Road Trip: Auckland to Queenstown 14 Day Itinerary

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A road trip from Auckland to Queenstown is one of the best ways to explore New Zealand. The itinerary can be completed in 14 days or extended, or you can start it reverse!

What can you expect on our itinerary? Look forward to discovering stunning beaches and the remarkable geothermal activity on the North Island. While on the South Island, you will be surrounded by dynamic mountains and will have the opportunity to experience adrenaline activities. Our 14-day itinerary covers the best activities and places to eat and stay at each location while you make your way from Auckland to Queenstown.

Itinerary's map for the first 7 days:

Day 1: Spend your first day in Auckland

Spend your first day of your trip exploring Auckland, also nicknames the ‘City of Sails’ due to its iconic location by the Tasman Sea and the number of marinas and yacht harbours within the city. Visit the Auckland Museum essentially tells the story of New Zealand. Before you embark on your road trip around the country learn about New Zealand’s heritage and culture. 

Auckland

Try Auckland’s Sky Jump located in the city centre. This involves taking a leap of faith and jumping from a height of 192m from New Zealand’s highest building (don’t worry you are attached to a wire). It’s a great way to see an overview of the city and get the heart pumping!

If you are looking to increase your heart rate with some physical exercise, walk to the summit of Auckland’s highest dormant volcano. It is recommended to take snacks with you to enjoy lunch with epic views of the city.

For food choices, you are spoilt for choice. Auckland is the place to go on a culinary adventure why not try Azabu for delicious Japanese food or El Sizzling Chorizo an Argentinian BBQ restaurant it is a treat for all meat lovers.

There are several places to stay in the city or just outside. If you are looking for a room with a central location, Knight’s Inn is just a few minutes’ drive from the city centre. Or if you are looking for a hidden gem to stay in, check in at the Emerald Inn. Close to Auckland city and boutique self-contained accommodation surrounded by lush greenery and beside the stunning Takapuna Beach.

looking for a hidden gem to stay in, check in at the Emerald Inn. Close to Auckland city and boutique self-contained accommodation surrounded by lush greenery and beside the stunning Takapuna Beach. 

Day 2: Auckland to Rotorua

Drive time: 3 hours 35 minutes (273 km).

After your day exploring the city, it’s time to start driving to your first destination on the road trip, Rotorua. Leaving Auckland it’s best to take State Highway 1 and drive along this road for about 2 hours until you come to your first stop – Hobbiton Movie Sets. This is a must-do activity, even if you are not a Lord of the Rings fan. You will be blown away by the attention to detail and how the fantasy world of the Shire was created.

Hobbiton

Hobbiton Movie Set

There are a few different ways to explore the movie set. You can book a fully guided 2-hour movie set tour with a drink at the end in the Green Dragon Inn. Or you can book the banquet experience where you will enjoy a full guided tour of the set and a banquet feast fit for a hobbit! It is recommended to book your tour of choice in advance, especially during the summer months to avoid disappointment.

Rotorua

It is a short one-hour drive from Hobbiton Movie Set to Rotorua. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity. One thing you will probably notice first is the distinctive smell of sulphur in the air. Putting the smell aside you will be treated to some of the most spectacular scenery of mountains and lakes.

On the itinerary, it is noted to stay 3 nights in Rotorua as there is so much to see and do. It is recommended to end your first day in Rotorua with a soak in the natural hot springs.

Rotorua hot pools

The perfect way to unwind after a day of driving and exploring the Shire. Check out Polynesian Spa with 28 hot mineral pools sourced from two natural springs. Opening hours are 7 am – 11 pm, enjoy bathing in the pools and admiring the stars!

Day 3 & 4: Rotorua

Start your morning with a walk around Kuirau Park. This is New Zealand’s only free geothermal park. Located within walking distance from the city centre, take a stroll along the many walkways that will take you to see the crater lake, mud pools, hot springs, and free thermal foot bath.

