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Planning a road trip in New Zealand? Make sure you're prepared.’re going to come to New Zealand and hit the open road.  Good on ya, for New Zealand is a country made for epic road trips.  It’s easy to navigate, the locals are friendly, sights are interesting and there’s a seemingly never ending supply of picturesque spots to stop at.  That said, it’s still worth planning your roadie out a little.  Not too much of course as the freedom of the open road doesn’t need to become overburdened with planning.  Just enough to make sure you make the most of it all...and reach the end of the trip before you reach the end of your patience with whoever you’re travelling with.  So, with sanity in’s our guide to planning your NZ roadtrip.

Packing for the trip

Do you fold or roll your clothes?  There’s probably some sort of deep level psychological insight to be provided based upon your approach to packing.  No doubt your methods say a lot about your personality.  The folders are neat and meticulous.  The rollers are care-free and adventurous.  Ok, we made that up but it sounds like it could be true.  The one thing to do is make sure, no matter how you cram it into your suitcase, you have everything you might need on the journey.  Given the disparate adventures on offer in NZ, this means making sure you have something for every activity you have planned or are thinking of doing.  

Then there’s the area of ‘sub-packing’.  For example, you might be planning on ditching the vehicle at some point to hit the trails.  In which case, you need a completely different methodology for packing.  The one consistent is you’ll still need to make sure the contents equip you for everything.  It might just be worth listing out everything you plan on doing and the places you want to go to, then making a list of what you need.  If you’re planning on specific activities, such as glacier hikes, check the activity providers website as they’ll often provide some guidance to help you.  

So just what do you need to pack?  Well, it really does depend on what you want to do and how you react to the weather.  Do you always feel cold or overheat as soon as the sun comes out?  Either way… leave some room for some of the Kiwi essentials you’ll want to pick up along the way:


Not thongs.  Not flip-flops.  They’re called Jandals and if it’s summer you need to live in them.  To be a proper Kiwi you need to buy Havaiana’s...from Brazil.

Sand Fly Repellant.  

Just trust us on this one.  


Kiwi blokes love stubbies (not to be confused with slang for bottled beer, although there is a lot of love for the amber nectar too).  We’re talking about a pair of short shorts.  Often to be found in regional colours (i.e. blue and gold for Otago, red and black for Canterbury).

Gum Boots.  

That’s ‘Wellington Boots’ for you English folk.  You’ll see them piled up outside the local store, the pub...and other places.  Inside will be some proper hardworking kiwi guys and gals in their socks.  For the classic Kiwi gumboot, it has to be Red Band.

Check your vehicle is road trip ready

If you’re using your own vehicle for the roadie, then a few quick checks could save a lot of pain later.

WOF and Rego

It stands to reason these need to be up to date.  If they’re due to expire during your roadie it’ll be worth sorting them early.  No need having to interrupt all the fun by detouring to a WOF station. 


That’s for the radiator and the windscreen washer bottle.  


Whilst the bonnet is open, you may as well check the oil too.  It is pretty important after all.  Not to mention the act of pulling the dipstick out, wiping it clean with an oil stained rag, popping it back in and pulling it out again, is a quintessentially masculine move that shows everyone you ‘know motors’. 


New Zealand's roads are considered pretty extreme by world standards.  Chances are a decent roadie will involve more than a few gravel roads and a bit of mud.  So whatever tyres you rock, check the tread and make sure they’re ready to perform.  Don’t forget the check the tyre pressure either.  On top of the safety aspects, it’ll also help you save fuel along the way.  

Wheel Alignment

Alright, you’re not going to remedy this yourself.  But much like the brakes (yup - if they’re grinding or wailing get them checked out before you go please) if you think something is wrong get it checked by your local garage before you head off.  So, if your vehicle is pulling to the left take it as a hint it wants to pull off to the side and into the garage for a quick once over.

Travelling by rental and think none of the above applies to you?  Think again.  The rental might be all ok when you leave the rental yard.  That doesn’t mean it’ll still be the same 1000kms later.  Better to keep an eye on things and contact the rental provider if you think something is not quite right.

Plan where to stay and the stops along the way

Pulling into Queenstown to discover the only accommodation left is the most expensive in New Zealand and requires you to remortgage the family home is likely to cause a few arguments.  Yup - planning ahead has some advantages.  And let’s be honest, the advantage isn’t just about knowing where you’re going to lay your head.  Budgeting may be about as much fun as going on a diet at Christmas time but it is necessary.  Especially if you plan on doing some of the fun stuff NZ has to offer.  Nature may be free but enjoying it can cost.  Especially if that enjoyment involves a jet boat, helicopter or jumping head first towards it with an oversized elastic band tethered to your ankles.  

Indeed, it’s best to plan out some of the activities you want to do also.  Arriving in Franz Josef to see the glaciers, only to discover all the helicopters are booked, is only marginally more annoying than having a booking and watching the clouds come in to stop the flying (a sadly rather common issue).  Sure, there’s always ‘fallback’ options but explaining them to your 6 year old will take roughly the same amount of time as you have left on holiday. 

