Guide to planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand

Nov 17, 2015 BY Paul McWilliams

Sculpted by volcanic and glacial activity New Zealand is one of the most spectacular countries in the world, and one of the easiest, safest and most rewarding to travel around. But for those planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand there is just one main problem – where to start?

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Ross Huggett

This guide to planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand will help you understand the travel options and cover the highlights you should not miss.

Overlanding holidays in New Zealand: Highlights

However you decide to travel (and we’ll cover that in detail later on) there are certain places in NZ that you simply can’t afford to miss. Due to its isolation, travelling here is often a once in a lifetime deal, so these are the places that you have to visit.

North Island

  • Lake Taupo – lying in the caldera of the Taupo volcano and backed by stunning mountain scenery
  • Bay of Islands – an enclave of more than 140 subtropical islands with countless pristine and secluded beaches. Some of the best fishing in NZ including Marlin fishing and other sport fishing options.
  • Tongariro National Park – the oldest national park in the country and recognised by UNESCO as one of 28 mixed cultural and natural sites. Also come to Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films
  • Wai-o-tapu – an active geothermal area to the south of the Okataina volcanic area
  • Waitomo Caves –  a solutional cave system in the northern King Country through which you can raft
  • Coromandel Peninsula – beautiful scenery, good surf and a hot water beach

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Master Man

South Island

  • Milford Sound– spectacular mirror like fiords in the Fiordlands National Park and Piopiotahi Marine Reserve
  • Lake Wanaka – one of the biggest and deepest lakes in New Zealand located in the Otago region
  • Franz Josef Glacier – a 12 km long glacier located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park
  • Abel Tasman National Park – on the north coast this area is beautiful and renowned for coastal hiking and sea-kayaking.
  • Queenstown – the adventure capital of the world, try almost any extreme sport here as it’s where many were invented such as bungee jumping. Also great access to NZ’s best skiing and snowboarding.
  • West Coast – known as one of the most beautiful overland routes in New Zealand
  • Kaikoura – swim with dolphins or seals, dive with sharks and go whale watching. But hopefully not all at the same time.

Iconic treks Milford Track Flickr image by Eddy Milfort

Of course, we can’t possibly cover all the sites and incredible destinations in New Zealand. But this should give you a taste of the incredible range of natural wonders on offer. The next thing you need to know when planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand is how to get around.

Overlanding holidays in New Zealand: Getting around

When planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand there are a number of travel methods to choose from. Which one you choose will depend on how much time you have and the type of overland experience you’re looking for.

Rent a vehicle

This is an option that gives you the freedom to travel as and when you like, something you don’t get with a pre-planned package tour, or when catching buses. New Zealand is laid out in front of you, all you have to do is point and drive knowing you are fully insured and have a reputable company on the other end of the line.

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Christopher Crouzet

By hiring a vehicle in NZ you get a guaranteed good quality vehicle that’s not likely to break down on the first tiny incline, without the financial commitment of buying. It is ideal for people who are planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand for up to a couple of months, or who want to hire a car for sections of their travels.

We recommend that you check out Apex Rentals, not only are they pretty cheap but they do not charge extra for different drop off and collection destinations, extra drivers or have age related surcharges. Check out to see what kind of rides are available and for more information about prices.

Buy a vehicle

Having your own vehicle gives you the freedom to explore on your own terms. Follow your instincts and build your own personalised tour. Buying a van comes with a few associated costs (insurance, inevitable repairs) and the hassle of registering and taxes, but then you have an asset to sell on at the end.

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Tom

This is all part of the great New Zealand overland tradition, and it’s nice to know you’re passing something on to the next generation. For people who are planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand that will last three months or more this is probably the best option.

To see what’s available and for more information about buying visit

Hitch hiking

Possibly the purest and certainly the cheapest way of travelling overland anywhere in the world, hitching in New Zealand is not uncommon. It’s a great way to meet people, truly experience the country and nothing is more liberating.

