NEW ZEALAND CAMPERVAN RENTAL ITINERARY
This 21-day Campervan Rental itinerary for New Zealand will help you get started on planning the trip of a lifetime! Is traveling New Zealand by campervan your next trip on your bucket list? Ours too! After reading blogs and dreaming about it for years, we were able to make it happen. We spent 3 weeks traveling New Zealand by campervan in 2019. And you know what? The blogs and pictures hardly do it justice!
Known as Vanlife in America, on the other side of the world it’s called living in a campervan. Campervan Rentals are a great way to travel in New Zealand. With so many beautiful places to see, an epic road trip around the country is the best way to travel!
Renting a campervan gives you an affordable, flexible, and fun way to see anything you want while you’re in New Zealand. This 21-day campervan rental itinerary is a guideline you can use to plan your own trip of a lifetime to New Zealand.
As you plan your trip, shop for Travel Insurance as well. It will give you peace of mind while you travel. You can use the quote tool on our Travel Insurance page to get started!
RESEARCH AHEAD OF TIME
We recommend doing a bit of research before you head down south. While you should leave some room in your schedule to be spontaneous, it’s important that you have a good idea of the places you want to see, how much attractions cost, and when things are located. First, look into the items listed in this New Zealand campervan rental itinerary and map them out. You should have a realistic understanding of how much driving you will do. New Zealand is a really big place! If you need to cut down the 21-day campervan rental itinerary for New Zealand in order to enjoy your trip, do it!
Check out more travel hacks for traveling New Zealand by Campervan in our last blog post!
If you need ideas for any accessories you will need along the way, read our blog on our top 10 favorite vanlife accessories!
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
WEEK 1 – CAMPERVAN RENTAL ITINERARY NORTH ISLAND
Fly into Auckland. You’ll likely have a LONG flight and will need to recover from jetlag. Book a hotel for the first night you are in New Zealand, rather than picking up your van right away. Check into your hotel, explore downtown Auckland and the marina. Spend the evening in Silo Park, where you can eat at one of the many restaurants, hang out in the park, and watch activities in the harbor.
Pick up your campervan rental as early as the company will let you. Once you’re through the check-out process, head northeast up the Coromandel Pensinsula. Drive the entire coastal route if you have time, or cut across the peninsula after a few hours to Cooks Beach (this is what we did). If you cut across, stop at the Waiau Kauri Grove for a look at some of the oldest and largest trees in New Zealand.
The Kauri are a threatened species, and the entrance to the walkway requires that you spray and clean your shoes on the way in and out! Once you get to the east coast, you can check out Donut Island for an epic kayak trip into a collapsed volcano. Then head a little further south to Hot Water Beach where you can dig yourself a personal hot spring in the sand!
Hike to the top of Mount Paku, an extinct volcano in Tairua with amazing views of the mountains and the coastline. Truly ambitious travelers will get to the top for sunrise! After your morning hike, drive south to the thermal belt of the North Island around Rotorua and Lake Taupo. Partake in some of the many fee-based activities such as the Redwoods Tree Walk, or soak in Kerosene Creek for free.
Visit Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walkway for a glimpse into the geothermal activity in the area. There are many active steam vents in a picturesque location. Drive around Lake Taupo and rest, you’ve got a big day of hiking tomorrow! If you haven’t arranged your shuttle for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing yet, do this today.
Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This hike is considered one of the most beautiful day hikes in the world! Most people hike the from North to South in order to hike the least elevation gain. Take your time on this hike, but also be prepared for crowds. It is one of the most popular things to do on the North Island! Once you’re done hiking, drive south towards Wellington so that you can prepare to ferry over to the South Island tomorrow.
Spend the morning enjoying Wellington’s many free things to do, including the Botanical Gardens and the Museum. Budget time correctly for your afternoon ferry ride across Cook Strait to the South Island. The ferry ride takes approximately 3 hours. During the ferry passage, be sure to take pictures of the majestic coastline, enjoy some of the many food options on board, and be on the lookout for sea lions!
Explore a few wineries and the Renwick countryside in the morning. Drive to Abel Tasman National Park in the afternoon. Decide how far you want to hike tomorrow and coordinate a water taxi ride. Abel Tasman Nat’l Park only accessible by boat or by foot. It is a popular area for backpacking, but if you only have time for a day hike, you’ll get to see a lot more ground if you have a water taxi take you to a specific area. We chose to hike from Barks Bay to Anchorage, about 8 miles. We were dropped off and picked up by a water taxi.
WEEK 2 – CAMPERVAN RENTAL ITINERARY SOUTH ISLAND
Hike Abel Tasman National Park. This park is known for it’s stunning coastline, golden beaches, and rugged scenery. You’ll encounter many deviations from the trail to see beaches and waterfalls. It’s worth it to see all of them, as they are generally less than half a mile off of the main trail and provide better views. Once you are done with your hike, make your way towards Hokitika. We stopped midway for the night in at Murchison and enjoyed some great pizza at The Cow Shed.
