Setting out to make the most of your time in New Zealand? Well this 12-day road trip takes in the best of the Land of the Long White Cloud. From the adrenaline-pumping excitement of Queenstown, the spectacular Fox Glacier and the rugged West Coast in the South Island, to cosmopolitan Wellington, the volcanic thrills of Taupo and Rotorua, and beautiful Auckland in the North Island, this truly is the scenic heart of New Zealand.
To get started, grab yourself a Britz campervan, then strap yourself in and enjoy our all-encompassing 12-Day self-drive Northbound Scenic Sights road trip.
Christchurch to Auckland
Best Time of the Year
All year round
- Fox Glacier
Christchurch to Twizel
Distance 300km - Driving Time 3.5 hours
Begin your journey by picking up your campervan at the airport in Christchurch, then head out on the Inland Scenic Route via the charming country town of Rangiora, home to a collection of wonderful heritage buildings, including one of Canterbury's oldest wooden churches.
Your route will take you across the rich agricultural lands of the Canterbury Plains and through the old coal mining town of Glentunnel, before you start the ascent to Mount Hutt. One of New Zealand's largest ski areas, in season Mount Hutt has big snow, with great skiing and snowboarding.
Further down the road you’ll reach the charming country town of Geraldine, where arts and crafts are the order of the day, while the local car museum is also worth a look. Passing through Fairlie – the gateway to the Mackenzie Country, named after a legendary local sheep rustler – you’ll ultimately reach the stunning vista of Lake Tekapo. At the southern end of the lake, you’ll find the renowned Church of the Good Shepherd, which makes for a great photo stop, especially when the sun is out. If you’re after a coffee and something to eat, it’s also worth visiting the Reflections Café & Restaurant. As you head to your pitstop for the night in Twizel, enjoy the views across the southern end of Lake Pukaki.
Twizel to Queenstown
Distance 199km - Driving Time 3.5 hours
The closest town to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, home to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Twizel was built in 1968 as the base for the impressive Upper Waitaki Power Development, the largest hydro-electric power scheme ever undertaken in New Zealand. Also known as the film location of Gondor, from the blockbuster Lord of the Rings movies, there’s plenty to do in Twizel before you hit the road.
Once you’re underway, the short drive south to Omarama will take you past the turnoff for the intriguing Paritea cliffs, sharp pinnacles and ridges of clay which are constantly being exposed by the active Osler fault line. As you approach Omarama, keep an eye out for the giant merino statue, which will remind you you’re in sheep farming country. Also, if you’ve never been gliding before, then Omarama is the place to try it with Glide Omarama. Your pilot can guide you over the ridges and valleys of the Mackenzie Basin, or venture into the majestic Southern Alps, as thermal winds take gliders to altitudes of 10,000 metres.
The last part of your day’s journey takes you to the adventure capital of Queenstown. Test your nerve with a visit to the world's first commercially-operated bungy jumping site, at the historic Kawarau Bridge, or try out the Shotover Canyon Swing – the world’s highest rope swing. Your day isn’t complete without a ride in the Shotover Jet, which twists and turns its way through the towering, rocky canyons of the Shotover River.
Head for the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, for your night’s stay.
Queenstown to Fox Glacier
Distance 327km - Driving Time 3 hours 30 mins
Departing Queenstown, head for Wanaka over the Crown Range Road. It’s a challenging drive, but the views are amazing and well worth the twists and turns. Travel via the popular ski fields of Cardrona and Treble Cone, before stopping in for refreshments at the Cardrona pub, which was made famous by a well-known Speight's Brewery ad. Also, between Cardrona and Wanaka, you’ll pass the famous ‘bra fence’, which started as a joke but has now become a local legend and a quirky tourist attraction.
Wanaka, which is set against the backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park, is known as an adventure destination, with adrenaline-pumping activities including heli-skiing, canyoning, climbing and skydiving. Also check out Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World, where 1.5 kilometres of passages will keep you entertained for hours.
Just out of Wanaka you’ll reach the shores of Lake Hawea, followed closely by the northern end of Lake Wanaka. Fill up and stretch your legs in Makarora before you tackle the Haast Pass, which is one of only three roads to cross over the Southern Alps. Keep your eyes on the road, even as you enjoy the passing waterfalls and river scenery.
