New Zealand 20 Days Self Driving Itinerary

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New Zealand is definitely the place to be if you’re into beautiful scenery!! New Zealand is a country best visit with your friends perhaps, if you enjoy road-trip, this is the country to be, do it with 3 of your friends, as 4 perfectly fit in one car, otherwise, you’ll have to pay more 😀

So here’s a map pinpoint the cities & towns you will have to visit around the country, well, you may still skip some of the town if you wish to, just make sure to check the travelling hours from one place to another before you make your decision, the long hour road trip is really tiring with the speed limit of 100km/h & 50km/h when you entering a town. T.T

map

This map shows you the perfect route to explore from south island to north island, but frankly, in order to explore deeply into each of every cities, you really need more than just 3 weeks time, 2 months will be perfect! Before I start my travel itinerary, best to explain the important tasks that you need to understand before planning your itinerary.

Accommodation

You can easily book the youth hostel over the country, the one I stayed with is YHA (Youth Hostel Association), sign up for their 1 year membership which can be amazingly used internationally! (I’d tried using it in China, and i did get discount!)

YHA New Zealand

So why sign up the membership it’s simply because you get discount for all of the accommodation you booked with YHA, I think it’s about 10% per night? Well, calculating my stays in New Zealand is 20 days which is 18 nights plus minus, one person per night in YHA is about NZD$35 (app. MYR100)…with 10% discount for 18 nights, i’ll let you do the math 🙂

Car Rental

Apex Car Rentals New Zealand review

I make my car rental with Apex, well, not much of problems, my Malaysian Driving License is valid, and they’ve got a lot pick-up and drop-off points all over the country. I started my journey from Auckland, drive all the way down to South Island and return my car in Christchurch Airport and take a flight back to Auckland and continue another journey up North to Bay of Islands. All of this can be done with Apex, try to browse their website for all the locations available!

TIP: Remember to order a GPS as well because you really need that for touring around the country. You can request for GPS while pick up your car from the center.

Foods

I don’t really think that there’s a New Zealand’s specialty except for pies…yes, PIES and Fish & Chips (mostly you have to pay for sauce 50 cents per pack), so i wonder if that’s the western eating habit, i can’t really finish the fish & chips without any sauce!

Eating outside in a restaurant is really expensive, it costs about NZD$17 – $20 per person for lunch (and those are just lunch set promotion), and it definitely cost for more dinner.

countdown supermarket new zealand

Here, that’s the benefits of travelling with parents, my mum cooked almost every night, did the grocery in their supermarket, mostly at the hypermarket named COUNTDOWN and the amazing YHA has a big kitchen where you can cook your dinner, everyone seems to cook their own foods there.

TIP: Rice is Asian’s most important main dish, so yeah you can always bring a mini rice cooker!!

Sightseeing/Attractions

Most of the sightseeing spots and attractions have an entrance fees, and the fees ain’t cheap!! So be prepare to pay a pile of money for tourists attractions spots.

IMPORTANT: At least have to spend a minimum of NZD$20 for one attraction and the fee can go up to NZD$100 per person! So be advised to make your research before deciding on which attraction to go for if you’re in a tight budget.

Here’s the 20 days itinerary:

Day 1: Auckland

Arrival in Auckland Airport, we were lucky because one of my mum’s friend is living in Auckland so she and her family accommodate us in their house and bring us around in Auckland city.

Day 2: Auckland

About ONE hour drive from Auckland to Muriwai Gannet Colony, then to Snow Planet, a place for beginners or kids to learn how to Ski but we went there for hi-tea instead because the weather was really hot. LOL. After our chillax hi-tea, we went to Mt. Eden Summit which is just about 5 minutes drive from downtown Auckland.

muriwai gannets colony new zealand auckland

Day 3: Auckland

Auckland to Rangitoto Island and ended the evening at Sky Tower.

auckland sky tower new zealand

Day 4: Auckland – Rotorua

Drive to Rotorua (2hrs 15mins), along the way, you can stop at the popular Waitomo Glowworm Caves (1hr 45 mins from Auckland). Below is a list of tour details and price for Waitomo Glowworm Caves (price as of 2013).

waitomo

Finished Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour and continue journey to Rotorua, checked in YHA Rotorua. Go to Countdown market and do your grocery for dinner. After that, you can have your leisure time around Rotorua, you can visit Skyline Rotorua, take the gondola to the top of the hill and enjoy the Luge rides!! If you can afford, you have an option to have your dinner at the restaurant as well.

Rotorua Skyline Luge Ride

Day 5: Rotorua

Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland

Visit Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland first thing in the morning, make sure to be there early to catch the Geyser (opening hour 8.30am – 5pm, entrance fee adult: NZD$32.50), I doesn’t stroll through the whole wonderland as my mum wasn’t a good walker, so we ended the visit earlier and continue to next visit at MATAMATA for The Hobbit tour.

