New Zealand is a small country in the South Pacific. It consists of two large islands referred to as the North and Souths Islands, as well as many smaller ones. With a coastline of 9,400 miles and spectacular mountains, it’s coastal, it’s rugged and it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

The terrain and activities are diverse and it’s an awesome country to visit. You won’t be disappointed. People are very friendly and it’s a safe place to be.

The country’s economy is driven by agriculture, predominantly sheep, beef and dairy and horticulture. However, recently the world discovered New Zealand’s beauty and we now have a booming tourism industry too.

If you are considering coming to New Zealand on your own or with a group, view our handy informational guide on group travel in New Zealand.

You will need a minimum of two weeks as there is so much to see and do and even then, you won’t want to leave. If you would like to read more about travel times see our blogs Flight times to New Zealand and our handy informational guide How long should I visit New Zealand for?

There are two main ways to see New Zealand, a guided tour option or a self-drive holiday where you can rent a rental car rentalcars.com or motorhome Motorhome Republic. The best place to find out where you can and can't camp on free land is to refer to the Department of Conservation Freedom camping page.

 

North Island of New Zealand

The North Island is more populated than the South Island and is renowned for its beautiful beaches, geothermal activity, lakes and Maori culture. Maori’s were the first people to settled in New Zealand, before it was colonised by the British.

Below is a suggested North Island itinerary.

North Island Itinerary: 

Distance: 1,236 km (768 miles)

Time: 16 h 25 min

North Island Google Map

 

Day 1: Auckland- City of Sails

Auckland Harbour

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, but not the capital. It’s called the ‘City of Sails’ because it’s situated on the Hauraki Gulf, filled with islands. On any summers day, the harbour is full of sailing boats both large and small.

Auckland has a number of islands and destinations within close proximity to the city, easily reached by ferry.

  • Devonport is a delightful seaside village just 10 minutes from down town Auckland. 
  • Waiheke Island, just 30 minutes away is renowned for its vineyards and makes for a wonderful day trip.
  • Rangitoto Island is New Zealand’s youngest volcano and popped up from the ocean just 600 years ago. There is a delightful walking track to the top with magnificent views over the Hauraki Gulf and back to the city.
  • Take a day tour to Hobbiton, New Zealand's most famous film set, and become part of 'Middle Earth New Zealand'. Situated 180km/110 miles south of Auckland, near the Waikato town of Matamata, you will be able to experience the actual film set, now a permanent fixture. The 12-acre set has hobbit houses, vegetable gardens, the Mill and the world famous Green Dragon. Tours operate daily.

In addition, Auckland has great shopping in the Britomart Precinct and Queen Street. The Viaduct Harbour, Wynyard Quarter and Princess Wharf areas make for a wonderful stroll with many great restaurants. Other ‘must dos’ include the Sky Tower, Auckland’s Museum and Art Gallery.


Accommodation options: 

Luxury: Hotel DeBrett, A beautiful boutique hotel in the centre of Auckland, or for the ultimate luxury the Marina Ridge luxury accommodation on Oneroa Waiheke and the Delamore lodge, Oneroa, Waiheke.

Hotels: Pullman Auckland, The Hilton, Hotel Sofitel Auckland Viaduct (5 star hotels). The ultimate hotel booking site to compare hotels, locations and star ratings is trivago. 

Motorhome/ Holiday parks: Takapuna Beach Holiday Park, Top 10's Auckland Holiday Park or for only 1 hr north of Auckland the idyllic Pakiri Beachfront Holiday Park.

Budget: Budget accommodation needn't be backpacker accommodation. There are some fabulous options that can include hotels, apartments, hostels, backpacker lodges and other lodgings providing cheap accommodation options. Check for the best deal in the area you are staying. 

 

Day 2 - 4: Auckland - Russell

Bay of Islands

Three hours north of Auckland is the delightful historical town, Russel. It was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand. It's picturesque water front has a number of colonial buildings and shops. 

  • Take a Bay of Islands cruise and enjoy the wonderful beaches and wildlife. There is every chance you will see a pod of dolphins who love nothing more than to playfully following the boat.
  • Close by is the town of Waitangi. It has huge historical significance for New Zealanders as the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here, an agreement between the British Crown and local Maori Chiefs on February 6, 1840. This day is recognised as New Zealand Day each year and is a public holiday. Visit the Treaty House.

Accommodation options:

There are a number of settlements in or on the bay, but the best places to stay in the Bay of Islands seem to be largely grouped around historic Russell or unspoiled and beachy Paihia.

