So you’ve decided to get out and explore New Zealand and you’ve got 3 weeks touring our beautiful country. One of the best ways to really get out and explore New Zealand is to get up close and personal with nature and do some camping. We have some pretty amazing camping sites around New Zealand in some of the most stunning locations. We also have some truly amazing freedom camping destinations for those on a budget.
Freedom camping is a great way to cut down on costs during your travels around New Zealand. We have a network of free sites around the country where people can pull up and park their campervan for free, usually for short periods of 1-2 nights. There are some really strict rules around freedom camping however that must be observed. We want to keep our country pristine for everyone who comes to enjoy it. That means not littering, respecting the flora and fauna and not using the beautiful surroundings as a toilet! You can read our recent blog post to find out more about the dos and don’ts of freedom camping in New Zealand.
The good news for you is that if you are planning on doing some freedom camping in New Zealand, our awesome GO Glampers are fully certified and good to go, making them the perfect road companion for a freedom camping trip around NZ. So, get yourself a GO Glamper, buckle up and strap in for this awesome 3-week adventure.
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
- Exploring Auckland
- Auckland to Whananaki
- Exploring the Bay of Islands
- Lake Waiparera to Cape Reinga
- Lake Waiparera to Gulf Harbour
- Gulf Harbour to Whitianga
- Exploring the Coromandel
- Whitianga to Anzac Bay
- Anzac Bay to Gisborne
- Gisborne to Napier
- Exploring Napier
- Napier to Castlepoint
- Castlepoint to Wellington
- Wellington to Kenepuri Sounds
- Exploring the Marlborough Sounds
- Blenheim to Akaroa
- Akaroa to Lake Pukaki
- Lake Pukaki to Wanaka
- Wanaka to Queenstown
- Milford Sound
- Exploring Queenstown
Book a vehicle for this trip
1Auckland and around
Alright, so you’ve landed in Auckland, picked up your awesome GO Glamper and it’s time to hit the road and get exploring. Before you head off too far though, it’s worth spending some time in Auckland first. The beauty of our GO Glamper is that you can park it up, safe and secure and then head off to explore in our awesome Toyota Hilux.
Our top tip is to head to Gulf Harbour which is located around 50 minutes north of the city on the beautiful Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Here you can park up the Glamper trailer at the Hammerhead Marina at the end of Laurie Southwick Parade and head off to explore the beautiful region. We recommend heading into the Shakespear Regional Park where you will find two beautiful beaches as well as a great network of walking tracks. The Lookout Track will take you to a lookout tower which offers amazing views back towards the city.
Another good option once you have parked up the Glamper is to catch the ferry back to Auckland for a day exploring the City of Sails. The ferries run fairly regularly throughout the day but be aware that the last ferry back to the Gulf Harbour is around 6.30pm so don’t miss it or you will be faced with an expensive Uber ride back to your Glamper!
For ideas of things to do in and around Auckland, make sure you check out our awesome Complete Guide.
2Auckland to Whananaki (187.7km – 2 hours 45 mins)
OK, after a day exploring the big city, it’s time to head north. For many travellers, the Bay of Islands is the big drawcard, however, we’re going to send you first to the Tutukaka Coast – and a small town called Whananaki. Located just north of the beautiful Matapouri, Whananaki has one of the most beautiful freedom camping grounds in New Zealand. Located right on the beachfront, you can enjoy stunning views at sunset and when the sun rises in the morning. The maximum stay is one night which is perfect for this trip.
The road trip up to Whananaki from Gulf Harbour is a fun one with some great stop-offs along the way.
Puhoi (29.8kms – 30 mins)
As you head of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and through the beautiful beachfront town of Orewa heading to join SH1 you’ll come across the quaint little village of Puhoi. If cheese is your thing, the Puhoi Valley Café and Cheese Store is well worth a stop off to stock up. They do a delicious blue cheese as well as more traditional cheese varieties that you’ll struggle to find in the supermarkets.
Whangarei (116.1kms – 1 hour 34 mins)
Driving north from Puhoi, there are options to take detours to Matakana, Omaha and the Tawharanui Regional Park all of which are great places to stop off, however with only 3 weeks to spare, we’re going to keep you trucking north. Whangarei is the largest city in Northland and a great place to stop off. There are some real hidden gems in and around Whangarei including the Whangarei Falls, Mount Parihaka and the beautiful town basin area with its restaurants, shops and galleries.
From here it’s a further 44kms to Whananaki which will take you just under an hour.
Once you park up the Glamper for the night, we recommend heading out in the Hilux to explore the beautiful Tututaka Coastline. A short drive south will take you to one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches at Matapouri. You will also find some of the best diving spots in New Zealand located on this coastline so there are plenty of opportunities to get out and explore.
3Whananaki to Lake Waiparera (178.4kms – 2 hours 35 mins)
After an early morning stroll on the beach, it’s time to hit the road again! This time we’re heading even further north but first up is a little stop off at Paihia, the gateway to the Bay of Islands.
