Whether you have younger or older kids, this two-week itinerary includes various outdoor and adventure-focused activities to keep everyone interested and entertained. While many travelers to New Zealand only focus on one island, this carefully planned itinerary includes both the North and South Islands by making use of a domestic flight. Explore the geothermal attractions of the North Island as well as the rugged mountains and glaciers of the South Island—and lots more.


  • Take a treetop walk among redwoods in Rotorua
  • Spot thousands of gannets at Cape Kidnappers
  • Have fun with the kids and ride the gondola and luge in Queenstown
  • Travel over the Southern Alps by scenic train

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Optional Boat or Bus Tour Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Mitai Māori Village Rotorua
Day 3 Redwoods Treewalk, Waipa Mountain Bike Park, Polynesian Day Spa Rotorua
Day 4 Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Drive to Taupō, Lake Cruise Taupō
Day 5 Drive Taupō to Napier, Art Deco Tour Napier
Day 6 Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safari Napier
Day 7 Fly to Christchurch, Optional Activities Christchurch
Day 8 Drive to Mount Cook Village, Hike & Glacier Flight Mount Cook Village
Day 9 Drive to Queenstown, Skyline Gondola & Luge Queenstown
Day 10 Milford Sound Full-Day Adventure Queenstown
Day 11 Glenorchy Safari Tour, TSS Earnslaw Cruise & Farm Tour Queenstown
Day 12 Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau, Trekking & Glacier Heli-Flight Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 13 Drive to Greymouth, TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 14 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Optional Boat or Bus Tour

Admire the Auckland city skyline

Welcome to Auckland! Your driver will be waiting at the airport to transfer you to your hotel. Depending on your arrival time, take some time to relax before heading out to explore New Zealand's largest city, which sits on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With two bustling harbors, it's not hard to see why Auckland is nicknamed the "City of Sails." 

If you arrive early enough in the day and your kids are feeling energetic, hit the ground running with a 4.5-hour whale and dolphin-watching safari in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. You'll see landmarks like the Harbour Bridge and volcanic Rangitoto Island while keeping an eye out for orcas, dolphins, whales, sharks, manta rays, turtles, fur seals, and up to 26 species of seabirds, including the little blue penguin.

Alternatively, go at your own pace with tickets for the Auckland Explorer Bus. Hop on and off wherever you want. Your pass includes the central city Red Tour and the outer city Blue Tour, as well as a return ferry to the historic seaside suburb of Devonport on Auckland's North Shore. Browse boutiques for unique gifts, indulge at a restaurant or café, go to the beach, or climb North Head for harbor views.

Day 2: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Mitai Māori Village

Tour the Hobbiton Movie Set

Pick up your rental car and take the family south to Rotorua through the Waikato region. After driving past the Bombay Hills, you'll turn inland toward Matamata, also known as the real Middle-earth. Movie-loving kids and adults will enjoy taking a guided tour of select locations made famous by "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies, as well as the Hobbiton Movie Set.

Continue the drive to Rotorua, stopping at the town of Tirau, where the children will love posing for photos next to the large tin sheep and sheepdog! After arriving in Rotorua, settle into your hotel and head out to explore this geothermal wonderland and heartland of Māori culture. A great introduction to Māori culture, if your kids don't need to go to bed too early, is to visit the Mitai Māori Village in the evening. Enjoy performances and demonstrations followed by a traditionally cooked hāngī meal, where vegetables and meat are wrapped and placed in a pit in the ground to cook slowly.

Day 3: Redwoods Treewalk and/or Waipa Mountain Bike Park, Polynesian Day Spa

Kids will love the platforms and treehouse-like structures at the Redwoods Treewalk

Today, choose a forest adventure most appropriate for your family's age and energy level. For a relatively relaxed (yet exciting!) walk, check out the Treewalk at The Redwoods - Whakarewarewa Forest. Using ecologically friendly engineering, the Treewalk is suspended from 100-year-old redwoods. It features a series of suspension bridges and living decks. It is suitable for all ages and is designed to be visited without harnesses or protective gear. The only pre-requisite is that all users must be able to walk the entire 1,814 feet (553 m) themselves and not be carried.

