Have you dreamt of seeing New Zealand but don’t know how? This blog is a comprehensive guide on how to see the entire country in just two weeks, how much it will cost, where to go, and what to expect on your journey through the north and south islands.
Now, it IS possible to travel to New Zealand and see many amazing sights in just two weeks, as I know anything longer than that is too long for many people to leave their homes, families, and jobs.
I’ve outlined an itinerary on how to travel to New Zealand in 14 days, with the option to add a few days here and there for those able to travel a while longer. There is a lot of information here, so bear with me!
How to Travel to New Zealand in 14 Days on a Budget:
So, as many of you may or may not know; New Zealand is comprised of 2 islands that you can easily fly between, or even drive to and from. What you’ll first need to figure is a list of which major sights of the country that you want to see, and outline on a map the route that you’ll be taking.
Secondly, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to rent a car and stay in accommodations along the way, rent a campervan/RV and skip accommodations (your van will be your home away from home), OR join an organized tour group and take buses throughout the islands and not have to worry about a thing!
Before making a decision, you’ll have to figure out your budget and factor in the expenses. You might think that sleeping in your van would be the cheapest option – which it CAN be, but only if you do it right (I’ll go through the cost of renting a camper van later in this post.)
Campervan and Camping:
A self-contained camper is a government certified vehicle that meets the sanitary conditions of having a toilet, potable drinking water and a sink with draining water. The van will have a blue sticker on the window if certified. The advantage of the certification is the ability for the vehicle to legally freedom camp on public land.
Vehicles without the self-containment certification can only camp in designated places in New Zealand in order to preserve the natural environment. With that in mind, if you have a car or campervan that is not self-contained, then you will need to be mindful on where you camp. However, self-contained campers are the pricier option, so you’ll have to decide what’s more important to you during your roadtrip.
Camping with a non self-contained camper van
We rented a non self-contained camper van through Spaceship Rentals which came out to be about $100/day. The camper van is essentially an oversized minivan that has two front seats and a compartment set up in the back.
There is space for your luggage, and a pop up compartment with a fridge/freezer unit, a crate of dishes, silverware, cooking utensils, pots and pans, a portable stove, and butane cans – basically everything you need to cook!
On top of the compartment is the fold out bed. Placed on three wooden slats, the mattress pieces fit together to make a double bed on top of the storage. You can either sleep with the back of the car open and attach a tent, or if it’s too cold, you’ll be extra cozy sleeping in the van with all the doors closed.
So where can you camp in New Zealand if your campervan is not self-contained?
Campsites, holiday parks and even hostels are designated camping areas for non self-contained vehicles. Prices greatly vary between these different camping options, as do the facilities.
Expect to pay about $40-65 NZD for two people on a non-powered site per night depending on location. When using either a tent or powered site, you have access to the holiday park’s communal facilities.
These communal facilities usually include:
A communal kitchen, communal toilets and showers – divided into male and female blocks with hot and cold showers, toilets and sinks, a dining area, and laundry rooms equipped with coin-operated washing machines and tumble dryers.
In my opinion, these facilities are well worth the “holiday park fee.” HOWEVER, there is another option that is much more budget friendly.
A great option if you don’t need any facilities or power, you can search for open areas to park your van where there are no restrictions or signs against it, commonly referred to as “freedom camping.”
Just as it sounds, you can park for free (just make sure you clean up after yourselves!) It is a first come, first serve basis – so make sure you have a couple options in mind before driving 150 km only to find a full lot.
Where to go on New Zealand’s North Island: Step-by-Step Itinerary
Most people start their road trip in the north island and fly into Auckland airport. The airport is located at the top of the island, making it the perfect starting point to head south. I recommend staying in Auckland for one or two nights before departing; it’s an amazing city with tons of food, amazing parks, and surrounding islands which you can easily get to by ferry in an afternoon.
