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New Zealand in a Month: Road Trip Itinerary

Tourism NZ

How to make the most of one month in New Zealand.

We know that you have heard million times: one month is not enough time to explore New Zealand. But if that’s all the time you have for travelling New Zealand, then you can certainly have a good go at it! In the itinerary below, we go over how you can really make the most of New Zealand in a month.

The great thing about travelling New Zealand in a month is that it opens many transport options for you to really make the trip your own. We go through a quick guide on how to get around New Zealand in a month before the itinerary. For on idea of what awesome destinations to hit, as well as activities and budget accommodation, take a look at the one month New Zealand itinerary below. You’ll also get an idea of travel time between destinations so you can work out the perfect New Zealand trip for you.

How to Get around New Zealand in one month

We’re not going to beat around the bush there is going to be a lot of driving – A LOT. If you can handle it, then get yourself a rental vehicle and continue down to the itinerary below. Otherwise, if driving almost every day for an entire month does not quite sound like the trip you were imagining, then consider travelling New Zealand by bus. Here are your options when it comes to travelling New Zealand in a month.

  • Rent a car or campervan – the itinerary below begins and ends in Auckland meaning that you can have the same rental vehicle for the entire trip and avoid those hefty “one-way” fees. Get started with planning your vehicle rental in New Zealand with Guide to Renting a Car/Campervan in New Zealand.
  • National Coach – by far the cheapest option for getting around New Zealand is by coach. Get one of these bus travel passes to hit all of the destinations listed below.
  • Take a hop-on hop-off bus tour – A hop-on hop-off bus is a flexible bus tour where you can hop off the bus at any point on the route and jump back on the bus at a later date. There are three hop-on hop-off bus companies in New Zealand, where their national bus passes have a minimum travel time of around 20 days. Find out more about them in What is a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?
Flying Kiwi

Tourism NZ

Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Hahei (Coromandel)

Drive Time: 2h15mins

You’ve arrived at Auckland, New Zealand! You will have plenty of time to see the city later, but for now, head south toward the Coromandel and the start of your one-month New Zealand adventure. Coromandel is the home of beautiful beaches, most famously, Cathedral Cove.

Things to do in Hahei

These are pretty relaxing and accessible activities/sights to see for your first day in New Zealand:

  • Cathedral Cove. Either join a kayak tour, boat tour or take the easy coastal walk (1h30min walking track) to a beach with white cliffs and giant archway to walk through.
  • Hot Water Beach. Go to Hot Water Beach at low tide to dig yourself a hot pool in the sand.
Accommodation in Hahei

Tourism NZ

Day 2 – Hahei to Rotorua (Via Hobbiton)

Drive Time: 3 hours

Your final destination today is Rotorua, famous for its geothermal activity and for being the cultural heart of New Zealand. Before you get there, don’t miss the Karangahake Gorge, halfway through the drive. There are a number of walking tracks in the area between 45 minutes to 4 hours going through a historic mining area taken back by the forest and the river. Walk through mining tunnels, through native forest, along mining relic and to magnificent waterfalls. On the other hand, you may want to use that time to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set in the town of Matamata.

Things to Do in Rotorua

If you get to Rotorua with time to spare, here are a few suggestions.

Accommodation in Rotorua

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 3 – Rotorua

Drive Time: 0 hours

There is so much to do in Rotorua that it is the perfect place to have a break from driving. There’s a huge range of activities from adrenaline fixes, wildlife, Maori cultural shows, geothermal parks and so much more!

Things to Do in Rotorua
  • Visit a geothermal park for geysers, bubbling mud and more!
  • Catch a Maori cultural performance (if you missed doing so yesterday)
  • Do some adrenaline activities. Zorb/Ogo your way in a giant hamster ball down a hill, go luging from the top of the gondola, mountain bike in the Redwood Forest, jet boat or do a freefall experience at the Agroventures Park, and so much more!
  • See native New Zealand wildlife at Wingspan or Rainbow Springs.

For more inspiration, get stuck in our Rotorua – Guide for Backpackers.

