Boasting an abundance of spectacular scenery, New Zealand is the ultimate road trip destination! In fact, I think it’s the best way to see and experience this incredible country. Why spend your time indoors when you can be outside enjoying one of the most beautiful places on the planet? To help you #TravelWell and plan your perfect adventure here’s our guide on how to prepare for a New Zealand road trip.
Decide on the length of your trip
The advice I will always give to anyone planning a trip to New Zealand is this: go for as long as you can. The length of your trip will depend on your budget, how much time you have and many other factors. But, whatever you do, don’t rush your time in New Zealand. The worst thing you can do is spend the entire time driving past all the beautiful spots with no time to be present and enjoy them.
If you can only go for five days, that’s okay! Just don’t try to cram everything into those five days. Choose a trip that gives you quality time in select destinations like visiting Queenstown and the Fiordland. If you have seven days, add Wanaka to it. If you have two weeks, do a road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown and if you have 3-4 weeks or more, consider a road trip through the north and south islands.
Decide on your route
Winging it can be a lot of fun when you travel but when it comes to planning a New Zealand road trip you want to have a route planned. Start by listing down the places you want to visit and plan to stay overnight. If you’re unsure where you want to see try searching for New Zealand road trip itineraries curated by bloggers, YouTubers or even local tour operators.
In the north island some of my favourite spots include Cape Reinga, Auckland, the Coromandel, the coastal Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Taup?, Napier and Wellington. In the south island, some of my favourite spots include Christchurch, Mt Hutt, Tekapo, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Twizel, Wanaka, Queenstown and the Fiordland.
Decide what you most want to see and work out how many of those spots you can visit within the time you have. Then, figure out which airport is your best point of entry and departure i.e. fly into Christchurch and out of Queenstown or fly into Auckland and out of Auckland. If you’re on a road trip and plan to catch the ferry across the Cook Strait to the south island you must read our guide: How to catch the ferry from Wellington to Picton.
Choose your mode of transport
There are many different options when it comes to transport. If you plan to stay in hotels, Airbnbs etc you will most likely want to hire a car. Bear in mind the size of the car you hire is important! You’ll want a sturdy, spacious vehicle like a small SUV for a longer trip. If you plan to visit the snowfields it’s important your vehicle can be fitted with snow chains to get you up there and you add these to your hire. It’s absolutely vital you watch an instructional video on how to fit them and practice fitting them.
Another great option is to go with a motorhome or campervan! We’ve found these types of trips to be really fun and budget-friendly. You’ll save money by combining your vehicle and accommodation in one, preparing some or all of your meals in the onboard kitchen and taking advantage of freedom camping.
We prefer to splurge a little and stay at holiday parks so we have access to all their facilities like wifi, laundry and showers. Doing a road trip like this, we’ve found, immerses you in the natural scenery more. When it comes to campervan hire in New Zealand, Travellers Autobarn has a great range of vehicles to choose from.
Put your itinerary together
Now you know how long you’ll be in New Zealand for, the route you want to follow and how you’ll be getting around it’s a great time to start piecing your itinerary together. I recommend creating an actual itinerary in a word or pages document or whatever format you feel most comfortable using.
Write down your days and start by putting your arrival and departing flight details. Then, start adding in all the things you want to see, do and eat along the way. I do this by relying on blog posts, YouTube videos and travel guides as well as checking out recommendations that pop up on Google Maps.
When planning our itineraries I aim for one to two activities per day, going with two small activities or one big one. If we’re travelling on a budget we try to prepare two meals ourselves and eat one meal out per day. We also keep costs down by adding in free activities like hikes, museums and galleries, visiting scenic lookouts, lakes etc.
Be sure to add your drive times to your itinerary so you know when you need to leave each day. Even if we don’t end up eating there, I always like to have some food spots jotted down for each destination so if we’re really tired we’ve got an easy list to choose from (it saves a lot of energy!)
Book and confirm
Get all your activities and accommodation spots booked and confirmed. I recommend jotting your confirmation and booking numbers added to your itinerary along with contact details and addresses. I also recommend saving all your booking and confirmation emails and all important travel documents like flight bookings to an online storage system like Dropbox or Google Drive. That way you can easily access them should you need them without needing to sift through your emails.
Organise travel insurance
Don’t even think about going away without travel insurance! I always get a shiver up my spine when I hear of a friend who is going overseas without it. I know it can be costly and annoying but, trust me, in those moments when you need it you are so glad you have it. Both Matt and I have had accidents and fallen sick while travelling and needed urgent medical care. In those situations our insurance allowed us to get the treatment we needed without any stress around costs.
Pro tip: Make sure your travel insurance covers you for snow-based activities like skiing and snowboarding if you plan to hit the slopes!
Get a local sim card
On our last trip, we got a local sim card from SimsDirect. for the first time and it changed everything! It really just made our whole trip so much easier. We ordered our sims ahead of time online so they came to our home in Australia before we departed. When we touched down in New Zealand we put them in our phones and activated them so we were connected as soon as we stepped off the plane.
Having local sim cards meant we could navigate easily, check our Airbnb details and get instructions on how to access the property, track our hikes an app we use, find places to eat on-the-go, stay in touch with loved ones and change our travel plans at the last minute!
Check you’ve got the right gear
Go through your itinerary and make sure you’ve got all the gear you need for your trip. For example, if you’re planning on doing some great hikes do you have comfortable socks, hiking boots, activewear outfits, sunscreen and a hat?
If you’re visiting in winter you’ll need to consider things like warm socks, thermal underwear, gloves, beanies, warm jumpers and jackets and waterproof gear. If you’re going to the snow you’ll want to have ski and snowboarding-appropriate clothing. Don’t worry, if you don’t have skis and snowboards etc you can hire all that up there! If you do find yourself without something in New Zealand I recommend going to The Warehouse. They seem to be just about everywhere and they’ve usually got what you need at a good price.
Once you’ve got everything you need and your trip is close you can start packing! It’s always best not to take too much with you. I recommend going with a capsule wardrobe stocked with basics you can mix and match. Everything should go with everything! I also recommend trying things on and culling stuff that doesn’t fit or make you feel good when you put it in as those are the items you won’t end up wearing. Be sure to check your luggage is below your checked-luggage weight allowance so you aren’t stressed at the airport.
Pro Tip: Roll your clothes instead of folding and packing them flat. You’ll fit more in!
Get over there and have fun!
Planning your New Zealand road trip can be stressful, I know. You’ll have a lot of decisions to make upfront and you may spend a lot of time worrying if you’ve gotten it right. Trust yourself and your instincts and make a promise that as soon as you step into the airport for your flight you’ll drop all your worries and simply be present. You’re going to have the most amazing time, I’m certain of it.
Useful travel resources for your next adventure!
If you found this post useful, I’d be grateful if you used the affiliate links below. I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, these are the products and services I love and use. Thanks for your support! – Matt
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Agoda – hotels
Booking.com – hotels
Cover-More – insurance
Motorhome Republic – RVs
RentalCars.com – rentals
Simify – SIM cards
Skyscanner – flights
Surfshark – VPN
TourRadar – tours
Welcome Pickups – transfers