A 16-day tour of New Zealand is just the right length to appreciate the beauty and diversity of its two main islands, the North and South Islands. Start in Auckland, experiencing its big-city attractions and natural charm. Continue to geothermal Rotorua, a heartland of Maori culture. Fly south to Christchurch for a few days around the Garden City before driving into the mountains. Aoraki / Mount Cook, Queenstown, and Milford Sound / Piopiotahi offer some of the country's most stunning scenery.


  • Linger on the black sand beaches and coastal rainforests of the Waitakere Ranges
  • Participate in a Maori cultural performance in Rotorua
  • Stargaze in a dark sky reserve near Aoraki / Mount Cook
  • Take an overnight cruise on spectacular Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore Waitakere Ranges' Beaches & Rainforest Auckland
Day 2 Auckland City Tour, Free Afternoon Auckland
Day 3 Waiheke Island Wine & Food Tour Auckland
Day 4 Luxury Bus to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Mitai Cultural Experience & Dinner Rotorua
Day 5 Waimangu Nature Walk & Cruise, Kiwi Hatchery & Glow Worm Kayak Rotorua
Day 6 Fly to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 7 Day Trip to Banks Peninsula, Akaroa Dolphin Cruise Christchurch
Day 8 Punting on the Avon, Free Afternoon Christchurch
Day 9 Drive to Aoraki/ Mount Cook, Evening Stargazing Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 10 Free Day Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 11 Drive to Queenstown, Explore Lake Wakatipu Queenstown
Day 12 Macetown 4WD Tour, Skyline Gondola Ride Queenstown
Day 13 Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Overnight Cruise Milford Sound
Day 14 Disembark Cruise, Return to Queenstown Queenstown
Day 15 Winery Tour or Jet Boat & Funyak Safari, Walter Peak Farm Dinner Queenstown
Day 16 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Explore Waitakere Ranges' Beaches & Rainforest

Get your stay in New Zealand off to a good start by visiting the beaches of the Waitakere Ranges

Welcome to Auckland! New Zealand's biggest city is located near the top of the North Island and is famous for its harbor setting, and is set on 52 dormant volcanic cones. Besides a bustling urban center with chic waterfront promenades, Auckland and its surrounding area is home to 26 regional parks featuring diverse landscapes. These include everything from tropical rainforests to rugged coastlines and golden beaches, of which you'll get to explore a few. Your driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. 

After your morning arrival, in the afternoon, you'll be driven west to the Waitakere Ranges, hills separating Auckland from its surf-fringed west coast. Your first stop is the Arataki Centre; the sweeping decks here give breathtaking panoramic views from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Absorb the local history and admire the magnificent traditional Māori carvings that stand guard there.

Head farther west and experience the power of the wild and rugged coast. Feel the soft, black sand beneath your feet as you stroll along the beach. Take an easy walk in the lush rainforest, listening out for native birdsong as you walk among New Zealand's famous kauri trees and giant tree ferns. Because New Zealand has existed for millions of years, separate from the rest of the world, it has evolved its unique flora and fauna, and 70% of its native plants are found nowhere else in the world.

Day 2: Auckland City Tour, Free Afternoon

Take a tour of downtown Auckland

After a refreshing night's sleep, get to know Auckland City better in the morning and travel up the central thoroughfare, Queen Street, through Auckland's Central Business District, past the white spires of Auckland University, and through the inner city park known as the Auckland Domain. Continue through the picturesque suburb of Ponsonby, with its historic buildings, before heading over the Harbour Bridge to Auckland's North Shore. Stroll along a beautiful white-sand beach and continue up to the summit of Mount Victoria, with its stunning panoramic views of Auckland and historic Devonport.

The afternoon is yours to spend as you like. Perhaps you'd like to shop for souvenirs downtown, head up the Sky Tower for sweeping views of the city and harbor, or browse the cultural and historical exhibits at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in the Domain. It's up to you.

Day 3: Waiheke Island Wine & Food Tour

Waiheke Island
Beautiful beaches of Waiheke Island
Take a ferry across Auckland Harbour to Waiheke Island today, a rural playground that's part of Auckland but feels quite different. After working up an appetite, visit one of Waiheke Island's many vineyards for a wine tasting and lunch. If time allows, after lunch, head toward Onetangi, a long north-facing beach, before making your way to your second vineyard to sample more wine. The final stop is at a picturesque vineyard overlooking the Hauraki Gulf for a last wine tasting. From here, you can opt to return to your hotel on the mainland or stay for dinner and get a later ferry back.