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 4 – Rotorua to Taupo

Drive Time: 1 hour

Not too far from Rotorua is Taupo on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake! Again, there really is a lot to do here! If you want to skydive and/or bungy jump on the North Island than Taupo is a great place to do it. Plus, there are plenty of options to get out on the lake, relax in hot pools, see raging waterfalls and more!

Things to Do in Taupo
Accommodation in Taupo

Tourism NZ

Day 5 – Taupo to Tongariro National Park

Drive Time: 1h15mins

Get up early and drive to the Tongariro National Park to do the Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand’s most popular day hike over the volcanic plateau. Otherwise, take your time getting to the Tongariro National Park and enjoy one of the shorter hikes in the area, still giving fantastic views of the Central North Island volcanoes. You also have the option for mountain biking or even skiing on the Whakapapa ski field in winter.

Things to Do in Tongariro National Park
Accommodation in National Park Village

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 6 – Tongariro National Park to the Ruahine Forest Park

Drive Time: 2 hours

The mission today is to spend some time in the New Zealand wilderness. The Ruahine Forest Park is an awesome place to do that and a locals’ favourite! There are a few different wilderness lodges and camping options in the Ruahine Forest Park, as well as activities from hikes to horse riding to white water rafting. To break up the journey, stop is Ohakune for a coffee or check out the Mangawhero Walking Track (1 hour loop) to walk in the forests at the base of Mt Ruapehu. You final destination today will be at one of the accommodation options listed below. You’ll get more time to explore the area or do an activity there tomorrow.

Accommodation in the Ruahine Forest Park

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 7 – Ruahine Forest Park

Drive Time: 0 Hours

It’s time to relax/go wild in the Ruahine Forest Park! Whatever your bag is, you could do some white water rafting or horse riding at River Valley, horse riding, 4x4ing or claybird shooting at Makoura Lodge, or hiking in the Ruahine Ranges. Alternatively, relax in your farmstay or accommodation to get a taste of Kiwi life.

Things to do in the Ruahine Forest Park

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 8 – Ruahine Forest Park to Wellington

Drive Time: 3h20mins

Your final destination today is the capital city of New Zealand! However, we recommend breaking up the drive by stopping along the Kapiti Coast, full of beaches and walks to check out! Walk over a sand dune walkway in the Queen Elizabeth Park, relax on Peka Peka Beach. How about getting a kite landboarding or kite surfing lesson on Foxton Beach?

Once you reach Wellington you have the evening to enjoy the eateries and nightlife of the capital city! You’ll have more time to explore Wellington on the way back up north.

Accommodation in Wellington

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 9 – Wellington to Picton

Drive Time: 0 Hours (Ferry Crossing)

Today you have the treat of taking the ferry from the North Island to the South Island! We recommend a sunrise or sunset sailing for the best prices and the best light for a stunning journey across the Cook Straight and through the Marlborough Sounds. Depending on what time your sailing is, you will either have time to do something in Wellington or Picton. Here are some ideas.

Things to Do in Wellington
Things to Do in Picton
Accommodation in Picton

If everything goes to plan and you do not miss your ferry then these are the budget accommodation options in Picton.

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 10 – Picton to Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)

Drive Time: 1h50min

Do one of the activities that you missed in Picton yesterday or hit the road to Nelson. Stop by Havelock to take a boat cruise out into the Marlborough Sounds or join a kayaking tour down the Pelorus River – one of The Hobbit filming locations. Then you will reach New Zealand’s sunniest city, Nelson, where you will have more opportunity to do some of the following activities.

Things to Do in Nelson
Accommodation in Nelson

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 11 – Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)

Drive Time: 0 – 1 hour

Nelson is the gateway to three national parks in the South Island. One of which is the Abel Tasman National Park, full of pristine golden sand beaches backed with lush forest. Tours operate from Nelson daily taking you into the Abel Tasman National Park via Kaiteriteri. Either drive to Kaiteriteri yourself (1 hour one way) for maximum flexibility or take one of the shuttle services. In Kaiteriteri, you have a great deal of Abel Tasman options from kayaking tours, water taxis to hikes, or boat tours.

