Auckland to Queenstown road trip

Auckland to Queenstown Road Trip (10-Day Budget Itinerary!)

An Auckland to Queenstown road trip is one the best you can do in New Zealand. It will take you from the North Island through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country to New Zealand’s adrenaline capital!

This is one of the longer New Zealand road trips, taking you from the top of the North Island to the South Island and on to Queenstown. It’s a fantastic way to see this beautiful country and a great option if you have a short stay in the country!

You have plenty of things to do along the way. Hobbiton is one of the primary attractions on the route. You can go skydiving in Taupo, or once you reach Queenstown. Plus, there are lots of fantastic beaches and scenery to check out too!

This Auckland to Queenstown self-drive itinerary will take you through Taupo, across the Cook Strait, past the amazing Marlborough Sound and through spectacular mountains to your endpoint!

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

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Auckland to Queenstown road trip

Quick Auckland to Queenstown Drive itinerary
Distance – 1,552 km (964 miles)
Time – 10 days
Day 1 – Auckland to Rotorua: 228 km (141 miles)
Day 2 – Rotorua to Tongariro: 141 km (87 miles)
Day 3 – Tongariro crossing
Day 4 – Tongariro to Wellington: 330 km (205 miles)
Day 5 – Wellington to Picton: 102 km (63 miles)
Day 6 – Picton to Kaikoura: 156 km (96 miles)
Day 7 – Kaikoura to Christchurch: 181 km (112 miles)
Day 8 – Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: 228 km (141 miles)
Day 9 – Lake Tekapo to Wanaka: 201 km (124 miles)
Day 10 – Wanaka to Queenstown: 67 km (41 miles)

The distance between Auckland and Queenstown is 1,552 km (964 miles). It’s one of the longest road trips in New Zealand you can do, especially as it takes you across both of the main islands.

The other thing you have to factor in is the ferry from Wellington to Picton, which although a short journey, can be a problem if you don’t plan in advance and book it!

With no bridge spanning the two islands, you must book a ferry before you start the trip, or at least a few days into it, to avoid being stuck at the port!

Before setting off

Mountains covered in snow above Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown

Before doing any road trip in New Zealand it is important to have everything sorted. You can’t do a road trip without a vehicle, so this is the first thing you need to arrange. Depending on your numbers and where you plan on sleeping, you have two options.

Rent a car or a campervan.

If you’re in a big group, a campervan is a good idea. You will save money as you can sleep in the campervan instead of paying for accommodation.

If you’re in a smaller group of two or three, a car is a better option.  Yes, you have to pay for accommodation, but it’s not overly expensive in New Zealand, so you won’t be paying over the odds!

You can book a car or a campervan direct with companies such as Jucy or Wicked but there is a better option.

You can use a company such as Rentalcars.com to book your car or campervan. They compare prices from all rental car companies, which means you get an overview of the different prices, which will save you money!

If you’re starting from Auckland, click here to book your rental car. If you’re starting from Queenstown, click here to book your rental car.

Important info

The most important thing to remember about driving around New Zealand is that you drive on the left. If you’re from a country that drives on the right, this is the most important thing you need to know.

You also need to make sure you have your driving licence because you won’t get anywhere if you don’t have one!

If you have a valid English language licence then you can drive in New Zealand without too much trouble! So long as you have no traffic infringements and rent the vehicle less than 12 months before you entered New Zealand, you’re good to go!

Things are a little more complicated if you’re not from an English speaking country! You’ll need a valid translation to be able to drive in New Zealand. Alternatively, you can use an international driving licence to convert to a New Zealand Licence.

Before doing any road trip in New Zealand, ensure that you have proper travel insurance!

I use World Nomads to keep me safe on the road, it’s designed for backpackers and adventurous travellers. You never know what can happen on the road. Keep yourself protected against all eventualities! Click here to get a quote!

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.

Taking certain items with you will make your life on the road that little bit easier. It’s not easy driving long distances and it’s a lot harder if you don’t have the right items with you.

