Under skilled and strategic leadership, New Zealand is one of the rare countries in the world that has managed to keep the pandemic under control. In fact, New Zealand has been declared COVID-free, thanks to the stringent COVID-prevention measures and the fact that international travel is extremely limited. International travellers might need to hold off on their NZ escapade, but locals can rejoice at the fact that now is the perfect time to organise a grand road trip around the country.
With numerous wonderful ways to get around New Zealand and hundreds of sights and points of interest scattered across the map, there’s no denying that this is going to be an unforgettable trip. Well, a series of trips more like it, because today we will be taking you on tours across the North and South Islands. Both might be too expensive to cover in one big road trip, but if you break it up throughout the summer months of December, January, and February, you’re sure to have an amazing time.
Remember to adhere to the COVID-prevention measures and stay safe, making sure to travel as sustainably as possible to make these trips enjoyable and rewarding. Without further ado, here are the top road trips for your NZ escapade.
Go on the LOTR tour
People from other countries probably think that every New Zealander has already been on the Lord of the Rings tour, but that’s certainly not the case. Even though LOTR is a big part of the country’s brand and a famous tourist attraction, many Kiwis have actually never been on this tour, because there are just so many other points of interest and amazing experiences across the NZ map. If nothing else, New Zealanders will shy away from this particular tour because it tends to be flooded with tourists all year round. But not this year.
In 2020 and the early months of 2021, you can definitely pencil in the LOTR tour for yourself and your loved ones, because New Zealand is virtually closed to international tourism. You will find the famous movie sets and walking tours in Matamata, secluded between Hamilton to the west and beautiful Tauranga to the east. If you have never visited the latter, be sure to extend your trip to experience the beautiful seaside town.
A ferry ride from Wellington to the South Island
If you’re not currently living in the capital of NZ, then by all means schedule a few days in Wellington before embarking on this part of the trip. Wellington is beautiful and the surrounding countryside is breathtaking, and you can even go backpacking towards the eastern fringe of the island from there to witness some of the most beautiful sunrises you’ll ever see. Wellington itself is a peaceful place with a distinct foodie culture and a popular art scene, so you are bound to get your cultural fix while there.
However, the main part of this trip is the boat ride from wellington to the South Island towards its expansive northern archipelago. From the nearest Arapawa Island, around Anakoha, and all the way to Te Rawa and Elaine Bay, this archipelago with its numerous bays is a sight to behold. You can disembark at Picton from Wellington and embark on your own little exploration tour of the archipelago, making sure to visit Cullen Point Lookout and paddle across the waters of Kenepuru Sound.
Auckland and the surrounding natural gems
Moving towards the top of the North Island, we have to mention Auckland and its surrounding beauty. Touring Auckland and the surrounding area is best done by car, because you want to catch the best experiences at the right time, and you want to have the freedom to explore at your own pace. If you’re arriving in Auckland by plane, you’ll be able to arrange a car hire at Auckland airport without any trouble and you can embark on your exploration tour right away.
From Auckland, you can explore the northernmost part of the island and make your way to the famous Cape Reinga Lighthouse. Along the way, you should make plenty of stops and detours, of course. Drive around the countryside and stick to the eastern fringe to visit seaside towns, but then come back to the west coast to visit the Ninety Mile Beach. You can also go to the Bay of Islands to enjoy water activities and even meet a few inquisitive dolphins.
Visit the cultural heart of New Zealand
If you’ve never experienced the Māori culture before, then it’s time to get acquainted with the country’s cultural heritage. Often deemed the cultural heart of New Zealand, Rotorua is located south of Tauranga in the North Island and is the best place to find authentic Māori experiences. The pre-European Māori village within is a popular tourist attraction, but now that there aren’t as many tourists around, it’s the perfect time to experience it for yourself.
You can enjoy a cultural show and soak in the Māori cultural heritage throughout the day, and even take a dip at the local thermal hot pools for a complete spiritual and calming experience. Of course, don’t forget to explore the beautiful town of Rotorua itself, and venture east to Mount Tarawera for a guided tour and yet another dip in the hot spring at its base.
Tour the beauty of Milford Sound
Finally, you can take a tour from Queenstown towards Milford Sound, a vast collection of fjords bound to take your breath away with its snow-capped peaks, mesmerising waterfalls, and enchanting vistas all around. Milford Sound can be a one-day escapade, but you can also make it a lengthy road trip if you include the surrounding countryside and go on various tours across the neighbouring mountain ranges. Many tours out of Queenstown are available by bus, which is a great way to explore the region and its delights.
New Zealand might still be closed to international tourists, but that just gives the locals an opportunity to explore their country in all its glory. Be sure to schedule these road trips and escapades for the NZ summer months and you will have yourself not one, but several memorable experiences for 2021.
Author: Lilly Miller is a Sydney-based graphic designer and a passionate writer. Loves everything about home decor, art history and baking. Shares home with two loving dogs and a gecko named Rodney. You can find her hanging out on Twitter.