North to South 18 day Explorer self drive tour



Explore the cities of Auckland, the tropical Bay of Islands, Rotorua and Wellington before embarking on a circuit of the South Island. The wine regions of Marlborough, the whales of Kaikoura, the garden city of Christchurch and the mighty Southern Alps. The Alpine adventure town of Queenstown awaits before heading to the West Coast Glaciers. Return to Christchurch on board the world famous Tranz Alpine Scenic train.

DAY 1: Welcome to Auckland City

Arrive at New Zealand’s busiest city with vibrant shops, lush cafes, and buzzing nightlife.


  • Board the famed Sky Tower, the icon of Auckland, and enjoy 180-degree views of the city. Best to board at night-time for starlike scenery.
  • Sea Life Kelly Tarlton Aquarium
  • Auckland Zoo
  • Mount Eden summit walk for panoramic views of the city
  • Auckland War Memorial Museum and Domain Wintergardens

Accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments

DAY 2 & 3: Tropical Bay of Islands

Start your road trip off right with a visit to one of New Zealand’s most tropical and sunny regions! Boasting lush bush walks, crystal blue waters and over 140 islands to explore.


  • Enjoy the many lush beaches available and bring a baggy for shell-collecting.
  • Take a cruise or kayak around the many islands.
  • Explore Russel, one of the first established towns and former capital of New Zealand.
  • Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
  • Parasailing and Skydiving are available for the adventurous.

Accommodation: Sea Spray Suites
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 226 kms / 140 miles : 2.9 hours

DAY 4: Eastern Northland to Auckland

Time to head back down to Auckland, but not before taking the scenic route through Hokianga’s aqua blue waters, 4 lush forests, and down the Kauri Coast.


  • Relax and enjoy the scenery and beaches.
  • Stop and explore the many bush walks to stretch your legs.
  • Enjoy Auckland

Accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 343 kms / 213 miles : 4.4 hours

DAY 5: Waikato country, Matamata (Hobbiton) to Rotorua

Discover the rolling hills and lush farmlands of Waikato as you pass through Hobbiton country and reach Rotorua.


  • Don’t miss out on the Hobbiton adventure! Make a stop in the quirky town of Matamata, enjoy a coffee at Dew Drop Inn, and delve into the enchanting world of Hobbits.
  • Stop by Blue Springs and enjoy a leisurely walk through farmyards whilst soaking up the crystal blue views of the rivers.
  • If you’re up for the drive, check out Mount Maunganui and do the breath-taking 1-hour hike.
  • End your busy day by soaking in the soothing geothermal waters at Polynesian Spa.

Accommodation: Quest Rotorua Central
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 220 kms / 136 miles: 2.6 hours

DAY 6: Rotorua- Maouri and Geothermal Wonderland

Welcome to one of the most interesting (and smelly) towns of New Zealand! Filled with rich Maouri history, geothermal activity, and thrilling activities.


  • Visit Te Puia Maouri Cultural Center and discover the rich living Maouri history and culture. Don’t forget to view a Maouri Concert to see the breathtaking traditional dances and haka.
  • Check out the living Maouri village Whakarewarewa (the full name is a mouthful!) and try some hangi-made food.
  • Enjoy the giant Redwood tree walk over the forest.
  • Up for some fun? Rotorua is filled with thrills such as water rafting, luge racing, scenic flights, and more!

Accommodation: Quest Rotorua Central

DAY 7: Today is filled with fantastic scenery including Lake Taupo, the Desert Road and the Kapiti Coastline as you approach Wellington

Embark on the long haul drive to Wellington city, but don’t forget to enjoy these activities on your way there:

  • Wai-O-Tapu geothermal wonderland just south of Rotorua. Explore some of the most diverse and beautiful geysers, springs, and pools all heated by volcanic activity.
  • Stretch your legs and visit Huka Falls, the largest waterfall in all of New Zealand! Bring your swimwear as there is a free hot pool on the way there.
  • Feeling up for an adrenalin rush? Do a bungee jump or skydive!
  • Take a photo with Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings! Tongariro national park is worth a stop for photos, and if you have an extra day to spare do the Tongariro crossing hike.

Accommodation: CityLife Wellington
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 452 kms / 280 miles : 5.6 hours

DAY 8: Explore Wellington City

Often known as “Windy Welly” due to its infamous winds, this quirky Capital city of New Zealand is well worth at least a day’s trip.


  • Stroll through Cuba Street, the hippy brunch and coffee mecca of Wellington. Enjoy the cute cafe’s brick street, rainbow street, and bucket water fountain.
  •  Te Papa museum
  • Courtney Place for nightlife. Dakota, Danger Danger, The Establishment, and The Residence are all good picks.
  • Cable car ride into the botanical gardens.
  • Oriental Bay for some fun in the sun.