Paihia (89.1kms – 1 hour 21 mins)
Paihia is such a great place to spend the day and we would recommend parking up and getting out to discover everything the town has to offer – here is a list of our highlights from the adventurous to the more sedate:
Bay of Islands cruise – there are many companies offering a cruise around the harbour including Fullers and the Explore Group. Trips will take you out dolphin watching and to famous landmarks like the Hole in the Rock. Great news for you guys is that Bay of Islands Cruise offer a 15% discount when you present your shiny GO Play card so make sure you take advantage and head out onto the water.
Use your GO Play card here
Jet Boat Ride – if you’ve never experienced the power of a jet boat ride, the Bay of Islands is a great way to break your duck. Traveling along at breakneck speeds, the jet boat experience will get you out into the deep waters to explore the multitude of Bays whilst giving you a thrill ride at the same time
Russell – for a more sedate day, why not catch the ferry across to Russell (20 minutes) and wander the Olde Worlde streets. There are some lovely cafes and restaurants on the seafront where you can easily spend a few hours people watching. The Duke of Marlborough is a particular favourite of the GO Rentals team.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds – New Zealand’s premier historic site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 – a partnership between Maori and the British Crown and the founding document of New Zealand. Visit the treaty house and take a look at the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe.
Lake Waiparera (125.8kms – 1 hour 41 mins)
After spending the full day in Paihia, you have a bit of a drive ahead of you to end the day but it’s a beauty. Driving north from Paihia, you will have the Pacific Ocean to your right most of the way up this stunning coastal drive, passing through some stunning little towns and villages along the way.
The freedom camping spot at Lake Waiparera offers you free overnight camping and is the perfect place to base yourself for exploring the far north.
4Lake Waiparera to Cape Reinga (86.7kms – 1 hour 9 mins)
Cape Reinga is a highlight for many visitors to New Zealand. The furthest point north in NZ, Cape Reinga offers up a fairly unique opportunity to see tow oceans collide as the Pacific meets the Tasman Sea. It’s worth spending a few hours up at Cape Reinga. As well as exploring the famous lighthouse, there are also some great walking tracks where you can explore some of the stunning beaches up here.
90 Mile Beach
90 Mile beach is another great place to spend a few hours whilst you’re up in the far north. From surfing the waves to riding the sand dunes, there are plenty of activities on both the land and sea to keep you entertained. There are a number of access points to 90 Mile Beach which are well signposted. You will find companies ready to rent you a body board for riding the waves or the dunes
After a full day up north, we recommend heading back to the freedom camping spot at Lake Waiparera for the night which means you can leave the Glamper trailer there all day giving you lots of flexibility in the Hilux for the day.
5Lake Waiparera to Gulf Harbour via Waipoua Forest (362.6kms – 5 hours 54 mins)
After a day without the Glamper Trailer, it’s time to hook back up and set off back south. This day is going to be a bit of a beast and we have tagged on a bit of a detour but we think it’s well worth it!
Waipoua Kauri Forest (148kms – 2 hours 49 mins)
Instead of heading back to Auckland the direct route, we highly recommend a detour on your way back to check out the Kauri forest at Waipoua. Here you’ll find the best preserved and largest of the remaining Kauri forests in New Zealand. Among them is the legendary Tane Mahuta, the ‘Lord of the Forest’ who at 51.5 metres is the largest (by volume) of these ancient trees.
Gulf Harbour (215kms – 3 hours 5 mins)
After exploring the magnificent Kauri forest, it’s time to hit the road and back to the familiar freedom camping spot at Gulf Harbour. If you can’t be bothered to cook when you arrive back, we highly recommend a wander down the marina to Ripples Fish and Chips where you will be able to enjoy a nice cold beer whilst you wait for your freshly cooked fish and chips – yummee!!
6Gulf Harbour to Whitianga (236.6kms – 3 hours 21 mins)
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to freedom camping spots in the Coromandel Peninsula. We have picked one out in Whitianga which is one of the most popular towns on the peninsula but there are a few to choose from which you can check out below.
Pokeno Ice Cream (99kms – 1 hour 25mins from Gulf Harbour)
We know it’s only been an hour and a half since you left Gulf Harbour but it’s already time for the best kind of stop – an ice cream pit stop. The Pokeno store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country. Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself.
Whitianga (141.5kms – 2 hours)
The drive to Whitianga is a beautiful (and windy one!) which takes you along the east coast of the peninsula on Route 25A, merging with Route 25 towards Tairua, a small village on the drive up which is a nice place for a stop off to break up the drive. The next section of road from Tairua to Whitianga is very hilly and very windy so drive with care whilst taking in some of the breathtaking views – there are regular lookout spots along the way so take your time, especially if you haven’t driven this way before.
Whitianga is a great little town with heaps of character. The shell-clad beach around Mercury Bay stretches on for miles and the freedom camping site at Buffalo Beach is literally right next to the beach which is simply stunning. Whitianga has a great range of bars, cafes and restaurants so it’s the perfect place to relax on your first night down in the Coromandel.
