- Enjoy a full-day hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Christchurch
- Seek out the giant sperm whale on an excursion in Kaikoura
- Embark on an after-hours wildlife tour of kiwi and more in Wellington
- Go jet boating along the roaring Huka Falls in Taupo
|Arrival in Christchurch & Hop On Hop Off City Tour
|Drive to Kaikoura, Hanmer Springs, & Whale Watching
|Drive to Picton & Ferry to Wellington
|Drive to Taupo & Jet Boating Excursion
|Drive to Rotorua, Floatplane Tour, & Visit Mitai Maori Village
|Drive to Matamata, Movie Set Tour, & Drive to Auckland
|Auckland Harbour Cruise & Departure
Day 1: Arrival in Christchurch and Hop On Hop Off City Tour
Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will take you to your accommodation in Christchurch. A travel representative will meet with you to deliver your travel pack, which contains everything you need for your trip, including your itinerary and all driving instructions, along with plenty of brochures.
Then, it's time to explore the town via the Hop On Hop Off City Tour excursion. With a mix of open- and closed-top buses, ride in comfort and style, accompanied by spectacular views. Friendly local guides will take you on a journey of discovery through Christchurch. Listen to the entertaining and informative live commentary and learn about the fascinating history, from pioneering days to modern times.
Following the tour, the evening is at your leisure.
Day 2: Drive to Kaikoura, soak in Hanmer Springs, and go on a whale-watching tour
Collect your rental car in the morning, and drive north from Christchurch to Kaikoura. The route takes you through the rolling hills of North Canterbury's major wine region, the Waipara Valley. Allow time for a detour and visit Hanmer Springs for a dip in the mineral hot pools. Continue on and cross the Hawkswood Range before descending to the spectacular Kaikoura coastline—where the road hugs the ocean for the last leg of the drive.
Once you arrive, experience New Zealand's only marine-based whale watching company. Whale Watch Kaikoura offers a once-in-a-lifetime, up-close encounter with the giant sperm whale. You are also likely to spot New Zealand fur seals, dusky dolphins, and albatrosses. Depending on the season, you may also see pilot, blue, and southern right whales, as well as migrating humpbacks. Often, orcas can be spotted here and the world's smallest dolphin, the Hector's dolphin, occasionally makes an appearance. Cruise on a modern catamaran, specifically designed for whale watching, with large passenger cabins and outside viewing decks. Passenger numbers for each tour are kept below the vessel carrying capacity to ensure your tour experience is personal and memorable.
Day 3: Drive to Picton and take the Interislander Ferry to Wellington
Today, follow the coast to Picton, located at the top of the North Island. As you leave Kaikoura, take in the spectacular shoreline and keep a lookout for native wildlife as you go. Stop to view adult fur seals at Ohau Point, and take a short stroll inland to view the pups frolicking in the waterfall upstream.
Continue on with the ocean on one side and the Kaikoura Ranges on the other, before traversing the dry hills of Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine-producing region. Visit one of the vineyards surrounding Blenheim for a wine tasting or a gourmet lunch before beginning the final leg of your journey to Picton.
Upon arrival in Picton, board the Interislander Ferry to Wellington. The 57-mile journey between Picton and Wellington takes around 3 hours, and has been described as "one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world." Around 1 hour of the cruise takes you through the Marlborough Sounds. This region of bush-covered mountains, small islands, crystal-clear waters, and secluded bays offers remarkable photographic opportunities. From the Cook Strait, enjoy spectacular views of the Kaikoura Ranges on the South Island, and keep a close watch for dolphins and sea birds along the way.
Past the strait sits Wellington Harbour, along with notable points like Pencarrow Head, which hosts New Zealand's oldest lighthouse (1859). Red Rocks is home to a seal colony and Oterangi Bay is the site that recorded the country's highest-ever wind speed of 167 mph.
After disembarking from the ferry, collect your rental car in Wellington.
Wellington is home to New Zealand’s center of government and has a largely cosmopolitan feel. Often referred to as "Mini-Melbourne," this (self-described) 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 brings a cheerful holiday feel.
Head to Te Papa National Museum for a history lesson and a ticket to one of its many international exhibitions, or jump aboard the Wellington Cable Car at Lambton Quay—the only running funicular railway in the country. For those with an eye for boutique fashion, wander through Cuba St to sample some of the city's best vintage stores. Break for coffee at a hipster café, and be sure to snap a photo outside the Beehive, New Zealand’s parliamentary debate chamber.
Go behind the scenes at Weta Workshop, the Oscar-winning design studio behind Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, and Avatar. Take a 45-minute guided tour through both the Workshop and Weta Cave.
If you're a foodie at heart, a 2-hour round trip to Martinborough is a must-do. Take your time as you wind through the spectacular wine country, and be sure to stop in at Martinborough Wines or Ata Rangi Martinborough.
