Best for food and wine lovers, this self-guided road trip spans nearly the entire length of New Zealand for the adventure of a lifetime. From Auckland, you'll make your way south through key wine regions while partaking in meals on land, tram, and boat, including a traditional Maori feast and a farm dinner on the South Island. The itinerary also visits top natural attractions with free time to enjoy activities ranging from easy hiking trails to paragliding over Queenstown.


  • Ferry to Waiheke Island for a guided tour of the area's world-class wineries
  • Explore Art Deco architecture (and more wineries) in the town of Napier
  • Enjoy an elegant dinner in a historic tram while passing Christchurch's landmarks
  • View Milford Sound's dramatic rainforests and waterfalls by car, ferry, and plane

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore & Auckland Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Waiheke Island, Waiheke Island Wine Tour Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua, Guided Tour, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 4 Drive to Napier, Explore Napier
Day 5 Hawke's Bay Half-Day Wine Tour, Art Deco Evening Walking Tour Napier
Day 6 Drive to Martinborough, Self-Guided Wine Tour Martinborough
Day 7 Drive to Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 8 Free Day in Wellington Wellington
Day 9 Ferry to the South Island, Drive to Blenheim, Explore Blenheim
Day 10 Drive to Christchurch, Explore, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 11 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Tekapo Springs Excursion, Big Sky Stargazing Adventure Lake Tekapo
Day 12 Drive to Wānaka, Hiking & Explore Wānaka
Day 13 Drive to Queenstown, Explore, Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 14 Milford Sound Full-Day Adventure Queenstown
Day 15 Return Rental Car, Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Explore & Auckland Dinner Cruise

Auckland's beautiful setting between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean
Auckland's head-turning skyline, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean

Welcome to Auckland! Upon arrival at the airport, collect your rental car and spend the rest of the day exploring the city at your own pace.

Known as the "City of Sails," Auckland boasts more than 500,000 sailboats and yachts in various sizes, anchored and moored at different marinas within the city. Relax at your hotel while adjusting to the time change, or shake off jet lag by heading to the Sky Tower to go bungee jumping. You can also take a relaxing stroll around Waitematā Harbour, a starting point for sailing, cruising, and whale watching excursions (one of which you'll enjoy in the evening). Keep a close lookout for the orcas and bottlenose dolphins that regularly visit the waters close to the city.

In the evening, enjoy a memorable multicourse dining experience on the water as you sail around Auckland during sunset as the skyline turns to twinkling lights. 

Day 2: Auckland to Waiheke Island, Waiheke Island Wine Tour

Hiking trails in Waiheke Island
Explore wineries and hiking trails on this day trip to Waiheke Island

This morning, you'll take a 40-minute ferry from Auckland to the beautiful Waiheke Island for a guided tour of the world-class wineries. Upon arrival, you'll meet your tour driver, who will transport you to the picturesque Mudbrick Vineyard for premium wine tastings. Next, you'll travel to The Goldie Room, Waiheke's first and most well-established vineyard, for more tastings and a plate of nibbles. The last stop, with further tastings of quality wines, is Te Whau Vineyard, acclaimed for its restaurant and stunning views.

After the tour, take advantage of your complimentary all-day bus pass and discover more of the island's hiking trails and beaches before returning to Auckland by ferry. 

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua, Guided Tour, Māori Feast & Performance

The town of Rotorua is known for its otherworldly landscapes and geothermal activity

You're in for a scenic drive today as you make your way through North Island's Waikato region to get to Rotorua. Upon arrival, join a guided tour of the area's geysers, bubbling mud holes, steam vents, and sulfurous pools while learning how volcanic activity below ground creates a spectacular show above the surface. The area is also known for its Māori culture. Your guide can recommend opportunities to learn more about the food, music, dance, and traditions important to the First Nations people who call Rotorua home.

Later in the evening, 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. 

Day 4: Drive to Napier, Explore

Stunning scenery on today's drive
Sloping green landscapes on the way to Napier

This morning get ready for an epic drive through the thermal region just south of Rotorua toward Taupo, where you can stop for more geothermal attractions. From here, follow the road as it climbs the rugged Ahimanawa Range before descending back down to the Pacific Coast toward Napier, with its iconic Art Deco architecture, and nearby Hawke's Bay, known for outstanding wines (both of which you will experience tomorrow).

The rest of the day is free time to explore on your own. One option is to view prominent Art Deco landmarks on a Vintage Car Tour, where you will spend an hour learning about the architectural history, including the Napier Municipal Theatre, one of the top 10 Art Deco Buildings in the world. If you're after some fresh air, rent a bike in town and pick one of over 124 miles (200 km) of cycling trails, or spend a day relaxing at one of the many beaches that ring the area. Ocean Beach and Waimarama Beach are good choices, and surf lifeguards patrol both during the summer. 

