With 12 days, you can take a slower pace to focus on one New Zealand island or speed things up and hit the highlights of both, like a classic Auckland to Queenstown route, perfect for first-timers. Meanwhile, the South Island offers glacier hikes and fjord cruises, while the North Island appeals to those interested in Rotorua's geothermal activity and Maori culture. Avid skiers can opt for the Otago and Southland itinerary, combining a few days on the slopes with Queenstown bungee jumping and Oamaru penguin sightings.

Itinerary #1: North & South Islands: Auckland to Queenstown

This Auckland to Queenstown itinerary is a classic route that hits many of the most popular destinations on both islands. It moves at a comfortable pace and is suited to travelers that like a combination of urban and outdoor adventure, from bungee jumping in Auckland and fjord cruising in Milford Sound to rock climbing in the pristine wilderness of Wānaka and dining in a historical tram in Christchurch.

Hike the remote wilderness of New Zealand
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Auckland Walking Tour, Harbor Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 3 Transfer to Rotorua via Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves Rotorua
Day 4 Rotorua Geysers, Māori Heritage Tour & Dinner Rotorua
Day 5 Fly to Queenstown, Adventure & Wine Excursions Queenstown
Day 6 Milford Sound Air Tour & Fjord Cruise Queenstown
Day 7 Drive to Wānaka via Arrowtown Wānaka
Day 8 Puzzling World, Wānaka Trails & Wine Tour Wānaka
Day 9 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Braemar Station Backcountry & Dark Sky Lake Tekapo
Day 10 The Mackenzie Country & Lake Tekapo Lake Tekapo
Day 11 Drive to Christchurch, Historical Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 12 Depart New Zealand  

Take the first two days to get acquainted with Auckland via land, sky, and sea with a city walking tour, bungee jump from Sky Tower, a hike up Mount Victoria, and a harbor dinner cruise. Day 3 and 4 are dedicated to Rotorua, where you'll witness powerful geysers and learn from Māori artists; "The Lord of the Rings" fans will enjoy the Hobbiton Movie Set experience en route. Then fly to Queenstown, enjoy the region's wine and rafting, and take a fjord cruise to spot dolphins and penguins in Fiordland National Park.

Self-drive the second half of your journey, starting with Wānaka, where you can take a wine tour and immerse in the wilderness with rock climbing, skiing, and hiking, depending on the season. On Days 9 and 10, explore the mountains around the Lake Tekapo area via 4WD and horseback tours, followed by a soak in the thermal pools. Continue your road trip on Day 11, enjoying rural scenes and the Canterbury Plains en route to Christchurch, where you can check out the city sights from a double-decker bus and indulge in a multicourse dinner aboard a colonial-style tram on your final night. Learn more

Itinerary #2: South Island Self-Drive City & Nature Highlights

This self-drive itinerary allows you to take a slower pace, with a focus on the highlights of the South Island. You'll have more time for urban exploration in Christchurch and heart-pumping adventure activities in Queenstown, including the Kawarau Bridge bungee jump and the Skyline Complex luge. You'll also have a chance to see the rare yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula and experience the unique multicultural heritage of Dunedin. 

Observe starry skies at Lake Tekapo
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch & Explore Christchurch
Day 2 Christchurch City Tour Christchurch
Day 3 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Visit the Dark Sky Projects Observatory Lake Tekapo
Day 4 Drive to Wānaka & Explore Wānaka
Day 5 Lake Wānaka Cruise & Island Nature Walk Wānaka
Day 6 Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown 
Day 7 Shotover River Canyon Jet Boat, Skyline Queenstown Gondola Queenstown 
Day 8 Visit Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Queenstown 
Day 9 Explore Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula Dunedin
Day 10 Monarch Otago Peninsula Wildlife Tour & Penguin Place Dunedin
Day 11 Drive to Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 12 Depart Christchurch  

Start your South Island experience in Christchurch, where you can visit some of the city's most significant landmarks with the help of a tram, hop-on/hop-off bus, and a slow-paced punt on the Avon River / Ōtākaro. Take a scenic drive on Day 3 to Lake Tekapo, passing Canterbury Plains, and enjoy the serenity and star-filled southern skies from the Dark Sky Reserve. Make a stop to hike the Tasman Glacier on your way to Wānaka on Day 4, then enjoy a walk in Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve on Day 5.

