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Experiencing the North and South Islands:
A Trip Across New Zealand
Last updated: October 12, 2020
In 2020, many international travel plans got utterly ruined by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you had plans to travel to or from New Zealand, for example, you probably had to cancel your trip and ask for a refund on your plane tickets and accommodation. Alas, even though international travel is still not a possibility, that doesn’t mean that you can’t embark on a grand NZ escapade and plan an unforgettable New Zealand road trip across the map. Local travel is still very much possible, and if you don’t stick around for too long in those urban hotspots where the pandemic might escalate, then it’s very much encouraged.
However, you still need to follow the COVID prevention rules and adhere to social distancing while you’re traveling across New Zealand. So, let’s make the most of the situation we’re in and take a look at how you can experience the North and South Islands in all their glory with one grand road trip.
Starting From the Northernmost Point
You can begin your journey from anywhere on the map, really, but for the purposes of continuity, let’s assume that you’re starting on the North Island. If you’re not, simply flip this guide around and begin. You can drive up to the northernmost point at Cape Reinga to visit and revel in the beauty of the Cape Reinga lighthouse, dating all the way back to 1941.
Along the way you will be able to check out some popular sights like the Ninety Mile Beach, the Giant Sand Dunes, and on the eastern fringe, you can visit Whangarei and the surrounding countryside along with the beautiful Whangarei heads. Of course, on the way back you owe it to yourself to explore Auckland and its delights.
A Road Trip from Auckland to Wellington
The road from Auckland to the nation’s capital, Wellington is long and filled with detours and sightseeing opportunities. Depending on how much time you have left on your road trip, you can pencil in some pit stops along the way, and even venture out into the countryside to experience some the country’s iconic and breathtaking spots. Otherwise, you can decide to go straight to Wellington, get settled in, and then embark on some great day trips from Wellington that will take you to some nearby points of interest.
If you’ve got all the time in the world to explore, though, then you should visit all the urban gems on your way to the capital. Starting from Auckland, you want to go towards Tauranga and Rotorua, eventually heading towards the coast and circumventing the expansive Raukumara Forrest Park. This is a scenic coastal drive that will take you to the popular coastal town of Napier, situated on the eastern fringe. From there, you can start your countryside drive to the capital.
Explore Urban Gems by Car
The capital of New Zealand, Wellington is a city teeming with life and excitement, but it also has this laid-back culture and way of life that will inspire you to stick around and soak in its distinct charm. If you’re looking to travel New Zealand on a budget and experience the flair of the capital and other NZ city hubs without breaking the bank, then it's best to plan your stay well in advance and take a rental car with you. Don’t worry, NZ is well-connected by rental options, so no matter if you’re starting from the south and you’re taking a car rental in Queenstown to start your journey north or if you’re starting in the Northland, you can easily drive across NZ in a rental and of course, explore the bustling urban gems like Wellington, Queenstown or Hamilton.
Now, Wellington, for example, is filled to the brim with engaging activities for solo travellers, couples, and families, but it also has some amazing out-of-town spots you need a car to visit. In the city, you can enjoy the rich cultural scene by visiting the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa, but you can also explore the urban culture by visiting those popular drinking spots like The Library, or Crumpet, or even the popular Hawthorn Lounge. Be sure to experience the Wellington Writers Walk along the harbour, laden with popular quotes and interesting facts about the harbour.
Taking the Long Road Towards Christchurch
From Wellington, your next big destination is, of course, Christchurch. You will need to hop on a ferry to the South Island, after which you have two choices: you can head straight for the city via the State Highway 1, or you can take the long way around to see the sights.
The drive around the South Island is perfect for a couple’s road trip, as you can head over towards Nelson and then towards Westport and the western fringe of the island. You also have the option to travel further inland to the many national parks across the map, of which Mount Cook and its surrounding lakes are a must-see. When you’re done exploring, simply find a main road and head towards Christchurch.
Traveling to the Southern Regions
After a couple of days spent in Christchurch, you can head out to explore the southern fringe of the island, making your way towards the charming city of Dunedin, and eventually, the city of Invercargill located on the southern tip. If you’re an urban explorer looking for that retro Victorian-era look and feel, then you will love the two towns. That said, don’t be afraid to venture out into the countryside once more to snap the best New Zealand sunsets while exploring the Otago Peninsula, the Southern Scenic Route, and of course, Stewart Island.
You might not be able to travel internationally yet, but don’t worry, New Zealand has plenty to offer to urban travellers and nature lovers. Use this guide to plan your grand NZ escapade and experience the best that the North and South Islands have to offer.
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