DAY 9: Today you’ll cross the Cook Strait by Ferry. Approaching Picton you’ll cruise through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds

Enjoy the stunning views on your 3-hour cruise through the famed Marlborough sounds. Keep an eye out for dolphins or whales.


  • Kayak or cruise through the sounds and explore desolate islands.
  • Hike the Tirohanga track or the Link Pathway.
  • Enjoy wine tasting the famed Marlborough wines
  • Explore the harbour for stingrays!

Accommodation: Lugano Motor Lodge
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 25 kms / 16 miles : 0.3 hours

DAY 9: Drive to the seaside town of Kaikoura today

One of the busiest sea towns in New Zealand, and for good reason! Kaikoura has some of the most active sealife which includes seal, penguin, sperm whale, and dolphin activity.


  • Do a whale and dolphin watching tour
  • If your budget allows, book a heli-tour and spot the majestic sperm whale!
  • Hike the Kaikoura Peninsula walkway for gorgeous views
  • Enjoy the locally fished and fresh seafood

Accommodation: Anchor Inn Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 110 kms / 68 miles : 1.3 hours

DAY 10: A short drive south to Christchurch, the quake city.

Since the massive earthquake in 2011, Christchurch has been reshaped into living history. There is still plenty to explore including:

  • Visit the Quake City museum to learn more about how the quakes affected the city.
  • Stop by the Botanical Gardens for beautiful flora.
  • Enjoy the beautiful scenery from the Christchurch gondola ride.
  • If time allows, stop at the Waipara Valley wineries for a refreshing drink.

Accommodation: Merivale Manor Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 178 kms / 111 miles: 2.5 hours

DAY 11: Scenic drive through Canterbury and Mckenzie counties, through Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook

Enjoy one of the most scenic routes in New Zealand. Drive through Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, and enjoy Mount Cook. Keep an eye out for Keas on the way.


  • Explore the crystal blue waters of Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki by kayak.
  • Stay up and watch the stars. Mount Cook is one of the best places to view the Milky Way on a clear night.
  • Hooker Valley trail (approximately 3 hours round trip)

Accommodation: Mt Cook Lodge & Motels
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 350 km / 217 miles: 4.1 hours

DAY 12: Follow the dry lands to Lindis Pass which leads into Central Otago, then through the Kawerau Gorge to Queenstown

Stretch your legs by taking the spectacular bush walks in the area and don’t forget to visit Cromwell for wine and fruit stalls. Once in Queenstown, the day is yours to explore the number 1 touristic city in New Zealand, and there’s no surprise as to why.


  • Queenstown is the cornucopia of tourist activities, with everything from skiing and hiking to clubbing and boat tours.
  • Foodwise, there are two places you cannot miss: Fergburger and Patagonia Ice Cream.
  • Take the time to explore this small, yet bustling city. Grab a beer or wine and enjoy the waterfront at sunset.

Accommodation: Garden Court Suites and Apartments
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 257 kms / 159 miles : 3.0 hours

DAY 13: The entire day is yours to discover all the scenic spots and fun activities on offer in Queenstown

Once you’re well rested from the drive, its time to spend the day exploring all that Queenstown has to offer!


  • Have a relaxed cruise through Lake Wakatipu and enjoy the scenery of The Remarkables.
  • Take the Gondola ride up to Ben Lomond scenic reserve. Here you can mountain bike, hike, bungee jump or take the luge rides.
  • If you’re up for thrills, try jetboating rides, canyon swings, skydiving and more!

Accommodation: Garden Court Suites and Apartments

DAY 14: Visit Milford Sound Fjords

One of the natural wonders of the world, Milford Sound is truly a must-see! Lush forests, towering mountains, and hundreds of waterfalls greet you in the great Fjordland.


  • Boat cruises are the most popular option for exploring the sounds
  • Get up close and personal by booking a 3-hour kayak adventure.
  • There are a few easy walks around Milford under an hour, however, if you have a day, Gertrude Saddle is one of the best hikes to do.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 287 kms / 178 miles: 3.45hours

Day 15: Take the Crown Range Road to Wanaka

Take a break in beautiful Wanaka and enjoy the views. Enjoy the waterfront and kayak around the lake.

Accommodation: Wanaka
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 341 km / 211 miles: 4.2 hours

Day 16: Explore Franz Josef and Westland National Park

Enjoy the scenic west coast with trips to Hokitika Gorge, Franz Joseph Glacier and Okarito for kiwi spotting.

  • Hike the Franz Joseph glacier track for some spectacular sights or take a heli-flight for a better view.

Accommodation: Punga Grove Motel & Suites

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 284 km / 176 miles: 3.45hours

Day 17: Drive north along the stunning West Coast Road and take the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch

Accommodation: Merivale Manor Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 170 kms / 106 miles : 2.1 hours

Day 18: Depart Christchurch today


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