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Ultimate Auckland to Queenstown Road Trip (14 Day Itinerary)

The winding Devils Staircase road between Queenstown and Milford Sound, which skirts along Lake Wakatipu.

Summary of post: See the highlights of New Zealand on this 14-day Auckland to Queenstown road trip itinerary, designed for either car or campervan travel!

The drive from Auckland to Queenstown is one of the most popular road trip routes in New Zealand. 

Along this road trip, you’ll experience some of NZ’s best highlights, including world-class hikes, geothermal activity, towering mountains, and pristine lakes.

However, as someone who lives in Queenstown (and used to live in Auckland), I need to tell you that most of the itineraries out there have you pack in way too much in a short timeframe.

To be honest, I’d typically recommend that you spend your time in New Zealand on just one island if you have 14 days (or less) for your trip. 

That being said, I also get why you’d want to see both the North Island and the South Island if this is the trip of a lifetime and you may not get a chance to return to New Zealand. 

So, if you really want to road trip across both islands within 2 weeks, then this itinerary will help you do that in the most efficient way possible. 

This is a fast-paced itinerary, aimed to help you maximise your limited time in New Zealand by seeing the top sights, hiking incredible trails, and enjoying the best local food and drinks. Get ready for one epic whirlwind of a trip.

Keep reading for the ultimate driving itinerary from Auckland to Queenstown, whether you’re travelling in a car or campervan!

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links to trusted partners. If you make a purchase through an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I really appreciate your support!

Auckland to Queenstown Road Trip Map

Where to Hire a Car or Campervan for Your Road Trip

A green JUCY campervan parked in front of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown.

🚙 Car Hire: I use rentalcars.com to easily compare car rentals in NZ. Their comparison tool helps you get the best deal possible without having to open up 10+ tabs and spend hours researching on your own.

Also check out Snap Rentals—they often have the best prices!

🚐 Campervan Hire: Jucy campervans are perfect for this road trip, with depots in both Auckland & Queenstown and a wide range of fun, funky vans.

I also recommend using Motorhome Republic to compare campervan prices and reviews for all of New Zealand’s top campervan companies.

Ultimate Auckland to Queenstown Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Auckland

  • Stay 1 night in Auckland
A sweeping view over Auckland City and the Hauraki Gulf from the Mount Eden summit walk, one of the best short hikes on the North Island.

Most visitors to New Zealand aren’t here for the cities, but Auckland is a great place to spend a day while recovering from jetlag. 

Instead of picking up your car or campervan today, wait until Day 2 of this trip. You won’t need a car with one day in Auckland, and it’ll save you the hassle of finding accommodation with parking. 

I recommend spending today exploring Auckland on foot.

Things to do in Auckland

A view of the Auckland cityscape from the Viaduct Harbour, with sailboats docked in the harbour and the Sky Tower in the background.
Views of Auckland City from the Viaduct Harbour
  • Start the day with a wander around the Britomart precinct and High Street (which is much nicer than its neighbour, Queen Street). 
  • Have breakfast and coffee at a cafe (I’m partial to Daily Bread!), and pop into the cute boutique shops. Booklovers won’t want to miss Unity Books, and Shut the Front Door has great gifts.
  • Next, hop in an Uber to get to the base of Mount Eden (Mangawhau). It’s about a 20-minute hike up to the summit, where you’ll get sweeping views over the city. 
  • After hiking up and down Mount Eden, head to Ponsonby Road, where you’ll find great shopping, eateries, and leafy side streets lined with gorgeous villas. 
  • Grab dinner on Ponsonby Road, or head down artsy Karangahape Road (K’ Road) to eat at either Gemmayze Street or Coco’s Cantina.
  • In the evening, a stroll along the waterfront Viaduct Harbour will give you glimpses of Auckland’s sailing culture, and there are lots of great places to stop for a post-dinner drink.

Then it’ll be time to sleep so you can get an early start tomorrow!

Where to stay in Auckland

A hotel room at the M Social Hotel in Auckland, with minimalist modern decor and a view of the Auckland Harbour from the window.
A gorgeous view from a room at the M Social, my favourite hotel in Auckland!

Budget-friendly: LyLo 

Top Choice: M Social Hotel (the views and waterfront location are just the best)

Best rooftop pool & spa: The Cordis (seriously, the complimentary sauna and steam room are heaven after a long flight!)

Note: this is the only day on the itinerary where I haven’t included a campsite option, as I recommend waiting until Day 2 to pick up your campervan. While there are a lot of great campsites near Auckland, there aren’t any I’d recommend within the city centre itself.

Days 2 & 3: Rotorua (via Hobbiton)

  • Driving distance from Auckland to Rotorua via Hobbiton: 236 km (146 miles) / 3 hours
  • Stay 2 nights in Rotorua with a full day to explore
A straight, wide dirt trail piercing through towering redwood trees at the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest in Rotorua.

Grab breakfast at an Auckland cafe this morning, then take an Uber to your car or campervan rental depot.

After picking up your car or campervan, it’s time to start your road trip!

Today, you’ll make your way to Rotorua, New Zealand’s hub of geothermal activity and Māori culture.

