10Days

Nelson to Auckland

Driving Tour

If you live in the upper South Island or you are piecing together a couple of our itineraries, this is a great leg from Nelson to Auckland. Starting off in Nelson, located in the upper South Island, we will spend a day exploring the Abel Tasman National Park before heading across the Cook Strait to Wellington and then on a North Island adventure before winding up in Auckland.

This is an awesome 10-day itinerary from Nelson to Auckland and we hope you enjoy the roadie. Let’s strap in and hit the road.

Contents

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

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Trip Itinerary

1Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park

The first day of this road trip will be spent in and around Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park. After picking up your rental car from our Nelson branch, conveniently located in the airport terminal in Nelson, it’s time to hit the road and get out to explore this beautiful part of the country.

The first thing we recommend is 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 before we have to hit the road and start heading south.

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).

After exploring Nelson and the Abel Tasman for the day, it’s time to head to Picton to catch the ferry. It’s just a short hop from Nelson to Picton so you can either catch a late ferry at the end of day one or an early ferry on day two of this road trip.

Nelson Complete Guide

2Wellington

It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.

Museums

After arriving on the ferry, park your car and head for a walk around the waterfront where you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s board room and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s not far from New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa – a futuristic multi-storeyed complex that forms one of the largest new museums in the world, with numerous interactive displays.

Amazing views

Image of the cable car in Wellington looking back down on the cityGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

For the best panoramic views of the city and Port Nicholson all the way across to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria. The historic cannon on the summit was installed in 1877 and was fired each day as a time signal for many years. If you look down below, in the suburbs, you will spot the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve, not far from the Colonial Cottage Museum on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.

Coffee culture

Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) 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).

Treaty of Waitangi

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).

Weta workshop

If you have some free time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. Weta is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, including creatures, makeup and digital special effects for movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.

You can take the 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-the-scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.

Wellington Complete Guide

3Wellington to Tongariro Crossing (324km – 3 hours 57 mins)

After a day exploring our capital city, it’s time to give your new best friend a bit of a leg stretch and the drive out of Wellington and up to the Tongariro Crossing is a great place to start. Heading up SH1, your route will take you up the lower west coast of the North Island.

Palmerston North (140km – 1 hour 53 mins)

The first stop of the day will be in the small farming town of Palmerston North. As you drive up the west coast, you may want to pit stop at any one of the lovely beaches on the way including Foxton, Otaki and Waikanae which are all easily accessible from SH1. Although it’s the biggest town between Wellington and Taupo, Palmerston is pretty quiet and this will give you a true insight into Kiwi life. With a plethora of cafes to pick from, this is a great place for morning elevenses – go on, treat yourself to one of those amazing looking muffins!

Bulls (29.8km – 25 mins from Palmerston North)

There’s not much to say about Bulls but if quirky is what you want on this tour then quirky is what you will get. The only thing of note in this town is the clever (or not!) use of the town’s name by local businesses – unforget-a-bull and hospit-a-bull are two of our personal favourites – let us know yours!

Taihape (84.8km – 1 hour from Bulls)

Another quirky stop off on your way north is the ‘gumboot capital of the world’ – Taihape. The gumboot is the NZ equivalent of the Wellington boot and each year the town hosts Gumboot Day. If you’re lucky enough to be passing through in March, check it out and get involved in a bit of gumboot throwing – definitely one to tell the grandkids about!

Tongariro National Park (93.9km – 1 hour 5 mins from Taihape)

Your final destination for the day is at the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often described as the best one day walk in New Zealand if not the world. There are many places providing accommodation and a lift to the start of the trail which takes you up into the Tongariro National Park. The walk itself is 19.4km and on average takes between 7-9 hours to complete. It reaches altitudes of over 1800m and is covered in snow during the winter months.

Make sure you book your return bus at the place you are staying – they will usually allow for a 10 hour day so people can take their time and enjoy the walk.

4Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Image looking down onto the Emerald Lakes on the Tonagariro CrossingGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

It’s a day out of your beloved hire car and a chance to stretch your own legs. The Tongariro Crossing is a must-do on many people’s lists when they head to NZ so make the most of your day. The weather can change quickly out on the walk so make sure you pack for all seasons from the sun cream to the warm base layers – even if it is a lovely sunny day when you set out, things can soon change out on the track.

A gentle start to the walk will soon be replaced by some gradual climbs before the steep ascent to Red Crater where you get some amazing views looking down to the Emerald Lakes. Make sure you have your camera at the ready as there are so many photo opportunities on the walk.

Lord of the Rings Fans

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan (we won’t hold it against you if you’re not – promise!) then this is the place for you. Home to the sinister Mordor, you will soon start to recognise landscapes from the trilogy and a look over to Mt Ngauruhoe should bring flashbacks of the infamous Mount Doom. If you have the fitness and the equipment, climbing to the summit of Mount Doom is a possible add on to your day but be aware that this is a steep climb and should only be carried out by experienced climbers.

By the end of the walk, you’ll probably feel like Frodo and Sam so treat yourself to a big feed and a cold beer at the end of a great day.