Luxury: The ultimate in luxury the multi-award winning Eagles Nest

Hotels: The Paihia Beach Resort and Spa HotelFlagstaff Lodge & Day Spa (historic lodge)

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Bay of Islands Holiday Park, Paihia TOP 10 Holiday Park

Budget: Centabay lodge, Saltwater lodge

 

How to get there: 

Distance: 251 km (156 miles)

Time: 3 h 40 min

Auckland to Russell Google Map

 

Day 5: Auckland - Rotorua 

Wai-o-tapu Rotorua

Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal activity and is the hub of ‘Māoridom,’ Maori culture. With nearly 40 percent of the population in Rotorua identifying themselves as Māori, you can learn and experience real Maori culture.

  • Visit Ohinemutu a living Maori village and enjoy a ‘hangi’. This is a traditional Maori feast. The food is buried under ground and slowly cooked with hot rocks before being dug up and consumed.
  • In Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Valley are bubbling mud pools and the 30 metre-tall Pohutu Geyser which erupts many times a day.

Accommodation options:

Wherever you decide to stay around Rotorua, there will be a room or camping pitch to suit your needs. If you’re traveling with a tent or caravan, you’ll find plenty of scenic campgrounds, while budget travelers are looked after by a variety of hostels. Luxury resorts and lodges are also scattered across the region, often with an accompanying thermal spa.

Luxury: Arista of Rotorua, Silver Fern Rotorua and the very beautiful Ngamihi lodge just 10km out of Rotorua overlooking Lake Okareka. 

Hotels: There are many different hotels in Rotorua designed to suit all individuals. The best two sites to look at when deciding the best hotel for you are trivago & Booking.com

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Rotorua Holiday Park, Rotorua Top 10 Holiday Park

Budget: Astray Motel in the centre of Rotorua 

 

How to get there: 

Distance: 228 km (141 miles)

Time: (2 h 52 min)

Auckland to Rotorua Google Maps

Day 6: Rotorua - Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

In central North Island is the Central Plateau. Three active volcanoes, Mount Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro intermittently blow their tops. They are barren and rugged and absolutely spectacular. Scenes from Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings where filmed here.

  • Stay at Whakapapa Village right at the foot of Mt Ruapehu and on the doorstep of great short walks like the Taranaki Falls and Silica Rapids.
  • You can drive up to the Skifield base and the chairlift runs all year, so go and grab a coffee at the highest cafe in New Zealand.
  • The hot pools in the basement of the Chateau Tongariro are a great finish to your day.
  • If you are interested in hiking, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the world’s best day hikes with diverse scenery and the stunning Emerald Lakes.

Accommodation options:

Luxury: The ultimate in luxury the River Birches lodge and retreat, and the Tongariro Crossing lodge.

Hotels: Chateau Tongariro, Tongariro Adventures, Tongariro Springs Boutique Suites

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Tongariro Holiday Park

Budget: Plateau Lodge & Tongariro Crossing Shuttles, Howards Mountain Lodge

 

How to get there: 

Distance: 141 km (88 miles)

Time: 1 h 46 min

Rotorua to Tongariro National Park Google Map

Day 7: Tongariro National Park – Wellington.

Wellington Cable Car

Wellington is a beautiful compact city, fondly known as ‘windy Wellington’. The wind does blow, but it has many great attractions and is best known for its culture, art galleries, museums and coffee culture.

  • One of Wellington best attraction is Te Papa Museum. It’s an interactive museum with incredible innovative exhibits.
  • If you’re a Lord of the Rings enthusiast, take a tour of Weta Studio and immerse yourself in a filmmaking experience. You’ll find exhibits and props for ‘Lord of the Rings’ and other films.
  • Take an historic trip on New Zealand's only public running cable car between Lambton Quay and Kelburn - simply beautiful!
  • Art lovers should see the City Gallery Wellington, and check out the funky Cuba Street.

Accommodation options:

Wellington is home to an array of accommodation options for all tastes and budgets. If it’s a boutique hotel that you seek, New Zealand’s artsy capital city has a handful of options to choose from. From modern independent rooms to lush heritage-based suites, here’s a guide to some of the very best places to check into.

Luxury: For the Art aficionado you can not go past QT Museum Wellington with over 160 original masterpieces displayed throughout the premises. If it's heritage and architecture that you're after the Wellesley Boutique, the award winning Neo-Georgian building designed by Gary Young will not disappoint. or situated in one of Wellington's most popular beachside suburbs, Oriental Bay, the Ohtel will ensure you wind down to beautiful views over Chaffers Marina.

Hotels: Other five star hotels include the Sofitel Wellington, The Bolton, and Intercontinental Wellington, all of which get outstanding customer reviews. 

