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30 August, 2023 - Updated Last updated on
31 August, 2023

Posted by Marty | Spaceships Crew

New Zealand is home to some of the most incredible landscapes on the planet. The North Island and the South Island both have so much to offer. Although a lot of travellers probably don't give the North Island the love and attention it deserves. This Christchurch to Auckland road trip itinerary will help you to enjoy the best of both worlds. And it'll change your mind about the North Island.

Why travel from Christchurch to Auckland?

Lots of travellers want to do a one-way road trip so they can explore more. Why travel in a loop and see things you have already seen? A one-way road trip is just easier... And more fun as you'll be able to see more in the same amount of days. But what most travellers forget is that travelling from Christchurch to Auckland is often cheaper than from Auckland to Christchurch. It all has to do with supply and demand. Therefore there are more campervan hire deals from Christchurch and prices are generally speaking lower.

This article will show you what to do and see on this amazing one-way trip that starts in Christchurch and will end in Auckland.

Christchurch: the ever-changing city

And the starting point of your ultimate New Zealand road trip. Enjoy the garden city for a few days first. There is a lot to see, especially because the city keeps changing due to the rebuilding process. New buildings, funky bars and heaps of other things keep popping up. It's a pleasure to spend a few days in Christchurch.

Or go straight to the Spaceships depot in Christchurch and hit the road. It's totally up to you. We can understand you're eager to start the ultimate road trip from Christchurch to Auckland. Here's the route you should follow to experience heaps and see it all.

Swim with Hector's Dolphins near Akaroa

Situated on the shores of the Banks Penninsula, 85 kilometres from your starting point Christchurch, the quaint village of Akaroa has streets lined with cafes, art galleries, and craft shops.

The views of the bays and harbour are breathtaking, and you can get up close and personal with the marine life on a sea-kayaking safari. Explore the Pohatu Marine Reserve by kayak to observe dolphins, colonies of seals, and little penguins in their natural habitats.

Akaroa is also home to rare Hector's dolphins. These charismatic creatures are known for their distinct black markings, rounded dorsal fins, and small size. Grab a wetsuit and snorkel, and go swimming with the dolphins for an unforgettable experience.

Akaroa: a must-see on you road trip from Christchurch to Auckland

Akaroa: a must-see on your road trip from Christchurch to Auckland

Get a bird's eye view of Kaikoura

The Seaward Kaikoura Range meets the Pacific Ocean to create a stunning backdrop for hiking, whale watching, and encountering native wildlife.

Spend the day on or above the water whale watching and you'll see Giant Sperm Whales, New Zealand Fur Seals, and playful pods of Dusky Dolphins.

For a truly unique experience, board a helicopter and enjoy a birds-eye view of migrating whale pods.
Once you're back on dry land, dine on fresh-caught crayfish and visit the Fyffe House, the oldest building in Kaikoura, to learn about the region's whaling history.

A must-do in New Zealand: whale watching in Kaikoura

A must-do in New Zealand: whale watching in Kaikoura

Feel your stress melt away at Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs is a must-see destination on any Christchurch to Auckland road trip. Brave the white water rapids of the Waiau River in a jet boat, bungee jump off of the historic Ferry Bridge or ride a quad through the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Canterbury region. There is so much to do in Hamner Springs.

After a day of adventure, relax in the world-famous Thermal Pools in Hamner Springs. Imagine breathing in the brisk alpine air, and listening to the sound of cascading waterfalls, while you soak in the mineral-rich waters of the thermal pools. It's as amazing as it sounds.

Have a tipple in Greymouth

The Pancake Rocks are more than just a bunch of rocks shaped like pancakes; they are also a natural wonder 30 million years in the making. As the limestone rock was slowly eroded by seawater, a series of verticle blowholes formed. It takes less than 45 minutes to walk the trail, and there are plenty of amazing photo opportunities along the way. The Pancake Rocks are most impressive at high tide, so plan accordingly. 

Want to enjoy a proper Kiwi beer? Greymouth is home to Monteith's Brewing Company, New Zealand's favourite brewery. Take the brewery tour that starts in the aptly named Beertopia Room, or skip the tour and sip Monteith's Crushed Apple Cider by a crackling fire at Monteith's tapas-style restaurant. Check out the full list of things to do & see in Greymouth and along the West Coast.

