Eighteen days in New Zealand is enough time to visit both islands. Wildlife enthusiasts can bird-watch in Whakatāne and spot penguins on the Otago Peninsula, while foodies will appreciate culinary experiences that include a Te Pā Tū Māori feast on the North Island and a Marlborough Sounds seafood cruise on the South Island. First-time visitors eager to make the most of their trip can combine outdoor adventures in New Zealand with Australian cuisine and urban exploration in Sydney and its surroundings.

Itinerary #1: Highlights of Aotearoa: New Zealand's North & South Islands

With ample opportunities to taste the flavors of New Zealand, this highlights itinerary is especially suited to travelers keen on culinary experiences. You'll enjoy a gourmet food and wine tour on Waiheke Island, join a Te Pā Tū Māori feast, take a culinary walking tour of Wellington, visit the wineries of Blenheim, and indulge in fresh seafood paired with Marlborough wines on a Marlborough Sounds cruise—in addition to hitting other highlights that include a scenic flight over Milford Sound / Piopiotahi and a visit to Franz Josef Glacier. 

Kick off your adventure exploring North Island treasures like Waiheke Island
Visit the beaches of Waiheke Island
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Free Time Auckland
Day 2 Ferry to Waiheke Island, Gourmet Food & Wine Tour Auckland
Day 3 Auckland's Bush & Beaches Full-Day Tour Auckland
Day 4 Transfer to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 5 Geothermal Rotorua Tour, Polynesian Spa Rotorua
Day 6 Forest Canopy Tour, Hell's Gate Experience, Redwoods Nightlights Rotorua
Day 7 Fly to Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Night Tour Wellington
Day 8 Wellington City Tour, Foodie Experience Wellington
Day 9 Ferry to Picton, Transfer to Blenheim, Wineries Tour Blenheim
Day 10 Marlborough Sounds Seafood Cruise Blenheim
Day 11 Coastal Pacific Train: Blenheim to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 12 Explore Christchurch Christchurch
Day 13 TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth, Transfer to Franz Josef / Waiau Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 14 Explore Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 15 Transfer to Queenstown via Haast Pass & Wānaka Queenstown
Day 16 Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Sightseeing Flight & Nature Cruise Queenstown
Day 17 Free Day in Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 18 Depart Queenstown  

Get acquainted with Auckland on a ride up the Sky Tower, followed by a visit to Auckland War Memorial Museum. Cruise to Waiheke Island for a gourmet food and wine tour, then take in Auckland's natural beauty on a beach and bush tour. Enjoy the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata en route to Rotorua. Witness geothermal activity, including the Lady Knox Geyser, and soak in the thermal pools at the Polynesian Spa. Explore a network of trails, swing bridges, and ziplines set in Rotorua's native forest, then join a night hike at Redwoods Nightlights. Fly to Wellington for a culinary tour and Zealandia night walk.

Take the ferry to Picton, and continue to Blenheim for wine tastings. Learn about seafood farming and feast on fresh seafood paired with Marlborough wine on a Marlborough Sounds cruise, and then watch for dolphins on a scenic train to Christchurch on Day 11. Take a hot-air balloon ride over Christchurch, then tour the city via tram before boarding the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth. Continue to Franz Josef / Waiau, where you'll hike near the glacier. Spend your final days in Queenstown, cruising Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, bungee jumping, and indulging in a tasting tour of the region's best vineyards. Learn more

Itinerary #2: Self-Driving Tour of New Zealand's Nature & Culture: Auckland to Queenstown

Another highlights itinerary that covers a bit more ground as it's suited for road trippers interested in a mix of outdoor and cultural experiences, including observing geothermal wonders in Rotorua, stargazing at Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, and learning about Māori culture at Ko Tāne Living Māori Village. With the chance for bird-watching in Whakatāne, kayaking into a glowworm cave at Lake Okareka, and wildlife spotting at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve and the Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve, it's also an excellent choice for wildlife lovers.  

