This 13-day New Zealand itinerary covers both islands using a variety of transportation methods, including a rental car. Start in Auckland, where you'll see otherwordly Rotorua and the Waitomo Caves. Then fly to Christchurch and take the TranzAlpine Scenic Train to Greymouth to pick up your car. After choosing between scenic tours at Franz Josef Glacier, head to Queenstown for horseback riding before cruising along Milford Sound to spot wildlife and get drenched under waterfalls.


  • Explore Auckland and travel to nearby sites such as Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves
  • Take the TranzAlpine scenic train from one coast on the South Island to the other
  • Discover every angle of Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier by shuttle, foot, and helicopter
  • Cruise along Milford Sound / Piopiotahi and get drenched under intense waterfalls 
  • Ride a steamship across Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown to arrive at a farm dinner

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Self-Guided Exploration Auckland
Day 2 Day Trip to Rotorua via Hobbiton & Waitomo Auckland
Day 3 Fly to Christchurch, Self-Guided Exploration Christchurch
Day 4 TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth, Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier Franz Josef
Day 5 Discover Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier Franz Josef 
Day 6 Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier Shuttle Visit Franz Josef
Day 7 Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 8 Glenorchy Horseback Riding Half-Day Trip Queenstown
Day 9 Drive to Te Anau Te Anau
Day 10 Day Trip to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Milford Nature Cruise Te Anau
Day 11 Drive to Queenstown, Ride the Skyline Gondola Queenstown
Day 12 Fly to Auckland, Visit the Sky Tower Auckland
Day 13 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Self-Guided Exploration

Auckland's beautiful setting between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean
Take in the views of Auckland's beautiful setting between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean

Welcome to Auckland! Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will be waiting to take you to your hotel in the city. Auckland's urban paradise between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea is a playground for city lovers and adventure-seekers. Known as the "City of Sails," Auckland boasts more than 500,000 sailboats and yachts in various sizes, anchored and moored at marinas within the city. Relax at your hotel while adjusting to the time change, or shake off the jet lag by heading to the Sky Tower. Its panoramic views make it an excellent place to explore New Zealand's metropolis. 

To appreciate more of the North Island city's scenery, stroll around Waitemata Harbour. Roughly translated into "sparkling waters" in the Māori language, the harbor is a starting point for sailing, cruising, and whale-watching excursions. It also connects the main port of the city and Auckland Waterfront to the Pacific Ocean. Here, look closely for the orcas and bottlenose dolphins that regularly visit the waters close to the town, or visit the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park for up-close viewings of whales, dolphins, and sea birds.

Day 2: Day Trip to Rotorua via Hobbiton & Waitomo

Hobbition Movie Set
Wander through the Waitomo Glowworm caves and learn about this fascinating phenomenon

Leave Auckland this morning with a group tour and travel south over the Bombay Hills to the rich farmland of Waikato. You'll arrive in the small town of Matamata, home to New Zealand's very own Hobbiton. Experience the real Middle-earth at the Hobbiton movie set, where you can step into the lush pastures of the Shire™, as seen in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies. Your guide will escort you around the set, showing the intricate detailing, pointing out the most famous locations, and explaining how the movie magic was made.

The tour takes you around the 12-acre (4.8 ha) set, past Hobbit Holes, the Mill, and into the world-famous Green Dragon Inn, where you'll enjoy an exclusive Hobbit Southfarthing beverage to conclude your own Middle-earth adventure. Next, head to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, where a guide will take you on a tour and talk about the limestone formations and the glowworms. At the end of the tour, take a boat ride gliding through the world-famous glowworm grotto. Marvel in thousands of magical glow worms, unique to the southern hemisphere.