Stops on the drive from Auckland to Rotorua

The Bag End hobbit house at the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, one of the best places to visit on a North Island itinerary. The hobbit house has a round green door and a grass-covered roof, and the front yard of the house has a garden and a large orange pumpkin sitting on a wooden wheelbarrow.
Lord of the Rings fans won’t want to miss Hobbiton!
  • Hobbiton: Lord of the Rings fans should stop in Matamata to visit Hobbiton, where you can tour the movie set from the films. Just make sure to book tickets in advance, as they do sell out.
  • Tirau: this wee town is hard to miss—simply look for the corrugated metal buildings! This is a good place for a lunch break. Try the Baker for a top-notch pie or sandwich and coffee.
  • Putāruru Blue Springs: Hike alongside a crystal-clear river to its source at the Putāruru Blue Springs, where 70 percent of NZ’s bottled water comes from (note: Blue Springs is closed until November 2024, at the time of writing this).

  • Over the Moon Dairy: If you like cheese, you should stop here to pick up some road trip goodies. Their handcrafted cheeses are so good.

Things to do in Rotorua

A foot soaking pool at Kuirau Park, one of the best free places to visit in Rotorua.
The foot-soaking pool in Kuirau Park is a great free activity in Rotorua.

You’ll be spoilt for choice with activities in Rotorua. Its geothermal surroundings make it totally unique and well worth visiting the area.

  • Whakarewarewa Redwoods: walking through these native Californian redwoods is free unless you do a treetops walk. If you visit the redwoods just before dark, the nightlights treetop walk is quite special. 
  • Adventure activities: for adrenaline-seeking souls, there are options for ziplining canopy tours, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and kayaking to glow worms or hot pools. 
  • Te Puia: this is a good choice for a geothermal park close to town. It’s home to the Pōhutu Geyser, which erupts over 15 times every day. (You’ll also have the opportunity to visit a geothermal park on your drive out of Rotorua on Day 4).
  • Hot springs: A trip to Rotorua wouldn’t be complete without a soak in a hot pool. The natural mineral pools at the Polynesian Spa are a real treat, or for the ultimate splurge, head to the Wai Ariki spa. 
  • Where to eat: There is an excellent food scene in Rotorua. Atticus Finch has delicious sharing plates, or go to Sabroso for some of the best Mexican food in New Zealand. For the best breakfast sandwiches, go to Ciabatta Cafe.

Where to stay in Rotorua

A view of Blue Lake between two trees, with a green mountain in the background.
Rotorua’s peaceful Blue Lake, which is right in front of the Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park.

Best Camping: Tasman Holiday Park Rotorua (1km from the town centre, with onsite mineral pools!) OR the Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park (located a 10-minute drive from town, but in a peaceful and beautiful spot—one of my top campsites on the North Island).

Top Choice Motel: Aura Accommodation (the staff are so friendly, and the onsite hot pools are awesome)

Serviced Apartments: Kings on Peace Apartments

Day 4: Tongariro National Park

  • Driving distance from Rotorua to Ohakune via Taupo: 216 km (134 miles) / 2 hours 50 minutes
  • Stay 1 night in Tongariro National Park
A golden-hour view of Mount Ngauruhoe from the Taranaki Falls Track in Tongariro National Park, with purple heather flowers in the foregound.

After breakfast in Rotorua, start your drive towards Tongariro National Park via Taupō.

The road between Rotorua and Taupō is only 80 km, but it’s absolutely packed with epic geothermal sights.

Taupō makes a good stop for a lunch break before heading south towards Tongariro National Park.

Stops on the drive from Rotorua to Tongariro National Park

Jac from Weekend Path soaking in Hot n Cold Pool, one of the best free hot springs between Rotorua and Taupo on the North Island.
There are numerous natural hot pools along today’s drive! (This one’s hot ‘n cold pool).
  • Wai-o-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland:  see one of New Zealand’s most impressive geothermal attractions. Make sure to be there by 9:45 am to see the Lady Knox geyser erupt at 10:15 am.
  • Mud pool: near Wai-o-Tapu, you’ll find one of Rotorua’s best free attractions: Mud Pool, a pit of hot bubbling mud that is quite entertaining to watch for a bit.
  • Hot springs: There are also lots of free hot pools between Rotorua and Taupo, the most famous being Kerosene Creek. My favourite is “hot ‘n cold pool.” However, please keep your valuables with you if you choose to go for a soak, as car break-ins are known to happen at the hot pools in this area.
  • Huka Falls: Just before you get to Taupō, stop at Huka Falls. It’s only a 5-minute walk from the carpark to the lookout area for the falls, which are a super blue colour when the sun is out.
  • Taupō: Once you reach Taupō, it’ll be time for a lunch break! Have lunch at Replete Cafe and stroll along the lovely lakefront path for a leg stretch.

Things to do in Tongariro National Park

Taranaki Falls in Tongariro National Park framed by blurred purple heather flowers in the foreground.
Taranaki Falls in Tongariro National Park

In this itinerary, you’ll really only have a late afternoon/evening in Tongariro National Park.

Make the most of it by going for a short hike!

  • Taranaki Falls Walk: this 2-hour return walk is suitable for most levels of hikers. You’ll get mountain views, beech forest and tussock landscapes, and a close-up view of a beautiful waterfall. It’s one of my favourite short hikes on the North Island.
  • Tawhai Falls: This is a short (10 minutes one-way) walk to a beautiful waterfall that served as a filming location in the Lord of the Rings movies (it was Gollum’s pool).