On my first day in Auckland I was exhausted after the 13+ hour flight, having just come from a two week hiking trip in Patagonia. The time change was pretty drastic, so taking it easy and wandering around the CBD (central business district) was the best way to go. Depending on where you’re coming from, you might not have as much of a shock!
Auckland: 2 days
One day might not be enough, so it really depends on how much time you have and what you’re most interested in seeing. Auckland is a long flight away from most places, so I recommend staying one night near the airport to get a good rest before heading out onto the road. Make sure to rest up and be on your toes because you’ll be driving on the left side of the road here!
I’ve compiled a list of the best sights in Auckland to do and see in 48 hours such as taking the ferry to Waiheke Island, riding to the top of Sky Tower and checking out the city views from Mount Eden.
Click here to see what I recommend to do in Auckland!
Taupo: 1-2 days
Taupo is a 4-hour drive from Auckland, so depending on what time you’re leaving the city, you can easily spend just 1 night in Taupo if you’re on a time-crunch.
Much to my surprise, I found out that Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand. I wouldn’t have thought this because of the warm temperature of the water, compared to many other lakes in the South Island that were much smaller and colder, but are in a totally different climate than the north island.
You can rent a boat at the lake in Taupo, paddleboard, kayak, or just swim around. There’s a fun little rope swing at the water’s edge that’ll take you right back to childhood! There are a ton of affordable accommodations on the lake, so you can easily walk out the door, lounge about for the afternoon, and let your worries float away in this quiet lake-side town.
Just outside of Taupo, a 45-minute drive around the lake, you’ll find Tongariro Alpine National Park. In the park you’ll have a number of options ranging in duration and level of difficulty. You can easily get to Gollum’s Pool to see the crystal teal water, or take a short hike to Taranaki Falls.
If you’re looking for a longer, more challenging trek then you’ll want to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing aka the sinister Mordor from Lord of The Rings. This hike is difficult but rewarding where you’ll get the chance to see active volcanoes and otherworldly thermal lakes.
Click here to see the full guide on hiking in Tongariro National Park!
Rotorua: 1 day
Rotorua is a tiny town on the way from Taupo to Tauranga. It’s only about an hour drive from Taupo, followed by another hour to get to Tauranga. So you can realistically skip spending the night here altogether.
On the drive from Taupo to Rotorua you can stop to see a giant Redwood Forest with California Redwood trees where you can along bridges through the forest. You can also stop at one of the thermal parks with natural hot springs: Spa Thermal Park (where you can swim), and Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (you CANNOT swim here.)
Just outside of the town of Rotorua, there is an extremely unique activity to do that may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This will take place at night, so it’s best to book 1 night in town so you don’t have to worry about driving afterwards.
Click here to find out the best way to see the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand!
Tauranga/ Mount Mangauni: 1 day
Mount Mangauni is the beach town of the north island. There is a very cool backpacker area with a main strip filled with bars and restaurants. You can rent surf gear at the beach, hike up the mountain, and wander around the town all in a day.
There are a number of hostels and hotels here in the town, but for cheaper prices you may want to stay a little outside of Mangauni. We stayed in an Airbnb that was on a farm, right near a winery called Mills Reef Winery.
They had a free tasting if you dined on their property, with a delicious restaurant. We opted for a charcuterie platter and a bottle of our favorite Sauvignon Blanc!
Hahei: 1 day
Hahei is a two-hour drive from Mangauni and is the home to Cathedral Cove and Hotwater Beach.
Cathedral Cove was one of my the major highlights of my north island tour in New Zealand. If you go before the hoards come through, you’ll get to experience a truly remarkable sight in a pretty remote location, maybe even all to yourself.
Click here to read more about Cathedral Cove and Hotwater Beach!
This is where you’ll wrap up your north island portion of your journey. Drive from Hahei to the Auckland airport, drop off your car, and catch a flight to Christchurch – it’s time for the second half!
The drive from Hahei to Auckland takes about two and a half to three hours, so plan accordingly with your flight time and leave yourself with a bit of a buffer. Plan your flight to Christchurch in the later afternoon if you plan to see Cathedral Cove earlier that same day before the drive.