5Tongariro Crossing to Taupo (72.7km – 57 mins)

After a day off the driving, we are going to ease you back in with a relatively short trip up to Taupo.

Taupo

Heading out from the Tongariro your day starts with a scenic drive around the shores of NZ’s largest lake to the town that shares the same name – Taupo.

Skydiving

Image of a tandem skydiver over the shores of Lake Taupo Although this is a guide to off the beaten track activities, it wouldn’t be right for us not to mention the amazing sky diving over Lake Taupo. As you will be aware, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and sky diving opportunities are abundant all over the country but Lake Taupo is a GO Rentals favourite and luckily for you, Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner giving you a 5% discount. The views as you hurtle out of the plane towards the lake are spectacular and if you can, we recommend you get the photo pack – it’s well worth the extra dollars to remember this day.

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Canoe and Kayak Kayaking Taupo

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Golf challenge

For you budding Tigers out there, Lake Taupo throws up a challenge – can you land your ball on a green floating in the middle of the lake? If the answer is yes, and more importantly, if you can get a hole in one, your trip to Lake Taupo just got a whole bunch better as there are some big prizes up for grabs. Even if you don’t play golf, it’s pretty satisfying just whacking balls into the lake!

Huka Falls

Image of water gushing over the Huka Falls
This is a great little detour as you head out of Taupo and well worth it as it’s not every day you get to see a river that is usually 100m wide get squeezed through a gap that is only 20m wide over a 20m drop! Apparently, 220,000 litres of water gushes over the falls every second (that is a LOT of water) – we haven’t as yet managed to see any salmon leaping up the falls and we’re not sure it’s possible – what do you reckon?

6Taupo to Rotorua (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)

You probably noticed it as soon as you drove into Rotorua – that sulphuric smell (no that wasn’t your fellow passengers!), the vents on the ground letting steam off, the boiling mud everywhere. You’ve arrived in New Zealand’s thermal wonderland.

Wai-O-Tapu

Image of the Champagne Pools at Wai-O-TapuGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

Rotorua is bubbling (see what we did there?) with geothermal activity and you can see it (and smell 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.

Te Puia

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

Zorb Rotorua
Right, that’s enough walking around, it’s time for some adrenaline. Head to the Zorb (149 Western Road in Rotorua), another GO Play partner, 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

Image of blueberries
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

7Rotorua to Coromandel Peninsula (208km – 2 hours 57 mins)

Chainsaw Collection at the New Zealand Timber Museum (54.2km – 47 mins from
Rotorua)

Not exactly the most obvious choice for a recommended touristic attraction but we’re talking about unique and quaint experiences that you’ll 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 Matamata.

Matamata (29.8km – 28 mins from Putaruru)

Image of the hobbit houses in Hobbiton including Bag End
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. Photo After that, it’s time to continue north. Our next stop: Paeroa.

Giant L&P Bottle

Image of the iconic giant L&P bottle in Paeroa
Paeroa will be your next stop after the walk. There isn’t much to this small town but it’s 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-respecting tourist so make sure you strike a pose in front of it too.

Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (7.7km – 7 mins from Paeroa)

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!

Waihi (13.2km – 12 mins from Karangahake)

As you head towards 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 the gold mining history, as there won’t be many other opportunities to do so during the trip.

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Martha’s Mine Museum & Tours

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From here you head to your final destination – we recommend a stopover in Whitianga which is just short of 2 hours from Waihi.

8Around the Coromandel

There is lots to do on the Coromandel and depending on where you decide to stay (we recommend Whitianga or Hahei) there are a variety of activities to choose from.

Deep-sea fishing

The Coromandel is one of the best places on the North Island to head out deep sea fishing with a number of charter companies running trips daily throughout the summer months. Head out onto the water and catch yourself some dinner – red snapper are often in abundance and if you’re lucky you may snag yourself a kingfish or even a marlin! It’s a really relaxing way to spend a day out on the water and better still, if you bring home a catch, the local fish and chip shops will batter it for you for about 50 cents! Winner.

Deserted beaches

Image of the pristine New CHums Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula New Chums beach in Wainuiototo Bay 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 take you on a guided tour out to visit the sea caves and check out the towering cliffs of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.

Coromandel Complete Guide

9Coromandel Peninsula to Auckland

Take the time to enjoy your morning on the Coromandel Peninsula before you head off to New Zealand’s biggest city. Make the most of the peace and quiet and the tranquil walks as things are going to get busy when you arrive in Auckland.

Pokeno Ice Cream

Pokeno Ice Cream 15 Scooper We know you’ll be excited and itching to get to Auckland for some retail therapy and top-notch food, however half an hour out of Auckland is a must for all travellers heading north – it’s 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.

10Auckland

You could spend 10 days in and around Auckland alone there is so much to do but with only 10 days to spare, 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 for one last drive out in your hire car. A perfect place to end this adventure is to head out west through the suburbs and out to the Waitakere range. 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.

Image of the Auckland skyline at night

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.

Auckland Complete Guide

Related Blog Posts

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