Refueling your vehicle

The scenery in New Zealand is breathtaking.  It’s distracting.  And it’s all too easy to keep staring at the vista unfolding on the other side of the windscreen.  So much so that little red warning fuel warning light is completely overlooked.  There are just two scenarios when this happens. run out of fuel, get heckled by the travelling party and are forced to walk to the nearest station, just as the rain starts to come down. run out of fuel, get heckled by the travelling party and are forced to walk to the nearest station just as the sun decides to poke its head through the hole in the ozone layer above NZ.  A few minutes later you’re convinced vultures are stalking you as you wrap your t-shirt around your head, Lawrence of Arabia style.  Never fear though...just use an app like the one from Campermate and you’ll be fine.  

The situation is a bit more complicated when travelling by EV.  An extra level of planning might be required, cross-checking your roadie route against a list of known charging stations.

Refuelling yourselves

It’s called Misophonia.  It’s when someone near you is driving you crazy with their impossible-to-ignore audible eating.  So when it comes time to plan the roadie refreshments there are some important considerations.  

Unless you’re hanging out for some frequent stops you’ll be wanting to avoid filling up your travelling companions with a diuretic like coffee just before a stretch in the wilderness.  Long drops may serve a purpose but in the heat of summer, no matter what people say, they are not the most pleasant place.  

And if you’re travelling with children we don’t probably don’t need to tell you the basics:  sugary soft drinks risk making your trip seem a lot longer thanks to you excited passengers.  Not to mention the in-car cleanup in the case of a spill.

So what about the food then?  What makes for good food inside a vehicle.  Again, it depends on your travelling companions.  Can there be anything more annoying than watching someone destroying a flaky pastry pie and brushing off the bits all over your recently vacuumed vehicle?  Then there’s the ice cream issue.  Yes, it will melt and drop somewhere.  Yes, a finger will be used to wipe up the melted drop.  Yes, the same finger will then be used to adjust the air or sound or windows, leaving a sticky residue you know is there even if you can’t see it.  

The worst though...that’s reserved for foods with foul smells.  Or at least something that seems foul in a confined space, specially if you’re not the one eating it. A fish pie or something loaded with raw onion might be great when you’re outdoors but you probably don’t want it to scent your vehicle and travellers for the rest of the afternoon.  The exception is if you are travelling through Rotorua.  May as well go wild in Rotorua as the sulphur smell will overpower everything.  

If coffee, ice cream, chocolate (it melts on nasty little fingers that then touch the window controls) and pies - then what is safe?  Well, safe is planning the trip to get out of the vehicle and enjoy a break in a local diner or picnic spot.  If you must consume food inside the vehicle the following foods are reasonably safe:

  • Lettuce

There.  You asked. 

You can always spend some time on TripAdvisor or Google to find out the best places to stop and refuel yourselves.  New Zealand has some of the most amazing little bakeries, pie shops, cafe’s, restaurants and little local spots just waiting to provide you with something tasty and delectable.  Sadly, stopping for Possum Pie is no longer an option though.

Don’t rush and do too much driving

New Zealand isn’t a big country.  However, the distance between places can be something.  Even if you’re used to driving long stretches at a time, NZ’s roads can be deceptively difficult.  Some of them can be downright dangerous.  It’s not something to be afraid of, it’s just the roads (as they are everywhere to be honest) demand constant vigilance as you drive.  With that in mind, we recommend you take it easy.  Don’t plan on carving up the country in a single day and doing too much.  To be honest, part of what makes New Zealand such an amazing place for a road trip is the ability to drive around a corner and find yet another place to stop and take a photo of something scenic.

Sharing responsibility is a good idea too.  So if more than one person is ok to take the wheel then spread the love.  Give yourself a well earned break, kick off the jandals, open the window and start chowing down on that gloriously flaky pie you snuck in when you last filled up for petrol.  Give your travelling cohorts a wink and get messy.  Double standards are allowed when it comes to a decent steak and cheese pie.  

Other than that...just take a break.  Get out, stretch your legs, raise your arms above your head and have a nice little yawn.  Run your hands through your hair and look at the scenery (assuming you’ve decided to stop somewhere nice) before muttering ‘right then, let’s get going’ just as everyone else is starting to enjoy the fresh air.  It’s a rule of the road trip.  Someone must do it.

In Car Entertainment

Time to get serious.  It’s game time.  If there’s anything that can ruin relationships, tear families apart and destroy life-long’s an ill-chosen car game.  That said, there’s plenty of options if that’s what you’re after.  All suffer from one inherent problem.  A game requires a winner and a loser.  That raises the possibility of conflict and disagreement.  

So what’s the answer?  Some games can be played on a tablet in single player mode.  That’s pretty safe territory.  As is providing headphones, books and other stuff designed to separate and isolate occupants.  It just ain’t good bonding time though.  Nah - take a risk and play a game.  If it ends in an argument then so be it.  You can always stop and get some fresh air, then regroup and start over.

Finally the most controversial area of any road trip will be music.  But getting the perfect playlist is a big ask and there’s always one person willing to break with tradition and try and hijack the tunes from the back seat.  Everyone is different so you’re sort of on your own with this one.  We recommend getting everyone to agree beforehand that the driver is also the DJ.  It’s rule number one of any Roadie.

What are your tips?

That’s enough from us.  We’re opinionated enough and shared enough.  What do you think makes for a great roadie?  Share your thoughts or comments with us and we’ll add them to this article. 

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