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
Day 1: Auckland- City of Sails
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.
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.
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
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.
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
How to get there:
Distance: 251 km (156 miles)
Time: 3 h 40 min
Day 5: Auckland - 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.
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.
Budget: Astray Motel in the centre of Rotorua
How to get there:
Distance: 228 km (141 miles)
Time: (2 h 52 min)
Day 6: Rotorua - 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.
Holiday parks/motorhomes: Tongariro Holiday Park
How to get there:
Distance: 141 km (88 miles)
Time: 1 h 46 min
Day 7: Tongariro National Park – Wellington.
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.
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.
Holiday parks/motorhomes: Wellington TOP 10 Holiday Park
How to get there:
Distance: 288 km (179 miles)
Time: 3 h 43 min
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
Day 8: Wellington - Nelson
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.
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.
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
Day 9: 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.
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.
Budget: Bethany Park Kaiteriteri
How to get there:
Distance: 65.4 km (40 miles)
Time: 1 h 8 min
Day 10: Nelson - 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.
Luxury: Kaikoura Boutique Hotel
Holiday parks/motorhomes: Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park
How to get there:
Distance: 243 km (150 miles)
Time: 3 h 26 min
Day 11: Kaikoura - Aoraki/ 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.
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
Day 12: Aoraki/ Mt Cook - Queenstown
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.
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
Day 13: Queenstown - Milford Sound - Queenstown
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.
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
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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