This is the big trip: an epic experience covering the best sights in both islands. Quite simply, it’s the ultimate itinerary.
Drive through a constantly changing and endlessly fascinating landscape. You’ll visit glaciers as old as time, beaches as white as snow and scenery as stunning as you’ll see in a lifetime. Taste fine wines, visit Middle Earth and look for elusive kiwis. Both reassuringly familiar and utterly unique, New Zealand is a daily revelation.
With a car and caravan you’ll have your creature comforts with you by night, and be able to travel at your own pace.
This itinerary is designed to showcase the best of New Zealand but it is merely a suggestion, so feel free to ask us to edit it to your liking.
Duration: 36 days
Independent Motorhome Tours
Departure dates:Make an enquiry
- Majestic Mount Cook – Sir Edmund Hillary’s training ground
- Epic drive through the Southern Alps
- Vibrant Queenstown and laid-back Wanaka
- Dramatic glaciers at Fox and Franz Josef
- Subtropical Abel Tasman National Park
- Stunning Queen Charlotte Sound
- Wellington, the cosmopolitan capital
- Kaikoura’s whale watching coast
UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- Te Wahipounamu
- Tongariro National Park
- International flights to Christchurch
- Airport transfers on arrival and departure
- 2 nights in a 4-star hotel in Christchurch, breakfast included
- 30 nights pre-booked campsite pitches
- Interislander ferry crossings (in both directions)
- Transfer to rental depot
- 31 days car hire (Nissan X-Trail or similar)
- 31 days caravan hire (4 berth) including:
- Fully equipped kitchen
- Tools and first aid kit
- All bed linen, towels, hand towels, bath mat, flannels, tea towels, buckets, pegs, broom and basic cleaning materials
This tour can be taken with the Nissan X-Trail and a Bailey Phoenix caravan (420, 640, 642 or 650). Click on the images for more details and specifications of the Nissan X-Trail and the Bailey Phoenix caravans.
- Days 1 - 4: Christchurch
Choose from a range of flights from the UK to New Zealand, arriving in Christchurch on Day 3 (due to crossing international time zones). You’ll be transferred to your Christchurch hotel for two nights so you can experience the city and acclimatise.
This is the largest city on the South Island and you’ll be able to stroll through the delightful Botanic Gardens, take a historic tram ride or a leisurely punt on the leafy river Avon.
Despite the challenges of earthquakes, it is a peaceful city with plenty of old world charm and picturesque architecture. Enjoy the familiar yet very different shopping, the intriguing galleries and the stylish restaurants that are a constant temptation.Available Excursions:
- Day 5: Christchurch to Mt Cook
Distance: 330km (205miles)
Leaving Christchurch you’ll head across the Canterbury plains towards Mt Cook. Be sure to stop at Lake Tekapo where the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd is a photographer’s dream, with sweeping lake views and surrounded by swathes of lupins in season.
The turquoise blue waters of Lake Pukaki are an eye catching sight as you approach Mt Cook village. Surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, all part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, there are sublime sunrises and sunsets over the snowy peaks. Explore the glacial lakes, hike the trails of Hooker Valley (mostly easy going with loose surfaces).
- Days 6 - 9: Wanaka & Queenstown
Distance: 268km (166miles)
Take a momentous drive along the edge of the Southern Alps to delightful Lake Wanaka. Lord of the Rings fans will recognise some areas as the Misty Mountains. Stay here 4 nights, allowing plenty of time to enjoy the laid back town and its fabulous views.
Hike and bike in the surrounding hills, take a canoe or stroll along the lakeside at sunset and look out for the famous ‘Wanaka tree’ protruding from the water.
Heading to Queenstown, the popular but more challenging route is over the Crown Range. This is steep and very twisting but offers extraordinary views – not surprising as it is the highest public road in New Zealand. Be sure to stop for a coffee, and photo opportunity, at the Cardrona Hotel mid-way.
Queenstown is billed as the Adventure Capital of the World, with all manner of bungee jumps, zip wires and jet boats on offer. The Shotover jet boat rides are fantastic.
Take the cable car gondola up to Bob’s Peak for a really enjoyable dinner with amazing views across the lake to the Remarkables mountain range. Stroll in the Queenstown Gardens by the Bowls Club, take a trip on the elegant 1912 steam ship TSS Earnslaw or visit the picturesque old gold mining town of Arrowtown.