Enjoy views of Mount Cook , the highest mountain in New Zealand
Enjoy views of Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Free Time Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Coromandel, Hot Water Beach & Cathedral Cove Coromandel
Day 3 Ride the Driving Creek Railway Coromandel
Day 4 Drive to Whakatāne, Moutohora Island Sanctuary Whakatāne
Day 5 Drive to Rotorua, Te Puia Tour & Māori Arts, Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 6 Hobbiton Tour, Lake Okareka Twilight Glowworm Kayak Experience Rotorua
Day 7 Fly to Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 8 Avon Punting, Ko Tāne Māori Experience & Guided Kiwi Tour Christchurch
Day 9 TranzAlpine Train to Arthur's Pass, Free Evening in Christchurch Christchurch
Day 10 Drive to Mount Cook Village, Tasman Glacier Lake, Stargazing Mount Cook Village
Day 11 Aoraki / Mount Cook Walks & Hikes Mount Cook Village
Day 12 Drive to Wānaka, Lake Wānaka Cruise & Island Nature Walk Wānaka
Day 13 Hiking in Wānaka, Wine Tour Wānaka
Day 14 Drive to Te Anau, Visit Glowworm Caves, Walking Tracks Te Anau
Day 15 Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Discover Nature Cruise Te Anau
Day 16 Drive to Queenstown, Skyline Gondola, Bungee Jump & Evening Onsen Queenstown
Day 17 Routeburn Hiking Trail, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 18 Depart Queenstown  

Ease into your journey with a Waitematā Harbour stroll and a seafood lunch at Auckland Fish Market. Then pick up your rental and start your road trip with a dip at Hot Water Beach, followed by a glass-bottomed boat tour at Cathedral Cove. Take the Driving Creek Railway through the native kauri forest to a pottery workshop where you can watch artisans work. Drive to Whakatāne for bird-watching and a tour of Moutohorā / Whale Island. Continue to Rotorua and experience geothermal landscapes, followed by a cultural performance and feast at Te Pā Tū Tamaki Māori Village and a glowworm kayak excursion at Lake Okareka.

Fly to Christchurch and enjoy a Willowbank Wildlife Reserve tour and a historic tram dinner. Continue to Mount Cook Village for a Tasman Glacier Lake cruise and stargazing in Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Head to Wānaka and spot wildlife at Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve, then sample Central Otago wines. Continue to Te Anau for a cave visit and a Milford Sound / Piopiotahi cruise. Your final days are filled with outdoor activities in Queenstown, including a hike on the Routeburn Track, a soak in the Onsen Hot Pools, and a barbecue dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm. Learn more

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Itinerary #3: New Zealand's Ultimate Self-Drive Tour of the North Island

Energetic travelers interested in experiencing the culture, cuisine, and natural wonders of the North Island will appreciate the balance of outdoor adventures on this itinerary. You'll whitewater raft on the Kaituna River and surf in Raglan as well as go wine tasting on Waiheke Island, join a Māori canoe excursion in the Bay of Islands, and see Lake Taupō rock art on a cruise. The inclusion of romantic experiences, such as the sunset dinner cruise in Auckland and the hot pools in Coromandel, Taupō, and Rotorua, makes this itinerary especially suited to couples and honeymooners. 

Trade your car for a boat cruise around the Coromandel Peninsula
Take a boat cruise around the Coromandel Peninsula
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Wētā Workshop, Free Time Auckland
Day 2 Auckland City Tour, All Blacks Rugby Experience Auckland
Day 3 Taste of Waiheke Island, Sky Tower Dinner Auckland
Day 4 Drive to Paihia, Explore the Bay of Islands & Cape Reinga Paihia
Day 5 Māori Waka Canoe Tour Paihia
Day 6 Bay of Islands Snorkel Tour, Hole in the Rock Cruise Paihia
Day 7 Drive to the Waitakere Ranges, Explore Waitakere Ranges
Day 8 Drive to Coromandel, Visit Hot Water Beach & Cathedral Cove Coromandel
Day 9 Cathedral Cove Cruise Coromandel
Day 10 Drive to Tauranga, Glowworm Evening Kayak Tour Tauranga
Day 11 Drive to Taupō, Visit the Mineral Hot Pools Taupō
Day 12 Kaituna White Water Rafting, Māori Rock Carving Cruise Taupō
Day 13 Morning Walk, Drive to Rotorua, Hell's Gate Experience Rotorua
Day 14 Explore Rotorua, Māori Heritage Tour, Evening Cultural Experience Rotorua
Day 15 Drive to Whakatane, Moutohora Island Sanctuary Tour Whakatane
Day 16 Drive to Raglan, Explore Raglan
Day 17 Drive to Auckland, Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 18 Depart Auckland  

