New Zealand’s spectacular cities might not be particularly large compared to other nations – the country as a whole only has a population of just over 4 million, after all – but that doesn’t mean they are anything less than superb. In fact, Aotearoa has a wonderful small town feel like few other places on Earth, mixed with gorgeous scenery, exciting adventure and everything else you could want in a road trip holiday.
So where to start?
Book an Auckland rental car to experience our biggest city. An excellent culinary and retail scene here blends perfectly with a beautiful bay of volcanic islands, topped off with myriad other unique attractions – the Sky Tower, for example.
The second-largest city is at the heart of the South Island’s east coast, swathed in greenery, culture and more. Christchurch is the ‘Garden City’, and is a great starting point for a whale watching adventure, wine tour, historical journey or just a lounge on the beach.
Head to the cultural and political capital of NZ, Wellington, to experience a cafe and arts scene like nowhere else. The CBD is packed with delicious eateries, and the world-famous Weta Workshop is mere minutes from here! Plus, the must-experience Interislander ferry begins in the local harbour, and is a truly memorable trip.
One of our few major in-land cities, Hamilton is the ultimate gateway to the Waikato and beyond. Drive down to here from Auckland and you’ll be within proximity to the Waitomo caves, Rotorua geothermal parks, Hobbiton Movie Set at Matamata and so much more.
Pick up the call of the wild down in Otago’s heritage city of Dunedin, as it is truly surrounded by pristine natural attractions. We’re talking albatross colonies, seal colonies, whale and dolphin watching, expansive green forests – you name it, it’s probably here.
Not far from Auckland, you’ll find our other major upper North Island port city, Tauranga. The famous Coromandel Peninsula is right next door, as is Rotorua, Matamata and Hamilton, too. A little further south and you can also sample delectable wine from Hawkes Bay (highly recommended!).
Take the Southern Scenic Route from Dunedin and you’ll wind your way through amazing wetlands scenery to Invercargill, one of the world’s southern-most cities. This unique place, as well as having a pleasant cafe, cultural and heritage scene of its own, is also a great base from which to explore Southland, including oyster-lover’s dreamland, Bluff.
Alight from the Interislander at Picton, pick up a new rental car and pop west to vibrant Nelson – you’ll be glad you did. This city has the charms of a small town, but the buzz of an urban centre. Not only that, sparkling beaches line the bay on one side, with mountain and forest vistas on the other. Plus, Marlborough wine country is a short drive away, when you want to treat your tastebuds.
Though not explicitly a city, we couldn’t possibly leave Queenstown off this list. This is the adventure capital of the nation, nestled in surrounds of bungee jumping, jet boating, skiing/snowboarding, mountain biking, paragliding and even more! Oh, and that’s on top of its lively culinary culture, with a plethora of restaurants covering many different ethnicities located here.
For an all-access pass to our stunning West Coast, hire a car in Greymouth. You’ll find glaciers, rainforests, historic villages and mines, birds of every colour, untouched beaches, unique natural rock formations … need we continue? Though another comparatively small settlement, you won’t run out of things to do in this area.