7Days

Auckland to Nelson

Driving Tour

Many visitors arriving in Auckland don’t really know where to head first. There are so many amazing places to visit in New Zealand and a 7-day trip means you are going to have to be super selective with what you get up to. That’s why we have written this handy road trip guide for you and your fellow travellers to help ensure you don’t miss any of the best places New Zealand has to offer whilst uncovering a few of the hidden gems along the way.

With only 7 days to get from Auckland to Nelson in the South Island, you are going to have to get your skates on though so let’s get GOing!

Contents

  1. Route map with key locations
  2. Recommended vehicle for this trip
  3. Trip itinerary

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Ford Everest Titanium 2021

4WD SUV

Ford Everest Titatnium

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Seats
5 seats
Large Bags
4
Small Bags
6
Transmission
Auto trans

Trip Itinerary

1Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsula (168km – 2 hours 30 mins)

You could spend 7 days in and around Auckland alone there is so much to do but with only 7 days to get to Nelson, 1 day in NZ’s largest city, home to 1.3 million people and known as the City of Sails is all we can afford. After a nice stroll in downtown Auckland, checking out the Viaduct area and maybe grabbing a bite to eat it’s time to get to know your new hire car a little better. A perfect place to start is to head out west through the suburbs and out to the Waitakere Ranges. With heaps of tracks through the lush forest, there is plenty to keep you busy here. If walking’s not your thing, keep driving through the forest and end up at one of the superb west coast beaches like Piha or Muriwai. The surf’s good out there and the black volcanic sand makes for an interesting day at the beach.Auckland skyline looking across from Devonport

If you’re looking for something a bit closer to home but still fancy a drive out, head on out to Devonport or even up to one of the North Shore’s laid back locations like Browns Bay where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by.

Related Blog Posts

After a busy day, it’s time to hit the road for real and get this road trip started. Pack up your bags and your togs, we’re heading to the seaside!

Pokeno Ice Cream

We know it’s only been half an hour since you left Auckland but it’s already time for a pit stop – an ice cream pit stop. The Pokeno store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country. Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself.

Pokeno Ice Cream 15 Scooper

Coromandel Complete Guide

Coromandel Peninsula (120km – 2 hours from Pokeno)

It’s not exactly on the way down but it’s well worth the detour and you’ll get some of the most stunning coastline photos on your side trip up the Coromandel Peninsula.

Make sure your camera is well charged and stop at the Coromandel Township for a glimpse into life in small-town New Zealand. The town has a laid back feel to it so take the Kiwi approach and don’t rush around – it’s time to take a more laid back approach to this road trip! Enjoy the atmosphere, as well as the numerous artisan centres spread around the place where you can take your pick at different workshops and pick up some beautifully handcrafted pottery, wood carving or painting. Before you head off, stop by the Coromandel Museum and learn a little about the town’s gold mining and Kauri history, both of which have shaped the region into what it is today.

2Exploring the Coromandel Peninsula

After a busy day yesterday exploring Auckland and then driving down to the Coromandel, it’s time to get this adventure started and there is no better place to spend the morning than exploring the Coromandel Peninsula and the amazing beaches in the area.

New Chums Beach – Wainuiototo Bay (15km – 20 mins from Coromandel Township)

New Chums Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New ZealandGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

Now, this is something truly special. This little hidden gem is considered by many as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s small and it requires a short hike to get to but what you will find is an example of the really pristine and unspoiled natural wonders of New Zealand.

One of the more famous and most visited beaches in these parts is Cathedral Cove. There are a number of tour operators who will give you a guided tour out to visit the sea caves and check out the towering cliffs of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.

After spending the early morning and afternoon enjoying the sea and sand, it’s time to hit the road again, we have a few kms to do before the end of this day!

Waihi (108km – 1 hour 52 mins from Coromandel Township)

As you head out of the peninsula, make sure you stop by the impressive Martha’s Mine in Waihi. You can take a goldmine tour and find out more about this important part of New Zealand history. Take some time to learn a bit more about gold mining history, as there won’t be many other opportunities to do so during the trip.

Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (13.2km – 12 mins from Waihi)

Dust off the hiking boots, we’re going for a little walk. Well, sort of little – 7 kilometres.

