Discover the best of New Zealand on this 14-day road trip, covering highlights from north to south, as well as the lesser-known regions. Immerse yourself in varied landscapes, including the spectacular surfing spots of Raglan, geothermal areas of Rotorua, and glacial fjords in Te Anau. Along the way, you will also visit vineyards and encounter native wildlife as you hike, paddle, and fly your way across the country.

Highlights

  • View Auckland from the SkyTower and taste wine on Waiheke Island
  • Soak in the healing, geothermal waters of Rotorua
  • Explore the laid-back beaches and go surfing in Raglan
  • Discover the fjords, sounds and glowworm caves in Te Anau
  • Watch the stars in Lake Tepako and take a flight around Mt. Cook

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Days 1-2 Auckland - Tour the City and Waiheke Island Auckland
Days 3-4 Rotorua - Bike and nature tours Rotorua
Days 5-6 Raglan - Tour the Surfing Destination  Raglan
Days 7-8 Te Anau - Fiordland National Park and Guided Tours of the Sounds Te Anau
Days 9-10 Wanaka - Town Tour and Hiking in Mt. Aspiring National Park Wanaka
Day 11 Lake Tekapo - Hiking, hot pools, and stargazing Lake Tekapo
Days 12-13 Akaroa - Hiking and swimming with dolphins Akaroa
Day 14 Christchurch - Depart From New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Days 1-2: Auckland - Tour the city and Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island

Welcome to New Zealand! To kick off your trip, you will explore Auckland, also known as the “Big Little City.” Located north of the North Island, this major city is centered around two large harbors and hosts a variety of city sites and waterfront exploration.

The day begins at the Sky Tower, which measures more than 1,000 feet high, and is the tallest manmade structure in New Zealand. Here, you will take in the breathtaking views that span 50 miles in every direction. Glass-encased platforms offer an unparalleled experience. You can also take the SkyWalk around the outside of the structure, which is more than 600 feet high, or get a thrill by doing the secure SkyJump off the tower, itself!

Next on the agenda is the Wynyard Quarter, which is a new area that was built for the World Cup. The local favorite offers a daily fish market, where you can indulge in local seafood for lunch. Be sure to try the massive mussels or the famed oysters of the region. Then, you can take a ride on a restored tramway, which dates back 50 years.

For more scenic views in the afternoon, visit Mt. Eden, where you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, along with all the volcanic cones that make up Auckland.

Then, take a trip over to Devonport, which is a historic seaside village with a charming and relaxed atmosphere. Take a stroll around the village, and discover the many art galleries, historic points, and lookouts, at your leisure.

To end the day, take a train ride to the Britomart, which is the name of the railway station, as well as another new area in town. Here, you can explore the neighborhood bars, restaurants, and designer shops. On Saturdays, you can access a small, local market, too.

On your second day in Auckland, you can do both island exploration and wine tasting on Waiheke Island. Staying the night will offer you a full beach getaway, so you can get the most out of the island. Begin the day by taking a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland as you pass other gulf islands and take in the lively activity in the harbor along the way. Depending on your schedule, you can make a day trip out of your stint in Waiheke or make it an overnight. Either way, the locals recommend renting a car once you get there, so you can fully enjoy the destination. In Waiheke Island, you can:

  • Go on a nature walk to explore the land.
  • Visit the Waiheke Community Art Gallery.
  • Charter a boat and explore the sea.
  • Go diving or snorkeling.  
  • Kick back and enjoy the beach.

Once you have been acquainted with the island, make sure to take a scenic seaplane flight from Wynyard Wharf that includes a wine tasting excursion at Man O’ War Vineyards. The captivating flight over the beautiful islands and Hauraki Gulf lands in the tranquil waters Man O’ War Bay. This fly-and-dine field trip totals 3 hours, with a 45-minute flight. Tour the 250-year-old vineyards and taste the wines of the region, which will be paired with a lunch feast to enjoy.

Once you return to Waiheke Island, unwind down by the beach. You can rent an apartment by the water for the night, or take advantage of an island bed and breakfast retreat. When night falls, enjoy the local fare at one of many beachy eateries, where you can continue the wine tasting adventures, too.

Days 3-4: Rotorua - Bike and nature tours

Rotorua
Champagne Pool in Wai-O-Tapu

On the next leg of your trip, you will visit Rotorua, which is located on the North Island of New Zealand. Known for its geothermal activity, you will quickly note the smell of sulfur in the air, which wafts from the surrounding mud pool and iconic geyser. This home to the Maori culture offers enough exploration to keep you busy for the next two days!

On your first day in Rotorua, immerse yourself in the history and nature of the area. You can begin your personal tour by visiting the Buried Village. The excavated village offers firsthand insight into the chaos and mayhem that transpired on the night nearby Mount Tarawera erupted. On June 10, 1886, molten rock, ash, and mud from the volcano killed more than 150 people, engulfed several settlements, and destroyed the iconic pink and white terraces at Lake Rotomahana, which were internationally regarded as "the eighth wonder of the world."

Continue your education at Wai-O-Tapu, which is considered New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. Sculptured out of volcanic activity and thousands of years in the making, clearly defined tracks allow you the opportunity to enjoy the diversity of this area. Embark on a series of different walks, ranging from 30 minutes to 75 minutes or more, each with its own unique volcanic vistas, which will captivate visitors of any age.

Next, make the trip to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, where you can walk or hike on an ecology-focused adventure surrounding the unique craters. As you walk through the youngest ecosystems in the world, you will view a range of geothermal activity, native plants, and birdlife. At any stage of your walk or hike, you can take a courtesy shuttle bus, which regularly circles the valley, back to the Waimangu Visitor Centre.

Continue the day’s outdoor adventures at Hell’s Gate. A bit of background: New Zealand is a country located on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where the tectonic plates are always moving. Nowhere is this more evident than in Rotorua on New Zealand's volcanic plateau, where geothermal activity is very noticeable. This includes daily erupting geysers, steaming fumaroles (vents), mud pools, and hot geothermal springs. Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park is set on 50 acres of land with a large variety of thermal features. Here, you will walk past steaming fumaroles and mud pools violently boiling away. You can take a self-guided or guided interactive walk, depending on your preference.

You can then end your day at the Hell’s Gate mud spa, which is a historic and healing experience featuring the thermal mud and sulfur mineral water, utilized by the local Maori for more than 800 years. Take your time lathering, exfoliating, and cleansing with a soak in this sulfur spa for a relaxing and rejuvenating experience.

Make sure to indulge in a satiating meal or two during your stay in Rotorua. Known as a foodie hub in New Zealand, you can taste local flavors at restaurants, bars and pubs, and cafes. You can indulge in the indigenous Maori fare at locations like Atticus Finch or Stratosfare Restaurant.

Now that you have had your fill of local history and the geothermal sites, today calls for some biking and leisure-driven fun! Start the day on a mountain bike tour in the Redwoods Forest. Everything you need will be available, including the proper bike, a helmet, and a safety and bike instruction briefing. You will have access to more than 85 miles of tracks tailored to all skill levels, including backroads, single tracks, and fun jump trails surrounded by beautiful native and pine forests.  

To continue your active day, take a trip to Skyline Rotorua, where you can ride the gondola and try out the luge ride. The gondola ride supplies incredible panoramic views of the lake and nearby towns, while the all-ages-friendly luge ride is a gravity-filled thrill.

In the afternoon, the Rainbow Springs Nature Park is the place to go for the Kiwi Encounter. Here, you can view the conversation efforts of the local kiwi, including newborn chicks being released into the wild from the nursery and hatchery, as soon as they are ready to take on the outside world.

You can wind down from the day at the world-renowned Polynesian Spa, for a second helping of geothermal bathing and relaxation. Here, you can take advantage of the:

  • Acidic and alkaline natural mineral springs at 28 different pools.
  • Mud therapy and body polishing offerings.
  • Signature massages and facials.
  • Peaceful relaxation lounge.

Days 5-6: Raglan - Tour the surfing destination 

Raglan Harbour
Raglan Harbour

At this point in your trip, you will make your way to Raglan, a coastal town located on the North Island. This artsy town is a remote, world-class surfing destination with a laid-back vibe. You will enjoy Raglan’s great eateries and cafes, along with local artists’ workshops. Overlooked by the imposing Mt. Karioi, the quiet Waikato Township in Raglan is nested in a large tidal harbor. At its south end, the surf hits the iconic black sand beaches and volcanic cliffs.

On your first day in Raglan, make sure to explore the different waterside areas. Some of the locals’ favorite destinations include:

  • Raglan Harbour: Kayaking and paddleboarding are both popular activities in the harbor, which is also kid-friendly for swimming.
  • Ruapuke Beach: Take in the stunning sight of this remote, black-sand beach. Among the wind and waves, local surfers may be your only company.
  • Manu Bay: This area hosts the best surfing spot in all New Zealand! If you are lucky, you will catch some of the best local surfers showcasing their skills on the water.
  • Whale Bay: Another iconic surfing spot, this beach is covered in volcanic boulders.

After a day out paddling or surfing, enjoy a cold beer at the Raglan View Hotel pub, which in the summertime, hosts live music from local New Zealand bands and musicians.

A good, solid brunch awaits you to start your second day in Raglan. Enjoy organic, local eats and strong coffee at The Shack, which is just across the street from the Raglan View Hotel.

Then, take the 20-minute drive to Bridal Veil Falls, a spectacular waterfall measuring 180 feet high that plunges from a volcanic rock face. Its Maori name is Waireinga (leaping waters), referring to Wairau (spirits) leaping the great height of this waterfall. The local Maori people believe the area is inhabited by fairies. You can admire the falls it from both top and bottom viewing points.  

For lunch, chill out with the locals at the Rock-It Kitchen, which is a café, and surf shop known for its relaxing vibe and great fare.

After lunch, make the trip to Kawhia, which is south of Raglan Harbour. While in Kawhia, drive to the end of Te Puia Road and walk over the dunes so you can soak in the hot-water spring on Ocean Beach. At low tide, you will see the geothermally heated water bubbling through the stunning black sands, where you can dig your own bath! In Kawhia, you can also spend time fishing, which is a popular year-round pastime.

Days 7-8: Te Anau - Fiordland National Park and Guided Tours of the Sounds

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

On this two-day leg of your itinerary, you will experience more of New Zealand’s natural beauty–the gift that keeps on giving!

Begin your first day exploring Te Anau, known as the gateway to Fiordland National Park and part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage area. Te Anau is the ideal base camp for hikers. You can explore the stunning fjords and views galore via:

  • Kepler Track: You can go hiking or tramping (also known as backpacking) on this 37.3-mile loop, which is ideal from October 29-April 30. (Dates outside of this season are subject to avalanche risks, fewer facility accommodations, and previous experience is required.) The grass-covered ridgelines and gorgeous alpine vistas are complemented by lakeside pitstops throughout.
  • Routeburn Track: Explore this 20.5-mile track (one-way distance) during the same season as Kepler to ensure a smooth and gorgeous adventure. Expect to view winding meadows, reflective pools, blooming alpine gardens, and spectacular sites over the valleys and mountain ranges.

For a mysterious thrill, you can take a cruise to the western shores of Lake Te Anau. Once you arrive at the Cavern House, you will learn the history of this geographical wonder before you join your guide underground. Then, you will visit the subterranean Te Anau Glowworm Caves, a hidden world of rushing water, where you will drift in darkness until the illumination of thousands of glowworms ignites!  

On the second day, you can take time to explore the different sounds of the area.

A fjord located in the southwest region of the South Island, Milford Sound is accessed via Milford Road. This is the most iconic road in New Zealand that guides you to one of its most prized gems. Take the cruise on the fjord to explore countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of feet down sheer cliffs and mountains rising straight out of the sea. In these flooded glacial valleys, you may also view fur seals and dolphins in their natural habitat. Make sure to pack some insect repellant to protect yourself from the sand flies, and a raincoat to shield you – nearly 40 feet of rainfall here each year!

On your way back from the 2-hour cruise, walk the beautiful grounds of Summit Track, or part of the Kepler Track, if you did not make the trip yesterday.  

For a full-day excursion option, the pristine fjord of Doubtful Sound begins with a cruise across Lake Manapouri to West Arm. You will then board a bus and travel the sub-alpine road over Wilmot Pass, pausing along the way to experience the dense Fiordland rainforest and view Doubtful Sound glistening below. When you arrive at Doubtful Sound, board a spacious catamaran Patea Explorer for a 3-hour cruise through some of the fjord’s most stunning scenery. Throughout the trip, a nature guide points out highlights and delivers commentary. Wildlife sightings are common in Doubtful Sound. Just like Milford Sound, you will witness fur seals (basking on the rocks of resident ponds), as well as bottlenose dolphins swimming the deep waters.

Days 9-10: Wanaka - Town tour and hiking in Mt. Aspiring National Park

Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka

Today you will explore Wanaka, a beautiful destination filled with lakes, mountains, rivers, diverse attractions, and endless activities. It is the world’s first protected lifestyle reserve. A quaint, little town nestled amongst breathtaking scenery, the settlement is located on the southern shores of Lake Wanaka.

In the summer, you can launch into the day with hiking through Mt. Aspiring National Park. During winter, consider skiing through Treble Cone and Cardrona, which are some of the best locations in the country!

Once you have had your exercise, take a load off to enjoy some wine tasting. Some of the best pinot noirs in New Zealand can be found in the middle of Central Otago, which is famous for its vineyards. Consider tastings at Bald Hills and Mt. Difficulty, along with Rippon Valley Vineyard, where you can also indulge in a fantastic lunch.

Make sure you are fully digested before making the trip to Wild Wire Via Ferrata. This couple- and family-friendly excursion provides a great adrenaline rush as you plunge into the heart of a waterfall among hidden pools and suspension bridges. Not for those afraid of heights, a traverse back to the base includes a picturesque trail on a final suspension bridge more than 100 feet high!

As an alternative, you can rent bicycles and kayaks in the are to explore more of the lake and its surroundings, or you can ascend Basecamp, an indoor rock-climbing playground that is jam-packed with 21 challenging lines. Then, take a load off at the hot pools at Hotel Grand Mercure Oakridge, just behind Basecamp.

Additionally, you can book full-day excursions to the steep-sloped Rob Roy Glacier or the eco-reserve of Mou Waho Island for a nature tour, which are both favorite field trips, according to the locals.

Wind down the day indoors by making your way to Puzzling World, a unique attraction that specializes in the oddity of puzzles, which offers a great maze and incredible illusion rooms. In the evening, save some time to enjoy Cinema Paradiso, a small, classic movie theater, where you can watch a movie from a comfortable sofa or from one of three seats in an old Morris Minor automobile!

Day 11: Lake Tekapo - Hiking, hot pools, and stargazing

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

Today, you will explore Lake Tekapo, which is a small town located at the southern end of its namesake lake. Since 2012, Lake Tekapo has been deemed one of the rare UNESCO World Heritage Starlight Reserves, making it somewhat of a national park in the sky!

However, before the sun sets, you can explore the town and take advantage of its nature-fueled splendor. Start the day with a 2-hour hike to Mt. John Summit, or you can visit by car. Once you reach the peak, you will be treated to breathtaking 360° views. For a post-hike refresher, take a swim in the nearby Willow Bay Beach glacier lake.

The outdoor adventures continue as you make your way to the hot pools located at the base of Mt. John and overlooking Lake Tekapo and the mountains beyond. Access the Alpine Springs, Spa and Winter Park, where heated alpine water supplies four, large, outdoor, public hot pools and several private pools if you prefer some alone time. If you would like to indulge in some pampering, you can book a massage at the onsite health spa, too.

Once you are nice and relaxed, you can embark on a scenic flight around Mt. Cook (Aoraki) and Westland National Parks. Here, you will gain access to the view of New Zealand’s highest mountains, along with 12 major glaciers and nearly 125 miles of alpine and rainforest scenery unique to the region.

Make sure you also take in a lesson on the town’s past. You can visit the Church of the Good Shepherd for a history course. Built in 1935, this structure is a memorial honoring the glory of god built by the pioneers of Mackenzie Country.

After and fun-filled day, it is time to experience the town’s signature attraction. Mt. John Summit and Observatory consists of an asymmetrical rock shaped by the movement of ancient glaciers. The large mass of bedrock sits at an altitude of more than 3,380 feet above sea level, rising approximately nearly 1,000 feet above Lake Tekapo. On the summit of Mt. John is the University of Canterbury's astronomical observatory. The mountain was chosen as the best observatory site in New Zealand because of its high number of clear nights throughout the year, the stability and transparency of the atmosphere and the uniquely dark skies in the Mackenzie Basin, without the disruption of city light pollution. 

A visit to the observatory under the starry skies is the perfect way to end an active and productive day in Lake Tekapo.

Days 12-13: Akaroa - Hiking and swimming with dolphins

Akaroa Harbour
Akaroa Harbour

Today, you will explore the timelessness of Akaroa. Located southeast of Christchurch, this beach town offers plenty to see and do as a tourist.

Begin the day by exploring the sheer beauty of the Banks Peninsula. The highlight of this peninsula is Akaroa, itself, a historic French and British settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. Take a stroll through the village with its colonial architecture, galleries, craft stores, and cafés.

Next, you can enjoy the company of the local Hector’s dolphins. Known as one of the smallest dolphin species in the word, you can simply observe these mammals in their natural habitat, or choose to take a swim alongside them.

In the later afternoon, take a day walk on the Banks Track. Keep in mind, though, you will reach a high altitude fairly quickly, so plan to hydrate and rest accordingly. The views over the caldera are certainly worth the hard work!

You will also have a chance to visit with local penguins. In the evening, take a penguin tour at the Royal Albatross Centre, which allows you to view little blue penguins without disturbing them. Get an up-close and personal look at the penguins, and possibly some new-borns surrounding their artificial nest boxes. If you are lucky, you may also get to see the yellow-eyed penguins breeding at the bay.

Day 14: Christchurch - Depart from New Zealand

Christchurch International Airport
Christchurch International Airport

Today, you will drive to the airport in Christchurch. You will board your flight home with a newfound love for New Zealand, from its stunning black-sand beaches to its gorgeous glacial peaks!

Map

Map of New Zealand: North to South - 14 Days
Map of New Zealand: North to South - 14 Days