New Zealand is home to some of the best family road trips in the world. New Zealand is a touring country with destinations around every bend. We know kiwis love their backyard, so we’ve compiled the very best road trips for kiwi families.

Whether you plan on travelling through the North Island or the South Island. Craving a quick 2-hour trip or a full-day excursion? New Zealand has it all. From lakes to cities, beaches to bush, there’s something for every member of the family.

In fact, a New Zealand roadie is such a good way of experiencing all that New Zealand has, you will wonder why you hadn’t planned this trip sooner.

The Very Best New Zealand Road Trips for Families

Very Best North Island Road Trips for Families

Best Kiwi Road Trips-Haval
The North Island features island sanctuaries, lively cities and a large helping of Māori culture for a truly diverse road trip experience.

From the far north where New Zealand’s history began, you and the family can journey through landscapes that blend beautiful coasts and beaches, rolling farmlands and geothermal wonders.

Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway

The Very Best New Zealand Road Trips for Families-Auckland to New Plymouth

Discover New Zealand’s backcountry via the Forgotten Highway as you and the family travel from Auckland to New Plymouth, in the stunning Taranaki region.

Along the way, you’ll get the chance to discover the Waikato River, Waitomo Caves and all the Taranaki region has to offer. As you’re heading into New Plymouth, make sure to take in the coast views on the Surf Highway and the gateway to Egmont National Park.

There are some incredible day walks on Mt Taranaki, Egmont National Park, that are perfect for families. From 30 minute strolls through to half-day hikes and more!

Auckland to Napier

The Very Best New Zealand Road Trips for Families-Auckland to Napier

Next up is Auckland to Napier, the art deco capital of New Zealand.

Along this journey, you’ll be able to experience some of New Zealand’s top attractions that take you from the big city through the rolling green hills of Waikato. From catching some waves in Mount Maunganui to marvelling at the geothermal wonders of Rotorua, you’ll finish in the heart of Hawkes Bay food and wine country at Napier.

This road trip is action-packed, so make sure you’ve got a comfortable ride to get you from point A to point B.

Auckland to Wellington via Taupo – Or Wellington to Auckland

The Very Best New Zealand Road Trips for Families-Auckland to Wellington

If you want the perfect mix of outdoor adventures, geothermal landmarks, arts, culture, food and wine, this road trip is for you. Best done slowly over 10 days, but easily done over 5 if you’re pushed for time. Start your journey in Auckland and drive through the centre of the North Island to the country’s capital city of Wellington. Or, with an international airport at both ends, you can also do this roadie in reverse, starting in Wellington city and driving North to Auckland.

You and the family can visit Waikato, the bubbling mud and spouting geysers of Rotorua, and the excellent swimming, boating or fishing on Lake Taupo. Then choose to follow SH1 past the majestic alpine scenery of Tongariro National Park. You’ll pass through unforgettable rural locations, including Bulls and the Rangitikei River, as well as great beaches at Foxton, Otaki and Waikanae. Or, take SH5 and SH2 through Napier, the art deco capital of New Zealand, and the incredible wine regions of the Hawkes Bay and Martinborough.

From either Wairarapa on SH2, or Kapiti on SH1, it’s only around 1.5 hours to Wellington City and all it has to offer. From te Papa to Weta Workshops, Wellington City is known as the arts and culture capital of New Zealand.

Auckland to the Coromandel

The Very Best New Zealand Road Trips for Families-Auckland to Coromandel

Get ready to escape the hustle and bustle of Auckland and experience the true essence of New Zealand on the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula on the east coast.

Check out the migratory birds and rejuvenating hot springs, and visit the informative Pukorokoro Shorebird Centre in Miranda along the way. Take a stop in Tairua, so you can allow yourself and the kids to enjoy some beach time.

Then continue on to Coromandel town. You can soak at Hot Water Beach, Hahei, or Whitianga. Check out the world famous Cathedral Cove, or take the kids on the epic Driving Creek Railway.

Coromandel to Waitomo

Roadtrip ideas with kids-Waitomo Caves

From Coromandel, it’s a great road trip to the incredible glowworm caves in Waitomo.

Stop in some classic rural towns in the South Waikato like Morrinsville and Te Awamutu to grab supplies or have a tasty meal with the family. And check out the quirky town of Otorohanga, known as the ‘Kiwiana Capital of the World’ and a great place to see a real kiwi. You should also definitely check out the world famous Hobbiton exhibition.

