This article gives you our detailed 27-day itinerary to show you that it is possible to visit all the must-see places in the NZ in less than a month.
For a brief description (and photos) of the cities visited, I invite you to consult the itineraries made by the pros of the NZ, Kiwipal as this article is already quite long. We took inspiration from these itineraries(even if they are unfortunately poor in terms of travel time estimation) to establish our own.
We started our journey in Christchurch and ended up in Auckland (the van rental is cheaper in that direction).
The total journey by car is 5500km, the equivalent of a Paris – Baghdad.
- Day 1: Arrival in Auckland (round-the-world ticket). Plane to Christchurch (dry flight)
- Day 2: Rest in Christchurch
- Day 3: Pick up the van. Supermarket. Overnight in Hanmer Springs
- Day 4: Thermal Spa in Hanmer Springs (NZ$20/person). Departure for and visit of Kaikoura, Seal Colony. Overnight in Goose Bay
- Day 5: Return to Christchurch to buy the last missing things for the van. Departure for Akaroa. Overnight in Akaroa
- Day 6: Excursion to Akaroa with Black Cat to see dolphins (65$NZ/person). Departure for and visit of Tekapo Lake. Night near Lake MacGregor
- Day 7: Visit of Mt John. Departure for Mt Cook. Visit Pukaki Lake, its salmon store, Tasman Valley and glaciers. Hooker Valley Track. Overnight at Mt Cook
- Day 8: Departure for and visit of Moeraki Boulders. Visit of Shap Point. Overnight in Waikouaiti
- Day 9: Departure for and visit of Dunedin. Visit of Harington Point, Tunnel Beach. Departure for The Catlins. Visit of Kappas light house. Overnight at Slope Point.
- Day 10: Visit Slope Point, Cairo Bay, Purpoise Bay. Departure for Te Anau. Purchase of insect repellent against sand flies before arrival in Te Anau (14$NZ). Visit of Te Anau. Night in Te Anau
- Day 11: Departure for Milford Sound. Cruise at 10:30 am with visit of the underwater observatory (104$NZ). Departure for Queenstown. Dinner at the famous FergBurger. Night in Queenstown.
- Day 12: Morning “Lord of the rings”: visit of Kawarau River and Arrow River. Departure for Wanaka. Visit of Lake Hawea, Lake Wanaka, Blue Pools. Night in Haast
- Day 13: Departure for Fox glacier and Franz glacier. Visit of Franz Josef glacier (1h30 AR), lake Matheson, observation of the Fox Glacier from afar. Night in Ross
- Day 14: Departure for Abel Tasman. Stop and visit of Hokitika, Punakaiki. Night at Murchison
- Day 15: Departure for Abel Tasman. Stop and visit of Kaiteriteri, Split Apple Rock, Riwaka Resurgence. Overnight in Richmond
- Day 16: Departure for Picton. Visit of Tahunanui beach , Pelorus Bridge, Elaine Bay. Lunch at the famous The Mussel Pot Restaurant and Cafe. Overnight in Waikawa near Picton
- Day 17: Departure for Wellington. Ferry at 10:45 am (NZ$253 per car + 2 people). Visit of the Te Papa museum. Night in Porirua
- Day 18: visit of the Wetacave (25$NZ/person). Departure for Kaitoke National Park (Rivendell). Night there
- Day 19: Visit of Rivendell. Departure for Tongarino National Park. Stop at the view points. Night in Turinga
- Day 20: Visit Lake Taupo, Huka Falls, Craters of the moon. Departure for Rorotua. Night at Waitike and thermal water bath
- Day 21: Visit Wai o tapu park (NZ$32/person), Mud pools, Hamurana Springs Reserve. Departure to Waitomo. Visit Waitomo Glowworm Caves (NZ$50/person). Departure and night in Matamata.
- Day 22: visit of Hobbiton movie set (79$NZ/person). Departure to and visit of Hot Water Beach. Night at Colville Bay
- Day 23: Visit Cathedral Cove. Departure to Auckland. Night in Orewa
- Day 24: Waiwera Thermal Spa at Waiwera Thermal hot pools (29$NZ/person). Departure to Piha. Visit of Karekare Beach, Piha Beach and Kitekite falls. Night in Piha
- Day 25: Storage, washing and return of the van.