Day 3: Fly to Christchurch, Self-Guided Exploration

Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Find peace as you float down the Avon River / Ōtākaro
Say goodbye to the North Island today, as a driver will take you to the airport to catch your flight to Christchurch on the South Island. Upon arrival, a driver will be waiting at the airport to transfer you to your hotel. Take some time to settle in before heading out to explore the city. Nestled within the Canterbury Plains on the Pacific Coast, Christchurch has always been an ideal jumping-off point for visiting the South Island. On your free day, visit some of the modern buildings, such as the impressive Cardboard Cathedral.
Or immerse yourself in Christchurch's history by floating on the Avon River / Ōtākaro with a guide dressed in Edwardian attire. Take a ride on a vintage tram or ride a gondola to the rim of an extinct volcano. Head to the gorgeous Christchurch Botanic Gardens for a stroll or to Oxford Terrace for a bite to eat. In the evening, enjoy an elegant dinner in a historic colonial-style tram that makes the rounds of central Christchurch's top attractions. Sit back and relax as you take in the views of the Canterbury Museum and the Avon River / Ōtākaro from your window-side table.
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 4: TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth, Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier

Trans Alpine Train
Enjoy fabulous scenery as you ride the TranzAlpine Train
Board the TranzAlpine Scenic Train this morning for the first leg of your Franz Josef / Waiau trip. Considered one of the world's great train journeys, this train travels between Christchurch and Greymouth, from one coast of New Zealand to the other. 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 the lush beech rain forest to the West Coast town of Greymouth.

When you arrive at Greymouth Train Station, pick up your rental car and head south to Franz Josef / Waiau and glacier country. Along the way, be sure to take a detour to the spectacular Hokitika Gorge, a turquoise-colored river surrounded by native bush-clad cliffs. Continue through Ross, a historic gold mining town where several buildings remain intact. Follow the coast through several small towns before catching glimpses of the Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier as you arrive in the town center, where you'll check in at your hotel.

Day 5: Discover Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier

View of the glacier from a helicopter
View of the glacier from above during a helicopter or heli-hike tour
Franz Josef / Waiau, a small town settled on the Waiho River among rainforests and the mountains of the Southern Alps, is known for the 7-mile-long (12 km) Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. Once settled at your hotel, get back in your car and head to the glacier's edge, just 3 miles (5 km) from the town, making it an easy visit. To get closer to the glacier and even land on top of it, consider organizing a helicopter or heli-hike tour.

Day 6: Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier Shuttle Visit

Glacier Valley Shuttle
Take a shuttle to the glacier and then walk to a viewing platform

This morning, a guide from Glacier Shuttles will meet you at your hotel and take you on a short tour to view the glacier. Your shuttle vehicle will transfer you up the Franz Josef / Waiau Valley to the end of the road. Here you will have the opportunity to walk to view the glacier from a viewing platform and learn about its history and geology. Or enjoy one of the short walks available in this area. When the tour is finished you'll return to your hotel by the Glacier Valley Shuttle.

Day 7: Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner

Haast Pass
See clear blue water as you cross the Haast River driving to Queenstown

Get ready for a change of scenery today as you leave for Queenstown. Heading south, you'll pass through the second glacier town of Fox Glacier. Take a short detour to view the glacier before hugging the coast and passing classic West Coast bush scenery. At Knights Point Lookout, elephant seals can often be seen basking on the sandy beaches at the far end. Crossing the massive Haast River, 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. The Blue Pools near Makarora are a great 30-minute walk. Lakes Wānaka and Hawea guide you into the township of Wānaka before you head over New Zealand's highest road—Crown Range Road—and finally descend into Queenstown. This drive should be planned as a whole day to enjoy the scenery and to allow time to explore the walks, with many stops en route. Get settled in at your hotel and rest up for tonight's activity.

This evening, step aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship for a ride on Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. Here, enjoy a barbecue dinner featuring rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads, followed by dessert and New Zealand cheeses. You can also watch demonstrations about high country life on the farm. After the meal, step back on board the steamship and join a sing-along with the ship's pianist. Watch the lights of Queenstown come back into focus as you sail back to town.

Day 8: Glenorchy Horseback Riding Half-Day Trip

High Country Horses Glenorchy - Rees River Trail - Half-Day Trip
Explore the countryside on horseback

Today you'll join the perfect horseback outing for experienced and novice riders. Drive one hour north of Queenstown to Mid Rivers Farm in Glenorchy Basin. Meet your guide and climb in the saddle to enjoy the stunning scenery as you follow the Rees River Trail with picturesque mountain views and glacial-fed river-crossings. Be captivated by stories of the area, its rich history, and many filming locations from "The Lord of the Rings." It will be an awe-inspiring ride with experienced riders having the opportunity to canter and beginners having the chance to learn for an overall authentic Kiwi experience.

