See the highlights of New Zealand's North and South Islands in style with this two-week luxury self-drive itinerary. Start in Auckland, then drive to Rotorua, Hawkes Bay, and the Wairarapa before flying south to tackle Queenstown, Aoraki / Mount Cook, and Christchurch. Blending the excitement of 4WD tours, heli hiking, and jet boating with leisurely indulgence—think vineyard bicycle tours, spa treatments, fine dining, and harbor cruises—this tour truly showcases some of New Zealand's finest features.


  • Pamper yourself at Wai Ariki Spa on the shores of Lake Rotorua
  • Bike through sunny Hawkes Bay on a leisurely vineyard tour
  • Cruise the picture-perfect Milford Sound / Piopiotahi
  • Ride to the top of Haupapa / Tasman Glacier by helicopter and hike on the ice
  • Savor a dram at the world's highest-altitude whisky bar

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, All Blacks Experience & Ahi Restaurant  Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Free Afternoon in Rotorua Rotorua
Day 3 Scenic Floatplane Flight, Mountain Jade Workshop & Wai Ariki Spa Rotorua
Day 4 Drive to Napier via Taupō, Art Deco Vintage Car Tour Napier
Day 5 Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safari & Vineyard Bike Tour Napier
Day 6 Drive to Martinborough, Cape Palliser Walk or Wine Tasting Martinborough
Day 7 Drive to Wellington, Fly to Queenstown, Evening Onsen Session Queenstown 
Day 8 Helicopter to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Jet Boat on the Shotover River Queenstown 
Day 9 Skippers Canyon 4WD Tour, Routeburn Guided Half-Day Walk  Queenstown 
Day 10 Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Scenic Flight & Alpine Whisky Bar Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 11 Kayak Tasman Lake, Mount Cook Heli-Hike Adventure Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 12 Drive to Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 13 Day Trip to Historic Akaroa Christchurch
Day 14 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, All Blacks Experience & Ahi Restaurant 

Panoramic view of Auckland
Watch the sunset over Waitematā Harbor from the comfort of the Park Hyatt Auckland

Haere mai! Welcome to Auckland! Pick up your rental car at the airport and drive to your exclusive waterfront accommodation, the Park Hyatt Auckland. You'll get a taste of what makes New Zealand distinctive as soon as you walk in the door—the attractive modern layout celebrates traditional Māori design while incorporating nautical elements and expansive harbor views. Located centrally to restaurants, bars, and several attractions, it's a handy base for your first day here. Get settled, then head out to explore.

Auckland is abuzz with things to do. Keep it close to the city and stroll around charming Devenport, go shopping in Britomart, or ride the scenic tram from the Wynyard Quarter. In the late afternoon, head to SkyCity. Rugby fans should make a beeline for the All Blacks Experience. In a 45-minute small group guided tour, you'll learn what makes the All Blacks great and have the chance to face the haka and put your rugby skills to the test. Alternatively, explore the nearby SkyTower. It's the country's tallest human-made structure at 1,076 feet (328 m), with panoramic views of up to 50 miles (80 km) in every direction. 

Round the day off by dining at Ahi Restaurant. Showcasing the best of modern New Zealand cuisine, expect to find the country's finest and freshest seasonal produce—much of it from the restaurant's own organic garden—matched, of course, with New Zealand's famously good wine. Chef Ben Bayly's aim is to foster a true passion for authentic New Zealand food, so take your time and allow this culinary haven to work its magic.

Day 2: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Free Afternoon in Rotorua

Settle into luxury on the shores of Lake Tarawera (photo courtesy of Solitaire Lodge)

This morning you'll check out and hit the road—your next destination is Rotorua, and there's plenty to see on the way. Two hours southeast of Auckland, you'll find Matamata—"the real Middle-earth" and the ultimate stop-off for any fans of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit." Take guided tours of the scenic locations from the films and explore the details of the Hobbiton movie set. True aficionados can choose to make a day of it, booking in for the evening banquet and lamplight tour of The Shire and getting into Rotorua later in the evening.