Next on the list to explore is Te Puia. This place is home to the Pohutu geyser, mud pools, hot springs, and the national schools of wood carving and spans 70 hectares within the historic Te Whakarewarewa Valley. Visit the National Kiwi Hatchery tour to learn about New Zealand’s national icon. You might even have a newly hatched kiwi chick if you are lucky!

To round up the day, attend an Evening Hangi Dinner & Maori concert with Te Pā Tū. Be welcomed into an authentic Maori village nestled in Rotorua Forest, discover Maori art forms, ancient rituals and traditions, experience thrilling song and dance, and then share in a 3-course meal with your Maori hosts. This is an experience not to be missed!

Rotorua is also known as an adventure playground. Spend the next day embracing the thrill-seeker within you. Rent a mountain bike and explore some of the best trails at The Redwoods, Whakarewarewa Forest. Raft down a seven-metre-high waterfall on the Kaituna River with Rotorua Rafting. Or test your limits and sign up for a bungee jump or a free-fall experience at Velocity City.

For food options in Rotorua, check out the Craft Bar & Kitchen, they have a Stonegrill Experience where meat and seafood are cooked on a 400-degree celsius hot stone. Or try the Pig & Whistle located in a classic 1940’s style building, it a local landmark with great history, food, and a selection of craft beer.

There are many different types of accommodation available. Book a bed and breakfast for the home sweet home feeling, luxury lodges if you are looking for a treat or motel and hostel options.

Day 5: Rotorua to Napier

Drive time: 2 hours 53 mins (217 km)

On day 5 of the itinerary, it’s time to make your way to Napier. Driving straight to Napier takes just under 3 hours, but this guide recommends allocating more time to see the sights along the way.

Taupo

First stop along the way is the Huka Falls. This mesmerising waterfall is one of the most visited attractions in New Zealand. You will be left in awe when you see how incredible this natural wonder is. The next recommended stop is Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa only a short 5-minute drive from Huka Falls. Book a spa treatment or bathe in the geothermal and mineral-rich hot pools. After a morning of relaxation, make your way into the Taupo town centre for some lunch. Baked with Love is an awesome café with wholesome tasty dishes or Café Kabu for your coffee fix and delicious menu specials.

Napier

Continuing from Taupo, it is approximately a two-hour drive to Napier. On arrival in Napier, you feel like you have entered a different era. The architecture in the town is influenced by the 1920s with geometric patterns which were decided when rebuilding the city after a devasting earthquake in 1931. For the rest of the day, book a tour with the Art Deco Trust to learn about the buildings and history of the town. Self–guided, group and private tours are available. In the evening, take a short drive to Bluff Hill lookout for the best views of the bay and the town. Different walks are available if you would like to stretch your legs.

Napier has several accommodation options from B&Bs, motels, and hotels. It is recommended to book the Art Deco Masonic Hotel. Located on the waterfront, this boutique hotel is full of character with stunning ocean views.

For dinner, dine in or order a takeaway at the Hunger Monger. Renowned for their delicious selection of seafood, enjoy oysters, chowder or classic fish and chips. It is best to have an early evening as Day 6 on the itinerary involves a long day of driving.

Day 6: Napier to Wellington

Drive time: 4 hours 30 minutes, 429 km

It is recommended to make an early start on Day 6 as the drive to Wellington takes over 4 hours. Don’t worry we have included a couple of worthwhile places to stop to break up the journey. On the itinerary, two nights have been allocated to stay in Wellington, so you have time to explore the capital. Before hitting the road, stop by Mister D to enjoy a hearty breakfast. Their menu includes delicious savoury and sweet dishes.

After 2 and half hours of driving you will come to your first stop at Pukaha Wildlife Centre in Mount Bruce. The centre has several gentle walking trails, opportunities to visit their free-flight aviary where native New Zealand soar around you and check out the kiwi nursery where they raise kiwi chicks for release. There is also a café on site if you are feeling peckish.