Where to go on New Zealand’s South Island:
Christchurch: 1 day
Stay the night and pick up your camper van in the morning to head to Mount Cook. Most of the camper van rentals are located just outside of the airport, a short taxi or Uber ride away. Spaceship Rentals sets you up with a quick 15-minute tutorial before sending you on your way. Make sure to fill up your tank!
Mount Cook: 2 days
The road to Mt Cook takes you through high country to beautiful Lake Pukaki. You’ll hug the edge of the lake for most of the way up the Tasman Valley to Mount Cook Village.
The total driving distance from Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park is about 206 mi and the distance from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook National Park is 64 mi.
Once you’re here, you can hike Hooker Valley Track, take a dip in Lake Pukaki, head to Lake Tekapo and check out the Church of the Good Shephard, one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand.
Click here to read the full post on visiting Mount Cook!
Queenstown: 2 days
Queenstown is known as the “adventure capital of the world” where you can find tons of adventurous activities to do such as skydiving, bungee jumping, mountain biking, and river rafting. There are holiday parks you can stay in the area or you could opt to stay the night in a hotel on the lake. An activity you can’t miss is the Skyline Luge. Re-live your N64 days and play real life Mario kart, zooming down the mountainside in your own luge!
Take a gondola up the vertical hillside until you reach the top of the mountain. You can purchase a “one-time” luge ride, a package of three, or a package of six. The price for six rides is double the price of one, and it’s really easy to get back up the top, so I absolutely recommend opting for the bigger package!
Milford Sound: 1-2 days (day or overnight tour)
The famous fjords of Milford Sound are a must see. There are a couple of campsites directly in Milford Sound, but they require advance reservations. You can also choose to stay at one of the many campsites past Te Anau Downs, which are an hour away from Milford Sound. Or, you can head to Milford Sound on a day tour from Queenstown.
On your drive to Milford Sound, be sure to stop off in the town of Te Anau. One of the largest lakes in New Zealand is Lake Te Anau, where you can take a helicopter ride or even skydive!
Moeraki: 1-2 days
The drive from Queenstown to Christchurch takes 6 hours, about 485 km, so I recommend to spend a day or two in Moeraki to break up the trip.
On your drive from Queenstown, check out the white sand beaches in the surfer town of Dunedin. You can also head up to the Dunedin Penguin Conservation to try and spot a few tuxedo-d friends.
Moeraki is located on the coast in a very remote spot. There are a couple of campgrounds on the beach located near Moeraki Boulders Beach. The impressive boulders scattered along the beach emerged from the eroding cliffs of soft mudstone in which they formed.
I recommend staying at Moeraki Boulders Kiwi Holiday Park, $35 NZD for a non-powered site/night, or book yourself a night in a private cabin!
The following day, finish off the drive along the coast for the final 3-hour stretch. Drop off your camper van rental in Christchurch and head to the airport. Be sure to empty out all your trash from the van at a gas station and fill up the tank before dropping it off!
Tips for Budgeting Your New Zealand Roadtrip:
- We had to fuel up about every 400km of driving with the van. Keep in mind that a full tank costs around $80 NZD per tank.
- If you want to charge your laptops you’ll have to stop in at coffeeshops. The van only has a USB charger.
- Alcohol isn’t cheap; 4 beers cost around $12 NZD.
- If you’re in a non self-contained camper van, plan to pay around $20-$32 NZD per person/night for a holiday park, depending on location. Mount Cook and Milford Sound were the most expensive holiday parks on the island, averaging $64 NZD/night.
- Spaceship Rentals non self-contained camper van rental came out to $140 NZD total/day.
- Groceries – depending on how much you actually want to cook; $100* NZD every 3-4 days *This price includes snacks, breakfast, lunch, water, beers, and dinner.
Check out my blog on Easy Campervan Recipe Ideas to make the most out of your road trip and avoid the pricey restaurants. Happy camping, travelers!
The Traveling Yogi