- Day 26: Visit Auckland, the fish market and shopping
- Day 27: Rest
Some information on the itinerary
- Contrary to most travelers, we make the trip in the other direction (Christchurch – Auckland) to get -20% on the car rental. This was a temporary offer given by our van rental company Spaceships. Moreover, as the South Island has more things to see, starting the trip to the South allows us to extend, if we want, the time spent on the South Island.
- We made a small loop at the beginning of our trip: Christchurch – Hanmer Springs – Kaikoura – Christchurch to test our van and to be able to buy what we miss in Christchuch, before leaving for the adventure for 3 weeks. Please note that camping equipment at correct prices is only available in Christchurch, Queenstown, Wellington or Auckland.
- We chose to ignore Napier (the vineyards don’t interest us) and all the North above Auckland(Bay of Islands – we have already seen dolphins in Akaroa; and Cape Reinga – the insurance does not cover us if we drive on the 90 mile beach which is one of the main interests of the area)
- For this trip, we move very quickly to see a maximum of things. This speed is ideal for us who aren’t fans of hiking. It’s up to you to see if this pace suits you.
- Despite our rather light van, our experience in left-hand drive and two drivers who take turns – the numerous bends, rains and “view point” stops make us drive at 65km/h on average (compared to 100km/h max.). Take this into account when estimating your travel time.
- In general we drive in the afternoon. Visits are made in the early morning and late afternoon, when it is less crowded. Instead of choosing campsites close to places of interest, we choose campsites 10 or 20km away to pay less.
Total of 7332$NZ or 4874€ for 2 people for 27 daysincluding airfare (Auckland-Christchurch) and ferry (Picton – Wellington), excluding round-the-world ticket (to New Zealand), excluding souvenirs
- Car Rental: NZ$3176 for 24 days
- NZ$97 per day in November – NZ$2336 in total
- NZ$30 of all-inclusive insurance per day – or NZ$720
- Rental of a summer kit (table, chairs, freezer bags): 80$NZ
- Washing: 40$NZ
- Gasoline: At NZ$1.92 per liter of gasoline, this represents a large budget of NZ$1056
- Toll: NZ$0. We didn’t go all the way north. Anyway, it doesn’t represent anything at all, about 5$NZ
- Housing, showers and laundry: NZ$1232 for two
- Camping: 720$NZ. Campsites cost between NZ$15 and NZ$20 per person per day, unpowered site (no electricity). Some nights at DOC campsites are cheap, either free or between 6$NZ and 8$NZ/person
- Showers: between NZ$0.5 and NZ$2 per shower in camping cheaps. The average campgrounds include the hot shower in the price
- Laundry: 40$NZ. About 8$NZ each time, 4 for the washing machine, 4 for the dryer
- Hostels in Christchurch and Auckland without the van: 5 nights for NZ$472 for two in a private room. We were so exhausted that we wanted to be quiet. We could have divided this budget by 2 if we slept in the dormitories
- Food: about NZ$700 with restaurants from time to time. We cook quite a lot when we have the van, only simple dishes (omelettes, steaks)
- Plane Auckland – Christchurch: NZ$160 for two
- Bus: NZ$70 (airport bus and public buses in Auckland and Christchurch, at NZ$3 per ticket)
- Ferry Picton – Wellington: NZ$253 for one car < 5.5m in length and two adults
- Visits: NZ$685 for two
- Cruise to Akaroa: NZ$75/person
- Hanmer Springs Spa: NZ$20/person
- Milford Sound Cruise + lunch basket + entrance to the underwater observatory: NZ$104/person
- Wetacave Workshop tour: 25$NZ/person
- Waitomo Glowworm Cellars: NZ$50/person
- Hobbiton Movie Set : 79$NZ/person (just me, JB didn’t go)
- Waiwera Spa: 29$NZ/person
Guide & sources of information
- Free CamperMate application that lists all campsites, places of interest, hot showers, cold showers, toilets, petrol stations, supermarkets… the only thing missing are the picnic areas
- Free website : Kiwipal (in French), I love this site! It unfortunately only covers popular places, but each item is worth gold. They’ve made quite a few practical guides too, to consult before your trip!
- Paid application : New Zealand frogs guide at 10€ (in french) made by french people. Not much information but at least we have the essentials (CamperMate tends to overload us with places to visit, we get lost quickly)
- The NZ Frenzy guides (in English) given free of charge in PDF format by our van rental company Spaceships. Normally it costs 50€. These guides list the best corners of New Zealand, comment each hiking trail (with pictures) and give a lot of unknown places
What to bring… or not?
