With two weeks in New Zealand, you can cover some serious ground, especially if you've been there before. We explored many of New Zealand's highlights on a 3-week road trip several years ago but there were certain places that we regretted not having time for. Read on for my recommendations on what to see in New Zealand on a road trip if you are a second time visitor.
2 Days in Christchurch
Just like our first trip to New Zealand, we decided to start our road trip in Christchurch on the South Island. Sadly, Christchurch is no longer as it once was due to the devastating earthquakes over the past decade. However, Christchurch is a resilient community and needs our support so stop in, see the sights, and spend some money.
Day 1: Understand Christchurch Before and After the Earthquake
On your first day in Christchurch, explore how Christchurch has changed from before to after the earthquakes. Spend a sober moment in front of the Christchurch Cathedral where there is now a gaping hole where the church tower once stood. Channel Christchurch from before the earthquake with a walk in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Try some of Christchurch's hip cafes and bars like C1 Espresso for an order of fries or sliders served from a pneumatic tube or Volstead in Riccarton for local craft beers.
Day 2: Day Trip to Akaroa
Stop to stretch your legs on the drive from Christchurch to Akaroa at Hilltop Tavern where you can get a coffee and sweeping views. Try Little River Cafe and Store on the return trip from Akaroa to Christchurch for a coffee and a dose of local art.
Day 3: Christchurch to Blenheim via Kaikoura
Day 4: Wine Tasting in Blenheim
Devote the next day of your 2 week New Zealand itinerary to sampling Blenheim's wineries. Blenheim is nestled in the heart of New Zealand's Marlborough wine region. Consider renting bicycles from Bike 2 Wine and get a little exercise to go with the vino. Bike 2 Wine will pick you up at your accommodation in Blenheim and take you to the small town of Renwick where many of the Marlborough Wineries are located. Factor in lunch at Allan Scott and you have the makings of a perfect day. Definitely splurge on a winery lunch since the restaurant options for dinner near Blenheim are limited.
Day 5: Blenheim to Nelson via Picton, Havelock, and the Queen Charlotte Drive
The most memorable thing that we noticed about Picton was its musical public toilets featuring cheesy show tunes and hits from the 70s played. Different stalls play different tunes.
We had Kaipupu practically to ourselves. Kaipupu is known for local flora and birds. We saw a few active and curious fantails and a silvereye but it was a quiet time for birdwatching.
We noticed a seal resting in the sun on the return water taxi ride to Picton.
We continued our road trip along the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive. Beware if you are prone to motion sickness, Queen Charlotte Drive is incredibly narrow and curvy. Stop for a quick hike around Cullen Point and then head into Havelock to snack on the region's famous green-lipped mussels.
It takes about one more hour to finish the drive from Havelock to Nelson.
2 Days in Nelson (In the Rain)
Nelson has dubbed itself "Sunny Nelson" because it gets so much more sunshine on average than Blenheim. Ironically, it lashed rain the entire time we visited Nelson and we had bright sunny skies in Blenheim. Our original plan was to visit Abel Tasman National Park from Nelson for some amazing hikes. However, the thought of hiking in torrential rain was simply not appealing. We moved to Plan B and focused on sampling craft beer and wine while eating our way through Nelson.
Day 6: Nelson Town Plus Wine Tasting in Richmond
We were staying just outside Nelson town (not far from the airport) at the Aloha Lodge. We drove into Nelson town for the morning. Park at Montgomery Square for a max of 3 hours at $1.50 NZD per hour. Grab coffee at the Baker's Coffee Shop. They have great quiche and cherry buns too and offer a nice indoor activity for when it's raining in Nelson like it was when we visited. Hang out and relax while reading from their selection of magazines. Many of the main streets of Nelson do have protective awnings so it's possible to dash about and do some shopping without getting too wet.
We finished our day with a hearty dinner at Hopgoods in Nelson Town.
Day 7: Nelson Craft Beer
The rains continued on our last day in Nelson so we invoked Plan B again and went to taste some Nelson craft beer on the Imbiber Bus Tour being run in conjunction with Nelson Beer Week. Even if there is no bus tour on when you visit, you should still check out McCashin's, Eddyline, Golden Bear, and Townshend Breweries. Our favorite was the sampler paddle at Eddyline served with a piping hot pizza. Nelson grows hops so it's no surprise that it's the mecca of the New Zealand craft beer scene.