Note: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most famous hike in Tongariro National Park, but I haven’t included it in this itinerary because it requires you to be lucky with weather, and it’s also a serious hike I wouldn’t just recommend to everyone. 

That being said, it’s an epic hike and if you are a keen hiker, you could adjust this itinerary to include it (take a night off Rotorua and add another night to Tongariro NP).

Where to stay in Tongariro National Park

A made-up bed with white linens at the Powderhorn Chateau hotel in Ohakune, with a rustic wooden headboard, wooden walls, and two wooden side tables.
A cosy, rustic room at the Powderhorn Chateau in Ohakune

The largest town in Tongariro National Park is Ohakune, and I recommend staying there for a night unless you’re camping.

Camping: Mangahuia DOC Campsite

Budget stay (also a camping option): Ohakune Top 10 Holiday Park

Best Accommodation: Powderhorn Chateau (make sure to soak in the “lagoon!”)

Tip: if you alter this itinerary to fit in the Tongariro Crossing, camp or stay at the Discovery Lodge. They provide the earliest shuttle to the crossing, allowing you to beat the crowds.

Day 5: Wellington

  • Driving distance from Ohakune to Wellington: 288 km (179 miles) / 3.5 hours
  • Stay 1 night in Wellington
A golden hour view over Wellington city and harbour from the top of Mount Victoria.

Stops on the drive from Tongariro National Park to Wellington

There aren’t many stops I’d recommend on today’s drive—try to get to Wellington in good time so you have the afternoon to explore the city.

  • Mooma is a good cafe for a coffee and cake break, or stop at Viv’s Kitchen for one of their famous cream horns.
  • Waikanae Beach is another nice stop for a leg stretch and treat at the excellent Olde Beach Bakery.

Things to do in Wellington

Sailboats moored in the Wellington Harbour in front of blue boat sheds in Oriental Bay, with apartment buildings, hotels, and Mount Victoria in the background.
The Wellington waterfront is a delight to walk along.

Wellington is New Zealand’s compact, creative capital city, situated on a picturesque harbour and surrounded by bush-clad hills.

By the time you reach Wellington today, it’ll likely be the afternoon. I recommend that you park your car or campervan wherever you plan to stay for the night, then explore the city by foot.

  • Experience Wellington’s cafe scene: Grab some lunch and coffee at one of Wellington’s fantastic cafes to bolster your afternoon. Prefab, Fidel’s Cafe, and Beach Babylon are a few of my favourites.
  • Te Papa Museum: even if you’re not normally a museum person, make sure to visit the amazing (and free) Te Papa Museum. Don’t miss the natural history section and the poignant Gallipoli exhibit.
  • Oriental Bay Parade: After Te Papa, walk along the Oriental Bay Parade, past the colourful and photogenic boat sheds, to the start of the Mount Victoria lookout walk.
  • Mount Victoria Lookout: Hike up to the Mount Vic lookout—it’ll take about 30-45 minutes to get to the top—for an incredible view over the city. I like starting this walk from Grass Street and then connecting to the Southern Walkway (pink signs) to the Lookout Walkway (purple signs).
  • Wellington breweries: After hiking back down from the Mount Vic summit, it’s time to hit up a Wellington brewery. I love Fortune Favours, Parrotdog, Heyday, and Fork & Tap—take your pick!
  • Dinner in Wellington: Have dinner at Little Penang, where you’ll find some of the best Malaysian food in the country. Or get a delicious burger at Burger Liquor.
  • To end the night, walk off dinner with a stroll down Cuba Street and get an ice cream at Duck Island. For a relaxing evening activity, watch a movie at the charming Lighthouse Cinema.  

Tip: have more time to spend in Wellington? If you have another day here, take the Cable Car to the Botanic Gardens, visit Zealandia, or book a tour of Wētā Workshop.

Where to stay in Wellington

The entrance to the Ohtel boutique hotel in Wellington, with plastic orange chairs at a wooden bar in the front of the building, and signage with orange accents.
The Ohtel in Wellington, a lovely boutique stay

Camping: self-contained campervans can camp at the Evans Bay Marina freedom campsite, but make sure you arrive early to secure a spot. Also see my guide to the best campsites in the Wellington Region.

If you’re in a non-self-contained campervan, I actually recommend booking a hostel or hotel for your night in Wellington, as there aren’t any proper campgrounds within the city centre.

Budget-friendly: The Marion Hostel

Best views: Copthorne Hotel

Boutique stays: Ohtel or the Intrepid Hotel

Day 6: Kaikōura

  • Ferry from Wellington to Picton: 3.5 hours
  • Driving distance from Picton to Kaikōura: 156 km (97 miles) / 2 hours
  • Stay 1 night in Kaikōura

Today, you’ll board the vehicle ferry and travel across the Cook Straight to the South Island, where you’ll land in Picton to begin the next leg of your road trip.

I recommend booking an early morning ferry trip so you have time to enjoy Kaikōura in the afternoon and evening. Interislander & Bluebridge are the two main ferry providers.

The Cook Straight ferry ride takes about 3.5 hours and showcases some seriously stunning scenery in the Marlborough Sounds.

After disembarking from the Picton ferry terminal, it’ll then be a 2-hour drive to Kaikōura, which is best known for its abundance of marine life including seals, dolphins, and whales.

