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. Whether you’re planning just a 2-hour quick trip, or an epic day-drive. Whether you’re into lakes or cities, beaches or bush. There is literally something for the whole family the New Zealand back yard has to offer.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 up to Kaikōura where you’ll want to stop to check out the marine wildlife, and maybe a crayfish meal after. From Kaikoura it’s an easy drive up the coast to the beautiful town of Blenheim. Take in the Queen Charlotte Sound in Picton, then drive the stunning scenic route around the sounds to Havelock North. From there it’s another easy drive to Nelson, the sunshine capital of New Zealand, and gateway to one of the most popular Great Walks the Able Tasman National Park. From Nelson take SH6 through to Westport and Greymouth if you’ve got time. Otherwise turn off at SH65 and head to the Lewis Pass. After all that driving you owe it to the family to stop for a soak, and even spend a night a Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools. It’s only a couple of hours back to Christchurch now, so why not stop off in Hurunui for a hike, or mountain bike, or maybe another vineyard visit.
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