Molly Hitchings

New Zealand

Molly Hitchings
New Zealand

First things first, we’re married y’all! For our honeymoon, we did a two week road trip through New Zealand.

We started our trip in Auckland, picked up a camper van, drove south to Wellington, took the ferry across, and then explored the south island, dropping the van off in Christchurch. To be completely honest, we bit off a bit too much. We saw a route similar to ours in a guidebook, and they recommended five weeks to complete… Not that our two weeks can’t be done, but in hindsight, we did feel a bit rushed in places. Our trip was from May 8 - May 23, meaning it’s fall / winter in New Zealand. Definitely a shoulder season, which meant less tourists and chillier weather.

Below is the ultimate guide for everything you need to know about our two week New Zealand road trip! Includes our tips on camper van rental, some of the budget, tips about New Zealand, and our day by day breakdown of what we did.


Camper Van Rental

For our two week trip, we rented a van through Mighty Campers (but basically all of the camper van companies have merged into one, called THL). So when we went to pick up our “Mighty” camper, we got one with a “Britz” branding.

  • We rented the Deuce van, which was plenty spacious for the two of us. It was a self-contained vehicle, meaning it had a shower and a toilet, and you had to dump your waste water in designated areas. Self-contained vehicles are recommended in NZ because you have more options for parking overnight.

  • The Deuce model was an automatic transmission, so (in theory) we could both drive the van. Chris ended up doing all of the driving, though.

  • The van comes with pretty much everything you would need on your trip. Bedding (which was plenty warm), all cooking supplies, we got a fan heater that you can use throughout the night when you’re plugged into a power source, and cleaning supplies.

  • WiFi is available for add on in the van, but we ended up going through Tep Wireless for a WiFi hotspot option.

  • When you pick up the van, they give you an option to do an “Express Drop off” at the end of your trip, which means THL will: fill the propane, empty your grey/black water, fill up the gas tank and covers diesel tax*, for a total of $220 USD. We knew we would be driving over 2000 km, so we paid for the express drop off.

    • *diesel tax is for non commercial vehicles and costs $6.84/ 100 km of driving

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Budget

Here is a breakdown of the larger purchases for the trip. We didn’t create a day to day budget, because, honeymoon.

  • Flight - $1,668: for two Economy Comfort tickets

    • Los Angeles to Auckland. We paid the small extra for economy comfort and it was so worth it. You get more leg room and a leg rest that can raise all the way up to meet your seat, so it’s like a little personal couch!

    • We paid with airline points to get ourselves from Austin to LA.

  • Van Rental + Gas - $982 USD

    • This cost included a one way drop off (you actually get a discount if you drive from Christchurch to Auckland), and the express drop off.

    • Filling up the gas tank with diesel was about $100 USD, which we had to do about three times for our 2,000 km trip.

  • WiFi - $186 USD

    • Rented a hotspot through TepWireless for the two week trip. It worked great in the main cities, but we bought it in case we had more of a road side issue. It didn’t work at all in places that didn’t have cell service.

  • Camping - estimated $325 USD for 11 nights

    • We stayed in either Top 10 parks or a holiday park each night, which can range from $25- $35 USD per night.

    • You can become a Top10 Member and get a discount on your nightly stays & on your ferry ride! Highly recommend doing this if the math makes sense for you. It’s $32 USD to become a member for two years…

New Zealand Tips & Tricks

  • Remember, you’re driving on the left side of the road! Educate yourself on driving safety, and the functions of your car / van.

  • We were expecting to be able to do more “freedom camping” in New Zealand since we had a self contained vehicle. But reality is, there really aren’t many places to do this. We used the CamperMate app to find camping spots each night, but the main cities don’t have too many freedom camping spots available. We stayed in a parking lot in Wellington, which you can only do with a self contained vehicle, but it still cost $30 USD for the night. If you’re okay staying outside the cities, there’s definitely more free freedom camping sites available.

  • Here’s a resource to show where you can’t freedom camp in NZ. It’s a pretty extensive list, which is why we stayed at holiday parks throughout our trip.

