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Upper North Island Road Tour - 21 days

Holiday Planning Guide - 21 Days North and South Islands road tour. Experience New Zealand with a three week Drive NZ planned road tour.


Day Location Distances Travel Time
1 Auckland at leisure - -
2 Auckland to Paihia 240kms 4hrs 15mins
3 Paihia at leisure - -
4 Paihia to Whitianga 445kms 7hrs 35mins
5 Whitianga to Rotorua 200kms 3hrs 10mins
6 Rotorua at leisure - -
7 Rotorua to Napier 223kms 3hrs 50mins
8 Napier to Wellington 323kms 4hrs 50mins
9 Wellington Ferry to Picton Ferry Book 3hrs 30mins
10 Picton to Blenheim 28kms 25mins
11 Blenheim to Nelson 116kms 1hrs 45mins
12 Nelson to Greymouth 290kms 4hrs 45mins
13 Greymouth to Wanaka 469kms 9hrs 5mins
14 Wanaka to Queenstown 117kms 1hr 50mins
15 Queenstown to TeAnau 170kms 2hrs 45mins
16 TeAnau to Milford Sound 121kms 2hrs 20mins
17 TeAnau at leisure - -
18 TeAnau to Queenstown 170kms 1hrs 50mins
19 Queenstown to Christchurch 486kms 7hrs 15mins
20 Christchurch to Picton (Picton/Wellington Ferry) 336kms 5hrs
21 Wellington to Auckland 658kms 9hrs 15mins

You’ve got three weeks off work and its time to hit the road with a good old fashioned Kiwi road trip. But where should you go? Experience New Zealand with a 3 week Drive New Zealand rental cars planned road tour.

Day 1: Auckland at your leisure

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, and definitely worth at least a day to explore while checking out the sights, great food, shopping and nightlife.

Get Yourself Some Wheels

The first thing you are going to need for your two week road trip is a safe, reliable and budget friendly rental car. Luckily, Drive NZ comes to the rescue with Auckland car rental. Just minutes from the Airport, they will sort you out with whatever sized car you need, at the right price.

Go Sightseeing around Auckland Landmarks, Museums and Parks

Being New Zealand’s main city, Auckland is full of tourist sites, landmarks, historic museums and parks to explore. Military buffs can check out the World War II era caves and gun emplacements at North Head and Bastion Point along with the Devonport Naval Museum and MOTAT II. Auckland War Memorial Museum has a full history of New Zealand, with Maori artifacts, historical Auckland, polynesian history and more. The New Zealand Maritime Museum displays New Zealand’s long maritime museum, while The Museum of Transport and Technology (There are two sites in Western Springs) has great displays of machinery, vehicles and more.


Once you are tired of museums go for a walk in the many parks nearby including One Tree Hill, Western Springs, Auckland Domain & Winter Garden and the Parnell Rose Gardens.

Enjoy some Fun Auckland Activities

Auckland is full of fun activities, including theme parks such as Rainbows End in Manukau, craziness in a former mental hospital with Spookers and Asylum Paintball in Kingseat and loads of chances to test your fear of heights with the Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb and Bungy, Skytower Skywalk (or if that's too scary, try out the casino below) and Sky Screamer vertical bungy.


If Zoos are more you think make sure you visit Auckland Zoo in Western Springs or Kelly Tarltons Underwater World near Mission bay, and amazing underwater aquarium and antarctic exhibit.


Arty types will enjoy the Auckland Art Gallery and theatre at the Civic.

Wine and Dine in Auckland’s Cafes and Restaurants

Decades ago many immigrants from former Yugoslavia moved to Auckland, bringing with them the skills and craftsmanship of fine winemaking. You’ll find amazing wineries a short drive (or ferry) away in Kumeu, Matakana & Waiheke Island. Remember to take a sober driver with you, so you can enjoy some of the best wine in the upper North Island. Top wineries include the Kumeu River Winery along with Stoney Ridge (and home to some great parties too) and Mudbrick in Waiheke.


Auckland is also home to some pretty amazing food, with the top 50 restaurants being ranked in Metro magazine every year. Treat yourself to a great feed at Bracu, Cibo, or Clooney. For those on more of a budget, make sure you grab a feed at the fish and chips shop in Mission Bay, or grab a great burger at one of the many Burger Fuel stores, or Ponsonby Favourite - Murder Burger!

Party the Nights Away in Clubs, Pubs and Nightclubs

Auckland has an awesome music and party scene, whether its live music, DJs and nightclubs, irish bars, backpackers spots or something in between - you’ll find something in Auckland. Get underground upstairs at Rakinos, drink from teapots with the hipsters at Cassette #9, confuse yourself with the signage at Racket or hang with the Ponsonby set at Golden Dawn. Backpackers love Globe, while the waterfront area is popular every weekend if top 40 is more your scene.

Day 2 & 3: Paihia

Its a 4 hour and 15 minute journey from Auckland to Paihia in your rented car, clocking in at around 240 kilometers.

Learn about Kiwi History

Visit the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds (free entry for Kiwis with valid passport or drivers licence) and see where modern New Zealand began as well as the site of New Zealand’s first church at St Paul’s Church.

Enjoy Nature

Explore the native forest at Opua Forest and walk the trails (anywhere from 1-5 hours depending on difficulty) and check out Haruru Falls (which are even better at night)

Relax at the Beach

Being the entry point to the Bay of Islands, beaches are absolutely everywhere. Te Tii is probably the most well known, with golden sand, pohutukawa trees and calm water suitable for swimming. The more adventurous can walk around the corner from Paihia Town Beach at low tide to Sullivan’s Beach, a popular “local secret”.