Day 5: Hawke's Bay Half-Day Wine Tour, Art Deco Evening Walking Tour

Spend an evening learning about Napier's distinct 1930s architecture

This morning you'll have some free time to enjoy Napier as you wish. In the afternoon, you'll embark on a fun-filled tour through beautiful scenery while meeting like-minded people who share an appreciation of Hawke's Bay's wines. The area is best known for its red blends (most of the nation's reds are produced here), specifically syrah, cabernet, and merlot—and you'll stop at four or five wineries for tastings and tutorials. Make sure to enjoy a cheese platter on the grounds of the Ngatarawa Vineyard beside the lily pond.

Later in the evening, join a local guide for an evening walking tour where you'll learn about Napier's heritage created by the dramatic story of the city's rebirth. In February 1931, an earthquake and subsequent fire leveled Napier to the ground, and the city was rebuilt in two years during the depths of the Great Depression. Nowhere else can you see such a concentration of buildings in the architectural styles of Art Deco, Spanish Mission, and Stripped Classicism from this 1930s era.

Day 6: Drive to Martinborough, Self-Guided Wine Tour

Visit charming wineries in the Martinborough area
There are 30 or more wineries in the Martinborough area

As you leave the rolling countryside of Hawke's Bay for Martinborough, you'll be greeted with some of New Zealand's richest dairy pastures in the Manawatu Gorge. Continue through the Wairarapa region and consider a stop at the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre, where you can see some of the country's native animal species. Take another break in Masterson, and visit the interactive Woolshed Museum to learn about sheep farming in New Zealand. You can also stop for coffee or lunch in one of Greytown's quaint cafés while appreciating the restored Victorian architecture. 

When you arrive in Martinborough, take an opportunity to explore the area's wineries at your own pace. With a climate similar to Burgundy, France, the region produces some of the world's finest wines, including pinot noir, syrah, riesling, and sauvignon blanc. Start your self-guided tour at the Martinborough Wine Center for more information. There are at least 30 vineyards, and most are family-owned. Some wineries are also within walking distance of the picturesque colonial town, so you can easily park the car and explore on foot or bike. (Guided wine tours are also available.)

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 7: Drive to Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary

Ride the country's only running funicular for city views and access to the botanic gardens
Ride New Zealand's only running funicular for city views and access to the botanic gardens

Today you'll have a scenic route traveling 50 miles (81 km) west from Martinborough to Wellington while passing through the Remutaka Range. You won't have to look hard to find the range's highest peak, Mount Matthews, which is 3,083 feet (940 m), as you make your way to New Zealand's capital and center of government.

After settling into your hotel, get out your walking shoes and explore the city center, that's just half a square mile (1 sq km). 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.

Later in the day, you'll visit Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary, 10 minutes from Wellington, with a local guide. Armed with a flashlight, you will get eye-to-eye with more than 100 nocturnal species in an area of more than 500 acres (225 ha). Look for endemic kiwi (the national bird of New Zealand), Tuatara reptiles, and Maud Island frogs that come alive at night for a memorable experience.

Day 8: Free Day in Wellington

Look for outdoor bars and unique festivals in New Zealand's capital

Today is a free day to spend in New Zealand's capital. You can visit the national Te Papa Museum for a history lesson and a ticket to one of its many international exhibitions or jump aboard the Wellington Cable Car—the only running funicular in the country that leads to a lookout point and extensive botanic garden.

For those with an eye for fashion, wander through Cuba Street to sample some of the city's best vintage stores. Or go behind the scenes with a tour at Wētā Workshop, the Oscar Award-winning design studio behind "The Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit," and "Avatar." You can also take a cycling tour of Oriental Bay, ending at one of the area's popular beaches.

Day 9: Drive & Ferry to Blenheim, Explore

Blenheim is an ideal base for exploring the Marlborough wine region

Today's adventure begins with a short drive to the Wellington Ferry Terminal, where you'll board a large ferry for the scenic journey across the Cook Strait to the South Island. Disembark at Picton and drive another 25 minutes to the town of Blenheim, your base for the night. This is the heart of the Marlborough wine region, and Blenheim is a great base for exploring the surrounding vineyards that are known to produce top-quality sauvignon blanc. To get a sense of how much the region has grown, there were only 18 vineyards in Marlborough in the 1990s, and now there are over 160.

Another option is to visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, where stories from the Great War come to life with recreations of actual incidents. The rare memorabilia is worthy of any national collection and ranges from beautifully-crafted trench art to personal items belonging to the famous Red Baron himself. For some outdoor fun, head to Pelorus Bridge, where locals swim and kayak in the river of the same name. The bridge is also a starting point for a range of walks and hikes for varying degrees of difficulty, including a peak rising 1,368 feet (417 m) high.

Day 10: Drive to Christchurch, Explore, Historic Tram Dinner

Christchurch's east coast setting on Lyttleton Bay

Today's driving route crisscrosses the hills of the Marlborough region as you head toward one of the most spectacular coastlines of the South Island: the Kaikōura Coast. The road hugs the shore for much of the journey and offers many chances to view the native wildlife, such as seabirds, fur seals, and, depending on the season, migrating humpback, pilot, blue, and southern right whales. You'll also meet South Island's most ubiquitous inhabitant: sheep. Stretch your legs and have lunch in Kaikōura Township, with many cafés and shops. 