Alternatively, plan in a couple of other stops. Take a distinctive selfie in Tirau with the large tin sheep and sheepdog, and browse the art, craft, and antique stores there. Thirty minutes later, stop off at the Agrodome and make a beeline for the National Kiwi Hatchery on the same site. If you're here between September and March, you've got a great chance of seeing eggs and chicks, and there's a fabulous nocturnal house to watch adult kiwi at any time of year.

Once you've arrived in Rotorua, check in to your accommodation, Solitaire Lodge. One of the country's premier 5-star properties, you'll enjoy magnificent views over Lake Tarawera from your room and fine dining in the on-site restaurant. Spend the rest of the day here, enjoying a walk around the lake or a soak in the hot springs, or take your choice of afternoon activities. Rotorua is a hub for healthy fun—from fishing, hiking, and biking to wellness and spa treatments.

Day 3: Scenic Floatplane Flight, Mountain Jade Workshop & Wai Ariki Spa

Fly over the colorful geothermal landscape and geysers of Rotorua

Start the day with a drive to the lakefront after breakfast to catch your floatplane for a scenic flight over Mokoia Island, Rotorua's hidden lakes, Mount Tarawera's mighty volcanic peaks, and the spectacular landscape of the Wai-o-Tapu Reserve. You'll land on the Waikato River just outside the Orakei Korako geothermal valley. Take the ferry and enjoy a one-hour walk past native bush, active geysers, and otherworldly silica sinter terraces and stalactites. Head over the river and into your waiting plane, which will take you back to the city over a panorama of peaceful farmland and the Paeroa Mountain Range

Nourish yourself at one of the city center's plentiful dining options, then go to the Mountain Jade Workshop, where your explorations will reward you with treasure— pounamu (greenstone). On the 30-minute private tour, you'll spend time with the master craftspeople, watching them create the intricate carvings as they share their knowledge and traditions, teach you the meanings of each symbol, and help you select your own piece to take home. 

Finish the day off with royalty-level relaxation at Wai Ariki (Chiefly Waters) on the Lake Rotorua foreshore. Curated and owned by local iwi, Ngāti Whakaue, you'll experience a two-hour journey steeped in traditional practices of healing and manaakitanga (hospitality). From the karakia (prayer) at the beginning, through multiple saunas, thermal pools, and therapeutic mud and aromatherapy treatments, you'll experience a perfect blend of modern wellness practices and traditional Māori wisdom. 

Day 4: Drive to Napier via Taupō, Art Deco Vintage Car Tour

Luxury cottages are dotted around the coastal working farm (photo courtesy of Rosewood Cape Kidnappers)

Today brings you to the North Island's sunniest city, Napier, via the Napier-Taupō Highway, which will take you over the Ahiminawa Range and sweep you down to the city. Stop off in Taupō on the way, where a brief detour from the road will allow you to admire the sheer power of the mighty Huka Falls—adrenaline junkies should make a proper stop here and ride the Hukafalls Jet to get spectacular views at a thrilling speed. 

Take a half-day kayak tour from Acacia Bay for a slower exploration of the lake area. With snacks, beverages, and plenty of chances to swim in the refreshing lake water, it's a relaxing excursion. The highlight is the stop at Miner's Bay, where you'll see artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell's spectacular 33-foot (10 m) carving of Ngatoroiranga, an early Māori navigator. Taupō township has plenty of great eateries, so refresh yourself afterward before hitting the highway for another two hours to Napier.

Upon arrival, you can opt for a private 1.5-hour vintage car tour of Napier's most famous Art Deco sights—severely damaged by an earthquake in 1931, the city was reconstructed in the Art Deco style and contains the most significant number of such buildings worldwide. Afterward, your accommodation awaits at Rosewood Cape Kidnappers. Savor the best of Hawkes Bay living in this luxury homestead with commanding ocean views, set within the original working farm. If you dine in, you'll be treated to the finest local produce, much of it sourced from the farm itself. 

