Discover everything from trendy cities and staggering countryside to award-winning wines and gourmet food tours on this far-reaching 15-day trip around New Zealand's North and South Islands. Float over the Canterbury Plains at first light in a hot air balloon, be helicoptered up to the Franz Josef Glacier, and sit back while you enjoy a cruise through the breathtaking Milford Sound.


  • Sample the finest olive oil, oysters, and wine on Waiheke's "Island of Wine"
  • Be entranced by Maori culture through a performance of songs, dances, and games 
  • Watch dawn break over the Canterbury Plains in a hot air balloon
  • Enjoy a gourmet barbecue feast after an evening cruise on a steamship 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore the City of Sails Auckland
Day 2 Take the Ferry to Waiheke Island, Gourmet Food & Wine Tour Auckland
Day 3 Bus to Rotorua, Evening Māori Cultural Experience Rotorua
Day 4 Free Day in Rotorua Rotorua
Day 5 Fly to Wellington  Wellington
Day 6 Free Day in Wellington, Wellington's Museums Wellington
Day 7 Ferry to Picton, Explore Blenheim Blenheim
Day 8 Coastal Pacific Train from Blenheim to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 9 Hot Air Balloon Ride over Christchurch Christchurch
Day 10 Take the TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth, Transfer to Franz Josef Glacier  Franz Josef Glacier
Day 11 Explore Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef Glacier
Day 12 Transfer to Queenstown via Makarora Queenstown 
Day 13 Milford Sound Scenic Flight & Nature Cruise Queenstown 
Day 14 Free Day in Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Dinner & Farm Tour Queenstown 
Day 15 Depart New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Explore the City of Sails

Enjoy panoramic views of the "City of Sails" from Auckland's Sky Tower

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at Auckland Airport, you will be met by your driver who will take you to your hotel. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, Auckland's urban paradise is a playground for both city lovers and adventure-seekers. You may just want to kick back and relax at the hotel while adjusting to the time change. Or, shake off your jet lag by heading to the Sky Tower and opting for a bungee jump! Whether you're an adrenaline junkie or not, the Sky Tower is an excellent place to get your bearings in New Zealand's metropolis, with its panoramic views across the "City of Sails."

If acquiring sea legs is more your thing, a sunny stroll around Waitemata Harbour will do the trick. Roughly translated to "sparkling waters" in the Māori language, the harbor features a number of sailing, cruising, and whale watching excursions. Now that you've dipped your toes in the sea or had your head in the clouds, head back to your hotel to rest up for tomorrow's adventures.

Day 2: Take the Ferry to Waiheke Island, Gourmet Food & Wine Tour

Delight in Waiheke's gastronomic reputation on a tour

Today you'll start with a scenic 40-minute cruise through the Hauraki Gulf between the Auckland downtown ferry terminal and Matiatia Wharf on Waiheke Island. Adored for its beaches, forests, olive groves, and vineyards, New Zealand's "Island of Wine" is home to a dedicated group of small-scale vineyards that produce some of the country's finest wines. 

One of the best ways to truly enjoy this small, fertile island, is on a food and wine tour. Enjoy succulent, fresh oysters, award-winning olive oil, and other locally produced, specialty foods—accompanied, of course, by wines from some of the island's top boutique vineyards. Visit an olive oil mill, followed by two vineyards, and sit back and let yourself be entertained by your guide's commentary while you savor a platter lunch at one of Waiheke's top vineyard restaurants.

Day 3: Bus to Rotorua, Evening Māori Cultural Experience

Become immersed in a Māori cultural experience
Be prepared for an action-packed, culturally informative, and geologically fascinating journey today as you leave Auckland by bus and journey through the lush farmland of the Waikato and King Country regions. Your first stop is in the small town of Waitomo, where you'll enjoy a guided tour through the world-famous Waitomo Caves. Finish the tour with a silent boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto—a subterranean cavern lit by thousands of tiny glowworms.
Stop off for a delicious picnic before arriving at the Agrodome, an organic farm where you can learn about farming practices in New Zealand. Take a farm tour in an all-terrain vehicle, see how sheep are shorn, and watch a live sheepdog trial. Continue on to Te Puia—one of New Zealand's most important cultural venues. At Te Puia's marae, you will receive a traditional welcome and be invited to experience a Māori cultural performance, in which ancient and modern stories are charismatically told through song, dance, poi, and stick games. 

