An Auckland to Christchurch road trip is one of the longest but most rewarding drives you can do in New Zealand! It takes you from the biggest city on the North Island to the biggest city on the South Island with plenty to see in between!
If you’re only in the country for a short while, driving from Auckland to Christchurch is a good way to see a lot of New Zealand in a week or so.
You can see amazing places like Taupo, Tauranga and the set of ‘The Shire’ from the Lord of the Rings films at Hobbiton. You can relax at some amazing beaches and see some cool wildlife, such as seals and whales at Kaikoura.
This Auckland to Christchurch drive itinerary is a lot of fun and will allow you to appreciate the beauty of New Zealand without breaking the bank!
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Auckland to Christchurch Road Trip
Before setting off
The distance between Auckland and Christchurch is 763 kilometres (474 miles). It would take over 16 hours if you tried to drive it all in one go! It’s a long road trip and takes you across the North and South Islands.
This Auckland to Christchurch by car trip is a bit longer at 1,239 km (769.8 miles) but it allows you to see more of the North Island and the amazing sights on the island.
There’s no bridge between the two islands, so you’ll need to take a ferry from Wellington to Picton on the South Island. It’s a short journey and takes around three and a half hours.
It’s best to book this in advance just to avoid any mishaps. That way you’re not left stuck in Wellington for a few days if you arrive and find all the ferries are fully booked!
Perhaps the most important thing about driving around New Zealand is remembering that you drive on the left. If you’re from a country where this is the norm, then you’ll be fine. If not, then this is something you’ll have to remember constantly when you’re on the road.
You’ll need your driving licence, otherwise, you won’t be going far without it!
If you have a valid English language licence then driving in New Zealand presents a few difficulties! If you have no traffic infringements and you rent the vehicle less than 12 months before you entered New Zealand, you’re set!
If you’re not from an English-speaking country it’s a bit more complicated! You’ll have to get your driving licence translated into English. The other option is to get an international driving licence before you leave which you can then convert into a New Zealand licence.
Essential Items You Need to Pack For an Auckland to Queenstown Road Trip
Before starting this road trip, it’s important to ensure you have all the items you need. You may want to check out my road trip packing list before you head off.
If you’re renting a car, then some of the items below will be there such as tools to fix the car in case it breaks down. The rest are to make your life in the car easier and more comfortable.
New Zealand might seem like a small country but it’s larger than you think. The distances between places can be large and as you’re driving on both islands here, you’ll need to be prepared!
Here are some items you should bring with you on your Auckland to Christchurch self-drive, to make the drive that little bit easier!
- Road survival kit
- Car charger
- Portable charger
- Windshield mount
- Water containers
- Eco water bottle
- Toilet roll
- Bluetooth/Wireless hands-free kit
- Trtl Travel Pillow
Why You Should Go On an Auckland to Christchurch Road Trip
If you want to see a large part of New Zealand, then driving from Auckland to Christchurch is something you should consider.
It’s a big trip that takes you across the two main islands in the country and allows you to see a lot in between.
You can visit places such as Taupo, Rotorua and Hamilton on the North Island while checking out some of the great places to visit on the South Island such as Malborough Sounds and Kaikoura.
New Zealand is such a beautiful country that road-tripping is undoubtedly the best way to see it. If you don’t, you miss out on so much and so many amazing places you can stop and be blown away by the scenery.
This is the case travelling from Auckland to Christchurch and anywhere in the country. You’ll see so much on the road that travelling by any other means just isn’t worth it. There are lots of stops along the way which means self-driving is the best way to travel in the country.
When you first jump in the car in NZ and get out of the big cities into the countryside, you’ll understand why this is one of the best road trips in New Zealand. You’ll be able to see a large part of the country in one trip and find out why it’s such a special place!
Where to Stay Between Auckland and Christchurch
The good about driving from Auckland to Christchurch is that there are plenty of places to stay along the way. Backpacking in New Zealand is big business and you’ll find a lot of hostels and hotels on this route.
Whether you need to stay in either will depend on whether you’re driving a car or a campervan. As someone who’s done both types of road trips, I can offer a bit of advice. A car is better suited to this road trip than a campervan.
