Self-Drive Trip in New Zealand from North to South island - more on www.travelswithsun.com

Making a New Zealand trip to explore both North and South islands? Here is the outline of our self-drive itinerary for a month:

North Island Driving Route

South Island Driving Route

We made a lot more stops in between the highlights but Google Maps only shows a maximum of 10 stops per route plan.

 

Trailer video here

 

The original plan for this 1 month winter self-drive itinerary from North to South Island of New Zealand is slightly different.

We had to make adjustments (i.e. sacrifices) according to the weather. Essentially chasing the sunshine and clear weather all the way down south.

You might be thinking that’s a lot of places to cover.

Thus, it helps to have the New Zealand working Holiday Visa or the New Zealand visitor visa (you need a bona fide letter for this one). This way, you can change your plan as you go. Travelling in New Zealand during the low season (a.k.a winter) helps too. We can usually check into a place on the same day without booking. And have the kitchen and lounge facilities to ourselves.

Note: This doesn’t apply to the ski areas like Wanaka and Queenstown though. The locals love skiing.

 

Here were the best (and overrated) places we managed to cover in the North Island:

Highlights in our New Zealand trip (North Island)

Rotorua

Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland . Most of the places we went to were free admission but not this one. It cost $32.50 per adult if you book online. Allow at least half day in order to go through all the walks without rushing.

If you want to see the geyser blow, try get to the park before 10am to get your ticket sorted first. The Lady Knox geyser is actually outside the park and you will have to drive a short distance to get there.

Wai-O-Tapu Champagne pool in Rotorua - one of the highlights in our self-drive trip around New Zealand. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Wai-O-Tapu Champagne pool in Rotorua
Wai-O-Tapu Devil's pool in Rotorua - one of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Wai-O-Tapu Devil’s pool in Rotorua

Tip: If you’re thinking of doing the scenic gorge drive between Mangaweka and Ashurst, the drive from Whakatane to Gisborne, and on to Napier goes through similar gorges as well. Have a full tank of gas before you go. Empty your personal tank (a.k.a bladder) too before the drive.

Scenic drive from Whakatane to Tolaga Bay - one of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Scenic drive from Whakatane to Tolaga Bay
Bridge on the drive from Tolaga Bay to Napier - one of the highlights on our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter 2018. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Bridge on the drive from Tolaga Bay to Napier

Read also:

The must-have app for vanlife in New Zealand, CamperMate – here’s a guide on how to make the most of it

 

Gisborne

Rere falls is worth skipping if you’re going anytime soon. The water is a dirty brown on closer inspection. You might have read elsewhere that the Rere rockslide is a recommended activity for summer though.

Rere falls near Gisborne during winter - one of our stops along our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Rere falls near Gisborne during winter

As for Tolaga Bay historic wharf:

Go if you have a lot of time. And stock up at Gisborne if you need to because Tolaga Bay town is very very small.

Tolaga Bay historic wharf - one of the scenic stops we made on our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand in winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Tolaga Bay historic wharf

Take note, we are not sure if logging is a seasonal thing but when we went to the wharf in August, a lot of the nearby trees had been felled which gave the shoreline an unsightly look. In other photographs online, it appears that you can walk under the wharf among the supporting pillars but we weren’t able to do that.

Napier, Hastings and Hawkes Bay

This area is more known to be a summer destination. And true enough, we only saw barren wineries under expansive grey cloud cover in winter. No tourists though.

We went to Hawkes Bay farmer’s market on a Sunday. Bought some pastry, boysenberry jam and herb and garlic cheese.

Hawkes Bay Farmer's Market - one of our stops along our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Hawkes Bay Farmer’s Market
Fresh produce sold at Hawkes Bay Farmer's Market - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Fresh produce sold at Hawkes Bay Farmer’s Market
Homemade jams and custards sold at Hawkes Bay Farmer's Market -- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Homemade jams and custards sold at Hawkes Bay Farmer’s Market

Wine tasting in this region is a must. We chose Selini estates for our wine tasting. It costs $5 per person to taste 3 white wines and 3 red wines. The tasting fee is waived if you purchase any wine from the estate.

Wine Tasting at Selini Estates near Napier and Hastings - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Wine Tasting at Selini Estates near Napier and Hastings

If you’re in need of another rain-friendly activity:

We suggest paying a visit to the Arataki honey center. Free admission to check out their informative and interactive bee displays and exhibits. There’s a honey tasting station too. If you do go there, make sure to buy the Hokey Pokey flavored ice cream!

Arataki honey visitor center - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Arataki honey visitor center

Te Mata peak was a bit muddy after a few days of rain, but still worth seeing. Make sure you have enough time to make it down if doing the Giant circuit track! Or the blue track (a.k.a. Rongokako track). Allocate at least three hours.

View from Te Mata Peak trail - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
View from Te Mata Peak trail

Napier is a picturesque town. (Bonus: so is Havelock North) Walk around and see the Napier sea wall murals and other street paintings.

