Enjoy your time exploring the history of New Zealand, its culture and its native inhabitants, the Maori people. This self-drive itinerary is designed to allow you to make your way through New Zealand by car, allowing you plenty of time to take in the beautiful scenery and landscape. Rest your head at night at a series of country estates, lodges and boutique hotels, all known for the warm and friendly New Zealand hospitality they offer.
Day 1 - Depart
Day 2 - Cross
Day 3 - Arrive
Day 4 -
Auckland - Bay of Islands
Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is situated between two enormous harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. It’s a place to enjoy marine adventures, wine trails, forest walks and urban sophistication.
At the beginning of your journey, you’ll drive over the Auckland Harbour Bridge towards the bays and beaches of Auckland’s North Shore. The motorway will quickly sweep you northward, until the suburban scenery gives way to peaceful farmland.
Before you reach Orewa, you have the option of taking an exit that leads to Silverdale and Gulf Harbour. Silverdale is famous for its factory and outlet stores. Gulf Harbour, at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, has a breathtaking golf course. Beautiful beaches can be found up and down the peninsula.
The town of Orewa spreads along the edge of a large, white sand surf beach. You can explore bush trails at the northern end of the town, visit the friendly shopping centre or dive into the waves for a refreshing swim.
Driving north, you’ll pass Hatfield’s Beach before coming across Waiwera, which means ‘hot water’ in Maori. The hot springs are the main attraction in this small, seaside village.
The next place of interest is Puhoi, a town originally settled in 1863 by immigrants from Bohemia. Cheese is the local claim to fame – buy some for your next picnic.
Enjoy native forest and farmland scenery all the way to Warkworth, a pretty town located on the banks of the Mahurangi River. From here it’s easy to explore the many attractions of the district – surf beaches, marine and wildlife sanctuaries, vineyards, golf courses, regional parks and islands.
Warkworth is a pretty town on the banks of the Mahurangi River. From here it's easy to explore the attractions of the district - surf beaches, marine and wildlife sanctuaries, vineyards, golf courses, regional parks and islands.
A drive through the Dome Forest will lead you into the rural service town of Wellsford. From here you can take a side trip to Pakiri - a great beach for surfing and horse treks. Kaiwaka is the next town on the map - pause here if you like Dutch cheese. At this point consider an eastern detour past the spectacular beaches of Mangawhai Heads, Langs Beach and Waipu Cove.
Just before Whangarei a right
turn will take you to the Marsden Point oil refinery. The visitors'
centre has an interesting display that explains the refining
A series of small settlements will lead you north. Just before Kawakawa, a side road runs to the glow-worm cave at Waiomio. Take a rest stop in Kawakawa, because it has a remarkable public toilet designed by Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser.
From here the road to the Bay of Islands becomes quite twisty, but you’ll enjoy some delightful scenery along the way. A short detour takes you to the port of Opua, where cruise ships often call.
The resort town of Paihia makes an excellent base for exploring the Bay of Islands. Catch a cruise to the outer islands or a ferry to the charming township of Russell. The historic Treaty House at Waitangi marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation.
Day 5 -
Paihia - Waipoua
Just beyond Paihia you’ll have to chance to visit Haruru Falls. These falls tumble down in a perfect horseshoe. A walking track runs from the falls all the way to Waitangi and includes a board walk through mangrove forest.
The road leading into Kerikeri is bordered by orchards. Roadside stalls offer the chance to buy seasonal fruit. Look also for signs showing the way to artists’ studios – resident potters and painters have given this district a creative personality.
Kerikeri is a town of things to do. You’ll find galleries, cafes and vineyards, gourmet food shops, several golf courses and historic sites such as the Stone Store and the Mission House. There are superb bush walks in the area – Rainbow Falls is a perfect picnic spot.
Scenic side trips on the road to Kaitaia include Matauri Bay (the resting place of the Rainbow Warrior) and Tauranga Bay. Nearby Whangaroa Harbour is a game fishing mecca. Further north, the beautiful beaches of Doubtless Bay will tempt you with white sand and crystal clear water. Sailing, sea kayaking, horse treks and golf are some of the other activities available in this district. If you have time, make the trip to the Cape Reinga lighthouse - then you can say you've been to the very top of New Zealand.