Day 4: Luxury Bus to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Mitai Cultural Experience & Dinner

Rotorua is famous for its volcanic and geothermal attractions

Say goodbye to Auckland this morning as you board a luxury bus and travel south through the rural Waikato and King Country regions to the lakeside town of Rotorua, renowned for its Māori culture and geothermal attractions.

You won't go directly to Rotorua, though, as you'll first stop at the rural town of Matamata. A private farm here is famous as the shooting location for part of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies. On a guided tour, visit the Hobbiton Movie Set, home to Bilbo, Frodo, and friends, and find out how the sets were created and the farm was transformed to bring the fictional Shire to cinematic life. Many landmarks created just for the films remain, including Hobbit holes and the Green Dragon Inn, where you can even grab a drink. After the Hobbiton tour, continue on the last leg of the journey to Rotorua.

In the late afternoon, head to the outskirts of town for a special dinner and a show at Mitai Māori Village. This family-run cultural center offers an authentic Indigenous experience featuring the Te Arawa people, a Māori iwi (tribe) who were the original inhabitants of the Rotorua Lakes region. This memorable outing includes outdoor excursions and performances complimented by a traditional hāngī or pit-cooked dinner.

After dinner, embark on a guided bush walk, during which you'll learn about the medicinal uses of the flora native to the region. Through these methods, Māori tribes have survived and lived in harmony with the land since long before colonialization. Eventually, you'll arrive at Te Puna a Tuhoe, an ancient sacred puna (spring) whose fresh waters you'll drink at dinner. Here, enjoy the electric blue pinpricks of light from glow worms on the banks.

Day 5: Waimangu Nature Walk & Cruise, Kiwi Hatchery & Glow Worm Kayak

Volcanic crater lake at Waimangu Valley
Volcanic crater lake at Waimangu Valley

Start your day at Rotorua's Waimangu Volcanic Valley. You'll be fascinated by the geothermal area's colors, sights, and smells. In 1886, Mount Tarawera in Rotorua erupted and destroyed the surrounding area. The eruption opened the earth, splitting the mountain in two, exploding Lake Rotomahana to 20 times its original size and forming the seven craters that today make up the valley. Take an eco-focused nature walk or hike through the park, followed by a relaxing boat cruise on Lake Rotomahana, exploring its geothermal system.

Next, visit the National Kiwi Hatchery to learn about New Zealand's national bird, the flightless kiwi. Here you can view the incubation and hatching technology at the largest kiwi hatching facility in New Zealand and learn more about the kiwi recovery program "Operation Nest Egg" from knowledgeable guides. Check out a nocturnal area to view kiwis in a more natural environment behind glass.

To end the day, head to the shorelines of Lake Okareka as the sun is setting and meet your friendly kayak guides. Gear up and prepare for an evening out. Explore the shoreline as you follow your guide around the lake's edge. Once it's dark, head inside hidden caves that are home to galaxies of glow worms. If it is a clear night, the magic continues as the stars come out, and the cloudy appearance of the Milky Way fills the sky. 

Day 6: Fly to Christchurch, Explore

Cathedral Square in Christchurch
Cathedral Square in Christchurch

Say goodbye to the North Island today as you fly to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. Often referred to as the Garden City, Christchurch features many trees and extensive parks and gardens, the most notable of which is Hagley Park. Bordering the park are the Botanical Gardens and the Gothic revival building that houses the Canterbury Museum. The Avon River / Ōtākaro gently winds around these inner city landmarks and through the suburbs to empty into the Pacific Ocean.

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Day 7: Day Trip to Banks Peninsula, Akaroa Dolphin Cruise

Cruise in Akaroa Harbour

Take a day trip today out to the Banks Peninsula, east of Christchurch city. Drive through semirural suburbs and farmland on the way out to the peninsula and to Akaroa village, an unusual town in New Zealand with a French colonial heritage.

