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Last Updated on October 27, 2020 by Amy
We landed in Auckland on January 11th and arrived back home February 15th, spending 35 days on our New Zealand Road Trip. Here are some tips for planning your own New Zealand road trip adventure!
We traveled about 4,000km in our little Fornaxia, a Ford Mondeo. Do we feel like we spent enough time exploring? Of course not, we never do. It would have been nice to get down to the bottom of the South Island, but the way our schedule worked out with Waitangi Day we didn’t have enough time.
Table of Contents - Click to Jump
Transport: Why You Should Buy a Car
While cavorting around Auckland we looked online at cars, and our last day in Auckland we bought Fornaxia the Ford Mondeo. She served us very well, not only was she roomy enough for EVERYTHING we brought but she ran great and we both got a lot more comfortable driving a manual transmission.
It may sound kind of odd to buy a car to just drive around for six weeks, but the math totally worked out for us. It would have cost over a thousand dollars to rent a car for a month. Instead, after everything was said and done and sold, we spent $382.88 USD on our car.
Packing List for New Zealand Road Trip
- Tent – We have been carrying around a two-person tent since we moved aboard, but decided at the last minute to upgrade our tent to a bigger tent with a separate living room. This ended up being a great idea because several times it rained on us. Instead of having to lay in bed, we had room to set up our camping chairs in the living room to read and eat.
- Camping chairs
- Sleeping bags – Our sleeping bags are pretty old. Like, 10 years old! We were concerned after a few nights in the North Island that the South Island would be too cold. In Wellington, we picked up two sleeping bag liners to add some warmth. I would definitely recommend a cool weather sleeping bag to keep warm at night.
- Air mattress – Having a car means we can bring a lot more luxury comforts with us, so instead of camping pads we brought an air mattress that would fit in either the car or the tent.
- Stove and pot – With the temperature dropping, it was nice to have some warm meals, and a cheap camping stove was just right. We picked up a pot cheap from K-Mart.
- Camera gear – we packed pretty much everything. Lots of cameras.
- Backpacks – we bought a new hiking backpack while we were in the states and we are so glad we did. It’s big enough to store both the video camera and the DSLR camera, plus a water reservoir and whatever else we need for a full day hike. I also had our smaller camelback backpack.
- Power – we bought a car inverter while we were in the states, and already owned two universal adapters which we used while we were in Airbnbs.
- Clothes – we packed 7 outfits each, mostly walking about stuff, although we did both pack in our bags a pair of jeans. We also packed fleece jackets and waterproof shells. We both packed a bathing suit, which we didn’t use.
- Shoes – we each brought two pairs of shoes; sneakers, and flip-flops. We barely used the flip-flops.
- Kitchen Bag – silverware, tongs, bowls, paper towels, and food went into one bag. We kept another “pantry” bag in the backseat
- Bathroom bag – for camping we kept a small bag with the bare essentials like toothbrushes and toothpaste, plus we used large biodegradable wet wipes for when we didn’t have a shower available (or didn’t feel like a cold shower). We had a larger bag full of regular bathroom stuff (shampoo, soap, etc) for when we had a shower readily available.
Things we forgot to bring:
- An absorbent chamois would have been great to mop up the rain in the living room of the tent the morning after it rained.
- We have a USB solar charger which we usually keep in our ditch bag.
- A small hammer to make it easier to get the stakes in the ground.
- Some of my favorite Flip and Tumble reusable grocery bags.
- A Sharpie to label our food for when we stayed at a site with a kitchen facility.
We have a prepaid monthly Vodaphone plan for my iPhone, with minimal voice, texting and data. Our real internet usage was done using a Vodaphone rural router. We were able to plug this puppy into our car and have wifi almost everywhere we went. At $75 a month for 60GB, that’s a pretty sweet deal and we got to soak up a TON of the web while we are in a more developed country.
Pak-N-Save carries boil-in-a-bag meals that were actually pretty good. We also brought some canned soups. That covered us for dinners when we were camping. At Airbnbs, we bought groceries and cooked or dined out.
For snacks, we carried nuts, trail mix, and Nature Valley bars.
We also bought a cheap chilly bin (or ice chest, for us Americans). This allowed us to keep milk for breakfast and lunch meats for sandwiches, although we also carried peanut butter and honey for a non-refrigerated sandwich option.
We spent on average $17USD/day on groceries (with a few things left over at the end) and $14USD/day on restaurants. Restaurants included cafes and ice creams. We did a pretty stellar job finding some cheap eats in the cities we visited.
There are several resources I used to map things out. First is the NZ Camping app by Rankers. This app is available for offline use, and you can search according to your style of camping – tent, non-self-contained vehicle, or self-contained vehicle. You can also narrow things down by DOC campsites of Holiday Parks. The campsites are all rated in the app. They also have some activities, mostly free walks. You can favorite items to save them for later.