On arrival in Auckland, tour Wētā Workshop, the film effects company known for their work on the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Get active with a climb up Mount Victoria, followed by the All Blacks rugby experience. Indulge in wine and whiskey tastings on Waiheke Island, then enjoy a meal at Orbit 360° Dining, a rotating restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower. Head to the Bay of Islands, where you'll learn traditional paddling and chants on a Māori waka (canoe) tour, snorkel at Deep Water Cove, and cruise past the Hole in the Rock. Immerse yourself in the Waitakere Ranges on Day 7 by walking on the Arataki Nature Trail.

Continue to Coromandel Peninsula for a cruise and snorkeling at Cathedral Cove. Drive to Tauranga, where you'll join a glowworm kayak tour before heading to Taupō DeBretts Spa Resort for a soak in the mineral hot pools. On Day 12, tackle the Kaituna River rapids on a whitewater rafting excursion, then admire Māori rock art on a Lake Taupō cruise. Next is Rotorua, where you'll take a geothermal hike at Hell's Gate and a guided bush walk in the Mitai Māori Village. Enjoy dolphin watching in Whakatāne and surfing or paddleboarding in Raglan before capping off the trip with a sunset dinner cruise in Auckland. Learn more

Itinerary #4: Active Road Trip on New Zealand's South Island

This active itinerary covers New Zealand's South Island and is ideal for adventurous travelers keen on a road trip focusing on New Zealand's wildlife and natural environment. You'll heli-hike the Tasman Glacier, spot penguins and other wildlife on the Otago Peninsula, learn about glaciation at Lake Matheson, bike along native forest trails in Hokitika, bungee jump in Queenstown, and more. 

Spend a few days hiking and biking around Wānaka
Spend a few days hiking and biking around Wānaka
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Explore Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Backcountry Tour, Dark Sky Experience Lake Tekapo
Day 3 Morning Hike on Aoraki / Mount Cook, Afternoon Heli-Hike Lake Tekapo
Day 4 Drive to Dunedin, Explore, Speights Brewery Tour Dunedin
Day 5 Otago Peninsula Wildlife Tour, Taste of Dunedin Tour Dunedin
Day 6 Drive to Te Anau, Explore the Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 7 Morning Walk, Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Cruise Te Anau
Day 8 Drive to Queenstown, Visit the Kiwi Park Queenstown, Skyline Gondola Queenstown
Day 9 Jet Boat Ride, Walter Peak Farm Lunch, Onsen Evening Session Queenstown
Day 10 Kawarau Bridge Bungee Jump, Drive to Wānaka Wānaka
Day 11 Lake Wānaka Cruise, Bike Tour Wānaka
Day 12 Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier, Afternoon Heli-Hike Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 13 Half-Day Lake Matheson Eco Tour, Explore Fox Glacier Fox Glacier
Day 14 Drive to Hokitika, Explore Hokitika Gorge, Treetop Adventure Hokitika
Day 15 Biking on the West Coast Wilderness Trail Hokitika
Day 16 Drive to Greymouth, Train to Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 17 Full-Day Akaroa & Harbor Cruise Christchurch
Day 18 Depart Christchurch  

Check out Christchurch's sites and green spaces before driving to Lake Tekapo for a scenic 4WD tour of the Mackenzie Country. Trek the Tasman Glacier Lake trail at Aoraki / Mount Cook, then heli-hike the Tasman Glacier. Continue to Dunedin for a tasting at Speights Brewery, followed by a wildlife tour on the Otago Peninsula. Your next stop is Te Anau for a catamaran cruise at the Glowworm Caves, a hike along the Milford Track, and a fjord cruise on Milford Sound / Piopiotahi. Head to Queenstown, where you'll learn about conservation efforts at Kiwi Park and zip along the Shotover River in a jet boat.

