10-day North Island road trip with kids | Apollo NZ
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Nelson & Marlborough

Craving artistic flair, golden beaches, and a taste of adventure? Look no further than the Nelson and Marlborough region. Sitting at the top of New Zealand's South Island, this area is packed full of natural beauty, culinary excellence, and cultural richness. It’s easy to see why it makes the perfect destination for a New Zealand campervan holiday. Nelson, often hailed as New Zealand’s ‘sunshine capital’, radiates a warm, inviting atmosphere complemented by its vibrant arts community, historic architecture, and bustling markets. Nearby, the tranquil Marlborough Sounds offers a playground for kayaking, fishing, and scenic cruises. Wine enthusiasts will relish visiting Marlborough's famed vineyards, where tasting world-class wines becomes a memorable part of the journey.

A road trip through Nelson and Marlborough in an Apollo campervan means every day is a new adventure, crafted just to your liking. With the flexibility to explore hidden gems, from the secluded coves of Golden Bay in Nelson to the enchanting Marlborough Sounds, your journey can be as laid-back or as action-packed as you desire. The convenience of travelling by campervan, complete with a kitchen, bed, and bathroom, means that the beauty of Nelson NZ and the Marlborough Sounds are yours to enjoy in your own time. Whether you're soaking up the sun on Nelson's beaches or sipping on exquisite sauvignon blanc in Marlborough, travelling by campervan offers a truly unforgettable experience. 

 

Why explore Nelson & Marlborough by campervan

Travelling in a campervan, especially through beautiful areas like Nelson and Marlborough, turns a simple holiday into a series of unforgettable experiences. It's your adventure, at your pace, surrounded by the comfort and convenience that only campervan travel can offer. With a campervan, you're not tied down. You can linger over a long lunch in a Nelson café or decide to spend an extra day tasting wines in Marlborough because you've fallen in love with the scenery.

The journey itself becomes part of the fun when you're in a campervan. It's about making spontaneous stops at breathtaking lookouts, enjoying your morning coffee in the middle of postcard-perfect views, and finding your own special spot to watch the stars. Stumbled upon a hidden gem in Golden Bay or found a hiking track in Marlborough you’d like to tackle? With a campervan, you have the freedom to explore it as much as you like.

 

Things to do in Nelson & Marlborough

Nelson and Marlborough are rich with activities and attractions, offering something special for every kind of traveller. For families on holiday, there are endless opportunities for fun, from exploring the sun-drenched beaches of Nelson to the interactive and educational experiences in the region's museums and galleries. Food enthusiasts will revel in the culinary journey through Nelson and Marlborough, from the fresh seafood of the coastal areas to the exquisite flavours of the region's renowned wineries. Whether you're indulging in a leisurely lunch at a vineyard in Marlborough or sampling local artisan produce at a Nelson market, your taste buds are in for a treat. Adventure seekers and nature lovers won't be left wanting either. With activities like kayaking through the Marlborough Sounds or hiking the trails of the Abel Tasman National Park, the great outdoors is your playground. And for those looking to unwind, the charming towns scattered throughout the region offer a peaceful retreat with their unique boutiques, cafes, and galleries.

15 Must Do's in New Zealand’s South Island 15 Must Do's in New Zealand’s South Island

15 Must Do's in New Zealand’s South Island

    An Apollo campervan offers you the freedom to create your own travel itinerary. From whale watching in Kaikoura to southern...
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Popular Nelson road trips & itineraries

Nestled at the top of New Zealand's South Island, Nelson and Marlborough are prime starting points for some of the most picturesque road trips in the country. Kicking off from Nelson, you can weave through the scenic drives that unveil the artistic townships, golden beaches, and lush national parks. Heading into Marlborough, the journey continues through rolling vineyards and along the majestic Marlborough Sounds. Whether you're venturing from the urban buzz of the North Island or the rugged landscapes of the South, these regions promise memorable campervan road trip adventures tailored to every interest. Here are a few worth checking out:

10-day North Island road trip with kids
Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ Itineraries

10-day North Island road trip with kids.

