This epic 20-day journey will take you to the best outdoor attractions of New Zealand's South and North Islands. Begin in Queenstown with a scenic dinner cruise and jet-boating and biking excursions. Next is a road trip, where you'll spot wildlife on Stewart Island and kayak at Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. Switch your car for the scenic TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch to sightsee and swim with dolphins. Then fly to Rotorua to relax in thermal hot springs before finishing in Auckland with a full-day tour.


  • Enjoy a self-guided bike tour around Queenstown's best wineries
  • Spend three nights on Stewart Island and explore rare flora and fauna
  • Take day trips from Christchurch, like swimming with dolphins in Akaroa
  • Soak in thermal hot springs at Rotorua before you head north to Auckland

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Queenstown, Walter Peak Farm & Gourmet Dinner Queenstown
Day 2 Full-Day Jetboat Adventure & River Safari Queenstown
Day 3 Self-Guided Winery Bike Tour Queenstown
Day 4 Full-Day Routeburn Trail Hike Queenstown
Day 5 Drive to Invercargill, Explore Invercargill
Day 6 Drive to Bluff, Ferry to Stewart Island, Explore Stewart Island
Day 7 Half-Day Guided Walk on Ulva Island Stewart Island
Day 8 Wild Kiwi Encounter Stewart Island
Day 9 Ferry to Bluff, Drive to Wānaka, Explore Wānaka
Day 10 Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau, Visit Glacier Hot Pools Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 11 Kayaking & Walking Tour at Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 12 TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch, Explore Christchurch
Day 13 Free Day in Christchurch Christchurch
Day 14 Akaroa Tour, Swim with Dolphins Christchurch
Day 15 Māori Experience & Guided Kiwi Tour, Tramway Restaurant Christchurch
Day 16 Fly to Rotorua, Relax at a Polynesian Spa Rotorua
Day 17 Kaituna River Sledging, Mitai Cultural Experience & Dinner Rotorua
Day 18 Hobbiton & Waitomo Tour, Transfer to Auckland, Explore Auckland
Day 19 Full-Day Tour of Auckland Auckland
Day 20 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Queenstown, Walter Peak Farm & Gourmet Dinner

Aerial view of Queenstown
Queenstown offers an abundance of outdoor activities

Welcome to New Zealand's South Island and the city of Queenstown! Your driver will meet you at the airport and take you to your accommodation. This ruggedly beautiful region is known as the adventure sports capital of New Zealand. Here you can enjoy hair-raising thrills, including skydiving, bungee jumping, jet-boating, ziplining, and much more. The best way to appreciate the area's majesty is to ride the Skyline Gondola high above the city. At the top is a restaurant and bar offering panoramic views of Queenstown and out to Coronet Peak and the Remarkables mountain range.

Spend the afternoon exploring on your own. Then, in the evening, cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station while enjoying views of Cecil and Walter Peaks and the lake's western shores. Once you arrive at Walter Peak, it's time for dinner! Relax while the chefs prepare a gourmet barbecue with succulent local meats and seafood. After the meal, tour a local farm to get an insight into life in the high country and observe a sheep shearing demonstration. Then sail back to Queenstown for a good night's rest. 

Day 2: Full-Day Jetboat Adventure & River Safari

View of Mount Aspiring National Park
Spend a day in Mount Aspiring National Park

Today's full-day tour begins in the morning with a transfer north into the wilds of Mount Aspiring National Park. Upon arrival, hop in a jet boat for an adrenaline-pumping ride down the glacier-fed Dart River. Feel the excitement as you zip along this shallow waterway at high speeds while your captain performs exhilarating spins. After the thrills, stop on the riverbanks for a stroll and to appreciate the surroundings. The unspoiled wilderness features snowcapped peaks, glaciers, and alpine lakes.

Return to the water and continue at a more leisurely pace in an inflatable canoe. Paddle along the beautiful downstream route as your local guide reveals insights into the geology and history of the Dart River's sparkling channels. Break again at an ancient beech forest for a picnic lunch. Afterward, venture into the wilderness and hike to hidden streams, rock pools, and granite river gorges, like the dramatic Rockburn Chasm. Then, continue downstream to the settlement of Paradise, where you'll board a bus and transfer back to Queenstown via scenic backroads.

