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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:

Auckland to Coromandel Town road trip
Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ Itineraries

Auckland to Coromandel Town road trip.

Keen to plan a fun North Island road trip that packs plenty of punch into a short timeframe? The road trip from Auckland to Coromandel Town ticks all the boxes! The chilled out township of Coromandel is just three hours drive from Auckland, so you can hit the road in the morning, take your time driving, and still have loads of time to explore once you get there. Even better, break up your journey with a stop in Thames along the way. To help you get started, we’ve put together this awesome three-day New Zealand travel itinerary taking you from Auckland to Coromandel. With everything from ziplining to historic walks, It’s the perfect North Island road trip for a long weekend adventure. 

 

Travel: 3 days

Route: Auckland loop

Best time of the year: Anytime

Highlights: 

  • Pohutukawa Coast scenic drive

  • Historic Thames 

  • Driving Creek Railway journey

  • New Chums Beach

  • Karangahake Gorge 

 

Day 1: Auckland to Thames

Distance: 114 km (1 hour, 30 mins). Scenic option: 128 km (2 hours)

Your adventure begins at Apollo's Auckland branch, where you'll pick up your pre-booked campervan, primed for three days of exploration and adventure. 

Today, you’ll be driving to Thames, with two route options. The direct route via SH1 offers a straightforward 1.5-hour drive without many scenic distractions – perfect if you’re eager to dive straight into your activities. Alternatively, the scenic route through Whitford and along SH 25, known as the Pōhutukawa Coast route, is especially rewarding. This driving route is adorned with beautiful pōhutukawa trees, which are strikingly vibrant during the summer months when in full bloom. It's a slightly longer drive but well worth the extra time for the breathtaking coastal views it offers. 

If you take the scenic route, consider a scenic stop at Maraetai to enjoy a quintessentially Kiwi lunch of fish and chips on the beach, soaking up the coastal views. If your travels align with a Sunday, don’t miss the Clevedon Village Farmers Market. It's an ideal spot to gather fresh, local ingredients to enjoy during your road trip. Another noteworthy detour along this drive is the Miranda Bird Sanctuary, where you can observe flocks of shorebirds that grace the coastline. To catch these avian visitors in their most active states, plan your visit around two hours either side of high tide.

Once you arrive in Thames, take time to explore its quaint town centre. The northern end, still referred to as Grahamstown, features a collection of cafés and boutique shops set against a charming colonial backdrop. A visit to the local museum is a good option if you’re keen to learn more about the area’s rich mining history. 

For your first night’s stay, park up and relax at Dickson Holiday Park. Surrounded by bush and birdsong, it’s the ideal spot to unwind and plan your next day’s adventures. 

Image: Ben Gamlin

 

Day 2: Thames to Coromandel Town

Distance: 52 km

Travel time: 1 hour

Enjoy a slow start to the day – perhaps a hot cooked breakfast and quiet coffee before you hit the road. It’s just a short one-hour drive to Coromandel Town, so take your time and soak in the scenery along the way. 

As you arrive in Coromandel Town, you'll step into a world where the rich tapestry of Māori heritage intertwines with the remnants of the 1800s gold mining era. It offers a beautifully preserved glimpse into New Zealand's historical past. Today, this quaint town serves as a sanctuary for artists and craftspeople, drawn here by the stunning natural beauty and the peaceful, inspiring atmosphere. The town's vibrant arts scene and the picturesque environment make it a perfect place for creativity and relaxation.

Here are some of the must-do activities in Coromandel Town worth adding to your travel itinerary:

  • Driving Creek Railway Tours: Experience New Zealand's only narrow-gauge mountain railway. This exceptional engineering feat carries you through a recovering native forest and up to the Eyefull Tower, offering expansive panoramic views that are truly a sight to behold. The railway's unique zigzagging and spiralling track, designed and built by potter Barry Brickell, turns this ride into a thrilling adventure through history and nature.

  • Explore local art and shops: Dedicate some time to meander through Coromandel Town’s local art galleries and boutique shops. With a community of artists celebrated for their contributions to pottery, painting, and other crafts, the town is a hub for anyone interested in the arts. Each gallery and shop offers unique pieces, many of which are inspired by the surrounding natural beauty and local culture, making them perfect keepsakes or gifts.

  • The Waterworks: Venture into an eco-friendly amusement park where creativity and conservation go hand in hand. The Waterworks features ingenious water-powered contraptions, interactive exhibits, and beautifully crafted gardens. It’s an ideal spot for an engaging, fun-filled day out, especially for those who enjoy the playful side of engineering and sustainability.

  • Go ziplining: Add a dose of adrenaline to your day by ziplining through the majestic native forest. This activity not only provides a rush of excitement but also a unique vantage point to appreciate the dense greenery and fauna of the Coromandel Peninsula. It’s an exhilarating way to experience the area’s natural beauty and an adventure that will leave you with lasting memories.

  • Historical walks and heritage sites: For those interested in history, several heritage walks around Coromandel Town highlight significant historical sites, including old mines and historical buildings. These walks provide insights into the town's past as a booming gold mining centre, allowing visitors to connect with the stories that shaped this region.

  • Waiau Falls and Kauri Grove: For a nature-filled excursion, take a short trip to Waiau Falls and Kauri Grove. The falls are a breathtaking sight, tumbling into a clear pool that invites a refreshing dip. Nearby, the Kauri Grove is a remarkable collection of ancient Kauri trees, some of New Zealand's most majestic and historically significant native trees. This area offers a serene walking trail that allows you to appreciate the grandeur of these giants up close. 

  • New Chums Beach:  Finish your day with a visit to the stunning New Chums Beach, known for its untouched, pristine beauty. Accessible only by a walking track that crosses a stream and winds through native bush, this secluded beach offers golden sands and clear blue waters—perfect for a relaxing swim or just to lounge and enjoy the tranquil surroundings.

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

Image: Toursim New Zealand

 

Day 3: Coromandel Town to Auckland

Distance: 169 km

Travel time: 2 hours, 30 mins

Today marks the end of your three-day New Zealand road trip, but there's ample opportunity for adventure as you head back to Auckland. 

As you head out of Coromandel, consider a slight detour to Karangahake Gorge, a spectacular natural and historical site located well worth exploring. The gorge itself is renowned for its scenic beauty, marked by the rushing waters of the Ohinemuri River cutting through steep rock cliffs. The area is also rich in gold mining history, evident in the old tunnels and railway lines that you can explore via well-maintained walking tracks. Don't miss the Windows Walk, which takes you through old mining tunnels with windows cut out to overlook the gorge – it’s an unforgettable experience. A quick tip, pack a torch for this visit – it will come in handy if you want to venture into some of the longer tunnels.

If you're a fan of antique shopping, be sure to stop in the township of Paeroa. Known as the antique capital of New Zealand, Paeroa's main street is lined with eclectic second-hand and antique stores brimming with treasures waiting to be discovered. While you’re there, take a moment to snap a photo with the iconic giant Lemon & Paeroa bottle, celebrating the home of New Zealand's beloved L&P drink.

Another cool stop on the way home is the Ngatea Water Gardens, an enchanting escape that offers a whimsical and relaxing garden experience. These expansive gardens feature quirky sculptures, water lilies, lotus flowers, and playful water features. There’s even a Can Museum featuring 10,000 different cans from all over the world. It’s a perfect spot to stretch your legs and see something just a little different! 

As you arrive back in the City of Sails, the last item on your travel itinerary is to return to Apollo’s Auckland branch to drop off your campervan. 

Ready for your next adventure? Explore more of our great New Zealand travel itineraries to plan your next great road trip across this stunning country.

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

 

Is the Coromandel calling you?

From beautiful beaches to deep dark tunnels, this fun-filled 3-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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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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