After another relatively big day of driving, we recommend spending some time exploring the local area in the afternoon leaving plenty of time tomorrow to tick off all the major highlights of the Coromandel Peninsula!
7Around the Coromandel Peninsula
The good news is that the freedom camping site at Buffalo Beach allows you two free consecutive nights so you can unhitch the Glamper and spend the day exploring in the Hilux.
Here are some of the highlights of the Coromandel Peninsula:
Cathedral Cove (37kms – 40 mins from Whitianga)
One of the more famous and most visited beaches in these parts is at Cathedral Cove. GO Play partner Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours will give you a 10% discount on a guided tour out to visit the sea caves and check out the towering cliffs of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.
Hahei (36kms – 35 mins from Whitianga)
If you are looking for a really great spot to lay back and watch the world go by, Hahei is the perfect place. Lovely golden sands and crystal clear waters will greet you and there is no better place when the sun is shining. This is also an access point to Cathedral Cove which is only accessible by foot or boat so make a day of it and visit both while you are round this way. If you are brave enough, there is a great rope swing at the end of the beach which will swing you out over the incoming tide – lots of fun!
New Chums Beach (37.6kms – 41 mins from Whitianga)
Now, this is something truly special. This little hidden gem is considered by many as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s small and it requires a short hike to get to but what you’ll find is an example of the really pristine and unspoiled natural wonders of New Zealand.
Hot Water Beach (34kms – 30 mins from Whitianga)
One of the quirkiest spots on the Coromandel is Hot Water Beach. Located around 30 minutes from Whitianga, for one hour either side of low tide, it’s possible to dig yourself a little hot pool and bathe in the waters – if you kick your legs enough you might even think you’re in a hot tub! This is great fun in the summer or winter and spades are available for hire or most places to stay in and around Whitianga will be able to help you out.
Adventure and activities
Cooks Beach (1.5-hour walk from Whitianga including ferry crossing)
If you are looking to head out and about and leave the car at home for a day, Cooks Beach is a great walkout from Whitianga harbour. Catch the ferry across to Ferry Landing and then head round Maramaratotara Bay towards Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve. It is possible to access the walk from the beach at low tide or from the road if the tide is high. From the top of the reserve, you have some great views out over Mercury Bay before dropping down to the 3km crescent of Cooks Beach.
There are some great fishing trips to take whether you are staying in Whitianga or Coromandel Township. Snapper is a popular catch around these parts but once you get out into the deeper waters, game fish like kingfish can be found and make a great catch. There are a number of charters available so get yourself booked on for a relaxing day out to sea and catch your supper!
One of the most popular activities in Whitianga is the banana boat. You will have all seen them before but if you have never been brave enough to have a go, maybe now’s the time to break your duck. The banana boat will take you out into Mercury Bay and speed you around whilst you cling on for dear life – a dip into the water is a typical end to one of these trips but the water is lovely and warm in the summer so enjoy.
Rangihau Ranch Horse Riding (18kms – 20 mins from Whitianga)
Follow the old packhorse trails in the valleys of the Coroglen through native bushland and across open pastures on a 1 or 2-hour horse trek. There is something quite romantic or rugged (depends on who you’re with!) about horse trekking and the stunning views out across the peninsula are well worth a bit of saddle soreness the next day!
Hopefully, this gives you plenty of options for spending an awesome day down on the peninsula.
If you do fancy moving campsites for the night, here are another couple of great options located on the Coromandel Peninsula:
8Whitianga to Anzac Bay (123.4kms – 2 hours 3 mins)
After a great day exploring the Coromandel Peninsula, it’s time to hitch the Glamper back up and get on the road although we have a relatively short drive ahead of us.
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (115.4kms – 1 hour 44 mins)
Dust off the hiking boots, we’re going for a little walk. Well, sort of little – 7 kilometres. This is a little detour on our way down to Anzac Bay. Head inland at Waihi towards Paeroa and you will come across the historic Karangahake Gorge.
The Karangahake Gorge Walkway features the remains of a historical railway nestled in a natural gorge setting. The walk will take you through relics of back in the day when the area was a big gold mining region. It follows the railway line through the gorge and alongside the Ohinemuri River, through the Victoria Battery Complex and ending in the Waikino Station (which includes a cafe for a much deserved post-walk beverage).
To get to the start of the walkway, park your Glamper at the Karangahake Domain Car Park on SH2 between Waihi and Paeroa, get your hiking boots on and off you go!
Anzac Bay (31.8kms – 33 mins)
Your resting point for the evening is going to be the stunning Anzac Bay at Bowentown. This is another of New Zealand’s most beautiful freedom camping sites and a highlight of this trip. Located just off the coast of Matakana Island, this campsite offers some pretty spectacular views. You can stay here for up to 3 nights which is pretty cool and there are around 6-10 sites available.
Once you have parked up the Glamper and unhitched, we recommend heading off to explore the region.
