Why a Self-Drive Itinerary?
Why plan a self-drive itinerary? Not everyone will agree but sometimes the freedom to choose your own destination, driving pace, stopping points, rest durations, and routes makes a road trip far more enjoyable. Once you have a clear idea of where you want to go, a tour guide dictating every minute of your day can feel restrictive. New Zealand is an easy country to navigate. It’s a very safe country and the infrastructure is modern and well maintained. Why not be adventurous and set your own pace?
Of course, there’s no reason why you’d have to follow our suggested itineraries to the letter. And that’s the beauty of self-drive. You choose your getaway - where to go and how long to stay.
Keep in mind that we’ve done our fair share of driving in NZ, so you might want to start with a suggested plan and then mix it up with your own preferred style. Whatever you do, we can assure you that your trip will be unlike any you’ve ever experienced. New Zealand is a unique country in a special part of the earth. As the last major landmass to be populated, New Zealand is as close to the final frontier one can get. There’s a beautiful land of mountains, thermal springs, lakes, valleys, strange flightless birds, wonderful people and world-class cuisine just waiting for you to drive by.
North Island New Zealand North Road trip Highlights
The North Island is where most people start their journey in New Zealand. Unfortunately, many people skip the entire island in favour of exploring the more "obvious" attractions of the South Island. We reckon that’s a big mistake. New Zealand’s second biggest island is quite different to the larger southern island. It doesn’t have the Southern Alps, Milford Sound, Mt Cook, and many of the typically popular tourist attractions that NZ is know for. But it does have a lot going for it. 3 out of every 4 New Zealanders live up north so there must be something good.
Auckland International airport is the gateway for most visitors and this is the logical place to start a self-drive tour. Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city. It’s also the most culturally diverse and, for many people, the most exciting. We’d suggest a day or two in Auckland to experience the coastal drives and beautiful harbour.
If you have the time Northland (north of Auckland, funnily enough) is a wonderful part of the country to visit. The sub-tropical climate and relaxed way of life will give you that holiday-mode feeling. The Bay of islands should be on any traveller’s itinerary. And having your own vehicle has a number of advantages here. Pick a hotel outside of town to suit your style and budget and don't worry about getting into town. Tour groups will unload in the centre of the town and scramble for the nearest available hotel. Public transport is a bit thin on the ground, with no local buses and only a handful of taxis. But you won’t need to worry about that.
Rotorua, near the centre of the North Island, is a tourist hub well worth visiting. The town itself is nothing special but the Rotorua area offers geysers, thermal mud pools, and lakes aplenty. The area is a centre for Maori culture, mountain biking, hot springs & spas, and adventure sports. If you find yourself feeling bored in Rotorua you’re simply not trying.
Wellington, at the bottom of the South Island, is the capital city, and a fine one at that. It’s a relatively small place for a capital (400,000 people) and the weather can be a little wet and windy, but Wellington has plenty of character. There’s plenty of cultural attractions, cafes, live music, and easy access to some of New Zealand’s beautiful coastlines and mountains. Needless to say, Wellington is the perfect place to end your North Island roadtrip in New Zealand. Or…… from Wellington you can take a car ferry across to the South Island and continue your journey.