Day 3: Self-Guided Winery Bike Tour

Enjoy riding bikes on a winery tour
Cycle your way around wineries on this scenic bike tour
Today you'll embark on a half-day self-guided tour that begins with a scenic transfer to the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, which is known for bungee jumping, as well as marking the beginning of the Gibbston Wine Valley. From here, you'll ride bikes along the Gibbston River Trail at your leisure and use an informative trail map to visit as many of the eight-plus wineries on the trail as you'd like. Bike a total distance of 3-10 miles (5-15 km), depending on how many wineries you wish to visit. You'll then be picked up from the Gibbston Tavern in the late afternoon for your vehicle transfer back to Queenstown. 

Day 4: Full-Day Routeburn Trail Hike

Follow a local guide along the Routeburn Trail
Rise and shine! After breakfast at your hotel, put on your hiking boots and begin an epic day of hiking. You'll be following the Routeburn Track, rated one of the world's top 10 classic hikes for its varying terrain and awe-inspiring views. On this 9.5-hour tour, which includes a picnic lunch, you'll explore the valley and its stunning views, along with the sounds of rivers, waterfalls, and native birds. 

Day 5: Drive to Invercargill, Explore

Spend a day in the world's southernmost city

Leaving Queenstown today, you'll drive south for about 2.5 hours to reach Invercargill. Follow the rolling green hills of Southland as you pass through the farming communities of Garston, Athol, Lumsden, and Winton before arriving at the world's southernmost city. Invercargill was founded in the 1850s and has a population of approximately 60,000. From a visitor's point of view, the city is well-equipped with an excellent range of shops and a selection of lively bars and restaurants. Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco heritage buildings give the city a charming old-world character.

Just minutes from the city center, you'll find an array of beautiful landscapes to explore—from the long coastal highway of Oreti Beach to the native wonders of Waituna Wetlands and Omaui. You can also walk along the boardwalk on the estuary and check out the heritage wharves.

Day 6: Drive to Bluff, Ferry to Stewart Island, Explore

Ferry - Bluff to Stewart Island
Take the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island

From Invercargill, make the 30-minute drive south to Bluff, the gateway to Stewart Island. Then, prepare to experience the Foveaux Strait in comfort on board an express catamaran. Watch for wildlife, including seals, dolphins, and seabirds, as you make the one-hour crossing between Bluff and Stewart Island. Stewart Island has a land area of nearly 674 square miles (1,746 sq km), 85% of which is included within the boundaries of Rakiura National Park.

The newest of New Zealand's national parks, Rakiura is an enchanted world of pristine ecosystems and habitats. Ranging from lush coastal rainforests and freshwater wetlands to sweeping dunes and towering mountain ranges, the park provides an exceptional opportunity to see native wildlife and ancient landscapes. Rakiura translates to "Land of Glowing Skies," inspired by the region's clear views of the aurora australis (the southern lights) and breathtaking sunsets. Enjoy free time to explore on your own.

Day 7: Half-Day Guided Walk on Ulva Island

Self guided hike
Go hiking on Stewart Island and Ulva Island today

With only 16 miles (25 km) of road, Stewart Island is a hiker's paradise! There are 158 miles (254 km) of walking tracks accessible from the town of Oban. Spend the morning exploring on your own. Afterward, a water taxi can take you to Ulva Island, an open sanctuary managed by the conservation department. Its restored forest and lack of predators make it a safe environment for many rare birds and plant species.

You'll have the chance to discover the flora and fauna of Ulva Island during a guided afternoon tour. Follow your local expert along well-maintained walking tracks that weave around fallen trees and through lush native podocarp forests alive with birdsong. See exquisite seasonal orchids and be amazed by the friendly birdlife that will often come too close for your camera lens.