Stops on the Drive from Picton to Kaikōura

Seals basking on sun-bleached rocks along the ocean at Ohau Point near Kaikoura, one of the best places to see seals in New Zealand.
Fur seals at Ohau Point, just north of Kaikōura
  • Picton Village Bakery: pick up a sandwich and sweet treat before hitting the road.
  • Kekerengu Store: If you need a mid-drive pick-me-up, stop here for a coffee.
  • Ohau Point: View the seal colony here before reaching Kaikōura. It’s one of the best places to see New Zealand fur seals in droves.

Things to do in Kaikōura

Jac from Weekend Path hiking down stairs at the Kaikoura Coastal Walkway.
The Kaikōura Coastal Walkway is a must-do hike in Kaikōura.
  • Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway: Hike along this trail for gorgeous views and the chance to see NZ fur seals.
  • Sample the local food: Kaikōura is known for its abundant kai moana (seafood), so be sure to try some! Have dinner at the Pier Hotel or go to Cooper’s Catch for takeaway fish & chips to have at the beach. If you don’t like seafood, go to Slam Club for a locally-sourced meal and craft beer.

Where to stay in Kaikōura

The entrance to the Sudima Hotel in Kaikoura.
The Sudima Hotel in Kaikōura

Camping: Kaikōura Top 10 Holiday Park

Top Choice Hotel: Sudima Hotel

Best Apartments: Kaikōura Waterfront Apartments

Day 7: Christchurch

  • Driving distance from Kaikōura to Christchurch: 180 km (112 miles) / 2.5 hours
  • Stay 1 night in Christchurch
Pastel blue, yellow, and green shopfronts along New Regent Street in Christchurch, with green signage for Story restaurant and pink signage for a cockatail bar called "gin gin."
New Regent Street in Christchurch

If you’re keen on taking a whale-watching tour in Kaikōura, this morning would be the time to do it! 

Kaikoura is the best place in NZ to see whales, and a morning ocean cruise will be an amazing way to start the day.

After your whale-watching tour, make your way to Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city.

Christchurch has been rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 2011 (and there’s still a lot of construction in the works). The city centre is modern, walkable, and full of creative energy.

Stops on the drive from Kaikōura to Christchurch

The stretch of road south of Kaikōura is one of the most scenic coastal drives in the country, so take your time and enjoy the views.

For lunch, you could stop at a winery in the Waipara Valley, located just an hour north of Christchurch. Waipara Springs does beautiful lunch platters.

Things to do in Christchurch

A green Christchurch tram, filled with passengers, crossing the road in front of the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Spend your afternoon in Christchurch by walking or taking the tram around the city centre, which is flat and easily walkable.

  • Highlights in the city centre include the beautiful (and free) Botanic Gardens, Avon River, Arts Centre, Christchurch Art Gallery, and colourful shopfronts along New Regent Street.

    While you can easily walk to these highlights, the hop-on, hop-off tram is a fun way to see the city, too. It stops at all of the top spots.

    You can also book a tram & gondola combo, which includes a trip up the Christchurch Gondola to see panoramic views over Christchurch and its surrounds. Or you could instead hike up the steep but scenic Bridle Path to access the same views from the top for free (take the number 8 bus from the city centre to the base of the gondola to start your hike).
  • Dinner in Christchurch: After exploring the city, have dinner and a drink at the Riverside Market, which has heaps of dining options and is a must-visit when in Christchurch. Or head to Little High Eatery, an upscale food court with a wide variety of choices and fun, casual vibe.
  • For the perfect post-dinner treat, grab an ice cream at Rollickin Gelato or sip on a nightcap at the cosy Last Word bar.

Where to Stay in Christchurch

A sunny bedroom at the West Fitzroy Apartments in Christchurch, with a Queen bed made up in white sheets with a grey accent pillow and blanket, and a wooden bedframe and side table.
A comfortable room at the West Fitzroy Apartments in Christchurch, my favourite place to stay in the city.

Camping: Tasman Holiday Park (this is located out of the city centre, but you can camp here and then take an Uber or bus into the city)

Budget-friendly: Breakfree on Cashel (their rooms are tiny and some have no windows 😬, but it’s in a good location right in the city centre—and you can’t beat the price. Street parking only, though, so take all belongings with you to your room).

Top choice accommodation: West Fitzroy Apartments (I don’t stay anywhere else in Christchurch now! They have parking, kitchenettes, and laundry facilities in each room).

Day 8: Mount Cook National Park

  • Driving distance from Christchurch to Mount Cook Village: 330 km (205 miles) / 4 hours 10 minutes
  • Stay 1 night in Mount Cook National Park

Fuel up with some breakfast at one of Christchurch’s cafes (I’m a huge fan of Grizzly Bakery) and then hit the road—you’re leaving city life and heading back into the wild today!

Tip: If you need to pick up any road trip snacks or other groceries, the supermarkets in Christchurch will have the best selection you’ll find over the next stretch of your trip. I do recommend stocking up, as there are no supermarkets in Mount Cook National Park and dining options are limited.