Upon arrival in Christchurch, you'll have time to explore at your own pace. The central city was heavily affected by the earthquake of February 2011, destroying many original multistory buildings. That said, the city is rebuilding, and there's plenty to see and do. If the weather is pleasant, you may be drawn to the well-established parks and public gardens or nearby Sumner Beach for a long walk on the sand. You can also take a whale watching tour off the coast or zip line at Christchurch Adventure Park, where you can fly four different zip lines during a 2.5-hour tour.

In the evening, you'll enjoy an elegant dinner in a historic colonial-style tram that makes the rounds to top attractions in Christchurch. Sit back and relax as you view the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Canterbury Museum, and Avon River / Ōtākaro from your window-side table. A professional waitstaff serves a welcome drink upon your arrival, followed by a four-course gourmet meal. 

Day 11: Drive to Lake Tekapo, Tekapo Springs Relaxation, Stargazing Adventure

Drive inland toward Lake Tekapo on today's route

Today you'll turn inland from Christchurch and drive toward the turquoise-hued Lake Tekapo, passing by gorgeous scenery like the aptly-named Beautiful Valley. Upon arrival in the town of Lake Tekapo, spend a relaxing afternoon at Tekapo Springs with thermal pools and sauna rooms that range in temperature from 96°F (36°C) to 104°F (40°C). Dip into various pools equipped with massage jets and fountains with views of the lake and Mount John Observatory in the distance, which you will experience tonight.

After dark weather pending, you'll join a mesmerizing journey through the cosmos as you explore the wonders of the night sky. An astronomy guide will take you on a one-hour tour through high-powered telescopes, sharing knowledge about the night sky in an informative and approachable way, complete with homemade hot chocolate and sweet treats.

Day 12: Drive to Wānaka, Explore

This willow tree, dubbed the Wānaka Tree, is located at the southern end of Lake Wānaka

Not long after starting this drive, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand's highest mountain at 12,300 feet (3,754 m). Stop and take photos of the peak at the visitor center on the southern end of Lake Pukaki. If time allows, set off on one of the well-marked trails in and around the park.

A wonderful alpine lake with a single willow tree welcomes you as you approach the outdoorsy town of Wānaka. In winter, the area is New Zealand's premier ski destination, given Wānaka's proximity to alpine resorts like Treble Cone and Cardrona. There are numerous hiking trails for all abilities to choose from for other seasons, especially in Mount Aspiring National Park. Fishing, sailing, and kitesurfing are other popular pastimes on the lake, and many beach access points provide some spectacular picnic spots

Day 13: Drive to Queenstown, Explore, Farm Tour & Dinner

Consider booking an adventure sport while visiting this adrenaline-fueled city

Today you'll depart Wānaka, driving along the Crown Range Road for an hour before dropping into the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown for lunch options and old-world charm. From Arrowtown, it's just a short 20-minute drive to Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown, the bustling adventure capital of the world. This driving route should be padded with enough time to explore spontaneous walks and photo opportunities along the way.

After getting settled, enjoy some free time in Queenstown at your own pace, perhaps with a walk in town or a dose of adrenaline in the form of paragliding or bungee jumping. Save energy for tonight, as you'll step aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship for a ride to Walter Peak High Country Farm. You and your guide will feast on rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads, followed by dessert, New Zealand cheeses, and demonstrations about high country life on the farm. Join a singalong with the ship's pianist and breathe in the fresh night air as you watch the lights of Queenstown come into focus.

Day 14: Milford Sound Full-Day Adventure

Return to Queenstown by air
Return to Queenstown by air following this epic full-day adventure

Get ready for a full-day tour of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, often considered New Zealand's top scenic attraction! First, you'll take a private transfer in a premium Mercedes van equipped with complimentary water, WiFi, videos, and panoramic windows so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the stunning scenery. This small group tour stays away from the big crowds and allows additional stop-offs at scenic locations that buses don't visit.

Next, take a boat tour across the fjord and absorb views of rainforests, waterfalls, and the famous Mitre Peaks. At the end of the day, you'll fly 45 minutes back to Queenstown in a fixed-wing aircraft, with a birds-eye view of the fjord and the surrounding peaks. After touching down in Queenstown, you'll be picked up and dropped off at your hotel.

Day 15: Return Rental Car, Depart Queenstown

Until next time, Queenstown
It's time to say goodbye to New Zealand! At the appointed time, return your rental car and make your way to Queenstown Airport to catch your departure flight. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore different ways to spend 15 days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of New Zealand North & South Islands Food & Wine Road Trip  - 15 Days
Map of New Zealand North & South Islands Food & Wine Road Trip - 15 Days