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Dunedin & Central Otago

A New Zealand campervan holiday to Dunedin and Central Otago offers a truly unique travel experience. Situated on the southeastern coast of the South Island, Dunedin is known for its Scottish heritage and Victorian and Edwardian architecture, while Central Otago, a short drive inland, offers dramatic landscapes characterised by rugged mountains, rolling plains, and crystal-clear lakes. Dunedin is a city that prides itself on its educational and cultural richness, home to the prestigious University of Otago and an array of museums and galleries. Dunedin’s weather can be cooler than other parts of New Zealand, with crisp, clear days perfect for exploring the historic streets or nearby natural attractions.

Central Otago offers a stark contrast with its semi-arid terrain, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as biking along the Otago Central Rail Trail and wine tasting at some of New Zealand's highest altitude vineyards. The region's dry climate and dramatic seasonal changes serve as a stunning backdrop for adventure and relaxation alike. Park up overnight in a Dunedin holiday park or find a secluded spot near one of Central Otago's picturesque lakes. With the convenience of your campervan, you can comfortably switch between urban exploration in Dunedin and remote escapes in the wilds of Otago. Whether you're drawn to Dunedin's cultural scene or the rugged beauty of Otago’s outdoors, this region promises a memorable experience.

 

Why explore Dunedin & Central Otago by campervan

Exploring Dunedin and Central Otago by campervan is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the region's unique blend of cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. With a campervan, you dictate the pace and path of your journey. In Dunedin, you can easily navigate from the bustling shopping centre to quiet, windswept beaches along the Otago Peninsula. In Central Otago, the freedom to roam allows you to discover hidden gems, from secluded vineyards to historic gold mining towns, all at your own pace. The ability to spontaneously decide where to go next, from a morning exploring Dunedin’s architectural marvels to an afternoon tasting pinot noirs amidst the hills of Central Otago, is a true luxury.

Travelling by campervan not only offers all the comforts of home, including your own kitchen, bed, and living space but also saves you the hassle of packing and unpacking at each new destination. Plus, having your own facilities means you’re never far from a homecooked meal or a comfortable bed, even if you find yourself in the remote reaches of the region.

 

Things to do in Dunedin & Central Otago

Dunedin and Central Otago abound with diverse attractions, blending rich history with exhilarating outdoor pursuits and gourmet experiences. In Dunedin, discover the opulence of Larnach Castle or engage with local history at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. For wildlife lovers, the area offers close encounters with unique species like the yellow-eyed penguin. Moving inland to Central Otago, you can hit the scenic cycle trails, savour exquisite pinot noirs at local vineyards, or try gold panning in Cromwell. Activities like water sports on Lake Dunstan also offer plenty of thrills, ensuring every traveller finds something to cherish.

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 Dunedin & Central Otago road trips & itineraries

Dunedin and Central Otago, situated in the southern part of New Zealand's South Island, are regions steeped in natural beauty and cultural richness. Travelling by campervan allows you to freely explore the varied landscapes – from Dunedin’s rugged coastline to Central Otago’s golden hills – and discover a network of routes dotted with historical sites, quaint towns, and scenic camping spots. Whether cruising through Dunedin’s architectural marvels or winding through the vineyard-clad valleys of Central Otago, each journey is an invitation to delve deeper into the heart of the south. 

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

Setting out from Apollo's Christchurch branch, the road trip through the Canterbury Plains and alongside the Southern Alps is breathtaking, with stops like Lake Tekapo and the historic town of Oamaru enriching your travel experience. 

Queenstown

Departing from Apollo's Queenstown branch, you're perfectly positioned to explore both the adventurous heart of the South Island and the tranquil beauty of Central Otago before reaching Dunedin. 

Auckland

From Apollo Auckland, the multi-day trip to Dunedin and Central Otago – we suggest 10-14 days – offers a comprehensive tour of the North and South Islands, including crossing the Cook Strait by ferry

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 Dunedin & Central Otago

 

Climate and seasons in Dunedin & Central Otago

Dunedin and Central Otago offer distinct climate experiences that reflect the diverse landscapes of the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island.

Dunedin enjoys a temperate maritime climate with mild summers and cool winters, tempered by its coastal position.

  • Summer (December to February) are generally mild, with temperatures hovering around 15°C to 22°C, ideal for enjoying outdoor activities along the city’s beaches and exploring the lush Otago Peninsula.

  • Autumn (March to May) sees cooler temperatures and is a great time to witness the changing colours of the city's abundant foliage.

  • Winter (June to August) in Dunedin can be chilly, with temperatures dropping to 5°C to 10°C, but the city’s historical and cultural sites continue to draw visitors.