Related read: the Ultimate Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary

Stops on the drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park

Purple and pink lupins growing along the shores of Lake Tekapo, with softly-shaded mountains in the backdrop.
Springtime lupins at Lake Tekapo
  • Need a coffee break? Triangle Cafe in Ashburton is an excellent choice.
  • Geraldine: Visit the Barker’s Foodstore to pick up some NZ-made jams & chutneys. The Geradline Cheese Company is also well worth a visit.
  • Pies at Fairlie Bakery: Make sure you’ve saved some room for more food, because the Fairlie Bakery is an absolute must-do for a savoury pie. Their pork belly and applesauce pie is, in my opinion, the best pie in the country 🙂
  • Tekapo: this town is home to Lake Tekapo, a stunning turquoise-blue lake that’s so pretty it feels unreal. Stop here for a bathroom break, leg stretch, and lunch.  Walk along the lakefront and visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd. Have lunch at Kohan, a Japanese restaurant with amazing bentos featuring local alpine salmon.

    In late spring and early summer, Lake Tekapo is a hotspot for lupin-spotting on the South Island. Between the end of November to mid-December, you’ll see abundant patches of lupins all along the lakefront.

  • Lake Pukaki: After Lake Tekapo, you’ll drive for about 30 minutes before reaching Lake Pukaki, another stunning turquoise lake. Pull into the Lake Pukaki Viewpoint for epic views over the Lake, and on a clear day you’ll also see Aoraki / Mount Cook in the distance.

  • Other noteworthy stops between Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook National Park include the Mount Cook Alpine Salmon Shop, Mount Cook Lavender Farm (summer only), and Peter’s Lookout.

After enjoying all of this incredible scenery, you’ll reach your destination: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park!

Things to do in Mount Cook National Park

A zig-zagging boardwalk surrounded by meadows with Mount Cook in the background on the Hooker Valley hike in Mount Cook National Park, one of the best day walks on the South Island.
The Hooker Valley track

Hiking, hiking and more hiking—that’s how to spend your time in Mount Cook National Park!

That being said, you’ll probably only have time for one hike this afternoon.

You should make that the Hooker Valley Track, a 3-hour return hike that is quite possibly the best day hike on the South Island.

After hiking, have some dinner and then head outside to stargaze for a bit—on a clear night, the stargazing is incredible!

Where to stay in Mount Cook National Park

A view looking up at the grandiose building of the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook National Park, with a towering 6 stories filled with the windows of hotel rooms.
The Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook National Park

Camping: White Horse Hill DOC Campground (this is truly one of the most scenic campsites on the South Island!). Also see my guide to the best campsites near Mount Cook.

Budget-friendly: Haka House

Best Motel: Aoraki Court Motel

Splurge-worthy views: The Hermitage

❗️Just a heads up : You need to book far ahead for accommodation in Mount Cook National Park, as it’s extremely limited. I’d get your Mount Cook accommodation locked in asap to avoid disappointment.

Day 9: Wānaka

  • Driving distance from Mount Cook Village to Wānaka: 206 km (128 miles) / 2.5 hour
  • Stay 1 night in Wānaka
Lake Wanaka in winter, with snow-capped mountains in the backdrop and an empty pontoon floating on the lake.

Before leaving Mount Cook National Park today, try to squeeze in one more hike! 

I recommend the Kea Point Track or Tasman Glacier View Track for short but scenic hiking options. 

Then it’s time to make your way to Wānaka, a gorgeous lakeside town filled with cute cafes, local boutique shops, and plenty of nearby hikes to choose from.

Stops on the drive from Mount Cook National Park to Wānaka

Mountains covered in golden meadows along Lindis Pass.
Lindis Pass
  • Twizel: The first stop today should be for brunch! Make your way to Twizel and have a coffee and brekkie at Mint Folk & Co. 
  • Omarama Clay Cliffs: these craggy rock formations are a worthy detour along today’s drive if you have an extra hour to spare. There’s a $5 entry fee per car, so bring cash with you.

  • Lindis Pass: From Twizel, you’ll drive past some stunning high country scenery before heading up Lindis Pass, a winding mountain pass surrounded by golden tussock fields. Stop at the Lindis Pass summit lookout for a gorgeous view and photo op.

From the Lindis Pass summit, you’ll have one more hour of driving before reaching Wānaka.

Things to do in Wānaka

Views over Lake Wanaka and the town of Wanaka, surrounded by mountains, from the summit of the Mount Iron Track.
Views from the summit of the Mount Iron Track in Wānaka

You could easily spend a week (or a lifetime!) in Wānaka and not get bored. With just one afternoon, though, here’s what I’d do.

  • Mount Iron: Hike up the Mount Iron Track to get excellent views over Lake Wānaka and the town.
  • Wānaka Lavender Farm: In summer, visit this gorgeous lavender farm and meander through rows and rows of lavender and stunning flower-filled gardens. There are cute farm animals onsite, plus a lovely lavender shop selling beauty products, teas, and ice cream.

  • Wānaka lakefront walk: Wander along the lakefront path from Wānaka’s main beach to the famous Wānaka tree, which is overhyped (to be honest) but somewhat of a must-see. I like walking along the path for a while past the famous tree —it’s a cruisy, lovely trail with awesome scenery.
  • Craft beer: After all of that walking, it’s time for a beer! Head to B.effect brewery for a craft beer and snack.
  • Dinner in Wānaka: For a casual alfresco meal or takeway, go to the Brownston Street food truck pod (Burrito Craft and Pizza Pizza are excellent). Red Star does great burgers. And for something a bit more special, Francesca’s Italian is my top choice.
  • Cinema Paradiso: After dinner, see a movie at the iconic Cinema Paradiso, and make sure to get a warm chocolate chip cookie at intermission.