Mount Maunganui (64.4kms – 58 mins)
A highlight for us is a trip to Mt Maunganui or ‘the Mount’ as it is known to the locals. The Mount is home to one of New Zealand’s most popular beaches. It’s not every day a beach has a volcano situated at one end of it but that’s exactly what Mt Maunganui is.
The Mount is not always the first place on the list of places to explore when overseas visitors are planning their trip. It’s a definite favourite with the locals though and all those who come here leave with awesome memories.
The beach is always a popular place to spend the day but there are plenty of other activities to get stuck into on your day out of the car. We would definitely recommend taking one of the walks up The Mount. There are several tracks that will take you to the summit of the 232m high volcano and the views are stunning.
For more ideas on things to do in Mt Maunganui, make sure you check out our Complete Guide.
9Anzac Bay to Gisborne (337.9kms – 4 hours 31 mins)
The drive down to Gisborne is an absolute cracker that’s for sure. Heading down the east coast of the North Island, you will come across some absolute gems along the route. We’ve picked out a couple of our favourites.
Te Puke (82.6kms – 1 hour 13 mins)
So, the first stop of this epic road trip comes at Te Puke, the kiwi growing capital of New Zealand and to be honest, probably the world! What is more kiwi than going to the place where loads of kiwis are grown? Exactly. The local producers grow millions of kiwi fruits each year which are exported to all corners of the world and if that’s not enough, there’s even a kiwi theme park! Boom.
From here, your drive down SH2 will hug the coastline with lots of great little beachside towns and villages along the way so there are plenty of stop offs should you need the break. The next big stop off is scheduled for Whakatane.
Whakatane (66.8kms – 54 mins)
This is one of the sunniest and warmest places in New Zealand and is a great place to stop off on your way down to Gisborne. The biggest attraction here is White Island, a spectacular active volcano that is located just offshore and can be visited by boat or if you’ve got some cash burning a hole in your pocket, by helicopter. As an active volcano, this is a great photo opportunity to see the roaring, hissing and steaming crater in action so get your cameras at the ready.
Just down the road from Whakatane is the beautiful white sandy beach at Ohope where surfing is a favourite pastime; a great place to chill out for a while before you hit the road again.
At Opotiki, it’s time to take a turn south. Although we love the off-the-beaten-track nature of the East Cape drive, it’s already a long day behind the wheel and the drive around the rugged East Cape will add too many kms to your day. Maybe another time…
Gisborne (185kms – 2 hours 30 mins)
It’s time to get some miles under your belt and crack on down to the east coast. The next stage of the drive will cut off the East Cape and deliver you to your final resting spot for the night in Gisborne.
One of the best things about staying the night in Gisborne is that you get to be amongst the first few people in the world to welcome in the start of the new day – Gisborne is the first city to see the sunrise each day. It’s also the first city to welcome in the New Year – more mindless trivia for your road trip companions! Gisborne is a good stop off for some well-deserved dinner and is sometimes referred to as the chardonnay capital of New Zealand although there are plenty of other places who might argue that one. There is some really nice history to Gisborne as this was the first place where Captain Cook landed in New Zealand in 1769 at the nearby Kaiti Beach. There is also a rich Maori history in the city so make sure you take a couple of hours off the road and explore some of the areas rich history.
Your freedom camping spot for the night is Makorori Carpark – another beaut of a spot and the perfect place to watch that sunrise without having to leave your bed!
10Gisborne to Napier (236.6kms – 3 hours 17 mins)
Another big day of driving ahead but with the early sunrise start to the day, you should be on the road bright and early. Today’s destination is Napier and the freedom camping ground at Puketapu Domain which is a short drive from the CBD.
Gisborne is a great place to start your day and we recommend heading out for a scrumptious breakfast before exploring the city. The city had heaps of character and you will soon find yourself lost in the bustling streets. A great place to head out and people watch is at Wainui beach – a popular destination for surfers where quality waves can be found year round. After a morning spent in Gisborne, it’s time to get back in the car for the drive down to Napier.
There’s plenty to see on the 3+ hour drive down the east go so let’s get GOing!
Wairoa (98.1kms – 1 hour 17 mins)
Wairoa is a great place to break up this leg of the journey from Gisborne to Napier. It’s a popular stop off point for those going off to explore the Te Urewera National Park but for you, it will be a welcome stretch of the legs and a chance to check out the old wooden lighthouse that continues to keep ships safe at sea.
You should have plenty of time to spare so a trip to the Nikau Pools is a must. The Nikau Pools are some of the finest mineral pools in NZ and for a few dollars you can relax away those aches and pains and forget that you have you drove for close to 4 hours yesterday to get down here!
From Wairoa, it’s just over 100 kms to Napier where you will be just in time for dinner and a first opportunity to sample some of the fantastic local vinos.
11Napier and around
Napier was hit by a devastating earthquake in 1931, registering a massive 7.9 on the Richter Scale. What resulted was some fantastic building work, much of which was completed within 2 years and much of it in an art deco style. Because of this, Napier feels like a step back in time (even more so than the rest of NZ!) with its art deco facades and fountains so take your own step back, slow it all down and spend the day doing exactly what you want to do – you’ve deserved it.