This is especially true when driving in New Zealand. Even though the distances aren’t large, you can be driving on the same stretch of road for a long time.

Below are a few items I recommend you take on your Auckland to Queenstown self-drive, to make the drive that little bit easier!

Why you should go on an Auckland to Queenstown road trip

View of Lake Wanaka

If you have limited time in New Zealand, this is an ideal road trip to do which enables you to see large parts of the country.

While I don’t recommend visiting New Zealand for a short period, a month travelling around the South Island is required to see everything, it’s a good compromise if you’re short on time.

Exploring New Zealand by car is the best, and sometimes, the only, way to see the country. If you don’t have a car, it makes it difficult to visit places such as Hobbiton, Marlborough Sounds and Tongariro.

A road trip gives you the freedom to make your own schedule and stop wherever and wherever you want.

This road trip will take you from the sprawling metropolis of Auckland through beautiful spots in the North Island such as Taupo and Wellington, where you will see a lot of scenery that New Zealand is famous for, such as gigantic lakes.

From there, you hop over the Cook Strait and make your down the stunning South Island to the endpoint of Queenstown.

As I spent the majority of my time in the South Island, I’m slightly biased, but I feel it’s the most beautiful part of the country.

Road trips in the South Island are spectacular! The scenery is out of this world, with towering mountain ranges, green valleys and pristine lakes. It is a haven for nature lovers and a joy to discover.

If you want to see the best that New Zealand has to offer, this road trip will show you a lot of it!

Where to stay between Auckland and Queenstown

View of lake rotorua

The good thing about this road trip is that you are short on places to stay. You will drive through a lot of big cities and tourist hotspots, where there is a wealth of accommodation to choose from.

Backpacking in New Zealand is popular, and there are plenty of hostels throughout the country. This makes arranging accommodation for a road trip a breeze!

This is a backpacker focused website and I have listed a few hostels you can stay along the way below. The route contains some of the best hostels in New Zealand.

If you’re doing the trip in a campervan, you won’t need to worry as the camper will be where you sleep. Below are my recommendations for places to stay when driving from Auckland to Queenstown.

HostelLocationFacilitiesBook
Funky Green VoyagerRotoruaFree Parking
BBQ
Kitchen
Book Now
The Crossing BackpackersTongariroFree Parking
BBQ
Cable TV
Book Now
The MarionWellingtonFree wifi
Cable TV
Laundry
Book Now
Piwaka LodgePictonFree Parking
Free Breakfast
24-hour Reception
Book Now
Albatross Backpacker InnKaikouraFree Parking
BBQ
Outdoor Terrace
Book Now
Jailhouse AccommodationChristchurchFree Parking
BBQ
Cable TV
Book Now
YHA Lake TekapoLake TekapoFree wifi
Kitchen
Burger Bar
Book Now
Wanaka BakpakaWanakaFree Parking
BBQ
Kitchen
Book Now
YHA Queenstown LakefrontQueenstownFree Parking
BBQ
Steam Room
Book Now

Places to visit on an Auckland to Queenstown road trip

As one of New Zealand’s longest road trips, there are plenty of places to see on this trip. It will take you to some of the most scenic places in the North Island and South Island!

New Zealand is full of beautiful places and the best way to see them is via a car. It’s the easiest way to get around the country and allows you to visit lesser-known spots and those places that are out of the way.

Below are a few of my recommendations of place you have to include to include on your itinerary!

Tongariro crossing

Tongariro Crossing

The Tongariro crossing is one of the best hikes you can do in New Zealand. Located in the North Island in between Wellington and Hamilton, it’s a beautiful all-day hike.

It’s such a good hike I recommend setting a whole day aside to do it. The landscape you tackle is unlike anywhere I’ve been before. You hike across an active volcanic field, with volcanoes and sulphur pools all around you.

It is a long hike at 19.4 km (12.1 miles), but it’s worth it for the views you will see. I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, even if my feet were hurting a little towards the end!

Taupo

Lake Taupo

Taupo was a place I visited during my drive from Wellington to Auckland. I didn’t know much about it before I visited and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found!