Once you reach Waitomo, you’ll have a fantastic range of tours to experience these amazing and famous glowworm caves. From easy graded walks onto gentle floating river boats, right up to epic abseiling and underground tubing adventures. There’s something for any age group, and this is one experience your family will remember for a lifetime!

Waitomo to Rotorua

The Very Best New Zealand Road Trips for Families-Waitomo to Rotorua

Heading North instead of South? Then the Waitomo to Rotorua run has to be one of the most tourist activity filled roadies you can do in New Zealand.

No matter where you’re staying, make sure you leave a full day for exploring Waitomo caves. We can’t recommend enough taking in the Ruakauri cave just up the road, as well as the more famous glow-worm caves. The cave guides are just brilliant, and make it lots of fun for the kids, while passing on plenty of knowledge to the grown-ups. Our youngest was just 4 when we went, and handled the big day well.

On route to Rotorua, make sure you take in the world famous Kiwi House in Otorohanga. The Kiwi House now has New Zealand’s largest free-flight aviary, plus a few other aviaries, fresh-water exhibit, a Whio (native blue duck) enclosure, tuatara and a really successful kiwi breeding programme going back almost 50 years! Definitely not to be missed.

Over night in one of the smaller Waikato towns, or head on up to Hamilton for plenty of accommodation choices. Take in the amazing Hamilton Gardens while you’re there. From Hamilton Rotorua is just a short two-hour drive. Stop in Tirau for a cup of tea, then take in the beautiful scenery and natural springs at Blue Spring Putaruru. Or if movie sets is more your thing, head to Matamata and do the Hobbiton Tour.

After that, you can drive the family to Rotorua. And you may want to over night here too. There are so many tourist activities in Rotorua we can’t list them all here! From bubbling mud pools, to giant geysers, night-time tree walks to luging down the mountainside. Rotorua is non-stop adventure!

Very Best South Island Road Trips for Families

Best Kiwi Road Trips-Haval

South Island New Zealand is packed with adventure and is one of the best places to take a family road trip. Whether skiing at Wanaka or enjoying the wonder of Milford Sound, prepare to make many stops just to take in its jaw dropping beauty.

Christchurch to Queenstown via Invercargill

Awesome things to do in Queenstown-Skyline view

One of the most famous road trips in New Zealand has to be the Christchurch to Queenstown via Dunedin and Invercargill roadie in the South Island. You’ll see plenty of stunning plains and alpine scenery, but also lots of city activities too, so something for the whole family to keep engaged.

The international airport in Christchurch makes for a great starting point. You’ll discover a multitude of awesome Christchurch city activities, so spend a couple of days here. Some of the many highlights you can expect to see during your travels south from Christchurch include stepping back in time in Oamaru, exciting wildlife in Dunedin, touring the rugged Catlins, and even prehistoric tuatara in Invercargill. Take an excursion to the very bottom of the South Island in Bluff. And on the way back up North to Queenstown, take a longer excursion to Te Anau and the breathtaking wonder that is the Milford Sound. Make sure you book in a good few days in Queenstown, which is brimming with tourist activities winter or summer.

There is truly something for the whole family on this New Zealand road trip.

Alpine Lakes to Glaciers – Queenstown to Greymouth

The Very Best New Zealand Road Trips for Families-Queenstown to Greymouth

If jaw-dropping scenery is your main reason for visiting the South Island, then the Queenstown to Greymouth road trip is for you. Start your journey in Queenstown known as the adrenaline capital of New Zealand, and a perfect starting point with it’s international airport and easy access to rental vehicles.

From Queenstown head North through the stunning lakes at Wanaka and Lake Hawea, make sure you get your ubiquitous photo of ‘#ThatWanakaTree’. Take the Haast Pass to the natural wonders of Fox and Franz Joesf Glacier and take an excursion to the mirror reflection at Lake Matheson. Carry on up the stunning West Coast past Hokitika through to Greymouth. Whether it’s hiking through ancient forests, trout or salmon fishing, or just chilling at a pub over drinks and whitebait fritters, the family will be spoilt for choice on the West Coast.