Thinking about treating the kids to a campervan New Zealand road trip around the North Island? Lucky them! From hot pools and Hobbits to treetop walks and waterfalls, the North Island of New Zealand is a paradise for a family campervan holiday

To help you plan a road trip that takes in the best highlights, we’ve put together this fun-filled 10-day New Zealand road trip travel itinerary. You’ll kick off your adventure in Auckland before heading south to chill out in the Coromandel. Then it’s on to the tourist hot spots of Rotorua, Taupō, and Tongariro before heading northward again through Mt Maunganui. 

The kids will be kept well and truly busy with each destination offering an opportunity to see and do something new. Your campervan road trip experience with Apollo will become a treasured memory for years to come. Ready to plan the ultimate New Zealand road trip? Let’s get started…

 

Travel: 10 days

Route: Auckland loop

Best time of the year: Anytime

Highlights: 

● Digging hot pools at Hot Water Beach

● Coastal views on Coromandel Walkway

● Geothermal wonders in Rotorua

● Family fun at Taupō Lakefront

● Touring the Hobbiton Movie Set

● Dolphin watching in Tauranga Harbour

 

Day 1: Auckland to Coromandel Peninsula

Distance: 158 km

Travel time: 2 hours, 30 mins

Your NZ road trip adventure begins at Apollo’s Auckland branch, where your comfy motorhome will be ready and waiting for your 10-day family road trip. Today is a nice and easy 2.5-hour drive out of Auckland to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, a popular spot known for its natural beauty and historical intrigue. 

The drive itself offers a scenic introduction to what lies ahead, with winding roads that showcase the lush landscapes of the North Island.

Make your first stop in Thames, a charming historic town known for its rich gold mining past. It’s the perfect spot to stretch your legs and enjoy lunch, perhaps in one of the quaint cafes that line the old-world streets.

As you reach the Coromandel Peninsula, head straight to one of its most unique attractions, Hot Water Beach. Here, during low tide, you can dig your own spa-like pool in the sand, warmed by natural geothermal waters just below the surface—an ideal way to unwind after the drive.

After a day of exploring, unwind at Coromandel TOP 10 Holiday Park, a cosy retreat with modern facilities and friendly staff.

TOP TIP: Check out our guide on how to entertain kids in a camper

 

Day 2: Coromandel Peninsula

It’s day two, time to relax and explore the Coromandel Peninsula's captivating landscapes. Start your morning with a trip to the Coromandel Coastal Walkway, renowned for its stunning coastal views that will leave you in awe. This easy walk is particularly suitable for kids, offering gentle trails that meander along the coastline and through lush greenery, perfect for those memorable family photos.

Next, venture into the heart of the Coromandel Forest Park, a natural playground offering a variety of short bush walks. These trails are ideal for a leisurely day out with the family, with plenty of spots for a quiet picnic surrounded by native flora and fauna.

In the afternoon, head out onto the water with a glass-bottom boat tour around Mercury Bay. This unique experience allows you to gaze into the clear waters below, spotting marine life without getting wet. It’s an educational and engaging activity that brings the underwater world right to your feet, making it a highlight of your New Zealand North Island itinerary.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 3: Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua

Distance: 208 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 10 mins

On the third day of your New Zealand North Island road trip, the drive from Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua will take you through some of the North Island's most diverse landscapes. As you head south, the vistas transition from coastal to rural, revealing the rolling hills and lush farmlands typical of the Waikato region. 

Along the way, plan a stop in Waihi, a town famous for its gold mining history. Here, you can explore the still-operational Martha Mine, or enjoy a scenic walk along the Karangahake Gorge Track, which combines natural beauty with remnants of the region's historical mining past.

For Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans, an optional detour to the Hobbiton Movie Set is definitely worth the extra 20-minute drive. 

Once you arrive in Rotorua, immerse yourself in New Zealand’s rich Māori culture and remarkable geothermal activity at Te Puia. Here, you can witness the spectacular Pohutu Geyser, explore mud pools, and enjoy cultural performances.. 

