In three weeks, you can take your time road-tripping across the South Island, from cities to caves to glaciers. Or move at a faster pace and hit the highlights of both islands, including a scenic ferry ride between the two. Alternatively, you can do a combo tour with Australia and visit New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria in addition to Maori cultural experiences and outdoor adventures in Auckland, Rotorua, and Queenstown.

Itinerary #1: Epic New Zealand Road Trip: Auckland to Queenstown

This self-drive itinerary is ideal for first-timers who appreciate nature and good eats that want to experience the best of both islands, including unique culinary activities aboard trams and boats. With several romantic excursions—such as geothermal spa treatments, a sunrise hot air balloon ride, and a flight over the fjords.

Enjoy the Akaroa scenery near Christchurch
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland,  Harbor Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Explore Auckland & the Waitakere Ranges Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua via Waitomo & Glowworm Caves Rotorua
Day 4 Rotorua Geysers, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 5 Waimangu Volcanic Valley Walk & Boat Cruise Rotorua
Day 6 Fly to Wellington Wellington
Day 7 Explore Wellington, Martinborough Wine Country & Zealandia Wellington
Day 8 North to South Island Cook Strait Cruise, Drive to Blenheim Blenheim
Day 9 Marlborough Half-Day Wine Tour Blenheim
Day 10 Drive to Kaikōura, Whale Watching Tour Kaikōura
Day 11 Drive to Christchurch via Waipara Valley Wines, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 12 Drive to Mount Cook Village, Dark Sky Stargazing Mount Cook Village
Day 13 Glacier Lake & Mackenzie Country 4WD Tour Mount Cook Village
Day 14 Drive to Queenstown, Skyline Dinner, & Onsen Soak Queenstown
Day 15 Sunrise Balloon Ride, AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy, Arrowtown Queenstown
Day 16 Wine Cave Tour, TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise & Farm Barbecue Queenstown
Day 17 Drive to Te Anau Te Anau
Day 18 Milford Sound Hike, Cruise & Picnic Te Anau
Day 19 Fiordland National Park Jet & Flight Te Anau
Day 20 Hike Te Anau's Trails Te Anau
Day 21 Drive to Queenstown, Depart  

Dive into your New Zealand adventure with a bungee jump and harbor cruise in Auckland. Then, experience the ethereal atmosphere created by thousands of glowworms in Footwhistle Glowworm Cave before spending a couple of days in Rotorua, where you'll hike Waimangu Volcanic Valley, zip line over native forest, and soak in thermal pools. Days 6 and 7 are dedicated to Wellington. Tour the city aboard a cable car and visit Wētā Workshop to see some of the artistry behind "The Lord of the Rings." Take a scenic ferry ride to the South Island, and taste your way through Marlborough wine country.

Join a whale watching tour in Kaikōura on Day 10, then head to Christchurch, where you'll feast on a multicourse meal aboard a historic tram. Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook through the Canterbury Plains and enjoy a stargazing tour. Go off-roading in Mackenzie Country, then continue to Queenstown, stopping for a bungee jump at Kawarau Bridge en route. Celebrate with a hot-air balloon ride and a farm feast before departing for Fiordland National Park. Finally, experience the region from land, water, and air: Cruise Milford Sound, hike Te Anau, and take a scenic flight over the fjords. Learn more

Itinerary #2: Best of the South Island Road Trip: Glaciers, Mountains, Coasts & Fjords

This self-drive itinerary covers the best of the South Island destinations after a couple of days in the capital city of Wellington on the North Island. Animal lovers will also appreciate the numerous opportunities to encounter wildlife, including whales, seals, and yellow-eyed penguins.

