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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. 

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

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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