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Wellington TOP 10 Holiday Park

Budget: Amazing deals can be found on trivago or even Airbnb

 

How to get there:

Distance: 288 km (179 miles)

Time: 3 h 43 min

Tongariro National Park to Wellington Google Map

These are just some of the highlights in the North Island, however if you would like to look at an already developed itinerary, for comparison you can read our North Island Itinerary guide here.

 

South Island of New Zealand

Catch the Interisland Ferry from Wellington to Picton, the gateway to the stunning South Island. The island is less populated with diverse terrain, but what makes it significantly different are the majestic Southern Alps and the mountains surrounding Queenstown and the Wakatipu Basin.

Below is a suggested South Island Itinerary.

South Island Itinerary:

Total distance: 1,719 km (1068 miles)

Total time: 23 h 

Nelson to Queenstown Google Map

Day 8: Wellington - Nelson 

Marlborough wine region

Enjoy leaving Wellington’s beautiful harbour on the Interisland Ferry. You will sail though Cooks Strait, the ocean connecting the two islands before coming into the stunning Queen Charlotte Sound. For the last hour of the journey you will meander through the picturesque sounds where native bush meets the sea.

  • Picton is a delightful sleepy town, the forerunner to the Marlborough wine region. The wineries are plentiful. Take time and enjoy the wine, especially the world-famous Sauvignon Blanc. There are so many wineries to choose from, our favourite is Forrest Estate, (tip - try ‘the Doctors’ sav, yes, John and Brigid are doctors turned winemakers!)
  • Take the scenic route to Nelson, a little taster of the Southern Alps via St Arnaud in Nelson Lakes National Park, our favourite short track here is the Bellbird Walk, right on the shores of Lake Rotoiti.
  • From the National Park head through to the city itself, Nelson’s great for walking and we love staying central, within easy distance of everything in town.

Accommodation options:

Luxury: Clifftops Retreat Nelson is a new 1100 sq ft luxury cottage perched high on the cliffs near Nelson. An architectural treat with stunning views over looking the Tasman sea.

Hotels: 5 Star hotels Century Park Motor Lodge, The Sails Nelson, Shelbourne Villa

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Top10 Nelson City Holiday Park

Budget: Wakatu Lodge Nelson

 

How to get there (via Interislander Cook Strait Ferry and State Highway 6):

Distance: 236 km (146 miles)

Time: 5 h 35 min

Wellington to Nelson Google Map

Day 9: Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

Nelson is renowned for its great climate, beaches, fruit and relaxed lifestyle. It’s also the entry point to one of New Zealand’s most stunning National Parks, Abel Tasman. 

  • It’s a three-day coastal walk or kayak, but the great thing is you can also do a day walk, and/or cruise or kayak. The pristine water, golden sand and outstanding native bush is very special.

Accommodation options:

Luxury: Award winning Abel Tasman lodge, situated just 400m from all the Abel Tasman National Park, restaurants, cafes, water taxis and kayaks or the Split Apple Retreat will ensure you relax in absolute comfort and style. 

Hotels: Awaroa lodge #1 in value, Abel Tasman Haven #2 in value, West Plaza Hotel (0.1km from Abel Tasman National Park)

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Motueka Top 10 Holiday Park (closest service town from the stunning Abel Tasman National Park), the Pohara Beach Top 10 Holiday Park 

Budget: Bethany Park Kaiteriteri

 

How to get there:

Distance: 65.4 km (40 miles)

Time: 1 h 8 min

Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park Google Map

Day 10: Nelson - Kaikoura

Kaikoura

Explore the spectacular Kaikoura coastline known for its abundant wildlife and whales close to shore.

  • Take a cruise with Kaikoura Whale Watch and experience close encounters with giant sperm whales, other dolphin species, and seals.
  • Kaikoura has the greatest number of different seabirds in a small area. See over 14 different species with the albatross, petrels, shearwaters, terns, shags and gulls and many more in their natural environment with the Albatross Encounter Kaikoura.
  • Swimming with dolphins has to be the ultimate on everyones 'bucket list'. Get up and close with these beautiful creatures with a Dolphin Encounter Kailoura.

Accommodation options:

Luxury: Kaikoura Boutique Hotel

Hotels: Bay Cottages #1, Bella Vista Motel Kaikoura #2, and Kaikoura Boutique Hotel #3 (top 3 hotels in value as voted by TripAdvisor 2018). 