Napier Sea Wall large mural near the harbor - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Napier Sea Wall large mural near the harbor
Napier Sea Wall mural near the harbor - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Napier Sea Wall mural near the harbor

We missed out on Cape Kidnappers and Kaweka Forest Park because of the stormy weather. Anyways, the ganet colony isn’t here during August.

Castlepoint

For that one lighthouse. Tide schedule matters if you want to complete the walk to the top. We didn’t know that, we just got lucky that day.

Tip: If you think you’re gonna do the coastal walk, allocate enough time. We went in the seal breeding season (August) and there was one aggressive male blocking our path. We had to go back the way we came instead of finishing the loop track.

Castlepoint lighthouse views - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Castlepoint lighthouse views

Wellington

The city center is a mixture of old and modern buildings. Plenty of shopping here.

Wellington city center - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Wellington city center has some London vibes to it.

Stroll along the chic waterfront after finding somewhere to park. We had a surprisingly tough time finding a vacant free parking space. Ended up spending $18 for 1 and a half hours at the Wilson parking near the waterfront.

Wellington waterfront - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Wellington waterfront

The Mt Victoria lookout has some great views of the city.

Mt Victoria lookout on Wellington - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Mt Victoria lookout on Wellington

Outside the city, we ventured to Kaitoke Regional Park and the Putangirua Pinnacles. Mind the drive up to Kaitoke Regional Park. The road is quite windy and on higher ground. As usual, have a full tank before you go.

Tip: If you’re a keen Lord of the Rings enthusiast, there are quite a lot of film locations around here.

Elven archway at Kaitoke Regional Park - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Elven archway at Kaitoke Regional Park
Kaitoke Regional Park - swingbridge walk - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Kaitoke Regional Park – swingbridge walk
Putangirua Pinnacles near Wellington- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Putangirua Pinnacles near Wellington

South island has arguably more to offer than the North Island. The landscape is just more dramatic, in general.

Highlights in our New Zealand trip (South Island)

Picton

The ferry ride from Wellington to Picton is lovely on a sunny day. Especially when you start to approach the South Island of New Zealand.

Approaching Picton on the Interislander Ferry
Approaching Picton on the Interislander Ferry

Punakaiki

This was our first scenic stop in south island. The famous Punakaiki pancake rocks and blowholes and later, we went to see the Hokitika Gorge. Both attractions are impressive, very accessible and require little effort to explore. So, you can expect to see more tourists here.

Punakaiki pancake rocks and blowholes - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Punakaiki pancake rocks and blowholes
Hokitika Gorge - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Hokitika Gorge

Franz Josef and Fox glacier

We didn’t get to do the heli hike on Franz Josef due to bad weather but we did do the walk to see Fox Glacier (not worth it in our opinion). The glacier has receded too far back to the mountains, even in winter. The photo below was taken without zoom at the end of the rather steep hike.

Fox glacier- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Fox glacier

We saw Lake Matheson on a windy day which wasn’t so impressive. Lake Matheson isn’t the only lake with a beautiful reflection in New Zealand so fear not if you don’t catch it on a perfectly windless and sunny day. 😉

Lake Matheson on a windy and cloudy day - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Lake Matheson on a windy and cloudy day

Lesson learnt – follow the sunshine and not the schedule!

Need a rain and windproof jacket to serve your time in New Zealand, regardless of the weather? We recommend the Uniqlo Blocktech Parka.

Haast

There are a few waterfalls to explore and also the Blue pools before heading on to Wanaka. All were less than 30 minutes each. Keep your exposed skin covered though as the infamous West Coast sandflies are prevalent in this area.

Roaring Billy waterfall in Haast - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Roaring Billy waterfall in Haast
Blue pools looking green - Haast highway drive - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Blue pools looking green – Haast highway drive

Wanaka

If you’re pressed on time in Wanaka, at least see Glendhu Bay, Mount Iron and the Wanaka Tree.

Note: We missed out on Roy’s Peak due to some unforseen car trouble. There’s a farmers market on Thursdays too but we decided to skip it to do other things.

Glendhu Bay at sunset- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Glendhu Bay at sunset
Mount Iron views of Wanaka - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Mount Iron views of Wanaka
Wanaka tree - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Wanaka tree

Twizel to Mount Cook

To get to Twizel from Wanaka, you have to go through Lindis Pass. Here’s what it looks like at the end of winter (August, 2018).

Lindis Pass lookout on the way to Twizel - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Lindis Pass lookout on the way to Twizel

The High Country Salmon farm and cafe in Twizel is really popular with mainland Chinese tourists. It sounded like a Chinese market during lunchtime. Go early if you want to try the salmon pie cause it was sold out by lunchtime when we were there. Kids will like feeding the salmon (no charge) at the farm too.

You can see New Zealand native diving ducks called scaup too.

High Country Salmon farm in Twizel - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
High Country Salmon farm in Twizel

Lake Pukaki is close to Twizel town and larger than we anticipated.

Lake Pukaki - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Lake Pukaki

When a full sunny day appeared, we did the Hooker Valley track followed by the Tasman glacier lake viewpoint walk.

