Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway | 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:

Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway
Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ Itineraries

Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway.

An NZ road trip by campervan along New Zealand’s Forgotten Highway is a bucket list experience. Mysterious, scenic, and dotted with tiny townships and cool communities, this 150 km stretch of road is New Zealand’s oldest heritage trail. One of the best ways to make the most of everything on offer on this must-do North Island road trip is to take the journey from Auckland to New Plymouth. To help you do just that, we’ve put together this awesome 6-day New Zealand travel itinerary packed full of highlights and hidden gems. 

 

Travel: 6 days

Route: Auckland loop

Best time of the year: Anytime

Highlights: 

  • Forgotten World Highway

  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves

  • New Plymouth Coastal Walkway

  • Hamilton Gardens

  • Zealong Tea Estate

 

Day 1: Auckland to Waitomo

Distance: 191 km

Travel time: 2 hours, 20 mins

Your NZ road trip adventure kicks off at Apollo’s Auckland branch – right by the airport – where your comfy motorhome will be ready and waiting. Today is an easy drive of just over two hours as you head out of Auckland and into New Zealand’s rural heartland. 

Once you get to Waitomo, step into a world of natural wonder at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Discovered over 130 years ago, these caves are not just a tourist attraction but a significant part of New Zealand's cultural and natural heritage. The caves have two main levels: the upper dry chamber that showcases stunning cave formations and the lower level known for its stream passages and the impressive Cathedral, the tallest chamber in the cave. You’ll have the opportunity to take a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto, where thousands of glowworms illuminate the cave with their softly glowing light. This captivating display, set against ancient limestone formations, tells the story of a 30-million-year-old geological marvel. Continue your subterranean exploration at the Ruakuri Cave, where history and nature blend beautifully. Entering through its remarkable spiral entrance, you descend into a stunning cave system adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, and intricate crystal structures. Ruakuri Cave is also rich in history, having been discovered by local Māori more than 500 years ago and still holding special spiritual significance to them. The cave offers a more extensive and immersive experience, featuring unique limestone formations, echoing waterfalls, and sacred Māori sites, allowing visitors to truly connect with the land’s ancient past.

For your stay tonight, the Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park provides a comfortable spot right in the middle of it all. It’s an ideal place to recharge with the peaceful sounds of nature after a day of adventure.

 

Day 2: Waitomo to Taumarunui

After the mystical experience in Waitomo, continue your North Island road trip with a scenic drive to Taumarunui, a town rich with natural beauty and local culture.

Once you arrive, immerse yourself in the tranquillity of nature by walking the Whanganui River Bank Track. This gentle trail along the river is perfect for stretching your legs and taking in the picturesque views. The full track is around 8 km, so do as much or as little as you like. 

For a unique experience, visit Lauren's Lavender Farm, where you can enjoy brunch amidst the fragrant fields of lavender (in full bloom from the end of December until early March). The farm offers a peaceful retreat with stunning views, perfect for a relaxed meal. 

Another delightful stop is Bradley's Garden, a beautifully landscaped garden where you can play mini-golf and enjoy a traditional Devonshire Tea. The gardens provide a picturesque setting that encapsulates the essence of New Zealand's natural beauty.

Put your feet up tonight at the welcoming Taumarunui Holiday Park, ideally located right alongside the Whanganui River and surrounded in bush.

 

Day 3: Taumarunui to New Plymouth via Forgotten World Highway

Distance: 188 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 20 mins

Day three of your North Island road trip takes you along the captivating Forgotten World Highway, a route that truly lives up to its name. As you leave Taumarunui on SH43 you’ll travel through some of the most untouched and picturesque landscapes in the North Island. This winding road takes you through narrow mountain passes, dense forests, and offers up stunning mist-covered valleys where you feel like you’ve travelled back in time.

The drive itself is dotted with interesting stops and scenic lookouts, such as the eerie Moki Tunnel, affectionately known as the Hobbit's Hole. You'll want to take your time navigating this road. The sharp curves and steep drops offer both a thrilling ride and spectacular views, particularly at places like Tahora Saddle, where you can pull over and soak in the vast, sprawling vistas.

A must-stop is the quirky town of Whangamomona, famous for declaring itself a republic in 1989. It’s a great place to have a break and soak up some local charm. The Whangamomona Hotel is the heart of this small community, offering refreshments and a warm welcome. Grab a bite, chat with the locals, and if you’re feeling whimsical, pick up a ‘passport’ as a unique keepsake of your visit.

As you continue towards New Plymouth, the Forgotten World Highway offers more than just stunning views; it’s a journey through the heart of New Zealand’s pioneering history, filled with landscapes that have remained largely unchanged over the centuries.

Tonight, you’ll find a welcoming spot to park your campervan at the New Plymouth TOP 10 Holiday Park. Enjoy the quiet evening after a day of discovery and driving on one of New Zealand’s most memorable roads.

