Discover New Zealand off the beaten track. On this self-driving tour you will see many highlights of New Zealand, visit the best National Parks, and also have time for leisure and relaxation. You will also see some of the lesser known parts of the country like East Cape, Mount Taranaki, the remote and quiet Doubtful Sound, the wild coasts of the Catlins in the South and the dense rainforests of Stewart Island.
If you have more time to spend in New Zealand, we recommend adding a few days at some of the more special destinations, and reducing the amount of daily driving. We can help you decide where to spend more time, depending on what you would most like to see and do while in New Zealand.
Price from €4,800 per person*
Day 1: Arrive Auckland
Arrive in Auckland. If you are not too tired we recommend a leisurely stroll along Auckland’s waterfront.
Day 2: Auckland – Waipoua Forest – Hokianga Harbour/Omapere
Approximate driving time 3.5 hours, 267 km
Before you drive up north make a side trip to Auckland’s west coast and visit a Gannet colony at black sand Muriwai Beach. Further north the interesting Kauri Museum in Matakohe is the ideal stop for lunch and prepares you for the giant Kauri trees you will see in Waipoua Forest later on. You stay overnight in Omapere at Hokianga Harbour. For the evening we recommend a guided Maori tour to the Kauri trees from Omapere.
Day 3: Omapere – Doubtless Bay – Kerikeri – Bay of Islands
Approximate driving time 3 hours, 215 km
You cross Hokianga Harbour on the ferry and travel to the subtropical Far North. If you have time we would also recommend a detour to Cape Reinga, New Zealand’s northernmost point.
On your way to the Bay of Islands you will pass beautiful sandy beaches and small fishing villages. The historic Stone Store in Kerkeri by the river is well worth a visit. From Opua you cross the bay on a small car ferry to historic Russell, where you stay the next 2 nights.
Day 4: Bay of Islands
The beauty of the Bay unfolds only on a boat tour. Whatever you choose, it will be a memorable experience: the Hole in the Rock, swimming with dolphins, with or without a picnic stop at one of the islands, go sailing or kayaking. Or wander around the Treaty Grounds and visit the historic Treaty House in Waitangi.
Day 5: Bay of Islands – Whangarei – Auckland
Approximate driving time 3.5 hours, 240 km
You head south on side roads, along the east coast, past beautiful beaches and bays until you arrive in Auckland. Explore the interesting restaurant scene of multi-cultural Auckland, stroll through the Viaduct Basin and the Wynyard Quarter along the waterfront, take the ferry to historic Devonport or admire the Skyline from Bastion Point at Tamaki Drive or from Mount Eden.
Day 6: Auckland – Coromandel Peninsula/Tairua
Approximate driving time 2 hours, 150 km
Travel along the western shores of Coromandel Peninsula to Coromandel town. Cafés and small shops along the way will invite you for a stop. At Hot Water Beach you can dig your own thermal pool at low tide. A lovely short walk from Hahei Beach takes you to the famous Cathedral Cove, one of the most interesting bays in the country. (See Cathedral Cove Highlight).
You stay overnight in Tairua, where you can play golf, do some kayaking or simply relax at the beach. The short walk to the top of Mount Paku will reward you with a great view.
Day 7: Tairua – Rotorua
Approximate driving time 2.5 hours, 190 km
You travel along the East Coast and pass through the Kiwi growing area of Te Puke. Make a stop at the visitor centre and learn all about the national fruit of New Zealand. Later you arrive in Rotorua, the heartland of Maori culture and centre of thermal activities in New Zealand. We recommend a Maori cultural show with a traditional Hangi for the evening.
Day 8: Rotorua – Ohope Beach, Bay of Plenty
Approximate driving time 1.5 hours, 97 km
Visit some of the natural wonders of this amazing area and let yourself be entertained by a cheerful sheep show. We strongly recommend a boat trip to White Island, an active volcano. The boat starts in Whakatane. You will spend the night at Ohope Beach, the Gateway to the East Cape.
Day 9: Ohope Beach – East Cape – Gisborne
Approximate driving time 2 hours, 177 km
Today, you go on a long and pleasant drive around the East Cape, geographically the most eastern point of the country (and the world!). There are lots of interesting things to see along this drive. The first Polynesians landed here. The Manuka Mill in Te Arora is worth a visit. Learn all about manuka oil from the friendly and entertaining local staff and taste the range of manuka and other native honeys, or try the unique manuka teas. Have a look at the beautiful carved St. Mary’s Church in Tikitiki. The hot springs in Te Puia invite you for a break, and Tolaga Bay has the longest pier in the country.