Queenstown to Dunedin via Lake Tekapo

The Very Best New Zealand Road Trips for Families-Queenstown to Dunedin

This is another great option if you’re starting from Queenstown. Head through Arrowtown to Cromwell, maybe take in a vineyard or two for some worldclass pinot noir. Then take the Lindis Pass through Glenbrook and Twizel up to Lake Tekapo.

After visiting Timaru you’ll definitely want to stop at Moeraki. It’s a fantastic spot where the kids can explore the iconic boulders the wind has shaped into perfect roundness over the years. As you continue your travels south, take a moment to pause at the stunning Lake Pukaki, and enjoy the breathtaking views of Aoraki/Mt Cook before heading toward the coast and reaching Dunedin.

Once in Dunedin, there are plenty of exciting things to do. A top attraction in Dunedin, Larnach Castle. If you’re a nature lover, visit a penguin, seal, or albatross colony for an unforgettable experience with your family. And you can’t leave Dunedin without visiting Baldwin Street, which is the steepest street in the world.

Christchurch to Nelson Loop

Things to do in Marlborough with kids
Courtesy: www.newzealand.com

Experience a blend of history, adventure, wildlife and the spectacular outdoors on this Christchurch to Nelson loop road trip. Some sights you can expect to see on the Christchurch to Nelson loop drive include the Garden City and Akaroa, whale watching at Kaikōura, the world-famous Marlborough wine region, the equally world-famous Abel Tasman National Park and the thermal waters of Hanmer Springs.

After spending a couple of days seeing Christchurch, head north to Kaikōura – you’ve got to check out the marine wildlife, and maybe grab a crayfish meal after. It’s an easy drive from there up the coast to the beautiful town of Blenheim. Take in the Queen Charlotte Sound in Picton, then drive the stunning scenic route to Havelock North. Next, it’s another easy drive to Nelson, the sunshine capital of New Zealand, and gateway to the popular Abel Tasman National Park. Detour to Westport and Greymouth along SH6 if you’ve got time, otherwise turn off at SH65 and head to the Lewis Pass. After all that driving, treat the family to a soak at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools – you deserve it! It’s only a couple of hours back to Christchurch, so why not stop off in Hurunui for a hike, mountain bike, or another vineyard visit?

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Q & A

1. How many days do you need for a road trip to New Zealand?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how long you need for a New Zealand road trip. It truly depends on how much you want to see and do, as well as your travel style. Here’s a breakdown to help you decide:

The Bare Minimum

  • 7-10 Days: This is a whirlwind tour. You could focus on one island (North or South) and hit the absolute highlights, but you’ll be spending a lot of time driving.

A More Comfortable Pace

  • 14-21 Days: A good amount of time to explore both the North and South Islands. You can still see iconic spots and have time for some adventures and relaxation.

The Ultimate Exploration Trip

  • 21+ Days: If you want to get off the beaten track, go on multi-day hikes, and really immerse yourself, plan for three weeks or more.

Factors to Consider:

  • Your Interests: Adventure sports, wine tasting, hiking, or cultural experiences? Factor in the time each activity typically takes.
  • Travel Style: Do you like fast-paced travel or do you prefer lingering in each spot?
  • Time of Year: Summer (Dec-Feb) is the busiest season, so you might need to book accommodations in advance, lengthening your planning process.

Remember, New Zealand is incredibly diverse. No matter how long your trip is, you’re guaranteed stunning landscapes and incredible experiences!

2. What is the best month to travel to New Zealand?

There’s no single “best” month to visit New Zealand – it depends on what you’re looking for in your trip! Here’s a breakdown of the seasons to help you decide:

Summer (December – February)

    • Pros: Warmest weather, perfect for beaches and outdoor activities. Festivals and events are in full swing.
    • Cons: Peak season means bigger crowds and higher prices. Accommodation may book out quickly.

Autumn (March – May)

  • Pros: Comfortable temperatures, stunning autumn foliage, fewer crowds than summer.
  • Cons: Weather can be slightly unpredictable, with cooler days and occasional rain.

Winter (June – August)

  • Pros: Ideal for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. Beautiful snow-capped mountains and cozy lodge experiences.
  • Cons: Not the best for beach holidays. Some hiking trails may be closed due to weather conditions.

Spring (September – November)

  • Pros: Warming weather, blooming wildflowers, the shoulder season means lower prices and crowds.
  • Cons: The weather can be a bit changeable, with a mix of sun and showers.