At Akaroa, hop on board a boat that will take you through spectacular sea caves and past volcanic formations, high cliffs, and bird-nesting sites within Akaroa Harbour and beyond the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. Get incredibly close to the wildlife: Akaroa Harbour is home to fantastic birdlife and sea mammals, including the world's rarest and smallest dolphin, the friendly Hector's dolphin. You will also see fur seals sunbathing on the rocks, little blue penguins, marine salmon, and mussel and paua pearl farms.

Day 8: Punting on the Avon, Free Afternoon

Ride a traditional-style punt on Christchurch's River Avon

Enjoy a quintessentially Christchurch activity this morning: an authentic punting experience along the Avon River / Ōtākaro. A punter dressed in Edwardian garb will guide you quietly past trailing willows, woodlands, and the leafy banks of the Botanic Gardens, or through the city center, on board a classic punt.

The afternoon is yours to do with as you please. Perhaps you'd like to take a scenic tram ride through the city, stopping at sites of interest along the way and hopping back on board when you feel like it. An evening tram also runs, serving gourmet cuisine as you trundle past central Christchurch's main attractions.

Day 9: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook Village, Evening Stargazing

Stargazing over the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo
Stargazing over the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo

Depart Christchurch and travel across the Canterbury Plains through fields and farms. The longest bridge in New Zealand takes you across the Rakaia River, a typical New Zealand braided river, where numerous water channels flow across a broad gravel bed. The river originates in the Southern Alps, which can be seen to the west as you continue over the flat land through Ashburton, the center of this large sheep and wheat farming area.

Shortly after crossing the Rangitata River, turn inland to Geraldine, the gateway to the lakes of the central Mackenzie Basin. Travel over undulating sheep country to Fairlie and ascend to the settlement of Lake Tekapo, where the picturesque Church of the Good Shepherd perches on the lakeside. Continue through a landscape of scrub and tussock to Lake Pukaki and drive up the western shore, following the Tasman River to Aoraki / Mount Cook village. The Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park is home to New Zealand's highest mountains and longest glaciers. The trip takes about 4.5 hours of non-stop driving.

In the evening, weather permitting, you'll take a journey through the cosmos to explore the night sky. Look through high-powered telescopes and learn about the southern skies from your knowledgeable astronomer guide. From the Hermitage Hotel, you'll transfer to the base and enjoy hot chocolate and snacks before stepping outside to witness the darkness as it comes alive with the stars. In the case of bad weather, an alternative indoor planetarium experience will be offered.

Day 10: Free Day

Aoraki/ Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain, with Lake Pukaki

Enjoy a free day at your leisure. You can choose your own activities today, but a short walk or hike is recommended. Head to the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre, run by the Department of Conservation, for information on the many walks and hikes available in the area.

The hikes in this area range from just 10 minutes to four hours long. The quickest option is the Bowen Bush Walk, an easy forest hike that will take you toward Glencoe Lodge through tōtara and celery pine forests. For a more challenging option, try the two-hour Red Tarns Track. Starting at the public shelter, follow the path to Black Birch Stream. Then, cross the bridge and climb steeply to the Red Tarns, where a viewpoint offers a spectacular panorama of the valley and Aoraki / Mount Cook.

You may even prefer to take an optional Haupapa / Tasman Glacier heli-hike. Fly high onto the white ice of New Zealand's longest glacier, the Haupapa / Tasman Glacier. You'll land at around 3,900 feet (1,200 m) and spend up to two hours on a guided interpretive ice trek. The gently undulating terrain is a fantastic landscape of fluted ice, runnels, moulins, and sinuous winding streamlets. On the return helicopter ride, fly close by the massive 3,200-foot (1,000 m) Hochstetter Icefall below Aoraki / Mount Cook. 

Day 11: Drive to Queenstown, Explore Lake Wakatipu

Welcome to Queenstown!
Aerial view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu

It's time to head south for 3.5 hours to 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. When you reach the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, consider bungee jumping or watching other people take the leap. The Remarkables mountain range heralds your approach to Queenstown.

After arriving at your accommodation, head out into the lakeside town and follow the walking and cycling paths around Lake Wakatipu for some great views. 

