The ULTIMATE one-month itinerary for New Zealand
By Helen Wright
This year I finally ticked off a major bucket-list item and got all the way to New Zealand. Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@passportstampsuk) will already know that I loved New Zealand and it completely exceeded expectations. As a result there will be plenty of posts to follow, not least this three-part video series on our youtube channel. By far, the most common thing we get asked about this trip is on our one-month itinerary New Zealand – the route we took, what we did and how long it took to do it all. Luckily, I took notes – so here goes!
The ultimate one-month itinerary New Zealand
For this trip, we rented a Jucy Cabana Camper van and drove from the very north of the North Island (almost) to the very south of the South Island (almost). So, yep, we virtually went everywhere! We took five weeks to do this trip but since it formed part of our seven-country around the world trip, we indulged with plenty of rest days and ‘work’ days to edit our videos and so the itinerary below is perfect if you only have one month to cover the whole country.
Our one-month itinerary New Zealand, including all the places we stopped and stayed along the way:
To jump straight to the SOUTH ISLAND, click here.
(For a less detailed list, click here)
After landing in Auckland, we collected our new home – aka, the Jucy Cabana camper from the depot at the airport. The cost of this camper was NZD $92 / £49 per day but your choice of insurance is added to the overall fee so keep this in mind.
See a tour of our Jucy camper here
You can wild camp across New Zealand but to do this you need a self contained camper van, which means it will have its own toilet and drainage. If you don’t have a self contained camper, don’t even try to wild camp / free camp because the police and national park authorities will slap you with a hefty fine and your NZ budget will soon be blown. Due to our budget, we decided to opt for a non-self contained camper van and so this meant we had to stick to authorised campsites with facilities, which was fine.
We wanted to start our trip outside the city so as soon as we collected our new digs, we headed 45-minues north of Auckland to unpack, work out what we needed from the supermarket and organise our ‘Jucy Lucy’ van.
Where we stayed:
OREWA TOP 10 HOLIDAY PARK
Admittedly we kind-of stumbled across this site, but the Top 10 Holiday Park franchise came highly recommended and we were impressed by the cleanliness of the site, the facilities available and the welcome reception we received. They have a special offer, sign up for a two-year membership (NZD ¢49) and you get 10% off each stay, and even though we were only going to be there for a month we only needed to stay 2/3 nights to get our membership back so it was still worth it. This site was right on the beach and exactly what we saw when we imagined our dream trip to New Zealand.
Drive to Russell (Bay of Islands): 3hr 20min
BAY OF ISLANDS
Where we stayed:
TOP 10 HOLIDAY PARK, RUSSELL
This site was on a hill, in a residential area and so was really quiet with lovely views of the town. There was a big, shared kitchen and TV room, a BBQ area and a trampoline (not just for kids you know). There isn’t much to do in Russell after dark so the free DVD rental was a bonus! The site is walking distance to the town of Russell, which has a cute waterfront, restaurants, cafes and a decent fish and chip shop.
From here, everyone is looking for a boat charter or an opportunity to enjoy the water. We opted for a day sailing with She’s a Lady Tours (NZD $97 / £52). We loved the owner, Dave, who had plenty of anecdotes about his time on the high seas. There was an opportunity to get involved in the actual duty of sailing, something we had never done before. Of course, we had no idea what we are doing, but pulling ropes and moving sails makes you feel very important. The Bay of Islands is beautiful. Clear blue waters and stunning scenery. We even saw two penguins swimming past our boat. We then docked in a secluded beach and had the chance to kayak and spend time doing cannonballs into the sea – my favourite thing to do!
Drive to Auckland: 3hr 45min
Where we stayed:
AVONDALE MOTOR PARK
This independently-owned park wasn’t much to shout home about. It was clean and friendly but very small and not particularly picturesque. The main appeal is the easy access to the city via tram (35 mins from the Avondale stop) or bus (45 mins from the New North Road stop)
We didn’t do much in Auckland other than wander around and soak up the atmosphere. To be honest, we were keen to explore the natural beauty of New Zealand and the city wasn’t really a priority but, that said, we did have a good time. We had the most fun in the area of Ponsonby, which has a trendy-yet-casual vibe.