Your last stop before arriving in Rotorua involves a guided tour of the active geysers and boiling mud pools in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, where you can see the world-famous Pohutu geyser unleash 100-foot-high (30 m) vapor jets. Spend the evening in nearby Te Pā Tū—New Zealand's most awarded cultural attraction—where you will become immersed in Māori culture. Watch an enthralling performance, after which you will be guided by torchlight to a three-course feast. Head to your Rotorua accommodation afterward for a comfortable evening.

Day 4: Free Day in Rotorua

Try your hand at fly fishing on Lake Okataina

With so much to do in Rotorua, you really need this second day to fit in all the sights and activities on offer. Rotorua is surrounded by 16 lakes—11 of which can be fished—so head there if you want to try your hand at fly fishing. Insider's tip: Lake Okataina also has sandy shores and clear water making it a great picnic and swimming spot!

If you want to squeeze the most out of Rotorua, join a fully guided half-day tour of Rotorua's geothermal areas, and learn about the colorful hot springs, erupting geysers, boiling mud pools, spectacular volcanoes, and native forests. Make sure you don't miss the dramatic sight of the Lady Knox geyser erupting. Continue on a short drive to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley where your guide will explain the history of the Mount Tarawera eruption which blew open this spectacular, bush-covered geothermal park.

But if all of this just sounds like hard work, why not spend the day soaking in one of the many geothermal pools that are dotted throughout the city? The Polynesian Spa on the shore of Lake Rotorua features 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 water, you'll be able to take in views of the lake, native plants and wildlife, and a nearby grotto.

Day 5: Fly to Wellington 

Wander around Wellington's waterfront

Today a driver will be waiting to take you to the airport, where you'll hop on a quick flight south to Wellington. After a few hours of traveling, you'll arrive in New Zealand's capital and center of government. 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 bring a cheerful, holiday feel. Relax back at the hotel or, if you've got itchy feet, go and explore the city!

Day 6: Free Day in Wellington, Wellington's Museums

Explore Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, the "container of treasures
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Satisfy your lust for culture, history, and food while in Wellington. Jump aboard the Wellington Cable Car at Lambton Quay—the only running funicular railway in the country. Or, for those with an eye for fashion boutiques, wander through Cuba Street 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 distinctively-shaped parliamentary debate chamber.
Culture beckons in the form of Wellington's museums and galleries. You could head to the Wellington Museum to learn more about the city's history, see artists of cultural importance at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, or go to the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, translated as the "container of treasures." Here you will see everything from Māori taonga, seventeenth-century English furniture, and a rare specimen of a colossal squid. Film-buffs can choose to go behind the scenes at Weta Workshop, the Oscar Award-winning design studio behind the "Lord Of The Rings" films.
New Zealand is never short on gastronomic options, and this couldn't be more true with Wellington—also known as the country's culinary capital. Opt for a culinary tour and start off at a specialty café. Enjoy tastings at Wellington's best food locations, which include regional cheeses, honey, and chocolates, and savor a delicious, light lunch matched with New Zealand wines at a top Wellington restaurant. During the tour, your guide will also introduce you to many other aspects of the capital, such as the iconic city architecture, its sculptures, and fantastic places to shop and eat. 

Day 7: Ferry to Picton, Explore Blenheim

Weave your way among the vineyards of Marlborough
Your driver will be outside your hotel in the morning waiting to take you to board the Interislander Ferry—with access to the premium lounge included. The 57-mile (92 km) journey between Wellington and Picton takes around three hours and has been described as "one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world." Enjoy complimentary beverages, snacks, and light meals in the comfort of the Premium Plus lounge, while watching the Kaikoura Ranges, bush-covered mountains, islets, and crystal clear waters pass you by. 