It’s situated next to a big lake, which only adds to the lustre of the place. If you visit during the summer months, the lake is a brilliant place to cool off and go for a swim.

If you want to get your heart racing, there are plenty of adventurous activities you can do in Taupo, such as skydiving and kayaking. It may not be on the same level as Queenstown, but you’ll find enough lively stuff to do!

A visit to the incredible Huka Falls, where 220,000 litres of water pours over a waterfall every second, is a must. It’s a sight to behold and the sheer noise of the water barreling beneath your feet is incredible to witness! 

Wellington

View of Wellington

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand the last port of call before you depart for the South Island. Thankfully, you will not be short of things to do while you’re there!

One of the best places to go in Wellington is to Te Papa museum, the national museum of New Zealand. I enjoyed exploring it, mainly because they have a huge T-Rex skull by the name of Stan! As a big lover of dinosaurs, I loved it!

Another good thing to do is to go on the cable car which takes you the suburb of Kelburn in the hills overlooking Wellington. The views from up here are incredible!

Make sure you bring a jacket with you. The strong winds that whip through the Cook Strait can be ferocious and have to the city acquiring the nickname ‘Windy Wellington!’

Christchurch

Christchurch Travel Guide

I spent the majority of my New Zealand working holiday in Christchurch. Back then, in 2014, the city was still recovering from the devastating earthquakes that struck three years earlier. Christchurch resembled a building site more than a city.

Since then, Christchurch has recovered a great deal and it’s on its way back! Lots of brand spanking new buildings have been built and the city is really coming into its own again!

Even when I was there, there were plenty of great things to do in Christchurch. You can hike up the Bridle Path to get some spectacular views of the bay in Lyttleton, while Godley Head offers some amazing views of the coastline.

As the biggest city in the South Island, it’s well worth spending a day or two in Christchurch. There is a lot to see and the ever-changing nature of the city makes it an interesting place to visit!

Read more: Christchurch travel guide

Wanaka

Tree in the water at Lake Wanaka

Wanaka is one of the most beautiful places to see on the South Island. Its location next to Lake Wanaka makes for a spectacular setting!

While you’re here you have to make sure you check out the Wanaka tree in the lake. It’s Insta-famous and a fantastic photo opportunity.

Wanaka is a smaller and quieter version of Queenstown. During the winter, you can head to Cardrona and go skiing and you can visit the wacky Puzzling World all year round.

The scenery in Wanaka and on the way there is incredible, which makes it a place you have to visit on this road trip!

Things to do on an Auckland to Queenstown road trip

Visit Hobbiton

Hobbiton

As a huge fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, visiting Hobbiton was high on my list when I went to New Zealand!

When I finally visited towards the end of my year in New Zealand, I loved every second of it. It’s simply amazing. Being able to walk around the shire and see the set used in the film was incredible!

The tour is fantastic and lets you in on a lot of little details about the films and the set itself. Plus, you get a free beer or cider once the tour is finished.

But, there is a caveat:

The tour is expensive at $80. If you’re not a fan of the films, I wouldn’t recommend visiting, as it’s hard to justify the cost if you’re not a fan!

Book Your Tour Now

Bungy jumping

Bungy jumping is one of the most popular activities to do in New Zealand. The country has a reputation as a lover of extreme sports and bungy jumping is no exception. There are lots of places around the country you can do one.

Indeed, you could start your trip by doing a bungy jump from the SkyTower in Auckland! Taupo is another place in the North Islan where you can bungy jump too.

Perhaps the best place to do a jump in New Zealand is in Queenstown. Here, you will find the highest jump in the country, the Nevis Bungy. At 134m, it’s not for the faint-hearted!

If you have your heart on doing a bungy jump in New Zealand, you might as well as do it at the highest place possible while there!

Book Your Tour Now

White water rafting

White water rafting

Continuing the adrenaline-filled activities, a great thing to do while doing this trip is to go white-water rafting! It’s a lot of fun and a great way to break up the journey.

