What’s the first image that comes to your mind when I mention New Zealand? I’m sure you’re thinking of stunning green landscapes and little hills. That’s how New Zealand is!

New Zealand, often referred to as the ‘Green Heart,’ is a splendid canvas painted with sprawling national parks that form the core of its natural beauty.

If you are a nature lover, then you will love New Zealand and its breathtaking national parks. From the far-reaching fjords in the southwest to the volcanic wonders of the North Island, each park offers a unique slice of Kiwi wilderness. 

For the adventurous soul or the peaceful nature lover, these sanctuaries promise an escape into lush and diverse landscapes. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into another world.

Engaging with New Zealand’s national parks is more than a visit; it’s an immersive journey through the soul-stirring majesty of nature.

Why You Should Explore NZ With A Campervan

One of the best ways you can explore the stunning landscape of New Zealand is by driving. Sure you can drive in a rented car, but a rented campervan will give you the freedom to create a personalized itinerary.

With a rented campervan, you decide when to start the day and where to conclude it, all while nature’s splendor surrounds you. Here’s how to maximize this experience:

  • Comfort: Enjoy the comforts of home on wheels. From a cozy bed to a kitchenette, your needs are within reach, simplifying mealtime and rest.
  • Accessibility: Campervans allow for exploring off-the-beaten-path locations that might otherwise be inaccessible, bringing you closer to hidden gems.
  • Economy: Save on accommodation costs without sacrificing your travel experience. Overnight campervan stays let you wake up right at nature’s doorstep.

By choosing a campervan, you’re not just planning a trip; you’re scripting an unforgettable adventure through New Zealand’s natural grandeur.

Starting Point for NZ National Parks Road Trip

Auckland - Starting Point for NZ National Parks Road Trip
Auckland – Starting Point for NZ National Parks Road Trip via Unsplash

I’m assuming you don’t live in New Zealand and you are arriving here by air. In that case, it makes sense to start your itinerary in Auckland, the most populous city in the country. No, it isn’t the capital, Wellington is.

Arrive in Auckland and take a break here for a day or two. Rent a campervan from here when you’re ready and then start your self-driving adventure from North to South as you discover 5 national parks of this lovely country.

Drive from Auckland to Tongariro National Park

The drive from Auckland to Tongariro National Park is around 300 – 400 kilometers and will take you around four hours.

Put “Whakapapa Village” on your GPS because it is the getaway to Tongariro National Park.

1) Tongariro National Park: Venture Through The Volcanic Landscapes – 4-5 Days

Tongariro National Park, Manawatu-Wanganui, Nuova Zelanda
Tongariro National Park, Manawatu-Wanganui, Nuova Zelanda via Unsplash

Tongariro National Park boasts a dramatically different landscape and is the oldest national park in the country. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This region is steeped in both geological and cultural significance. Here’s what to do in Tongariro National Park:

  • Experience Geological Wonders: Witness the park’s three active volcanoes—Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu—which dominate the landscape with their impressive stature.
  • Embrace Maori Culture: Recognize the area’s deep Maori heritage, as these lands hold great spiritual significance to the local iwi (tribes).
  • Trek Iconic Trails: Challenge yourself on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, renowned for its otherworldly terrain that takes you past vibrant, desolate volcanic features.

This adventure offers a profound connection to New Zealand’s raw volcanic power, echoing an ancient narrative under your feet.

2) Abel Tasman National Park – Unravel The Magical Coasts – 3-5 Days

Driving to Abel Tasman National Park from Tongariro National Park isn’t easy. It is 550 kilometers and can take more than 10 hours. It is recommended that you stop in the middle of this route for a night and then drive to the Totaranui camping site in order to explore Abel Tasman National Park.

Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand
Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand via Unsplash

In the Abel Tasman National Park, you’re treated to a natural mosaic of shimmering coves and sprawling beaches:

  • Golden Sands: The park’s beaches are famed for their golden sands—perfect for sunbathing and relaxation.
  • Kayaking: Glide across the clear, azure waters by kayak, a serene way to discover hidden inlets.
  • Hiking Trails: The Abel Tasman Coast Track offers scenic walks with captivating vistas. Don’t miss out on this ‘Great Walk’ of New Zealand.

Every trail and tide in Abel Tasman National Park promises an unforgettable encounter with nature’s artistry.

3) Mount Cook National Park – Bask In The Greatness – 3-4 Days

The journey from Abel Tasman National Park to Mount Cook National Park is a long one and I highly recommend you break your journey in the middle and stay somewhere for a night.

Since this complete drive can take more than 10 hours, you should consider stopping at Hanmer Springs, Punakaiki, or Kaikoura for a night.

In order to reach Mount Cook National Park, you need to drive on State Highway 80. The most scenic drive is from Lake Pukaki up to Mount Cook village, which is 56 kilometers of scenic drive.

Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand - campervan
Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand – campervan via Unsplash

Mount Cook National Park invites you to marvel at landscapes shaped by the forces of ice and time:

  • Tallest Peaks: Witness the towering heights of Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, which offers challenging climbs and breathtaking vistas.
  • Accessible Trails: Embark on trails like the Hooker Valley Track, offering rewarding walks with stunning views, suitable for various fitness levels.
  • Stargazing Extravaganza: Due to its dark skies, the national park is an International Dark Sky Reserve, perfect for stargazing.

With these activities, you’re set to experience the awe-inspiring environment that Mount Cook National Park provides.

4) Fiordland National Park – Discover The Diversity – 3-4 Days

Fiordland National Park in New Zealand
Fiordland National Park in New Zealand via Unsplash

The drive from Mount Cook National Park to Fiordland National Park is 412,7 kilometers and can be done in half a day with just a small toilet break in the middle. It will take around 5 hours for this drive.

Drive to Te Anau – that’s the gateway to Fiordland. From there you can explore the National Park further.

Fiordland National Park is a spectacle of nature’s artistry, a place where the raw power of the elements is on grand display. The following highlights offer a glimpse into this park’s diverse offerings:

  • Majestic Fjords: Venture into the heart of the park to witness Milford Sound, a world-renowned fjord framed by steep cliffs and dense rainforests.
  • Abundant Wildlife: Keep your eyes peeled for native birds like the cheeky kea and the shy takahe, which find sanctuary in this untouched landscape.
  • Waterfalls: Scores of waterfalls and natural pools, including the iconic Bowen and Stirling Falls, add to the park’s mystique, especially after a heavy rain.

This exploration reveals a landscape of contrasts and extremes, from the reflective waters to the rugged peaks.

5) Rakiura National Park – Encounter The Untouched Wilderness – 4 Days

In order to reach Rakiura National Park from Fiordland National Park / Te Anau, you have to drive to Bluff in the Southland region. This is a short drive and will take you just a bit over 2 hours.

Stewart Island, Stewart Island / Rakiura, New Zealand
Stewart Island, Stewart Island / Rakiura, New Zealand

From Bluff, get on a ferry to Rakiura. Set your sights on the serene Rakiura National Park, a place of tranquility at the world’s edge. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Wild Seclusion: Amidst the dense forests, you’ll find tranquility as the world’s bustle fades away, leaving only nature’s chorus.
  • Night Skies: Listen for the call of the native kiwi and gaze up as dusk falls to possibly catch the ethereal Southern Lights.
  • Conservation At Heart: This park is known for numerous endemic species, and conservation strives to maintain the balance in this pristine ecosystem.

The preservation of this unblemished environment rests in the hands of each visitor. So, tread lightly and leave no trace.

Closing Thoughts: NZ National Parks Road Trip

With the earthy scent of ancient forests, the green heart of New Zealand beckons. Don’t just dream of this wild, untamed paradise—embrace it. Book your journey, grab your gear, and set out to explore the national parks of New Zealand. The adventure of a lifetime is waiting for you.

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