Martinborough

Continuing your journey from the wildlife centre, your next stop is a 50-minute drive away. Martinborough is home to some of the best vineyards in New Zealand and is best known for its pinot noir. If you have the time to spare an hour to two enjoy a tasting at one of the vineyards.

Wellington

Wellington

From Martinborough, it is a short 1 hour 25 minutes drive to Wellington. After a busy day of driving and sightseeing, unwind and enjoy a delicious dinner in the capital. You will be spoilt for your choice of food options. Head to Cuba St to find the best dining experiences. Try 1154 for Italian cuisine, The Botanist for a plant-based menu or Burger Liquor, Wellington’s first burger bar, enjoy your burger with a bourbon!

Day 7: Spend the day exploring Wellington

This is the last day on your itinerary on the North Island but remember you can adjust this itinerary if you would like to stay longer. One day has been allocated to explore Wellington’s city centre famous for its rich arts culture and windy weather. A visit to The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is a must, entry is free, and you can easily spend hours exploring the number of different exhibitions. Book a tour of the Weta Workshop to see how movies such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and King Kong were brought to life. If you have time check out Zealandia – the world’s first fully fenced eco-urban sanctuary.

There are accommodation options in the city to choose from on any budget. Choose from hotels, self-catering apartments, and air BnB to hostels.

Itinerary's map for days 8 - 14:

Day 8: Wellington to Blenheim

On day 8 of the itinerary, it is time to make the voyage to the South Island. You will need to book a ferry crossing from Wellington. The ferry crossings are at fixed times, usually, you will arrive in Picton either lunchtime, late afternoon, or evening time. The crossing is approximately a three-and-a-half-hour journey. Make sure you book your ferry ticket in advance.

Blenheim

Blenheim is a great location for your first day on the South Island. It is a short 25-minute drive from Picton where you disembark the ferry. Your time in Blenheim is about relaxing and enjoying good food and wine. You have already visited Martinborough renowned for Pinot Noir, and Blenheim is famous for Sauvignon Blanc. This guide recommends a visit to Saint Clair Family Estate, Wither Hills Cellar Door or Cloudy Bay for delicious food and wine tastings. Alternatively, pick up a Wine Trail map from any accommodation or i-SITE.

For accommodation, choose from boutique hotels, motels, and hostels.  Or treat yourself to a stay in a luxury lodge or vineyard accommodation.

Day 9: Blenheim to Kaikoura

Drive time: 1 hour 40 minutes (128 km)

Kaikoura

On day 9 of the itinerary, it is time to make your way to your next destination, Kaikoura. It is approximately a 2-hour drive along a breathtaking coastal road. There is plenty of look-out bays to take in views, make sure you have a look for the sea lions on the rocks!

In Kaikoura, visit the award-winning Kaikoura Museum. Learn about the impact of the 2016 earthquake, early Māori settlement and European development. A lot has happened to shape the Kaikoura you will see today.

The main attraction of Kaikoura is the sea life. It is one of the best places in the world to go whale and dolphin watching. Book a tour with Dolphin Encounter and Whale Watch Kaikoura to experience these magnificent creatures.

For dining options, check out The Pier Hotel which is famous for its crayfish, Black Rabbit Pizza for pizza, burgers and pasta dishes. Or enjoy fish and chips by the sea at Coopers Catch.

Kaikoura has many accommodation options for every budget. Choose from luxury lodges to backpacker-friendly places.

Day 10: Kaikoura to Christchurch

Drive time: 2 hours 20 minutes (180 km)

From Kaikoura to Christchurch is only a 2-and-a-half-hour drive along State highway 1.

Christchurch

Christchurch is the South Island's most metropolitan city. There is a lot to see and do in the city. Visit the Canterbury Museum to learn about the past, present, and future of Canterbury. Take a stroll in the Botanical Gardens which is home to plants from all around the world and the country’s most fascinating sculptures. Or spend a couple of hours at the International Antarctic Centre to learn about Antarctic geography, history, and culture.

