The ultimate New Zealand road trip
A road trip is the best way to appreciate New Zealand, as you can cover many of its highlights over the course of a week.
We’ve curated the ultimate New Zealand road trip, encompassing wine-growing regions, cultural and historical sites and places of unforgettable natural beauty.
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Auckland to Northland and the Bay of Islands
Follow State Highway One north from Auckland to Kerikeri, catching the car ferry to Russell at Opua then returning to State Highway One to the far north and Cape Reinga. Continue on State Highway One to loop back south to Auckland through the Waipoua Forest.
Departing from Auckland allows you to take a three-day round-trip to the warm, sunny north before heading south.
As one of the first landing places of voyagers' canoes from East Polynesia, and the site of early European settlements, Northland is often referred to as "the birthplace of New Zealand."
Spend a day driving north to Russell, the first capital of New Zealand, a picturesque little town accessible by car ferry from Opua.
The Duke of Marlborough hotel has been a Russell institution since 1827. The town is rich in both history and fresh seafood.
A day trip to the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, takes in otherworldly landscape. Its important place in Maori history and spirituality make it a fascinating and, some say magical, place to visit.
Make sure to pass through the Waipoua Forest on your return to Auckland and visit Tane Mahuta, the largest living Kauri tree in New Zealand.
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Auckland to Taupo
Follow State Highway One south down the heart of the North Island, bypassing Hamilton by opting for Highway 1B to Cambridge. From Tirau take State Highway 5 south through Rotorua and the Thermal Explorer to Taupo.
Snaking through the heart of the upper-North Island is a great way to observe the rural backbone of the country.
Departing Auckland takes you through seemingly endless suburban sprawl until you reach the Bombay Hills, where farmland begins.
You might stop for lunch in quirky Tirau, a town famed for its arts, crafts and buildings made of corrugated iron.
Continue on, bypassing Hamilton but pausing in Cambridge (coffee, wineries and crafts) until you reach Rotorua. Here, you begin the Thermal Explorer Highway, which showcases the active volcanic and thermal area.
You’ll travel from the mudpools of Rotorua right through to captivating steam vents and boiling rivers that appear in the native forest to Lake Taupo’s numerous thermal pools.
Spend a night at one of Taupo’s many resorts, and make sure to spend an afternoon enjoying one of the natural spas. Debrett’s is a favorite.
Taupo is home to natural attractions and high-octane sporting activities –- whitewater rafting, bungy jumping, fly-fishing and boating on the 660-square-kilometer lake.
Visit Huka Falls and enjoy some of the country’s best food at the prestigious Huka Falls Lodge.
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Taupo to Wellington
Return to State Highway 5 travelling East to visit the Hawkes Bay. Leaving the Hawkes Bay take State Highway 2 south through the Wairarapa to Wellington.
The stretch of road between Taupo and Wellington takes you through the best food and wine New Zealand has to offer.
Take the long road and turn off into the art deco town of Napier, enjoying Hawkes Bay’s reputation for great restaurants and vineyards. Favorites include casual dining at Pipi Café and sampling any number of the wines produced in this, the second-largest wine region in the country.
In Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, spend a late night or two taking in lively cocktail bars and great dining.
Wellington is home to Te Papa, the national museum, an essential stop. The City Gallery is also popular -- it showcases local artists.
Wellingtonians are notorious for their coffee obsession, so sample a single-origin, locally roasted cup from one of the many, many cafés that line the streets. Favorites include Supreme and the cozy Fidel’s.
The central business district is compact enough to walk end-to-end, meaning you can leave your car at your hotel.
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To reach the South Island, you must take a ferry across the Cook Strait -- you can take your car if you wish, or if you prefer, take a short flight from Wellington to Nelson to Picton. www.interislander.co.nz
From Picton, travel West to the Nelson Region on State Highway 6. Return as you came to Picton to travel south to Blenheim on State Highway 1. Continue south on State Highway 1 to Christchurch.
Arriving in Picton provides easy access to the Nelson and Marlborough region.
Nelson is home to more artists than anywhere else in the country. Visit studios, workshops, boutiques and galleries between visits to the plentiful apple orchards and vineyards, and explore the natural beauty of the Abel Tasman National Park.
If time allows, you can enjoy camping and tramping throughout the park, staying at one of the Department of Conservation huts and swimming in one of the many coves and bays.
Travel over the Takaka hill, the gateway to Golden Bay and visit the crystal clear Te Waikoropupu Springs. A sacred site to Maori, these are among the 100 largest natural springs in the world.
Travel inland through the Aorere Valley, one of the first sites of the gold rush that swept New Zealand in the late 1800s.
A 20-minute drive south from Picton brings you to Blenheim, the center of Marlborough and the country's largest wine region. Stop for a long, vineyard lunch and take a relaxed wine tour, sampling the products of the country’s top winemakers.
Then, it’s a short drive to Kaikoura, epicenter of the whale watching industry in the South Island. Spend a night before you begin the drive deep into the South.
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Otago and Canterbury
Follow State Highway 1 as it travels south-west from Christchuch, taking the State Highway 8 at Timaru to visit Twizel and Lake Tekapo. At Cromwell, take State Highway 6 to arrive in Queenstown.
This area is an outdoor adventure playground, a hub for skiers and snowboarders in winter.
Just an hour south of Christchurch, the Methven and Mount Hutt area is a rugged introduction to an awe-inspiring region.
Whatever way you choose to get your thrills –- kayaking, white-water rafting, skydiving or heli-skiing -- this is the region to do it.
Take a farm tour, enjoy the pretty university town of Dunedin and visit the nearby goldfields in Lawrence, with the Goldfields Museum offering a look back to 1861 when this region was alive with hopeful prospectors.
Spend a night or two in Queenstown, a town with excellent restaurants and top-notch resorts, golf courses and spas.
For more information visit www.aatravel.co.nz for information on tours, accommodation and local driving laws.