My Personal Favourite:

If I had to choose, I’d say March is a fantastic time to visit. The summer crowds have departed, leaving quieter trails and more space at popular attractions. The weather is generally pleasant, perfect for exploring both islands.

Ultimately, the best time to travel to New Zealand depends on your priorities and preferences!

3. Is 2 weeks enough for New Zealand?

Two weeks in New Zealand is enough time to get a fantastic taste of the country, but you’ll have to make some choices to avoid feeling rushed. Here’s why:

  • It’s a long way to go: Depending on where you’re flying from, it takes a significant amount of time just to reach New Zealand. You don’t want to spend your entire holiday in transit!
  • Distances can be deceptive: New Zealand looks small on a map, but the roads are often winding and mountainous. It takes longer to get around than you might expect.

How to make the most of 2 weeks:

  • Focus on one island: Choose either the North Island (beaches, geothermal wonders, Māori culture) or the South Island (mountains, glaciers, adventure sports).
  • Plan a loop itinerary: This maximizes your time, avoiding backtracking and seeing more highlights in a shorter period.
  • Consider internal flights: If you want to cover both islands, a few internal flights can drastically cut down on travel time.
  • Be willing to prioritize: Decide what’s most important to you – iconic landmarks, outdoor activities, or soaking up the local vibe.

My personal take: While I’d always recommend longer in New Zealand if possible, two weeks is still enough to have an incredible experience. With careful planning, you can definitely fit in a good dose of those iconic Kiwi adventures!

4. Are New Zealand roads easy to drive?

New Zealand roads aren’t overly difficult to drive, but they do present some unique challenges that you’ll want to be prepared for:

  • Driving on the left: If you’re used to driving on the right, it’ll take some adjustment to drive on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Narrow and winding roads: Many roads in New Zealand are single-lane in each direction and quite twisty, especially in mountainous areas. Slow down and take your time on corners.
  • Unsealed roads: You might encounter gravel roads, particularly in rural areas. These require slower speeds and extra caution.
  • Changing weather conditions: New Zealand weather can change quickly, affecting road conditions. Be prepared for rain, fog, or even snow in some mountain passes.
  • Wildlife: Keep an eye out for sheep, cattle, and birds, who might wander onto the roads.

Tips for driving safely in New Zealand:

    • Give yourself extra time: Journeys often take longer than GPS estimates suggest. Don’t rush.
    • Take rest breaks: Avoid driver fatigue by pulling over regularly to stretch your legs and enjoy the views.
    • Be mindful of other drivers: Stay patient with slower campervans and adhere to passing lane rules.
    • Check road conditions: Before setting out, check the latest weather and road updates

5. What roads should you definitely go on during a road trip in South Island, New Zealand?

The South Island of New Zealand is a road tripper’s paradise! Here are a few of my absolute must-drive roads for their stunning scenery and unforgettable experiences:

  • The Great Coast Road (SH6): This route from Westport to Greymouth hugs the wild Tasman Sea and offers dramatic coastal views, rainforest, and a chance to see the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki.

  • Arthur’s Pass (SH73): A stunning journey through the Southern Alps, with mountain vistas, waterfalls, and cheeky Kea (alpine parrots). Be sure to stop at the Arthur’s Pass lookout for incredible views.

  • Lindis Pass: Connecting the Mackenzie Country to Wanaka, this high-altitude pass offers sweeping views of tussock grasslands and distant mountains. The stark beauty here is mesmerizing.

  • Crown Range Road: The highest sealed road in New Zealand links Queenstown and Wanaka. Prepare for tight turns, breathtaking vistas, and the popular Cardrona Hotel for a well-deserved break.

  • Milford Road (SH94): The iconic drive to Milford Sound is an unmissable experience. It traverses Fiordland National Park with cascading waterfalls, ancient forests, and the awe-inspiring Mitre Peak.

And for more great family travel advice, check out our 5 tips for family road trips or the Family travel: Travel tips section.

Before you go… get your printable Vacation Planner on us!

We get it – planning the perfect trip can be a bit overwhelming! That’s why we’ve created the ultimate Vacation Printable Planner to make organising your adventure a breeze.  Download your FREE planner below , and experience the joy of a smooth trip!

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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