Planning Your Trip to New Zealand
When deciding on a trip to New Zealand, the first step is to determine if you want to visit the North Island, the South Island, or both. While you can make a few stops on either island in five days, crossing over from one to the other requires at least seven days. However, 10 days is the sweet spot to ensure you can thoroughly explore one island or venture into both.
With 10 days on the North Island, for example, you can take family-friendly trips through the North Island to big cities, like Auckland and Wellington, and wildlife destinations, like Kelly Tarlton's and Zealandia. With the same amount of time on the South Island, enjoy time in the Aoraki/Mt Cook region, the adventure capital of Queenstown, and Christchurch—a South Island travel hub.
A quick, five-day trip allows you to focus on one or two areas. You can embark on an Auckland-only trip that includes day excursions to the islands or head into a second destination, like Rotorua, the geothermal city. In seven days, you can reach a new spot each day with a focus on one island, and in two weeks, you can hit up to twelve of New Zealand's top destinations, depending on your pace.
No matter the duration, once your arrival flight touches down, plan to rent a car, which is the most popular way to explore this gorgeous country.
New Zealand in 5 Days
With only five days to vacation in New Zealand, it's best to choose between the North Island or the South Island. Renting a car allows you the freedom to see as much as possible in such a short amount of time.
A one-city tour of Auckland takes you to the popular sights and on several outdoor nature trips. Explore the city's trendy neighborhoods from Newmarket to Wynyard Quarter, shop in Britomart, and visit galleries in Devonport. Join a group tour to spot kiwis in the wild, complete with a sunset picnic, followed by a scenic trip to Waiheke Island for wine tasting. End in Rangitoto, exploring archaeological and historical sights with opportunities to dip into the sea at your leisure.
With this South Island road trip, start with sightseeing Christchurch, from punting on the Avon River to zip lining through Adventure Park. A Aoraki/Mount Cook tour provides an up-close view of the country's highest peak. Fold in the small-town vibe with a stop in Clyde—famous for its Gold Rush heritage of the 1860s—and indulge in some wine tasting in the Central Otago region. For the adventurous, go skydiving and bungee jumping in Queenstown, cruise along Lake Wakatipu, and ride the Skyline Complex gondola for exceptional views.
If you prefer a tour of the North Island, you can get a taste of the city and the sea. In Auckland, sail along the harbor and take in the city skyline from the water. Take a trip to the Bay of Islands to laze on the beaches in Paihia, swim with and seek out dolphins, and visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for a guided cultural tour. In Hokianga, explore seaside towns and stroll through the Waipoua Forest, followed by some time in Mahurangi East Peninsula overlooking Kawau Bay—conveniently located in the middle of wine country.
Check out this article for more five-day itineraries.
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New Zealand in 1 Week
One full week in New Zealand allows you to continue your exploration deeper into either the North Island or the South Island—or, you can efficiently work your way from one island to the other.
This two-island trip includes a number of major highlights: three major cities and three incredible outdoor destinations. Start with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Christchurch to get the most out of the city sights. Then, drive to Kaikoura along the rolling hills of the wine region in North Canterbury, with a detour to soak in Hanmer Springs along the way.
Take a ferry to Wellington, the capital city. Stroll the historic Te Papa National Museum, visit the parliamentary Bee Hive, and embark on a night tour of native wildlife. Drive the coast to Taupo, and take a jet boat around Huka Falls before landing in Rotorua to explore its geothermal wonders and Maori culture. Lord of the Rings (LOTR) fans will recognize the lush landscapes of Matamata en route to Auckland, where the tour concludes with a day of cruising around the iconic harbor.
If you enjoy time on the road, this self-drive tour of the South Island offers views and wildlife excursions into the Otago Peninsula and the Southern Alps. From Christchurch, head south to the beachside Moeraki Boulders in Omaru. In Scottish-influenced Dunedin, walk famous Baldwin Street and head out on a sweets tour of Cadbury or a Speight’s beer tour. Visit The Caitlins, home to rare dolphin, penguin, seal, and seabird breeds, and do some adventuring among The Remarkables and at Milford Sound.
This North Island vacation visits two major cities and three scenic outdoor regions. Start in Wellington, then hit the road to Martinborough, home to 35 vineyards and a famous lighthouse. Then, check out LOTR filming grounds en route to Tongariro National Park. Mud pools and geothermal areas await in Rotorua before heading to Auckland to ascend the Sky Tower for great views, dine in trendy Britomart, and pay a visit to Mount Eden.
Read kimkim's guide to the best itineraries to spend 7 days in New Zealand.
New Zealand in 10 Days
With 10 days, you can venture to even more scenic areas on both islands, like the country's famed fjords and glaciers, or enjoy a more in-depth trip to one island.
This outdoor tour of the South Island offers far beyond a traditional trip. Take a fun bus tour of Christchurch and drive through beautiful Tekapo to get to Aoraki/Mt Cook. Embark on a Tasman Glacier tour to see the towering ice cliffs and icebergs floating around the stunning lakes. Stop to take in a beautiful reserve, and then drive over Kawarau Bridge to enjoy some active time in Queenstown, along with a glowworm cave tour in Te Anau, and a cruise tour of famed Milford Sound.
Next, take a steamship along the lakes to a farm and enjoy a barbecue dinner at sea. Dip into the glacier-fed Blue Pools in Wanaka on the way to more glacier exploration of Franz Josef and Fox—by helicopter. Visit a gold-mining region and take the TranzAlpine train from Greymouth back to Christchurch, skirting along the gorgeous Arthur’s Pass National Park.
You can also book a family adventure on the North Island, which combines city sights with day trips in nature. From Auckland, visit the trendy neighborhoods, stroll the parks and museums, and head to Kelly Tarlton's for your first foray with penguins, sharks, and more. Enjoy more of Auckland—from historic Devonport to the Sky Tower—and ferry to Waiheke Island to tour the beaches. In Coromandel, visit Cathedral Cove and several beautiful beaches, along with two notable gorges.
A stop in the geothermal city of Rotorua allows everyone to enjoy the unique scenery, along with the excavated Buried Village and the Kiwi Encounter at a local nature park. Discover the craters along a volcanic galley, ride the gondola for impeccable vistas, view the redwoods, and set aside some relaxation time at the Polynesian Spa. For more extreme families, go skydiving or bungee jumping in Taupo and jet boating to Huka Falls, or for something more laid-back, stop at a prawn park to learn about crustaceans.
Wind down in the capital city. Tour the Parliamentary sights, take a cable car ride and take in the panorama from Mt Victoria Lookout, and indulge in a family picnic finale at the Botanic Gardens.
If your family is made up of LOTR fanatics, there is a Middle-earth family tour designed just for your clan. In addition to the traditional sightseeing in Auckland, enjoy an excursion into the Waitakere Ranges to learn about indigenous Maori culture. The LOTR tour begins in green Matamata, in the heart of the Waikato region, to visit scene-specific stops, followed by a fun trip to Waitomo Adventures Lost World Tour to see the glowworm caves, caverns, and flowstone formations.
Explore Tongariro National Park and its active volcanoes, and take a flight for an elevated look at the LOTR landscapes. In Wellington, tour more LOTR filming locations, including Riverdell, the Gardens of Isengard, and Buckland Forest. Visit popular tourist stops in the city, along with a tour of LOTR-based Weta Workshop, and close the vacation with a visit to Zealandia to mingle with native wildlife.
Read kimkim's top 10-day New Zealand itineraries.
New Zealand in 2 Weeks
With two weeks at your disposal, there's more than enough time to plan a satisfying two-island trip. Or, consider a multi-country trip that crosses into Australia for a week.
For a traditional, two-island tour of New Zealand, you can enjoy a combination of major cities, geothermal areas, islands, and mountains. Start in Auckland, on the North Island, and embark on a sightseeing tour of popular tourist stops like Mount Eden, Devonport, the Sky Tower, and Britomart. Board the ferry to Waiheke Island to enjoy some wine tasting, beach exploration, and a bed and breakfast stay.
Then, head to Rotorua to visit the incredible hot springs and mud spas, along with biking the Redwoods Forest and visiting local kiwi. The surfing town of Raglan is colored with black-sand beaches and volcanic cliffs and pays homage to the Maori. In Te Anau, take in the sounds and fjords, and continue the scenic exploration in Wanaka, along the iconic lake, and into the mountains. Lake Tekapo is the ideal location for clear stargazing, and a stop in Akaroa allows you to visit little blue penguins and Hector's dolphins before departing from Christchurch on the South Island.
Hit the road on this fully-stacked, self-drive adventure, which also spans both islands. Once in the North Island, head out on the town in Auckland, or embark on an excursion to more than 800 regional national parks, beaches, forests, and waterfalls.
Along the Coromandel Peninsula, stop in several small towns, and detour to Matamata to see a popular LOTR movie set. In Rotorua, learn about the geothermal history at the museum and tour the sights, and view the plunging Huka Falls by Taupo. Stop in the Art Deco town of Napier, followed by the contrast of the rolling countryside of the Manawatu region. Absorb the views on a scenic ferry to the capital, followed by stops at bridges, creeks, and reserves in Hokitika. Visit two glaciers on the way to the coast, and stop in Wanaka before booking fun activities in Queenstown, as well as hitting a wine trail.
Take an iconic steamship, visit the fjords, and venture into LOTR country before landing in Te Anau, and then enjoy time in The Caitlins before driving the coast toward Dunedin. Snap photos of famous beach boulders, stop at port towns, and cruise over bridges all the way to your final destination of Christchurch on the South Island.
For those interested in both New Zealand and Australia, a crossover trip is doable in two weeks. Tour the best restaurants, hot spots, and beaches in Auckland before heading to Central North Island. Tour LOTR movie sets and discover the Waitomo Glowworm Caves en route to Rotorua to enjoy a Maori feast and explore the geothermal history. Queenstown offers exciting thrills, and stunning Milford Sound is a short distance away.
Embark on a wine tour before hopping on a flight to Sydney, Australia. Stroll Sydney Harbour, along with popular destinations like Bondi Beach and The Rocks. Take day trips to the Blue Mountains and visit two wildlife parks to meet local kangaroos and wallabies. In Melbourne, do some sightseeing and peruse the funky street art and make the trip to see Kangaroos and Koalas in the Wild, followed by a trip to Cairns to see scenic Kuranda from atop the gondola and more wildlife at the Cairns Aquarium and Koala Gardens. The grand finale is a catamaran cruising around the famous Great Barrier Reef.
See more 14-day trips in New Zealand.
More Great New Zealand Itineraries
Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.