Have more time to spend in Wānaka? Add another day here for hiking, and tackle the Rob Roy Glacier,  Roy’s Peak, Isthmus Peak, or Rocky Mountain tracks.

Where to Stay in Wānaka

Looking out over an inviting pool from the deck of a room at the Wanaka Lakeview Apartments, with a view of Lake Wanaka in the background.
The Lakeside Apartments are an excellent stay in Wānaka—but it’s hard to leave the epic pool!

Camping: Wānaka Top 10 Holiday Park

Top Choice Accommodation: Lakeside Apartments

Best-Value Motel: Clearbrook Motel Wānaka

Days 10 & 11: Te Anau & Milford Sound

  • Driving distance from Wānaka to Te Anau: 227 km (141 miles) / 3 hours
  • Stay 2 nights in Te Anau with a day trip to Milford Sound
milford sound foreshore walk
Milford Sound

You’ll be heading from one lakeside town to another today, and the scenery along the way will be absolutely spectacular.

After breakfast at a cafe in Wanaka (I love Scroggin or Curbside Bagels), make your way towards Te Anau, the “Gateway to Milford Sound.”

I recommend spending two nights in Te Anau. 

On your first day in Te Anau, spend the afternoon on a day hike or simply enjoy the cute town.

Then on your second day in Te Anau, day trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound.

Stops on the drive from Wānaka to Te Anau – Day 10

Buckingham Street in Arrowtown with shops and cars on both sides of the street. There are hills around the street covered in autumn foliage.
Buckingham Street in Arrowtown
  • Cardrona: Snap a photo of the famous Cardrona Pub, and have a coffee in their beautiful gardens.

  • Crown Range Road: This twisty, steep road is the highest main road in New Zealand. It’s super scenic, but please take care when travelling along this road, particularly in the winter months. Stop at the carpark at the summit for some incredible views over Arrowtown, Queenstown, and the Remarkables Mountain Range.

  • Arrowtown: This picturesque historic gold mining town is a worthy detour on today’s drive. Walk along the Arrow River Trail and wander along Buckingham Street, where you’ll find cute boutiques and cafes. Check out the Royalburn Farm shop for local produce and gifts. Have lunch at Provisions Cafe or a coffee at Wolf Coffee Roasters before hitting the road again.

  • Garston: by this point, you may be in need of another quick break from the car. There is a good public bathroom in Garston, plus a great coffee cart (the Coffee Bomb) and a wonderful honey shop where you can pick up manuka honey or the local specialty: wild thyme honey.

Note: you’ll drive right through Queenstown today, but I haven’t included any stops in Queenstown on this leg of the trip, because you’ll be returning here after Te Anau and Milford Sound! 

Things to do in Te Anau

A golden-hour view at sunset over Lake Te Anau and the Marakura Wharf, with snow-dusted mountains in the backdrop.
Sunset views over Lake Te Anau from the Marakura wharf.
  • Hiking: Do a day walk on the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks. I love the trail sections from Rainbow Reach to Shallow Bay or from the Control Gates to Brod Bay—both are filled with beech forest and lush ferns.

  • Must-see movie: See the 45-minute Ata Whenua – Shadowland film at Fiordland Cinema while enjoying a local beer or wine.

  • Where to eat: Have dinner at either Redcliff Cafe or Ditto. For breakfast in Te Anau, go to Sandfly Cafe. A pie from Miles Better Pies is never a bad idea, either.

  • Photo-op: Visit the Marakura Yacht Club jetty at sunset to snap a gorgeous photo of Lake Te Anau.

  • More activities: the Te Anau glow worm caves are a popular paid activity. For more things to do, check out the bird sanctuary to see takahē and other native birds, or play disc golf in Ivon Wilson Park (byo discs or buy from Outside Sports).

Things to do between Te Anau & Milford Sound – Day 11

  • Driving distance from Te Anau to Milford Sound: 118 km (73 miles) / 2 hours (one way)
A section of the road on the Te Anau to Milford Sound drive with a snowy mountain in the backdrop.

Spend Day 11 of your itinerary by taking a day trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound.

The drive today is arguably the best scenic drive in New Zealand, so take your time and plan for lots of stops. 

I recommend packing a picnic lunch, drinking water, and snacks with you because there aren’t many amenities in Milford Sound. Also make sure to fuel up your vehicle with petrol in Te Anau before your drive. 

  • Eglinton Valley: this is a quick stop for gorgeous views over a tussock-covered valley with mountains in the backdrop.

  • Mirror Lakes: take a 5-minute walk along a boardwalk to see the small Mirror Lakes, which reflect the surrounding mountains on a clear, calm day.

  • Homer Tunnel: you’ll likely have to stop here to wait for oncoming traffic (the tunnel is one-way and regulated by traffic lights). While you wait, take in the scenery from your vehicle and keep your eyes peeled for kea, NZ’s cheeky alpine parrot!

  • Milford Foreshore Walk: this is a gorgeous and flat, easy walk along the Milford Sound Foreshore offering some amazing views over the sound. Look for the Insta-famous swing while you’re there!