Things to Do in Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)
  • Take a water taxi to do a day hike of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks
  • Kayak in the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Take a boat tour to explore the bays and beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Board a sailing trip into the national park
  • Do some mountain biking in Kaiteriteri, Nelson or in the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Take on some canyoning in Abel Tasman

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 12 – Nelson to Punakaiki (Via Nelson lakes National Park)

Drive Time: 3h45min

There’s a fair bit of driving to do today but the beautiful views of the Buller Gorge helps pass the time quickly. There are a few quaint towns to stop by for a coffee, such as Murchison. However, to really make the most of the drive we suggest taking a detour into the Nelson Lakes National Park to see the beautiful Lake Rotoroa or Lake Rotoiti. Both are very similar in terms of views and short walks available so take your pick! This will add on an extra 20 minutes onto your drive time, but they are simply too good to miss.

Once you arrive in Punakaiki, you have a great deal of options, but don’t miss the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes for their impressive and bizarre rock formations.

Things to Do in Punakaiki
  • Do the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes Walk (20 minute loop)
  • Visit the Punakaiki Cavern (just off the side of the state highway)
  • Horse trek into the Paparoa National Park
  • Sample the Paparoa Track, one of the New Zealand Great Walks
  • Check out the stunning overhang and waterfall onto the beach on the Truman Track (15 minutes one way)
Accommodation in Punakaiki

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 13 – Punakaiki to Franz Josef

Drive Time: 3 Hours

Head to the Glacier Country with one of the world’s most accessible glaciers! Franz Josef is your opportunity to walk on, crawl inside, fly over, skydive over or walk up to a glacier. Get some ideas on how you can take on the glacier here. Nevertheless, there’s actually more to do here than glacier gallivanting! Check it out in the list below.

Things to Do in Franz Josef
Accommodation in Franz Josef

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 14 – Franz Josef to Wanaka

Drive Time: 3h40min

You’ve got a long drive ahead today but plenty of reasons to stretch your legs. You’ll be going through another super scenic rode on the Haast Pass where we recommend you stop at Thunder Creek Falls – just a minute’s walk from the road. Then don’t miss the Blue Pools of Haast. This is an 1 hour return walk through forest to some of the clearest and bluest rivers you will ever see.

This evening you will have the time to relax by the beautiful Lake Wanaka.

Things to Do in Wanaka
  • Have a local craft beer or wine at one of the lakefront bars
  • Hire a stand-up paddle board or kayak and go exploring
  • Visit Puzzling World and get lost in their giant maze
  • Do a skydive if you missed the chance in Franz Josef
Accommodation in Wanaka

Tourism NZ

Day 15 – Wanaka to Queenstown

Drive Time: 1 Hour

Time to hit the Adrenaline Capital of the World! Take the Cardrona Valley route to be the best views on the way to Queenstown. Once there you have so much to do! Take a look at Queenstown – Guide for Backpackers or the list below.

Things to Do in Queenstown
Accommodation in Queenstown

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 16 – Queenstown (or Milford Sound)

Drive Time: 0 Hours

If the list of things to do in Queenstown wasn’t enough for you, then you also have the option today to take a bus trip (or drive) to Milford Sound. We get it, Milford Sound is on almost everybody’s New Zealand bucket list, so this is a way to squeeze in the experience in a one-month New Zealand itinerary.

With towering mountains, untouched rainforest and unbelievable scenery, Milford Sound is an unforgettable journey. To have a break from driving, we recommend taking one of the many bus tours to Milford Sound then boarding a cruise of the fiord. Bus trips give you plenty of opportunity to hop off the bus and do multiple short walks on the way. For more information, get your head in Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road.

However, if you want a break from the road, you have plenty more options of things to do in Queenstown listed above as well as some more inspiration in 10 Queenstown Must-Dos.

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 17 – Queenstown to Mt Cook

Drive Time: 3 Hours

If you have not had enough of epic scenic drives, then here’s one more for you through the Lindis Pass on the way to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. On the way to Mt Cook, consider stopping by the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell to challenge your travel buddies to go-karting or stop by Omarama for their hot pools with a view. Additionally, there are The Lord of the Rings filming locations in Twizel which are best seen with a tour.