For food and drink, make your way to The Terrace, the hospitality hub in Christchurch where you will spoil for choice. Try Castro’s Tapas & Bar Burger Burger or Chiwahwah for some Mexican food.

For a unique place to stay, book Jailhouse Accommodation. This backpacker hostel was originally a jail, a women’s prison, and a military camp with many of the interiors still resembling a look of a jail. If you are looking to treat yourself, check in to The George or if you are saving book a room at the Bealey Quarter.

Day 11: Christchurch to Tekapo

Drive time: 2 hours 50 minutes (226 km)

On day 11 of your itinerary, make your way to Lake Tekapo. The drive from Christchurch to Tekapo is a scenic one, taking you through the heart of the Mackenzie Basin. The journey takes just under 3 hours to complete. The roads between Christchurch and Tekapo are well-maintained and in good condition. But it's important to note that the weather in the area can be unpredictable. Check the forecast before you set out and be prepared for any conditions you may encounter.

When you arrive, stretch your legs, and take a stroll along the Lake Tekapo Walkway stopping at The Good Shepard Church, which offers beautiful views of the surrounding area. Built in 1935 for pioneer families of the Mackenzie district, the church still holds services today.

Visit Tekapo Springs, where you can relax and unwind after a day of travelling. For dining options check out the Blue Lake Eatery & Bar, which serves delicious modern cuisine, and Mackenzie’s Café Bar & Grill, which offers a wide variety of dishes to suit every palate.

Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve therefore the sky is protected from light pollution, and it is one of the best places in the country to go stargazing.

One of the best ways to experience the beauty of the night sky in Tekapo is to visit the Mt. John Observatory. Located just outside of town, the observatory offers guided tours and stargazing experiences. You can also visit the Tekapo Star Gazing tours, which offers a range of stargazing experiences, including evening tours and overnight trips.

For accommodation, there is a selection of options with mountain and lake views. Choose from hotels and motels. Air BnB and backpacker hostels.

Optional side trip to Mount Cook

Drive time: 1 hour 10 minutes (103 km)

On the way to Wanaka from Lake Tekapo, there is an option to take a detour to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park where Mount Cook the highest mountain in New Zealand lies.

Mt Cook Village Road

If you decide to take this detour, Aoraki National Park is a one-hour 10-minute drive from Tekapo. Make sure you stop and take in the beauty of Lake Pukaki on the way. You will be in awe of the stunning, turquoise-coloured water!

There are several hiking trails to explore in the park with something for all levels from difficulty to beginner to advance. One of the most popular trails is the Hooker Valley Track. The track is 11km return and usually takes up to 3 hours. The track takes you to Hooker Lake where you will see icebergs from the Hooker Glacier. Another favourite track is the Tasman glacier walk. It is a short return walk (2.6km) but offers stunning views of the surrounding dynamic mountains and leads you to the Tasman glacier’s endpoint. The Tasman glacier is 23km in length – the longest glacier in New Zealand.

If you are an experienced hiker, there are more challenging trails ranging from options with an overnight hut stay or multi-day trails. The conditions in the mountains are unpredictable, make sure you check weather conditions and have the correct gear if you are taking on a more difficult route.

It is recommended to allocate one full day to exploring Aoraki National Park a magnificent place of natural beauty. Continuing from the national park to Wanaka it is a further 2-hour, 30-minute drive.

Day 12: Lake Tekapo to Wanaka (no detour)

Drive time: 2 hours 20 minutes (199 km)

If you have the time on your trip, we recommend making the following stops on your way to Wanaka. In Omarama, there are magnificent clay cliffs that are a must-see. The cliffs were formed over a million years ago from ancient glaciers. The cliffs are on private land and for access, you are required to pay a $5 cash fee at the donation box at the entrance gate.