Check out our other West Coast road trip tips as well and see more of the wild side of New Zealand.

Embrace your inner thrill-seeker in Nelson

If you're looking for an adrenaline rush, you are going to love Abel Tasman National Park. Skydive, hang glide or go canyoning to see the most remote parts of this picturesque national park. If freefalling out of a plane at 200 km/h isn't your cup of tea, explore the golden sand beaches and mature forests of the Abel Tasman Coast Track on foot.

So much to do and see in Abel Tasman National Park

So much to do and see in Abel Tasman National Park

Hop on the scenic ferry From Picton to Wellington

The Cook Strait Ferry is more than just a mode of transportation; it's also a great opportunity to take in the scenery. Be on the lookout for whales and other marine life.

Are you travelling in one of our campervans? No worries, campervans can travel safely & cheaply via Bluebridge's Cook Strait Ferry. Cheap as a Spaceships campervan classifies as they smallest vehicle (<5.5 in length). And you can add a pre-paid open-dated ferry ticket to your booking, See for more info about the ferry crossing.

Pub hop through Wellington

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and it is often referred to as "the coolest little capital in the world" or "Windy Wellington". Learn about the art, culture, and history of New Zealand at the interactive Te Papa Museum (it's free to enter, but a donation is appreciated).

Wellington is also the craft beer capital of New Zealand. Head out on an impromptu pub crawl and visit some of the Kiwis' favourite spots for a tipple. Visit the Garage Project brewery or taproom... Or go for craft beer pubs like Hashigo Zake, Hop Garden or The Malt House.

Let's have some fun in Wellington: culture, craft beer andm more

Let's have some fun in Wellington: culture, craft beer and more

Ascend an active volcano in New Plymouth

Egmont National Park is home to Mount Taranaki (also known as Mount Egmont), an active stratovolcano. Hike through the varied landscapes surrounding Mount Taranaki to see waterfalls, rainforests, and swamps. Mt. Taranaki is worth a visit year-round: great for hiking in summer and perfect for skiing in winter.

But Taranaki has much more to offer. Its sunny climate, art galleries, and proximity to the sea and the mountain, it offers a variety of activities for backpackers and campervan travellers.

  • Coastal Walkway: This 12.7-kilometre walkway stretches from Bell Block to Port Taranaki, offering stunning sea views, artworks, and Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, which frames Mount Taranaki in its arch. You can walk, run, bike, or even rollerblade along this path.
  • Surfing: Taranaki region is known as one of the best surfing destinations in New Zealand. There are numerous surf breaks along the coast, suitable for all levels.
  • Taranaki Farmers Market: Held every Sunday morning, this market is a great place to sample and buy local produce, baked goods, artisan cheese, and more. More info about the market.
  • Visit a Craft Beer Brewery: Taranaki region has a thriving craft beer scene. There are several local breweries where you can sample a variety of craft beers. Definitely check out Shining Peak Brewery, where you can taste the freshest beer and world-class food, 6-days a week.

The Forgotten World Highway to Taupo

The Forgotten World Highway, also known as State Highway 43, is one of New Zealand's most unique and historic touring routes. This 155-kilometre-long highway stretches between the Taranaki town of Stratford and Taumarunui in the King Country. The highway takes its name from the rugged and remote country it passes through, offering an unforgettable journey through some of New Zealand's most beautiful and underexplored regions.

Enjoy the surreal views from the Forgotten World Highway. Hit the road early so you'll have ample time to stop for pictures along the way. Here are some highlights you will come across.

  • Whangamomona: The highway's halfway point is the tiny settlement of Whangamomona, which famously declared itself a republic in 1989 as a protest against regional boundary changes. They even have their own 'passport', which you can get stamped at the local hotel.
  • Tangarakau Gorge: The road through the Tangarakau Gorge is one of the last remaining stretches of unsealed road on the New Zealand State Highway network. The gorge itself is a breathtaking sight, with steep cliffs covered in native bush rising on either side of the road.
  • Mount Damper Falls: A short detour off the highway will take you to Mount Damper Falls, one of the North Island's tallest waterfalls.
  • Moki Tunnel: Also known as the "Hobbit's Hole," the Moki Tunnel is a 180-meter-long single-lane tunnel that was built in the 1930s. It's a unique and somewhat eerie experience driving through!

