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So you've got some time in NZ but don't know where to go and how best to spend your days?

Read through these sample itineraries and chances are you'll get some good ideas for how to plan your time.

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How to Travel Around NZ on Your Own by Car

A Selection of Self-Drive Itineraries

Traveling around NZ by car is generally easy and simple.  Roads are good quality, and directions are clearly signposted, while traffic is moderate to light.

Driving around by yourself is a great way to see this beautiful country.

Part of a series on travel to and in New Zealand - click the links in the right hand column for more articles.



Driving in New Zealand is usually easy and simple.  Most towns and cities are small in size and seldom experience traffic congestion (Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch during rush hour times being the main exceptions), and most drivers are usually sensible and courteous.

Probably the only difficult part of a self-drive vacation in NZ is deciding where to go.  And hopefully these sample self-drive itineraries will help you plan your travels.


Some More Considerations when Planning a NZ Self Drive Vacation

See also our separate article on Self Drive Touring in New Zealand for discussion on various other considerations.

In addition to the issues discussed in the Self Drive Touring article, there are a few other practical considerations now that you're at the stage of actually choosing where and when you'll travel.

Time to Recover from Flying to New Zealand

If you're going to New Zealand for a week or less, the chances are that you're either traveling only a short distance (eg from Australia) or that NZ is one part of a larger itinerary.  Perhaps you're going to do a grand tour of the South Pacific, visiting NZ, Australia and Fiji.

In such a case, with only have a week (or less) in NZ, you want to be able to 'hit the ground running' and minimize the time you spend adjusting to the new time zone and recovering from the flights.  For those reasons, we suggest you try to make any long journeys either after leaving NZ or before arriving.

For example, if you're going to New Zealand and Australia from the UK or US, and assuming you're spending more time in Australia than NZ; fly first to Australia, then after your Australian touring, fly the relatively short distance (typically under four hours and only two time zones) on to NZ.  Fly back home from NZ.

If you have more time in NZ, then it becomes less important that you be able to 'hit the ground running', and if you are arriving in NZ from a long flight, we suggest that you consider not getting straight into a rental car and driving a long distance.

One Island or Two?

Do you have enough time to see both islands of New Zealand?  Even with a short stay of perhaps a week, that is possible, especially if you don't have to backtrack and return to the city you started from.

If you do have to return to the city you started from, consider either seeing if you can add a flight within NZ to your international ticket to connect on with your flight out of the country (sometimes this can be included at no extra charge), or, if this is not possible, buying a ticket to make this journey will save you probably two days of driving time, making it money well spent.

As your time in NZ increases beyond a week, it becomes increasingly practical to travel further, of course, and to spend time on both the North and South islands.

Rental Car Restrictions

A quick reminder.  Not all rental car companies have offices in every town and city, and not all companies allow you to take vehicles from one island to the other.

Make sure your choice of rental car company is compatible with your choice of travel itinerary.

Reverse Direction Itineraries

At the risk of stating the obvious, all the itineraries we provide will generally lend themselves to being used in the reverse direction as well as in the direction detailed in the itinerary.

Your Last Night in New Zealand

Generally we've designed these itineraries so your last night is in the city you'll be flying out of the next day.

This gives you greater peace of mind, and reduces the number of things that might go wrong on that departure day.  But if you've a late flight out of NZ on your departure day, there's no reason at all why you can't spend the day traveling from some further away place back to your departure airport - just be sure to give yourself plenty of time so that there's no worry about making your flight.

Seasonal Issues

Most of the main roads in NZ have no problems staying open year round.  A few of the higher altitude roads may have infrequent weather issues in winter however (eg from Te Anau to Milford Sound) and you should check before traveling on such roads.  You can ask the local Automobile Association, or the people at the front desk of where you're staying or in a gas station will probably be helpful too - such things tend to be common local knowledge close to where roads are problematic.

The other seasonal issue is daylight.  There's little point in sightseeing and touring when it is dark outside.  Remember that NZ has reversed seasons and daylight - they have longest daylight hours when we in the northern hemisphere have the shortest daylight hours, and vice versa.

In their summer time, you can usually expect daylight from well before 7am through until some time after 8pm every day, and there is appreciably more daylight as you travel further south.

In their winter, there's much less daylight of course, and appreciably less the further south you go.

Pace of Travel

This is an important thing and you need to know yourself (and your travel companions) to get this right.

Are you the type of person who likes to cram in as many activities as possible every day, or do you prefer a relaxed, easy-going style?  Do you consider driving from one place to another as a pleasant way of sightseeing, or as an inconvenient way of spending a day?

To help you understand the implications of each itinerary, we include daily distance traveled and driving time information so you know how full each day will be.

A Note on Times and Distances

I've used the wonderful mapping tools at to calculate times and distances; any significant deviations from the routes they suggest are mentioned in the text.

Travel times are conservative.  If you're a fast driver and if you're traveling at off-peak times, you'll manage considerably quicker journey times (I've done journeys that Google says will take four hours in less than three, but that is driving very fast).

Of course, if you're wanting just to amble along and stop regularly, then you should allow more time.

Table of Itineraries

Click any of these links to be taken to a more detailed explanation of the itinerary.

Note - these itineraries are not listed here in any sort of logical order, other than that of when they were written and published, so do quickly look through all of them, just in case something you're hoping for appears 'out of sequence'.

Note also that these itineraries are a 'work in progress'.  To start with we are publishing nine itinerary ideas, all of seven days duration.  We'll add more itineraries with longer durations in the near future.


Seven Day Itineraries





(overnight stops)


Auckland to Christchurch





Auckland - Rotorua - Wellington - Christchurch with ferry crossing


Christchurch to Auckland including train





Christchurch - Wellington - Rotorua - Auckland with train journey and ferry crossing


Northern North Island





Auckland - Bay of Islands - Rotorua - Auckland


Central North Island





Auckland - Coromandel - Rotorua - Auckland


Auckland - East Coast - Wellington





Auckland - Rotorua - Gisborne - Hawke's Bay - Wellington (fly back to AKL if needed)


Queenstown and Fiordland





Christchurch - Dunedin - Te Anau - Queenstown - Christchurch


Northern South Island





Christchurch - Nelson - Greymouth - Hanmer Springs - Christchurch


The South Island's West Coast





Christchurch - Greymouth - Haast - Queenstown - Christchurch


Christchurch and inland to Dunedin





Christchurch - Queenstown - Te Anau - Dunedin







Part of a series on travel to and in New Zealand - click the links in the right hand column at the top for more articles.

Related Articles, etc

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Originally published 22 Aug 2008, last update 30 May 2021

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