The Karangahake Gorge Walkway features the remains of a historical railway nestled in a natural gorge setting. The walk will take you through relics of back in the day when the area was a big gold mining region. It follows the railway line through the gorge and alongside the Ohinemuri River, through the Victoria Battery Complex and ending in the Waikino Station (which includes a cafe for a much deserved post-walk beverage).

To get to the start of the walkway, park your rental car at the Karangahake Domain Car Park on SH2 between Waihi and Paeroa, and get your hiking boots on and off you go!

Giant L&P Bottle (7.7km – 7 mins from Karangahake)

Giant L&P Bottle
Paeroa will be your next stop after the walk. There isn’t much to this small town but it is known for being the birthplace of L&P, the iconic kiwi drink that is “world-famous in New Zealand”. This soft drink was originally produced using lemon and mineral water from Paeroa (hence L&P). The giant L&P bottle landmark is a mandatory photo stop for any self-respected tourist so make sure you strike a pose in front of it too – make sure you send your photo into our GO Snap Happy collection on the GO Rentals website for your chance to win back the cost of your rental – can’t say fairer than that!

Matamata (58kms – 59 mins from Paeroa)

Matamata – so good they named it twice! If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, this is the place for you. If you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan (we don’t judge), you’ll still enjoy the stop in Matamata.

The town includes the set of Hobbiton from Peter Jackson’s movies and a guided tour of the movie set (starting from the Information Centre right on the main street) is a must-do for any visitor. You’ll be able to visit 44 unique hobbit holes (just like in the movies), including Bag End (Bilbo Baggins’ house), as you make your way through the Shire, passing iconic locations such as the Green Dragon Pub, the double arched bridge and the Party Tree. Another great photo op awaits so show us your best Frodo pose or maybe you’re more of a Legolas!

Image of a hobbit hole from the Hobbiton set in Matamata - Lord of the Rings location

 

After that, it’s time to continue south. Our next stop: Putaruru.

Chainsaw Collection at the New Zealand Timber Museum (29.9km – 28mins from Matamata)

Not exactly the most obvious choice for a recommended tourist attraction but we’re talking about unique and quaint experiences that you will only get in New Zealand, right? So here’s one: a chainsaw collection at a Timber Museum in the small town of Putaruru, about an hour south of Hamilton. You don’t find that in many other places.

Blue Spring

Before you head out of Putaruru, stop for a visit to the international acclaimed Blue Spring with crystal clear blue waters. Pack a picnic and head along the Te Waihou Walkway to reach the spring. The walk takes about 1.5 hours each way and passes through rolling farmland, New Zealand native bush and even some waterfalls.

Mandatory waterfall photo taken, it’s time to keep heading south. Our next stop is Rotorua.

3Rotorua and around

Image of Wai-O-Tapu Champagne Pool
You probably noticed it as soon as you drove into Rotorua – that sulphuric smell, the vents on the ground letting steam off, the boiling mud everywhere. You’ve arrived in New Zealand’s thermal wonderland.

Rotorua is bubbling (see what we did there?) with geothermal activity and you can see it wherever you look. But one of the best places to see it in all its glory is Wai-O-Tapu, a place that encompasses a range of different volcanic activities, including the world-famous Champagne Pool and the Lady Knox Geyser. You’ll want to spend a good couple of hours wandering around Wai-O-Tapu and visiting all the different lakes, mud pools and geysers. And…Wai-O-Tapu is a GO Play partner so you get all this geothermal fun with a 10% discount. Result.

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Use your GO Play card here

Adrenalin Forest Aerial Forest Adventure

GO Play Discount Card

Te Puia

For stunning examples of Maori culture that you will not find anywhere, pay a visit to Te Puia (about five minutes from the centre of town).

You will learn about Maori culture and costumes from Maori people themselves, as well as witness a few more examples of geothermal activity (we’re still in Rotorua after all). Make sure you attend the Maori culture performance at the Marae (by the entrance) and visit the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute located inside as well. Te Puia also includes a live kiwi bird enclosure (a rare opportunity to see the New Zealand icon) and the famous Pohutu Geyser.

