This exciting itinerary combines top highlights in New Zealand's North and South Islands. Spend your first night in Auckland with a dinner cruise facing the twinkling skyline, then hit the road toward volcanoes, spouting geysers, and glow worm caves. Drop your car in Wellington, the nation's capital, and fly to Queenstown for adrenaline sports (if you choose), an overnight cruise in Milford Sound, and a wine tour to finish the adventure.


  • Learn about Maori food and culture during a three-course feast and performance
  • Choose between a range of hiking trails in New Zealand's oldest national park
  • Kayak in the Milford Sound while looking at seals, penguins, and dolphins
  • Spend your last afternoon visiting three premium wineries known for pinot noir

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore & Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Rotorua, Visit the Waitomo Caves Rotorua
Day 3 Guided Māori Culture Tour, Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 4 Drive to Tongariro National Park, Explore Tongariro National Park
Day 5 Drive to Wellington, Explore  Christchurch
Day 6 Return Rental Car, Fly to Queenstown Franz Josef Glacier
Day 7 Milford Sound Overnight Cruise Milford Mariner
Day 8 Milford Sound Cruise, Return to Queenstown Queenstown
Day 9 Choose Your Own Adventures in Queenstown Queenstown
Day 10 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Explore & Dinner Cruise 

Auckland's unmistakable skyline, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean
Auckland's unmistakable skyline, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean

Welcome to Auckland! Today, you'll have the entire day to explore the largest city in New Zealand. A great place to start is the Sky Tower. Rising 1,076 feet (328 m), this iconic needle is the tallest manufactured structure in the country and offers breathtaking views in every direction. Purchase a ticket to ride in the glass-enclosed elevators to one of three spectacular viewing platforms—or for more excitement, step outside on the SkyWalk. Even more thrilling is the SkyJump, a bungee experience that delivers 11 seconds of pure adrenaline as you plunge 53 floors.

Travelers who prefer to stay on terra firma can take a relaxing stroll around Waitematā Harbour, a starting point for sailing, cruising, and whale watching excursions. Keep a close lookout for the orcas and bottlenose dolphins that regularly visit the waters close to the city. Or head to Auckland Fish Market, offering seafood lunch options like steamed mussels and fresh oysters. Save room for dinner, as tonight you'll enjoy a multicourse dining experience on the water while you sail around Auckland. Enjoy dinner as the sun dips into the horizon as the skyline turns to twinkling lights.

Day 2: Drive to Rotorua, Visit the Waitomo Caves

Consider taking an underground walking tour of Ruakuri Cave

Today's drive from Auckland takes you into the rolling farmland and rich dairy pastures of the Waikato region before arriving in the Waitomo countryside, home to a 30 million-year-old underground cave network. Here you can learn about stalactites and stalagmites and the caves' historical significance. There are many ways to experience the magic below ground. Some choose a gentle boat trip under a ceiling of glowworms through a galaxy of tiny living lights. You can also take a walking tour in Ruakuri Cave or try black water rafting. 

After the adventure, continue the drive southward, passing lush farmland and farm towns like Otorohanga and Putaruru before arriving at the geothermal valley of Rotorua, where you'll be for two nights.

Day 3: Guided Māori Culture Tour, Māori Feast & Performance

Te Puia Springs is home to the Pohuto Geyser

Today you'll have plenty of time to discover New Zealand's geothermal landscapes in Rotorua. The area is famed for its otherworldly green and orange sulfur pools, bubbling mud baths, and spurting geysers. You'll see all of this at the Te Puia Springs, home to Pohutu Geyser, which erupts up to 20 times a day, shooting a plume of scalding water up to 100 feet (30 m) into the sky.

Next, you'll visit the Kiwi Conservation Centre, a refuge for native birds, including New Zealand's national emblem, the flightless kiwi. Move on to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, where you'll learn about carving and weaving techniques from the artists themselves. Rotorua is a revered Māori region and the ideal place to explore this ancient culture. 

Tonight you are invited as a manuhiri (guest) at Te Pā Tū (Tamaki Māori Village) for a three-course feast—including meat, fish, and vegetables cooked over heated rocks in a pit—followed by dancing, music, and storytelling. The themes change according to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), so ask your guide what might be in store for your performance. 
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Day 4: Drive to Tongariro National Park, Explore

Spend some time exploring Tongariri National Park
Pick between a range of hiking trails in Tongariro National Park

Today you'll start the two-hour drive from Rotorua to Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's oldest national park, established in 1887 after the Māori chief Te Heuheu Tukino IV gifted the sacred peaks to the nation. This was also one of the first places on earth to be given recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the heart of the park are three volcanoes, Mt. Tongariro, Mt. Ruapehu, and Mt. Ngauruhoe, two of which are considered the most active composite volcanoes in the world. These volcanoes are constantly monitored to ensure visitor safety.