During the day –cool shops, independent boutiques and delicious coffee shops make it very easy to spend your cash. By night, indulge in the food truck trend and arrange your own tapas from the pop up food vans dotted around. The view of Auckland city from Ponsonby is possibly the best there is.
PS: You can also bungee jump 192 metres from the Sky Tower seen in the picture above (we didn’t though!).
Drive to The Coromandel / Hot Water Beach: 2hr 20min
HOT WATER BEACH
Where we stayed:
HOT WATER BEACH TOP 10
This is the closest camp to the beach, which means the natural hot springs were just a short walk from our van. This was a large holiday park that was popular with families and had a whole range of facilities including a park, a pool, bike rental, cabins, a games room and a café.
As far as beaches go, this one is definitely unique! Natural hot springs beneath the earth bubble through the sand in low tide, creating hot pools of water. Come armed with a spade (you can buy or rent them locally) and dig your own natural hot tub. We had fun but be warned, the area is probably the most touristy place we went on the entire trip so unless you are there shortly after sunrise, don’t arrive expecting a secluded spot for a steamy soak.
Drive to Waihi Beach: 1hr 30min
Where we stayed:
BEACHAVEN HOLIDAY PARK
This cute campsite was a block from the beach and had a great kitchen, garden area and free body board rental. A quiet contender, but possibly one of our favourite holiday parks of the trip.
This area has more of a residential feel. There’s a small town with a supermarket and a scatter of restaurants. The beach is beautiful and the complete opposite of Hot Water Beach – very secluded and peaceful. At this point on the trip we were looking for a couple of days to relax and enjoy life in our campervan so it was just what we were looking for.
VIEW MORE OF OUR ONE-MONTH ITINERARY NEW ZEALAND, INCLUDING WAIHI BEACH, HOT WATER BEACH AND THE BAY OF ISLANDS IN OUR VLOG
Drive to Rotorua: 1hr 35min
Where we stayed:
ROTORUA TOP TEN HOLIDAY PARK
Another stop at a Top 10. This one was centrally located and even had its own natural hot tubs!
One of the most celebrated places in the North Island is Rotorua – renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. The whole area is dotted with curious bubbling mud pools and geysers, all surrounding a beautiful lake. Be warned, there’s a slightly stinky scent of sulphur in the air…
Aside from the fact the natural wonders of Rotorua are enough to stop you in your tracks, there is also lots of fun things to do. The beautiful 79.8 km2 Lake Rotorua can be explored by boat, kayak or just viewed from the shore with a picnic. For a first-hand experience of the mighty geothermal activity, we headed to Hell’s Gate, an attraction housing New Zealand’s largest mud volcano and hot waterfall, boiling hot pools and erupting waters. There was also an opportunity to take a ‘healing’ mud bath, which was a pretty fun way to spend an afternoon.
Drive to Waitomo Caves: 2hrs
Where we stayed:
WAITOMO TOP 10 HOLIDAY PARK
This park was friendly but felt more like a school playing field than a cosy campsite. It did have a pool and a small kitchen, but during our stay it was a little overrun with kids – was probably the school holidays and we didn’t realise!
The reason for driving across the country was, of course, to check out the incredible Waitomo Caves. The extensive underground cave systems are home to millions of arachnocampa luminosa, or ‘glow worms’ which illuminate the inside of the caves like stars in the night sky. They are incredible!
We did a tour with Waitomo Adventures and it was absolutely brilliant! The tour involved climbing into the caves, wading through freezing water, crawling through narrow tunnels and – the grand finale – floating through the caves on a rubber ring (tube). I had never seen anything like this before and I was blown away. It was more than worth the drive over and one of the best stops on our itinerary.
Drive to Lake Taupo: 2 hrs
Where we stayed:
GREAT LAKE TAUPO HOLIDAY PARK
The weather in Lake Taupo was horrendous when we were there! It literally poured down for two days and so I’m not sure we got to enjoy it as much as we could have. Luck was definitely not on our side as this also happened to be our least favourite campsite too. Facilities were basic and the park was a bit dated and drab. Like all the sites we stopped at in New Zealand, it was clean, safe and friendly but the weather definitely didn’t help brighten the place up. The location was ideal, right on the lake and a short drive to the town.
We did check out the lake (hard to miss it!) and Huka Falls, a fast-flowing waterfall where you can take a jet boat ride and experience it first-hand. But the best thing we did also happened to be the weirdest – the Huka Falls Prawn park!