  • The exchange rate from NZ to US dollars is 1 NZD = 0.66 USD.

Day by Day breakdown

Here is the breakdown of our entire trip. Below is our GoogleMap that contains color coded pins for each day (sights, campsites, food/ drink spots).

Day 1: red pins

Total driving: 137 km, 1 hour 52 minutes (Auckland to Raglan)

  • Arrive in Auckland at 7:30am. There’s a free shuttle (the Yellow Bus) that will take you to the camper van rentals, but it takes about 30 minutes because it stops at airport hotels as well. It would take about 10 minutes via taxi.

  • The van pickup was pretty corporate. No shared food drop-off like there was in Iceland.

  • Headed to Pak’nSave for van groceries

  • Drove our first leg to Raglan! Amazing little surf town. We could’ve spent way more time there if we had planned for it.

  • Lunch at The Shack — highly recommend

  • Coffee at Raglan Roast

  • We explore camping spots and checked out the surf. Stayed at the Raglan Holiday Park, which allowed us to charge the van and have hot showers.

  • Raglan Harbour View Hotel for happy hour — super cute, sat on the front patio.

Day 2: orange pins

Total driving: 151 km, 2 hours (Raglan to Rotorua)

  • Chris rented a few surf boards and a wetsuit for half a day, and went out and surfed Manu Bay and Indicators.

  • Had lunch at George’s Beach Club in Raglan

  • Drove two hours to Rotorua

  • Did the Redwoods Tree Walk — we went around 4pm, but there’s a night walk with lights as well!

  • Rotorua has a cool downtown area. We got a beer at Brew Pub which is in a pretty sweet downtown district with lots of restaurants and bars.

Day 3: yellow pins

Total driving: 409 km, 5 hours total

82 km, 1 hour (Rotorua to Taupo), 93 km, 1 hour 20 min (Taupo to Tongariro Alpine Crossing), 234 km, 2 hours 48 minutes (Tongariro to Foxton Beach)

  • We squeezed a lot into our third day. The weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t stick around our stops too long — it was raining and pretty windy.

  • We started off by driving from Rotorua down to Lake Taupo, where we stopped at Huka Falls and then briefly for coffee in Taupo.

  • We wish we had done a bit more research going into Tangariro Crossing. You can make it into a full day hike (it’s about 19 km total), but with the bad weather, we only did about 6 km. Super pretty, as you’re hiking between two volcanoes.

  • Continued on to Foxton Beach after our hike, and grabbed a drink at the Ocean Beach bar, there was live music! Winds got up to about 40 mph this night.

Day 4: green pins

Total driving: 119 km, 1 hour 45 minutes (Foxton Beach to Wellington)

  • Easy drive down to Wellington! Reminded us of San Francisco of NZ. Started at the Mount Victoria lookout point, which gives an awesome 360 view of the city.

  • We parked at the Cuba Street car park, which was an awesome central location. The Top10 was about 20 minutes outside of the city.

  • Walked around Cuba Street, got lunch at Fidel’s which was great.

  • Went rock climbing at Ferg’s and then did some brewery hopping to Husk, Rogue & Vagabond, and HeyDay.

  • We had dinner that night at Ortega, which was hands down our best meal in New Zealand. HIGHLY recommend.

  • The month of May was NZ Comedy Fest, so we went to a stand up show at the Fringe Bar that night.

Day 5: light blue pins

Total driving: 107 km, 1 hour 50 minutes (Picton to Nelson)

  • Hopped on the 9am morning ferry from Wellington to Picton. 3.5 hour ride, $145 USD for two adults and our camper van.

  • Debated sticking around Picton for a bit, but decided to push through to Nelson for the night. We stopped at Cloudy Bay Winery for a tasting, and had the place to ourselves. Really pretty venue and great wine.

  • The drive from Cloudy Bay to Nelson took about an hour and a half and was debatably the prettiest drive of our trip.