  • Milford Sound cruise or kayak trip: take a relaxing cruise along Milford Sound and soak in the epic scenery including mountains, waterfalls, and marine life. Or for something more active, book a kayak trip with Rosco’s kayaks.

  • Key Summit Hike: on the return drive from Milford Sound back to Te Anau, tackle the Key Summit Hike. On a clear day, the views from the summit are some of the best in Fiordland.  

Parking Tip: the main carpark at Milford Sound is expensive, charging $10 per hour to park. For free parking, park at Deepwater Basin and then walk for 20-30 minutes to reach the cruise terminal (this is what I always do). 

🛳 Book your Milford Sound cruise in advance!

Make sure to book your Milford Sound cruise well in advance if visiting during the summer months.

I love the Pure Milford cruise, and they offer a 24-hour cancellation policy for direct bookings—so there’s nothing to lose by booking ahead!

Where to Stay in Te Anau

A made-up bed in a motel room at the Te Anau Tasman Holiday Park, with two folded grey bath towels topped with 2 grey washcloths at the foot of the bed, white bedding, wooden side tables on each side of the bed, and a diamond-shaped decorative wall hanging with a plant above the bed.
A modern, comfy motel room at the Tasman Holiday Park in Te Anau

Camping: either the Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park or Tasman Holiday Park Te Anau (they are both great)

Top Choice Motels: Lakeside Motel & Apartments OR a “deluxe” or “superior” studio room or apartment at the Tasman Holiday Park (believe me…I’ve stayed in several lacklustre, overpriced places in Te Anau and these are the best I’ve found!).

Days 12 & 13: Queenstown & Glenorchy

  • Driving distance from Te Anau to Queenstown: 171 km (106 miles) / 2 hours 10 minutes
  • Stay 2 nights in Queenstown with a day trip to Glenorchy
Views over Lake Wakatipu and the Queenstown Gardens from the top of the Skyline Gondola.

Now it’s time for the last destination on your road trip: Queenstown!

While it’s known as the “Adventure Capital of the World,” there’s a lot more to Queenstown than adrenaline-rushing activities. 

This beautiful town is perched upon the shores of Lake Wakatipu and encircled by towering mountains. It’s home to incredible hiking & cycling trails, a fantastic dining scene, and some seriously wonderful craft breweries and wineries.

In short, Queenstown is pretty spectacular. This is where I live, so I’ll share some local intel with you!

Stops on the drive from Te Anau to Queenstown

The winding Devils Staircase road between Queenstown and Milford Sound, which skirts along Lake Wakatipu.

You’ll already have driven this stretch of road on your drive from Wānaka to Te Anau, so I recommend just getting to Queenstown as early as you can. 

  • Devil’s Staircase Lookout Point: One pitstop that’s worth making today is a quick photo-op at the lookout on the Devil’s Staircase road along Lake Wakatipu. It’ll be on the left side of the road today, which is easier to access than on the drive down when it’s on the opposite side.
  • Supermarkets: Another stop you may want to make is at one of the supermarkets in Frankton, a suburb of Queenstown. If you’re planning to cook at your accommodation or campground, or if you simply want to grab some snacks and drinks, Frankton has the best supermarket selection in Queenstown (Pak n Save is my go-to).

Things to do in Queenstown – Day 12

The historic red and white TSS Earnslaw steamship, parked up at Walter Peak on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown.
The iconic TSS Earnslaw Ship

There is so much to do in Queenstown that it’s hard to narrow it down to a short description.

Popular activities include riding the Skyline Gondola; taking a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw; and zipping along the water on a high-speed jet boat.

However, my favourite things to do in Queenstown are a little bit different. If you love being outdoors like I do, then spend the rest of the day walking or cycling!

  • Queenstown Hill Walk: For a short (but steep) hike, head up Queenstown Hill for stunning views over Queenstown. This 4.8km (3 mile) trail takes around 2 hours return.

  • Queenstown Gardens: Walk through the Queenstown Gardens and along Lake Wakatipu to reach the Frankton Track, where you can enjoy a flat lakeside walk. There is also a great disc golf course here (hire discs from the ice skating rink or Small Planet Sports).
  • Or go biking! Hire a bike and cycle the Frankton Track to the sunny Frankton Arm. On your return ride, pop into Altitude Brewery for a local craft beer. Around the Basin is a good place for bike rentals.

  • Dinner in Queenstown: After your afternoon in Queenstown, have dinner somewhere delicious. I have so many favourite places, but a few top spots include Tanoshi for Japanese share plates; the Cow for pizza and pasta; Ramen Ramen for…ramen; and Margos for Mexican food.

  • After-dinner treats: For post-dinner drinks at a cocktail bar, try Little Blackwood, Ferg Bar, Perky’s Floating Bar, or Little Mez. Or get an ice cream from Patagonia Chocolates or Ferg Gelato to enjoy by the lakefront.

Things to do between Queenstown and Glenorchy – Day 13

  • Driving distance from Queenstown to Glenorchy: 45 km (28 miles) / 45 minutes (one way)
The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, winding along the shores of Lake Wakatipu with mountains in the backdrop.

On your final day in Queenstown, I actually think you should leave it—just for a day trip, though!

Today, take a short road trip to Glenorchy, which lies a 45-minute drive away from Queenstown.

The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the most spectacular drives in the world. The road skirts along Lake Wakatipu, with snow-capped mountains framing the backdrop—it’s the type of scenery you’ll dream about long after your trip.