This is a whole ‘theme park’ about prawns – random as that is, there is a whole educational area, fun water games and the opportunity to fish for your own prawns and then boil them for supper! Even if you don’t fancy catching your own, the café is worth a visit. There is a full menu – but of course the specialty is prawns!
Drive to Napier: 2 hrs
There really is something special about a road trip across New Zealand because the drive is a huge part of the experience. You can drive from A-B but there will be at least one (but more likely 10) places you want to stop and photograph or explore. Being in a Jucy camper was extra fun because there is this unspoken community with other Jucy renters that you see on the road – whenever you see one of your green and purple comrades passing in the other direction, everyone waves and sounds the horn. It’s like being in a (not-so) secret club. It’s fun to see others having the same experience as you, but each one is unique.
Where we stayed:
BALLINA MOTEL NAPIER
CHEAT DAY! – Okay, we were still loving life in the van but after getting drenched in Taupo we fancied a warm and cosy bed, a TV with channels and our own shower! Just off the route from Taupo to Napier (the Thermal Explorer Hwy), we found a cute motel which was a great base for visiting Napier and Hawke’s Bay without blowing the budget. The motel is owned by a nice couple and they really made us feel at home.
As beautiful as New Zealand is, none of its architecture had stood out as particularly memorable and so arriving in Napier was a big surprise. I love Art Deco, and a town of candy-coloured, ornate buildings was like a mirage. After a huge earthquake in 1931, much of the area was devastated and so was fabulously rebuilt in the cool style of the prettiest era. You can take a walking tour or just wander around enjoying the picturesque streets and top up your instagram feed.
From Napier, it’s a short 30-min drive to Te Mata Peak, a vista 400 metres above sea level and offering panoramic views of the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru Ranges and Cape Kidnappers. Plan to go at dusk because the sunset is unreal.
We couldn’t leave without doing a tour of the famous Hawke’s Bay wine region. We opted for a self-tour by bike with On Yer Bike Winery Tours. It was the perfect way to enjoy some fresh air, explore the area and visit our own choice of vineyards. We were given a guide map with distances and area information on. We chose which wineries we wanted to see, decided on a route and off we went! Plus, we stocked up on some extra bottles for the van – you can never have too much!
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Drive to Wellington: 5 hrs
This was the longest straight drive we did but we broke up the journey with a few stops in small towns along the route, arriving in Wellington at night.
Where we stayed:
WELLINGTON TOP 10
Wellington is compact and so, as expected, most of the decent camping areas are outside the city. This Top10 was actually lovely with lots of space, plenty of kitchen areas and an inside hot tub, free for guests. The bus from across the road takes you directly into Wellington and takes around 30 mins. We used this both at day and at night but check the time of the last bus so you don’t miss it. Taxis aren’t that cheap in NZ.
The thing I keep saying about Wellington is that I’m just gutted it is too far from London to go for the weekend. It’s the perfect weekend city. Fantastic museums, the best restaurants we found in New Zealand and a cool, almost-hipster vibe. Plus, it’s beautiful. Top marks.
Take the cable car to the top and get the perfect view of Wellington and the harbour Te Whanganui-a-Tara from 119 metres above the city. (NZD $4 one way, NZD $7.50 return) . The ride itself is fun and there is also a small museum about the Funicular railway, which has been running since 1902! You can choose to ride back down or take a leisurely stroll back to Lambton Quay via historic Bolton Street Cemetery and the Beehive Parliament building.
Another must-see is the excellent Te Papa Museum. As well as a wealth of history about New Zealand it hosts international exhibitions, art installations and has the preserved corpse of the world’s largest squid – which is massive (as you can imagine), fascinating and gross. (Free entry).
For us, we enjoyed Wellington because it was so pleasant to wander around. We checked out some independent shops, sampled some of the great local cafes and restaurants and indulged in the cool nightlife.
CHECK OUT OUR LIST OFTHE BEST THINGS TO DO IN NEW ZEALAND
All in all, it was a fun and fitting way to end our stay in the north island but it was time to drive our Jucy Lucy van onto the ferry and continue our roadtrip in the south island…
We hope you have found our one-month itinerary for New Zealand helpful. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARY.