Adventure seekers rejoice—this action-packed odyssey through New Zealand delivers plenty of excitement as you wind your way through the country's most stunning natural scenery by car, train, and ferry. Go bungee jumping and skydiving over the adventure capital of Queenstown, cruise under waterfalls in Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, and go heli-hiking on Franz Josef Glacier. After ziplining over Rotorua's forest canopy, finish with a SkyWalk on top of Auckland's Sky Tower.


  • Go bungee jumping off Kawarau Bridge and skydiving over Queenstown
  • Take trekking and heli-hiking trips on Franz Josef Glacier 
  • Visit Zealandia wildlife sanctuary to observe endemic species
  • Walk or zipline across Rotorua's forest canopy and discover geothermal activity
  • Visit Hobbiton before doing the SkyWalk on top of Auckland's Sky Tower

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Explore Tasman Glacier  Aoraki / Mount Cook 
Day 3 Drive to Queenstown, Kawarau Bridge Bungee & TSS Earnslaw Dinner Queenstown
Day 4 Tandem Skydive, Shotover River Canyon Jet Boat Ride Queenstown 
Day 5 Day Trip to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi  Queenstown 
Day 6 Drive to Franz Josef Glacier, Afternoon Hike Franz Josef 
Day 7 Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike Franz Josef 
Day 8 Drive to Greymouth, TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch  Christchurch
Day 9 Explore Christchurch  Christchurch
Day 10 Train to Picton, Ferry to Wellington Wellington
Day 11 Explore Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 12 Drive to Rotorua, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 13 Rotorua Forest Canopy Tour Rotorua
Day 14 Drive to Auckland via Hobbiton Auckland
Day 15 Sky Tower Skywalk Auckland
Day 16 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner

Enjoy a four-course meal on the Christchurch Dinner Tram
Enjoy a four-course meal on the Christchurch Dinner Tram

Welcome to Christchurch! New Zealand's second-largest metropolis is located on the east coast of the South Island and known as the "Garden City" for its verdant setting and tranquil parks. Upon arrival, pick up your rental car and continue to your hotel, where you can take some time to settle in before heading out to explore. 

Tonight you'll enjoy an elegant dinner in a historic colonial-style tram that makes the rounds of central Christchurch's top attractions. Sit back and relax as you take in the views of the Botanic Gardens, the Canterbury Museum, and the Avon River / Ōtākaro from your window-side table. 

Day 2: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Explore Haupapa / Tasman Glacier

Mount Cook
It will be hard not to notice the spectacular views of Aoraki / Mount Cook

Hit the road today and drive four hours west to Aoraki / Mount Cook, which sits at the base of its namesake mountain. New Zealand's highest peak measures 12,315 feet (3,754 m) and is also known by its Māori name Aoraki, which means "Cloud Piercer." The mountain is one of over 20 peaks in the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. The drive winds through the heart of the South Island, through the Canterbury Plains. Stop in the town of Geraldine as you make your way to Burkes Pass and the lakeside town of Tekapo. Finally, arrive at Aoraki / Mount Cook, your base for exploring the park's glaciers. 

Once checked in at your hotel, set out to see Aoraki / Mount Cook's 500-year-old icebergs up close. Take a cruise around Tasman Lake, where you'll see the country's largest glacier, the Haupapa / Tasman Glacier, as you weave around floating icebergs in a specially-designed boat. A guide will point out key landmarks as you glide across the water, surrounded by towering ice cliffs.

Day 3: Drive to Queenstown, Kawarau Bridge Bungee & TSS Earnslaw Dinner

Lindis Pass
Drive down into Queenstown for spectacular views of the Remarkables mountain range

It's time to head three hours south from Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park toward Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. Pass through the lakeside town of Twizel and a popular spot to go gliding, Ōmarama. Then, ascend the Lindis Pass into the Otago region. The route will take you through Cromwell, a town at the top of the Kawarau Gorge, and the Gibbston Valley wine-growing region.

Stop at the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, one of the world's first bungee jumping spots. If you're ready to take a leap, then this is the place to do it—experiencing the ultimate adventure and a lifelong memory of your trip to New Zealand. Then get back in the car, and with the Remarkables mountain range in sight, you'll approach Queenstown. Check into your hotel and rest up for tonight's event.