  • After checking into the Top10, we explored downtown Nelson, but quickly realized that most shops closed around 5:00. However, Nelson is known to be the craft beer central of NZ. We went to Sprig & Fern and tried some local beers, and then went to Free House Pub, which is an old church converted to a pub — pretty sweet.

  • Dinner at the Boat Shed Cafe, right on the water.

Day 6: light purple pins

Total driving: 457 km, 6 hours (Nelson to Franz Josef Glacier)

  • We knew today was going to be a big designated driving day for us. We wanted to get down the coast quickly, so we could relax in Queenstown for a few days.

  • We went for a morning run along the river in Nelson and grabbed brunch at the River Kitchen Cafe.

  • The weather got pretty rough driving down to Franz Josef, which didn’t allow for the best views of the glaciers.

  • The township of Franz Josef is pretty small with not a lot to do. We stopped by the Landings for a snack and a drink before heading to the Top10 for the night.

Day 7: brown pins

Total driving: 287 km, 3 hours 50 min (Franz Josef to Wanaka)

  • We didn’t know that a storm came through Franz Josef three weeks prior, had destroyed all of the access roads to the glacier, so the only hiking option for us was a short lookout point called Canavans Knob, but we didn’t have the best view due to the rainy conditions. However, the hike itself was really pretty, like walking through a rainforest. It took us about 40 minutes round trip.

  • We pushed on to Fox Glacier, but the rain beat us and rained us out.

  • As we moved on towards Wanaka, the sun came out and we had hope! The most amazing lake views and weather greeted us as we drove into Wanaka.

  • Stopped a lot along the way, enjoying the views at Roaring Billy Falls and other lookout points.

  • In Wanaka, we went to Gin & Raspberry and had a great cocktail on their patio overlooking the lake, and had dinner at Kai Whakapai down the street.

Day 8: light grey pins

Total driving: 68 km, 1 hour 7 minutes (Wanaka to Queenstown)

  • Chris woke up at sunrise to take some stellar photos of the tree at Lake Wanaka, and I went for a beautiful run around the lake.

  • Made the drive down to Queenstown to head to Air Milford for our quick flight to Milford Sound! Our weather luck had finally shifted, and we got the most beautiful day to fly.

  • Would strongly recommend Air Milford. Our pilot, Hank, owns the company and has been flying for 45 years. We made the journey in a small 9 seater plane, which I was pretty nervous about, but it was an amazing experience. We chose the Fly / Land / Fly option so we got to Milford Sound and got to walk around and explore for two hours. *Would recommend packing a lunch. Don’t eat at the cafe.

  • Chose to stay at the Queenstown Holiday Park in town, because the Top10 was about 12 minutes outside of downtown, and we wanted to walk and explore easily.

  • Went to The Winery, downtown, where you pay for each small taster or size of wine as you go. And then checked out Pig & Whistle Pub.

  • Dinner at Botswana Butchery — was recommended to us by a few people. Really good. Make a reservation.

  • Best way to end the night is at Cookie Bar… cookie ice cream sandwiches… enough said.

Day 9: magenta pins

Total driving: Not much! Stayed around Queenstown

  • It was so nice to finally be settled in a location and not have to wake up and drive! Lesson learned. We did morning yoga at Nadi Wellness Center, which had an amazing view of the lake.

  • Had lunch at Bespoke Kitchen — super cute little cafe that’s open until around 4pm. Great healthy food options and coffee.

  • Went out to do some wine tasting. Stopped at Peregrine Winery first (which has free tastings because they don’t serve food). Then onto Gibbston Valley Winery, where we did a tasting and a great cheese board.

  • Had a beer at Atlas Beer Cafe right on the water, and dinner at Madame Woo’s, which was a great change of pace from our other meals.

  • To top off the night, we had a reservation at the Onsen Hot Pools, which was one of the most amazing experiences we had in NZ.