Kaitaia is the main centre for the 'subtropical' north. From here you can catch a bus trip along Ninety Mile Beach. Other local attractions include the Far North Regional Museum and the nocturnal park.
The backcountry route to Dargaville takes you past the Herekino Forest, where you can stretch your legs on the Kaitaia Walkway. In Kohukohu you'll find some charming historic buildings. A vehicular ferry will carry you over the harbour to Rawene, a great stop for coffee and crafts. Further on is Opononi, where you can arrange to go sand dune surfing.
Your next adventure is the awesome Waipoua Forest, home of New Zealand's largest kauri trees. The Trounson Kauri Park is another opportunity for tree gazing. Not far from Dargaville are the Kai Iwi lakes. These beautiful sand dune lakes are popular for camping, swimming, fishing and kayaking. Dargaville is a perfect base for exploring the Kaipara Harbour, which offers fishing, quad biking, schooner trips and bird watching. The west coast beaches in this area form part of the longest driveable beach in New Zealand.
Day 6 -
Waipoua/Dargaville - Auckland
Travel across the river plain to Matakohe’s kauri museum, where you’ll discover the district’s fascinating history. In the village of Maungaturoto you can explore antique and craft shops. At Brynderwyn you’ll turn towards Kaiwaka, a village known for its Dutch cheese. Further south is Wellsford, where you’ll take a right towards Helensville. The hilly rural road provides amazing views of the Kaipara Harbour and surrounding farmland. There are hot springs at Parakai if you have time to spare.
At Kumeu you’ll turn towards Waitakere, where you’ll embark on a beatiful scenic drive through the Waitakere Ranges. Auckland will reveal itself as you drive down from Titirangi village.
Day 7 -
Auckland - Rotorua
As you cruise down the southern motorway, suburban scenery gradually gives way to the farmland of South Auckland, an area favoured by bloodstock breeders. You’ll enjoy motorway speeds all the way to Bombay, a major market gardening area.
The Waikato River will accompany you for much of your journey through the green countryside. Places of interest along the way include the wine growing area of Te Kauwhata and the coal mining town ofHuntly. Before you get toHamilton, you’ll notice side roads leading to Waingaro Hot Springs and Raglan, a surf resort on the west coast.
The city of Hamilton is carved in two by the mighty Waikato River. Attractions include gardens, riverboat cruising and a giant free flight aviary. Excellent restaurants and cafes can be found at the southern end of the city’s main street.
Hamilton to Waitomo
The Waitomo Caves region is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface of this ancient limestone region is a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms. Some caves open to the public, and are easy to walk through, others require specialised caving equipment.
Waitomo Caves to
Your journey to Rotorua will take you through a mixture of farmland, lakeland and forest. You’ll know you’ve arrived in the city of Rotorua when you see (and smell!) the geothermal steam plumes of Whakarewarewa. Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so there’s evidence of volcanic activity everywhere you look. Explore the geothermal areas and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people
Explore Waitomo at your leisure or consider adding one of our tour options - Some of our favorites:
- Glowworm Caves
Inside the ancient limestone caves live tiny insects whose iridescent light has amazed visitors of the Glowworm Grotto for over 100 years. Guided walks lead visitors through the amazing Cathedral, a high ceiling cave with acoustics to rival the most modern arena, to a small boat. From here the boat is towed across the water to where hundreds of tiny lights flicker on the cave roof above.
- Black Water Rafting
The Black Labyrinth is the original classic adventure. Tube down the 'hidden' waterfall, through rocky chutes and vaulted limestone galleries and emerge in the Waitomo forest.