Day 5: Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safari & Vineyard Bike Tour

Cape Kidnappers
Take a thrilling 4WD trip to the world's largest gannet colony (photo courtesy of Rosewood Cape Kidnappers)

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, then drive the scenic coastal route to Te Awanga for a private bird watching safari. Your guide will meet you with a 4WD vehicle and transport you in comfort over Cape Kidnappers Station to the world's largest gannet colony. This three-hour trip will take you over thrilling gullies, pastures, bush, and inclines while you learn more about local farming and the gannets. On arrival, you'll be met by an impressive nesting site and panoramic cliff-edge views 330 feet (100 m) above the ocean. 

Hawkes Bay is superb wine and food country, and a private bike tour of its wineries is a must. This afternoon a guide will pick you up from Rosewood Cape Kidnappers and drive you to nearby Havelock North, where you'll cycle at your leisure to a cluster of award-winning vineyards—Craggy Range, Black Barn, and Te Mata Estate—before cruising through orchard country along the Tuki Tuki River. At Te Awanga, you'll find three additional top-quality producers. As well as the wine tasting, be sure to book into one of these for an excellent lunch. 

Day 6: Drive to Martinborough, Cape Palliser Walk or Wine Tasting

Relax in the best of rural comfort at Palliser Bay (photo courtesy of Wharekauhau)
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

This morning, you'll drive from Napier to the Wairarapa, a rural winegrowing region and the favorite weekend escape for inhabitants of Wellington, New Zealand's capital. Stop off on the way at Greytown, an attractive town with plenty of character thanks to its Victorian buildings. You'll be staying at Wharekauhau, an upmarket homestead on a working 3,200-acre (1,295 ha) farm situated on scenic Palliser Bay. The property is known for its attention to detail, fine wine and dining, and the opportunity to fully experience the rural and coastal settings through its numerous activities and tours. 

If you can tear yourself away, consider driving to Cape Palliser, where you can take an attractive walk along the coast to its charmingly striped lighthouse, spotting seals along the way. Alternatively, head to Martinborough, home to around 35 wineries. If you wish, Wharekauhau will arrange transport to and from the vineyards and set you up with bikes, snacks, bottled water, and all you need to tour the wineries at your own pace before you head back to Wharekauhau for your evening meal.

Day 7: Drive to Wellington, Fly to Queenstown, Evening Onsen Session 

The Original Onsen Evening Session
Enjoy a session in a private cedar tub overlooking the Shotover Canyon (photo courtesy of Onsen Hot Pools)

Drive into Featherston this morning and head over the bushclad Remutaka Hills to Wellington airport. Drop your car off and board your flight to Queenstown. On arrival, pick up your next rental car and head for your accommodation at the luxurious Rosewood Matakauri. Situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, you'll want to linger over the panoramic views of the lake and the Remarkables mountain range from your sumptuous suite or private villa, all offering terraces and views over the lake.

Just seven minutes away, you'll be in Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital. If you're adrenaline-inclined, you can try everything from bungee jumping to ziplining, hiking, or the world's highest cliff jump. In the evening, wind down with a session at Onsen Hot Pools. Influenced by Japanese bathing culture, your surroundings are nevertheless pure New Zealand, with each private pool overlooking the Shotover River Canyon. Soak in the scenery from your cedar hot pool on the private deck, then head back to the lodge for dinner—the delicious seasonal menu changes daily and can be tailored to your needs. 

Day 8: Helicopter to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Jet Boat on the Shotover River

The world-famous Milford Sound
Take a private helicopter trip to the world-famous Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

A trip to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi is on the bucket list of many travelers—and it's achievable from Queenstown with a four-hour private helicopter tour. Your flight will take you over Central Otago's rugged backcountry, with a lake, forest, and alpine views. Once you arrive at Milford, you'll board a two-hour cruise that takes you up close to spectacular cliffs, waterfalls, and Mitre Peak. With a little luck, you'll spot seals, dolphins, and the rare Fiordland crested penguin before you board your helicopter back to Queenstown.

