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21 day self drive NZ itinerary - starts and ends in Auckland

Travel Forums Australia / New Zealand & The Pacific 21 day self drive NZ itinerary - starts and ends in Auckland

1. Posted by KiranV (Budding Member 6 posts) 35w

Hello All,

We are planning 21 day self drive NZ itinerary starting Apr 5, 2016. It HAS to start and end in Auckland. All itineraries online start in Auckland and end in Christchurch. Please suggest. We are 3 of us (couple and close friend) and are cultural and nature travellers. We DO NOT indulge in extreme adventure which NZ has to offer like bungee jumping, zorbing etc.

We want to do both North and South Island and visit few Lord of rings shooting locations and all types of nature/scenic places that NZ has to offer.

Other than that tips on budget travel in NZ (planning entire DIY trip) & South Island travel from mid-april are really really appreciated.

Thanks in advance,


2. Posted by Andyf (Travel Guru 647 posts) 35w


21 days is a short time to do this. As you've seen, mostly people will do a loop and fly back up from Chch to Akl, saving a few days drive retracing ground already covered. Is the need for Auckland to Auckland because of a car hire deal you're already tied into?

From your description of what you want to see, a lot of the real good stuff is down on the southern half of South Island. Otherwise I'd suggest just doing one island in such a limited time.

Figure on doing a fairly quick route down to Wellington and back at either end of the trip, with most of your time spent doing a circuit of South Island. Forget distractions like Northland, Gisborne, or New Plymouth. Go Hobbiton (matamata), Rotorua, Taupo, Tongariro, Wellington. On the return leg see if you have time for Napier, and make time for White Island (from whakatane). Leftover time : Coromandel and Driving Creek Railway.

South Island, go clockwise. Down to Christchurch and head for Queenstown, stopping off at Lake Ohau or Mt Cook. Dunedin and the Catlins are a nice add-on if you have time. I think the very best scenery is around the Queenstown, Te Anau and Wanaka areas, they each work as bases for a few days. Then up the west coast via the glaciers at Franz Josef and Fox. Then depending on time you could see Nelson Lakes, Abel Tasman NP, golden bay, before the ferry north.

I've not chased the lotr movie locations apart from Hobbiton. There are certainly books of these, the locations seem to be well spread out and some are accessible only with 4wd on gravel roads where hire cars tend to be forbidden.

3. Posted by KiranV (Budding Member 6 posts) 35w

Thanks . this is very very helpful. Yes.. because of lot of parameters it has to be exact 21 days max.. and want to do max in that time ...starting from auckland...

4. Posted by berner256 (Travel Guru 526 posts) 35w

Are you wedded to the idea of renting a car?

I traveled three weeks last September in New Zealand using convenient and inexpensive public transportation, all purchased with the help of the i-SITE visitor information center in Auckland (there are i-SITE offices throughout the country). The KiwiRail Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington cost 119 NZD. The Interisland ferry from Wellington to Picton cost 55 NZD. The InterCity bus (which met the ferry) from Picton to Christchurch cost 35 NZD. The Tranzalpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth cost 119 NZD. The InterCity bus (which met the train) from Greymouth to Franz Josef Glacier cost 34 NZD. The Newmans Coach Lines from Franz Josef Glacier to Queenstown cost 62 NZD. the InterCity bus from Queenstown to Dunedin cost 22 NZD. The Taieri Gorge Railway R/T from Dunedin to Pukarangi cost 89 NZD; and the InterCity bus from Dunedin to Christchurch cost 39 NZD. Drivers were friendly, pointing out sights on the way. The train trips were spectacular, particularly the Tranzalpine from Christchurch to Greymouth. At the time the exchange rate was around 1.58 NZD to the USD. I used Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) ATMs.

GreatSights offers day tours from Auckland to the Bay of Islands, Rotorua (Waitomo Caves, Hobbiton, etc.). There also are day tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound (including a boat ride). I went on a Franz Josef Glacier "heli hike." There are lots of choices.

Friends of mine, who went earlier, rented a camper van. They loved it. Perhaps you can mix rental vehicle and public transportation.

New Zealand is one of the easiest countries to travel in. I plan to return. Hope this helps.

5. Posted by Andyf (Travel Guru 647 posts) 35w

I weighed up public transport last time I went. The appeal was it would be more social, but the thing which made me rule it out was the lack of transport the last few miles in each place that I'd need to go hiking. I'd be in town with no easy way to get to and from the trailhead when I wanted.

6. Posted by berner256 (Travel Guru 526 posts) 35w

Why not use a mix of public transportation and vehicle rental? Sure, public transportation doesn't get you everywhere, but sometimes public transportation makes sense, especially when all you want to do is sightsee. The Tranzalpine is one of the world's great train trips. It would be a shame to miss it.

I took my driver's license to NZ figuring that I would have to rent a car to get around. So I was surprised when the folks at the visitor information center in Auckland told me that it was easy and convenient with public transportation. They handled much of it. I also rode local transportation in Queenstown and other places. It was easy to get to some trailheads.

If you want to travel around Auckland, Rotorua and other places in the region, rent a car for a few days. Then take the Northern Explorer to Wellington. On the South Island, take public transportation from Picton to Christchurch, then take the Transzalpine to Greymouth. Continue with public transportation to Franz Josef and Fox glaciers to Queenstown, then perhaps rent a car there; and/or take some day tours to places like Milford Sound.

Mix and match. That could serve you better. Then fly back to Auckland from Queenstown, Christchurch or Dunedin on either Air New Zealand or Jetstar. The fares are reasonable. Three weeks will give you a good taste of New Zealand; and you will want to come back for more!

One more thing. If you're determined to self-drive, check with the rental companies on drop off charges, if any. One possibility is to drive from Auckland to Wellington; drop the car there; take the ferry; pick up another car on the South Island; drop that car at the airport (Queenstown, Dunedin or Christchurch) before flying back to Auckland. If you use the same rental company, you might be able to get them to arrange it that way.

[ Edit: Edited on 17-Feb-2016, at 04:09 by berner256 ]

7. Posted by KiranV (Budding Member 6 posts) 34w

Thanks a lot all of you for all the valuable feedback.. will check all options :)

thanks again ..