- Like Australia, New Zealand Customs bans certain products, please see my article on Auckland (Practical Tips section)
- You have to bring :
- A small jacket, even in summer: a visit to the Waitomo Caves cannot be made without it, and it is a little chilly in the evening
- Shoes (closed): without them you can neither trek nor visit Wai O Tapu
- Swimsuit: to take advantage of the thermal springs (paying or free); or the “swimming holes” in the middle of the river, in the middle of the forest
- Sunscreen: it is less polluted in New Zealand so the sun hits very hard. And then the hole in the ozone layer isn’t that far away. As long as we are there, we have to bring sunglasses too
- An international plug and a cigar lighter plug
- To buy on the spot: anti-insect to keep away the horrible sand flies (the South Island is infested with them, especially near Queenstown, the glaciers and Milford Sound). An “insect-repellent” with 40% DEET isn’t bad. Beware, it can stain clothes.
Phone & GPS
- It is essential to have a SIM card with data, for security reasons only. There is little free and fast Wifi. Spark isn’t bad: 50$NZ for 3GB with 1GB/day near the wifi zones of Spark. In reality, we will almost never see these wifi zones outside the big cities.
- You must have a GPS in New Zealand. We brought our own which has all the maps of the world, but if you don’t, buy one here, it’s cheaper than renting a GPS.
- Download the map of New Zealand via the CamperMate app before coming here. Google Maps doesn’t allow you to download the entire map of NZ because it’s too big. We have already had a couple of days where we didn’t get anything by phone so you need these maps available offline would only be to find your campsites.
Tours & Visits
Campsites often have discounts. Ask at the reception. Otherwise book.me is a good alternative (online booking), followed by Rankers NZ (coupon to be received by mail). In summer (December – March), remember to book the day before.
The van rental
- To be honest, as wild camping is forbidden, it would have been cheaper (when you are 2), to rent a normal car and sleep in youth hostels.
- Rates depend on the season. Even if you book in advance, rates in November, and especially between December – March are almost twice as expensive as in winter. We often talk about renting at 50$NZ/day but this is without insurance, and booked well in advance. When it’s high season, unfortunately the rates are already fixed upwards, beware of feedback from travelers who announce ridiculously low rates: 300$NZ for one month! yes yes in the middle of winter, without insurance and booked a century ago
- 3 things to check :
- Penalty if you return the car to another city? With Spaceships, not only was there no penalty but also a 20% discount when taking the car from Christchurch and driving to Auckland (most tourists do the opposite)
- Unlimited mileage or not? We thought we only did 3700km, in the end we did 5500km, luckily we had unlimited mileage.
- Number of authorized drivers? It is a good idea to have several drivers because the trips are long and tiring (non-stop turns). Some companies charge for this option, Spaceships does not.
- There are 2 types of cars for campers:
- Campervan: like ours, with bedding for 2. It is a refurbished minivan with a kitchen area and a very comfortable double bed. The most popular companies are Jucy, Escape and Spaceships (our detailed review of the Spaceships Beta 2S here)
- Motorhome: if you are more than 2, rent a self-contained motorhome instead, allowing you to sleep often free of charge in DOC authorized places. The smallest and handy motorhomes are Jucy, Happy Campers, Lucky Rentals. The most spacious (and huge) motorhomes are Maui, Apollo, Britz, Star RV.
- If you are visiting both islands, it is best to take the van from Christchurch and return it to Auckland. Some companies charge about NZ$130 when you don’t return it to the same place, but be aware that the ferry costs more to return to the other island (NZ$253 for two + car), not including gas.
- The “relocation” offer which consists in bringing back cars for companies (often from Christchurch to Auckland) at 1$NZ/day, ferry included, is generally not interesting. Because you only have 5 days to bring the car back (i.e. driving all the time without stopping).
- To drive in New Zealand, you need the French license + the international license, or an English translation of the license. My international license having expired, I simply paid 49$NZ to TransNational Ltd via PayPal to get my translation (the electronic version is accepted by the law enforcement agencies)
- There are so many turns that business falls easily. We found a rather effective system to prevent the mattress from falling down every 5 minutes: 2 carabiners and a parachute rope to fix it all: all the world tour operators normally have them.
