In late August/early September of last year, I took a much-awaited trip to Australia and New Zealand with my cousin and a close friend. And by much-awaited, I mean I saved money for two years and we spent almost 8 months sorting out the details! One of the best decisions we made for our vacation was to spend the last week road-tripping across New Zealand’s North Island.
At first, planning this seemed daunting. None of us had ever been to that part of the world before, let alone New Zealand. None of us had ever driven on the left side of the road. And while we knew we wanted to see some Lord of the Rings shooting locations and the Weta workshop in Wellington, the rest of the trip seemed somewhat up to chance. Luckily, there are a lot of online resources that made our road trip possible. Can you see the whole North Island in a week? No, but you can get an amazing feel for the culture and vibrancy of New Zealand.
- The Recommended Trips page from NewZealand.com—this website provides potential itineraries for you depending on how long you will be visiting New Zealand, which island you want to see, and the activities that interest you. We selected two or three model itineraries, then mixed and matched destinations to create our own road trip.
- Google Maps is your friend—we didn’t want to do too much driving at night, so we factored estimated driving times against sundown each day. It was also helpful to see where exactly we would be on the map, to ensure that we weren’t criss-crossing or overlapping routes unnecessarily.
- Day One: Auckland to Hahei
- Highlight: Cathedral Cove
- Day Two: Hahei to Matamata; Matamata to Rotorua
- Highlight: Hobbiton Movie Set
- Day Three: Rotorua to Lake Taupo; Lake Taupo to Wellington
- Highlight: Mount Doom (aka Mount Ngauruhoe)
- Day Four: Out and about in Wellington
- Day Five: Wellington to Kaitoke Regional Park; Kaitoke to Napier
- Day Six: Napier to Auckland
- Day Seven: Out and about in Auckland
- Highlight: Auckland Botanic Gardens
- Day Eight: Auckland to Waikato District (and back again—not pictured on map)
- Highlight: Weathertop filming location
What to eat:
New Zealand is full of delicious food, and even better coffee. Here are some of the best places we came across during our eight day kiwi excursion.
- Satay Kingdom Cafe in Wellington
- The Emporium in Napier
- Six Sisters Coffee House in Napier
- The Library in Wellington
- Pla Thong Thai Restaurant in Auckland
Have dietary restrictions? We didn’t have very much trouble finding dairy-free alternatives, gluten-free options, and vegetarian and vegan menus.
- This is a road trip, after all. We rented a vehicle from Omega Rental Cars, and had a fairly good experience. Scared about driving on the “wrong” side? It’s easier than you think!
- Wherever you get your car, be sure to ask for a GPS. New Zealand roads can be complicated if you aren’t familiar with them.
Where to stay:
- As with many of our group trips, we opted to stay in Airbnb locations. We found our kiwi hosts very hospitable and friendly, and each Airbnb we chose was in a great location. Our first night in New Zealand, we were right on the beach!
Before you go:
- Read up on driving in New Zealand
- Check the weather, in-as-much as possible (it can be very changeable)
- Get a visitor visa (depending on your country of origin)
- Arrange cell phone service with your provider—you don’t want to get stuck on a hilly roadside without a mobile phone!
- Print out Google Maps directions for all your destinations. Though you should have a GPS on hand in your rental car, it never hurts to be doubly prepared when driving around another country.