From Taumarunui, the journey continues to Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake. The drive is beautiful, with the road winding through rolling farmland and along the banks of the Waikato River. As you approach Taupo, you'll start to catch glimpses of the lake through the trees.

Once in Taupo, there's plenty to see and do. Visit the impressive Huka Falls, take a boat trip on the lake, or try your hand at trout fishing. Taupo is also a great base for exploring the geothermal attractions of the nearby Rotorua and the Tongariro National Park, which offers excellent hiking, including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand's best one-day walks.

Driving the Forgotten World Highway and onto Taupo is a journey through some of the North Island's most beautiful and diverse landscapes, offering a mix of natural beauty, history, and adventure.

Enjoy the art and wine of Napier

Napier, located in the Hawke's Bay region on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, is a delightful city known for its stunning Art Deco architecture - and the famous Art Deco Festival - beautiful coastal setting, and sunny climate. One of the biggest draws of Napier is its surrounding wine country. The Hawke's Bay region is the oldest wine-producing region in New Zealand and the second largest by volume. It's particularly famous for its Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay.

Visiting the wineries in and around Napier is not just for wine buffs; it's also a fun and enjoyable experience for anyone who appreciates beautiful scenery, delicious food, and of course, tasting some great wines.

Catch some waves in Gisborne

Gisborne, located on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island, is a vibrant city known for its beautiful beaches, rich history, and fantastic wine. It's also the first city in the world to see the sunrise each day, earning it the nickname 'The First Light City'. There's plenty to do in Gisborne for backpackers and roadtrippers.

  • Beaches: Gisborne is home to some of New Zealand's most beautiful beaches. Wainui and Makorori are great for surfing, and Waikanae and Midway are perfect for swimming and sunbathing.
  • Surfing: Gisborne is a surfer's paradise with consistent swells and multiple spots suitable for all levels. You can even take surfing lessons if you're new to the sport. Expert surfers love The Island and Wainui Beach. Beginners should head over to Waikanae or Sponge Bay.
  • Wine Tasting: Gisborne is one of New Zealand's major wine regions. It's especially known for its Chardonnay. Many vineyards offer wine tastings and vineyard tours.
  • History and Maori Culture: Visit the Tairawhiti Museum and Art Gallery for insight into the region's history and Maori heritage. You can also visit the historic Cook's Landing Site, where British explorer Captain James Cook first set foot in New Zealand.
  • Rere Rockslide and Rere Falls: Just outside of Gisborne, the Rere Rockslide is a 60-meter-long natural water slide. A short distance away is the Rere Waterfall, a picturesque spot that's perfect for a picnic.
  • Eastwoodhill Arboretum: This is the National Arboretum of New Zealand, featuring a large collection of exotic and native trees. It's a beautiful place to relax and enjoy nature.
  • Sunrise Watching: Since Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the sunrise each day, getting up early to watch the sunrise is a must-do experience.
  • Festivals: If you're visiting in late December, don't miss the Rhythm and Vines music festival, New Zealand's biggest New Year's Eve party.


Surf's up in Gisborne... Or relax on the beach

Surf's up in Gisborne... Or relax on the beach

Rotorua and the Geothermal Highway

Rotorua is a hotbed (pun intended) for geothermal activity. Bubbling mud pools, a geyser that erupts 30 meters into the air, and neon-coloured lakes are just some of the attractions that draw people from around the world to Rotorua.

After a day of exploring, learn about the Maori culture and visit a living Maori village.

Enjoy the sun and surf in Tauranga

Tauranga, located in the Bay of Plenty region on New Zealand's North Island, is a lively city known for its beautiful beaches, sunny climate, and outdoor adventures. Tauranga has something for everyone!