Bungee jump at Kawarau Suspension Bridge en route to Queenstown on Day 6 before taking a high-speed jet boat through Shotover River Canyons and zipping down the luge track at Skyline Complex the following day. Cruise the Milford Sound fjord on Day 8, experience Scottish heritage in Dunedin on Day 9, and take a tour to spot royal albatross and visit yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula on Day 10. Say farewell to New Zealand with dinner aboard the colonial-style tram in Christchurch on your final day. Learn more

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Itinerary #3: North Island Road Trip: Auckland to Wellington

Experience the best of the North Island on this Auckland to Wellington road trip itinerary. Outdoor enthusiasts and foodies will love the combination of active adventures (such as hiking among geysers in Tongariro National Park and kauri trees in Waitakere Rainforest), wildlife encounters, geothermal wonders, and culinary experiences that include wine tasting in Martinborough and a food tour in Wellington.

rows of grapes in bright green vineyard
Viticulture scene in Marlborough, New Zealand
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Waitakere Ranges, Auckland Sky Tower Dinner Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Tauranga, Glowworm Evening Kayak Tauranga
Day 4 Drive to Rotorua, Hobbiton Movie Set Rotorua
Day 5 Wai-O-Tapu, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 6 Drive to Ohakune, Tongariro National Park Ohakune
Day 7 Tongariro National Park Hike Ohakune
Day 8 Drive to Martinborough Martinborough
Day 9 Martinborough Half-Day Wine Tour Martinborough
Day 10 Drive to Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 11 Wellington Food Tour, Wētā Workshop & Te Papa Museum Wellington
Day 12 Depart Wellington & New Zealand  

Explore the highlights of Auckland your first two days, including the harbor and fish market, and take a hike among kauri trees in Waitakere Rainforest. On Day 3, go on a dolphin-watching tour in Tauranga, hike Mauao, a dormant volcano, then kayak to a canyon viewpoint just before sunset to see the light of the glowworms at Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park. Spend Days 4 and 5 learning about Mount Tarawera's eruption at Buried Village, experience the geothermal wonders of Rotorua, go mountain biking in Redwoods Forest, and attend a Māori meal and performance at Te Pā Tū

Take the "thermal highway" to UNESCO-listed Tongariro National Park on Day 6, where you can take two days to hike and learn about the volcanoes here. On Day 8, head to Martinborough on the southern end of the island for bird watching and wine tasting. Continue to Wellington on Day 10 for a hike on the City to Sea Walkway and a night walk to spot nocturnal wildlife, including kiwi birds and tuatara reptiles at Zealandia. Spend your final full day tasting your way through Wellington, the culinary capital, on a five-hour food tour. Learn more

Itinerary #4: Natural Wonders: Auckland to Queenstown

This Auckland to Queenstown itinerary moves at a quick pace to ensure you can fit in some of the beloved sites on both islands. It's perfect for nature lovers and couples that prefer an elevated experience, complete with a seaplane tour over Hauraki Gulf, a heli-hike to Tasman Glacier, outdoor hot tubs at Ōmarama, and a luxury lodge stay on Lake Wakatipu.