Despite the barren environment, the region abounds with flora and fauna, like alpine herbs and dense beech forests. New Zealand's only native mammals, the short and long-tailed bat, also make their home here. The Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand's great daytime walks, taking around 6-8 hours to complete, where you'll pass the Emerald and Blue Lakes and see volcanic terrain that you won't see anywhere else in New Zealand. There are many other trails in the park and nearby Whakapapa Village, where you'll stay overnight to suit all abilities.

The Department of Conservation maintains the trails, so take advantage of their local information office to help you determine the weather, track conditions, and suitability before you head out.

Day 5: Drive to Wellington, Explore 

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

This morning you'll make a 3.5-hour scenic drive from Tongariro National Park to Wellington, New Zealand's capital and center of government. Often referred to as "mini-Melbourne," this windy city is a melting pot of art, culture, food, and fashion. Quirky laneway bars, underground art shows, and hipster eateries make up its inner-city vibe, while a host of sandy beaches outside the urban bustle offer a relaxing holiday vibe.

Perhaps you'll want to spend a few hours at the six-floor Te Papa Museum for a range of exhibits or jump aboard the Wellington Cable Car—the only running funicular in the country that leads to a lookout point and extensive botanic garden. You can also go behind the scenes at Weta Workshop, the Oscar Award-winning design studio behind "The Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit," and "Avatar." Animal lovers can learn about New Zealand's native species at Zealandia—the world's first, fully-fenced eco-sanctuary and home to over 40 types of endangered and native birds.

Day 6: Fly to Queenstown, Explore 

Queenstown is a great base for exploring the South Island

Today, you'll drop your car at Wellington Airport, where you will board a flight to Queenstown on the South Island. Upon arrival, a driver will be waiting to transport you to your hotel, where you will have the rest of the day to explore the city at your own pace.

Queenstown is the self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world, with many adrenaline sports available in the area, like paragliding, sky diving, and bungee jumping, to name a few. For more relaxing activities, you can start the day with a walk, jog, or bike ride around Lake Wakatipu, then check out the nearby historic gold-mining town called Arrowtown for lunch and boutique shopping. The nearby resort town of Wānaka also makes a beautiful day trip with several hiking trails in Mount Aspiring National Park. Fishing, sailing, and kitesurfing are other popular pastimes.

Day 7: Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

Spend the night on a cruise surrounded by striking scenery

Today begins an overnight adventure in Milford Sound, the stunning fjord in Fiordland National Park crowned by Mitre Peak, rising 5,551 feet (1,692 m) high. You'll first take a luxury coach in Queenstown and travel along the spectacular alpine route of the Milford Road through impressive, awe-inspiring scenery. Once in Milford, you'll board the Milford Mariner and cruise the fjord out to the Tasman Sea as you look for wildlife such as seals, penguins, and dolphins. Go for a kayak ride or hop on a tender craft to explore the natural scenery up close.

The boat will anchor at Harrison Cove overnight, where you'll stay in a private cabin. Enjoy a sumptuous three-course buffet dinner in the dining saloon, followed by an informative presentation about this exceptional region. 

Day 8: Milford Sound Cruise, Return to Queenstown

Spend the morning in Milford Sound before returning to dry land

Not often, you get to wake up on a boat in Milford Sound, where you can step outside and catch some fresh air and once-in-a-lifetime views. Once you've had breakfast, there will be time for further cruising and exploring before returning to Milford Wharf to complete the adventure.

From here, you'll be transferred back to your hotel, where you'll have the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore Queenstown. This might be a great time to ride the 10-minute gondola, called Skyline Queenstown, for panoramic views and a drink at the bar before riding back down to town for dinner. 

Day 9: Queenstown Original Wine Tour

Spend a relaxing day visiting some of the area's top wineries

Today you'll have the morning to rest and enjoy Queenstown at your leisure before your wine tour highlighting local pinot noir. At the appointed time, you'll be picked up at your accommodation and then travel a short distance from Queenstown. You'll be given an in-depth wine experience with presentations and several tastings (15+) at three premium vineyards.

As part of the tour, you'll also see New Zealand's largest underground wine cave. There will be free time on the tour to unwind and have lunch at a winery or sample a selection of local cheeses before you return to Queenstown in the late afternoon. 

Day 10: Depart Queenstown

Until next time, Queenstown
It's time to say goodbye to New Zealand! You'll take a shuttle back to Queenstown Airport at the appointed time, where you'll board your flight home. Kia Ora!

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Map of Best of New Zealand's North & South Islands - 10 Days
Map of Best of New Zealand's North & South Islands - 10 Days