After you’ve traversed the Haast River via the longest one-lane bridge in New Zealand, you’ll emerge from the forest to be greeted by the town of Haast and views of the Tasman Sea. Just north of Haast is Lake Moeraki, a peaceful forest lake with good fishing. If you have time, you can take a 45-minute sojourn to visit the penguin colony at Monro Beach, while up the road at Lake Paringa, you can enjoy a delicious meal of salmon at the local salmon farm.
Continue along the dramatic coast road north to Fox Glacier, where you can check in for the night at Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park.
Fox Glacier to Westport
Distance 296km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 mins
One of the largest of the South Island's more than 3000 glaciers, and among the most accessible glaciers in the world, Fox Glacier can be reached on foot or by air, so before you leave town, stop into Fox Glacier Guiding for your personal glacier experience.
Further north is Franz Josef Glacier, where you can walk to the terminal of the glacier in about 10 minutes. You might also want to grab some morning tea here – the streets of Franz Josef township are lined with cosy cafes and eateries.
Next up is Hokitika, a former gold mining town whose currency nowadays is greenstone (NZ jade). Take the opportunity to watch it being carved as you wander among the town’s lovely old buildings. You might also want to investigate the museum and do the historical walk.
Ten kilometres south of Greymouth, the West Coast’s largest town, you’ll hit Shantytown. Step back in time to the 1860s gold rush as you stroll amongst a working steam engine, sawmill, foundry, and stables.
Continue on to Westport where you’ll spend the night.
Westport to Nelson
Distance 222km - Driving Time 2 hours
Although predominantly known as a coal mining town, Westport is also a base for outdoor adventures. Black water rafting, jet boating, horse trekking and surf rafting offer opportunities for a slice of outdoor excitement, while a visit to the local seal colony is perfect for nature lovers.
The road to Nelson is scenic and interesting. At Hawks Crag you’ll drive under a dramatic rock overhang, before arriving in the dark, forbidding Buller Gorge, where you can try out New Zealand's longest swingbridge at Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure & Heritage Park.
Your journey will then take you through Murchison, which is surrounded by an array of rivers, including the Mangles, Matiri, Matakitaki, and the impressive Buller. Known as a canoeing and kayaking paradise, it might be worth taking the time for a relaxing paddle before you leave Murchison. Also, stop in to the district museum and find out about the huge earthquake which nearly destroyed the town in 1929.
The end of your day’s drive sees you arriving into the city of Nelson – overnight at the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park.
Nelson to Wellington
Distance 210km - Driving Time 2 hours
Nelson is home to an eclectic community of artisans and craftsmen, and if you happen to be in town on a Saturday, be sure to check out the Nelson markets, regarded as one of the best in New Zealand.
From Nelson travel on to Blenheim, the heart of the Marlborough wine-growing region, with over 20 wineries within easy driving distance of the town. The majority of wineries welcome visitors for wine tastings and cellar door sales, so you may want to (safely) sample a few drops before you leave town, and grab a bottle or two to take with you.
After Blenheim, you’ll travel north to Picton, the crossing over point between the South and North Islands. A picturesque seaside town in its own right, take a little time to explore before you board the daily Interislander Ferry service for your onwards journey to Wellington.
The intricate waterways of the Marlborough Sounds make up a fifth of the New Zealand coastline, and your journey through the Marlborough Sounds and across the Cook Strait is a beautiful and memorable 2- or 3-hour voyage, depending on which ferry you catch. Both the fast and the cruise-style ferries can transport your Britz Campervan – just make sure you book ahead. Arrive into New Zealand’s picturesque capital city, Wellington, where you will spend the night.
Wellington to Greytown
Distance 99km - Driving Time 1 hour
Dubbed the ‘Capital of Cool’, cosmopolitan Wellington is famous for a vibrant creative culture, fuelled by great food, wine, craft beer, coffee and events. Take a stroll around the gorgeous waterfront of Oriental Bay before climbing the Southern Walk for beautiful city views from Mt Victoria. Visit the national museum, Te Papa, and try the interactive exhibits while you learn about NZ culture. Also, ride the historic Wellington Cable Car, which runs from Lambton Quay up to Kelburn, and offers delightful views of the city across the University grounds.