Here are some of our top tips:
Wine tour – Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions along with Marlborough so it would be rude not to sample at least a couple of the local drops. If you’re feeling energetic, why not hire a bike and cycle between the vineyards – you’ll have truly earned your vino then!
Te Mata Peak – offering some superb panoramic views of the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru Ranges and Cape Kidnappers, whether you bike, hike or ride to the summit of Te Mata, it’s well worth the trip. For the more adventurous, you can even choose to paraglide back down to sea level.
Coastal walks – the Hawkes Bay coastline provides some of the best walking tracks in the North Island which you can easily hop on to and spend your time admiring the spectacular views.
Arataki Honey Visitors Centre – you may or may not have heard of Manuka honey – something that NZ is very famous for. Fabled for its medicinal properties, you can find out all about the bees that help to produce this delicious honey and pick up a pot to take with you on the rest of your travels.
Art Deco Guided Walks – if you’re not up on your art deco but you want to know more about this fantastic architectural period, a guided walk is the perfect way to learn about the history of the buildings in and around Napier whilst taking a lovely stroll around the town.
Puketapu Domain has a two-night maximum stay which is perfect for this part of your adventure meaning you can once again leave the Glamper locked up and spend the day exploring in the Hilux.
12Napier to Castlepoint (283.5kms – 3 hours 30 mins)
After a fantastic day exploring Napier, it’s time to hit the road again as we make our way further south towards Wellington. You have a pretty big drive ahead of you today so it’s good to get out on the road and on your way.
Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary (206km – 2 hours 32 mins)
This is a great little stop off as you get ever closer to Wellington. Home to a whole host of wildlife including the world’s only white kiwi in captivity, the Manukura as well as the Turua, a North Island Brown Kiwi, this is a great place for kids and adults alike. With regular feeding sessions, talks and other activities to keep you entertained, it’s a great way to break up the journey south.
Castlepoint (86.8kms – 1 hour 19 mins)
Castlepoint has been voted one of the country’s top 10 most loved beaches and is located on the Wairarapa coastline. As well as the beautiful beach which is perfect for surfing, swimming and walking trails, Castlepoint is also famous for the striking lighthouse which was first lit in 1913. It’s one of the last two remaining beam lighthouses in NZ and offers a glimpse back in time.
The freedom campsite at Castlepoint carpark is another beauty with stunning views down over the rugged coastline and a great place to base yourself for the night. If you have more time to explore the region, you can stay for up to four nights here and it is a great place for exploring the wider Wellington region.
13Castlepoint to Owhiro Bay, Wellington (171.5kms – 2 hours 35 mins)
After a day spent exploring the Wairarapa coast it’s time to head south for your final day on the North Island and a chance to explore one of the world’s coolest capital cities.
Whilst it’s only just over 2 hours to get to the capital, we recommend a little detour on the way if you have the time to spare.
Martinborough (107.6kms – 1 hour 29 mins)
Although it’s a slight detour off the main route into Wellington, Martinborough is well worth a look if you have the time to spare. Martinborough has become the gourmet capital of the lower south island with 25 boutique vineyards and several fantastic restaurants serving delicious local produce. With Wellington only a short drive away, this is a good shout for dinner so you can sample some of the delicious food and drink of the region.
Wellington (81kms – 1 hour 14 mins)
After spending the morning in Martinborough, it’s time to head to Wellington. We recommend parking up the Glamper at your freedom camping spot for the night at beautiful Owhiro Bay which is just 8kms out of the main CBD which will take you around 15 mins. After you have dropped off the Glamper trailer, head back into the city to get to know this cool little capital.
It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.
Park your car and head for a walk around the waterfront where you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s boardroom and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s not far from New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa – a futuristic multi-storeyed complex that forms one of the largest new museums in the world, with numerous interactive displays.
For the best panoramic views of the city and Port Nicholson all the way across to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria. The historic cannon on the summit was installed in 1877 and was fired each day as a time signal for many years. If you look down below, in the suburbs, you will spot the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve, not far from the Colonial Cottage Museum on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.
Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) and visit the cool one-of-a-kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool Bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).
Treaty of Waitangi
A visit to Archives New Zealand on 10 Mulgrave Street allows you to see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament if you’re feeling politically-inclined before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars (including some decent craft beer spots).
If you have some free time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. Weta is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, including creatures, makeup and digital special effects for movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.You can take the 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-the-scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.
14Wellington to Kenepuri Sounds (129.6kms – 4 hours 30 mins including ferry crossing)
So it’s time to leave the North Island after two fantastic weeks which have taken you from the very top to the very bottom. We recommend spending the morning in Wellington ticking off any of the activities you missed yesterday before heading across on an afternoon ferry from Wellington to Picton.
The Interislander ferry is a beautiful crossing (on a calm day!) which will take you across the Cook Strait. Arriving late afternoon in Picton, it’s time to head to your resting point for the evening at Ohingaroa Bay which is located on the Kenepuru Sounds. Yet another cracker of a freedom camping site, you will have some pretty stunning views down over the bay and this is a great place to watch the sunset over your first day in the South Island.