You can also get more active with longer walks and mountain biking in the park. To explore the walking tracks, head to the Redwoods Visitor Centre. From here, six well-signposted tracks cater to a range of abilities. Choose short, easy walks or a more challenging hike. 

The park also has one of the best mountain bike networks in New Zealand, making Rotorua a hub for riders of all abilities. With approximately 80 miles (130 km) of maintained trails, there is something here for every level of rider. The Waipa Mountain Bike Park has an on-site bike hire shop and offers guided tours. Children will enjoy the loop for kids, an easy ride that starts and finishes from the main parking area. Parents can also rent "tag-along" bike attachments for the little ones.

Later, relax after these adventures with a relaxing session at the Polynesian Day Spa on the shore of Lake Rotorua. Families with younger kids can check out the family pool, which is cooler than some of the other pools and has a hydro-slide. There are also indoor and outdoor pools that adults can enjoy. The spa's main attraction is its four alkaline rock pools, each with different temperatures ranging from 96.8°F to 107.6°F (36°C to 42°C). While soaking in the warm waters, you'll be able to take in views of the lake, native plants, wildlife, and a nearby grotto.

Day 4: Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Drive to Taupo, Lake Cruise

Kids will be amazed by the colors of Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Kids who are into science and geology will love visiting Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Even those without this interest will be fascinated by the geothermal area's colors, sights, and smells. In 1886, Mount Tarawera in Rotorua erupted and destroyed the surrounding area. The eruption opened the earth, splitting the mountain in two, exploding Lake Rotomahana to 20 times its original size and forming the seven craters that today make up the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Take an eco-focused nature walk or hike through the park, followed by a relaxing boat cruise on Lake Rotomahana, exploring its geothermal system.

Later, hit the road again and continue to Taupō, just an hour's drive from Rotorua. The town sits on New Zealand's largest lake—Lake Taupō—a volcanic caldera formed following a massive eruption 25,600 years ago. Just north of town are the Huka Falls; a short detour to see them is highly recommended. Get up close to the spray on a thrilling jet boat ride or see the boiling pools and steaming vents of nearby Craters of the Moon geothermal reserve.

After settling into your accommodation, join a 90-minute cruise on Lake Taupō to see the spectacular Māori rock carvings. Created by traditional carver Matahi Brightwell, these exquisite carvings were completed in 1980. The largest depicts Ngātoro-i-rangi, a celebrated Māori hero and tohunga (spiritual leader). Kids and adults alike will enjoy this scenic cruise and the chance to relax. 

Day 5: Drive to Napier, Art Deco Tour

Tour Napier's vintage highlights

Head east today to Hawke's Bay city of Napier. With its sunny climate, take advantage of al fresco dining at one of Napier's many well-known cafés, restaurants, or vineyards. There are at least 30 cafés within walking distance of the city center, so you will be spoilt for choice, or drive a short way out of town for an upmarket winery lunch—some have outdoor areas where kids can run around, and parents can enjoy sampling wine from the North Island's largest wine-producing region.

Depending on your kids' age and energy levels, you can choose between an afternoon or evening walking tour. Some tours even transport you in a vintage 1930s car, which some youths may especially enjoy. Napier has an interesting history, which you can learn all about: it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1931 and subsequently rebuilt in the dominant style of the day, Art Deco. Learn more at the Hawke's Bay Museum, or head to the National Aquarium of New Zealand to keep animal-loving kids happy.
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Day 6: Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safari

Visit the huge gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers

Bird enthusiasts will love the itinerary today: a visit to the enormous gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. This is the world's largest, most accessible gannet colony. You can only visit on a guided tour, as access to the birds' site is restricted. Make a stop at a spectacular clifftop with panoramic views of Hawke's Bay and across to the Māhia Peninsula. The 22-mile (36 km) three-hour trip includes commentary by your tour guide on the farming operation on Cape Kidnappers Station and an introduction to the gannets. On arrival, you can stretch your legs and take in the scenery from your position at the brink of the cliff's edge at 328 feet (100 m) above the ocean!

After returning to Napier, head to the Ocean Spa hot pools and swimming complex. There are a series of heated outdoor pools for playing, relaxing, and exercising, great ocean views, and a café. Kids and parents alike will appreciate some downtime after all the activities.

Day 7: Fly to Christchurch, Optional Activities

Cathedral Square in Christchurch
Cathedral Square in Christchurch

Today, fly from Napier to Christchurch, a 90-minute flight that cuts off days of overland travel. Upon arrival, pick up your rental car.

Depending on your arrival time in Christchurch, there will be time to participate in various activities. Check out the International Antarctic Centre at the airport to learn about one of New Zealand's closest neighbors. There are many activities for kids here. Go punting on the Avon River / Ōtākaro with a guide dressed in Edwardian garb. Take the heritage sightseeing tram through the central city to see the highlights. Chill out in Hagley Park and admire the flora at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Families with younger kids will also want to make time to play at the Margaret Mahy Playground.

Day 8: Drive to Mount Cook Village, Hike & Glacier Flight

Hiking the Hooker Valley track

It's time to hit the road again on a journey into the Southern Alps. Drive four hours west to Mount Cook Village, which sits at the base of its namesake mountain. New Zealand's highest peak measures 12,315 feet (3,754 m) and is also known by its Māori name Aoraki, which means "Cloud Piercer." The mountain is one of over 20 peaks in the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The drive winds through the heart of the South Island, through the pastoral Canterbury Plains. Stop off in Geraldine and Fairlie as you make your way to Burkes Pass and the lakeside town of Tekapo. Finally, you'll arrive in Mount Cook Village, your base for exploring the glacial wonders of the park.

If you and your family are active and mobile, head off on one of the short, scenic walks beginning in and around Mount Cook Village. You'll find hiking options that are suitable for all ages and abilities. Before your hike, visit the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre for useful updates on track conditions. The hikes in this area range from just 10 minutes to four hours. The quickest option is the Bowen Bush Walk, an easy forest hike that will take you through tōtara and celery pine forests. If you're up for a more extended jaunt, opt for the four-hour roundtrip trek to Hooker Lake, which begins at the visitor center and takes you through Hooker Valley.

Alternatively, enjoy a thrilling Mt. Cook scenic flight in a ski plane that makes a glacier landing. You'll fly through the towering Southern Alps and get the chance to explore the flawless, snow-covered Tasman Glacier. Fully appreciate this remote alpine landscape with panoramic views of Aoraki / Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. The flight is around 35 minutes long.

Day 9: Drive to Queenstown, Skyline Gondola & Luge

Ride the luge in Queenstown

It's time to head south to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. Pass through the lakeside town of Twizel and a popular spot to go gliding, Ōmarama. Then, ascend the Lindis Pass into the Otago region. The route will take you through Cromwell, a town at the top of the Kawarau Gorge, and the Gibbston Valley wine-growing region. When you reach the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, consider bungee jumping or watching other people take the leap. The Remarkables mountain range heralds your approach to Queenstown.

After settling into your family's accommodation, take a scenic ride on the Skyline Gondola, on which you'll climb over 1,400 feet (450 m) to Bob's Peak for panoramic views of the Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and sparkling Lake Wakatipu. After admiring the views, ride the peak's two hilltop luge tracks. Older kids can ride solo, while younger kids can share with a parent. The gondola will take you back down the mountain, or you can opt to hike or even mountain bike back down.

Day 10: Milford Sound Full-Day Adventure

Return to Queenstown by air
Kids will love flying over Fiordland

Today get ready for a full-day tour of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Taking a tour rather than driving means you'll be free to admire the views from the panoramic windows without worrying about watching the road ahead. It's a very scenic journey from Queenstown, and kids will especially like traveling through the hand-built Homer Tunnel through the mountains, where there are no lights except those from the vehicles traveling through!