Zorbing

Image of people zorbing down a hill in giant inflatable balls in Rotorua, New Zealand
Right, that’s enough walking around, it’s time for some adrenaline. Head to the Zorb (149 Western Road in Rotorua) for a few minutes of adrenaline-infused adventure.
Zorbing first started in New Zealand so what better place to experience it than right in the heart of the country where it all began? Zorbing (which is basically rolling down some hills inside a giant inflatable ball) is one of those activities on many people’s bucket lists. Tick that off yours now before we continue heading south.

Mamaku Blue Blueberries

Mamaku Blue

Our next stop is Mamaku Blue (311 Maraeroa Rd) for a more relaxed, less adrenaline-infused activity. This is where you’ll find out that, in case you didn’t know, blueberries are the solution to all your problems. At Mamaku Blue, everything is blueberry-based, from the wine to the toiletries. Did you even know you could get blueberry wine? The cafe only serves blueberry-based food and you’ll have the chance to learn all about how this fruit can heal pretty much anything.

New Zealand Caterpillar Experience

The New Zealand Caterpillar Experience will be another one of those unique places you probably don’t expect to find anywhere.

Located at 171 Fairy Springs Road, this is the work of Lindsay Willis, a man who has been collecting Caterpillar equipment for most of his life. We’re talking heavy machinery here, no small stuff. This is the world’s foremost collection of this sort of equipment and Willis keeps it all in excellent condition (with some of the oldest ones still in working order).

The displays are set alongside footage of some of the machinery at work, way back in the day, and you’ll get to see some trucks and bulldozers that are now the only examples left of their kind. Impressive stuff!

Rotorua Complete Guide

4Rotorua to Lake Taupo (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)

Polynesian Spa

It’s been an exciting few days and we’re not even close to done yet. It’s time to relax. Before you head out of Rotorua, we suggest you take a few hours to visit the Polynesian Spa, voted one of the best spas in the world. Choose from a range of hot pools or book a massage and enjoy a couple of hours of what holidays really are about – doing absolutely nothing.
Polynesian Spa - Rotorua

Rotorua really is the town that keeps on giving with lots more GO Play partners based in and around this geothermal wonderland. We have only given you a flavour of the things you can do here but you may decide you fancy something a bit different so go knock yourselves out and have some fun!

Taupo

Our journey south continues through to Taupo, a town on the shore of New Zealand’s largest lake (with the same name). There is no shortage of things to do and you can pick and choose from a range of activities.

Make sure you stop at the Huka Falls, a set of incredibly impressive waterfalls along the Waikato River, with about 220,000 litres of water flowing per second (that’s a lot of water). Next, stop at the Huka Prawn Park (Karetoto Rd) for a visit (you’ll need a couple of hours if you want to take the tour) and some seafood deliciousness.

Lake Taupo itself is pretty impressive and, not far from the township, along the Desert Road, you’ll get to see Mount Ruapehu (Mount Doom for you Lord of the Rings fans) and its neighbouring (and equally impressive) volcanoes.

The Desert Road itself is worth the drive as the scenery is not something you’ll find anywhere else (alpine deserts such as this one are a rare sight anywhere else in the world) so take your time to soak in the views.

Skydiving

Image of a skydiver over Lake Taupo in freefallGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

Although this is a guide to off-the-beaten-track adventures it would seem wrong if we failed to mention the amazing skydiving to be had over Lake Taupo. The views are simply stunning as you plummet from 13,000 feet heading towards the lake. A further bonus is that Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner and will kindly offer you a 5% discount for the pleasure of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good aeroplane!

5Lake Taupo to Wellington (370km – 5 hours 5 mins)

Whanganui (258km – 3 hours 27 mins from Taupo)

From Taupo, we have nearly three hours to drive before we hit our next destination: Whanganui.

There is plenty to see in Whanganui so you’ll have to be a bit selective. We suggest a look at the Cooks Gardens, on St Hill Street, right in the centre of town. These are famous because they were the location where Peter Snell ran the famous sub-four-minute mile in January 1962 (that’s crazy fast). If you’re feeling particularly fit, you can try attempting your fastest mile time here too, right where Snell did it in front of 13,000 people.

Afterwards, take some time to wander around the Whanganui Regional Museum, on Watt Street, which displays the impressive work of Gottfried Lindauer, one of the most famous colonial artists in the country. The museum also includes one of the most important collections of Moa bones, including some complete skeletons of the extinct giant bird.