- Lost World - Abseiling
Abseil 100m into this unique and spectacular chasm - the descent takes around 30 minutes and is followed by a dry caving trip exploring huge chambers en route to the surface. See giant speleotherms, including flowstone and spagatites, the famous glowworms and all manner of weird and wonderful rock sculptures. There's a 30m ladder climb and walking along narrow ledges, at all times protected by specialist safety equipment and systems. Unbelievable
Day 8 -
Explore Rotorua at your leisure or consider adding one of our tour options - Some of our favorites:
- Discover Rotorua
Experience Te Puia, a place of Maori culture and a thermal wonderland of impressive geysers and boiling mud pools. Explore Rainbow Springs Nature Park, which showcases native flora and fauna as well as the New Zealand Kiwi. Then see NZ's agricultural industry in action with a sheep shearing display and sheep dog trials at the Agrodome.
- Te Puia Steambox Lunch
Visitors can choose what they want to have cooked for their lunch before heading out on a special guided tour. As they participate in an interactive session, learning how to weave a flower, and tour the carving and weaving schools, their food is placed in a Nga Wha (steam vent) Puapua, which is located in the geothermal area that is the backdrop to the famous Pohutu Geyser.Heading down into the geothermal valley to the mud pools and hot springs, the tour concludes when, after watching their lunch being lifted from the Nga Wha, guests sit and enjoy a steam box picnic lunch on the geyser terrace.
- Rotorua Redwoods Mountain Biking - Half
Right on the Rotorua's doorstep lies the best mountain biking area in New Zealand. There’s a little something for everyone in the Redwood Forest. The dirt here holds together better than anywhere in the world, and the area is packed with something for everyone from beginner to expert, and the forest is spectacular! Grade 1-5 riding - beginner to expert.
- OGO Rotorua
OGO Rotorua is an all-weather, all seasons, adventure with the longest downhill ball rolling tracks in the world! Speed up on the straights before riding up the sides of the 6 massive corners. Wet and Dry ride options - warm water in winter, cool in summer. Dry option available in Winter month. Hot tubs at top and bottom of hill.
Your guide will escort you through the ten acre site of where the Lord of the Rings movie set used to be. Your guide will explain all about what was needed to create the Hobbiton set and tell stories about what went on during filming. Check out the Hobbit holes from the film set. After viewing the Bag End, you can pet and feed the hand reared sheep and hand bottle feed lambs.
Day 9 - Rotorua -
Tongariro National Park (Turangi)
Tongariro National Park – covering almost 80,000 hectares – was gifted to the nation by Maori chief Te Heuheu Tukino IV in 1887. Just over a hundred years later, the park was awarded dual World Heritage Site status.
Emerald lakes, alpine meadows and hot springs surround the largest volcanoes in the North Island, offering an environment of stunning diversity.
All three volcanoes are very much alive, with Mount Tongariro erupting as recently as August 2012. But this doesn’t deter people from skiing down the slopes and hiking to the craters – a monitoring system provides early warning of eruptions.
The road to Taupo will keep you entertained with its unusual, volcanic geography. You’ll also drive through large tracts of plantation pine forest. Take a side road to a geothermal park, where you’ll discover geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud. Towards the end of your journey you’ll encounter the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station. Other diversion include Huka Falls and a world-acclaimed golf course.
The resort town of Taupo sits on the edge of
New Zealand’s largest lake, which is well stocked with
sizeable trout. You’ll find everything a traveller could wish
for, including an excellent choice of restaurants. Most
accommodation establishments make good use of the underground
thermal activity to provide hot spas for
You’ll follow the eastern edge of Lake Taupo to reach Turangi. The drive is very scenic and there are many picnic opportunities along the way. Where streams run into the lake, you’ll often see trout fisherman trying their luck.
The town of Turangi is the trout fishing capital of New Zealand. There are famous fishing spots in almost every direction, including ‘The Delta’, ‘The Hole’, ‘Little Big O’ and ‘Tailrace’ (believed to contain the world’s fattest trout). The nearby hot springs of Tokaanu are another attraction, or you can try rafting the Tongariro River. The walks and ski fields of the Tongariro National Park are also close by.