Day 10: black pins

Total driving: Not much! Stayed around Queenstown

  • Woke up to a beautiful day in Queenstown, so we did some outdoor activities! Chris rented a mountain bike from Alta and did the Queenstown Bike Park, Hammy’s Trail, and Thunder Goat. I went on a hike / run up the Tiki Trail. We both were in the same area, and got spectacular views of Queenstown from the top.

  • Went out to Amisfield Winery and Bistro, did a tasting, and sat outside enjoying a charcuterie board and amazing scenery.

  • Rounding out our bougie honeymoon stay in Queenstown, we went to the Nugget Point Hotel for couples massages.

  • Drinks at 1876 (cheap during happy hour!)

  • Dinner at Rata, which was probably our second favorite meal in NZ. Small portions and pricey, but amazing. Ended the night at Cookie Bar, of course, and a game of pool at Harry’s Pool Bar.

Day 11: teal pins

Total driving: 256 km, 3 hours (Queenstown to Lake Tekapo)

  • Preparing to hit the road for three hours, we took our time leaving Queenstown. We had morning coffee and a scone from Bespoke, played a game of putt putt, and had lunch at the famous Fergburger.

  • Drove the three hours to Lake Tekapo, which was an easy drive compared to the switchback driving we were used to the past two weeks.

  • Tekapo is a small town, with a few shops and bars. Had a beer at Mackenzie Grill overlooking the lake, and went down to the Church of the Good Shepherd for sunset photos.

  • Lake Tekapo is a dark sky reserve, so stargazing is amazing!

  • We didn’t have a chance to go to the hot springs, but they are right next to the holiday park we stayed in. FYI, no cell service at the lake.

Day 12: moss green pins

Total driving: 229 km, 2 hours 45 minutes (Lake Tekapo to Christchurch)

  • Our last day with the van! Super easy flat drive to Christchurch. Stopped by an Alpaca Farm!

  • We checked into our AirBnb in Cathedral Square, and dropped off the van at the Mighty rentals near the airport.

  • Christchurch is an interesting place… it got hit by two major earthquakes about 8 years ago, and the city is only about 60% rebuilt. The stark difference of new buildings and the destroyed are weirdly post-apocalyptic.

  • We walked down Victoria Street, and had a nice happy hour at the Little Neighborhood Bar, followed by an awesome dinner at King of Snake.

Day 13: dark yellow pins

  • Our flight was cancelled up to Auckland, so we were put on a flight 2 hours later, which meant hanging out in the Christchurch airport for a bit.

  • Checked into the Scenic Hotel in Auckland. Good location, medium quality hotel.

  • Walked down to the harbor and had happy hour at Dr Rudi’s Rooftop Brewery, which was great.

  • Went to the Depot Oyster Bar for dinner, which came highly recommended to us. Had a great experience, sat at the bar. Gets pretty busy and they don’t take reservations, so go early or prepare to wait!

  • We ended the night at Q Theater and saw Rhys Nicholson’s standup show, which was incredible. Look him up if you don’t know him!

Day 14: dark purple pins

  • Our last day in NZ! Having a red eye is a great way to travel, but at some point, you just get ready to get home. So we had a full day to explore (and kill time) in Auckland. We did some pretty random stuff… but had a nice time enjoying the day.

  • We walked from our hotel to Ponsonby Street, which has some great restaurants and shopping.

  • We had lunch at a vegan restaurant called Little Bird Organics, which was good, but we’d recommend checking out Ponsonby Central instead.

  • Walked back into town and went bowling, got a beer and snack at Queens Ferry Bar, and did an escape room (like I said… random stuff).

  • Had an early dinner at Federal Deli, which is the same exec chef as the Depot. And off to the airport!

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Overall, our trip to New Zealand was incredible. We saw a lot and truly loved all of the places we stopped. We’re super excited to go back in the future and hit the spots that we missed, or didn’t get to spend too much time in.

A last note and recommendation, would be to do a van rental from Auckland to Queenstown and take your time. We could’ve skipped the last few days of driving and explored more spots along the way.

Please let us know if you have any questions! Happy to give any recommendations :)