Once you arrive in the picturesque town of Picton, a shuttle will take you to your Blenheim accommodation. Surrounded by row upon row of vines, Blenheim sits at the heart of the Marlborough wine region. A compact town built around an old-fashioned marketplace, Blenheim is a great place to soak up the country atmosphere, with ample cafés, restaurants, and shops to help you while away the afternoon. Join a half-day wine tour to sample the award-winning produce the region is known for before heading back to your hotel for the night.

Day 8: Coastal Pacific Train from Blenheim to Christchurch

Choose between mountain or sea views on the Coastal Pacific Train

Get ready for a scenic train ride across breathtaking New Zealand scenery as your driver picks you up in the morning and takes you to the station. The Coastal Pacific train journey travels between the delightful port of Picton and Christchurch. This journey is a scenic feast of New Zealand, with the Kaikoura mountain ranges on one side of your train and the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline on the other. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, seals, and penguins from the comfort of your train carriage. A driver will be waiting at the other end to take you to your Christchurch accommodation. 

Known as New Zealand's "Garden City," Christchurch is a vibrant, metropolitan center and the second largest city in New Zealand. Surrounded by a large greenbelt, the city mixes cutting-edge architecture and English heritage with an abundance of green spaces, lush gardens, and wide, tree-lined avenues. Spend the afternoon wandering around the city, or take the double-decker hop-on/hop-off bus for an easy way to see the sights and ride a historic tram across town to the renowned botanic gardens and the cardboard Transitional Cathedral

Day 9: Hot Air Balloon Ride over Christchurch

Sip champagne on a hot air balloon ride

Wake up at the crack of dawn and get ready for one of the most memorable experiences you will have while in New Zealand. Escape to a world of peace and tranquillity in a hot air balloon ride: a magical, romantic experience that will offer you panoramic views across the fertile Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps. Watch the sunrise light up the landscape as you float effortlessly through the clouds while sipping on chilled champagne or orange juice and enjoying a light snack.

Hot air ballooning is a hands-on experience, so you and your guide will work as a team to set up and pack away the balloon. The entire experience takes around four to five hours, so you'll probably want to have an afternoon nap back at the hotel and take it easy after your early start. If you want to squeeze the most out of your time in the city, however, dine at the Tramway Restaurant. Board the historic, colonial-style dining tram and journey along the inner city tram loop—passing New Regent Street, the Avon River / Ōtākaro, High Street, and Victoria Square—while being treated to a four-course meal.  

Day 10: Take the TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth, Transfer to Franz Josef Glacier 

Enjoy expansive views on your train ride to the Franz Josef Glacier

Get picked up in the morning and board the TranzAlpine Scenic Train to Greymouth—considered one of the world's great train journeys. From your carriage, you'll see the fields of the Canterbury Plains and farmland, followed by the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. Your train then climbs into the Southern Alps before descending through lush, beech rainforest to the West Coast town of Greymouth. A private driver on the other side will be waiting to take you south to Franz Josef and glacier country.

Pass through Hokitika and take a small detour to the spectacular Hokitika Gorge—a turquoise-colored river surrounded by native, bush-clad cliffs. Continue on through Ross—a historic gold mining town where several buildings still remain intact. Follow the coast through several small towns before catching a glimpse of the Franz Josef Glacier as you arrive in the town center. After a busy day of traveling, head back to your hotel and get ready to explore the glaciers tomorrow.

Day 11: Explore Franz Josef Glacier

Take a helicopter ride to the Franz Josef glacier

Franz Josef is a small but lively town in the heart of New Zealand's West Coast region, known for its 7-mile-long (12 km) glacier. Surrounded by rainforest-draped mountains, the township has a vibrant and bustling atmosphere. To see the ice from a viewpoint, you can walk along the valley floor below the terminal face of the glacier. To go on the glacier itself, however, you must take a licensed helicopter tour.