It’s not the biggest road trip, despite it crisscrossing two islands. If you compare it to some of the road trips in Australia you can do, then it’s tiny in comparison. A car is more than good enough for getting around and the accommodation in the North and South Islands is fantastic.
Below are a few places I recommend staying at. Most of these are hostels, as these are the places I stayed at during my time in NZ.
|The Attic Backpackers
|A vibrant and modern hostel in the heart of Auckland. Great atmosphere here.
|Pacific Coast Backpackers Lodge
|A hostel right by the beach and not far from the Mount. Hostel has free surfboards to hire and free parking.
|A hostel ideally located close to Lake Taupo. Facilities are good and the staff were helpful too!
|A fun hostel that’s right in the heart of the city. Great facilities and close to the main attractions.
|This hostel has free parking and a range of activities such as kayaking and paddle boarding you can do!
|Albatross Backpacker Inn
|This eco-friendly hostel has a brilliant atmosphere and a big kitchen as well as free parking.
|A former jailhouse turned into a hostel that has free parking. Not far from the centre of the city.
Places to Visit On an Auckland to Christchurch Road Trip
Rotorua is the adventure capital of the North Island with so many things you can do while you’re there.
It’s amazing how much there is to do as it’s not the biggest place and yet you can do skydiving, zorbing, luging, white-water rafting and much more. Almost anything that involves adrenaline is catered for in Rotorua.
One thing that hits you when you first get to Rotorua is the smell. As the town is atop a geothermal area, there is a distinct smell of sulphur in the air. This smells like rotten eggs and is offputting at first and weird.
You get used to it after an hour or two and don’t notice it much! It’s just one of the quirks of Rotorua and with so much to do here, you’ll soon forget all about the smell!
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and a fascinating city to check out. It often gets overlooked due to Auckland being bigger and Christchurch being the main hub on the South Island, but there are plenty of things to do here.
One of my favourite places in the city was the Te Papa Museum, which has a wide range of exhibits. I really enjoyed the skull of Stan the T-Rex, which I didn’t realise was there until I visited. As a dinosaur enthusiast, seeing that made my day.
You can also check out the intriguing home of New Zealand’s parliament, which is known as the Beehive, due to its distinctive shape.
I enjoyed walking by the bay and looking out across the Cook Strait. The views are spectacular and even though the city is renowned as one of the windiest in the world, if you’re there on a good day, you’ll be blown away (pun intended!) by the scenery and what you can do!
The Marlborough Sounds are one of the most spectacular places you’ll see on the South Island during this trip.
They’re located in the northeast of the island and will be one of the first places you check out after you’ve got off the ferry at Picton.
What makes the Sounds so spectacular is the scenery. It’s an incredible landscape and one that will take your breath away.
The ancient sunken river valleys are a sight to behold and you should do a river cruise if you have enough time so you can appreciate them up close.
Mount Maunganui is a beautiful little beach town that’s in the Bay of Plenty and one of the best places to visit on the North Island.
It’s not far from the larger city of Tauranga and is the perfect place to go if you want to relax on the beach before you set off again.
What’s great about the Mount is that there’s lots of stuff to do. The peninsula is a sandbar so it means one side is a sheltered bay and you can go surfing on the ocean side.
Mount Maunganui gets its name from the Mount that sits above the town. At 230m, it’s not the tallest and has multiple paths to the top.
It can be a challenging hike depending on which path you take but the views of the Pacific Ocean make it a worthwhile trip!
Kaikoura is one of the final stops on this road trip before you reach Christchurch. It’s a small town on the South Island that is a cool little place to check out.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you can go whale-watching. Sperm whales can be seen all year round, while orcas can be seen from December to March and humpback whales in June and July.
Another place you have to check out in Kaikoura is Oahu Seal Point Colony. It’s a bit out of town but it’s worth it as you’ll get to see seal pups splashing about and playing on the rocks.
If that’s not enough then doing the peninsula walk is another great activity. It takes about 3 hours to walk the whole thing and will offer some fantastic views of the coastline and the opportunity to see some more wildlife.
Just watch out for the seals as there are a lot by the beach and they can get grumpy if you get too close!
Things To Do On an Auckland to Christchurch Road Trip
There’s lots to do on this trip, and I’ve listed a few things I enjoyed below that I recommend you do during the drive.
New Zealand is home to The Lord of The Rings and if you’re a fan of the series then you have to visit Hobbiton.
It’s located near Hamilton and is an ideal stop as you travel down the north island. Hobbiton is the set of the shire that was used for filming during The Hobbit. Incredibly, the original set for The Lord of The Rings was dismantled after they finished filming!
You’ll need to buy a ticket to tour Hobbiton, which costs $89 for adults, $44 for kids aged 9-16 and free for kids under 9. This is a lot, and if you don’t like the films then there’s not much point in doing it. But if do, then this will be money well spent.
I visited on my birthday and loved every second of it. The tour guides are really knowledgeable and you’ll get some fantastic shots of the hobbit houses. You also get a free beer or cider at The Green Dragon at the end of the tour!
This road trip takes you to some of the best beaches in New Zealand so it would be a shame not to check them out while you’re there.
Obviously, if you’re doing this road trip in the summer then the weather will be better than during the winter months, which may influence your decision. But even so, you should still visit the beaches on this trip, as they do provide some stunning views.
My itinerary will take you to Tauranga which is home to great beaches, Mount Maunganui being one of them. You could also detour to Hot Water Beach, where if you dig a hole in the sand, hot water rises up and crates a nice little warm pool for you to sit in!
There are more opportunities to visit the beach once you get to the South Island, as the drive to Christchurch hugs the coast. Kaikoura has a great beach, while you can visit Taylor’s Mistake in Sumner, Christchurch once you get there, or the bigger New Brighton beach, which is perfect for surfing!
Example Auckland to Christchurch Itinerary
This is an example of an itinerary you can do when driving from Auckland to Christchurch. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but it should give you an idea of the places you can and what you can see along the way.
Day 1 – Auckland to Hamilton
121 km (75.1 miles)
Time without stops
1 hour 37 minutes
The first leg of the drive takes you from Auckland to Hamilton. It’s best to spend 3 days in Auckland or a bit more to look around the city, as there are many things to do. Checking out Mission Beach, Mt Eden and the harbour are musts.
It would be a shame to fly into New Zealand’s biggest city and not see anything. It’s an interesting city and one you should spend some time in before you start the trip.
After that, my advice would be to drive straight to Hobbiton, especially if you love the Lord of The Rings. I was lucky enough to do the tour on my birthday and it was brilliant!
You get taken around The Shire, and get to see many of the houses up close. the tour guides tell you about how the site was constructed and many more little details about the films too.
If you don’t like the Lord of The Rings, then it might be worth heading straight to Hamilton and exploring the city instead.
You could even take a detour to Raglan, on the coast. It’s only a 35-minute drive from Hamilton and has a beautiful beach and is a great place to relax, especially if the weather is warm!
Day 2 – Hamilton to Tauranga
107 km (66.4 miles)
Time without stops
1 hour 25 minutes
The second leg of the road trip sees you make a short trip to Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty. At around 1 hour and 25 minutes, it’s a short drive and a scenic one as you make your way to the coast.
I recommend setting off early from Hamilton so you can spend as much time as possible on the Bay.
There are lots of things to do in Tauranga and the surrounding area, visiting Mount Maunganui being one of them.
An alternative, instead of driving straight to Tauranga, is to venture further up the coast to the Coromandel Peninsula.
This does take a lot longer, at around 2 hours, and 30 minutes, but if you set off early you can spend most of the day there visiting places such as Hot Water Beach and Whitianga.
If you’re short on time or don’t fancy the long drive, then heading to Tauranga and spending time there will not disappoint!
Day 3 – Tauranga to Taupo
150 km (93.2 miles)
Time without stops
1 hour 58 minutes
The next part of the road trip sees you make the short journey from Tauranga to Taupo in the heart of the North Island.
This is a good part of the drive as there’s a lot to do along the way, with the main thing being visiting Rotorua. You can drive past and go straight to Taupo, but you’d be missing out.
I enjoyed my time in Rotorua, despite the smell! There was so much to do there, especially if you love being active. You can go zorbing, skydiving, and white-water rafting.
One of the things I enjoyed the most was the luge. You need to take the Skyline to get up to the top of the track, but it’s worth it as you race back down in your part go-cart, part toboggan. It’s a lot of fun and super fast. I ended up doing it a couple of times I enjoyed it that much!
Once you get to Taupo, you’ll find it’s kind of a smaller version of Rotorua. You can do plenty of adrenaline-filled activities there, including skydiving, there are not as many options though.
Relaxing by the huge Lake Taupo is a good way to spend the rest of your day if you’ve been in Rotorua for part of it. It’s a scenic area and there are plenty of places nearby to eat afterwards too.
Day 4 – Taupo to Wellington
425 km (264 miles)
Time without stops
5 hours 14 minutes
This is the longest drive of the road trip, taking over 5 hours to reach the capital of New Zealand, Wellington.
Due to the length of the drive, this leaves little time to see or do something else. Walking the Tongariro Crossing would take all day. If you’re happy with that and prepared to drive into the night to get to Wellington, then it’s an experience I highly recommend. I loved it!
Otherwise, it might be best to stop off somewhere along the way for a pit stop before continuing onto Wellington, such as at Taihape, where you’ll see the giant gumboot I’m sitting on above!
It would be a shame to get to Wellington and not look around and leave the next day. Though, you could also spend a whole day there and get the ferry to Picton the next day.
My favourite activity in Wellington was visiting the Te Papa Museum. This is mainly because they had a Tyrannosaurus skull, and I’m a massive dinosaur geek so that alone made my day!
But they have many other interesting exhibits too, including the biggest squid ever caught which has to be seen to be believed!
You can also check out the waterfront which is stunning, and make your way to the Beehive, which is home to New Zealand’s parliament.
Day 5 – Wellington to Picton
100 km (62 miles)
Time without stops
4 hours 7 minutes
This part of the road trip doesn’t see much driving, as you make your way across the Cook Strait on a ferry to get to Picton on the South Island.
The ferry takes around 4 hours and it’s best to book this before you start the trip. If you don’t, you might not be able to go on the day you planned. If you’re renting a car, check with your provider if they’re ok with you taking the car from one island to another. Sometimes, they are and sometimes they aren’t.
The Cook Strait is one of the most treacherous waterways in the world, but you shouldn’t have much difficulty on the ferry. You’ll be able to relax and watch the scenery pass you by while getting something to eat and drink and relaxing in the lounges.
What you can do in Picton will depend on what time your ferry arrives there. If you leave early morning, you can spend the remainder of the day, exploring the town. The Tirohanga Track is a good one to get a great view over the town and the Sounds below.
You can also visit a bird sanctuary or go kayaking. Or you could just relax, enjoy the views of the harbour and eat some delicious seafood!
Day 6 – Picton to Kaikoura
156 km (97 miles)
Time without stops
2 hours 1 minutes
The penultimate part of the road trip sees you drive from Picton down the east coast to Kaikoura. This drive is a nice one, so take your time and enjoy the scenery.
The South Island is the most beautiful part of New Zealand, and Kaikoura is one of the nicest places I visited during my year-long working holiday in the country.
It’s not the biggest place, but there are plenty of things to do here. One of the quirkiest is to visit the seal colony, where you can see baby seals splashing around. You have to drive out of town to get there, but it’s well worth it!
You can also encounter seals on the beach, but speaking from experience, you don’t want to get too close as they can get grumpy!
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is how you can see them and some of the scenery in the picture above. You’ll get spectacular views of the surrounding area and it’s a great way to spend the day.
If you’re looking for something more, then you can go whale-watching depending on the time of the year you visit. I’ve done this in Australia, and it’s worth doing if you have done it before because seeing these magnificent creatures up close is something to behold!
Day 7 – Kaikoura to Christchurch
180 km (111.8 miles)
Time without stops
2 hours 26 minutes
The final leg of the trip sees you drive from Kaikoura to the biggest city in the South Island, Christchurch.
It’s not the longest drive at just over two and a half hours, so you can stop in a few places if you wish. One place is Hanmer Springs, which is known for its thermal pools. However, you will have to take a detour inland to get there.
Unless you have a lot of time to spare, I wouldn’t bother. It’s a nice place, but apart from the springs and a water park, there’s not an awful lot to see. Gore Bay, with its stunning Cathedral Cliffs, is a better place to stop.
When you reach your final destination, you’ll find there are plenty of things to do in Christchurch. I lived in the city for a year a few years after a devastating earthquake had struck.
The city was getting back on its feet and is now in a much better state. Visiting Quake City in the centre of the city is a must, as it will tell you all about the earthquake and the havoc it wreaked on Christchurch.
Wandering around Hagley Park is a must too, as is visiting the suburbs of Sumner and Lyttleton. Sumner has some of the best beaches in the city, while you need to walk up the Bridle Path to get some of the amazing views of Lyttleton Bay, as shown in the image above.
I recommend staying for a few days after you finished the road trip to explore the city. It’s an interesting place, and its traumatic recent past and recovery make it a fascinating city to explore.
How Much Does an Auckland to Christchurch Road Trip Cost?
No matter which way you look at it, driving from Auckland to Christchurch is going to cost a bit of money.
Driving across the two main islands of New Zealand means you’ll pay more than you would if you stayed on either the North or South Island. This is because of the ferry you need to get across the Cook Strait.
One of the main expenses on a road trip is the vehicle. You can either choose to rent a car or rent a campervan. Which one you choose will depend on how many of you there are and whether you want to sleep in accommodation or in a campervan.
The more people there are on the trip, the less each of you will end up paying. So this is worth taking into consideration if you can find a few more people to join in with you.
Another key expense on this trip will be eating. This is something else you can’t avoid and if you’re constantly eating out you’ll soon find a big hole in your budget.
If you want to save money in this area, then check out these road trip food ideas, which will give you plenty of ideas on what to eat while you’re on the road that will save you time and money!
Here’s a link to a fuel cost calculator, which will be useful for planning this trip. Using the fuel price data from a Google search for “petrol prices New Zealand,” input the figure into the calculator and you’re set.
Using an average fuel price of $2.36 per litre, your fuel expenses for the trip would come to $166.67. This is a great price and if you’re travelling in a group, the cost per person will be minimal.
Food and drink should come to an average of $20 a day if we extrapolate that over 7 days, it comes to $140. If that is split between three to five people, it’s not that expensive.
Combine that with tours and accommodation, you’re looking at somewhere between $120 to $160 per person for this trip. Remember, this is a rough estimate so take it with a pinch of salt. Whether you rent a car or campervan and do more or fewer tours will impact the overall price.
Need a rental car?
I use Rentalcars.com whenever I need to rent a car. They offer the most comprehensive listings of rental cars on the web. Plus, their deals are often cheaper than if you went straight to the supplier!
An Auckland to Christchurch drive is an incredible trip and one you won’t forget in a hurry. It’s perfect if you’re short on time and want to see as much of NZ as you can.
Hopefully, my itinerary has given you an idea of what you can see and how much fun you can have along the way!
What do you think of this itinerary? Have you driven from Auckland to Christchurch or vice versa before? Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts!
Looking For More Road Trips?
Christchurch to Queenstown Road Trip – Fancy going further than Christchurch? Then this scenic drive to Queenstown is one you’ll enjoy!
South Island Road Trip – A full itinerary of the incredible South Island that will blow you away!
West Coast of New Zealand Road Trip – The West Coast of the South Island is underrated and this road trip allows you to see all of it!
Wellington to Auckland Road Trip – A trip between the two biggest cities in the North Island with a lot to see in between!
Tom is a travel addict who first left England to spend a year Down Under. Not satisfied with this, he then went to New Zealand, about as far away from home as he could get. He is now planning his next adventures in Europe and Canada while maintaining this blog. Check out the about me page to learn more!