Day 12: Macetown 4WD Tour, Skyline Gondola Ride

A fun luge track runs under Queenstown's Skyline Gondola

This morning, hop in a 4WD vehicle and head north from Queenstown into the hills. Follow an old miners' wagon trail to Macetown, a historic gold mining settlement dating back to 1862 that's now a tourist attraction and protected reserve. You may recognize some of the landscapes you'll see en route from their starring roles in "The Lord of the Rings" films. In Macetown, explore the relics of this well-preserved settlement and pan for gold in the Arrow River.

In the afternoon, tick off a must-do Queenstown activity: riding the Skyline Gondola above the city. You're in for quite a thrill, as it's the Southern Hemisphere's highest cable car. It'll whisk you smoothly up 1,476 feet (450 m) to the viewpoint at Bob's Peak. On the ascent, watch as the city drops away below you and then enjoy the breathtaking 360-degree views from the top. Here, you can see all the way to Coronet Peak around the Remarkables mountain range and out to Cecil and Walter Peaks on the other side of Lake Wakatipu.

Day 13: Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Overnight Cruise

Milford Sound
The views on Milford Sound / Piopiotahi are reflective when the weather is clear

From Queenstown, travel along the shores of Lake Wakatipu and through the rolling countryside. Continue along the spectacular alpine route of Milford Road through awe-inspiring scenery. Upon arriving in Milford, board the Milford Mariner and enjoy a cruise of the fjord out to the Tasman Sea. Look out for seals, penguins, and dolphins. Go for a paddle in a kayak to explore the fjord and its waterfalls up close.

The boat will anchor in the shelter of Harrison Cove. Overnight accommodation is in private ensuite cabins. Enjoy a three-course buffet dinner in the dining saloon, followed by a presentation by your nature guide in the forward bar. 

Day 14: Disembark Cruise, Return to Queenstown

Sailing up to waterfalls is a highlight when visiting Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

After waking up on board your cruise boat, enjoy a hearty breakfast while continuing to sail around the fjord. Eventually, it will be time to disembark on Milford and take the return trip back to Queenstown.

Take it easy in Queenstown for the rest of the day. You might want to do a little souvenir shopping in some of its upmarket boutiques, as the trip is coming to an end.

Day 15: Winery Tour or Jet Boat & Funyak Safari, Walter Peak Farm Dinner

Vineyards in Cromwell
Vineyards in Cromwell, Central Otago

Make the most of your last full day in New Zealand with a fun-filled itinerary today. You can choose between a luxurious day of wine-tasting and vineyard visits or feel the adrenaline rush with a jet boating and "funyaking" adventure.

If you opt for the former, experience a wine-tasting journey in Central Otago's incredibly scenic and diverse wine subregions: Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Cromwell. You'll enjoy tastings at three boutique vineyards and a platter-style lunch at a restaurant. Savor the finest and freshest produce with a glass of premium wine. Stroll through the charming historical settlement of Old Cromwell and learn about this wine region's early pioneering history and development. The pinot noir produced here is widely considered to be among the world's best.

If you want to get more active, transfer north into the wilds of Mount Aspiring National Park. Upon arrival, hop in a jet boat for an adrenaline-pumping ride down the glacier-fed Dart River. Feel the excitement as you zip along this shallow waterway at high speeds while your daredevil captain performs exhilarating spins. Next, paddle at a more leisurely pace in an inflatable canoe, or "funyak." After a picnic lunch, venture into the wilderness and hike to hidden streams, rock pools, and granite river gorges like the dramatic Rockburn Chasm. Continue downstream to the aptly named settlement of Paradise, where the tour ends.

As evening approaches, step aboard Queenstown's TSS Earnslaw and enjoy a 40-minute cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station. At the refurbished Colonel's Homestead, enjoy a barbecue feast before a roaring open fire and soak in the views from this stunning lakeside setting.

Day 16: Depart Queenstown

Enjoy the lake and mountain views from your flight out of Queenstown
Your New Zealand adventure has come to an end. Depending on your time of departure, you may have time for a final stroll along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. When it's time to head to the airport, you'll be transferred the short way from the town to the airport. Enjoy the lake and mountain views as you fly out of Queenstown. 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 different ways to spend 16 days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


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 Best of New Zealand: Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch, Aoraki / Mount Cook & Queenstown - 16 Days
Map of Best of New Zealand: Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch, Aoraki / Mount Cook & Queenstown - 16 Days