Take a break for lunch, and then it's time for a blast of true Queenstown adrenaline, jet boat style. Skilled drivers will take you on a thrilling ride through the spectacular Shotover Canyon system at up to 56 mph (90 kph). Designed specifically for this purpose, the jet boats are highly maneuverable, allowing plenty of exciting close shaves with the cliffs towering over you. Afterward, sample Queenstown's dining and nightlife scenes—with 150 bars, restaurants, and cafés from which to choose, there's something to suit everyone. 

Day 9: Skippers Canyon 4WD Tour, Routeburn Guided Half-Day Walk 

Matakauri Lodge
Matakauri's dining room affords you superb views over Lake Wakatipu (photo courtesy of Rosewood Matakauri)

Tackle Shotover from a different angle this morning with a private 4WD tour along Skippers Road, high above the river's course. Your guide will meet you at your hotel, and pretty soon, you'll be heading along a hand-dug road to the old Skippers gold mining township. People are still finding gold in the Shotover River to this day, so try your hand at a little panning while you're here. Along the way, you'll enjoy spectacular landscapes—Skippers is known as one of the world's most scenic routes—and the thrills that come from driving a cliff-hugging dirt road! 

In the afternoon, it's time to swap wheels for boots as you traverse one of the world's top 10 classic hikes, the Routeburn Track. Your private guide will meet you at the lodge and drive you along the famously pretty Queenstown-Glenorchy Road to Mount Aspiring National Park. The trail is an easy 1.5-2-hour walk along fern and beech-lined paths through a landscape that has remained unchanged for 130 million years. Your guide will discuss the trail's significance for early Māori and European pioneers and help you spot native bird species, such as bush robin, rifleman, and the rare mohua (yellowhead). 

Put your feet up in the evening and relax with Matakarui Lodge's spa service, or spend some time in the Jacuzzi. Make the most of the world-class dining and wine list while you savor the impressive views of Lake Wakatipu from the dining room before retiring for the evening.

Day 10: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Scenic Flight & Alpine Whisky Bar

Queenstown to Mt Cook
Walk the Hooker Valley, and you'll be surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery

Rise bright and early—this morning, you'll take one of New Zealand's best-known scenic road trips, a three-hour drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook. Your accommodation is the Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat, a haven of relaxation just above the striking turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki. Check in and enjoy the views over the lake and toward the Ben Ohau Range while contemplating your next move.

Keen hikers should make a beeline for Aoraki / Mount Cook, about a 30-minute drive up the road. Stop off at the Visitor Center for information on the best routes—there's something to cater to every fitness level or time allowance, from the 30-minute walk to Glencoe Stream to classics like the Hooker Valley walk (3-4 hours) or the Sealy Tarns "Stairway to Heaven," with its 2,200 steps. For a less strenuous (but just as thrilling) way to see the sights, opt for a private Grand Traverse scenic flight, which will sweep you over both the Westlands and the Mount Cook National Parks, including both the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers.

Finish the day on a high note—let a private helicopter whisk you away to The Bad Decision, a tiny alpine hut that hides the world's highest-altitude whisky bar within. Savor a dram at 6,800 feet (2,072 m) above sea level before flying down through the scenic Southern Alps and past Aoraki / Mount Cook. Back at your accommodation, savor an evening of fine dining and relaxation, then enjoy the majesty of Aoraki / Mount Cook from a different perspective—as you gaze up at it from the comfort of your private outdoor hot tub.

Day 11: Kayak Tasman Lake, Mount Cook Heli-Hike Adventure

Tasman Kayak
Get up close to the ice produced by the mighty Haupapa / Tasman Glacier on a kayak tour of its terminal lake

After a tasty breakfast, dress up warmly and go to Tasman Lake, the terminal lake of the Haupapa / Tasman Glacier, for the kayaking adventure of a lifetime. Paddling beneath the towering mountains, with views out to the glaciers and Aoraki / Mount Cook, you'll get up close to some pretty impressive icebergs—you may even see one calving. Your kayak is fitted with an outrigger for stability, but this isn't a trip for complete rookies, and some prior experience is necessary. 