Whilst in Queenstown a day trip to Milford Sound is always possible (ask us to arrange this). Set in Fjordland National Park, Milford Sound offers some of New Zealand’s most breath taking scenery, and a chance to see dolphins, penguins and seals up close.Available Excursions:
- Days 10 - 11: Fox Glacier
Distance: 327km (203miles)
A day of truly dramatic scenery. You’ll drive up Lake Hawea with the white-tipped mountains in the distance. Passing waterfalls and the gorgeous Blue Pools, you eventually reach the Haast Pass, a fifty mile stretch running through Mt Aspiring National Park. The terrain is rugged and dramatic, giving way to rain forest until finally you reach the surf of the Tasman Sea and enter glacier country on the coast.
Stay at Fox where there is a well located campsite. Follow the walking trail up to Fox and Franz Josef glaciers as far as possible (it will vary day to day according to weather) to get a sense of their sheer scale. There are professional, guided tours and you can even take a helicopter ride and walk on the glacier itself.
Then head to Lake Matheson for incredible mirror views of the Southern Alps – the finest is known locally as the Reflection of Reflections. Here you can walk around the lake, following trails through the rain forest and perhaps finishing in the excellent café here.
An alternative option is to enjoy a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools, situated among the lush rain forest in the centre of Fox town.
- Day 12: Fox Glacier to Greymouth
Distance: 196km (121miles)
Leaving the glaciers behind, continue up the west coast, perhaps pausing at Hokitika for provisions. Take the time to visit the Hokitika Gorge for memorable views from the swing bridge over the blue waters and to the ancient forest beyond.
Not far away lies West Coast Treetops Walk where you can explore the tree canopy on aerial boardwalks. And further north is Shantytown, near Greymouth, a replica gold rush town where you can wander the streets and buildings.
- Days 13 - 15: Abel Tasman
Distance: 372km (231miles)
The landscape gradually becomes softer and gentler as you leave the rugged west coast and mountains behind. The rolling hills and forested slopes give way to orchards and fertile fields as you approach Nelson and the north coast.
Abel Tasman National Park enjoys New Zealand’s highest levels of sunshine and the beaches here can have a distinctly Mediterranean feel about them. Enjoy some superb walking trails or take a leisurely water taxi to see the coast from a different perspective.
Kaiteriteri, west of Nelson, is a great place for picking up kayaks and taking a paddle around the headland. Why not join a guided excursion to the incredible Split Apple Rock – it looks just like an enormous split apple and has been there in the shallows for 120 million years.
With fine, white sand beaches, palm trees, jauntily painted houses Nelson appears almost subtropical. And with seaside promenades, a bustling marina with bobbing yachts and enticing eateries, you could imagine yourself on the Côte d’Azur. There are friendly cafés, galleries and lots of arts and crafts, not to mention a selection of rather decent small breweries.
- Days 16 - 17: Picton
Distance: 266km (165miles)
It’s a really pleasant, interesting drive to Picton. Skirting round Nelson on the coast road, with sublime seascapes and bobbing yachts, you climb up into forested hills and twisting mountain passes.
Build in some time to explore the bays between Anakiwa and Picton, each with its own unique perspective over the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds. The Queen Charlotte Walkway is a great way to stretch your legs and enjoy some amazing scenery.
Just south of Picton lie the world famous Marlborough vineyards, famous for their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Maybe you’ll pick up a bottle or two?
- Days 18 - 19: Whanganui
Distance: 193km (120miles)
The three hour Interislander ferry crossing passes through Queen Charlotte Sound, so enjoy the wonderful scenery as you leave the South Island, hopefully interspersed with sightings of dolphins playing in the calmer waters.
Across the Cook Strait lies the capital city of Wellington. It’s a bright and breezy city with a vibrant waterfront and superb Te Papa museum – the national museum which brings to life so much of what you’ll see in the country. Alternatively take the jaunty red cable car up from Lambton Quay to Mt Victoria for magnificent views.
On the road to Wanganui you’ll see the offshore island of Kapiti, a nature reserve where you can book tours and see rare birds.
In Wanganui take a river cruise on the Steamer Waimarie, visit the interesting museums and the River Market.
- Days 20 - 21: Whanganui to New Plymouth
Distance: 159km (121miles)
Heading north you’ll pass through idyllic lush countryside dotted with dairy farms, picturesque little towns and views over to Mt Taranaki.
You’ll be faced with a choice when you reach Hawera: for seascapes and beaches follow the Surf Highway around Cape Egmont, for verdant countryside follow the inland route via Stratford. To get closer to Mt Taranaki take a hike along one of the walking trails on its lower slopes.