Experience Tasman Glacier in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Wellington, Explore Wellington
Day 2 Free Day in Wellington Wellington
Day 3 Ferry to Picton, Transfer to Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman National Park
Day 4 Explore Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman National Park
Day 5 Drive to Kaikōura Kaikōura
Day 6 Whale Watching Tour Kaikōura
Day 7 Drive to Christchurch, Explore Christchurch
Day 8 Free Day in Christchurch Christchurch
Day 9-10 Drive to Mount Cook Village, Explore Mount Cook Village
Day 11 Drive to Dunedin, Explore Dunedin
Day 12 Tour Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula Dunedin
Day 13 Drive to Te Anau, Hike & Explore Te Anau
Day 14 Drive to Manapouri, Cruise Across Doubtful Sound / Patea Doubtful Sound
Day 15 Free day in Doubtful Sound / Patea Doubtful Sound
Day 16 Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 17 Ride the Skyline Gondola & Visit Onsen Hot Pools Queenstown 
Day 18 Drive to Franz Josef Glacier via Wānaka Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 19 Explore Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 20 Drive to Christchurch via Arthur's Pass Christchurch
Day 21 Depart Christchurch  

Check out Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, by cable car, then take a night walk at Zealandia sanctuary and encounter nocturnal wildlife before embarking on a scenic ferry to the South Island on Day 3. Join a kayak tour at Abel Tasman National Park the following day, heading north through Marlborough wine country to Kaikōura for a whale watching excursion. Spend Days 7 and 8 in Christchurch with options that include a punt tour on the Avon River / Ōtākaro and cultural experiences at Ko Tāne Living Māori Village

Marvel at icebergs on Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake, and enjoy stargazing at Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. See yellow-eyed penguins at Penguin Place, and bottle your own beer at Speights Brewery in Dunedin on Days 11 and 12. Tour glowworm caves at Te Anau, and spend a peaceful night aboard a boat on Doubtful Sound. Continue to Queenstown, where you can enjoy views from the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere and ride the luge track at Skyline Complex. Spend your final days experiencing ice caves and hot pools at Franz Josef Glacier before sightseeing in Christchurch. Learn more

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

Itinerary #3: Ultimate South Island Self-Drive

This fast-paced South Island road trip is suited to travelers who want to visit popular stops, such as Christchurch and Queenstown, and a few that are farther off the beaten path, including the "pancake rocks" of Punakaiki and gold country near Shantytown.

Discover the wild coastline of the Otago Peninsula on this 21-day road trip
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch Christchurch
Day 2 Explore Christchurch: Gondola, Trams & Punting Christchurch
Day 3 Drive Across the Canterbury Plains to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park Mount Cook Village
Day 4 Visit the Moeraki Boulders & Drive South to Dunedin Dunedin
Day 5 Explore Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula Dunedin
Day 6 Drive to Te Ana, Explore Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 7 Embark on a 24-Hour Cruise Through Doubtful Sound Doubtful Sound
Day 8 Drive North to Queenstown, New Zealand's Adventure Capital Queenstown
Day 9 Explore Queenstown: Boats, Bungees & Zip Lines Queenstown
Day 10 Cross the Crown Range to the West Coast Glaciers Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 11 Explore Franz Josef Glacier: Valley Walk & Helicopter Flight Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 12 Drive North up the Coast to the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki Punakaiki
Day 13 Cross the Otira Viaduct to Arthur's Pass National Park Arthur's Pass
Day 14 Drive to Kaikōura, Whale Watching Excursion Kaikōura
Day 15 Drive Through the Marlborough Wine Country to Blenheim Blenheim
Day 16 Follow Queen Charlotte Drive to Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman National Park
Day 17 Explore Abel Tasman National Park: Sea Kayaking & Wildlife Abel Tasman National Park
Day 18 Drive Back Down the Wild West Coast to Westport Westport
Day 19 Follow the Coastline South to Greymouth, Visit Shantytown Greymouth
Day 20 Cross the Southern Alps to Christchurch on the TranzAlpine Train Christchurch
Day 21 Depart Christchurch  

See Christchurch via tram, punt (flat-bottomed boat), and gondola before heading across the Canterbury Plains to Aoraki / Mount Cook, where you can float alongside icebergs and take a 4WD tour to learn about Tasman Glacier. Spot fur seals on an Otago Peninsula wildlife excursion on Day 5. Cruise through Lake Te Anau glowworm caves, then spend a serene overnight aboard a boat on Doubtful Sound fjord. Days 8 and 9 focus on Queenstown's adrenaline-filled adventures, including bungee jumping and a jet boat ride through Shotover Canyon