Journey to Wānaka on Day 10, where you'll take a scenic bike ride before driving to Franz Josef Glacier for a heli-hike. Learn about glaciation and geology on a Lake Matheson Eco Tour, then it's off to Hokitika for a canopy experience on the West Coast Treetops Walkway and a bike ride through native forest on the West Coast Wilderness Trail. Return to Christchurch via the scenic TranzAlpine train and celebrate your South Island adventure with dinner aboard a historic tram, a harbor cruise, and a visit to Akaroa, where you can do some souvenir shopping and spot dolphins, penguins, and other wildlife. Learn more

Itinerary #5: Discover Sydney (Australia) & New Zealand

Travelers eager to combine New Zealand's cuisine, culture, and outdoor activities with a taste of Australia will enjoy this two-country itinerary. See the sites in Sydney, then do some wine tasting in Hunter Valley and hiking in the Blue Mountains before experiencing some of the highlights of New Zealand, including adrenaline-filled adventures in Queenstown, arts and wildlife in Wellington, geothermal wonders in Rotorua, and elevated and fresh food and wine in Auckland. This itinerary is best for those that prefer a combination of private drivers, guides, and flights rather than self-driving.  

Rotorua's towering redwood forest
Walk among Rotorua's towering redwoods
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney (Australia) Sydney
Day 2 Sydney Sights Tour, Sydney Harbour Lunch Cruise Sydney
Day 3 Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tour Sydney
Day 4 Day Trip to the Blue Mountains National Park Sydney
Day 5 Fly to Queenstown (New Zealand), Optional Activities Queenstown
Day 6 Full-Day Trip to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi  Queenstown 
Day 7 Wine Tasting in Bannockburn Queenstown 
Day 8 Glenorchy Safari Tour, Optional Activities in Queenstown Queenstown
Day 9 Fly to Wellington, Explore Wellington Wellington
Day 10 Wellington Half Day Tour, Wētā Cave Workshop Wellington
Day 11 Explore Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 12 Fly to Rotorua, Redwoods Nightlights Rotorua
Day 13 Geothermal Rotorua Tour, Optional Forest Canopy Tour Rotorua
Day 14 Optional Activities in Rotorua Rotorua
Day 15 Transfer to Auckland via Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves Auckland
Day 16 Auckland Bush & Beach Tour Auckland
Day 17 Explore Auckland, Sky Tower Dinner Auckland
Day 18 Depart Auckland  

Experience Sydney's sites with a city tour, an afternoon at Bondi Beach, and a sunset cruise. Head to Hunter Valley for wine and cheese tasting, then meet kangaroos, koalas, and more at Calmsley Hill before checking out some of the best viewpoints on a hike in Blue Mountains National Park. Catch a flight to Queenstown (New Zealand), where you can choose your adventure, such as sky diving, river rafting, or bungee jumping. Next, see Fiordland National Park on a boat cruise followed by a scenic flight. Make your way to Bannockburn on Day 7 for wine tasting, then continue to Glenorchy for a 4WD safari.

Fly to Wellington, where you can admire local art at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata and tour the sites, including Mount Victoria. Catch a flight to Rotorua and embark on a night walk at Redwoods Nightlights, then check out geological formations and geothermal activity at Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. Stop by the Hobbiton movie set from "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" films en route to Auckland. End your trip on a high note with a bush and beach tour in Auckland, followed by a three-course farewell dinner of locally-sourced ingredients at Sky Tower. Learn more

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

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


A note on diacritical and retroflex markings: In order to support the best technical experience and search functions, diacritical markings have been omitted from this article.


Map of 18 Days in New Zealand - 5 Unique Itinerary Ideas
Map of 18 Days in New Zealand - 5 Unique Itinerary Ideas