Day 10: Gisborne – Napier – Tongariro National Park
Approximate driving time 7.5 hours, 400 km
Next stop is Napier, the Art Deco Capital of New Zealand. A stroll through the city will give you a real insight into this architectural period. (In 1931, an earthquake levelled most of the buildings in Napier. As the majority of the rebuilding took place in the 1930s, when Art Deco was fashionable, Napier’s architecture is regarded today as being one of the finest collections of Art Deco in the world. )
You continue on less travelled road through the centre of the North Island, where you get a real picture of rural New Zealand. Parts of this road network were used in the past to connect the inland farms with the port of Napier. Horse drawn carriages used to struggle through the difficult terrain. The road is now completely sealed and goes through one of the largest sheep stations in this country. You stay overnight at the foot of Mount Ruapehu, in the Tongariro National Park.
Day 11: Tongariro National Park – Taranaki National Park/New Plymouth
Approximate driving time 3 hours, 270 km
You are driving inland over the historic Forgotten World Highway to the Taranaki National Park, which is dominated by the impressive volcano Mount Taranaki. The pretty town of New Plymouth is located on a large bay on the West Coast.
Day 12: Taranaki National Park
New Plymouth is famous for its beautiful parks. But the main attraction is the cone shaped Mount Taranaki with its green slopes and snow-capped top. Take a walk from one of the visitor centres to explore the mountain. Beaches and bays along the coastal highway are also popular with surfers.
Day 13: Taranaki National Park – Wellington
Approximate driving time 4.5 hours, 360 km
The Surf Highway takes you around Mount Taranaki to the city of Wanganui, one of the oldest settlements in the country. After driving along the Kapiti Coast you’ll reach Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. We recommend a sightseeing tour and a walk along the waterfront to the National Museum Te Papa. Here you get in depth information about the country’s history and culture.
Day 14: Wellington – Picton – Abel Tasman National Park
Approximate driving time 2.5 hours, 180 km, ferry crossing 3.5 hours
The tour with the ferry through picturesque Marlborough Sound is one of the highlights of your trip. From Picton you drive along the Queen Charlotte Drive with its many bays and beaches. Enjoy sunny Nelson, with its local art scene before you continue on to the Abel Tasman National Park.
Day 15: Abel Tasman National Park
The park offers a wide array of activities and plenty of walks for all fitness levels. For example, you can take a water taxi to Tonga Bay and walk from there to Torrent Bay and take the water taxi back. Or just walk from your accommodation to the next bay or take a kayak along the coast on your own or with a group. Or simply relax on the golden sand of Kaiteriteri beach.
Day 16: Abel Tasman National Park – Hanmer Springs
Approximate driving time 6 hours, 350 km
You will drive through rural countryside to the alpine region of the Nelson Lakes National Park. A special track with several river crossings takes you from St. Arnaud to Murchison. After lunch, return to the hinterland. Travel on remote gravel roads through dense beech forest and cross the main divide via the Lewis Pass before civilization catches up with you again in Hanmer Springs. Relax in the thermal pools under the sky or take a walk, bike or a bungee jump.
Day 17: Hanmer Springs – Kaikoura
Approximate driving time 2 hours, 135 km
Kaikoura is beautifully located by the sea with the snowcapped mountains of the Kaikoura Ranges in the background. Here you have the opportunity to swim with dolphins and seals, and watch whales in their natural environment. Try some of the local seafood specialities, such as lobster and crayfish.
Day 18: Kaikoura – Christchurch – Mt Hutt
Approximate driving time 4.5 hours, 275 km
Drive along the coast to Christchurch, the “Garden City”, often referred to as the most English town outside England, where you can even go punting on the Avon River. Take the opportunity to tour the inner city, and marvel at the innovative and artistic reconstruction of the city, following the 2011 earthquake. Make sure you visit the fabulous new Cathedral designed by prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban (and made out of cardboard!), and stop for afternoon tea at one of the many great cafes dotting the inner city. (We love C1 Espresso.)
You will then drive onto the wide Canterbury Plains, to the foot of the Southern Alps, where you stay overnight.
Day 19: Mt Hutt – Lake Tekapo – Kurow
Approximate driving time 3 hours, 235 km
The turquoise colour of Lake Tekapo will capture you. Take a scenic flight from Tekapo over Aoraki (Mount Cook), New Zealand’s highest mountain.
You drive then along a remote valley, covered by scarce vegetation and tussock grass. Climb across a long forgotten and rarely used mountain pass and stay overnight in a historic Bed & Breakfast.
Day 20: Kurow – Danseys Pass – Dunedin
Approximate driving time 3.5 hours, 190 km
This route takes you via a less travelled Danseys Pass through one of New Zealand’s historic gold mining areas. This area was one of the most populated during the New Zealand gold rush, and you will be confronted with many reminders of this past along your drive. Have a stroll through Naseby, which was one of the centres during the gold rush.
From here you drive to the East Coast and can stop at the Moeraki Boulders before you come to Dunedin. Its Scottish roots are clearly reflected with the majestic buildings. We recommend a visit to the Albatross colony or the Yellow eyed penguins on Otago Peninsula.
