstown and surrounds: The adventure capital of the world shines in all seasons, so if you’re in the South Island, you should definitely include Queenstown in your New Zealand summer road trip. Mountains, lakes and stunning scenic outlooks abound, and you can cool off with an adrenaline-inducing water sport like jetboating, bungy jumping with a refreshing plunge at the end, white water rafting or just a dip in Lake Wakatipu.
With those few pointers in mind, you’re ready to hit the Kiwi summer highways! Find the right New Zealand car rental, pack your bags, slip, slop, slap and get exploring.