There are lots of places you can do it while making your way down to Queenstown. Perhaps the best place to go white-water rafting is Rotorua.

The waters are a lot more challenging than others you might find along the way. While that may sound daunting, if you go to calmer waters, the rafting becomes too timid and less enjoyable!

You will have a lot of fun white-water rafting and there is the option of jumping into the river below after you’ve swept down the rapids, which is always a lot of fun!

Book Your Tour Now

Example Auckland to Queenstown itinerary

The drive from Auckland to Queenstown is a long one. However, it’s not so long that it becomes daunting. You will have long periods on the road, but the beautiful scenery makes it a pleasure rather than a chore!

This itinerary is not set in stone. It should be used as a guide to base your trip off. You can skip or visit different places if you wish, it’s entirely up to you!

This itinerary lasts ten days.

If you wish to extend or shorten the road trip, that is entirely up to you!

Day 1 – Auckland to Rotorua

Auckland skyline

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Distance

228 km (141 miles)

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Time without stops

2 hours 43 minutes

 

The first leg of the road trip isn’t too long as you make the short drive from Auckland to Rotorua. If you haven’t already, I recommend you explore Auckland before you leave. 

It’s an interesting city with a lot to do, and it would be a shame to leave straight away without seeing much!

One place you have to stop along the way is Hobbiton.

If you’re not a fan of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films, I would skip this, otherwise, it’s a brilliant place to visit. It’s amazing to be able to visit the set of the shire and see the tiny houses up close!

I had a great time and it was topped by getting a free drink at the end of the tour!

But, the fun doesn’t stop there!

Rotorua is similar to Queenstown. You have plenty of activities related to adrenaline, such as jet tours, white water rafting and racing luges downhill!

You can also visit a Maori village which is a fantastic experience. One thing you will notice about Rotorua is that there is a strange smell in the city.

Here’s why:

The city sits atop large deposits of sulphur which give a distinct smell akin to rotten eggs! It’s disconcerting at first, but you do get used to it! Who knows, you may even grow to like it!

Day 2 – Rotorua to Tongariro

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Distance

141 km (87 miles)

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Time without stops

1 hour 41 minutes

 

The drive from Rotorua to Tongariro is a short one at just under two hours. It’s one you shouldn’t do in one go, as you can’t miss out on the beautiful town of Taupo along the way!

I recommend you spend the majority of the day in Taupo exploring the area and doing a few activities. There isn’t much to do in Tongariro apart from the alpine crossing, so it makes more sense to spend most of the day in Taupo.

You have plenty to do here. If you want to relax by the lake you can and admire the stunning views. Alternatively, if you want something a bit more fast-paced there is lots of choice.

From kayaking in the lake to skydiving and a driving range just outside the centre, you’re spoilt for choice!

You also have a lot of lovely cafes and restaurants to get something to eat before the final leg of the drive to Tongariro.

Day 3 – Tongariro crossing

Once you’re in Tongariro, I recommend you spend the third doing the alpine crossing hike. It’s a fantastic hike and one you will enjoy.

If you’re not a fan of hiking, or not fussed about checking out Tongariro and the surrounding area, then, by all means, drive on towards Wellington.

One thing about the hike is that it’s not a circular hike. You won’t finish back where you started. It’s not a good idea to take your car either, because there is a 4 hour limit to parking at the Mangatepopo road end.

It’s better to book a shuttle from where you’re staying to pick you up and take you back. There are plenty of operators to take you and this is something you’ll be able to arrange when you arrive at your accommodation the night before.

Day 4 – Tongariro to Wellington

Gumboot in Taihape

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Distance

330 km (205 miles)

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Time without stops

4 hours 5 minutes

 

This is the longest drive of the trip as you make your way from Tongariro to Wellington and the bottom of the North Island.

You have two routes you can take on this leg. One is to stay inland and pass by Palmerston North and on to Masteron. The other option is to go by the coast, which offers you the chance to stop by a beach for a break.