As the day winds down, Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park is the perfect place to park up and enjoy a good night’s rest.

 

Day 4: Rotorua

There’s so much to see and do in Rotorua that we suggest taking another full day to explore the city. One of the top attractions is the Redwoods Treewalk. Stroll through the majestic Redwood Forest on suspension bridges and platforms built high above the ground. This elevated perspective offers a unique vantage point and connects you intimately with the ancient, towering trees. The walk is both peaceful and awe-inspiring, suitable for all ages, making it a perfect family outing.

After a morning amidst the treetops, unwind at the Polynesian Spa, a world-renowned facility known for its therapeutic mineral waters. Overlooking Lake Rotorua, the spa offers designated family areas, ensuring that visitors of all ages can enjoy the soothing benefits of the hot mineral pools.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 5: Rotorua to Taupō

Distance: 80 km

Travel time: 1 hour

Continue your New Zealand North Island road trip as you travel from Rotorua to Taupō. This brief yet visually stunning drive connects two of the North Island's renowned geothermal hotspots, offering a route lined with spectacular natural scenery.

As you near Taupō, one of the must-see highlights is Huka Falls, where the immense force of the water is both a visual and auditory spectacle. The vibrant turquoise of the water creates a striking contrast against the lush green backdrop as it forcefully makes its way through the rocky gorge.

Once in Taupō, take the time to unwind at the Taupō Lakefront. This inviting area is ideal for a relaxing afternoon by the lake, offering activities ranging from gentle kayaking to leisurely lakeside walks. It's a great spot to recharge and enjoy the scenic surroundings with your family. While you’re in Taupō, don't miss out on visiting the Craters of the Moon, a geothermal park that offers an easy walk through a fascinating landscape dotted with steaming vents and bubbling mud pools. It's a great way to get up close to the dramatic geothermal forces that shape this unique region.

For your stay, the Taupo TOP 10 Holiday Park is a great spot to park up, chill out, and plan your next day’s adventures.

READ MORE: 15 must-dos in New Zealand’s North Island.

 

Day 6: Taupō to Tongariro National Park

Distance: 97 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 20 mins 

The drive from Taupō to Tongariro National Park takes you through some of the central North Island's most striking landscapes. The route is dotted with rugged hills and expansive views that prepare you for the dramatic scenery of Tongariro National Park.

Before reaching the park, plan a stop in Turangi, the trout fishing capital of New Zealand, to visit the Tongariro National Trout Centre. Here, interactive exhibits provide a fascinating look at freshwater ecology and the life cycle of trout. It’s an educational experience that will captivate both young and old. There’s even the opportunity to catch a trout, smoke it, and eat it!

Once you arrive in Tongariro National Park, one of the best family-friendly activities is the Taranaki Falls Track. This relatively easy walk takes you through diverse landscapes, including native bush and near the volcanic features of the park. You’ll also be treated to the spectacular sight of Taranaki Falls tumbling over an ancient lava flow.

If visiting in winter, don’t miss the chance to explore the Whakapapa Ski Area, where families can enjoy snow play and beginner skiing. It’s a great spot for introducing children to the snow in a safe and fun environment, making it a highlight of your New Zealand trip itinerary.

For your stay, the Tongariro Holiday Park provides a cosy base to explore all that this stunning region has to offer. 

 

Day 7: Tongariro National Park to Mt Maunganui

Distance: 248 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 15 mins 

Today, you’ll transition from the rugged terrains of Tongariro National Park to the refreshing seaside at Mount Maunganui, with a drive taking just over three hours. 

As you reach Mount Maunganui, dive into a day of beachside fun at Mount Maunganui Beach, a spot popular for its broad sands and inviting waters. It’s the perfect setting for a family day out where you can play on the beach, swim, or just chill under the sun.

For a change of scenery, head over to McLaren Falls Park, a lovely location ideal for picnicking and exploring. The park is a beautiful area to explore, offering peaceful walks through well-maintained paths and the opportunity to see charming waterfalls.

