If you’re on a tight schedule, but you want to maximise your holiday exploring the cities and scenery of both the North and South Islands, this exciting six-day journey, which travels from Auckland to Queenstown, will ignite your wanderlust.
Book an intermediate SUV, such as Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tuscon, or Nissan Xtrail. This type of rental vehicle can hold three large suitcases and two small bags. Known for having better handling and drivability, an intermediate SUV is a great choice for long trips.
Depending on your rental provider, your rental car may not be allowed on the ferry, so if you wish to visit both the North and South Islands, you may need to drop off your vehicle either in Wellington or Picton before boarding the ferry. Read our inter-island guide for more info.
Day 1: Experience the Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb
With a range of diverse sights and attractions on offer, it’s no surprise that Auckland is ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world. Head to Mount Eden for a great panorama of the city.
For an amazing visual arts experience, check out the Auckland Art Gallery, Toi o Tamaki, right in the heart of the city. Open daily from 10am to 5pm, the gallery provides a lively calendar of lectures, film screenings, performances, and fun activities for kids.
The city also serves as a playground for both the city savvy and those looking for adventure. Enjoy jet boating on the harbour, or join an Auckland Harbour Bridge climbing tour to experience the gorgeous scenic views of the city.
Useful tips: The Northern Gateway Toll Road is the only toll road you’ll encounter in Auckland. Traffic can be very busy in Auckland during peak times. Be sure to allow extra time for your trip during these periods.
Day 2: Don't miss Lake Taupo’s top attractions
Taupo offers breathtaking scenery and a multitude of things to do. To get the most out of your hire car, pack a picnic basket and do the Great Lake Taupo drive. Check out our Day Trip from Auckland to Taupo for a plethora of attractions and free activities.
Only a short drive from the lake is the Aratiatia Rapids, which is another must-visit attraction in Taupo. If you want to see the Aratiatia Rapids gradually filling up, arrive at least a few minutes early before the dam is due to release.
Discover several walking trails within the dual World Heritage Tongariro National Park, and experience the stunning volcanic alpine landscape.
Useful tips: Swimming is not allowed at the Aratiatia Rapids. A warning alert can be heard from the siren area before every opening of the dam. Be wary that the dam gates may release at any time without warning. For your safety, make sure to stay out of the spillway and downstream area.
Day 3: Taste your way around Wellington
Wellington has something for everyone. Whether you want to ride the cable car or explore the outer suburbs, you’ll find something to enjoy here.
Known to have more cafes, bars, and restaurants per capita than New York City, food and drinks here are spectacularly good. For a great culinary experience, check out the Hippopotamus Restaurant and Cocktail Bar.
If you’re in Wellington because of its importance in the film industry, driving to Miramar is a must. The region played a significant role in the production of Lord of the Rings.
Useful tips: Rental vehicles can only be driven on sealed roads. Off-road driving is prohibited. Renters are restricted from driving on any unformed roads or through streams, dams, rivers, and flood waters.
Day 4: Explore several wineries in the Marlborough region from Picton
Make sure to spend the morning exploring the streets of Picton. The Edwin Fox Maritime Museum is definitely worth a look.
The 35km Queen Charlotte Drive between Picton and Havelock is certainly one of the most stunning drives you will experience, so leave enough time for multiple stops along the way.
If you want to taste the fabulous wines of the region, take the road south towards Blenheim. This is the heart of the Marlborough wine region. Explore the vineyards and sample their sparkling Chardonnay, complex Pinot Noir, and many more.
Useful tips: Make sure to notify your rental provider when you collect your vehicle about your inter-island travel plans. Inter-Island Ferry means the ferry trip on a car and passenger ferry in either direction between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Note that it takes around 3 to 3.5 hours to travel from the North Island to the South Island by ferry.
Day 5: Visit the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch
Explore central Christchurch for some local history at the charming heritage building of the Canterbury Museum, or stretch your legs with a leisurely walk through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Shop in the picturesque Spanish Mission style New Regent Street, or visit the funky Cashel Mall.
Treat yourself and ride the Christchurch Gondola to enjoy stunning views of the city. Relax with a coffee or grab a snack at the Red Rock Cafe after, and check out what items to buy at the Shop at the Top.
Useful tips: Note that from April to October, ice and snow can affect the roads. Snow Coverage is compulsory if renters want to drive their rental car above the snow line.
Day 6: Experience the wonders of Queenstown
If you want the adrenaline rush Queenstown is known for, take your pick from the Canyon Swing, Zipline, Shotover Jet, Nevis Bungy, or White Water Rafting.
Take a short trip to the nearby Gibbston Valley wine region to enjoy lunch at one of its famous vineyards. Make a stop at the Chard Farm cellar door, take a cellar cave tour at Gibbston Valley Winery, or visit the award-winning Peregrine vineyard.
Of course, no trip to Queenstown is complete without a visit to world-renowned Fergburger — just be prepared for long queues.
Useful tips: Parking spaces in Queenstown can fill up quickly, so make sure to arrive early in the morning or early evening to get a parking space.