Self Driving In New Zealand

For many of us, New Zealand’s first introduction was as the magnificent Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings. Mostly eclipsed by its gargantuan neighbour, New Zealand is now making a place for itself in the world of exotic international holidays. It will stun you with its spectacular natural beauty that seems to have jumped straight out of Middle Earth’s realm of fantasy. From golden beaches and dense green forests to looming volcanoes and lofty snow-capped peaks, New Zealand has something for everyone, even for the most well-travelled.

New Zealand does not let you sit still. It is a veritable hive of adventure activities that will get your adrenaline pumping. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, though a relatively easy hike, will set your heart aflutter with the scenery along the way. The alien-looking landscape will transport you into another dimension as you expect hobbits and elves to pop out from behind the rocks at any moment. If hiking doesn’t get you excited, New Zealand has world-class mountain-biking trails. In winter you can chase your thrills downhill while flying down powdered slopes at breakneck speeds.

Let’s take a look at some of the best road trips that you can take around New Zealand. But first, you must know what it takes to go gallivanting around our planet’s very own ‘Middle Earth’.

Before you start

Piha Auckland

Self-driving around your holiday destination gives you the freedom to proceed at your own pace. It also allows you the flexibility to alter your itinerary, if the situation calls for it. But like everywhere else, you need to know and follow the local rules to enjoy your road trip safely. Here’s what you should know about driving in New Zealand.

  • You do not need an international driving license if you’re carrying a valid license from your country printed in English language.
  • New Zealand drives on the left side like we do in India, so it should take you very little time to adapt.
  • Traffic rules are strictly enforced here and even parking your car facing the wrong direction will invite a fine.
  • Overtaking on yellow lines is illegal and could cause a serious accident as the oncoming traffic does not expect it.
  • In New Zealand everybody, including the backseat passengers have to wear a seat belt.

Here’s a list of essentials that you must carry on your road trip. Remember, while you many not use all of them, it pays to prepared.

  • A road survival kit, with tools and medical aids.
  • Sunscreen and long-sleeved shirts, to protect against the strong New Zealand sun.
  • Large bottles of water, to sustain you over the long distances.
  • Canned food and a can opener, for those unscheduled stops.
  • Accurate printed maps, as cell phone coverage can be unreliable in some areas.

Now, if you’re all set, here are our top 3 picks for picturesque road trips around New Zealand.


1. Auckland to Wellington: Follow the Hobbits

Waitakere Range

This North Island road trip will take you on an epic adventure and pass through cafes, museums, volcanoes, geysers and gardens along the way. Starting south from Auckland take a refreshment break at Paeroa, New Zealand’s un-proclaimed antique capital. It has one more claim to fame as the birthplace of Lemon and Paeroa, New Zealand’s favourite soft drink. Proceeding further, take in the dramatic views from Karangahake Gorge, which was an active mine in the 1800s.

You could easily spend a day at your next stop, Hamilton. New Zealand’s fourth-largest city is home to the country’s only tea plantation and the well-manicured Hamilton Gardens. Take a tour of Hobbiton of the Middle Earth at Matamata. Walk amidst lush green pastures and take a peek into Hobbit homes. Tirau will amaze you with its collection of huge sculptures created out of corrugated iron. Marvel at the wonder that is Blue Spring which supplies over 70% of the 9 million litres of water that New Zealand exports every year.

Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland where you can enjoy a host of outdoor activities and discover Māori culture. After a quick stop at Lake Taupo head over to Waiouru to explore the national Army Museum. Before you can step into Wellington, make one last stop at the Tui Brewery in Mangatainoko for a beer tasting tour before reaching Wellington and the end of your road trip.

2. Auckland to Christchurch: The Essence of New Zealand

Auckland is the starting point of yet another fascinating road trip which will start from the north island and take you cross the ocean to the south island. Once you leave Auckland, a detour from Pokeno will take you to Coromandel Peninsula where you should spend a day at the New Chums Beach. This hidden gem is a pristine slice of nature and is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

En route to Taupo, make a quick stop at the Polynesian Spa at Rotorua to get a pampering massage followed by a soothing dip in the natural hot water pools. Go skydiving over Lake Taupo and enjoy a drive on the Desert Road with it unusual views. Before your next big stop at Wellington, make a pitstop at Whanganui which has quite a selection of sightseeing for you. Wander around the Cook Gardens and soak in the history at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

After passing Wellington, stop for a quick wine tasting at Marlborough. Spare some time at your next stop, Kaikoura, which is a whale-watching haven. Here, you can also swim with the dolphins at the right time of the year. Hanmer Springs will be your last stop before Christchurch. Wash away the tiredness at the natural thermal pools amidst the crisp alpine air. You can also relax with some soothing retail therapy. Christchurch is just a 2-hour-drive away from Hanmer Springs.

3. Christchurch to Queenstown: The South Unveiled

waitakere Range

A road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown will take you through most of the South Island. Take in the incredible views at Port Hills and Lyttelton Harbour in Christchurch before heading out for Lake Tekapo. With its low levels of light pollution, Lake Tekapo is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. A visit to the Mt John Observatory is a must for a farther glimpse into the universe.

Mt Cook, that icon of New Zealand, will be your next stop after Tekapo. Take some time out to explore the national park at its base. The area has excellent hiking trails in summer and some amazing skiing slopes in winter. The Hooker Valley Track is especially renowned for its beautiful views of the park. After the lofty height of Mt Cook, Wanaka offers a change of scenery with its small-town vibes. But it is equally stunning, especially the area around Lake Wanaka.

The views at the lake open up to stunning vistas framed beautifully by the mountains looming in the distance. If you’re visiting during winter, Cardrona offers some of the best skiing in New Zealand. After Wanaka it is just an hour’s drive to your final destination, Queenstown.

Driving yourself around a new country can be a very fulfilling experience. Not only can you stray off the path whenever you want to, but you can also stumble across some unexpected treasures. If you cannot wait to drive yourself across New Zealand, book your holiday online today!

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