Day 21: Dunedin – Catlins – Stewart Island
Approximate driving time 5 hours, 282 km, 1 hour ferry crossing
You drive on the Southern Scenic Route along the south coast through the Catlins: windy and rough coast, many beautiful bays, forest and waterfalls. Visit the world’s oldest Petrified Forest (160 million years) and stunning Nugget Point. Bluff is the southernmost point of the South Island. You leave your car at the harbour and cross Foveaux Strait by ferry to Stewart Island.
Day 22: Stewart Island/Rakiura National Park
Nature pure! A unique chance to take part in an excursion to a secluded beach where you can observe kiwi birds in their natural surroundings. You can explore Rakiura National Park on one of the many walks. Take a water taxi along coast where you can watch Hooker sea lions if you are lucky. We recommend a visit to the unique Ulva Island and its protected bird life. (See also our blog for more details on Stewart Island).
Day 23: Stewart Island – Fiordland National Park/Te Anau
Approximate driving time 3 hours, 190 km,1 hour ferry crossing
The ferry takes you back to Bluff where you pick up your car. You continue on the Southern Scenic Route via Riverton to Te Waewae Bay where you can watch dolphins and whales from the cliffs. In Clifden visit the oldest suspension bridge in the country. Drive through Fiordland National Park, the biggest rainforest in New Zealand with 1000 year old Totara trees. Via Lake Manapouri, the deepest lake in the country, you reach Te Anau.
Day 24: Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise, September to mid-May
Doubtful Sound is called ‘the Sound of silence’ because of its unspoiled nature, steep cliffs, high mountains, dense rainforest and numerous waterfalls. Seals, Bottlenose Dolphins and Fiordland Crested Penguins can be seen on the islands in the Sound.
Drive to Lake Manapouri and check-in for your tour. After crossing the lake, you will be taken by bus over a pass to the Sound, where you board the ship for an overnight cruise. Enjoy the tranquillity and breath-taking views around you.
Because this overnight cruise is seasonal, and does not take place during the winter, travellers visiting the area from mid-May to August would have a second overnight in Te Anau and a days boat trip on the Doubtful Sound.
Day 25: Te Anau – Queenstown
You return around noon and drive with your car along Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown.
There are no limits for adrenalin junkies in the self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world: Jet boat tours, white water rafting, river surfing, all kinds of bungee jumping and river safaris. If you like it more relaxed do a leisurely walk in the Remarkables and admire the view, play golf at world class courses or visit to the gold mining town of Arrowtown. The possibilities are endless.
Day 26: Queenstown – Wanaka – Westland National Park – Franz Josef
Approximate driving time 4.5 hours, 360 km
You cross the Crown Range, New Zealand’s highest official road to Wanaka. Over Haast Pass, a scenic drive with many opportunities to stop and explore, you reach the West Coast. You will no doubt be impressed by the beauty and the many different shades of green of the dense rainforest. Glaciers, rainforests and coast are close together in Westland National Park. We recommend a side trip to the Monro Beach Walk and a stop at the Ship Creek Walk. During the months of October to December you might even see penguins and hector dolphins playing in the sea.
Day 27: Franz Josef – Hokitika / Greymouth
Approximate driving time 2 hours, 170 km
Take one of the walks in the glacier area or book a helicopter flight with glacier landing from either the Fox or Franz Josef glaciers. There is a lot to see and do in this area. Visit the isolated Okarito at the coast and take a kayak trip through the quiet lagoon. Or a jet boat tour in Whataroa to a White Heron Colony, where you can watch these rare birds. Hokitika and Greymouth are the jade centres of the country. Visit a workshop and watch the jade carvers at work.
Day 28: Hokitika / Greymouth – Arthur’s Pass – Christchurch
Approximate driving time 3 hours, 240 km
You can do a side trip to the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki in the morning. The route over the main divide to Christchurch takes you along Lake Brunner and climbs over Arthur’s Pass, the only real mountain pass in New Zealand. The famous TranzAlpine Express train crosses it too. Take a walk through Hagley Park and along the Avon River. Enjoy the many cafes and restaurants and take advantage of a last opportunity to purchase souvenirs from Aotearoa.
Day 29: Depart Christchurch
Price from €4,800 per person
Package includes 28 nights standard accomodation, rental car, Meet & Greet on arrival in Auckland, Doubtful Sound overnight Cruise from Manapouri (September to mid-May), the return ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island, and the Interislander ferry. (From November to March, the Doubtful Sound boat cruise will be replaced by a Milford Track Day Walk, from Te Anau). Also included is a personalised Tour Manual with detailed day-to-day driving instructions and recommended activities, New Zealand road atlas and map as well as regional brochures.
*Flights to New Zealand are not included in the above package price. Flights from Germany to New Zealand cost from €1500 and above, depending upon how far in advance you book, the season of travel, the airline, and the route. Please let us know if you would like us to assist you with booking flights to New Zealand.