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Eli Duke

The obvious drawbacks include hours waiting for a lift by the side of the road, getting lumbered with some total bore for several hours and the risks of getting in a complete stranger’s car. It is always safest to hitchhike as part of a pair, but of course less people are likely to pick you up.

If you are consudering hitching and want to stay safe then learn how to hitch in NZ safely by reading this guide:


Cycle touring might seem like a lot of hard work. But the reality is once you’re out on the road, nothing is more fun. It’s cheap, an unbelievable workout and you get to really experience the country.

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Jo Munday

It also comes with incredible green credentials (one way to write off your huge carbon footprint from your flights). Plus the sense of achievement you get when you get to the top of a climb is endorphin-tastic.

You could just bring your own bike or join a tour. Bike it Now offer some superb biking tours so go check them out

Catching the bus

If you are on a budget and like to be independent then take advantage of the extensive public bus network. You can get to and from most of the major sites easily and affordably, time tables are published and reliable so planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand by bus is easy.

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Eli Duke

The main downside is you can’t stop on every corner to take a photo, and miss out on the spontaneity of travelling. It may not be the most exciting way to travel, unless you really have a thing for bus stations, but it gets the job done. Find out more details about bus travel at

Experience bus tours

Apart from public buses, there are a number of dedicated and scheduled overland bus tours you can join. This way you get to travel with like-minded folks doing the same thing as you.

You’ll hit all the major stopping points, ticking all the boxes and you can usually jump on and off routes and stay in any destination as long as you want. The Kiwi Experience is a popular option for a younger backpacker audience, just be prepared to visit the pub every night:

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Tom

Tour operator itinerary

If you just want to experience all the beauty and splendour of New Zealand without having to wait at bus stops or bust your lungs cycling, then a pre-arranged tour might suit you. This is particularly good if you have little time for your overlanding holiday in New Zealand.

There are a lot of companies offering this ranging from luxury private tours to cheap and cheerful but consistently voted the number one tour operator is Haka Tours. They offer specific adventure tours, snow tours and MTB tours or various durations that mean you experience not just the main attractions but less known spots all with a qualified guide.

With trips ranging from 3 days to 24 days there is something to fit most timescales and all interests. Find out more:

Haka overland holidays in New Zealand

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand: routes

When planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand there are some established and popular routes in both the North and South Islands. Below is an example route for each island, of course there are lots of side attractions on route that we do not have the time to cover.

North Island

Popular North Island routes run in a circuit starting in Auckland and heading north up to the Whangarei and northern tip of the island. Then heading south through Waitomo and the Taupo and Tongariro region to the forest parks of the south and Wellington. From Wellington heading up the east coast through Napier and onto the Coromandel before heading back to Auckland to complete the circle.

South Island

In the South Island many people spend time travelling down one the east coast from Picton taking in Kaikoura, Christchurch and then Dunedin. Before travelling up across the country to Milford Sound, Queenstown and Wanaka, before then taking in the west coast. At the top of the South Island they can take in the Nelson Lakes and Abel Tasman.

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by Vir Nakai

Getting there

Flight times to Europe are around 24 hours, 12 hours to North and South America, and 12 hours to Southeast Asia. Most people either arrive in Christchurch or Auckland, however you can also fly to Queenstown or Wellington. Air New Zealand are the national carrier, but British Airways, Qantas, Emirates and many more airlines fly to New Zealand.

Visas and permits

Having the right visa or permit is key to a problem-free entry into New Zealand. It’s a country that generally likes to welcome visitors but it’s essential you sort the right permission first.

Most people qualify for visa free entry, but it does depend on your country of origin. You also need to ensure you have a valid passport for three months after your intended date of departure.

Planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand flickr image by m0rus

If you have a UK or Australian passport or come from a country that has a waiver agreement with New Zealand, then you can stay for three months without applying for additional permission. However, you need to provide evidence of a tickets for onward travel and evidence that you can support yourself during your stay.

Hopefully we’ve covered all the important information that you need to know about planning overlanding holidays in New Zealand. All that’s left for you to do is choose your prefered option and have a great time.


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