New Zealand Summer Road Trip Ideas

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

Read about 'New Zealand Summer Road Trip Ideas' on USAVE, the place for all things car rental.

A summer road trip in New Zealand is a great way to explore the country while enjoying the benefits the warmer weather and brings practically unlimited swimming options in some stunning locations all over the country in lakes, rivers, streams, and the ocean, as well as surfing, kayaking, boating, windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding and much more!

Want to know where to go? The majority of New Zealand is made up of two larger islands that are very distinct in size, landscape and population, each island offers its own unique selection of things to see and do. Read on for our best summer road trip ideas in both the North and South Islands.

7 North Island Summer Road Trip Destinations

New Zealand’s North Island is full to the brim with rugged wind swept beaches, lush forest, and rolling pasture land, its roads take you on a journey through the picture perfect postcard views of New Zealand’s green landscapes that many visitors come to find.

1. Auckland

For many visitors to New Zealand, Auckland is the perfect starting point. Auckland is a relatively small city with a big city feel; it’s definitely worth spending a few days to explore all that Auckland has to offer.

There are many locations dotted around the city and surrounding harbour that are a little off the radar, which makes them great for escaping the crowds as well. Here are our top places to escape to in Auckland.

  • Tahuna Torea. Tahuna Torea Reserve is found in Glendowie and encompasses 25 hectares of marshlands, sand dunes and lagoons that make up a unique natural environment for you to explore. It provides a sanctuary for a number of bird species that change depending on the season, which you can observe via the many gentle walking tracks that cover the reserve. Aside from birds, there’s also fantastic views to be seen of the harbour and city.
  • Piha. Many people travel to Piha for the beach, which is so popular it even has a TV show documenting the surf lifesaving efforts there. What many people don’t know about however are the Kitekite Falls, which are found at the end of a short easy walk. These make for an excellent swimming hole, a little calmer and more relaxing than what you find on the beach. There are no lifeguards here however, so take extra care while swimming.

Piha Beach

  • Awhitu Peninsula. The Awhitu Peninsula is an hour’s drive south from Auckland city, but this hidden gem is well worth the journey. Though it can be buffeted by winds off the sea, it provides an amazing view of the city from across the harbour. There’s also an historic lighthouse to complete the picture and offer a little bit of shelter for a picnic. There are many secluded beaches all around the peninsula, and because of its location they are usually fairly quiet and relaxing.  

Need more Auckland road trip ideas? See here for our top 12 things to do in Auckland.

2. Northland

From Auckland, there is the choice whether you want to head north or south – heading north is something of a detour and will require backtracking as part of your trip, but it is home to Northland’s famous 90 Mile Beach, giant sand dunes and the absolutely breath-taking waters and views of the Bay Of Islands and Paihia. See here for our detailed road trip guide to Northland.

3. Coromandel Peninsula

Having made your way around Northland, now heading south, don’t skip the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula with its crystal clear waters and lush subtropical forests. Hot Water Beach is a must visit, along with the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail, also known as Pinnacles Walk (arguably the best walk in the area).

4. Tauranga

Half a day’s drive south east from Auckland will bring you to Tauranga, a city perched on the edge of the region known as the Bay of Plenty. This area is known for its lovely temperate climate, artistic flair, boutique shopping and beautiful beaches.

5. Mount Maunganui

Nearby Mt Maunganui (the volcanic hill jutting out into the ocean – you cant miss it) is a great hike either round its base or to the top. The small township at its base which goes by the same name is your idyllic new Zealand beach side town complete with boutique shopping, the must have fish and chips shop and of course many cafes and eateries. See here for our top 5 things to do in Mount Maunganui.

6. Hawkes Bay

Continue south eastward and you’ll come to New Zealand’s beautiful remote eastern coastline, home to the Hawke’s Bay region – famous for its world class wines, and popular surf beaches. Depending on your preference you may wish to visit just a couple of wineries or make a full tour. For those not much interested in winemaking (or tasting!), Napier is another great stop with its unique Art Deco buildings and artsy vibe.

7. Wellington

Further down the eastern coastline you’ll find yourself in Wellington, the nation’s capital and home to excellent food, culture, art and history exhibits. We definitely recommended spending a few days exploring here, there are also a number of bays just outside the main city that are well worth a visit.

From Wellington you can catch the ferry over to the South Island, or further explore the North Island heading back up its western coastline through Taranaki, Te Kuiti, and Hamilton or the central Plateau, Taupo, and Rotorua (famous for its natural hot springs, geysers and bubbling mud).

Wellington Night Scene

7 South Island Summer Road Trip Destinations

The North Island contains a huge array of scenery ranging from subtropical coasts to dry highlands to dense forests; you can easily spend a whole holiday touring just this half of the country. But if you want to see all of New Zealand the South island is your next stop.

The South Island of New Zealand offers a huge range of attractions, scenery and activities and could take up an entire holiday just on its own. Like the rest of New Zealand it’s fairly compact, so a couple of days drive could take you the length of the Island.

1. Christchurch

The largest city in the South Island, Christchurch is also home to its largest airport. The Canterbury region offers a number of places to see, so it’s a good idea to set aside a few days to take a look around at a casual pace.