3 Days Near Auckland
Next up fly from Nelson to Auckland. Note that domestic flights originating in Nelson don't even have official security. You can basically rock up 30-45 minutes before your flight and just hop on the plane. It's great to see that there is at least one place in the world without ever stricter security rules at the airport. Because of this, you can consider bringing some of Nelson's craft beer or New Zealand wines with you from the South Island to the North Island. Just watch out for the weight of your luggage. Security may be a non-issue but they do weigh bags and there are strict limits.
Day 8: Auckland City
We rented an Airbnb in Devonport which is just a 15 minute ferry ride ($12.50 NZD per person round trip) across the harbour from downtown Auckland. Spend a day in Auckland City strolling around and exploring the shops and restaurants. Don't over-structure your day and just see where the city leads you. We ate brunch at Chuffed including a delicious iced coffee, eggs on toast and semolina porridge. Chuffed had a really cool vibe. We browsed for something to read at Unity and Jason books, grabbed a sweet treat at Bohemein Fresh Chocolates, walked around Aotea Square and then ended our afternoon with a couple beers and kumara fries at the NZ Beer Cooperative. Such a great day of urban exploration.
Day 9: Day Trip to Piha Beach and Kitekite Falls
Before returning to Devonport, make a pitstop at nearby Kitekite Falls for a hike. Hike the loop trail from the parking lot to Kitekite Falls. Bring a waterproof bag for any electronics if you try to do the loop trail. You'll need to ford a shallow but fast moving stream when you reach the falls. On the back half of the loop you'll have to balance on a series of rocks to get across another small stream. It was a slightly more challenging hike than I was expecting since my balance is not great but we made it across with no majors mishaps.
Day 10: Waiheke Island by Ferry
Waiheke Island is the place to go for New Zealand wine on the North Island. There are 2-3 ferries daily that run directly from Devonport to Waiheke Island (35 minutes, $38.00 NZD round trip at the time of writing). If you're willing to stop in downtown Auckland first, the ferry service to Waiheke is much more frequent. Add on the Waiheke Explorer Hop-on Hop-off bus to your ferry ticket to more easily get around the Island ($60 NZD per person including the ferry ticket). We sampled fine New Zealand wines at Stonyridge ($10 NZD for 3 wines) and Te Motu ($20 NZD for 5 wines) vineyards. Enjoy lunch in the sunshine at Wild on Waiheke as you nosh on hearty pizza and New Zealand craft beer. We concluded our day trip to Waiheke Island with a wine tasting at Mudbrick ($10 NZD for 4 wines).
3 Day Road Trip to the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands was one of the places that we simply didn't have time for on our first trip to New Zealand because it's so far north on the North Island. Make sure to carve out time to drive from Auckland to the Bay of Islands if you are a second time visitors.
Day 11: Auckland to Paihia Drive
Get settled in, walk along the waterfront in Paihia and an enjoy dinner at CBK - Craft Bar and Kitchen.
Day 12: Russell, Kerikeri, and Hararu Falls
Day 13 (Part 1): Paihia to Auckland with a Visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Day 13 (Part 2): Return Drive from the Bay of Islands to Auckland Airport
Two weeks in New Zealand may feel like a generous amount of time but it's actually a little tight given the amount of ground that we ambitiously tried to cover across both the South and North Islands. We grabbed a quick lunch in Paihia and then needed to efficiently drive back to Auckland. We were more economical with our stops this time and completed the road trip from Paihia to Auckland in about 5 hours. We did stop at the lovely Whangarei Falls Scenic Reserve for a hike to stretch our legs on the way.
Day 14: Fly Home from Auckland
We spent one final night at a hotel near the Auckland Airport before catching a flight from Auckland to Sydney to connect back to Europe. What's the best way to get back to Europe from New Zealand? Auckland is a long way from Dublin. For the most comfortable experience and only one hop through Dubai, fly business class on Emirates or, better yet, pay for an upgrade to the amazingly luxurious Emirates First Class cabin like I did. The 17.5 hour flight from Auckland to Dubai was nearly a treat in Emirates First Class. I had plenty of time to reflect on our amazing 2 weeks in New Zealand on the long journey back to Dublin while being pampered on board.
Two Weeks in New Zealand Road Trip Map
For more information on the various drives that we took on our 2 weeks in New Zealand, check out the map below.