Once at Mt Cook, you have a great deal of options to explore the heart of the Southern Alps with its glaciers, but we’ll get onto that more tomorrow.

Accommodation in Mt Cook

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 18 – Mt Cook

Drive Time: 0 Hours

There are many ways to enjoy the impressive landscape of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, from glaciers to lakes to mountains, so you’ll want to spend a whole day doing some or all of the following activities.

Things to Do in Mt Cook
  • Take a scenic flight, helicopter ride or land on a glacier in a ski plane
  • If you missed out in Franz Josef, do a glacier heli-hike on the Tasman Glacier – New Zealand’s longest glacier
  • Do one of the many hikes listed in 10 Must-Do Hikes Around Mt Cook
  • Do some stargazing in this International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Take a boat trip or kayak on a glacier lake

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 19 – Mt Cook to Geraldine (Via Lake Tekapo)

Drive Time: 2h15min

Next stop, Geraldine! This is not without an obligatory stop at Lake Tekapo with its vibrant blue lake and the most scenic church in New Zealand, The Church of the Good Shepherd. Stop by the Fairlie Bakery for one of their award-winning New Zealand pies, then onward to Geraldine. You have time to either do an activity this evening or tomorrow morning so take your pick from the following!

Things to Do in Geraldine
  • Do grade 5 white water rafting on the Rangitata River
  • Horse trek in the hills of Peel Forest
  • Hike, swim, rapel, cliff jump and more on a canyoning tour
  • Go mountain biking or 4×4 off roading
  • Take an alpaca for a walk
Accommodation in Geraldine

Backpackerguide.NZ

day 20 – Geraldine to Christchurch

Drive Time: 2 Hours

If you missed any of the awesome activities yesterday, take the time to do them before you hit the road to Christchurch. Journey through the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch where you now get the chance to explore the South Island’s biggest hub.

Things to Do in Christchurch
Accommodation in Christchurch

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 21 – Christchurch to Kaikoura

Drive Time: 2h15min

Enjoy a coffee in Christchurch before hitting the road toward Kaikoura, the marine wildlife mecca of New Zealand. The drive is a scenic one along the coast until you reach the small coastal town of Kaikoura. Although you have a full day to make the most of Kaikoura tomorrow, there is so much to do that you can start exploring straight away!

Things to Do in Kaikoura
  • Walk the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway (2 hours one way) with multiple viewpoints over seal colonies
  • Catch a scenic flight to see whales from the sky (available all year round, weather dependent)
  • Join a wildlife boat tour whether to see whales, dolphins or albatross
  • Try some famous Kaikoura crayfish!
  • Get a surf lesson with a local surf school
Accommodation in Kaikoura

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 22 – Kaikoura

Drive Time: 0 Hours

Because there is so much to do in Kaikoura, we recommend spending the day doing any activities you missed yesterday. Plus, here are some more things to do in Kaikoura, which are best done if you are spending a whole day here.

More Things to do in Kaikoura
  • Hike Mt Fyffe for some epic views. It’s 5 hours return to the hut or 8 hours return to the summit
  • Swim with dolphins in their natural habitat
  • Swim with playful New Zealand fur seals

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 23 – Kaikoura to Picton

Drive Time: 2 Hours

Next stop, Picton! As you travel to Picton, be sure to stop off in Blenheim. Blenheim is surrounded by vineyards and is in the centre of New Zealand’s biggest wine-making region. Take advantage of that fact by going on a wine-tasting tour or hire a bike for a self-guided tour among the vines. Once you reach Picton, again, you have a great deal of things to do from exploring the Marlborough Sounds to mountain biking to hiking. Take a look at the list above to see if there was anything you missed, or get more inspiration from Picton – Guide for Backpackers.

Accommodation and activities in Picton are listed on Day 9.

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 24 – Picton to Wellington

Drive Time: 0 Hours (Ferry Crossing)

We recommend taking the ferry early today to give you enough time to explore Wellington. Was there an activity that you missed? Check Day 9 for things to to in Wellington. Then have a relaxing evening in New Zealand’s capital city before hitting the road up north tomorrow!

