Perfect for first-timers, this 13-day itinerary covers an epic variety of landscapes and activities that only New Zealand could offer. Starting in Auckland, you'll head south passing through glowworm caves, natural mud baths, and famous film sets. Stay a few nights in Wellington before continuing to the South Island for the country's highest peaks, incredible natural wonders (like Milford Sound), and—if you so choose—a range of adrenaline sports to amp up this "Kiwi" adventure.

Highlights

  • Get to know New Zealand's largest city (Auckland) and capital (Wellington)
  • Indulge in some geothermal spa treatments while visiting Rotorua 
  • Spend some time near the country's highest peak and longest glacier
  • Watch a sunrise in Milford Sound while looking for penguins and dolphins
  • Pick between a number of adrenaline sports and wineries in Queenstown

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Auckland City Tour Auckland
Day 3 Drive from Auckland to Rotorua (via Waitomo & Hobbiton) Rotorua
Day 4 Rotorua Tour - Maori Cultural Experience Rotorua
Day 5 Fly from Rotorua to Wellington Wellington
Day 6 Explore Wellington Wellington
Day 7 Fly from Wellington to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 8 Day-Trip to Akaroa Christchurch
Day 9 Drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park Mount Cook
Day 10 Drive from Mount Cook National Park to Queenstown Queenstown
Day 11 Day-Trip to Milford Sound Queenstown
Day 12 Free Day in Queenstown Queenstown
Day 13 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Explore New Zealand's biggest city

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at Auckland Airport, you'll be picked up from a driver who will transfer you to your hotel in the city center. Once you're settled, a host will meet you to go over the details of your upcoming adventure and answer any questions you may have.

From here you'll have the rest of the day to explore New Zealand's largest metropolis however you wish, perhaps starting with dinner in your neighborhood. Get some rest for a big day touring the city! 

Day 2: Auckland City Tour

Get the lay of the land in Auckland today

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll meet up with a local guide for a city tour. The half-day itinerary starts in the city center so you can get a taste of Queen Street, Karangahape Road, and Ponsonby Road—each with their own unique vibe. Ponsonby, in particular, is known for its trendy cafes, stylish boutiques, and independent bookstores. From here, cross over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and enjoy views of the Hauraki Gulf and the city skyline, followed by the Viaduct Harbour and the revitalized Silo Park waterfront precinct. You'll also see historic buildings around the University of Auckland before continuing over Grafton Bridge to the Auckland Domain.

The Domain is the city's oldest park and, at 185 acres, one of its largest. Developed around an extinct volcano, it features tropical gardens, duck ponds, and public art, and is home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The tour continues through the boutique shopping area of Parnell Village where you'll stop for tea, and then it follows the scenic waterfront route of Tamaki Drive.

Just above Mission Bay is one of the scenic highlights of the tour: Michael Joseph Savage Memorial Park. Named after one of New Zealand's most revered prime ministers, the park, with its formal gardens and tranquil atmosphere, offers stunning views over the city as well as Eastern Bays and Waitemata Harbour

Your Auckland tour then returns along the waterfront and finishes in the city center. From here, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own.

Day 3: Drive from Auckland to Rotorua (via Waitomo & Hobbiton)

Make a stop at this famous film location

Today you'll get on the road and make your way to Rotorua with some fun detours along the way. Your first stop is Waitomo, location of the glowworm caves, where you'll take a 45-minute guided tour through impressive underground caverns while learning about stalactites, stalagmites, and other limestone structures and how they were formed over the course of millions of years. The event also includes a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto for a silent glide along an underground river while gazing at twinkling glowworms overhead.

Next, it's time for the Hobbiton Movie Set from The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit movies. Take a guided tour here and learn how this working farm was transformed into the Shire from Middle-earth. Your guide will show you several specific film locations and will fill you in on some secrets from production!

Following the tour, continue driving to your hotel in Rotorua where you'll stop for the night. Brace yourself for the smell of sulfur!

Day 4: Rotorua Tour - Maori Cultural Experience

A hot thermal spring called "Champagne Pool" in Rotorua

Today you'll spend the morning seeing the sights around Rotorua. The tour begins at Te Puia where you will gain insight into New Zealand's distinct Maori culture. Enjoy woodcarving and weaving schools and see how these art forms are being passed onto a new generation of master artists.

The next stop is Agrodome—a working organic farm where you can watch a sheep shearing display and see sheepdog trials. After your visit at Agrodome, the last stop will be at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park, where you can get up close to native flora and fauna including the famous kiwi. 

From here, transfer back to the hotel and enjoy the afternoon on your own before joining an evening Maori cultural performance and Hangi Dinner. Located in an authentic village in the Rotorua forest, you'll be able to discover Maori art forms, take park in ancient rituals, and enjoy a traditional feast cooked underground on hot stones.

Day 5: Fly from Rotorua to Wellington

Wellington's waterfront location

It's time to make your way to Wellington! At the designated time, you'll transfer to the Rotorua airport for your short flight to New Zealand's capital. 

Called "the coolest little capital" in the world by Lonely Planet, Wellington is set on the edge of a stunning harbor and surrounded by rolling hills. In addition to the options listed below, Wellington also boasts a staggering array of cafes, bars, and restaurants, so you'll likely find that two days isn't enough time to experience all that this livable city has to offer.

Suggested activities include:

  • Ride the Cable Car: One of Wellington's most popular tourist attractions, the cable cars run from Lambton Quay in the commercial heart of the city all the way up to the suburb of Kelburn for beautiful walking trails and architecture. While here, you can visit the Botanic Gardens and have a picnic lunch (or dine at the café).

  • City to Sea Walkway: This is a rich and varied walking path from one end of Wellington into the surrounding suburbs and hills, which continues to the rocky shores of Wellington's south coast. It sports wonderful views of Cook Strait and Kaikoura Ranges and takes approximately four hours. Walkway brochures can be picked up from the Wellington I-SITE Visitor Centre.

  • Te Papa National Museum: New Zealand's bold and innovative national museum offers interactive and visitor-focused museum experiences. Entry is free, though charges apply to some short-term exhibitions and activities. You can learn about New Zealand's geology and natural environment. Also gain insight into the native indigenous people, the Māori, who are celebrated in Te Papa's permanent exhibitions and communal center. 

Day 6: Explore Wellington with a Local

Spend the day exploring New Zealand's capital

After breakfast this morning, you'll take a guided sightseeing tour to see some of the city's best attractions including the Beehive and Parliament buildings. You'll also get a panoramic view of the city from the top of Mount Victoria where you can watch the Interislander (the ferry between the north and south islands) sail in and out of the harbor. From here, you'll explore the beauty of the Botanical Gardens and then drive around the city's rugged coastline while stopping for photos. 

In the afternoon, return to your hotel where you can enjoy the afternoon at your own leisure.

Day 7: Fly from Wellington to Christchurch

New Regent Street in the center of Christchurch

Today, at the designated time, you'll fly from Wellington to Christchurch to begin the South Island portion of your adventure.

The city of Christchurch was heavily affected by the earthquake of February 2011, which led to the destruction of many historic multi-story buildings—but there's still plenty to explore here. Known as the 'Garden City', Christchurch has a number of well-established expansive parks and public gardens, thanks in large part to the foresight of the city's founding fathers. Spend your day exploring at your leisure.

If you have time, there are boutique wineries in the nearby Waipara region (within an hour's drive of Christchurch). Try the Terrace Edge Vineyard & Olive Grove and taste some local products.

Day 8: Day-Trip to Akaroa

Akaroa Bay

Today you will be picked up for a day-trip to the charming colonial town of Akaroa where you will have some time to explore this former 19th century French and British settlement.  

After lunch, you'll take a cruise along the harbor where you'll have the opportunity to see native wildlife including New Zealand fur seals, white-flippered blue penguins, and Hector's dolphins. 

Following your cruise, you will return to Christchurch in the late afternoon.

Day 9: Drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park

Mount Cook landscape reflection on Lake Pukaki

Today you'll depart Christchurch in the morning and travel through the lush farmland of the Canterbury Plains to Lake Tekapo, a beautiful turquoise lake, where you can see the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd as it stands in solitude next to the vibrant blue waters. Leaving Tekapo, you'll continue making your way into the Southern Alps towards Mount Cook National Park, home to New Zealand's tallest mountain and longest glacier. Along the way, your driver guide will keep you entertained and informed with commentary on local history and areas of interest.