Immerse yourself in New Zealand's great outdoors
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Rotorua, Helicopter Flight, Geothermal Sites Rotorua
Day 3 Drive to Taupō, Scenic Cruise & Walk, Huka Falls Jet Taupō
Day 4 Day Trip to Tongariro National Park Taupō
Day 5 Fly to Christchurch, Explore the Garden City Christchurch
Day 6 Drive to Ōmarama, Ōmarama Hot Tubs Ōmarama
Day 7 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Aoraki / Mount Cook Half-Day Heli-Hike & Stargazing Lake Tekapo
Day 8 Drive to Wānaka, Wānaka & Mount Aspiring National Park Wānaka
Day 9 Lake Wānaka Cruise & Island Nature Walk, Wānaka Trails Wānaka
Day 10 Drive to Glenorchy, Blanket Bay Lodge Glenorchy
Day 11 Drive to Queenstown, Milford Sound Queenstown
Day 12 Depart Queenstown  

Start your journey on a high note with a seaplane tour of the Hauraki Gulf in Auckland, followed by a wine tasting on Man O' War Bay. On Day 2, take a helicopter flight over Hell's Gate Thermal Valley and the active volcano on White Island, where you'll land on the rim for a guided walk and, later, end the day with a soak in the thermal waters at Polynesian Spa. Take a jet boat ride at Huka Falls on Day 3, then check out the steaming vents and boiling pots at Craters of the Moon geothermal reserve before taking a boat tour on Lake Taupō. 

On Day 4, explore Tongariro National Park, then fly to Christchurch on Day 5, where you'll get your heart pumping with a zip line tour. Enjoy a soak in a private outdoor tub, serenaded by birdsong at Ōmarama Hot Tubs on Day 6, en route to the turquoise-hued Lake Tekapo. Take a heli-hike tour to Tasman Glacier on Day 7, followed by a dip in a glacier lake at Willow Bay Beach. Spend Days 8 and 9 engaged in outdoor activities, such as sailing, kitesurfing, and hiking, in Wānaka. Indulge with a stay at Blanket Bay luxury lodge on Day 10, then spend your final day cruising the fjords at Fiordland National Park. Learn more

Itinerary #5: South Island Self-Drive Tour & Ski Adventure: Otago & Southland

This South Island itinerary is designed to showcase the wildlife, ski fields, and adrenaline-inducing activities available on the South Island. Go paragliding and bungee jumping in Queenstown, cruise to an underground waterfall in the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, watch the world's smallest penguins come ashore at sunset in Oamaru and hit the slopes in Cardrona.   

Experience the snowy side of South Island
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Queenstown, Rental Car Pickup Queenstown
Day 2 Drive to Te Anau, Visit the Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 3 Explore Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Te Anau
Day 4 Drive to Dunedin Dunedin
Day 5 Explore Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula Dunedin
Day 6 Drive to Oamaru & Observe the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony Oamaru
Day 7 Drive to Queenstown Queenstown 
Day 8 Skyline Queenstown, Shotover River Canyon Jet Boat Queenstown 
Day 9 Kawarau Bridge Bungee Jump, Onsen Hot Pools Queenstown 
Day 10 Drive to Cardrona, Ski at Cardrona & Treble Cone Ski Field Cardrona
Day 11 Ski at Cardrona & Treble Cone Ski Field Cardrona
Day 12 Return to Queenstown & Depart  

Jumpstart your journey with a paragliding or bungee jumping experience in Queenstown. On Day 2, take a catamaran to Te Anau Glowworm Caves, where you can see an underground waterfall and thousands of glowworms in the limestone cave network. Join a guided tour of Milford Sound on Day 3, and keep an eye out for waterfalls and fur seals. Head southeast to Dunedin on Day 4, stopping to search for yellow-eyed penguins at beaches en route, then take a boat tour in search of royal albatross and dolphins on Day 5. 

Join a tour to see the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, the world's smallest penguin, on Day 6. Start the drive back toward Queenstown on Day 7, with a stop at Kawarau Bridge for bungee jumping. See Queenstown from another angle on the Skyline Gondola, then take a high-speed jet boat tour through Shotover River Canyons on Day 8. Relax at Onsen Hot Pools on Day 9, then head for Cardona Valley to enjoy skiing or snowboarding for your final days in New Zealand. Learn more

More Great 12-Day New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other 12-day New Zealand itineraries, with outdoor adventures, wine-focused trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 


Map of 12 Days in New Zealand - 5 Unique Itinerary Ideas
Map of 12 Days in New Zealand - 5 Unique Itinerary Ideas