Day 9: Drive to Te Anau

The scenic drive to Queenstown
Pass Lake Te Anau on your way into town

Say farewell to Queenstown as you head southwest with the Remarkables Mountain range in view. Follow Lake Wakatipu, which will bring you to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park. Once you've checked into your hotel, the remainder of the day is free to explore.

It's easy to organize a tour of the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. This tour starts with a cruise across Lake Te Anau on a catamaran. You'll disembark at the lake's western side and enter the caves through Cavern House. Take time to learn the story of this 12,000-year-old underground cave network. Next, your guide will take you along a limestone pathway, pointing out whirlpools, intricate rock formations, and a staggering underground waterfall. Board a small boat to glide through the darkness, surrounded by the blue-white pinpricks of thousands of glowworms on the cave walls and ceiling. 

Day 10: Day Trip to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Milford Nature Cruise

Milford Sound
Check out several waterfalls as you cruise along Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

Today, make the two-hour drive to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi offering beautiful scenery. This area is abundant with picture-perfect scenes, from crystal clear lakes and towering mountains to lush glacier-formed meadows. Stretch your legs on the Chasm Walk by taking a short stroll through the beech forest to see several stunning waterfalls. In Fiordland National Park, Milford is the only fiord accessible by road. As you reach this small village, you'll be greeted with a fantastic view of Mitre Peak. Once at Milford Wharf, board a cruise ship to explore the entire length of the fjord.

The original Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Nature Cruise is an epic voyage of discovery. Get so close to this famous fiord you can reach out and touch the sheer rock walls or stand under Stirling Falls for a glacial facial. The passionate skipper will provide entertaining commentary from the wheelhouse while the boat hosts are on hand for a chat and to answer any questions. Get a picture of a basking New Zealand fur seal, or relax in the spacious cabin with a hot drink. This is one experience you do not want to miss.

Day 11: Drive to Queenstown, Ride the Skyline Gondola

Te Anau
See the Remarkables Mountain range as you return to Queenstown

Leave Te Anau this morning and return in the direction you came in for a two-hour drive crossing vast tussock lands on your return to Queenstown. Hug Lake Wakatipu's edge as the Remarkables Mountain range comes in full view. Once checked in at your hotel, the remainder of the day is free. It's possible to organize an adrenaline-pumping jet boat ride in Mount Aspiring National Park. Whiz along glacier-fed rivers while your guide shares Māori legends and historical information. The tour includes stopping and walking in beech tree forests used as filming locations in "The Lord of the Rings."

Or, if you'd prefer to stay in town, hop aboard the Skyline Gondola, the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere. As you rise over 1,400 feet (450 m) above Queenstown, enjoy panoramic views of The Remarkables, Walter Peak, Cecil Peak, Coronet Peak, and magnificent Lake Wakatipu. From the top, take in the fabulous views and enjoy a drink or a meal at the restaurant and bar before heading back down.

Day 12: Fly to Auckland, Visit the Sky Tower

Finish the trip with a ride to the top of Auckland's Sky Tower

Drive to the airport this morning and drop off your rental car before catching a flight to Auckland. A driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel in the city. You're free to choose how to spend your last day. But don't miss a visit to the Sky Tower. Standing at over 1,000 feet (328 m), the Sky Tower is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand and offers panoramic views of Auckland. Ascend to the top in a glass-fronted elevator to one of three spectacular viewing platforms to experience 360-degree views of Tāmaki Makaurau, featuring ancient volcanoes and sunlit harbors.

For a little more excitement, do a Sky Walk, an outside loop around the pergola just over 600 feet (192 m) above ground. If you're bold, take a quick way down and do a sky jump off the tower for a controlled free-fall to the base. If you'd prefer to stay inside, the Sky Lounge offers coffee and light meals, while the iconic Orbit Restaurant is Auckland's only 360-degree revolving dining experience.

Day 13: Depart Auckland

Take a sunrise walk or do some last-minute sightseeing before departure

It's time to say goodbye to New Zealand! Depending on your flight time, you may have some extra time to explore more of Auckland before you leave. At the appointed time, a driver will take you to the airport to catch your flight home or to your next destination. Safe travels!

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