I also used Google Maps, where I created my own map with layers and made notes about each stop. You can open the map in the Google Maps App.
I used Pinterest (here’s a link to my board) and Tripadvisor to find interesting things to do.
There are many MANY Facebook groups for backpackers in New Zealand. I joined several of those and found they were pretty helpful for general ideas and inspiration.
An easy mistake to make is assuming that roads exist between two locations. For example, Wharariki Beach and Moria Gate Arch are only 80 km as the crow flies, but there is no road along the coast of the Kahurangi National Park, so you actually have to drive 450 km around the park.
We spent most of our nights in Airbnbs. Some of them we booked over a month before we stayed, but most we booked just a few days in advance, or a few even the day of our stay. Over 35 nights (from when we arrived in NZ in Auckland to driving back to SH) we camped 8 times, with an average of $20USD per night. Our Airbnbs averaged $50 USD a night. We stayed at way more Airbnbs then we anticipated because of the weather.
Ideas for Saving Money
We avoided staying in Top 10 Holiday parks because they tended to be more expensive than other campsites. However, if you prefer to stay someplace with a bit more amenities, Top 10 Holiday Parks are the way to go. They also have a membership, which costs $45 NZD but there are lots of Top 10 Holiday Park benefits like 10% off campsites plus and 10% off the Interislander Ferry and Discovery Ferry to Waiheke. We only stayed at two sites, but if you include the ferries, the math works out that we would have saved $14 by getting the membership. Not enough for us to lose sleep over, but worth a look if you are starting to plan your trip.
Rental car relocation is a thing – and can save you a ton of money if you aren’t looking for the buy-and-sell route. Usually, the time frames are short – 3 days is very common. But the cost is so incredibly low (or free). It sounds too good to be true, but we know several people who have done it.
The NZ Backpacking groups on Facebook are another great resource for traveling. People often post for sale bus tickets they can’t use or offering rideshares. I even saw a coupon for 25% off the Interislander Ferry. Hitchhiking is much more common here than in the US, also. We saw lots of thumbs out along the way and did give one short ride to a couple of girls from the UK.
It rained. A lot.
Sandflies really suck. Their bites are very itchy and last for a really long time.
Road Trip Breakdown
In case you missed any of the posts about the road trip:
5 Days in Auckland, New Zealand
Glowworms and Kayaking in Tauranga
Visiting a Kiwi Orchard
Taupo Volcanic Zone
Sheep and Rugby
South Island’s West Coast
South Island Wine Country
Geeking Out LOTR Style
What Did We Miss?
There is never a time when we get ready to leave a country and say to each other “yeah, we did everything we wanted to, thee’s nothing more to see here, it’s time to go”. New Zealand was particularly difficult to leave because, despite the fact that we spent 103 days running around the country, there are things we still wish we’d done! Here are our top things we wish we’d seen:
Kayaking Milford Sound
We didn’t make it far enough south, but we wish we’d gone to see the beautiful Milford Sounds. Perhaps if we had skipped the disappointing Waitangi Day celebrations we would have had enough time to get all the way south.
Helicopter Trip to the Glaciers
The cost of getting a helicopter hike up to the glaciers deterred us, and instead, we walked to the base, which is a bit crowded and is not THAT great of a view. Next time, up, up and away we go.
By the way, Escape Velocity just did the walk up to both Franz Josef AND Fox Glaciers and said that Franz Josef is ten times better to walk to the face. So, if you are like us, and are skipping the helicopter ride in leiu of walking to the face, go for Franz Josef!
The World’s Largest Kouri Tree
Even though it is only a short drive from Whangarei, we didn’t make it over to see the largest Kauri tree in the world – Tāne Mahuta. The tree is estimated to be between 1,250 – 2,500 years old.
Swimming with the Seals in Kaikoura
Due to earthquake damage, the road from Kaikoura to Picton is closed, so we made the decision to skip Kaikoura to avoid the five hours of driving. We wish we hadn’t, as the town sounds lovely, but I would especially love to swim with the seals someday! Seal Swim Kaikoura looks like a fantastic operation.
Diving Poor Knights
The number one regret I have is not diving Poor Knights Island with Dive! Tutukaka. In March, stingrays congregate to breed at the islands and divers with Dive! Tutukaka have even seen Mola Molas!!! I had liked their facebook page and was constantly amazed by the stuff they post – they clearly have a great team and some amazing underwater photographers.
We didn’t even make it down to Queenstown on the South Island. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital and is full of interesting things to do.
Want more New Zealand road trip itineraries? You could spend 3 weeks on just the North Island alone! Check out Carpe Diem Our Way’s post on 8 Realities of Road Tripping New Zealand. Or, consider traveling New Zealand in luxury.