New Zealand in one word: Paradise ! Roadtripping through New Zealand in one word: EPIC !!!
With stunning landscapes, amazing food, delicious wine, and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, New Zealand holds a very special place in our hearts. We spent 2 weeks roadtripping through New Zealand in 2015 and it was enough to fall in love with this beautiful country!
While planning the trip, we knew we wanted to spend more time in South Island. Given the abundance of natural beauty in this country, we decided to limit our days in big cities and spend more time in the countryside. We spent 11 days in South Island and 4 days in North Island. If you are visiting for less than 2 weeks, then suggest you visit South Island only.
This article provides a brief overview of our trip, but if you need the detailed day by day itinerary, please click here.
Best time to visit
The main tourist season in New Zealand is December – early March. During this season, highly recommend booking your flights, accommodation and car as far in advance as you can. New Zealand receives a lot of visitors in the peak season and the last thing you want to do is end up paying a premium for last minute booking! If you are travelling in the winter months (end of June – September) make sure your accommodation in Queenstown and Wanaka is booked in advance since they are popular ski towns.
If you want to see lupin flowers, then time your trip between mid-to-late November and early January. Lake Tekapo is the best place to see them here.
We always try to get away from India during summer. Plus, anyone who knows me, knows that my absolute favorite season is autumn. I love autumn for its vibrant colors! Once I realized that New Zealand’s South Island gets some lovely fall colors, I knew I had to visit in fall. In Otago, the colors usually begin to change in mid-April. Since we were visiting in March, we reserved our South Island days towards end of March. Thankfully, we were rewarded with leaf peeping in both Queenstown and Wanaka.
As you are driving through New Zealand, you will see many people travelling in campervans and RVs. It sure is a fun way to explore, but most roads are perfectly paved, so you do not need a 4×4. We ended up renting a regular car.
If you are taking the ferry to cross over to South Island, some car rental companies will allow you to take the car on ferry for an additional price. But a few rental companies require you to drop the car off at Wellington and pick another vehicle at the Picton ferry terminal in South Island.
We paid approximately NZD 1100 for a two-week car rental with a pick up at Auckland airport and drop at Christchurch airport. When we had initially booked the car online, we were not informed that we would have to drop off the car in North Island and pick up another one in South Island. So, at the time of booking the ferry, we paid extra $$ for the car.
When we picked up our rental car in Auckland, we were informed that this particular rental company does not permit cars to be taken on the ferry. We were worried about the hassle of dropping off and picking up another car in the middle of our trip; but thankfully, the entire process was seamless. Plus, the extra charges were eventually reversed in a few days.
Day 1 – Auckland
Days 2 and 3 – Rotorua
Day 4 – Drive to Wellington via Taupo
Day 5 – Ferry crossing to the South Island, wine tasting in Blenheim, Nelson
Day 6 – Nelson and Hokitika
Day 7 – Franz Josef
Days 8, 9, 10, 11 – Queenstown with day trips to Glenorchy and Doubtful Sounds
Days 12 and 13 – Wanaka
Day 14 – Lake Tekapo
Day 15 – Christchurch
We chose to stay in budget hotels / airbnbs in the cities where we were barely crashing for the night and/ or where we knew we were not going to spend much time indoors.
Auckland – Airbnb
Rotorua – Friend’s house
Wellington – Travelodge Hotel
Nelson – Airbnb
Franz Josef – Scenic Hotel
Queenstown – Hilton Queenstown Resort and Spa
Wanaka – Edgewater Hotel
Tekapo – Lake Tekapo Holiday Homes
Christchurch – Peppers’ Clearwater Resort
Overall, we ended up paying approximately NZD 2,800 on accommodation.
Of all the hotels, our most memorable stay was at the Hilton in Queenstown. It was albeit a bit far from Queenstown’s main town center. However, since Queenstown tends to get a bit touristy, it was good to come back to a hotel away from the bustling crowd. Another hotel we absolutely loved was Peppers’ Clearwater Resort in Christchurch. Again, a bit far from the downtown, but with the rooms overlooking the lake and golf course, it was perfect to relax and unwind after two weeks of driving around the country.
The rooms at Edgewater Resort in Wanaka were a bit dated, but the property was absolutely stunning.
Another stunning property was the Airbnb at Nelson. We were initially planning to visit Abel Tasman National Park but had to cancel our trip because of the rains. We were disappointed about having to skip the park, but the view from our airbnb more than made up for it. We stayed here just for one night but would have happily stayed for longer. If you ever find yourself in Nelson, you HAVE to stay here. Waking up to that view was surreal.
- Overall, New Zealand is an expensive country. Plus, with no dearth of adventure-filled activities one can indulge in, costs can start piling up. While it may be worthwhile to book some of the adventures you are keen on doing in advance, for the others, it may make sense to book once you are there. For instance, we were absolutely certain that we wanted to do the glacier hike in Franz Josef, so booked our glacier hike almost a month in advance. For Queenstown activities, given that there is a range of activities that one can pick from, we made the bookings only after we reached Queenstown. For river rafting in Kaitiaki, we literally showed up 10 minutes before the tour was about to start! Given that we were not travelling in the peak season, we could take a chance and book once we got there.
- South Island is more expensive than North Island. For instance, gas in the North Island could cost about NZD 1.3 – NZD 1.5 per litre; in the South Island, it typically was in the range of NZD 1.7 – NZD 1.9 per litre. Overall, we ended up spending approximately NZD 525 on gas for our 2-week stay. Similarly, restaurants/ cafes are more expensive in the South Island.
- Countdown and PacknSave are the largest supermarkets and you will easily find them in the big cities. Stock up on groceries in larger cities – they are a lot cheaper in big cities compared to the countryside.
- We bought a local SIM card at Auckland airport and it cost us NZD 40 – 45 for a sim card with 3 GB data and 500 minutes free local and international. Spark has pretty good network even in the remote areas, so even if it turns out to be tad bit more expensive than Vodafone, it may make sense to go with Spark’s plan.