Drive the West Coast to Franz Glacier on Day 10, and enjoy thermal pools, hiking, and a helicopter tour. Continue to Arthur's Pass National Park for caving and bird watching, then onto Kaikōura for a whale watching expedition. Head north to Marlborough on Day 15 for wine tasting. Then enjoy coastal photo ops along Queen Charlotte Drive en route to Abel Tasman National Park, where you can spot wildlife, like Fiordland penguins, as you paddle in your sea kayak along the shoreline. Stop by Buller Gorge and historic Shantytown before boarding the scenic TranzAlpine Train back to Christchurch. Learn more

Itinerary #4: Epic Australia & New Zealand: Cities, Beaches & Mountains

This two-country itinerary suits travelers who want to cover as much ground as possible and are keen on seeing both Australia and New Zealand. You'll snorkel Australia's Great Barrier Reef and hike the Blue Mountains and experience New Zealand's geothermal activity in Rotorua and wildlife in the fjords. It includes a handful of short flights, guided tours, and a variety of transportation options—including a luxury bus and 4WD vehicles—great for those who prefer less self-driving. 

Float above the Yarra Valley in a hot-air balloon
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney, Optional Activities Sydney
Day 2 City Tour of Sydney, Visit the Opera House Sydney
Day 3 Day Trip to the Blue Mountains Sydney
Day 4 Free Day in Sydney Sydney
Day 5 Fly to Port Douglas, Optional Activities Port Douglas
Day 6 Barrier Reef & Coral Cays Boat Tour Port Douglas
Day 7 Free Day in Port Douglas Port Douglas
Day 8 Day Trip to Kuranda Port Douglas
Day 9 Fly to Melbourne, Optional Activities Melbourne
Day 10 Laneways & Arcades Tour, Optional Activities Melbourne
Day 11 Yarra Valley Balloon Flight & Wine Tour Melbourne
Day 12 Phillip Island Tour & Penguin Parade Melbourne
Day 13 Fly to Auckland, Optional Activities Auckland
Day 14 Day Trip to Waitakere Ranges Auckland
Day 15 Auckland to Rotorua, Waitomo & Hobbiton Tour Rotorua
Day 16 Day Trip to Waimangu Valley & Māori Cultural Experience Rotorua
Day 17 Rotorua to Queenstown, Optional Activities Queenstown 
Day 18 Macetown 4WD Tour, Skyline Gondola Ride Queenstown 
Day 19 Jet Boat Adventure & River Safari Queenstown 
Day 20 Milford Sound Bus & Boat Tour Queenstown 
Day 21 Depart New Zealand  

Begin in Sydney with a city walking tour, a surf lesson at Bondi Beach, and a hike in the nearby Blue Mountains. Fly to Queensland, where you'll snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and take a 4WD tour of Daintree Rainforest before boarding the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda. On Day 9, fly to Melbourne and tour the city's historic laneways and arcades via the free City Circle tram. Take a hot-air balloon ride over nearby Yarra Valley, followed by a Champagne breakfast and wine tasting. Last, witness the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island with a stop to see kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas. 

Fly to Auckland for your New Zealand adventure, and take an eco-tour in the Waitakere Ranges. Board a luxury bus to Rotorua with stops at Glowworm Grotto and Hobbiton Movie Set. Embark on a bush walk and learn about Māori culture at Mitai Māori Village on Day 16 before catching a flight to Queenstown, where you can experience heart-pumping adventures such as bungee jumping. Then spend the day on the water with a jet boat tour and canoe safari in Mount Aspiring National Park followed by a wildlife cruise on the majestic Milford Sound fjord for the grand finale. Learn more

More Great 3-Week New Zealand Itineraries

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


Map of 3 Weeks in New Zealand - 4 Unique Itinerary Ideas
Map of 3 Weeks in New Zealand - 4 Unique Itinerary Ideas