One place to stop on the way to Wellington is Taihape. Granted, there’s not an awful lot to do here, but there is a gigantic gumboot (wellington), which celebrates the town’s reputation as the ‘gumboot capital of New Zealand!’

It’s a great opportunity to get a photo in front of a wacky sculpture!

Waikanae is a fantastic place to stop if you’re taking the coastal route. There is a beautiful beach nearby, which makes it an ideal place for a stop before you arrive in Wellington.

Palmerston North is a good place to stop if you’re taking the inland route. The town reportedly has the highest proportion of cafes per capita of any town in New Zealand! This makes it an ideal place to grab something to eat on your way to the capital!

Day 5 – Wellington to Picton

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Distance

102 km (63 miles)

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Time without stops

3 hours 28 minutes (on a ferry)

 

It’s important to stress that the journey from Wellington to Picton is not a drive. The only way to get across the Cook Strait with a car is with a ferry. 

You must book this beforehand, or you could be in Wellington for a while. Alternatively, you could spend a few days in Wellington before getting the ferry, it’s up to you!

The ferry takes around three and a half hours to cross the Cook Strait, which isn’t too long. If you can get a ferry early in the morning, do it. This will give you more time to explore Picton and its surroundings later in the day.

Exploring the Marlborough Sounds is one of the best things to do once you arrive in Picton. the queen Charlotte Sound is a popular spot and offers some incredible view!

My recommendation would be to spend the remainder of your day exploring the sounds and soaking in their amazing beauty!

Day 6 – Picton to Kaikoura

Kaikoura

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Distance

156 km (96 miles)

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Time without stops

2 hours 18 minutes

 

The drive from Picton to Kaikoura isn’t the longest at just over two hours. Again, if you make an early start, that leaves you with a large chunk of the day to explore the surrounding area.

Kaikoura is a lovely little town and there are quite a lot of things to do despite its size. If you visit between November and March you have the chance to go whale-watching. Outside of these months, sightings are rare.

Another activity is to take a stroll along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. It’s a scenic walk and you will encounter a lot of wildlife too.

We saw a lot of seals when we did the walk. Don’t get too close though, as they aren’t afraid to get in your face!

If you want to see some friendlier seals, you can head to the Ohau Point seal colony. Once you drive over to the colony at Half Moon Bay, you will see many seals near the shore.

However, you want to head up the Ohau waterfall track instead. If you visit during the breeding season, you’ll be able to see seal pups splashing around in the waters!

Day 7 – Kaikoura to Christchurch

Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch

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Distance

181 km (112 miles)

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Time without stops

2 hours 32 minutes

 

Driving from Kaikoura to Christchurch takes around two and a half hours. If you want to make a stop along the way, Amberley is a great place to do so. There are numerous cafes in the town, where you can stop and get a bite to eat.

Once you get to Christchurch, there are lots of things to do in the city. One of the best is to head into the centre and visit Quake City. Here, you will learn more about the devastating earthquake that crippled the city in 2011 and what the city has done to recover.

After this, head to the outskirts of the city and walk up the Bridle path. It’s a lovely walk and once you get to the top you will have some incredible views of Lyttleton Bay below!

A trip to the beachside suburb of Sumner is worth doing as well. the beach here is beautiful and the views aren’t bad either!

If that’s still not enough, you can head out to Godley Head and get some amazing views from here. There is an old army camp at the top, even though you’re not supposed to go in, no one will stop you and you will be rewarded with beautiful views!

Take some time to check out the city centre too. Christchurch is getting back on its feet and the centre is starting to become a hive of activity again after years of repair!

Day 8 – Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

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Distance

228 km (141 miles)

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Time without stops

2 hours 47 minutes

 

This is one of the longest parts of the drive and not one of the best. There isn’t much to see on the way to Lake Tekapo.

However, it does depend on which route you take.

Here’s why:

If you take the route towards Ashburton and Geraldine, there is less to see. It’s a quicker route, but it’s a more boring one. 

The alternative is to take the route along State Highway 77. It’s more scenic, which is what you’re doing the road trip for at the end of the day!