15Exploring Picton and the Marlborough Sounds
With a week to explore the South Island, we’re going to give you a day to explore the top as it’s a pretty awesome place to head out on an adventure.
Queen Charlotte Sounds
For those adventurous souls out there who love nothing more than strapping on a pair of hiking boots and heading off into the unknown, the Queen Charlotte Track offers you the perfect opportunity to explore rural New Zealand. Dominated by a bush-clad shoreline, the track takes you on an amazing journey through the Marlborough Sounds and the 70kms of track will energise even the most active.
For those of a less active disposition, the Sounds are famous for the greenshell mussels which are found in abundance so why not treat yourself to a fantastic lunch.
Wine tasting and much more
Marlborough is a world famous wine region and it would be rude not to sample some of the local delights on your way through. There are plenty of wineries who will gladly take you through their wide range of vinos from a fruity pinot noir to the flagship wine of the region, Sauvignon Blanc. There are some famous vineyards down here like Cloudy Bay but we recommend sampling some of the more boutique wineries – a great way to get around is on a bike although be careful if you have a few vinos on the way as you may get a bit wobbly! Wine tour by bike offer bike hire or guided tours which helps as they will transport you back to Blenheim.
If wine is not your thing, there are also lots of microbreweries in the region so this is the perfect place to stock up for the road trip ahead.
If you head around to Blenheim, there is another awesome little freedom camping spot at Wairau Diversion Reserve or alternatively, you can head back to Ohingaroa Bay where there is a two-night limit.
16Blenheim to Akaroa via Christchurch (413.3kms – 5 hours 55 mins)
Day 16 shall be known as ‘the beast’! With over 400 kms to get through today, there is a lot of driving ahead so we recommend an early start to this day.
The good news for you is that SH1 has now reopened following the earthquake in late 2016 (although there are some restrictions so please check before you head off) which means the direct route down to Christchurch is now back on.
Kaikoura (128.4 kms – 1 hours 47 mins)
Heading away from Blenheim, take the road south heading towards Christchurch. A great stop off on the way is Kaikoura which is a whale watchers delight. Not only that, this is a great opportunity for you to take a dip and swim with the dolphins at the right time of the year – this must be on a few wish lists so let’s get it ticked off!
Kaikoura Wine Company
If you haven’t had your fill of wine or maybe you didn’t have the chance up in Marlborough, the Kaikoura Wine Company offers you a pretty unique opportunity to sit down, relax with a glass of wine and do some whale watching (it doesn’t really get much better than that). The vineyard is located 2km south of Kaikoura along SH1 and it opens at 10 am every day, with hourly tours until 4pm.
GO Play partner Encounter Kaikoura offers a brilliant opportunity to get in the water in the south Pacific and swim with these amazing animals with tours operating three times a day.
It’s not just dolphins that pass through the waters around Kaikoura though and if you time things right, there is also the chance to see various species of whale as well as seals and birds.
Christchurch (202.8kms – 2 hours 58 mins)
After a pit stop in Kaikoura and hopefully a chance to swim with the dolphins, it’s time to head off to the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch.
The garden city
Christchurch was named as number 2 on the New York Times top 52 places to visit in 2014 and there are plenty of reasons for that. Following the earthquakes of 2010-11, the city has now emerged as a vibrant city with plenty to see and do. Known as the Garden City, Christchurch has an abundance of parks and gardens including the gorgeous botanical gardens. Add into this mix the tranquil Avon River and you can see why people rave so much about the city.
Christchurch is a vibrant place for eating and drinking whether you’re looking for 5-star opulence or a backstreet café. Re:START is an outdoor retail space opened in late 2011 made from shipping containers. Scattered with a mix of premium brands and homegrown products, Re:START is a quirky experience which tells of the cities resilience and ability to come back following the destruction of the earthquakes. Located within Re:START you will also find Quake City, a multi-media attraction which tells the story of the earthquakes that hit Christchurch and the Canterbury region.Check out the several Gap Filler projects that volunteers have created to temporarily “activate” sites left empty by the earthquakes – you’ll be able to see some unique and really creative work that is proof of Christchurch’s charm and resilience.
Akaroa (81.3kms – 1 hour 29 mins)
Despite all the driving today, we still have a last push to reach our resting spot for the night but it’s worth it, we promise you!
Located 75km south of Christchurch and known by locals as the ‘Riviera of Canterbury’, Akaroa is a great place to spend the night. This village is located on the Banks Peninsula within a harbour of the same name and is considered “the most French town” in New Zealand, as it was the only French settlement in the country.
Your resting place for the night is the freedom camping site on the Rue Brittan which is right in the heart of the town. It’s likely to be late when you get in so we recommend heading to one of the restaurants or bars in town or grabbing some fish and chips if they’re still open.
