5-day Central 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:

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

5-day Central North Island road trip with kids.

Ready to pack up the kids and explore the best of New Zealand’s Central North Island by campervan? Great idea! From glow worms and volcanoes to Hobbits and hot pools, the North Island of New Zealand is packed full of great activities for a family campervan holiday

To help you plan a road trip that takes in the best highlights, we’ve put together this action-packed 5-day New Zealand road trip travel itinerary. You’ll kick off your campervan adventure in Auckland before heading south to Middle Earth where you can see some movie magic. Then it’s on to the scenic hot spots of Taupō and Tongariro before you go underground at the Waitomo Caves. Phew, that’s a whole lot of fun packed into five days! 

Ready to plan the ultimate New Zealand road trip? Let’s get started…

 

Travel: 5 days

Route: Auckland loop

Best time of the year: Anytime

Highlights: 

● Picnicking at the Hamilton Gardens

● Exploring magical Hobbiton Movie Set 

● Marvelling at the powerful Huka Falls 

● Catching and smoking trout in Turangi 

● Walking through the ethereal Waitomo Glowworm Caves 

● Discovering tropical butterflies and dinosaurs at Butterfly Creek

 

Day 1: Auckland to Matamata

Distance: 158 km

Travel time: 2 hours

Your adventure begins at Apollo’s Auckland branch where you'll pick up your pre-booked campervan, all set for five days of exploration across the Central North Island. As you journey south from Auckland, your first taste of the North Island’s charm comes with a stop at the enchanting Hamilton Gardens. Here, you can stroll through beautifully themed gardens from around the globe – ideal for a leisurely lunch break amidst lush landscapes.

Continue your NZ road trip to Matamata where you can immerse yourself in the magic of Middle Earth with a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. This iconic location offers a behind-the-scenes look at where the famous The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies were filmed. Walking through the Shire is a surreal experience, with its picturesque landscapes and detailed hobbit holes.

After a day of adventure, park up for the night at Opal Hot Springs and Holiday Park

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

 

Day 2: Matamata to Taupō

Distance: 126 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 50 mins

Today you’ll be heading to the heart of the North Island, Taupō. There’s loads to see and do along the way, so plan an early start. 

First up, make a splash at Huka Falls. Here, you can watch the Waikato River force its way through a tight rock corridor, creating a thunderous and spectacular waterfall. It’s a great spot for some photos or just to feel the mist on your face. Just around the corner, drop by the Huka Honey Hive, where you can taste some of New Zealand’s sweetest honey and see how it’s made. If you’re up for a bit more fun, swing by The Huka Prawn Park next. It’s a quirky spot where you can try your hand at prawn fishing. Kids love it, and so do the grown-ups.

Once in Taupō, chill out with a cruise on the lake. It’s a peaceful way to take in the views and soak up the holiday vibe. Afterwards, head over to DeBretts Hot Pools for a soak. These thermal pools are just the ticket for relaxing those muscles and having a good soak as a family.

Finish off your day by strolling through Taupō’s local shops. It’s a great chance to pick up some unique keepsakes. Whether it's artsy crafts or a piece of New Zealand’s greenstone jewellery, there’s plenty to catch your eye.

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.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 3: Taupō to Tongariro National Park

Distance: 97 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 20 mins

Today’s leg of your road trip from Taupō to Tongariro National Park weaves through rugged landscapes that shift dramatically as you approach one of New Zealand’s most famous national parks.

Plan a stop about halfway in Turangi, a tiny township known as the trout fishing capital of New Zealand. It’s the perfect place to take a break and stretch your legs. If you’ve got a bit of extra time, pop into the Tongariro National Trout Centre. Here, the kids can actually catch their own trout, which can be smoked right there for a fresh, delicious lunch. It’s both fun and tasty – a real adventure for the little ones.

Once you hit Tongariro National Park, get ready to dive into nature. A great family-friendly walk is the Taranaki Falls Track, an easy 6 km loop that offers stunning views and the chance to see the impressive waterfall that cascades over an ancient lava flow. It’s just the right mix of adventure and manageable walking for all ages.

If you’re visiting in winter, a must-do is a day in the snow at the Whakapapa Ski Area. Whether it’s your first time seeing snow or you’re seasoned snow bunnies, there’s plenty of fun to be had. From snowball fights to sledding, it’s a winter wonderland that provides a cool contrast to the more temperate parts of your trip.

Tonight, plan a cosy stay at the Tongariro Holiday Park where you can relax surrounded by views of the picturesque mountains.  

 

Day 4: Tongariro National Park to Waitomo Caves

Distance: 159 km

Travel time: 2 hours

Today, you’ll be going from the heights of Tongariro National Park to the depths of the Waitomo Caves – a magical spot and a must-do on any North Island road trip itinerary.  

A great place to stop along the way is Te Kuiti, known as the Shearing Capital of the World. This small town also honours New Zealand rugby legend Sir Colin Meads with a life-size bronze statue, celebrating his contributions to the sport and his roots in the local area. Take a moment to appreciate the statue and the small park around it, an ideal spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch and perhaps explore some local shops for unique souvenirs.

As you arrive in Waitomo, get ready for an unforgettable underground adventure at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Here, a guided tour will lead you through stunning limestone formations and into the Glowworm Grotto, where the ceiling is dotted with the luminescent glow of thousands of glowworms. This natural light display is truly a sight to behold, creating a star-like illusion that lights up the caves. Beyond the glowworms, Waitomo offers some awesome adventurous activities like black water rafting, cave abseiling (rappelling), and exploring other limestone caves with their impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Put your feet up tonight at the welcoming Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park

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

 

Day 5: Waitomo Caves to Auckland

Distance: 190 km

Travel time: 2 hours, 30 mins 

Today's the day you wrap up your epic North Island road trip, driving from Waitomo back to Auckland. The trip north is an easy drive with some great places to stop and stretch your legs one last time.

As you head north, swing by Otorohanga for a peek at some classic Kiwi culture with its quirky Kiwiana displays – everything from giant gumboots to pavlovas. Don’t skip the Otorohanga Kiwi House while you’re there; it's a cool spot to check out New Zealand's iconic kiwi birds and other local wildlife.

Arriving in Auckland, if you’re looking for a peaceful way to wrap up your trip, head to the Auckland Botanic Gardens. The gardens offer a beautiful, tranquil environment for a leisurely walk or a relaxing picnic. 

Alternatively, for a bit more excitement, visit Rainbows End, New Zealand’s premier theme park, where thrilling rides and attractions await, offering fun for the whole family.

Before you drop off your camper, make one final fun stop at Butterfly Creek, which is conveniently located near Apollo’s Auckland branch. It’s packed with attractions for everyone – from tropical butterflies to farm animals. 

Finally, swing by Apollo’s Auckland branch to drop off your camper. You’re done! You’ve just finished an awesome road trip packed with great memories, fun adventures, and loads of pics to prove it. Time to start planning the next great roadie? Check out more of our great New Zealand travel itineraries for inspiration. 

READ MORE: 15 family friendly things to do in Auckland.

 

Is the North Island of New Zealand calling you?

From volcanoes to caves, honey-tasting to trout fishing, this amazing 5-day New Zealand North Island road trip has it all. Ready to get started? Take the first step and book your Apollo campervan online today. 
Follow our easy itinerary or check out our travel blogs for more great ideas on what to see and do in New Zealand.

 

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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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Long Hire Offer

Do you love road trips across Australia & New Zealand as much as we do? You're in luck with our Long Hire Offer! If you are travelling for more than 21 days, you will receive 5% off daily vehicle...
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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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