Day 8: Wild Kiwi Encounter

Look for the flightless southern brown kiwi birds looking for food
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Today you'll depart Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island for a cruise to Little Glory Cove. Learn about Stewart Island's rich history and disembark for a guided walk across the peninsula. As dusk falls, venture by torchlight with your guide through the native forest until the track emerges onto Ocean Beach. On this vast sandy beach, look for the southern brown kiwi birds that can be found searching for food.

Day 9: Ferry to Bluff, Drive to Wānaka, Explore

The Wanaka Tree
Among many activities in the area, you can pay a visit to the photogenic Wānaka Tree

Return to the mainland and enjoy a scenic four-hour drive through the bottom of the South Island, passing Invercargill, Queenstown, and the historic Arrowtown on your way to Wānaka. Spend the rest of the day at your leisure. Due to its location at the southern tip of Lake Wānaka with the Southern Alps as a backdrop, Wānaka is a fantastic outdoor playground. You can explore the lake by kayak or standup paddleboard.

If you want to take it a little farther, choose between a guided kayaking trip up the Clutha River, an eco-tour of Mou Waho Island, or a spectacular jetboat ride to Mount Aspiring National Park on the braided Matukituki River. If you'd prefer to spend the day ashore, walking tracks and bike trails are plentiful, with short, easy options as well as half-day and full-day hikes and rides easily accessible. Another less physical way to see the region is by excursing off-road to one of the iconic high country stations. If you simply can't get enough of Wānaka's panoramic views, book a skydiving trip or helicopter tour. 

Day 10: Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau, Visit Glacier Hot Pools

Franz Joseph Glacier at sunset
Look for sunset views over Franz Joseph Glacier

Today you'll make the four-hour drive north to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. Follow the shores of Lakes Wānaka and Hawea before you enter the village of Makarora, the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. Stretch your legs at the Blue Pools, just outside Makarora, an excellent 30-minute walk through pristine native beech forest. Continue driving past the Haast River, and follow a lengthy stretch of bush, rainforest, and podocarp forest. From Fox Glacier, you'll be welcomed to the glacier region.

Your destination is Franz Josef / Waiau, a majestic 7.5-mile (12 km) long glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, known for its sparkling ice and picturesque views. The nearby Glacier Hot Pools is a haven of natural tranquility and the perfect way to unwind and experience a blissful state of pure relaxation. The pools are fed by the waters of Kā Roimata o Hinehukatere. According to the legends of Ngāi Tahu (the local Māori tribe), these tears of aroha (love) were frozen by the gods to form the glacier.

Day 11: Kayaking & Walking Tour at Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier with reflection
See the Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier on foot and by kayak
Enjoy a half-day kayaking and walking tour today. Start by gliding silently across Lake Mapourika's reflective water, and take in the panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. Once on the far side, enter a kiwi sanctuary set among some of Westland's oldest untouched rainforest. This enchanting rainforest trail will take you on a walk through another time, where you can enjoy Jurassic rainforest, native birdsong, and a cup of tea or coffee in one of the most scenic lunch spots imaginable.

Day 12: TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch, Explore

Take the TranzAlpine Train from Greymouth to Christchurch

Get ready for the TranzAlpine scenic train journey that travels between Christchurch and Greymouth, from one coast of New Zealand to the other. Climb through lush beech rainforest from the west coast into the Southern Alps, and descend onto the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch.

Often referred to as the "Garden City," Christchurch features plentiful trees and extensive parks and gardens, including the expansive Hagley Park in the heart of the city. Bordering the park, you will find the botanical gardens and the Gothic revival building that houses the Canterbury Museum. Spend the afternoon exploring the city at your leisure.

Day 13: Free Day in Christchurch

Walk along the charming streets of Christchurch

Take the entire day to explore Christchurch at your own pace. The city was rebuilt following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, and the streets are now full of new secrets to discover. You'll spot new architecture, street art, cocktail bars, bustling restaurants, laneways, and green public spaces. In contrast to the flat cityscape and the surrounding Canterbury Plains, the skyline to the south is dominated by the grasslands and rocky outcrops of the Port Hills. Over these hills lies the volcanic Banks Peninsula and Lyttelton Harbour, the site where English settlers came aground in 1850 to establish New Zealand's first city.