17Akaroa to Lake Pukaki (362.4kms – 4 hours 35 mins)
We recommend taking the morning to explore Akaroa as it’s likely you didn’t have much time yesterday when you arrived. The town is stunning and taking a stroll down by the beach and looking out over the tranquil waters of the harbour is a great way to spend a couple of hours.
If you didn’t have time in Kaikoura, GO Play partner Black Cat Cruises offer a great trip out of Akaroa Wharf to swim with the rare Hectors’ dolphins which are only found in these waters. Take the plunge!
There is also a pretty awesome French bakery in town so we recommend sampling some delicious croissants. The coffee in there is not for the faint-hearted and really packs a caffeine kick!
After spending the morning exploring, it’s time to hit the road again, heading to the Tekapo region in the middle of the South Island.
Mt John Observatory/Lake Tekapo (280km – 4 hours 10 mins from Akaroa)
Stargazers all over the world know Mt John and Lake Tekapo, in the Aoraki/Mount Cook Mackenzie region, as one of the absolute best places to look at the stars (and even catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights – Aurora Australis).
Lake Tekapo is also famous for its unique turquoise colour, as well as its beautiful starry nights – whilst this is not your resting place for the evening, we recommend stopping off here as it is a beautiful place to explore. Mt John, just above the Tekapo township, is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world, home to 6 telescopes, including New Zealand’s biggest telescope, which can observe 50 million stars each clear night (yes, you read that right). It also offers amazing views of the lake below and 360-degree views of the region including a glimpse of the towering Mt Cook.
Lake Pukaki (64.4kms – 45 mins)
Your final resting place for the night is the equally impressive Lake Pukaki. Presenting the same turquoise waters as Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki is an amazing place to spend the night and the clear night skies here make this another amazing place to do some star gazing. You will be in good company – The Pines at Lake Pukaki is one of the most popular freedom camping spots in New Zealand and it’s easy to see why.
18Lake Pukaki to Wanaka (166.2kms – 1 hour 57 mins)
Another day when you can spend the morning exploring the beautiful Lake Pukaki. There are some great walking tracks that will take you around the Lake or if you have got a bit more time to play with, you can always take the drive into the Mt Cook National Park and head out for some more adventurous walks including the iconic Hooker Valley track.
After spending the morning exploring, it’s time to head off to Wanaka, one of the coolest places in the South Island.
On arrival in Wanaka, you will not be short of things to do. Here are some of our favourite things to do:
Rob Roy Glacier
If you do fancy a stretch of the legs, however, there are over 750km of walking tracks in and around Wanaka whether you want a short stroll or a full day hike. About an hour’s drive from Wanaka is Rob Roy Glacier, an ideal entry point to the Mt Aspiring National Park. From the Raspberry Creek car park, you will find a stunning walk up the valley brings you outstanding views of Rob Roy Glacier. It’s about a 4 hour round trip so this one is not for the faint-hearted.
Not to be confused with the Rob Roy Glacier walk, Roy’s Peak is a towering mountain that provides the awesome backdrop to Lake Wanaka. Situated about a 10-minute drive out of town, the walk is another not for the faint-hearted. It’s a 16km round trip which will take you to the summit at 1,578m. The path is well-formed but is steep in many places. Allow 4-6 hours to complete the return journey but it’s absolutely worth it – the views are some of the best in New Zealand.
A trip to Wanaka is just not the same without a trip to Puzzling World and it’s a definite favourite of the GO Rentals team. With 1.5km of passages in the ‘Great Maze’, it’s a great place to get lost for a few hours and act like a big kid as you race your mates to the four corners and back to the middle. It’s also really funny when someone gets themselves lost! Throw in a few weird and wonderful illusions like water running uphill (what’s that all about?!) and this makes for the perfect start to any day.
Beer fans take note! For something a bit different, why not have a drive out to the Wanaka Beerworks where you can sample the local beers and ales as well as taking a tour and finding out about the history of beer making (it’s actually harder than you think!). Make sure you take home a sample selection to keep you going throughout the rest of your trip.
This small classic movie theatre located in Wanaka is a real find. With comfy old sofas and 3 seats in an old Morris Minor, this is a truly quirky place to spend a few hours unwinding. There is a cafe and bar serving delicious meals before, during or after the movie, homemade ice cream and some world-famous hot cookies baked fresh for every intermission. Expect a warm and friendly welcome from the staff to boot.
Speight’s Ale House
A perfect place to grab a bite to eat is at the Wanaka Speight’s Ale House. A traditional Kiwi experience awaits along with the full range of Speight’s ales. Highly recommended come the fish and chips served in a traditional paper bag washed down with a pint of Speight’s Summit Lager – delicious! You wanted the full-on Kiwi experience – it doesn’t get much more Kiwi than that.
Your resting place for the night is at Albert Town which is located 6.2kms out of the main town.
19Wanaka to Queenstown (67.2kms – 1 hour 5 mins)
And so, to the final leg of the journey – Wanaka to Queenstown. It’s only a super-short driving day ahead of you today so there is no need to set off early. Take the time to tick off some of the activities from the list above before you leave town. There are a couple of ways to get to Queenstown from Wanaka – the Crown Range road which takes you up and over the Cardrona Mountain range or the scenic route which is a longer way around and takes you through the wine growing regions of Gibbston Valley and Cromwell.