See here for ideas on what to do in Christchurch or read on for our off the beaten track road trip escapes.

  • New Brighton. New Brighton is a popular seaside suburb of Christchurch, home to the usual suspects including a large pier, beachside playground and plenty of surfers looking for that perfect wave. Saturday mornings expect to find the place buzzing with market goers making the most of the fresh produce and crafts.
  • Arthurs Pass. Located in the Arthurs Pass National Park in the middle of the Southern Alps, Arthurs Pass is a great day trip from Christchurch or pass through on your way to the West Coast. The small settlement has a couple of cafes, some amazing alpine walks and some accommodation options if you wish to stick around and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
  • Kura Tawhiti/Castle Hill Conservation Area. Just an hour and a half’s drive from Christchurch, Castle Hill is a great place for the avid hikers out there but also for those who prefer a leisurely stroll. The walking track is not difficult and winds its way in a loop around the interesting limestone rock formations and hills. The spot is also popular with rock climbers taking on the challenge of natural rock climbing.
  • Banks Peninsula. Not only is there the beautiful Christchurch City to explore, but also the nearby Banks Peninsula and its beautiful bays and beaches that provide popular holiday destinations for locals and tourists alike. Explore the Banks Peninsula with our handy Day Trip From Christchurch guide here.

Need more Christchurch road trip ideas? Check out our top 10 Best Day Trips From Christchurch here.

2. Kaikoura/Marlborough Sounds

Heading north along State Highway 1 will take you past Kaikoura, a coastal town famous for its seafood and whale watching. It’s the perfect place to stop for a break before continuing up to the Marlborough Sounds.

The Sounds encompasses a huge network of beech-forest covered bays and islands, most of which can only be explored by boat. However this doesn’t stop you from driving through and enjoying the many walking tracks on offer, as well as relaxing in the quaint port town of Picton.

3. Picton/Nelson

Picton is where you’d take the ferry to Wellington if you were heading to the North Island, but continue westwards and you’ll come to the beautiful sunny town of Nelson, home to great food and lively craft culture.

Keep heading west and you’ll find yourself in amongst the Abel Tasman National Park, one of the most beautiful natural locations in the world. Criss-crossed with walking tracks that can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, it’s definitely a place to pause and enjoy New Zealand’s natural flora and fauna. 

4. West Coast

Heading out of Nelson will take you over to the western half of the South Island (as divided by the Southern Alps mountain range), allowing you to proceed down the West Coast. Here you’ll find the remnants of the old gold rushes and coal mining booms scattered in small towns and abandoned villages.

Greymouth and Hokitika are two of the larger, busier towns in the area and are known for being home to beautiful greenstone carvings and gourmet wild foods respectively.

Hokitika Gorge

5. Queenstown

Keep heading south past Haast and the southern glaciers, and eventually you’ll come to the popular tourist spot of Queenstown. There’s so much to see and do here, and can easily take several days. Choose from an array of outdoor adventure activities such as sky diving, bungy jumping, zip lining and much more. Or take a more relaxed approach and enjoy a cruise out on the lake, some fine dining or maybe just one of the famous Fergburgers down on the lake front.

6. Milford Sound

A detour to the Milford Sound is well worth the trip, this remote destination is extremely popular for its opportunity to cruise the Milford Sound and enjoy the spectacular scenery and wildlife. Instead of heading all the way back to Queenstown, make the turn at Te Anau to head south and you’ll end up at Dunedin, the southern city with Scottish roots.

7. Dunedin

For much of the year, Dunedin is one of the colder cities in New Zealand. Located so far south, it’s buffeted by Antarctic winds that create a bitter winter climate. However it is this extreme southern latitude that gives it long days during summer that are perfect for going out and making the most of the surrounding coastal landscape.

The whole Otago region is known as a haven for certain types of birds and animals, and there are a number of fantastic places (a little off the beaten track) to seek for a great summer escape.

  • Karitane Beach. For the adventurous and active, Karitane Beach is a great destination. A charter boat is available to take passengers out to try their hand at fishing, and from which point you can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire coastline. There are also rental boats and kayaks available in case you prefer to chart your own course.
  • Tunnel Beach.  If you like a more relaxed day at the beach, there are two destinations you can’t miss. Head along Tunnel Beach road and you’ll find a gentle 20 minute walk that takes you to a unique beach area. Named after the enormous tunnel excavated by John Cargill to create a space for families to bathe, and it’s still just as perfect for that purpose today!
  • Victory Beach. For a real glimpse at New Zealand wildlife, Victory Beach is the place to head. It’s an undeveloped and protected area, with a number of distinctive basalt-stone “pyramids” that are more than worth a look. As a natural sanctuary, it’s home to sea lions and seals as well as penguins and other sea birds.
  • Ross Creek. Of course not every day will provide favourable weather, and on days where rain makes beach-going miserable you can always head to Ross Creek, a walking path that is well sheltered by native forests. It’s a gentle walk with lots of different places to start and end, so you can tailor it to suit your itinerary.

Dunedin Beach

Whether you choose to travel just around the North Island, the South Island or both this summer, be sure to plan ahead and book a reliable rental car. USAVE Car Rentals can offer you great rates and easy pick up and drop off locations, as well as friendly service and helpful travel advice. Give us a call today!

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