Put your feet up tonight at the welcoming Mt Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 8: Mt Maunganui

Today, spend another leisurely day exploring the sights and sounds of Mount Maunganui. Start your day at the Bayfair Shopping Centre, the largest shopping complex in the Bay of Plenty. Here, you can indulge in a variety of shopping options, from high-street brands to specialty stores. It’s also a great place for dining, with numerous eateries serving up everything from quick bites to sit-down meals.

After some shopping, head over to Pilot Bay for an afternoon in the fresh seaside air. This sheltered bay is ideal for water sports such as kayaking and paddleboarding. With its calm waters, it's perfect for beginners or families with children who want to try out these activities without venturing too far into the open sea.

Cap off your day with a dolphin-watching tour or a scenic cruise around Tauranga Harbour. These tours offer a fantastic opportunity to connect with the marine environment and see local wildlife in their natural habitat. 

 

Day 9: Mt Maunganui to Auckland

Distance: 205 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 15 mins 

As your New Zealand North Island road trip begins to wind down, the drive back to Auckland from Mount Maunganui takes just over three hours. This route brings you through the heart of the Waikato region, known for its lush, rolling hills and rich agricultural land.

If you missed it earlier in your journey, a stop in Matamata is highly recommended for a tour of the famous Hobbiton Movie Set. This magical experience lets you step into the picturesque world of Middle Earth, where you can explore the Shire and see the iconic Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, and more.

Another delightful stop is the Hamilton Gardens, an expansive park that features a collection of themed gardens from around the world. Each garden is designed to reflect different civilisations and historical settings, making it a visually and intellectually stimulating visit. Enjoy a leisurely picnic or a light lunch at the café and give yourself plenty of time to wander through these stunning landscapes.

Once you arrive in Auckland, a visit to Auckland Zoo is a fantastic way to spend the afternoon. The zoo houses a diverse range of animals from across the globe and offers engaging exhibits that are educational and fun for all ages.

As the day winds down, enjoy the beachside vibes at Takapuna Beach Holiday Park

 

Day 10: Auckland

Your final day in Auckland marks the conclusion of your New Zealand North Island road trip. Spend this day exploring key attractions that offer insights into New Zealand's rich marine life and cultural heritage.

Begin your morning at Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium, a pioneering aquarium that provides an immersive experience into the underwater world. The aquarium features interactive exhibits, including live encounters with penguins and shark diving. It's an excellent place for families to learn about marine conservation and see a variety of marine species up close.

Next, visit the Auckland Museum, where you can delve deeper into New Zealand’s history and cultural dynamics. The museum's extensive collections showcase everything from Māori and Pacific Island artefacts to exhibits on New Zealand’s natural and military history. 

Top off your North Island road trip with an afternoon at Butterfly Creek, conveniently located just a few minutes drive from Apollo’s Auckland branch. Butterfly Creek offers a host of attractions including tropical butterfly houses, a Dinosaur Kingdom, and farmyard animals. It’s a great place for some fun and relaxation, especially for families with children.

Dropping off your campervan at Apollo's Auckland branch marks the end of your incredible journey across New Zealand. 

 

Is the North Island of New Zealand calling you?

From Hobbits to dinosaurs, our New Zealand North Island road trip has it all. Ready to get started? There's no reason to wait, book your Apollo campervan online today and set the stage for an unforgettable family campervan holiday.

 

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Great savings on your New Zealand road trip

Apollo offers a fantastic selection of deals and specials for those looking to explore New Zealand by campervan. From hot deals and last-minute discounts to long-term hire benefits, you’re sure to find a deal designed to help you make the most of your campervan adventure. 

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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Nelson takes you along some of the South Island’s most scenic coastline. There’s a fair bit to see and do along the way, so be sure to take your time and perhaps plan an overnight stay in Kaikoura. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore more of the South Island? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and spend a few days heading northward taking in some of the great southern highlights along the way. 

Auckland

The North Island is packed full of sights and experiences, so why not tick off a few with a road trip from Apollo Auckland to Nelson? This journey includes crossing the Cook Strait by ferry offering the opportunity to travel through the pristine Marlborough Sounds. 