Take a scenic flight over all three Franz Josef glacier icefalls. Landing high on the glacier takes a two-hour guided trip into some of the most beautiful terrains in the country. Follow your guide through a wonderland of blue ice and frozen pinnacles, and you'll have endless views of the surrounding mountains and rainforest as well as plenty of opportunities to take photographs. 

Day 12: Transfer to Queenstown via Makarora

Walk to the Blue Pools at Makarora

Say hello to your private driver for the day, who will take you on a scenic route to Queenstown. Heading south you pass through the second glacier town of Fox Glacier. Take a short detour to view the glacier before heading along the coast and encountering classic West Coast bush scenery. At Knights Point Lookout, elephant seals can often be spotted basking on the sandy beaches at the far end. Crossing the massive Haast River you turn inland and head through the heart of the valley, climbing through mountains dotted with waterfalls.

The Haast Valley offers a spectacular view of the river and its enormous power. You will also stop at Makarora, to go for a short, 30-minute walk to the aptly named Blue Pools. Lakes Wanaka and Hawea guide you into the township of Wānaka before you head over New Zealand's highest road—Crown Range Road—where you can stop for plenty of photo opportunities before dropping into Queenstown. 
It may be known as New Zealand's "adventure capital," but Queenstown has plenty to offer that isn't heart-stopping entertainment. Settled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu beneath a soaring panorama of the Remarkables mountain range, this alpine town is surrounded by a plethora of historic, scenic, and gastronomic wonders—such as Rata, a waterfront restaurant owned by Michelin star chef Josh Emett. 

Day 13: Milford Sound Scenic Flight & Nature Cruise

Have your breath taken away on Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

Grab some of New Zealand's famous barista-made coffee and head to Queenstown Airport, where you'll take a 40-minute flight to Milford Sound /  Piopiotahi—a stunning fiord in Fiordland National Park. Upon landing, head over to the Southern Discoveries Visitor Centre to board a Milford Sound Nature Cruise for a leisurely boat tour. Cruise the full length of the fjord on a small catamaran with comfortable indoor seating and tall windows for panoramic views during the two-hour tour. Keep on the lookout for seals, dolphins, and penguins. 

When the cruise ends and you arrive back at the Milford wharf, you'll transfer to Milford Sound Airport and return to Queenstown. Luckily, the return flight follows a different route, so you can enjoy dramatic scenery from a new angle before arriving in Queenstown.

Day 14: Free Day in Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Dinner & Farm Tour

Jump aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship
During your free day in the city, you might want to relax and take in the sights by hopping aboard the Skyline Gondola—the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere. As you rise to over 1,400 feet (450 m) above Queenstown, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Remarkables, Walter Peak, Cecil Peak, Coronet Peak, and magnificent Lake Wakatipu. Or, for the adrenaline junkies, strap yourself in for a breathtaking and exhilarating jet boat ride that combines high-speed power and gravity-defying stunts along the Shotover River Canyon.
If you haven't gotten your fill of wine yet, consider a tasting tour through the region's best boutique vineyards. Excursions cross through Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Cromwell—three sub-regions known for their excellent, cool-climate wines, which are generally more acidic and lighter than other varieties. Pick your favorite wine to pair with lunch at one of the wine farms, and take a walk through historic Old Cromwell to end your journey among some of the most picturesque vineyards in New Zealand.

For dinner, go back in time during a cruise to Walter Peak High Country Farm aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship. Once on land, you'll be greeted by your guide who will lead you through beautiful lakeside gardens to the charming homestead. Here you'll enjoy a gourmet barbecue feast that your chef will prepare in front of you. On your cruise home, enjoy the camaraderie of a singalong with the ship's pianist, or breathe in the fresh night air as you watch the lights of Queenstown draw nearer.

Day 15: Depart New Zealand

Say goodbye to New Zealand!

Say goodbye to Queenstown—and New Zealand—as your driver picks you up from your hotel and takes you to the airport. You will have plenty of time on the flight to savor incredible memories, and plan your next trip!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

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Map of New Zealand Highlights by Road, Rail & Air - 15 Days
Map of New Zealand Highlights by Road, Rail & Air - 15 Days