New Plymouth is an interesting place with the well known Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre. It’s an impressive contemporary gallery housing one of the artist’s most famous kinetic sculptures.
- Days 22 - 23: New Plymouth to Waitomo Caves
Distance: 180km (112miles)
Driving up the coast beside the Tasman Sea you’ll discover plenty of little villages and places to stop for a picnic and a stroll. At Awakino there’s always a chance of sighting the shy and elusive kiwi.
Waitomo is best known for its labyrinth of limestone caves where you can walk or take a boat ride to see the incredible natural spectacle of the glow worms which illuminate the caves in their thousands. The delicate canopy of light above your head is truly magical.
The Otorohanga Kiwi House shelters several rare species of the native kiwi.
- Days 24 - 26: Auckland (Orewa)
Distance: 195km (121miles)
From Waitomo you’ll head up into the Waikato, real farming country and the dairy heartland of New Zealand. In Hamilton you can see the university, the elegant public gardens and river, while further north you begin to approach Auckland.
This is the country’s largest city by far, with a wealth of attractions. The war memorial is moving and fascinating, the botanic gardens are a delight and the waterfront is a great place to stroll. Head to the top of Sky Tower for amazing wraparound views or take a ferry over to quaint Devonport, or cruise over to Waiheke Island for lunch at Mudbrick Vineyard – where great food comes with great views.Available Excursions:
- Days 27 - 28: Hobbiton & Rotorua
Distance: 286km (178miles)
South of Auckland, tucked away in the Waikato countryside in a rural idyll, lies Hobbiton, the movie set used in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.
Pose outside Bilbo Baggins’s front door and sample a hobbit ale in the Green Dragon. You don’t have to be a big fan to appreciate the charm, and ingenuity, creating a hobbit village known around the world.
Driving on, you come to the geothermal region of Rotorua. A highlight is the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Reserve, featuring all things boiling and sulphurous: bubbling mud pools, colourful mineral pools, the 62 metre deep Champagne Pool, and the famous Lady Knox geyser.
Take the cable car ‘gondola’ up Mount Ngongotaha and in return you’ll get amazing views. Rotorua is a key part of the Maori heartland so there’s always the chance to learn about Maori culture and traditions. Go along to an evening feast or hangi for a traditional banquet with dancing and Maori culture. You may even find yourself performing the haka!
- Days 29 - 30: Taupo
Distance: 150km (93miles)
Continuing on to Taupo, the geothermal landscape remains mysterious and volcanic.
Near Lake Taupo are the Huka Falls, a relentless torrent that is one of New Zealand’s most visited natural sights. Marvel at the power of nature as the mighty Waikato river is forced through a gorge just 15 metres wide.
Nearby at the Craters of the Moon a meandering trail leads you through a slightly surreal and steaming heath-land of bubbling pools and crevices. Further on lies Lake Taupo, a vast volcanic crater, now the largest lake in the country. If you have time head out to see the spectacular Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay, only accessible from the water. Beyond Taupo is the volcanic Tongariro National Park and the unmistakable sight of its three active volcanic mountains.Available Excursions:
- Days 31 - 32: Wellington
Distance: 372km (231miles)
A long stretch south towards Wellington takes you through Tongariro National Park, a dramatic area with three volcanoes (Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe). There’s a great variety of terrain with ski slopes, nature trails, the Desert Road and some of New Zealand’s finest outdoor activities. It was even used as the setting for Mordor in Lord of the Rings.
Wellington is a busy, international city with a great waterfront, full of busy restaurants and lively bars and popular with visitors and students from the university alike.
The Te Papa is unmissable and will provide such depth to your understanding of this amazing country. Fans of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit will love the Weta Cave Workshops where the creation of the other-worldy, and often grotesque, creatures from the blockbuster films is explained and demonstrated.Available Excursions:
- Days 33 - 34: Kaikoura
Distance: 156km (97miles)
Taking the Interislander ferry back to Picton, you’ll pick up the road south to Kaikoura.
At Kaikoura you’ll find a natural playground of aquatic mammals, feeding in the rich coastal waters. There are whales and dolphins passing close to the shore and often clearly visible from the coastal walkway. A popular option is to join a whale watching cruise where you have a better chance of getting up close.Available Excursions:
- Day 35: Kaikoura to Christchurch
Distance: 181km (112miles)
Today is your final day on an epic adventure. Head back to the depot in Christchurch where you will be able to hand back your car and caravan, then transfer to the airport. Time to head for home with the memories from a real trip of a lifetime.
Price per person is based on two people sharing, prices for solo travellers are available on request.