Heading out of Wellington, take the drive to Martinborough. You’ll wind through the picturesque Hutt Valley before climbing over the Rimutaka Range and descending into the tranquillity of the Wairarapa region. In the wine village of Martinborough, spend the afternoon sampling gourmet delights at award-winning wineries, olive groves, cafes, pubs and restaurants. It’s easy to park your campervan in town and walk everywhere, so make some time to do a little bit of shopping before you leave as well.
Drive north through the Wairarapa to your overnight stop in Greytown.
Greytown to Napier
Distance 252km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 mins
Start your day with a croissant from The French Baker in Greytown’s Main Street, before spending the morning perusing the town’s beautifully-restored Victorian colonial buildings and top-notch shops. Also visit the Papawai Marae, the site of the first Maori Parliament, and its wharenui (meeting house), which dates back to 1888.
Continue your drive into the north east of the North Island via Masterton, the largest town in the Wairarapa region and home to The Wool Shed, the National Museum of Sheep and Shearing. Further on is Dannevirke, known for its Scandinavian heritage, which dates to 1872 when 21 Danish and Norwegian families arrived to settle the district. History buffs will want to explore the town cemetery, while the Dannevirke Fantasy Cave is a must for families with young children.
Push on to Hastings and Napier, and marvel at the Art Deco and Spanish Mission-style architecture which has made the two neighbouring towns famous. Stay in Napier tonight.
Napier to Taupo
Distance 141km - Driving Time 1 hour 15 mins
New Zealand's oldest wine-making region and a leading producer of award-winning red wines, the Hawke’s Bay region around Napier is a veritable treasure trove of delights. Pop into one of the region’s many wineries as you make your way north-west towards Taupo, enjoying the scenery as valleys, plains and rugged hills whiz by.
Lake Taupo is the largest lake in NZ, making Taupo ideal for a raft of water-based activities. From trout fishing, to sailing, water skiing, jetboating, kayaking, parasailing and jet skiing, the water is where it’s at in Taupo. Throw in skydiving, horse riding, mountain biking, trekking, abseiling, and rock climbing, and it’s tough to make a choice.
Once you’ve had your fill of adventure, head to the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand, the spectacular Huka Falls. At Huka Falls, the Waikato River squeezes through a 20-metre wide gorge and over a 20-metre drop. View the falls from either side (there's a foot bridge to cross over).
Taupo is also the gateway to the Tongariro River, Tongariro National Park, Kaimanawa Ranges, and the Whakapapa and Turoa Ski Areas.
Stay in Taupo tonight at the Taupo All Seasons Kiwi Holiday Park.
Taupo to Rotorua
Distance 81km - Driving Time 45 mins
Hit the road early for your trip up the road to Rotorua. Make sure you plan a visit to the Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland along the way, where bubbling mud pools and colourful sulphur-crusted lakes await your discovery. Wai-O-Tapu’s resident Lady Knox Geyser erupts each day at 10:15 am, so make sure you‘re there for the show.
When you get to Rotorua, stop in for a cultural experience at the living Maori village of Whakarewarewa. Enjoy a Maori hangi meal, watch traditional song and dance, and even get a personalised tattoo!
After lunch, head to the beautiful Blue and Green Lakes for an easy 40-minute walk. Although side-by–side, the lakes really are two different colours!
Seeing as you’re in the area, why not stay at the Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park tonight?
Rotorua to Waitomo
Distance 141km - Driving Time 1 hour 15 mins
Head out of Rotorua via the Thermal Explorer Highway and make your way west to the Waitomo area. On the way, Lord of the Rings fans will want to stop in Matamata, which is home to the Hobbiton movie set, with tours departing daily.
Once you reach Waitomo, take a guided tour through the underground grottos of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Enjoy the world-famous boat ride under thousands of magical glowworms and soak in the serenity and beauty of the scene. Also make time for Waitomo’s longest underground walking tour through Ruakuri Cave and gaze at thousands of brilliant limestone formations.
Stay in Waitomo tonight.
Waitomo to Auckland
Distance 194km - Driving Time 2 hours
On the last day of your itinerary, head north from Waitomo to Hamilton. Located on the banks of the Waikato River, Hamilton is a great spot for some morning tea and a scenic riverside walk before you complete the rest of your journey to Auckland.
Drop off your campervan at the Britz branch at Auckland Airport.