Whichever route you choose, your path will bring you to Arrowtown which is a great stop off on the way into Queenstown. This old gold mining town has retained much of its charm and character from the gold rush era. It has a picture perfect high street and there are also some great walking paths down by the river. Oh yeah, they also have the best pie shop in New Zealand!
After a pit stop in Arrowtown, it’s on to the main event. Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and there is a lot to see and do here. It’s not all about adventure activities though. There’s plenty of more relaxing activities to keep everyone happy – here are some of our favourites:
For those who have headed to Queenstown for adrenaline-fuelled adventure, these are our highlights of things to do in a day:
1) AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy – Australasia’s highest bungy at 134m, this is not for the faint-hearted – 8.5 seconds of freefall will have you screaming like a lunatic!
2) Skipper Canyon Jet – reaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Shotover Canyon is sure to get your pulse racing. The 360-degree spins will get you closer to the wall than you feel comfortable with! Skippers Canyon Jet is also a GO Play partner. Bonus!
3) Coronet Peak ski resort (in season) – fantastic resort for pros and beginners alike, Coronet Peak is a GO Rentals favourite in the winter where lots of fun can be had on and off the slopes
Use your GO Play card here
Something a bit more…relaxing
We know that jumping off mountains and spinning jet boats is not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s more to Queenstown than adrenaline-fuelled adventure. Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:
1) Ben Lomond – a 4-hour walk giving you some awesome views of Queenstown, the lake and surrounding mountains
2) Skyline gondola – take the gondola up Bob’s Peak and enjoy some award-winning cuisine and some amazing views. If you want to get down a bit quicker, the luge is a lot of fun!
3) Lake cruise – Lake Wakatipu is huge and one of the best ways to explore it is by boat. Take a scenic cruise with Southern Discoveries and you will get some great views of the surrounding Remarkables mountain range as well as heading down towards Glenorchy.
Your resting place for the night is located around a 20-minute drive out of the main CBD at the beautiful Lake Hayes which is on the road out towards Arrowtown. This awesome freedom camping site is available for two night stays making it the perfect place to drop off your Glamper trailer on the way in the city where you can leave it until it’s time to leave!
20Milford Sound (287.5kms – 3 hours 46 mins)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the south island. A great chance to give the Hilux a final run out, the 4+ hour drive from Queenstown is well worth the early start to check out the magnificence of this most spectacular fjord carved out by glaciers during the ice age (that’s a long time ago by the way!).
Hop out of your rental car and straight onto a boat as this is a must once you get down there. With a number of companies offering day or night cruises, you’ll not be short of options for exploring the water when you arrive. Find yourself ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ at the spectacular waterfalls, some of which are over 1000 metres high so be sure to pack the camera but also make sure you pack your wet weather gear as inevitably it rains down at Milford Sound. Some say this makes the waterfalls even more spectacular but we’re not too sure about that one!
For those wanting a more hands-on experience of Milford Sound, why not give kayaking a go. There’s nothing quite like taking to the open water and paddling yourself out into one of the most inspiring places on planet earth. Real Journeys offer a 4-5 hour trip out on to the water taking in the serene Harrisons Cove and the magnificent Mitre Peak offering some spectacular views up to the Pembroke Glaciers.
Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory
Due to its unique underwater environment, Milford Sound is home to species of black coral usually found at depths of 500m or more, including magnificent 300-year-old ‘trees’ and the best way to check these old timers out is at the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory.
The Discovery Centre will send you on a journey back through the history, geology and wildlife of the Sound where you will also learn about the culture and heritage of this awe-inspiring place from local guides.
If you don’t fancy the drive down to Milford (it can be a very long day), GO Play partner Real Journeys offer a bus and fiord cruise trip which will take you from Queenstown to Milford and includes a boat cruise. Oh yeah, they will also give you a 10% discount. Awesome.
Use your GO Play card here
21Queenstown and around
So, it’s the final day of your three-week adventure and we have certainly packed a lot in! Hopefully, your GO Glamper trailer has been the perfect travelling companion with your comfy bed never too far away. Freedom camping is such a great way to see New Zealand. Whilst our route has taken us to many of New Zealand’s hottest spots, it has also led us off the beaten track to some amazing places to bed down for the night, an experience you only get when you are camping or freedom camping.
Your last day of this epic road trip can be spent ticking off anything you may not have crammed into your first day in Queenstown depending on what time you are due to fly out.
It’s been awesome having you along for the journey and we hope you have enjoyed your freedom camping experience. There are absolutely loads of freedom camping destinations around New Zealand so make sure you check out the Rankers site where you will find reviews of each of the sites and make sure you add your favourites to your list for next time
All we ask is that you respect our beautiful country when you freedom camp and stick to the rules that are there to make sure everyone can enjoy the same beautiful spots without litter, noise pollution or human waste.
Can’t wait to see you again!