You can choose the tour from Roturua or if you prefer to drive to MATAMATA on your own, you’ll have to make your final stop at The Shires Rest Cafe, everyone have to start their tour from here as you won’t be able to drive into the mystery Hobbiton habitat. The tour from The Shires Rest Cafe for 1 adult is NZD$75.

TIP: If you’re going to The Shires Rest Cafe on your own, don’t doubt the GPS, cause you’ll have to go through the hill with a land full of grass and sheeps all around you. Also note that MATAMATA is 2 hours drive from Rotorua!

If you’re not a fan of The Hobbit or if you have more time to explore Rotorua, you have another option to visit the farmland – Agrodome. There’s a list of activities such as nursery, farm tour etc.

Day 6: Rotorua – Lake Taupo – Wellington

Had breakfast and leave Rotorua early in the morning, drives to Lake Taupo (1 hr 15 mins), must visit Huka Falls, it’s amazing and most importantly it’s FREE admission!

huka fall new zealand

If you have time, you may have to stay 1 or 2 nights in Taupo, there’s a few more activities to do such as Huka Honey HiveErnest Kemp Cruise or Chris Jolly Outdoors Cruises. Since we don’t have much time to spend in Taupo, we continue our journey to Wellington after visited Huka Falls.

wellington new zealand

Checked in YHA Wellington and wander around the capital of New Zealand. Visit Tepapa Art Museum. Take the Wellington Cable Car (If you’re following GPS, once again don’t doubt it, the cable car entrance is located in the central city somewhere next to a Mc Donald). Visit Mount. Victoria, you might need a bit of driving skill to drive up to the hill with all those slopy slopes but definitely breathtaking view from top of the mountain!

Day 7: Wellington – Picton

wellington to picton

Take the Interislander ferry across Malborough Sounds, the scenery is awesome!! You can board the ferry with your car and book your ticket online here. Below is the price for 4 adults + 1 vehicle.

wellington

Stay a night in Picton. Picton is very lay back and small town. Could be interesting. Walk part of Famous Queen Charlotte track.

Day 8: Picton – Nelson

Leave Picton and drive to Nelson (1 hr 45 mins). Visit Nelson vineyard, there’s a few nice vineyard and you can always ask the people in YHA for the best sightseeing spots. Visit Happy Alley, you can do a number of activities there, we took the world’s longest flying fox adventure – Skywire, and because it’s a low season where there’s only 4 of us, we get double rides for one price! 😀

happy valley nelson

TIP: You can ask for the people in YHA to make tour booking call with discounted price.

You can do a day trip to Harwoods Hole if you’re an adventurous people, but be sure to be there early as you need about 2 hours drive to reach there and also note that you have to do a bit of trekking, we wasn’t able to make it as we’re started our journey quite late and forced to returned as the sun is about to set.

howards hole new zealand

Day 9: Nelson – Franz Josef

Leave Nelson and drive to Franz Josef (6 -7 hours), don’t worry about the long journey, there’s a few sightseeing places along the road where you can stop by and rest. Leave Nelson, drive through Westport, Shanty Town (replica of maining town) Greymouth and Hokitika.

The list of attractions as follows are FREE entrance! Must visit Punakaiki for the Pancake Rocks, it took about 3 hours to reach Punakaiki from Nelson, 20km before reaching Punakaiki, stop at Cape Foul wind to visit the Seal Colony (20mins walk from car park). After that, drive to Punakaiki and marvel at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes. Then, drive to Hokitika (1hr 15 mins), a small town, famous for its green stone carving and glass blowing and continue journey to Franz Josef (2 hours) and stay a night there.

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Day 10: Franz Josef – Lake Wanaka

Morning if you can afford it visit the Glazier by helicopter, very expensive though, you can check it out here. There’s a few option starting from NZD$230 to NZD$415 per adult depends on how many glaciers you want to visit. If you have more time to spend in Franz Josef, you can do the hike which took about 8 hours, my dorm mate said the hike was incredible!

franz josef glacier

Leave Franz Josef and drive to Lake Wanake ( 4 hours), along the road, stop at Lake Matheson, the lake is famous for its reflection of Mt. Cook & Mt. Tasman. Walk around the lake will take about 1hr 30mins, the café at the lake opens 7am. Continue journey to Lake Wanaka and stay a night there.

TIP: Must take the scenic route from Franz Josef to Lake Wanaka!! It might take a few more hours, but you definitely don’t want to miss the wonderful scenery along the road!

Day 11: Lake Wanaka – Queenstown

Leave Lake Wanaka and drive to Queenstown (1 hr 45 mins). Some 28km before Queenstown, stop at the Kamarau Suspensim Bridge (the world’s first bungy jump!). Upon arrival in Queenstown, take the Skyline Gondola to Bob’s Peak, here again you get to play the Luge if you really love it, the view here is much more magnificent!

queenstown luge new zealand

Visit and discover Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town, you can visit here before you reach Queenstown or the next day as it’s just a short drive from Queenstown. Stay 2 nights in Queenstown.