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Nelson & Marlborough

 

Climate and seasons in Nelson & Marlborough

Nelson and Marlborough are renowned for their inviting climates, making them year-round destinations for visitors. Nelson, often celebrated as the sunniest city in New Zealand, enjoys a mild maritime climate that complements its outdoor lifestyle and vibrant arts culture.

  • Summer (December to February) in Nelson are warm and sunny, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 25°C, perfect for enjoying the region's stunning beaches and outdoor dining. In Marlborough, the warmth accentuates the beauty of the vineyards, making it an ideal time for wine tasting and scenic tours.

  • Autumn (March to May) in Nelson are warm and sunny, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 25°C, perfect for enjoying the region's stunning beaches and outdoor dining. In Marlborough, the warmth accentuates the beauty of the vineyards, making it an ideal time for wine tasting and scenic tours.

  • Winter (June to August) brings cooler weather, with daytime temperatures hovering around 12°C to 15°C. It's a great time to enjoy the region's art galleries, museums, and cosy dining spots, with the occasional crisp, clear day perfect for outdoor adventures.

  • Spring (September to November) breathes new life into the regions, with blossoming gardens and warming temperatures. It's a beautiful time to witness the region's natural beauty, from the awakening vineyards in Marlborough to the blossoming landscapes in Nelson.

Both regions enjoy relatively low rainfall compared to other parts of New Zealand, though it's always wise to pack a light rain jacket just in case. The transitional seasons of autumn and spring offer a spectacular display of nature's beauty, making them particularly rewarding times to visit.

 

 

 

What to pack

Heading out for an adventure in Nelson and Marlborough with your campervan is an exciting prospect, and packing smart can enhance your experience. The region's welcoming climates and diverse outdoor activities mean you'll need a mix of gear to comfortably enjoy everything from sun-soaked beaches to leisurely vineyard tours. Here’s a rundown of what to bring along.

  • Outdoor gear: The stunning landscapes of Nelson and Marlborough are your playground, so come prepared with versatile outdoor gear. Lightweight, breathable clothing will keep you comfortable during the warm days, while a layer or two for the cooler evenings ensures you can enjoy those starlit nights by the campfire. Durable walking shoes are essential, whether you're hiking in Abel Tasman National Park or exploring the coastal trails.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhance your campervan living with a few thoughtful extras. A portable barbecue can elevate your dining under the stars, while extra camping chairs and a table (these can be added to your campervan hire) can make your outdoor setup more comfortable.

  • Sun protection:The New Zealand sun, particularly in the Nelson region, known for its high sunshine hours, calls for diligent sun protection. Pack high-SPF sunscreen, a quality pair of sunglasses with UV protection, and a hat to shield you during those outdoor adventures. Remember, sun safety is key, even on overcast days.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Nelson

 

Farewell Spit

Farewell Spit is a striking natural feature located at the northern tip of the South Island, renowned for its extensive sandbar and rich birdlife. This area serves as a bird sanctuary where visitors can observe a variety of migratory birds in their natural setting. The iconic lighthouse at the spit's end also provides a picturesque backdrop for visitors exploring this unique and protected landscape.

Takaka

In the heart of Golden Bay, Takaka is a vibrant town known for its artistic community, quirky cafes, and nearby natural wonders like Te Waikoropupū Springs. A day trip to Takaka can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like, with options ranging from exploring local art galleries to hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Rabbit Island

Just a short drive from Nelson, Rabbit Island offers vast sandy beaches, picnic spots, and cycling trails. It's an ideal place for a family day out, where you can enjoy swimming, beach games, or simply bask in the tranquil atmosphere of this coastal gem.

Lord of the Rings film locations

For fans of the Lord of the Rings series, the Nelson region offers the chance to visit some of the trilogy's filming locations. Take on a day trip to explore the diverse landscapes that were transformed into Middle-Earth, from the rolling hills to the lush forests, each offering a glimpse into the magical world of the films.

 

Where to stay in Nelson & Marlborough with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Nelson and Marlborough, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Nelson

Marlborough

 

 

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