For an educational day out, learn about New Zealand's native species at Zealandia, the world's first fully-fenced eco-sanctuary, and home to more than 40 types of endangered and native birds. You can embark on a night tour, too. Your tour begins with an interactive exhibition before you walk through the gates of Zealandia's predator-exclusion fence, into the sanctuary. Your guide will then lead you on a torch-lit walk through the native New Zealand bush. Look for kiwi foraging on the forest floor, tuatara hunting for food, glowworms shining, tiny Maud Island frogs in their enclosures, pateke (brown teal) ducks feeding at night and kaka (parrots) coming in to roost. Zealandia is one of the best places to see kiwi in the wild. More than 100 of these nocturnal birds live freely in their natural environment—inside the safety of the sanctuary valley—so your chances of seeing this national treasure are great.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Drive to Taupo and jet boat around Huka Falls
The drive from Wellington to Taupo takes you via the Kapiti Coast—and the seaside towns of Plimmerton, Paekakariki, and Paraparaumu are worth a short detour. Heading north, pass through the rural towns of Taihape, Mangaweka, and Bulls before arriving on the central plateau. A little further, the military town of Waiouru is home to the National Army Museum, an incredible collection of New Zealand’s military history and a memorial to its servicemen.
Skirting Tongariro National Park, one of New Zealand’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, spot the 8,202-foot peak of the volcanically active Mt. Ruapehu. You may also recognize the symmetrical shape of Mt. Ngauruhoe, as this was used as the scenery of Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The town of Taupo sits on New Zealand's largest lake, Lake Taupo—a volcanic caldera formed following a massive, ancient eruption, considered to be one of the most violent eruptions known. Just north of the town are the Huka Falls—a short detour for a view is highly recommended. The Huka Jet is 30 minutes of pure fun and exhilaration, skimming close to cliffs, sliding past trees, feeling the adrenaline of full, 360° spins. The excitement continues right up to the base of the foaming falls to get a spectacular water-level view. Nothing compares to watching more than 58,000 gallons per second tumbling over the cliff face toward you.
Stop at nearby Craters of the Moon, too, a geothermal reserve with great walking tracks around its many boiling pools and steaming vents.
Adventurers can go bungee jumping, skydiving, fishing for trout in the lake and rivers, kayaking, sailing, horseback riding, and walking and hiking.
Taupo is a lively place with many shops, bars, and cafés, so make sure to enjoy the evening out on the town.
Day 5: Drive to Rotorua, floatplane tour, and visit Mitai Maori Village
The drive today takes you through the city of Rotorua, famous for its bubbling mud pools and Maori culture. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley are well signposted on the highway between the two towns. On Rotorua's lakefront, Volcanic Air Safaris offers scenic flights over Mt. Tarawera, or for a longer trip, to White Island, one of the most active volcanoes in the region. The Rotorua Museum and Blue Baths in the Government Gardens offer one of the best displays of any museum in the country. With a focus on local history, the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886 is brought back to life.
Embark on the exhilarating experience of a 4WD (4-wheel drive) hiking tour on Mount Tarawera helmed by Kaitiaki Adventures. Your journey begins with an off-road 4WD experience through native New Zealand bush, transporting you to the crater's edge. After a 1.5-2-hour hike, your driver will drop you at the remote shores of Lake Rerewhakaaitu. Then, you will return to Rotorua by floatplane. Enjoy a spectacular aerial overview of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Mount Tarawera, and the hidden lakes district. This stunning flight completes the Tarawera experience and returns you to your departure point on the shores of Lake Rotorua at the downtown city floatplane pier.
After the day's adventures, enjoy an evening at Mitai Maori Village, which will give you an introduction to the indigenous Maori culture. Take in the beautiful bush setting, and see warriors in traditional dress who paddle an ancient warrior waka (canoe) down the Wai-o-whiro stream, while trout and eel swim beneath the surface. Enjoy a traditionally cooked hangi meal, and round your evening out with a cultural performance that tells the story of the Maori people, their past, carvings, and ta Moko (tattoo art). View displays of weaponry and combat, and enjoy the exciting Haka finale.
Day 6: Drive to Matamata, go on a movie set tour, and drive to Auckland
Leave the steaming vents and boiling pools of the geothermal region behind, as you make your way through the lush dairy pastures of the Waikato.
Take in the emerald-green landscapes most famous for their role in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. Arrive into the small town of Matamata for a visit to the fully intact set of Hobbiton. Located just outside of Matamata, in the heart of the Waikato farming region, your tour will begin with a drive through a picturesque sheep farm. Navigate through Hobbit Holes, the Green Dragon Inn, the Mill, and the Party Tree, while your guide shares behind-the-scenes tales and insight into the making of the films.
Your drive continues northwest, crossing the dairy country of the Hauraki Plains before arriving at SH 1. Let the Bombay Hills guide you to Auckland City. Upon arrival, check into your accommodation, and enjoy the night in Auckland at your leisure.
Day 7: Auckland Harbour cruise and departure
Today, cruise the sparkling waters of Auckland's Waitemata Harbour. Learn about the most well-known city landmarks, including a stopover on the dormant volcano Rangitoto. Take in spectacular views of the Harbour Bridge, the city skyline and Devonport's historic naval base, as well as enjoying the Bean Rock Lighthouse with a complimentary hot drink and sandwich.
Following the cruise, explore more of vibrant Auckland, before dropping your rental car at the airport depot and continuing your onward journey home. Safe Travels!