Backpackerguide.nz

Day 25 – Wellington to Whanganui

Drive Time: 2h30mins

Make your way back up north via the west coast of the North Island to see some wild coastline and the perfectly-shaped Mt Taranaki volcano. The journey begins by heading toward Whanganui.

Things to Do in Whanganui
  • Check out Victoria Avenue for its shopping and historic architecture
  • Walk the tunnel to the Durie Hill Elevator then climb the Durie Hill Tower!
  • Visit the stunning Kai Iwi Beach
  • Watch the insane amount of birds at Virginia Lake
  • Join a 4×4 off roading tour of Whanganui’s sand dunes.
Accommodation in Whanganui

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 26 – Whanganui to Stratford

Drive Time: 1h30min

On today’s drive you’ll get to see the wild west coast of the Taranaki region as you make your way up to Stratford. Stratford is on the edge of the Egmont National Park with the impressive Mt Taranaki at its centre. Stratford gives good access to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre and the Stratford Plateau on Mt Taranaki giving your a great deal of walking and hiking options through “enchanted forests” to waterfalls and volcano views!

Things to Do in Stratford
  • See the town centre Glockenspiel that performs at 10am, 1pm, 3pm and 7pm
  • Do the Wilkies Pools Loop Track (1 hour) and Dawson Falls (20 minutes) near the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre
  • Do one of the 5 Walks You Have to do in Stratford, Taranaki
Accommodation in Stratford

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 27 – Stratford to Waitomo

Drive Time: 3h16min

Now it’s time for an ironically unforgettable journey through the Forgotten World Highway. Fill up with fuel before delving into this historical and isolated part of the North Island. You will get breathtaking views of Mt Taranaki as you leave Stratford. Stop by the Republic of Whangamomona and get your passport stamped. After that, you will go through old tunnels (or over them if you are too scared), as well as through the wild and wonderful Tangarakau Gorge. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way. You can find a few in our 10 Places You Can’t Miss on the Forgotten World Highway.

After a long drive to Waitomo, just relax in Waitomo in one of these affordable accommodations.

Accommodation in Waitomo

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 28 – Waitomo

Drive Time: 0 hours

Now you have the whole day to enjoy one or more of the epic glowworm and caving activities in Waitomo. Join one of the caving operators in Waitomo, throw on a sexy wetsuit and tube/abseil/climb your way through the Waitomo Caves! There are a few walks in the area too if you are still feeling active.

Things to do in Waitomo

Tourism NZ

day 29 – Waitomo to Auckland

Drive Time: 2h30min

Take your time driving up to your final destination on this two week itinerary of the North Island. There are a lot of quirky little towns to stop by on the way like Otorohanga with the best public toilets in New Zealand and the Ed Hillary Walkway in the centre of town. You’ll then reach Auckland city where you can relax tonight at one of the harbour eateries or on top of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, the Sky Tower. We’ll give you more ideas on what to do in Auckland tomorrow, but if you have time, you can fit some activities in this evening.

Accommodation in Auckland

Tourism NZ

Day 30 – Auckland

Drive Time: 0

For your final day in New Zealand, why not have one last day of wild beauty by taking the ferry to one of the off-shore islands, like Ragitoto, Waiheke or Tiritiri Matangi? Alternatively, this could be you last chance to do a skydive in New Zealand, or jump from the Sky Tower. You can even cruise out into the harbour searching for whales and dolphins with a whale safari tour. Auckland really has a lot to offer! Then it’s time to return your rental car and head to the Auckland Airport for your next adventure.

Things to Do in Auckland
  • Go to the Auckland Museum
  • Walk up the volcanic island of Rangitoto Island
  • Drink wine and be merry on Waiheke Island
  • See protected wildlife on the Tiritiri Matangi Island bird sanctuary
  • Do a skydive
  • Jump off the Sky Tower or walk around the top of it
  • Go whale watching
  • Walk to Mt Eden for some city views

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