Hooker lake -end point of the Hooker Valley trail - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Hooker lake -end point of the Hooker Valley trail
Tasman glacier lake - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Tasman glacier lake

Although it was a quite a detour from Twizel, we managed to squeeze Lake Tekapo in before sunset.  For stargazing too. There are many other people trying to get a good night photo too so mind the vibrations and car headlights.

Lake Tekapo at sunset - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Lake Tekapo at sunset with the Church of the Good Shepherd in view

Note: Somebody walked into our photo when the photo was still being taken. Not a ghost.

Stargazing at Lake Tekapo - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Stargazing at Lake Tekapo

Queenstown

The town itself is small and touristy but quaint.

Queenstown street- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Queenstown street
Queenstown waterfront - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Queenstown waterfront

Then, there’s the Queenstown hill hike and Coroner Peak for skiing. Arrowtown is nearby. Cute town with a lot of gold mining history. Accommodation is slightly cheaper here and there’s plenty of highly rated restaurants and cafes in the town.

Queenstown hill hike - the summit views - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Queenstown hill hike – the summit views
Coronet Peak views- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Coronet Peak views

We went skiing in Coronet Peak, New Zealand (for the first time), actually.

Glenorchy

The drive here from Queenstown is pretty enough to make a stop at the lookout. But there’s also the old wharf and lagoon walk (don’t skip that if you love nature walks)

Queenstown to Glenorchy drive - - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Queenstown to Glenorchy drive
Glenorchy old wharf- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Glenorchy old wharf
Willow sisters at Glenorchy old wharf - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Willow sisters at Glenorchy old wharf
Glenorchy lagoon walk - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Glenorchy lagoon walk

Te Anau

There is no other way to get to Milford Sound than through Te Anau. But that’s okay because the drive to Milford Sound is worth the journey (e.g. Eglinton valley viewpoint and Mirror lakes).

Eglinton Valley - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Eglinton Valley
Mirror lakes - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Mirror lakes

If you have time in Te Anau, there is the bird park (free entry with expected donation) where you can see New Zealand native birds. They have no kiwis but they do have Takahe.

Takahe bird - one of a pair at the Te Anau bird park - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Takahe bird – one of a pair at the Te Anau bird park

Close by, there’s a cafe opposite a field with alpaca too. We saw other tourists feeding them (presumably with feed purchased from the cafe).

 

 

Alpaca at Te Anau - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Alpaca at Te Anau

After we left Te Anau, we did the Lake Gunn walk too as well as the Lake Marian hike. But you should just consider the latter as it’s more worth your time (energy and lots of it!). Warning: Lots of mud involved for both walks especially on a rainy day.

Lake Gunn walk goes through mossy forest- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Lake Gunn walk goes through mossy forest
Lake Gunn- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Lake Gunn
Lake Marian- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Lake Marian, a remote alpine lake that requires more than 3 hours to hike up to.

Here’s our dedicated post on how to do the Lake Marian Track in Fiordland, New Zealand.

Milford Sound

Just for the cruise. And don’t skip out on the Chasm after you go through the Homer tunnel on the way to Milford Sound. It’s a short walk (less than 20 minutes if you don’t gape too long).

Drive to Milford Sound- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Drive to Milford Sound
The Chasm near Milford Sound - One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
The Chasm near Milford Sound
Milford sound bay- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Milford sound bay (before the cruise)
Milford Sound cruise- One of the highlights in our 1 month self-drive trip around New Zealand during winter. More on www.travelswithsun.com
Milford Sound cruise

More places to visit in Fiordland (and on a budget too!)

 

Conclusion

This post is a good base for you to plan your own itinerary for New Zealand. Here, we have listed most of the must-see places in South Island, New Zealand. Our priorities were Queenstown, Wanaka and Aoraki (Mt Cook) National Park. Basically, we wanted to see the snow-capped mountains of New Zealand. Thus, we spent more time in the South Island rather than the North. Try to be flexible with your own schedule and have back up plans ready. Bad weather or road closures can easily affect the mood of your trip.

Which places are on your New Zealand South Island bucket list (that aren’t listed here)? Leave a comment below.

 

Seriously, consider getting an extended working holiday visa for New Zealand or a the New Zealand visitor visa (you’ll need a bona fide letter for this) if you can. There are too many places to see here in New Zealand.

 

Here are some places we’ve already covered back in April to July, 2018:

Auckland – things to do and places to see

Tongariro – In particular, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Coromandel Peninsula – how to explore this region in 2 days

 

You’re probably also wondering how we can afford to travel for so long. Three words – working holiday visa. Mind you, out of two of us, only one of us successfully obtained the precious working holiday visa.

Here’s our financial breakdown post (i.e. cost of living in New Zealand). Oh, and being minimalist (what is minimalism?) and zero waste-active helps too.

 

Lastly, pin this post!

New Zealand Trip - Self Drive from North to South Island www.travelswithsun.com
New Zealand Trip – Self Drive from North to South Island www.travelswithsun.com

Disclaimer: This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *