Traverse New Zealand on this two-week adventure-packed trip, covering the highlights of North and South Island. Discover diverse landscapes, from world-class surfing beaches, volcanic islands, and fern forests to geothermal waters, glacial fiords, and imposing mountains. Along the way, you'll visit historic mining towns, go wine tasting and hike, paddle, and fly your way across the country.

Highlights

  • Kayak from Rangitoto Island to Auckland under the night sky
  • Discover the unearthly sights of Hell's Gate Geothermal Park
  • Tour the glass-like waters of the Milford Sound fiords spotting wildlife
  • Skydive, bungee jump, or whitewater raft in Queenstown

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Kayak to Rangitoto Island Auckland
Day 3 Swim and surf in Raglan Raglan
Day 4 Explore Rotorua's geothermal attractions Rotorua
Day 5 Jet-boat Waikato River and Whakarewarewa Forest Rotorua
Day 6 Fly to Christchurch Christchurch
Days 7-8 Fly to Mount Cook and Tekapo Mount Cook/ Tekapo region
Days 9-10 Wine tasting and adventure in Wanaka Wanaka
Day 11 Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound Te Anau
Day 12 Te Anau caves Te Anau
Days 13-14 Adventure seeking in Queenstown Queenstown
Day 15 Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Harbor view of Auckland and the iconic Sky Tower
Harbor view of Auckland and the iconic Sky Tower

Welcome to the "Big Little City" of Auckland! Settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the day to explore New Zealand's largest city. Start at Mount Eden, for a nice overview of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea to get your bearings. Next, explore the trendy Ponsonby Road for high-end shopping or a good restaurant, or go to Ponsonby Central directly—a Kiwi favorite on the weekends. Art enthusiasts may appreciate a visit to New Zealand's oldest neighborhood, Parnell, to discover its galleries and cafés, before hopping on a 50-year old restored tram to ride through the Wynyard Quarter.

Day 2: Kayak to Rangitoto Island

Climb to a lookout point over Rangitoto Island
Climb to a lookout point over Rangitoto Island

Today is a full day of adventure. Start your morning with a kayak paddle across the Waitemata Harbor and to Rangitoto Island. Along the way,  you may get to see local fauna, including blue penguins and Cook's petrels. Once on Rangitoto Island, the largest and youngest of the Auckland volcanoes, you will commence a short trek to its summit. Enjoy panoramic views of the area and of the Auckland skyline and learn about the local history, before returning to the water's edge for a Kiwi-style barbecue dinner.

After enjoying a beachside dinner, you will paddle back to Auckland in the dark under the stars toward the glowing city lights.

Day 3: Transfer to Raglan

View of some of New Zealand's best surfing spots 
View of some of New Zealand's best surfing spots 

Today you will travel south to Raglan (2.5 hours), a world-class surfing destination renowned for its remote setting and artsy atmosphere. Spend the day as you like, enjoying Raglan’s great eateries and cafés, visit local artist’s workshops, and relax on any of Raglan's beaches admiring the surfers doing their tricks. If you're up for some physical activity, there are plenty of options to kayak, paddleboard, and swim in Raglan Harbour. The more adventurous might like to surf in Manu Bay, considered the best surfing spot in New Zealand or venture to Whale Bay, another great surfing location dotted with volcanic rocks.

Day 4: Explore Rotorua's geothermal attractions

New Zealand - Wai-O-Tapu's Devil's Bath
Devil's Bath in Wai-O-Tapu

Today you will venture a couple hours inland to the geothermal city of Rotorua. Visit Hells Gate Geothermal Park for an up-close experience of Rotorua's geothermal activity, including erupting geysers, steaming fumaroles (vents), mud pools, and hot geothermal springs, as well as discover the largest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere, Kakahi Falls. From there, visit the Buried Village of Te Wairoa for insight into the chaos that occurred on the night Mount Tarawera erupted on June 10th, 1886. Continue a little further south to Wai-O-Tapu for a colorful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction.

If there's time, you may like to visit the Rainbow Springs Nature Park to learn how Operation Nest Egg is working to save the country's national symbol, the kiwi bird from extinction.

Day 5: Jet-boat Waikato River and visit Whakarewarewa Forest

Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua, New Zealand
Acidic sulphur pools in Whakarewarewa

This morning you have the unique option of exploring Rotorua's Waikato River and wildlife on a jet-boat safari. Meet your guide and embark on a boating adventure along the river and learn the history and legends of the area, before disembarking and wading knee-deep in heated waters, squeezing through rock passages and into New Zealand's bush. On your return, visit Kerosene Creek or Waikite Valley Thermal Pools for another soothing soak in the thermal waters, before drying off and driving to Whakarewarewa Forest to explore the park and its amazing otherworldly ferns and redwoods.

Day 6: Fly to Christchurch

Punt along the Avon River
Punt along the Avon River

This morning you will return to Auckland to catch a flight to Christchurch, the South Island's largest city. Home to expansive parks and public gardens, Christchurch is known for its English heritage. Start with a visit to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, before visiting the Cardboard Cathedral, a unique temporary replacement to the Christ Church Cathedral, destroyed in the 2011 earthquake. Enjoy an afternoon punting along the Avon River taking in the sights, or if you prefer, visit Sumner Beach just outside of the city.

Days 7-8: Fly to Mount Cook and Tekapo

Tasman glacier in Mount Cook National Park
Tasman glacier in Mount Cook National Park

Head west across the South Island to Mount Cook and Tekapo to spend the next couple of days exploring the area.

Take a scenic flight around Mount Cook (Aoraki in Maori) and the Westland Tai Poutini National Park for breathtaking views of New Zealand's highest mountains, 12 major glaciers, and 124 miles (200 km) of alpine and rainforest scenery unique to New Zealand. For a more intimate overview of the expansive landscape, there's the option to either trek Mount John or drive up the mountain by car for stunning 360-degree views of the area. Afterward, visit the University of Canterbury's Mount John Observatory for one of the best views of the southern night skies. 

Unwind at Tekapo Springs, located at the base of Mount John and facing Lake Tekapo, for an afternoon of pampering. Follow a relaxing massage with a dip in one of the four outdoor pools heated by the alpine water.

Days 9-10: Winetasting and adventure in Wanaka

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand
Lake Wanaka

Drive further south to Wanaka (2.5 hours). Start with a wine tour in the beautifully located Rippon Valley and enjoy the views of Lake Wanaka and the Buchanan Mountains. Other notable wineries include Bald Hills and Mt Difficulty, located in nearby Central Otago, that are great options for a glass or two of their pinot noir. Stay for a bite to eat at Mt Difficulty before visiting Cromwell on your return, a former mining town that exploded when gold was discovered in 1862.

The more adventurous might like to book one of two full-day excursions to the Rob Roy Glacier or Mou Waho Island to explore their natural settings. Alternatively, there is the option to also rent a bike or kayak to explore Lake Wanaka.  

Day 11: Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound

Still waters of Milford Sound
Still waters of Milford Sound

Leave Wanaka behind, heading south to Te Anau before continuing north along the iconic Milford Highway to Milford Sound, a fjord in New Zealand's southwest. Enjoy a boat tour of the fjord, passing by jagged peaks and cascading waterfalls, keeping an eye out for wildlife like dolphins, fur seals, and penguins. 

Return to Te Anau in the early evening.

Driving time (Wanaka - Milford Sound): 5 hours
Driving time (Milford Sound - Te Anau): 2 hours

Day 12: Te Anau caves

Te Anau, New Zealand
Te Anau

Take the day to explore more of Te Anau and the surrounding area. Located in the heart of Fiordland, Te Anau is an important hub for travellers passing through the south of South Island.

If there's time, visit the Te Anau caves. As the caves themselves are rather fragile, you will explore them by punt, a gentle way to travel through the water-filled caverns and to see the many glowworms that line the ceiling.

Days 13-14: Adventure seeking in Queenstown

Queenstown
Queenstown

Today you will head north to Queenstown. Sitting on the edge of Lake Wakatipu at the base of the Southern Alps, Queenstown is renowned for its adventure sports and is also a great jumping off point for exploring the area's vineyards and historic mining towns. Start with a visit to the Skyline Complex and ride a gondola for panoramic views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables mountain range, and across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peaks.

Adrenaline junkies might like to try bungee jumping 440 feet (134 m) over the Nevis River—the drive to the jumping point alone is spectacular. There's also the option to go whitewater rafting down the lower canyon or tandem sky diving over The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. Though if that's not your thing, schedule in a hike of Routeburn or Milford, or take a scenic drive to The Remarkables for stunning vistas and breath-taking photo opportunities. Movie buffs will appreciate a Lord of the Rings tour, visiting filming locations, either by horseback or by offroading on a 4x4.

After a full day of thrilling activity, visit the Onsen Hot Pools for a few hours of relaxation in your private cedar-lined hot tub overlooking Shotover River canyon

Driving time (Te Anau - Queenstown): 2 hours

Day 15: Depart

New Zealand Queenstown sunsest
Sunset over Queenstown

A trip to Queenstown wouldn't be complete without taking advantage of its proximity to the Central Otago district, the world's southernmost wine-producing region—75 wineries serving 177 vineyards—offering acclaimed pinot noir, riesling, pinot gris, and chardonnay.  If time allows, enjoy an early afternoon sampling grape varietals before you say farewell to the South Island, concluding your New Zealand adventure.