Finish the drive to Hokitika and stop by the beach. A popular place for beachcombers looking for jade, you can join the search and try to find some of your own. Drive to the Hokitika Gorge to see a gorgeous milky blue glacial river spanned by a suspension bridge. And if you’re brave enough, dip your toes into the ice cold water! Check out the Glow Worm Dell after dark and enjoy this natural phenomenon that only exists in a few places in the world!
Drive to the Franz Joseph Glacier and walk the easy path to the viewpoint. This takes about 1.5 hours round trip and there are many interpretive signs along the way. You’ll get an idea of how much the glacier has melted in the last 100 years. Experience a little bit of the local history by checking out the Tartare Tunnel Walk, and finish your day with ice cream at the Franz Josef Wildlife Center!
Today is a big driving day. First, drive to the Fox Glacier. There are a few viewpoints of the Fox Glacier. You’re making your way towards Milford Sound today, but stop in Wanaka or Queenstown for lunch and to see some of the most beautiful and outdoorsy towns in New Zealand. On the way from Wanaka to Queestown, take the road through Cadrona for an amazing scenic drive.
Finish your drive to Milford Sound. Settle into your campsite or hotel and walk the short pathway to the Sound. There is only one campground in Milford Sound, so reserve a site ahead of time. Other camping options are available along the road on the way to Milford Sound for less expensive fees. The only way to really experience Milford Sound is to book a boat tour, so make sure to have that booked ahead of time as well.
Take a morning boat tour! The Milford Sound is a very distinct ecosystem and is known as the land of 10,000 waterfalls. If it’s rained recently, you’ll see most of them, along with the unique geologic features created by glaciers. Also, there is an underwater museum that gives you an opportunity to see some of the rarest underwater sealife in the world. You may see sting rays, fish and coral that are unique to the cold, dark waters of the Milford Sound. In the afternoon, drive back north. Stop at Chasm Falls and Roaring Billy Falls on your way. They’re two very different waterfalls and you’ll enjoy both of them. Stay in the Kingston area for the night and plan for a mellow day of driving tomorrow!
Head north towards Twizel. You can stop at many of the wonderful country towns along the way, including Queenstown and Omarama for shopping and restaurants.
WEEK 3 – CAMPERVAN RENTAL ITINERARY SOUTH ISLAND CONTINUED
Drive to Mount Cook National Park and hike the Hooker Valley Track. It’s an amazing view of Mount Cook, the valley, glaciers, and the milky river of glacial melt flowing through Hooker Lake and Mueller Lake. This hike is one of our favorite experiences on our whole trip! You may have time to hike the short path up to the Tasman Glacier viewpoint as well. It’s worth seeing since it’s such a short hike. Drive to Timaru for dinner and look for Penguins at Carolina Bay just after sunset.
Make the journey to Akaroa today. The drive into the Akaroa area is breathtaking. Stop at the pull-outs and take pictures at any of the many view points. You’ll see incredible 360-degree vistas of the surrounding farmland and the ocean. Once you get to Akaroa, go to Murphy’s on the Corner for some of the best fish and chips in New Zealand.
Pick a walking track to explore in the morning. There are several to choose from in the Akaroa area. They vary in length and terrain so you can pick something to your skill level. If you can handle the elevation gain, pick a trail that gains the ridgeline for epic views. We hiked the Round the Mountain Loop via the Curry Track. In the afternoon, enjoy wandering around the cute downtown area, and stop at the Waffle Haus for a tasty afternoon treat of specialty waffles and milkshakes.
Drive to Kaikora and wander the town along the marina, enjoying local ice cream and fish and chips. Also check out the Point Kean Viewpoint and keep an eye out for local seals sunning themselves on the boardwalk! Keep your distance though!.
Wander the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway loop. In addition to taking in the beautiful views, learn about the ecosystem from the interpretive signs along the way. Be sure to stop at the Kaikoura Seal Colony on your route, where you can see hundreds of seals on the rocks and swimming in the ocean. If you’re lucky, you may get to see a rowdy crew of seal pups playing in the shallow pools!
Drive to Christchurch and explore downtown. The downtown area is full of beautiful architecture and gardens. Enjoy the Botanical Gardens, the local Farmer’s Market and museums. Return your campervan rental to the company in the afternoon, and enjoy your last night in New Zealand.
Have a tasty breakfast downtown, or pick up a meat pie at a local market before your flight home!
Once you get home, browse through your pictures and really let it sink in. You just spent 3 weeks in one of the most unique and incredible places on earth!
We really enjoyed writing this 21-day campervan rental itinerary for New Zealand for you. Please comment below or send us an email if you have any questions about New Zealand as you plan your own trip! If you’re considering going, be sure to read our last blog post on travel hacks for renting a campervan in New Zealand!