Stonehenge Aotearoa

Image of a scale model of Stonehenge at Carterton, New Zealand We’re going to continue south to Wellington along a slightly longer route, past Palmerston North, with a pit stop in Carterton.

Take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to Stonehenge Aotearoa to see a full-scale model of Stonehenge located on the hills of the Wairarapa, pretty much as far from actual Stonehenge as anything can be. You’ll be able to learn a bit about astronomy, both ancient and modern methods, and find out more about Maori astrology too.

6Wellington

It’s been quite the journey but here we are – New Zealand’s capital. Wellington is small but has no shortage of things to see. Head for the CBD, park your rental car and wander around the small streets.

Wellington Complete Guide

Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand so check for yourself), and visit the cool one-of-a-kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool Bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).

A visit to Archives New Zealand, on 10 Mulgrave Street, allows you to see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament, if you’re feeling politically inclined, before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars (including some decent craft beer spots).

The Beehive Parliamentary building in New Zealand's capital, Wellington

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Before you head off to catch the ferry, we suggest you park on Wexford Road, on the northeastern side of the airport. On a typical windy Wellington day, you’ll have the chance to see what you escaped from, making the very wise decision to drive down from Auckland. Planes taking off and landing in Wellington often sway a little more than they should – a little scary for passengers on the plane, a bit of fun for us safely watching from the comfort of our rental car on safe ground.

7Nelson and Abel Tasman

The final day of this road trip will be spent in and around Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park. Before dropping off your rental car from our Nelson branch, conveniently located in the airport terminal in Nelson, it’s time to hit the road for one last time and get out to explore this beautiful part of the country.

If you have the time before you have to fly out, we highly recommend heading to the Abel Tasman National Park. Whilst it’s a place you could spend a whole week, we are giving you one day to explore this stunning region but there is still plenty you can pack into your day.

Abel Tasman National Park (60km, 59 mins)

Split Apple Rock-Kaiteriteri Kayak-Nelson

The roads are windy so make sure you allow enough time to drive the relatively short distance of 60kms. Once you get to the park there are so many activities to choose from it really is up to you how you plan your day – these are some of our top tips:

  • Cruise and water taxi – if you’re after a fairly relaxed, laid-back day, there is no better way to see the park than on a cruise or in a water taxi. The crystal-clear waters of the Abel Tasman are a sight to behold so getting out on the water is a must.
  • Sea kayak – if you’re feeling a bit more energetic, we highly recommend hiring a sea kayak for the day and heading out into the park. You’ll be amazed at what you can see over the side of the kayak as you peer down into the depths of the sea. Park up (is that even a saying for a kayak?!) on a secluded beach and enjoy a spot of lunch – spectacular.
  • Cruise and walk – the best of both worlds if you want to get out on the water as well as walk through this beautiful national park. Take a cruise and get dropped off deep into the park before following the route back along the rugged coastline.

If you don’t fancy a drive all the way into the Abel Tasman National Park, there are loads of other things to do in the area. One of our favourites is to visit the Boulder Bank:

The Boulder Bank

Image of the unique Boulder Bank in Nelson The Boulder Bank is another spectacular example of the South Island’s natural wonders. The 13km long bank is one of the very few of its type in the world so you are in the presence of something very unique. It has been formed from large granodiorite boulders that have been moved by wind, water and tide to form the spectacular line in front of you.

The lighthouse was made in Bath (England) and shipped in parts to New Zealand, then assembled in 1861.

You can access the bank by turning off SH6 and driving along Boulder Bank Drive, 7km north of Nelson.

Wainui Falls

The Wainui Falls are located inside the Abel Tasman National Park and are 20-metre waterfalls, a welcome reward at the end of an easy bushwalk. The hike takes about one hour (return).

That brings to an end this 7-day adventure from Auckland to Nelson – we hope you have had a blast! Dropping your car off at our Nelson branch couldn’t be easier – located in the airport terminal, customers who use our App can complete the speedy drop off process and head for your flight and on to your next New Zealand adventure.

Nelson Complete Guide

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Ford Everest Titanium 2021

4WD SUV

Ford Everest Titatnium

Get a Quote

Seats
5 seats
Large Bags
4
Small Bags
6
Transmission
Auto trans