If you're not an experienced kayaker, a Mount Cook heli-hike adventure allows you to walk on the mighty Haupapa / Tasman Glacier itself. The flight through the mountains is spectacular, and once you land, you'll be supplied with crampons and ice axes or walking poles to make your way across the ice. Your guide will cut steps for you so you get the best chance to explore the glacier's fascinating formations. Further thrills await you on the way back as your helicopter flies you up close to the magnificent 3,200-foot (1,000 m) Hochstetter Icefall

Day 12: Drive to Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner

Have a piece of the rugged coastline all to yourself (photo courtesy of Annandale Luxury Villas)

This morning, drive roughly four hours to Christchurch, the South Island's largest settlement. The city was severely damaged in an earthquake in 2011, but the creative and vibrant rebuild mixed with its innate historic charm makes it a rejuvenating visit. Spend the afternoon exploring the parks —don't miss the botanical garden—and the art galleries and museums. Pop into a trendy café or two or head to the Riverside Market for fresh produce and artisan foods. See the city from the river Avon with a relaxing Edwardian-themed punt tour, one of the city's most beloved attractions. 

As dusk arrives, dine on the Tramway Restaurant, a historic tram that makes the rounds of the central city's highlights in a three-hour tour while you relax at your window-side table with a four-course gourmet meal. Afterward, head an hour out of town to your accommodation, Annandale Luxury Villas. A working farm located along 6 miles (10 km) of coastline at Pigeon Bay, it's off the beaten path but not short on innovative and award-winning comfort and style. Put your feet up on your private deck and stargaze in the pristine countryside before resting up for your adventures tomorrow.

Day 13: Day Trip to Historic Akaroa

Full Day Akaroa Guided Tour
Spend the day at charming, French-influenced Akaroa

Just a 30-minute drive from your accommodation, you'll find Akaroa, a picturesque coastal town. Once a French whaling depot, the European influence is still evident, with plenty of well-maintained historic buildings lending a distinctive flair. Your accommodation can arrange a full-day private tour—peruse the quaint craft and gift shops, dine at the popular Bully Hayes Restaurant in the village, and cruise the harbor, spotting dolphins, seals, and penguins.

On your return trip, you'll stop at the award-winning Barry's Bay Cheese Factory, makers of handcrafted cheese since 1895. The factory still operates on its original site using traditional methods, giving you a taste of New Zealand's finest cheeses—and a sample of its history. Back at Annandale later in the day, there are plentiful options for activities if you have a couple of free hours. Try a cooking class with their on-site chef, hike or bike one of the farm's trails, or take a hands-on farm tour and increase your agricultural know-how. 

Day 14: Depart Christchurch

Take a last jaunt through Christchurch before catching your departing flight

The last day of your luxury getaway has arrived. You'll be flying from Christchurch Airport, so if time allows, head to the city early and see a few more sights. Early birds might want to spend a tranquil morning hot-air ballooning over the Canterbury Plains, or, for a quicker option, a 10-minute ride on the Christchurch Gondola will earn you panoramic views of the Southern Alps, the Canterbury Plains, and the ocean. Stretch your legs before your flight with one of the scenic hikes from the summit. If you're keen to spot another kiwi, go to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, which has a kiwi house and breeding program.

If you like, drive to the airport early and drop off your car. Just over the road from the airport, you'll find the International Antarctic Center. Christchurch is one of the five "gateways to Antarctica," and New Zealand has a strong history of exploration on the continent. The exhibitions are interactive—head to the Storm Dome to experience the chill of an Antarctic wind or try out all-terrain travel in an amphibious Hägglund vehicle. You'll learn about the history of Antarctic exploration and get up close to little blue penguins and huskies. When it's time to check in, head back over the road to the airport to catch your onward flight. Haere tū atu, hoki tū mai—have a safe trip!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

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Map of New Zealand Luxury Highlights: Road Trip Through the North & South Islands - 14 Days
Map of New Zealand Luxury Highlights: Road Trip Through the North & South Islands - 14 Days