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park 

Budget: Alpine Pacific Motels & Holiday Park

 

How to get there:

Distance: 243 km (150 miles)

Time: 3 h 26 min

Nelson to Kaikoura Google Map

Day 11: Kaikoura - Aoraki/ Mount Cook

Mount Cook

Mount Cook or Mount Aoraki as it is now called is New Zealand’s highest mountain. It’s a popular climbing challenge for many climbers, including our own legend, Sir Edmond Hilary who was the first to conquer Mount Everest.

  • If you are an enthusiastic hiker there is some dramatic landscape to explore.
  • Or if you want to experience the bigger picture, take a helicopter up the Tasman Glacier, landing on the snow. The view back over Mt Aoraki is exhilarating.
  • The National Park is a breathaking environment of glaciers, terminal lakes, turbulent rivers and Australasia's tallest peak the mighty Aoraki Mt Cook soaring above at 3,724 metres.

Accommodation options:

Luxury: The ultimate in luxury, the Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat, situated in a forest wilderness overlooking the turquoise blue waters of Lake Pukaki.

Hotels: Wake up to spectacular views of Mount Cook nestled in the heart of the Aoraki/ National Park with The Hermitage Hotel 

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Glentanner Holiday Park Mount Cook

Budget: Mount Cook Lodge and Hotel

 

How to get there: 

Distance: 507 km (315 miles)

Time: 6 h 32 min

Kaikoura to Mount Cook Google Map

Day 12: Aoraki/ Mt Cook - Queenstown 

Queenstown aerial shot from the top of the Gondola

Queenstown sits on Lake Wakatipu and is fondly known as ‘the adventure capital of the world.’ There are many activities for the young and adventurous including bungy jumping, skydiving and hang gliding, but if that’s not for you here are other great outdoor activities.

  • Experience the Shotover Canyon, in a jet boat.
  • Venture into the depths of Glenorchy at the northern most tip of Lake Wakatipu and enjoy the raw wilderness of the Dart River in a jet boat or kayak.
  • Take the Vintage TSS Earnslaw for a scenic cruise on Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak High Country Farm, where you will experience New Zealand farming first hand.
  • Venture to the historic town of Arrowtown, inhabited by the Chinese during the gold rush in the 1860’s and learn about Central Otago’s gold rush.
  • Enjoy the ambiance of Arrowtown and wander the streets and enjoy the many shops and excellent restaurants.

The Queenstown region is also famous for its wine with many vineyards producing some of the world’s best Pinot Noir, including Amisfield in Arrowtown,

  • Amisfield have a restaurant so don’t leave town without experiencing the theatre of their “Trust the Chef’ menu with matching wines.

Queenstown is a golfer’s haven, with the New Zealand Gold Open held there annually.

  • Millbrook Resort and Jack Point Golf Club are both beautiful courses and would not disappoint any experienced golfer.

Accommodation options:

Luxury: Curators of New Zealand's finest experiences Touch of Spice

Hotels: There are a plethora of hotels to chose from, from your big brand hotels the Novotel, Rydges, Mercure and Hilton to smaller contemporary and quaint boutique hotels Browns Boutique Hotel or the spectacular Eichardts Private Hotel. 

Holiday parks/motorhomes: Queenstown Holiday Park & Motels Creeksyde, Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park

Budget: Pinewood lodge, Queenstown Motel and Apartments

 

How to get there: 

Distance: 262 km (164 miles)

Time: 3 h 19 min

Aoraki Mt Cook to Queenstown Google Map

Day 13: Queenstown - Milford Sound - Queenstown

Milford Sound

Experience the dramatic landscapes of the Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park situated in the southwest of New Zealand's South Island. Home to the famous towering Mitre Peak, rainforests and stunning waterfalls, the Stirling and Bowen waterfall plummet down sheer sides, to an abundance of fur seal colonies, penguins and dolphins.

  • Take a fixed wing plane or helicopter from Queenstown to Milford and experience the exhilaration of flying over snow-capped mountains tops. Follow this with a cruise on the Milford sound. You will be awed by the beauty of the mountains and the waterfalls, not to mention Mitre Peak.

 

Accommodation options:

Luxury: Set in a world heritage area amongst rolling grasslands and stunning views across Lake Te Anau is the Fiordland Lodge in Te Anau

Hotels: Milford Sound Lodge has a variety of accommodation options from premium chalets to budget friendly rooms and camper van packages to park up.

 

How to get there:

Distance: 287 km (178 miles)

Time: 3 h 47 min

Queenstown to Milford Sound Google Map

Day 14: Depart Queenstown

These are some of the highlights in the South Island, however if you would like to look at an already developed itinerary, for comparison you can read our South Island Itinerary guide here.

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