Australia and New Zealand are the two best countries for long-distance road trips. Both of these destinations are favorites among backpackers for their wide-open roads and pristine landscapes.
There are 4 specific road trips, 2 in each country, that cover a lot of ground. These are all long distance road trips that you should allocate at least two weeks for, if not much longer.
They are the East Coast Road Trip and West Coast Road Trip in Australia and the North Island and South Island road trips in New Zealand.
This guide will break down these 4 road trips for you and outline why embarking on them is the best way to explore Australia and New Zealand.
The classic Australian East Coast road trip starts in Sydney, ends in Cairns, and is approximately 2400km. For a lot of people backpacking in Australia, this is the road trip they can’t miss out on. Embarking on an east coast adventure is a great mix of exploring nature and partying with strangers.
Enjoy your stop in sunny Byron Bay, a town where the motto is literally to “Cheer up. Slow Down. Chill out.” While here, you’ll be surrounded by great places to shop, eat, enjoy music, and meet other travelers.
Another can’t miss town is the Gold Coast. This stop on your road trip is home to Surfers Paradise, a beautiful backpacker hub home to a vibrant nightlife and endless waves for surfers of all levels.
No east coast road trip is complete without exploring natural wonders like Fraser Island, The Whitsunday Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef.
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. While here you’ll be able to experience a perfect mix of beaches, rainforests, crystal blue lakes, and shipwrecks.
Sailing The Whitsunday Islands is one of the most fun and beautiful experiences in all of Australia. You can island hop, snorkel, or even skydive by day, while living it up under the stars on party boats by night.
Last but certainly not least, no visit up to Queensland’s tropical north would be complete without experiencing the Great Barrier Reef first hand.
Australia’s west coast is immersed in history and culture. You can start your road trip in Broome and make your way down to Perth, or do it reversed. This trip roughly covers around 2300 km and along the way you’ll explore some of the west coast’s most iconic wonders like the Pinnacles and the Ningaloo Coast.
Some notable national parks to visit during your west coast road trip include Karijini National Park and Kalbarri National Park.
Karijini is an epic landscape 20 billion years in the making and is the perfect spot for adventurers to cool off. With its many freshwater gorges, waterfalls, and natural spa pools (be sure to check out the heart shaped “spa pool” at Hamersley Gorge), you’ll be itching for an opportunity to dive into the clear blue water.
Kalbarri National Park is a very good stop to get in a few day hikes. You’ll want to visit the Z Bend where you will have options to do two different walks, the Z-Bend Lookout is a 1.2 km return walk and the Z-Bend River Trail is a 2.6 km return walk. Either walk will provide you with beautiful scenery with views over the Murchison River Gorge.
The aforementioned Ningaloo Coast is home to one of the longest fringing coral reefs in the world. This amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site is 300 kilometres of untouched nature, and it’ll undoubtedly be a major highlight of your trip with stops like Exmouth, Coral Bay, Carnarvon, and Shark Bay.
The Pinnacles (Nambung National Park) is another one of the west coast’s heritage sites. Here you will be able to see and take pictures with thousands of ancient limestone spires. The best time for an excursion through The Pinnacles is during sunrise or sunset, when the colours of the sand change and become otherworldly.
New Zealand’s North Island is an incredible place with its naturally beautiful beaches and mountains, volcanoes, and scenic drives. You can start your drive from Auckland and make your way down to the Coromandel Peninsula, covering around 1700 km.
Waiheke Island is one of the most popular day or weekend trip destinations from the city. You can rent bikes and scooters and roam around the island or book tours, which includes ferry tickets for a round trip to and from the island, olive tasting, winery tours, food, and sightseeing.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves is another popular stop and one of the best natural attractions New Zealand can offer. This cave has been the most popular and world-renown tourist attraction spot for over 100 years for glowworm’s starry night illusions within the cave.
Wellington is another incredible place you can stop at.The Museum of New Zealand, also known as Te Papa Tongarewa, is New Zealand’s national museum and is a must-visit when you’re at Wellington. If you are a fan of the Lord of the Ring or the Hobbit, you need to stop by The Weta Cave. Here, you will be able to see the replica of props of the film the Weta team has worked on and an exclusive behind the scene documentary.
The Tongariro National Park offers a great number of adventures with places to stay so you can enjoy the iconic mountain tours, river rafting, and many more without rushing within a day trip.
Wai-O-Tapu, also called a “Thermal Wonderland” awaits you in Rotorua, where you can experience the beauty of the geothermal activity of Wai-O-Tapu. Te Puia offers a day trip that allows you to see the biggest, active geyser in the southern hemisphere, and kiwi birds’ (the national bird of New Zealand) house for viewing.
Once at Coromandel Peninsula, you can visit The Pinnacle. The Pinnacle offers a more advanced hiking trail that requires you to climb ladders and stairs that lead to the peak of the steep mountain top. Once you reach the top you will be awarded a 360-degree view with a beautiful ocean in the distance that’ll make the hike worth the hard work.
If you’re backpacking in New Zealand and only have the time to properly explore one island, it should be South Island. South Island is not only just every nature lover’s dream come true with snow-capped mountains, glaciers, hot springs, and scenic drives but also one of the top destinations on most adventure lovers’ bucket list who can’t just stand still at the mention of bungee jumping, skydiving or hiking.
Experience all of South Island by doing a road trip starting from Christchurch, and make your way through Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook, Queenstown, Wanaka, Franz Josef, Westport and Hanmer Springs and end at Christchurch again, covering 1486 km.
Brimming with architecture, scenic natural surroundings, art, and adventure, Christchurch is every vacationer’s paradise.
Lake Tekapo is also an excellent place to stop at if you want to photograph lupins. The area is covered with these colorful pink and purple flowers and will definitely look good on your gram! One of the main attractions around Lake Tekapo is the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Mount Cook National Park has been listed as a World Heritage area. With glaciers, rivers, beautiful mountain views, and hiking options, it is definitely an experience you can’t miss out on.
You can view landscapes, boardwalks, picturesque views of Mount Cook, and some suspension bridges on this walk.
When it comes to balancing between breathtaking natural wonders and getting an adventurer’s heart beating faster with excitement, Queenstown is a pro. Also known as New Zealand’s adventure capital, it is heaven for those who love sports and outdoor activities. It is famous for being home to a plethora of activities such as jet boating, bungee jumping, white water rafting, skydiving, and indoor activities.
At Franz Josef, you’ll find that there are two popular glaciers here – Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, which are very closely located to each other. You can spot glow worms at The Terrace Walk.
Hanmer Springs is a resort town famous for its Thermal Pools. There are some forest walks that you can go for too when you’re here. Visiting the Alpine Adventure Holiday Park, which is spread across 22 acres of tree-lined land, is also an option.