After arriving at Milford Sound, take a boat tour across the fjord and enjoy views of rainforests, waterfalls, and Mitre Peak. If it's raining (which it often is in Fiordland, one of the wettest places on earth), your kids will love getting up close to the waterfalls gushing from the peaks. Bring a change of clothes!

Fly 45 minutes back to Queenstown in a fixed-wing aircraft, enjoying a birds-eye view of the fjord and the surrounding peaks along the way. Not only will the views be incredible, but you'll save your kids another few hours sitting in the car. 

Day 11: Glenorchy 4WD Tour, TSS Earnslaw Cruise & Farm Tour

Take a tour of scenic Glenorchy

Glenorchy is a small settlement near Queenstown known as a filming location for "The Lord of the Rings." If your kids have seen the movies (or read the books), they'll love this half-day tour. Experience the beautiful landscape of lakes and mountains on a 4WD safari tour that includes traveling on one of the South Island's most scenic drives. The landscapes featured as Isengard, Ithilien Camp, Lothlórien, Fangorn Forest, and Battle of Amon Hen are a few of the stops you'll make and sites you'll see during the tour.

Later, head back to Queenstown for an afternoon cruise across beautiful Lake Wakatipu aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship. Stop at the Walter Peak High Country Farm, where you can savor a gourmet meal lakeside while soaking up the alpine scenery and colonial-era atmosphere of the homestead. After you've eaten, wander the beautiful gardens or admire the skill of sheepdogs at work during a farm demonstration, which kids will especially enjoy.

Day 12: Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau, Trekking & Glacier Heli-Flight

Hike to viewpoints around Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier

Leave Queenstown and cross the Crown Range, following the highest sealed road in New Zealand, to arrive in the alpine town of Wānaka. Skirt the shores of both Lake Wānaka and Lake Hāwea, then enter the small town of Makarora. Stop at the Blue Pools for a one-hour roundtrip walk through a native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Continue through the remote seaside settlement of Haast, then head up the wild West Coast, a 373-mile (600 km) stretch of bush and native rainforest. You'll see Fox Glacier before arriving at your final destination, Franz Josef / Waiau village.

Visit the Department of Conservation information center in Franz Josef / Waiau to plan a hike in the area. There are many to choose from, so you'll be able to find one to suit your family. Some of the most popular trails include the Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk and Sentinel Rock Walk, which provide views of Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. Then there's the Lake Wombat Walk and Terrace Walk, which take you through the forest and past former gold mining operations.

If the weather's fine, take a scenic helicopter flight over two of New Zealand's most famous glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef / Waiau. Land at the head of one and see the incredible sight of this frozen river of ice as it winds its way through ancient valleys carved from the mountainside. The flight is about 30 minutes, and the tour lasts around one hour.

Day 13: Drive to Greymouth, TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch

Kids love traveling by train

This morning, drive along the scenic highway from Franz Josef / Waiau to Greymouth, where you'll catch the TranzAlpine train back over to Christchurch. The TranzAlpine is considered one of the world's greatest train journeys. You'll travel through Arthur's Pass National Park from the west to the east of the South Island. From the comfort of your carriage, see lush beech forest, deep river valleys, and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend to the windswept Canterbury Plains before arriving in Christchurch. A private driver will meet you at Christchurch Train Station and transfer you to your accommodation. 

Spend your last evening in New Zealand enjoying a special dinner in Christchurch. One excellent option (if your kids are older than 10) is to book a table on the Tramway Restaurant to enjoy a scenic tour of the city in a vintage tram while eating a delicious meal.

Day 14: Depart Christchurch

Go punting on the Avon River / Ōtākaro before you leave

It's time to leave New Zealand. Depending on your departure details, you may have time to fit in some last-minute activities in Christchurch that you didn't get around to on your earlier visit to the city, such as a relaxing punt on the Avon River / Ōtākaro.

A private car will collect you from your accommodation and transfer you to Christchurch Airport in time for your departing flight. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

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Map of New Zealand Family Explorer from North to South - 14 Days
Map of New Zealand Family Explorer from North to South - 14 Days