This evening, step aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship for a ride on Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. Here, enjoy a barbecue dinner featuring rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads, followed by dessert and New Zealand cheeses. You can also watch demonstrations about high country life on the farm. After the meal, step back on board the steamship and join a sing-along with the ship's pianist. Watch the lights of Queenstown come back into focus as you return to town.

Day 4: Tandem Skydive, Shotover River Canyon Jet Boat Ride

Skydive Queenstown
See New Zealand from high above

This morning you'll have the chance to see New Zealand from 15,000 feet (4,572 m) above with a tandem skydive experience. After a 15-minute scenic flight to altitude, you'll jump with a qualified Jumpmaster and freefall for 60 seconds—remember to smile as your photographer snaps the perfect shot! Then you'll take in breathtaking views over Queenstown as you float safely down to the drop zone on a gentle five-minute parachute ride.

After an action-packed morning, if you're thirsty for more, drive 10 minutes north of Queenstown to Shotover River Canyon. Take an exhilarating ride through a narrow section of this river canyon in the high-speed Shotover Jet that seems to defy gravity. Be prepared to get wet as your jet navigates through 46 miles (75 km) of rapids and narrow twists and turns. Afterward, return to your hotel for dinner and a good night's sleep.
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 5: Day Trip to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi 

Milford Sound
See stunning waterfalls as you cruise along Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

Board a bus in Queenstown today for a scenic drive to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi. Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" by Rudyard Kipling, this 10-mile-long (16 km) sound lies in UNESCO-listed Fiordland National Park. The bus stops at Milford Wharf, where you'll board a cruise ship to explore the full length of the fjord. See marine mammals such as penguins, dolphins, and seals, get soaked under spectacular waterfalls, and have a picnic lunch on board. Once you've reached the far end of the fjord, you'll return to Milford Wharf and head back to Queenstown.

Day 6: Drive to Franz Josef Glacier, Afternoon Hike

Blue Pools
Stop at the colorful Blue Pools on today's drive

Today's roughly five-hour drive takes you across the Crown Range, following the highest sealed road in New Zealand, to arrive in the alpine town of Wānaka. Skirt the shores of Lake Wānaka and Lake Hāwea to reach the small town of Makarora, and stop at the Blue Pools for a one-hour roundtrip walk through beech forests to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Afterward, get back on the road, and once you see the seaside settlement of Haast, you'll follow along the west coast, seeing Fox Glacier first before arriving at the village of Franz Josef / Waiau.

This small town, settled on the Waiho River among rainforests and the mountains of the Southern Alps, is known for the 7-mile-long (12 km) Franz Josef Glacier / Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Trail. Once you've gotten settled at your hotel, visit the Department of Conservation information center in Franz Josef / Waiau to plan a hike in the area. Some of the most popular trails include the Sentinel Rock Walk, which provides views of Franz Josef Glacier. Then there's the Lake Wombat Track and Terrace Walk, which takes you through the forest and past former gold mining areas.

Day 7: Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike

Franz Josef Helihike
Take a heli-hike over Franz Josef for unspoiled views

The best way to discover Franz Josef Glacier up close is to take a heli-hike. You'll fly over all three of the glacier's icefalls on today's exhilarating excursion, landing for a two-hour guided trek through the vast, icy landscape. A guide will take you through ice caves, where you'll spot frozen pinnacles and learn the geology and history of the glacier. Afterward, you'll have a free afternoon back in the village, where you can continue to explore or rest up after a week of adventures.

Day 8: Drive to Greymouth, TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch

Trans Alpine Train
Witness spectacular views from your seat on the TranzAlpine train

Today you'll drive two hours north through the historic gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its greenstone (pounamu), this historic seaside town dates back to the 1860s. Continue to the coast and savor the endless sea views, or pick up a souvenir at one of the many local shops. Continue on to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast and the starting point for the next leg of your journey—the TranzAlpine Scenic Train. Drop your rental car at the Greymouth Train Station depot located inside the train station building before boarding your train to go back to Christchurch.