- Tongariro National Park (Turangi) -
On the long, straight Desert Road you’ll enjoy amazing views of Tongariro National Park’s volcanoes. In Waiouru, the QE2 Memorial Museum is worth a look. As you drive south towards Taihape (the Gumboot Throwing capital of the world), the landscape becomes dominated by rivers and valleys. The Mangaweka Gorge is a scenic masterpiece.
Find time to browse the antique shops of Bulls, or spy on wading birds in the estuary near Foxton. Two beautiful dune lakes are an easy detour from Levin. Offshore from Waikanae Beach is Kapiti Island Nature Reserve. A car museum and gourmet cheese factory are other attractions in this area.
Wellington is compact, cultured and full of character. Nestled between the harbour and the hills, the downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Enjoy cafes, restaurants, museums, theatre and all kinds of shops.
- Wellington - Kaikoura
The passage across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds is one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world. The fast ferry makes the trip in just over 2 hours, the cruise-style ferry takes 3 hours. Both types of vessel can transport vehicles. Highlights along the way include the Red Rocks seal colony, Tory Channel, Cook’s Lookout and the beautiful coves of the sounds.
The picturesque seaside town of Picton is the
South Island base for the ferry service that links the North and
South islands of New Zealand. It’s also the gateway to the
marine, forest and island attractions of the Marlborough Sounds.
Museums and interesting walks will keep you entertained while
The drive to Blenheim is both beautiful and interesting. Rai Valley has a delightful cottage museum, and at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve you can enjoy a bush walk or a swim. Nearby Canvastown gives you the chance to explore old gold mining fields – thousands tried to get rich here in the 1860s. Havelock is the place for a seafood meal – it’s known as the Green Shell Mussel Capital of the World. When you reach Renwick, which is surrounded by vineyards, it will be clear that you’ve arrived in wine country.
Explore Kaikoura at your leisure or consider adding one of our tour options - Some of our favorites:
- Whale Watching
The vessel is a modern catamaran designed especially for whale watching. The main passenger cabin is enclosed, air-conditioned and fitted with comfortable seating, while large outside decks offer great viewing and photo opportunities. Prepare for exciting up-close encounters with Giant Sperm Whales. Clients may also see migratory humpback whales (June-July), Hector's and Dusky Dolphins, Orcas (December-March) and NZ Fur Seals, as well as plenty of bird species including Royal Albatross, Petrels and Shearwaters. Cruise concludes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes after commencement
- Dolphin Encounter Swim
Enjoy a tour that enables you to swim or watch the dusky dolphins in their natural habitat. A complete guided commentary is given throughout the trip. There is the opportunity to swim with the dolphins (wetsuits and snorkelling equipment will be provided) during the tour for those that have booked this option. Tour concludes approximately 3.5 hours after commencement.
- Kaikoura - Christchurch
Day 13 -
Depart for US
Your journey of cultural and spiritual enlightenment of New Zealand and its people ends with your rental car return to Christchurch Airport depot.
Note: Daily departures, this package is an independent itinerary with flexible departures (not a group tour)
Single Supplement: From $2,299
Before committing to a trip, please ensure you have a valid passport. New Zealand welcomes US travelers with an approved Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA).
Add on airfares are available from most major airports – please ask an Aspire consultant for a quote.
- Upgrade to premium economy from $1,250 per person each way*
- Upgrade to business class from $3,500 per person each way* Can take the upgrade one way or round trip and combine premium/business classes on same ticket
* Upgrade from pricing based on Monday through Thursday departures from Los Angeles - ask an Aspire consultant for the upgrade fee from other departure points and travel Thursday through Saturday.
Terms & Conditions
The package from pricing is based on double occupancy (2 people sharing a room) for low-season stays for travel Mondays through Thursdays in both directions. A $60 air supplement applies each way for international travel from Friday to Sunday. Add-on fares are available from other cities. Specific blackout dates apply to the accommodation and tour value offers. Seats are limited and may not be available on every flight. Hotels are subject to availability. All prices reflect a discount for purchases made by check/wire; please see terms and conditions for credit card payments. Cancellation penalties and other restrictions apply. The purchase of travel Insurance is highly recommended for travel to New Zealand. Aspire Down Under partners with CSA Travel Protection.