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How to Plan a New Zealand Road Trip

If there was ever a country that was made for road tripping, it’s New Zealand. Described as ‘mother nature’s greatest piece of work’, it’s a land of snow-capped mountains and freezing glaciers, crystal clear waters and sandy beaches, snerine lakes, awe inspiring natural parks, and relaxing hot springs. Whichever route you decide to take, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take in New Zealand’s natural beauty. This is a road trip destination that will help you to fall back in love with the great outdoors, meet a few friendly locals, encounter the Maori culture, visit some incredible beaches, and try some delicious local produce and world famous wine. 

There’s no wrong way to explore New Zealand, but some itineraries through the North Island and routes across the South Island are more well known than others. We’ve narrowed down some of the best New Zealand road trips that you can take at any time of year, plus some essential New Zealand road trip tips, and a handful of dos and don’ts. Make sure your New Zealand road trip goes off without a hitch, with The Travelling Souk



1. Pick the Right Car

The first, and possibly the most important decision you’ll have to make before embarking on your New Zealand road trip is deciding which vehicle to rent. If you’re visiting during the summer, a standard SUV will usually do. However, if you’re planning to drive through the mountains, or visiting during the winter months, it’s advisable to rent a more robust vehicle and a set of snow chains. RVs, campervans, and caravans are all perfect for camping holidays, and there’s no shortage of companies you can hire one from. 

Car hire rates for an economy vehicle usually start around NZ$65 per day, which is close to US$40 and GBP£30. Campervans will set you back a little more, as will the price of gas. To find out more about New Zealand car hire, you can visit the MatesRates Car Hire website, and compare the cost of the best New Zealand car rental deals, from more than 30 different rental brands. MatesRates have rental locations in more than 75 locations across New Zealand, including Auckland, Queenstown, Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin, and Nelson, which means you can easily collect or drop-off your hire car, regardless of whether you start your trip on the North or the South Island.




2. Plan Your Route

There are plenty of scenic roads in New Zealand, but few travellers have the opportunity or the time to cover them all. We’ve picked out a selection of routes you can take, across long open roads with beautiful scenery and light traffic. Our top suggestions for a New Zealand road trip are:

  • Crown Range Road - which connects Queenstown and Wanaka. Allow yourself two hours to stop and take pictures, as there are fantastic views on both sides
  • SH35 Gisborne to Opotiki - SH35 is an iconic road trip that is very popular in New Zealand, especially for tourists. Not only does the East Cape drive have spectacular coastal views, stunning beaches, native fauna, and bush walks, but it also gives you a glimpse of being transported back in time to rural New Zealand.
  • The Great Coast Road - travel from Westport to Greymouth, a lightly populated area that’s bursting with natural attractions and wildlife 
  • Te Anau to Milford Sound - a remote road to one of the country’s top destinations. Start your trip early to avoid the crowds
  • Tauranga to Napier - escape to the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay
  • Marlborough Sounds - take the Queen Charlotte drive, overlooking the Marlborough Sounds, and enjoy the breathtaking scenery 
  • Mount Cook Road - start at Twizel and follow the road into the beautiful Mt Cook National Park 


3. Check Your Driving License 

Visitors to New Zealand can drive in the country for up to 12 months from their arrival date, using an overseas driving licence, as long as it fulfils the following criteria: 

  • Your license is current and valid 
  • You haven’t been given a suspension or disqualification in New Zealand 
  • Your driving license is in English, or you have an accurate translation (e.g. an International driving licence)
  • You haven’t been granted a New Zealand driver licence since you last entered the country

You can find more information about driving in New Zealand on the New Zealand Transport Agency's website. To prepare for driving in New Zealand, make sure you pass the free online Road Code test, and check to see how the road system and rules differs from that of your home country.


4. Find Somewhere to Camp

If you’re planning on camping or hiring a campervan, you might be surprised to learn that you can’t just park up and sleep anywhere. There are many restrictions and regulations surrounding camping in New Zealand, so it’s advisable to park at a designated campsite if you’re unfamiliar with the rules. Luckily, there are both free and budget campsites which you can take advantage of. 

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) manages over 200 vehicle accessible camping areas, all over the country. You’ll need a DOC pass, but once you’ve got one in hand, you’re good to go. You can choose from basic camps which are free of charge, standard campsites which cost NZ$8 per night, scenic campsites which cost NZ$15 per night, and serviced campsites which cost NZ$20 per night. The difference in price accounts for the difference in facilities. At a basic campsite, you’ll likely only find fresh water and toilets, whereas at a serviced campsite, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh water, flushing toilets, kitchen facilities, hot showers, BBQs, picnic tables, laundry facilities, and rubbish collection.




5. Download the Right Apps

Google Maps and Waze are a great place to start. You simply need to enter in your starting point and your final destination, and you’ll be shown the easiest way to get there. You can also use Google Maps to adjust the route as you go, to find alternative roads and shortcuts. If you’ve got your basic route worked out, but don’t have every mile set in stone, Google Maps will provide you with a little more room for the unknown and unexpected, and the ‘I wonder what’s down there?’ moments. 

Outside of navigation apps, there are plenty of ways you can use your phone on your road trip. Why not pick up a local sim, organise your own playlist, or get a list of the cheapest petrol stations on the North and South Islands? You’ll find all sorts of apps that can aid on a road trip in both the Google Play Store and on the App Store. Just don’t forget Skype or WhatsApp, so you can stay in touch with friends and family back home!

Now you’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to start thinking about booking your tickets and your car rental. Hit the road!



Whatever country you’re headed to, you can search The Travelling Souk for inspiration – it’s full of expert tips on where to eat, what to see, where to stay, and what to do while you’re there. 

If you’ve already been there, done that, why not submit a guest post to us? Our readers would love to discover more about New Zealand and beyond, and we’re happy to feature your blog in return. 


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Hi there! 

We are Jacob and Taylor. Travel is our passion and we love sharing our experiences here at The Travelling Souk. Our hope is that you would be inspired by this little blog to try something new, embrace an adventure, and live life to the fullest. 

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