Crossing the South Island from east to west, the TranzAlpine is considered one of the world's greatest train journeys. From the comfort of your carriage, you'll pass dense beech forest, sweeping river valleys, and the lofty peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend into the blustery Canterbury Plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the train station and take you to your hotel.

Day 9: Explore Christchurch 

Cathedral Square in Christchurch
Float along the Avon River / Ōtākaro in Christchurch

Settled within the Canterbury Plains on the Pacific coast, Christchurch has always been an ideal jumping-off point for visiting the South Island. On your free day, visit some of the modern buildings, such as the impressive Cardboard Cathedral. Immerse yourself in Christchurch's history by floating on the Avon River / Ōtākaro with a guide dressed in Edwardian attire, or ride a gondola to the rim of an extinct volcano. Head to the gorgeous Christchurch Botanic Gardens for a stroll or to Oxford Terrace for a bite to eat.

If you'd prefer to leave the city, an hour's drive in any direction, you'll find skiing, mountain biking, wine tasting, whale watching, bungee jumping, or golfing in this diverse region. You might want to learn about modern Antarctic exploring at the International Antarctic Center or see stunning wildlife at Orana Wildlife Park, an open-range zoo. For a wine-tasting experience, follow Port Hills Road to Akaroa and the vineyards in Waipara.

Day 10: Train to Picton, Ferry to Wellington

The sights you'll see from Picton to Wellington

Travel via the Coastal Pacific Train route today between Christchurch and the delightful port of Picton. This journey is a scenic feast of New Zealand landscapes, with the Kaikōura mountain ranges on one side and the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline on the other. Along the way, you'll pass through Kaikōura, famous for its resident whale population and its whale watching tours. Travel through some of New Zealand's finest farmland, and see remarkable wildlife, like dolphins, seals, and penguins, from the comfort of your train carriage.

Once you've reached Picton, you'll board the Interislander Ferry to Wellington. This three-hour journey has been described as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world. The cruise takes you through the Marlborough Sounds, gliding past lush mountains, small islands, clear waters, and secluded bays, offering remarkable photo opportunities. From the Cook Strait, keep an eye out for dolphins and sea birds.

After crossing the strait, you'll approach Wellington Harbour and see many interesting points, such as Pencarrow Head, where New Zealand's oldest lighthouse is located, and Red Rocks, home to a seal colony. Upon arrival at the harbor, you'll be transferred to your hotel in the city.

Day 11: Explore Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary

Ride the country's only running funicular for city views and access to the botanic gardens
Ride the country's only running funicular for city views and access to the botanic gardens

Today, discover New Zealand's quirky capital, truly a city with something for everyone. Not only a center of government but also of art, culture, food, fashion, and fun, you'll find plenty on offer here. Te Papa, the national museum, is popular with all age groups, and don't forget the fascinating Wētā Workshop, home to props and costumes from movies such as "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," and "Avatar." 

If you'd rather head out of town, pick up your rental car today and try one of the nearby sandy beach bays, also home to some of Wellington's best-loved cafés. Alternatively, take a two-hour round trip to Martinborough and enjoy a leisurely lunch in the beautiful wine country. Stop off at Martinborough Wines or Ata Rangi Martinborough for a real treat. Take the winding Remutaka Hill drive from the city. When you reach the top, stretch your legs at the lookout and enjoy the panoramic views.

This evening, head just 10 minutes out of central Wellington to visit the 500-acre (225 ha) wildlife eco-sanctuary Zealandia, home to native New Zealand wildlife. Surrounded by a predator-exclusion fence, the sanctuary protects animals like kiwi, tuatara, and tiny Maud Island frogs. The best time to visit on a guided tour is at night. Led by a guide and a flashlight, you'll come face-to-face with one of the many nocturnal species that live in Zealandia.

Day 12: Drive to Rotorua, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance

Tamaki Maori Village
Experience Rotorua's geothermal activity firsthand

It's an early start this morning as you pick up your rental car, say goodbye to Wellington and make the six-hour drive north to Rotorua. Follow the Kapiti Coast and pass the seaside towns of Paekakariki, and Paraparaumu, which are worth a short detour. Soon you'll be turning inland toward Tongariro National Park, one of New Zealand's three World Heritage Sites. Here you'll see Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano that served as Mount Doom in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Approaching Taupō, you'll see New Zealand's largest lake, Lake Taupoa—a gigantic volcanic caldera formed during one of the world's largest eruptions.