Continuing from Omarama, you will cross the Lindis Pass which links the Mackenzie Basin and Central Otago. Stop at the summit viewpoint and take in the views of the dramatic alpine landscape. Wanaka is – an hour’s drive from this point.

Wanaka

On arrival in Wanaka, you will be treated to stunning views of the surrounding mountains and pristine Lake Wanaka. Wanaka is a playground for anyone who loves adventure sports. Enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking and skiing or snowboarding during the winter times.  This place has plenty of activities and attractions to keep you busy.

Wanaka Roys Peak

Explore the nearby ruby island or Mou Wahou island with Eco Wanaka. Take a trip to Puzzling World to get lost in the maze or the illusion rooms. If the weather takes a turn for the worst, take shelter at Cinema Paradiso. Relax on a comfy couch, watch a movie, and enjoy homemade ice cream and cookies.

For places to stay choose between hotels and hostels that offer lake views. There is somewhere to stay to suit everyone’s budget. Wanaka has an excellent dining scene. Check out the many restaurants along the lake, or head to Brownston Street to eat at one of the many food trucks.

Day 13: Wanaka to Queenstown

Drive time: 1 hour 7 mins via Crowne Range (68.4 km)

Drive time: 1 hour 29 mins via State Hwy 6 (111 km)

On day 13, you will make your way to Wanaka, the final destination on your itinerary.

To fastest route from Wanaka to Queenstown is to drive over the Crown Range. The Crown Range is the highest main road in New Zealand. At the summit, the road reached an altitude of 1121m. If you take this road it is recommended to stop at the viewpoint to enjoy the stunning views of Queenstown and Gibbston Valley. Please be aware sections of this road are quite steep with sharp bends. If you feel you would not be comfortable driving in these road conditions, there is an alternative route. You can take State Highway 6 which will take you through the Gibbston Valley and past Cromwell.

Cardrona Valley

If you take the Crowne Range route, we recommend a couple of stops along the way to Queenstown. The first stop is a visit to the Cardrona Distillery. The distillery produces award-winning whisky and vodka. Book a tour to learn about the distilling process and a tasting of their spirits.

 

Your next stop is the iconic Cardrona Hotel, one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels. Stop by for a coffee, learn about its history and take a photo of this charming hotel.

If you have time take a detour to Cardrona Alpine Resort. The resort offers the opportunity to ski and snowboard on the slopes during winter. During summertime, you can experience the downhill adrenaline rush by mountain biking or mountain carting. Queenstown is approximately a 45-minute drive from Cardrona Valley.

Queenstown

Enjoy the views of the magnificent Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu as you arrive at Queenstown. Queenstown is renowned for adventure sports and adrenaline-filled activities. It is the best place to be to end your road trip on a high. If you are visiting in the wintertime, Queenstown is an ideal place to stay as it is close to fantastic ski fields. The Remarkables and Coronet Peak offer trails suitable for all levels of skiing and snowboarding.

View of Queenstown NZ, Outdoor Adventure Capital

Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the town from designer stores, choosing an adventure activity to book, or enjoying the trails along the lake. For accommodation options, Queenstown offers a place to stay for every budget. You can book a hotel or a hostel with lake views. For dining options, you will be spoilt for choice. Queenstown has an exciting and vibrant food scene. Check out Margo’s, a Mexican-inspired restaurant, Flame which serves the best sticky ribs in Queenstown or Rata for the ultimate fine dining experience.

Day 14: Queenstown

On the last day of your trip, a full day is allocated to enjoy an adventure activity. Your time in Queenstown would not be complete without a thrilling tourist activity! Our top picks are water rafting, jet boating or canyon swing at Shotover. Or take the leap and bungee jump off the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge. There is something for everyone to make your day memorable.

Overall, a road trip from Auckland to Queenstown is the best way to experience the best of natural beauty and cultural attractions on both the North and South Islands. Whether you're an adventure seeker, a nature lover, or a foodie, there's something for everyone on this 14-day itinerary. Happy travels from ___mode!

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