Find Somewhere To Stay

Those on a budget can stay at backpackers like the Pickled Parrot, Saltwater Lodge and the Mousetrap, while those who want something high end can stay at the Paihia Beach Resort, Spa and Hotel (If you’ve got a spare $450 a night!), of course there are plenty of options in between if you check with the local visitor information centre.


Day 4: Whitianga

Its a 7 and a half hour, 450km journey in your rented car from Paihia to Whitianga in the Coromandel through farmland and up the coast towards sunny beaches.

Relax on the Beach

Its easy to lose count of all the great beaches nearby, some of the best include Buffalo Beach, Flaxmill Bay, Lonely Bay and Cooks Beach. If you feel like driving a little further make sure you visit Hahei, Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. Remember to bring a picnic with you and don’t forget to take all your rubbish with you, keep our beaches beautiful.

Activities on the Water

There are loads of activities for those who enjoy playtime on the water including PADI Diving, Banana Boats, Seafari Windsurfing, Cave Cruisers and Glass Bottom Boats.

Food & Drink

Food is plentiful in the Coromandel, and Whitianga provides lots of options for the travelling foodie. Wild Hogs is great for fast food including burgers and pizza, Squids is perfect for seafood lovers, Cafe Nina provides the late breakfast and early lunch and Tuatua is the place to go for Tapas.

Day 5 & 6: Rotorua

Next you’ve got a 200km journey inland using your hire car that should take around 3 and a half hours at a decent speed, watch out for the motorhomes and tourists who can hold up traffic and be a little dangerous on these roads, especially as you get close to the city.

Geothermal Wonderland

Rotorua is full of thermal areas, from boiling mud, geysers and hot pools, its the number one reason people visit the area. Te Puia is a geyser which erupts up to 20 times a day, while Wai-o-Tapu and Waimangu are must visit attractions for bubbling mud, beautiful coloured lakes and more. Swim in the hot pools at the Blue Baths & Polynesian Spa or hit the slides at the Wet’n’Wild water park. Make sure you also check out Kerosene Creek, hidden about 20 minutes down the road on the way to Taupo, its a great hidden local secret hot pool.

Museums, Maori History and Culture

Rotorua Museum is located in the heart of the city and is one of the prettiest buildings in town with its Tudor architecture, the exhibits inside aren’t half bad either. The Buried Village shows you what life was like before a volcanic eruption destroyed the village, preserving everything as it stood on the day.

Other Activities

Rotorua is full of fun things to do including Skyline Skyrides with its gondola up the mountain, restaurant with the best views in town and high speed luging to get back down. Nearby you can roll down the hill in a giant inflatable ball, known locally as the Zorb, the more adventurous can try it in pairs or full of water. You can tour the area in a World War II era American DUKW landing craft with Rotorua Duck Tours or if you are a 4WD nut hit the hills with Off Road NZ and the Land Rover Experience. Rock climbers can scale The Wall, while trout fans only have to check out the local fishing stores dotted all over the city for the latest news on local spots on the rivers and lakes (just remember to get your licence before hand).

Have a Drink

Strangely enough Rotorua seems to be the home of a fair few imported and craft beer places. Make sure you visit Brew, Rotorua’s very own microbrewery for some real local beer including pale ales and more. Pub food and live music is always on at the Pig and Whistle right next to the courthouse, while you can get a wide range of imported Belgian beer on tap and bottled at the creatively named Belgian Beer Bar.

Finding a Bed

Hotels, Motels and Backpackers are available everywhere on the “strip” as Fenton street is known by the locals, with rooms and beds available to suit any budget. If you are stuck pop into the local Visitor Information Centre at the start of the street near the lake.

Day 7: Napier

You’ve got a 223 km journey from Rotorua to Napier in your car rental, that should take around 4 hours through rolling hills and farmland.

Go on a winery tour

The Napier, Hastings and Hawkes Bay region are famous in New Zealand and internationally for their wines. Join an organised tour or get a designated driver and make sure you visit top wineries including Craggy Range, Mission Estate, Trinity Hill, Te Mata Estate and many more.

Get Cycling

Napier is great for riding, whether it’s between the wineries or to explore local sights. Make sure you grab a bike from a local company such as On Yer Bike, Village Cycle Tours and Hire or Bike About and hit the road.

A Foodies Dream

Napier isn’t all great wine and pretty buildings, it's also a foodies dream. Leave the belt at home and try food out at restaurants and cafes including Cappadona, Take Five (great if you love a bit of Jazz) and don’t miss out on the traditional Maori bread found at Cafe Ujazi. The bars are home to sophisticated cocktails at Med Bar, club nights at Harston and numerous Irish bars dotted around town.

Art Deco Accommodation

Budget travellers have some of the nicest accommodation options in Napier with Criterion Art Deco Backpackers and the Stables, converted from actual stables. Mid ranged accommodation is available with loads of motels and motor inns dotted around the city, while those with more of a budget can splash out on a night The Crown, The Art Deco Masonic Hotel or The Country, where you’ll find style and quality at the right price.

Day 8 & 9: Wellington

Its 323 km from Napier to New Zealand’s windy city and capital, Wellington, the trip should take no more than 5 hours in a rented car, though you may get held up as you reach the outskirts of the city. There’s so much to see and do here two days will barely seem like enough. Remember your GPS when driving through Wellington as it is full of one way streets!

Cafe Culture

Wellington’s has the best coffee and cafe scene in New Zealand, and a trip isn’t complete without checking out Cuba Street. Grab a short white or black, kick back and watch the world go by as you enjoy the creations of New Zealand’s best baristas. Later on at night Wellington comes alive with pubs, clubs and bars on Cuba Street and Courtenay Place.

Movie Madness

Film buffs and Lord of the Rings fans will love Wellywood, home of