  • Spring (September to November) rejuvenates the city with mild weather and blossoming gardens, perfect for outdoor adventures before the colder months set in.

Central Otago contrasts sharply with a more continental climate, characterised by hot dry summers and cold winters.

  • Summers see temperatures that can climb above 25°C, making it an excellent time for exploring the region’s famous vineyards and outdoor recreational activities.
  • Autumn brings a dramatic change in landscape colour, particularly vivid in the vineyard areas, with cooler but still pleasant temperatures.
  • Winter sees temperatures often falling below freezing, blanketing the region in snow, which transforms the landscape into a winter wonderland, popular for photography and winter sports.
  • Spring slowly warms up the land, thawing lakes and rivers, and ushering in a season of growth and renewal.

 

 

 

What to pack

Preparing for your campervan adventure in Dunedin and Central Otago requires thoughtful packing to accommodate the varying climates and activities these regions offer. Here’s what to consider bringing along to make the most of your trip:

  • Outdoor gear: Given the diverse environments in Dunedin and Central Otago, versatile outdoor gear is essential. For Dunedin's coastal walks and city explorations, lightweight, breathable clothing will serve you well, complemented by a waterproof jacket for unpredictable showers. Central Otago's more extreme temperatures call for sun hats and high SPF sunscreen in summer, and warm, insulating layers in winter, especially if you plan to engage in snow sports or explore the frosty landscapes.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan with a few extras can significantly improve your comfort and convenience. A portable heater might be necessary for chilly Central Otago nights, while a fan can keep you cool during the dry summer heat. Additionally, outdoor chairs and a table will expand your living space, perfect for enjoying the scenic views at your leisure.

  • Sun protection: Sun protection is crucial year-round due to New Zealand’s strong UV rays, particularly in the exposed and high-altitude areas of Central Otago. Pack broad-spectrum sunscreen, UV-protective sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. Insect repellent will also be useful, especially in the warmer months when sandflies and mosquitoes are more prevalent.

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

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Dunedin & Central Otago

 

  • The Otago Peninsula tretching along the southern edge of the Otago Harbour, is renowned for its stunning coastal scenery and incredible wildlife. This area is a haven for nature lovers, offering opportunities to see rare yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, and the only mainland breeding colony of royal albatross in the world. The peninsula’s rolling hills and rugged cliffs provide perfect vantage points for breathtaking views and photography.
  • Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, offers a glimpse into the country’s colonial past, set against the backdrop of expansive gardens and the scenic Otago Peninsula. Built in 1871 by William Larnach, a merchant and politician, the castle features beautifully restored Victorian-era rooms and a unique collection of New Zealand antiques. The gardens are a highlight, recognised as a Garden of International Significance, perfect for a leisurely stroll.
  • Baldwin Street in Dunedin is famous for being the world's steepest residential street, attracting visitors from all over the globe. The street offers a challenging but quirky walk, rising significantly over its short 350-metre length.
  • Dunedin Railway Station is a stunning architectural marvel, known as the ‘Gingerbread House’ because of its ornate Flemish Renaissance style. Completed in 1906, the station is one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand. Visitors can admire its detailed mosaic floors, stained glass windows, and grand booking hall. The station also serves as the departure point for scenic railway journeys that explore the spectacular landscapes surrounding Dunedin.
  • Tunnel Beach, just south of Dunedin, offers dramatic coastal scenery with sandstone cliffs, arches, and headlands. Accessible through a short walk that includes a tunnel down to the beach – hand-carved in the 1870s – this spot is perfect for those looking to explore a more secluded part of the coastline. The beach is particularly striking at sunset and is a popular location for romantic walks and picnics.
  • Otago Harbour is a long, narrow inlet associated with the bustling city life of Dunedin and the tranquil beauty of the Otago Peninsula. It's a hub for water activities, including sailing, fishing, and kayaking. The harbour is also a vital part of the local ecosystem, supporting a variety of birdlife and marine species, making it an excellent spot for wildlife watching.
  • Moeraki Boulders, located on Koekohe Beach along the Otago coast, are huge, almost perfectly spherical stones. These natural wonders were created by the cementation of mudstone over millions of years, with some over two metres in diameter.
  • The Catlins Coast, stretching between Balclutha and Invercargill, offers a remote and rugged landscape with a wealth of natural attractions. Visitors can explore dense rainforests and meet unique wildlife. Highlights include Nugget Point with its iconic lighthouse and the dramatic Purakaunui Falls.

For more inspiration, check out our guide to family friendly things to do in Dunedin.

 

Where to stay in Dunedin & Central Otago with a campervan

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

Dunedin

 

 

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