Arrive at your hotel in the afternoon and enjoy some lunch before exploring this beautiful alpine wonderland on your own. At night, make sure to look up. The area is an international dark sky reserve, so there’s no shortage of great places to view the stars framed by the snow-capped Southern Alps for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Day 10: Drive from Mount Cook National Park to Queenstown

Queenstown at dusk

This morning you'll have free time to explore Mount Cook National Park however you'd like. There are many glaciers in the national park, but the most famous is the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest. A short walk takes you to the Tasman terminal lake, where icebergs of all sizes and shapes break off the glacier and float to the lakeshore. 

In the afternoon, you'll be transferred to the town of Queenstown, driving through some spectacular scenery, arriving in the evening. Originally born out of the Gold Rush during the 1860s, Queenstown is now the world capital for adrenaline and outdoor activities. Visitors come for white water rafting, bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain biking, and more.

Given the young and fun crowd, you'll find a wide variety of dining and drink options all over town. For something casual, Ferg Burger is said to have the most famous gourmet burgers in the country. Just look for the queue of people outside their door wanting to order. In addition, there are many upscale options that offer waterfront, mountain, and vineyard views. 

Day 11: Day-Trip to Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Today you will depart early in the morning to be taken to one of the natural wonders of the world, Milford Sound. Along the way, you'll have a rest stop at Te Anau, the gateway to Fiorland National Park.

Milford Road is arguably the most iconic road in New Zealand, running along the beautiful Milford Sound. A 'sound' is a flooded river valley, but this is a flooded glacial valley with sheer-sided walls that plunge thousands of feet underwater. One of the best ways to experience it is by taking a morning boat ride where you'll cruise past countless waterfalls with views of mountains rising straight out of the sea. Keep an eye out for fur seals, penguins, and (usually) dolphins during the excursion.

From here, you can choose to return to Queenstown or upgrade to fly over Milford Sound and enjoy this natural wonder from an aerial angle.

Day 12: Queenstown Free Day

Bike path surrounding Queenstown

Today is a free day in the 'Adrenaline Capital of the World'! As can be expected, there are many exciting activities on offer that will get your heart racing. But there's more to Queenstown than extreme sports. In addition to the many options listed below, you can simply jump on a bike in town and circumnavigate Lake Wakatipu's dirt trails for a relaxing Kiwi experience. 

Additional suggested activities include

  • Cruise Lake Wakatipu: To get the best view of the lake, take this scenic cruise on the Steamship TSS Earnslaw. You'll have plenty of time to explore the decks and bridge, tour the engine room, join a sing-along with the onboard pianist, or just sit back and relax.

  • Ride the Skyline Complex: Ride this scenic gondola and you'll get the best views in the region spread out in a spectacular 220-degree panorama. From above, you can see Coronet Peak, the Remarkables mountain range, Lake Wakatipu, and Cecil and Walter Peaks.

  • Onset Hot Springs: These natural hot water pools are very intimate and have great views on the valley and Shotover River.

  • Wine Tasting in Otago: From the world's southernmost wine-producing region, you’ll find acclaimed Pinot Noir, as well as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and sparkling options. There are 75 wineries in the region serving 177 vineyards, so wine lovers will be in good hands in Otago.

  • Bungee Jumping: Queenstown invented this activity so you'll have a few options to choose from. Stay in town or head to the Kawarau Bridge where you can opt to touch the water and/or get partially dunked.

  • Lord of the Rings Tour: Though you've already experienced Hobbiton, there are several possibilities to see some of the famous movie scenes in the area of Glenorchy.

  • Hiking trails: Many famous single-day and multi-days trails can be found in the area. You can also climb the summit of Ben Lomond from the top of the gondola and enjoy a memorable vista of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Day 13: Depart Queenstown

Get bragging rights with a bungee jump before departure

It's time to say goodbye to Queenstown! Enjoy any remaining free time to wander around town or dig deep and find the nerves for an epic jump if you haven't done so yet. At the designated time, you'll be picked up and transferred to the airport for your departure home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of New Zealand's Ultimate Tour - 13 Days
Map of New Zealand's Ultimate Tour - 13 Days