You have a few options for how to spend the day, but either way, hiking should be on the cards!

  • Breakfast in Queenstown: Before leaving for Glenorchy, have breakfast at one of Queenstown’s excellent cafes. Bespoke or Vudu are great for a sit-down breakfast, or get takeaway pastries and coffee from Fergbaker if you want something quick. Fergbaker is also a great place to grab a sandwich to take on the road with you.
  • Moke Lake Track: Take a detour to peaceful Moke Lake and walk the Moke Lake Loop Track, a peaceful 2-hour walk that circles the lake.
  • Bob’s Cove: Walk for 15 minutes through native beech forest to reach Bob’s Cove, one of Queenstown’s best beaches. For epic views over Lake Wakatipu, hike up to Picnic Point before turning back to where you started. On a warm summer day, you’ll be tempted to swim here, too (it’ll be icy cold but epic!).
  • Bennett’s Bluff lookout: Stop here for a quick walk (5 minutes return) to a great lookout over Lake Wakatipu with Mount Aspiring National Park in the distance.
  • Mrs Woolly’s General Store: This cute shop and cafe is a must-visit when in Glenorchy. Peruse their awesome selection of locally-made goods, and pick up a treat from the cabinet.
  • Frank’s Corner: This lovely little boutique shop has a great assortment of NZ-made goods. Their merino wool socks are the perfect souvenir! (If you don’t make it to their Glenorchy shop, though, they also have a location in Queenstown). 
  • Glenorchy Red Boat Shed: The iconic Glenorchy landmark makes for a great photo-op.
  • Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway: Stroll along this peaceful, flat walking trail and look for mountain reflections in the lagoon.

When you return to Queenstown from Glenorchy, celebrate your successful NZ trip with a pint at a craft beer bar (Beechtree, Smith’s, or Atlas) and a burger from Fergburger, Devil Burger, or World Bar.

Where to Stay in Queenstown

A side view of the Holiday Inn Express Hotel in Queenstown, with a geometric design to the exterior, painted in shades of white and grey.
The Holiday Inn Express in Queenstown is in a walkable location and has great amenities (like free breakfast!).

Camping: either the Driftaway (nicest spot, but 10 minutes from town) or Creeksyde Holiday Park (quirkier but right in the heart of Queenstown). Also see my guide to the best campsites in Queenstown.

Budget-friendly: Adventure Hostel Queenstown

Best-value for location: Holiday Inn Express Queenstown (free breakfast! a sauna!)

Boutique stay: The Sherwood

Day 14: Depart

A view from a window of an Air New Zealand plane leaving Queenstown, with an airplane wing, snow-capped mountains, and a house-filled suburb in the view.

Check out of your accommodation or campground and head to the airport, which is conveniently located just 7.5 km from the Queenstown town centre.

While it doesn’t usually take very long to reach the airport, do give yourself extra time to account for traffic delays and to return your car or campervan. 

You’ll usually need to fill your rental vehicle up with petrol before returning it; the Z Petrol Station is a handy place to do this when you leave the town centre, although do be prepared for sticker shock when it comes to Queenstown petrol prices.

Best time of year for a road trip from Auckland to Queenstown

Views from the Key Summit Track on the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound
Do this road trip in spring, summer, or autumn for the best chance of hiking on trails like the Key Summit Track!

The best months for this road trip are October through April, which aligns with spring, summer, and autumn in Queenstown. Travelling between these months will give you the most daylight hours and less chance of snow on the roads and hiking trails.

Peak travel season in New Zealand runs from late December through February, so expect higher prices and more crowds during this time period. If you travel during these peak months, make sure you book everything well in advance.

If you’d prefer fewer crowds and better prices, visit in mid-late spring (October and November) or early-mid autumn (March and April). The weather in NZ tends to be more settled in autumn vs spring, but that isn’t always the case.

Other seasonal things to consider:

-Want to see the lupin bloom on the South Island? Visit in late November/early December.

-Want to go swimming in NZ’s lakes and rivers? Visit in summer.

-Want to see the autumn colours in Arrowtown? Visit in mid-late April.

Alternate Auckland to Queenstown itineraries

A view over Hahei Beach and Hahei town from the Te Pare Pa Reserve walking track.
If you have more time, the Coromandel Peninsula is a great add-on to this trip.

If you prefer coastal scenery, consider driving down the South Island’s West Coast instead of down the middle of the island. Check out my Picton to Queenstown road trip for a good route to take!

Have more than 14 days? Then add another night to Auckland (visit Waiheke Island), Tongariro National Park or Wānaka. Or include the Coromandel Peninsula in your itinerary—the Coromandel is packed with incredible beaches and campsites.

Want to do less driving? Then another option is to shorten your driving time by flying from the North Island to the South Island. From Rotorua, you could fly to Christchurch, pick up another hire car, and start your South Island road trip from there. (This only really works with a hire car, not a campervan, as there are no campervan depots in Rotorua).

Thanks for reading!

Jac and Ty from Weekend Path in front of a hobbit house at Hobbiton, one of the best stops on a road trip from Auckland to Queenstown.

I hope this itinerary has helped you plan a trip to remember.

As always, please leave a comment or send me an email if you have any questions about this guide. I’m always happy to try and help with your NZ trip plans.

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