Day 12: Queenstown

Explore Queenstown, you can do this all by foot, the town is a short walk from YHA Queenstown Lakefront. Go for the KJet Speeding Boat adventure, make your booking at the Main Town Pier in the centre of Queenstown.

queenstown new zealand

TIP: Do not take the corner seat at both side if you don’t want to suffer bruising after the adventure!

Another option for people who don’t like adventurous activities, you can go for the Skipper Canyon Tour (NZD$160 per adult).

Evening walked around Queenstown Garden, it’s a small town, but everything is so central, stroll through the town, personally I really love Queenstown.

Day 13: Queenstown – Milford Sound – Te Anau

To visit Milford Sound, you’ll have to leave Queenstown very early in the morning, leave at 5am, you need about 4-5 hours drive to reach Milford Sound! Check out Milford Sound Cruise here, NZD$85 per adult for the 2 hrs cruise tour.

milford sound cruise new zealand

The road to Milford Sound again will test your driving skill, it’s very winding and it’s kind of dangerous, I bet you really need courage to drive on your own and if you can’t, it’s better to book for a tour. After Milford Sound, head back to Te Anau and stay a night at YHA Te Anau, this is a very small town and nothing much to see, so do your grocery and cook your own dinner.

You can visit Lake Te Anau too!

Day 14: Te Anau – Dunedin

Leave Te Anau and drive to Dunedin via Gore ( 4.5 hours), if you have time to spend more on exploring South Island, take the scenic route and head down South to Catlins.

Reach Dunedin check in YHA Dunedin and visit the Castle. Be sure to be there before 5pm. Explore around Dunedin, it’s a city full of historic buildings, stroll through the downtown architecture (e.g. Dunedin Railway Station).

Dunedin Railway Station

Day 15: Dunedin – Christchurch

Leave Dunedin and drive to Christchurch (5 hours). On the way, stop by Oamaru, the main town in Waitaki District, visit the historic precinct, Harbour Street. Take a stroll around the street and continue drive to Christchurch.

Oamaru

 

Reach Christchurch and checked in YHA Christchurch, walk around the ‘after earthquake’ city, no big deal and nothing much to see only if you want to know how does a city look like after an earthquake.

Day 16: Christchurch – Auckland – Bay of Islands

Morning drive to APEX centre near Christchurch Airport, return rental car and take the shuttle service to the Airport. I grabbed my domestic flight ticket at a low fare during the Jetstar Frenzy Friday Sale (NZD$25 per adult). You have to book ahead before your visit, that’s why is always best to plan your itinerary 2 months in advance so that you can grabbed cheap air ticket or entrance ticket from website like TreatMe or Groupon.

Reached Auckland, take the shuttle bus again from Apex to Apex Office for car pick up. Continue journey up North to Bay of Islands. On the way, pass by Waipoua Forest and stop by for New Zealand’s Largest Tree, The Mighty Kauri Tree. After that, continue drive to Paihia and checked in YHA Paihia.

TIP: Again, ask the people of YHA where to visit and call tour agent for booking for you, usually there’s few famous activities and places to visit, the Dolphin Cruise or visit Cape Reinga via 90 miles beach and do the sandboarding.

Day 17: Paihia – Russell – Cape Reinga – Paihia

Go for the Dolphin Cruise in the morning, this is the chance where you get to swim with wild dolphins, but also note that only if the captain said it’s ok to swim the school of dolphins then you’re allowed to do so. Under few circumstances where you can’t swim with the dolphins is when there’s a young or juvenile dolphin in the group or there’s a pregnant dolphin.

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After the cruise, choose to alight at Russell and discover the small town, you can have your lunch there as well. Then, take the ferry back to Paihia. Go back to hostel take a shower and continue journey to Cape Reinga at about 12 – 1pm.

cape reinga new zealand

The journey took about 2 hours 45 mins. Go as early as possible as you definitely doesn’t want to experience driving at night, trust me! There’s no light along the roads and also be aware of Possum standing in the middle of the road!!

Day 18: Paihia – Auckland

You can spend 1 more night if you want to spend more time discovering Bay of Islands, the reason why I spend more time in Auckland is because my mum’s friend is living in Auckland.

Day 19: Auckland

Visit Rangitoto Island or Waiheke Island. If you want some extreme, you can go for Sky Diving (NZD$ 295 for tandem dive)! At night, visit bar or pubs around Viaduct Harbour.

Day 20: Auckland

Visit downtown Auckland. After few weeks of travelling and long hours driving, I would prefer to walk around the small town, visit the gardens and malls in Auckland. Night flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

This is my rough itinerary for my 20 days stay in New Zealand, if you have anything you want to ask you can leave your comment, i’ll be happy to answer your question 🙂

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9 thoughts on “New Zealand 20 Days Self Driving Itinerary

  1. That is so interesting. I’ve thought of doing my own road-trip in NZ with some friends and this would certainly help me out! 🙂

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