Just north of the town, be sure to visit Huka Falls. While there, it's possible to take a thrilling jetboat ride on the Huka Jet. As you head to Rotorua, pass the volcanic valley where you can visit the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley for a closer look at the hot springs and geysers that dot the area. Once in Rotorua, you'll see the city's geothermal activity as steam rises from the roadside and hills. Rotorua is considered the heart of New Zealand's Māori culture, and here you'll learn of their history and traditions. Check in to your hotel and get ready for this evening's event.

Tonight you are invited as a manuhiri (guest) at Te Pā Tū (Tamaki Māori Village) for a feast and celebration of dancing, music, and storytelling. At the opening ceremony, listen to stories and songs and watch dance performances in the forest amphitheater. Then, follow your Māori guide by torchlight to your three-course hākari (feast). Enjoy hāngī dishes (meat, fish, and vegetables) cooked using heated rocks buried in a pit oven, called an umu, which is used on special occasions.

Day 13: Rotorua Forest Canopy Tour

Rotorua Canopy Tours
Tiptoe along Rotorua's tree-top walkway

Take an optional three-hour canopy tour through Rotorua's native forest this morning. You'll explore via an extensive network of trails, tree platforms, swing bridges, and ziplines. Take in sweeping views of the dense forest and surrounding hills along the way. You'll be accompanied by a guide who'll share their passion and knowledge of the forest. 

If you'd prefer to keep your feet on the ground, have a geothermal experience and discover the vast, colorful hot springs, erupting geysers, and active boiling mud pools nearby. You'll see spectacular volcanoes and lush native forests as you travel through forests and farmland to New Zealand's most extensive geothermal system, Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. While there, walk along the trails to witness fascinating volcanic formations, such as sulfur ponds and geysers. Make sure you're present at 10:15 to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt!

Day 14: Drive to Auckland via Hobbiton

Step into Tolkien's Middle-earth with a trip to the Shire

Leave the steaming vents and boiling pools of this geothermal region behind you as you make your way through the lush dairy pastures of the Waikato. After an hour, you'll arrive in the small town of Matamata, home to New Zealand's very own Hobbiton. Experience the real Middle-earth at the Hobbiton movie set, where you can step into the lush pastures of the Shire™, as seen in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies. Your guide will escort you around the set, showing the intricate details, pointing out the most famous locations, and explaining how Middle-earth was brought to life on film.

The tour takes you around the 12-acre (4.8 ha) set, past Hobbit Holes, the Mill, and into the world-famous Green Dragon Inn, where you'll enjoy an exclusive Hobbit Southfarthing beverage to conclude your own Middle-earth adventure. After your visit, drive northwest for another 2.5 hours to reach Auckland, your base for the last two nights of your trip.

Day 15: Sky Tower Skywalk

Auckland Skywalk
Brave dizzying heights on the Auckland Skywalk!

Spend the penultimate day of your trip exploring New Zealand's largest city, which sits on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With two bustling harbors, it's not hard to see why Auckland is nicknamed the "City of Sails." You could hop on the Auckland Explorer Bus, which can include the central city Red Tour and the outer city Blue Tour, as well as a return ferry to the historic seaside suburb of Devonport on Auckland's North Shore. Browse boutiques for unique gifts, indulge at a restaurant or café, go to the beach, or climb North Head for harbor views.

To end your adventure in an exhilarating style, opt for a walk on the wild side at the top of New Zealand's highest building, the Sky Tower. With no handrails to separate you from the 630-foot (192 m) drop, you'll feel the adrenaline with challenges designed to get your heart racing while you take in epic 360-degree views over Auckland and its harbors.

Day 16: Depart Auckland

Panoramic view of Auckland
Farewell Auckland!!

Depending on your flight time, you may have some extra time to explore more of Auckland before you leave. When the time comes, drop your rental car off at the airport before catching your flight back home. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore more ways to spend 16 days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


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Map of Active Adventure on New Zealand's North & South Islands  - 16 Days
Map of Active Adventure on New Zealand's North & South Islands - 16 Days