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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 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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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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