Image: Instagram - @fieldnotes__

 

Day 4: Explore New Plymouth

After a refreshing night's sleep in your comfy campervan, get ready to dive into the vibrant life of New Plymouth. This coastal city is not only known for its sunny climate but also for its art, culture, and the stunning natural scenery that surrounds it.

Start your day at the beautiful Pukekura Park, one of New Zealand's premier botanical gardens. Covering over 52 hectares, the park is a lush oasis of formal gardens, meandering pathways, and tranquil lakes. It's perfect for a morning walk or a leisurely picnic. Don't miss the picturesque Poet's Bridge, a favourite with visitors. 

Next, head to the Len Lye Centre, located within the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. This architectural wonder is dedicated to the works of Len Lye, a pioneering filmmaker and kinetic sculptor. The building's reflective stainless-steel exterior is as impressive as the contemporary artworks inside. It’s a must-visit for art lovers and those interested in innovative architecture. 

For a dose of coastal charm, take a stroll along the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway. This award-winning walkway stretches 12.7 kilometres along the rugged coastline, offering spectacular views of the Tasman Sea. Along the way, you'll pass the iconic Wind Wand, a kinetic sculpture designed by Len Lye himself. It’s a great spot for some photos and to feel the fresh sea breeze. 

Wrap up your day with a visit to the Puke Ariki museum and library. Situated right in the heart of New Plymouth, Puke Ariki offers fascinating insights into the region's Māori and colonial history. The interactive exhibits and well-curated collections make it an educational stop for all ages. 

Tonight, enjoy another stay at New Plymouth TOP 10 Holiday Park.

 

Day 5: New Plymouth to Hamilton

Distance: 236 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 20 mins

Today’s leg of your New Zealand road trip takes you from the coastal charm of New Plymouth to the bustling hub of Hamilton. It’s a perfect day to blend some iconic Kiwi culture and a sprinkle of movie magic into your travels.

Around two-thirds of the way through your drive, plan a stop in Otorohanga, affectionately known as the Kiwiana Town. This place is a playful nod to all things quintessentially Kiwi, from gumboots to pavlova, offering a fun and nostalgic look at New Zealand culture. Not far from the town centre is the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, where you can see New Zealand’s elusive national bird, the kiwi, along with other native species in settings that replicate their natural habitats.

If you’re up for an early start and a bit of a detour, consider a visit to the magical Hobbiton Movie Set. Walking into the heart of Middle-earth is a surreal experience, with the beautifully detailed hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, and the Party Tree exactly as they appear in the films.

As you reach Hamilton, another delightful stop is the Zealong Tea Estate, a unique New Zealand attraction known for being the only commercial tea estate in the country. Here, you can indulge in a guided tour to learn about the tea-making process followed by a tasting session of their premium organic teas. The estate’s tranquil environment and beautifully manicured gardens provide a peaceful backdrop to relax and enjoy the aromatic blends.

Tonight, you’ll find a welcoming spot to park your campervan at the Hamilton City Holiday Park, which offers a comfortable setting to unwind after a day full of exploration.

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

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 6: Hamilton to Auckland

Distance: 122 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 30 mins 

As your NZ road trip draws to a close, spend your final day soaking up the charm and diversity of Hamilton before making your way back to Auckland. It’s a shorter drive today, giving you plenty of time to explore a few last gems in this vibrant city.

Start your morning at the Hamilton Gardens, a stunningly unique venue that offers more than just a typical botanical garden experience. Here, you can wander through a collection of themed gardens that transport you around the world –from the zen-like Japanese Garden of Contemplation to the grandeur of the Italian Renaissance Garden. Each garden is designed to reflect a specific culture or historical period, making it feel like you’re stepping through a portal into a different part of the world. It's a perfect spot for some leisurely exploration and reflection.

After the gardens, why not dive into Hamilton’s bustling café scene? A great spot to check out is the vibrant Grey Street Kitchen, known for its delicious brunch options and excellent coffee. It’s a local favourite and a perfect place to relax and enjoy some downtime.

For a bit of local history and art, make a stop at the Waikato Museum. The museum features exhibits on Māori culture, art galleries, and science that are engaging for all ages. It’s a cultural hub that offers insights into the region’s heritage and contemporary issues through a variety of mediums and stories.

Finally, it’s time to drive back to Auckland and return your campervan to Apollo's branch. The journey back is a good time to reflect on the amazing experiences you've had travelling through New Zealand’s North Island, from mystical caves and historic movie sets to stunning gardens and cultural museums.

 

Is the Forgotten Highway calling you?

As you can see, our Forgotten World Highway road trip has something for everyone. Ready to get started? Follow our fun-filled travel itinerary or make it your own by adding extra attractions or additional days. Whatever you decide to see and do, you simply can’t beat the freedom and comfort of doing it all by Apollo campervan.

Get started on an unforgettable North Island road trip! Take the first step and book your Apollo campervan online today.

 

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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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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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