- We bought 2-3 tips to improve our comfort :
- an extra comforter (it was too cold at night in November)
- hot water bottles (too cold)
- coat hangers to keep the interior of the car tidy
- from the PQ (not always available in DOC camps)
- First day: Run to a Countdown supermarket and ask for the AA Card for free. It gives you 6 cents off PER LITRE when you buy more than NZ$40 worth of gas at BP or Caltex. Believe me, NZ$40 is what you pay for almost every day
- When you shop at New World, you have a coupon to use at any Mobil, which also gives you 6 cents off PER LITRE with no minimum purchase.
- Gasoline is cheaper at self-service stations. Compare the prices, at 200m distance, you can easily save 10 cents/liter: www.pricewatch.co.nz
- The hypermarkets you will see everywhere are New World and Countdown. Small supermarkets like Foursquare are also available everywhere
- New Zealanders love “fish & chip”, white bait (small grilled fish) is adored by all. When you order in fish & chip, you have to order the fries separately, they aren’t automatically served with the fish/burger. Their burgers aren’t good at all, I especially advise against lamb burgers.
- However, I recommend New Zealand salmon. If you go to Pukaiki Lake near Mount Cook, there is a salmon farm not far away, don’t miss this opportunity to stock up on sashimi and smoked salmon.
- I also recommend their “green mussels”, the huge and delicious green mussels. If you prefer to cook them yourself, Countdown also sells them.
- Asian cuisine in New Zealand is excellent! Vietnamese restaurants often offer “bun cha”, go for it! Asian food courts and Korean restaurants are of excellent quality and cheap. Auckland is out of price, prefer the restaurants in the small towns
- I hear that New Zealand wine isn’t bad at all. I’ll let you tell me more about it
- Picnic areas are available everywhere, especially at the entrance of a city (even small cities have them). A sign clearly indicates these areas.
- It is very badly seen to squat on a private campsite even if you are just sitting at the wooden table in the garden. There is a reception, ask nicely, the New Zealanders are extremely welcoming
- It is also frowned upon to squat in DOC campsites without paying. I overheard a conversation between the French surprised to be woken up at 6am by the Rangers for their non-payment of the camp, when the space belongs to all of them!! Don’t shame our country, and avoid shameful and rude behaviors like : (1) brushing your teeth in the kitchen, (2) telling the reception that there is only one person while 4 sleep in the van, (3) not paying in honesty boxes (whether for food or camping), (4) squatting in private campsites without permission, (5) sleeping in a parking lot where camping is clearly not allowed (6) theft – be aware that the campsite kitchens are no longer equipped with plates, cutlery, pans etc. because of theft
- There is a fee of NZ$3.00 for all withdrawals from ANZ. Since you’re smart, you’ll go to BNZ, 0 withdrawal fee
- When paying by card (Visa or Mastercard), select “Credit Card” or “CRD”. New Zealanders tend to use EFTPOS (debit card I believe) but EFTPOS machines often accept credit cards. At some merchants, payment by credit card carries an additional 3% fee (but this is very rare).
- You can choose to :
- Youth hostels. The YHA chain offers hostels close to tourist places, I find it not bad at all, count 25$NZ/person
- Campsites: Download the CamperMate application to access the list of available campsites. Count between 6$NZ/person and 25$NZ/person (free campsites are few and crowded)
- Airbnb : I don’t recommend it because it’s cooler to visit the country “by feeling” and stop to sleep somewhere on the way, but Airbnb doesn’t allow this flexibility.
- Hotels : out of price
- If you don’t have a self-contained car with a toilet (dry or not), you can’t sleep in the free campsites WITHOUT toilets (unfortunately these are the ones with the best views).
- DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites are inexpensive but also equipped to a minimum. A good plan would be to take a shower somewhere (NZ$1/person) – in an i-center, in a private campground (paying only for the shower) or in a municipal swimming pool – and sleep in the DOC campgrounds, which provide only a lawn space and toilets (mostly dry)
- The “Top 10”, “Holiday Park” type campsite chains are expensive, lack charm (you are given a parking space) but they are well located and have super modern infrastructure.