  • Hit the Beach: Mount Maunganui and Papamoa Beach are regularly ranked as some of the best beaches in the world. Both are a hotspot for surfing and sunbathing. Climb to the top of the Mount for breathtaking panoramic views.
  • Explore Tauranga's vibrant downtown, packed with cafes, restaurants, and shops. Don't miss the Tauranga Art Gallery!\
  • Visit the Markets: Tauranga hosts several markets where you can sample local food, shop for souvenirs, and listen to live music. The Mount Maunganui Night Market and the Tauranga Farmers Market are worth checking out.
  • Relax in the Hot Pools: After a busy day of exploring, unwind in the Mount Maunganui Hot Salt Water Pools.

Have a soak in Coromandel

The Coromandel Peninsula, on New Zealand's North Island, is a stunning region known for its rugged mountainous interior and beautiful coastline dotted with white-sand beaches.

  • Hot Water Beach: One of the most unique beaches in the world. Spend the last day of your journey relaxing, in your own natural hot pool. Accessible at low tide, two fissures release water as hot as 64C (147F). Spades for hire are available from nearby stores. Simply dig your own hot water pool in the sand during low tide, sit back, and enjoy a natural spa.
  • Cathedral Cove: A picturesque beach accessible by a walking track, famous for its large rock arch that resembles a cathedral's dome.
  • Hiking in the Coromandel Forest Park: Home to the Pinnacles Walk, one of the most popular hikes on the peninsula, offering fantastic views of the region.
  • Kayaking and Water Sports: There are plenty of opportunities for kayaking, especially around Cathedral Cove. You can also try fishing, diving, and snorkelling.

The Coromandel is all about taking it slow and enjoying the stunning natural beauty, so take your time and soak it all in! There's no need to rush to Auckland to finish your Christchurch to Auckland one-way road trip.

Last stop on the ultimate road trip: Auckland

It's time kick back and relax. Soak up what Auckland has to offer: great nightlife, craft beer pubs and breweries (helloooo Beer Mile), lots of shopping to do, hiking opportunities and much much more. Have a look at the top thinkgs to do in Auckland.

Or if you would like to continue the ultimate road trip from Christchurch to Auckland, then don't stop at Auckland but keep driving to the Bay of Islands, Northland, Cape Reinga etc. A trip that is covered in our North of Auckland in 5 days post.

If it is the end of your road trip, the Spaceships Auckland depot is close to the city and the airport. Drop off your vehicle and have a great time in Auckland, the city where the show never stops.

Christchurch to Auckland route map

Download the route map or send it straight to your phone, so you'll know exactly where to go on this ultimate road trip from Christchurch to Auckland.


Reasons why a one-way road trip in New Zealand is just as easy but more fun than a loop

Traditionally travellers think they have to go for a loop road trip, meaning starting and ending at the same location. As Space Traveller – Spaceships customer – you’re in luck as we don’t charge fees for a one-way trip. Actually, there are no hidden fees at all. The price you see is the price you’ll pay.

Other rental companies charge a fee for dropping the vehicle off at a different location from where you picked it up, but not at Spaceships. When hiring a Spaceship you can easily book a one-way road trip at a great rate aka an affordable price. No worries. We’re travellers just like you so we understand your needs.

As both Christchurch and Auckland are popular destinations with lots of international airlines serving these airports, you don’t have to arrive and depart from the same airport. Airlines nowadays cater towards travellers that want to go for a one-way road trip.

Experience New Zealand to the fullest

In terms of sights and attractions, both routes from Christchurch to Auckland and vice versa will provide you with an abundance of exciting things to see and do. The beauty of New Zealand lies in its variety, and both journeys traverse through a range of stunning landscapes and unique attractions.

Starting in Christchurch and heading to Auckland, you'd still visit all these amazing places but in reverse order. The experiences will be more or less the same, but your anticipation and experiences might differ based on the sequence. The route you choose can also be influenced by the time of year and weather conditions, which can affect the activities and sights that are available.

In terms of exciting things, it's not about Christchurch to Auckland vs the other way around, but more about your personal preferences, the time you have available, and the pace at which you want to travel. But when it comes to money, the route combo Christchurch to Auckland vs Auckland to Christchurch does make a difference. Most of the time, it'll be a cheaper road trip when you start in Christchurch. Why? Because most travellers do follow the crowd - or advice from standard travel guidebooks - and want to start their trip in Auckland. Be different and pay less: start in Christchurch!

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