You can stop at the Rakaia Gorge along the way, which has some incredible scenery. You can also stop at Geraldine and get some lunch before you head onwards to Lake Tekapo.

Once you’re at Lake Tekapo there are plenty of hikes you can do to explore the surrounding area. This is one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand, you have to get out and about and explore it!

Day 9 – Lake Tekapo to Wanaka

Lake Wanaka a great to do some New Zealand road trips

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Distance

201 km (124 miles)

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Time without stops

2 hours 17 minutes

 

The drive from Lake Tekapo isn’t too long at just over two hours. With the drive being short, it means you can get up early if you wish and explore a bit of Lake Tekapo and its surroundings.

You can do an early walk before your drive. It’s a shame to leave too soon without seeing a lot of the area. It’s one of the best places to see while driving around the South Island.

The drive to Wanaka is lovely and there are some interesting stops along the way.

One of which is the town of Twizel, which is one of the more unusual places in New Zealand. It was built as a semi-permanent town for workers of a nearby hydroelectric scheme and was intended to be turned back to farmland.

That never happened, however, and the town still stands today with Scandinavian like houses and minimal footpaths and kerbing!

After Twizel, you will come to the Lindis Pass, which has some incredible views ad the drive into Wanaka is simply beautiful. It’s a pleasure to drive.

Wanaka itself is a beautiful town. If you visit during the winter you can go skiing at nearby Cardona peak, while you have to check out the lake for the amazing views and the famous Wanaka tree!

Day 10 – Wanaka to Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu

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Distance

67 km (41 miles)

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Time without stops

1 hour 2 minutes

 

The last leg of the trip is a short drive as you make the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown. As the drive is short you can either use this time to stay longer in Wanaka or spend the majority of the day in Queenstown.

Either one is good, so it’s up to you what you do.

The views on the drive into Queenstown are incredible. Make use of the various lookout points because you will be stopping a lot.

The scenery is out of this world!

If you have the time, I would spend around 3 days in Queenstown. It is one of the best places in New Zealand and there is so much to do. One day will not do it justice!

You can do all sorts of adrenaline based activities such as skydiving, bungy-jumping and jetboating, while there are slower-paced activities such as various walks around the lake. You can play a game of frisbee golf if you wish in the botanic gardens!

How much does an Auckland to Queenstown road trip cost?

Due to the length of the drive from Auckland to Queenstown, this is one of the more expensive road trips you can do in New Zealand.

You can’t get away from this due to the distance involved and the fact you have to go from the North to the South Island. But, it’s not all bad news.

You see, the thing is:

You can make the road trip cheaper or more expensive depending on what you do. If you decide to do numerous tours, that will add on to the cost of the trip. Alternatively, you could minimise the tours and save yourself a lot of money.

The biggest expense will be your vehicle. Renting cars and camper vans in New Zealand aren’t too expensive, but they still cost a fair bit.

One way to reduce the expense is to travel with more people so you can split the cost of the vehicle and fuel between you.

Here’s a link to a fuel cost calculator from Travellers Autobarn, 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 $2.35 per litre, your fuel expenses for the trip would come to $437.66. This is reasonable considering the distance 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 10 days, it comes to $200. If that is split between three to five people, it’s not that expensive.

If you add in the cost of tours, accommodation and renting a vehicle, you’re looking at somewhere between $180 to $240 per person.

This is a rough estimate and shouldn’t be taken at face value. The cost depends entirely upon what vehicle you rent, where you eat, what tours, if any, you do, and the amount of fuel you use.

Prices will and can vary depending on all of this.

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!

Concluding thoughts

An Auckland to Queenstown road trip is an enjoyable and great way to see large parts of New Zealand! You’ll visit some of the most amazing spots in the country and see some beautiful scenery.

The journey takes you from the top of the North Island, through to the stunning mountain surrounds of Queenstown in the South Island. It’s a trip that will leave you breathless and begging for more!

Have you driven from Auckland to Queenstown? Did you do an itinerary similar to mine?

Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Driving from Auckland to Queenstown