- Still prefer family campsites. Read the comments on CamperMate to see if there is a charge for the shower or if there are other inconveniences
- In private campsites, there are 3 kinds of camping places, the price is always indicated per person (e.g. 25$NZpp) :
- Powered site: if you have a motorhome, you usually have a plug to connect to electricity.
- If you only have a campervan, you only need an “unpowered site” (cheaper). If you want to charge your computer or smartphone, you can do it with the cigarette lighter of your van, in the kitchen or in the TV room of the campervan (if there is one). Think about your universal plug
- Cabin: these are mini-apartments or caravans. It is an economical and comfortable solution if you are numerous. For more comfort and economy, youth hostels with family rooms can be very interesting for large families.
- When you go to a private campground, you are assigned a “site”. If it’s a “site” with a view, you may have to pay an extra 2 or 3$NZ per person
- Let’s talk about the shower: hot showers may be timed. The standard is 5 minutes, it’s fully sufficient to take a shower, believe me! The trick is to start the timer (push button or insert) once you are already undressed and the shampoos/shower gels are already out. Always come with an extra coin in case the water is cut off in the middle of shampooing. Cold showers are always free, but the water is freezing cold.
- Booking: even in November, all the campsites are already half full, so between December and March, booking becomes really compulsory. If DOC campsites are mostly non-bookable (first come, first served), I recommend you to book private campsites either by phone or by going on the campsite sheet on the CamperMate app, campsites often have a website or a link to book online.
- Still on the CamperMate app, click on the $ dollar in the top right corner and you will access the offers within 100km. When there is an offer like that, you can pay directly for the campsite online.
Safety: Earthquake, tsunami, trekking
- Don’t joke about it. The risk is real, we witnessed a big earthquake during our stay in November 2016. There may be other aftershocks several months after this earthquake.
- If you are camping in a tsunami-prone area, find out where to go if a tsunami warning is issued. This isn’t a joke, you will see a lot of “Tsunami Zone” signs.
- During the earthquake in November 2016, the 111 was unreachable. The site of the Ministry of Civil Defense was not functional. Electricity cut and telephone networks unavailable in some areas. If you still have Internet, prefer Twitter to follow the announcements of @NZcivildefence
- Tsunami siren : isn’t available everywhere in New Zealand unfortunately. If on Twitter, you are told of a tsunami risk where you are and you don’t hear a siren, evacuate anyway by moving to a higher area. The tsunami siren is a “beep beep beep beep beep beep”… If on the contrary, it’s a prolonged “biiiiiiipppppp”, it’s just a call to the city’s volunteer fire department
- In case of evacuation, always leave with your survival kit, a jacket and cereal bars.
- Before leaving on a dangerous trek, fill out this form to tell where you are going, with whom, when, how: http://www.adventuresmart.org.nz/outdoors-intentions/ Report your return MANDATORY or an alert will be triggered to find you (and you will pay the related fees in this case)
- If you are told not to swim, be careful at high tide, do not cross the river, there is a reason. When a river seems too deep to you, turn back.
- You can bathe in the thermal water but without plunging your head because a dangerous amoeba can pass through your nostrils and eventually kill you. At the thermal pools, you will not necessarily be told, it is a rule known by everyone here.
The Lord of the Rings
New Zealand is the country of Peter Jackson’s films: Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Apart from the must-see visits to the WetaCave studio in Wellington and Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, the CamperMate application and the DOC (department of conservation) list all the locations where the two films were shot.
- For products containing lanolin, manuka honey, buy in stores such as Farmers, Health 2000, there is more choice and it is cheaper than in souvenir/pharmacy stores
- For manuka honey, if it’s for eating, take the cheapest, if it’s for spreading on your face (and to treat acne, scars, wounds, etc.), take honey with a UMF index greater than 10, or MGO greater than 263. A jar of quality manuka honey costs between NZ$60 and NZ$150. You can buy it at Commensense Organics or in supermarkets
- For Rotorua mud masks, choose the PureSource brand rather than WildFerris, because its composition is cleaner
- In the land of manuka, it’s too difficult to find manuka oil, I don’t understand why! However, it is 30 times more effective than tea tree oil. To buy some, drop by East Cape Manuka Company at Te Araroa, or Health 2000.
OMG, what a long article !!!! I wish you an excellent trip and hope that you will enjoy New Zealand, the country we have nicknamed the “Windows wallpaper country” as much as we do. Go there and you will understand why (green hills, blue sky…)