Day 14: Tour of Akaroa, Swim with Dolphins

Akaroa waterfront
Swim with dolphins near Akaroa's peaceful waterfront

Enjoy a day tour of Akaroa, the only settlement attempted by the French in New Zealand, passing through magnificent surrounding landscapes along the way. Travel over the beautiful Banks Peninsula on a high summit route which gives you a glorious view of the surrounding farmland, the Canterbury Plains, the distant Southern Alps, and remote bays indenting the coastline.

On arrival at the main wharf in Akaroa, you'll be given a tutorial in preparation for your swim with the dolphins. This opportunity is truly memorable, as you'll interact with these unique mammals directly in the water. You'll also have the chance to wander around this charming 175-year-old French harborside village with its museum of settlers' history, arts and crafts shops, and studios before enjoying lunch at an award-winning café. On the return journey to Christchurch, visit the Cheese Factory at Barry's Bay, the Little River Art Gallery, and, if time permits, Vince's Gem Stone Museum.

Day 15: Māori Experience & Guided Kiwi Tour, Tramway Restaurant

A historic tram in Christchurch
Ride a historic tram while dining on a gourmet meal in Christchurch

In the morning, delve into the Indigenous Māori culture with a visit to the Ko Tāne Living Māori Village and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Start with a guided tour of the reserve with one of Willowbank's experienced guides. Following this, enjoy a Māori cultural performance, which includes an entertaining kapa haka performance. You'll have the opportunity to learn the poi (soft balls on the end of strings that are twirled) and the haka (war dance) yourself before enjoying a four-course hāngī dinner of meat and vegetables cooked in an underground pit.

Save some room because tonight, you'll enjoy dinner aboard the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant aboard a luxury air-conditioned, colonial-style dining tram. You'll be treated to the finest service, cuisine, and drinks while taking in the best sights around Christchurch—a mix of old and new.

Day 16: Fly to Rotorua, Relax at a Polynesian Spa

Lake View Private Pool  -  Polynesian Spa
Spend the afternoon at a Polynesian Spa after your flight

Catch a short flight from Christchurch to Rotorua on the North Island today. Once arrived, check into your hotel and prepare to relax and unwind on the tranquil shores of Lake Rotorua at Polynesian Spa. Channeling the region's geothermal marvels, the 27 mineral pools here are fed from two natural springs for a combination that nourishes the skin and soothes tired muscles, aches, and pains.

The two springs that feed the pools here are called Whangapipiro (an alkaline spring, later renamed Rachel Spring) and Te Pupunitanga (an acidic spring, later called the Priest Spring). Māori have used these springs for generations. Enjoy tranquil soaks and lake views in the shallow rock pools, each with varying temperatures and ph levels. You'll be surrounded by revitalizing native New Zealand flora, natural rocks, the sound of two waterfalls, and a grotto. 

Day 17: Kaituna River Sledging, Mitai Cultural Experience & Dinner

Half Day Kaituna Sledging
Try out riverboarding, a unique activity in the Kaituna River

Enjoy a half-day of white water sledging or riverboarding today on the Kaituna River, where you'll see some beautiful native scenery and take in the river at eye level as you navigate the rapids. You'll be in charge of your own vessel, propelled by the flippers on your feet, with guides there to encourage, motivate, and help out where necessary.

In the late afternoon, head to the outskirts of town for an exceptional dinner and a show at Mitai Māori Village. This family-run cultural center offers an authentic Indigenous experience featuring the Te Arawa people, a Māori iwi (tribe) who were the original inhabitants of the Rotorua Lakes region. This unforgettable outing includes outdoor excursions and performances complimented by a traditional hāngī (pit-cooked) dinner. After dinner, embark on a guided bush walk, during which you'll learn about the medicinal uses of the flora native to the region. 

Day 18: Hobbiton & Waitomo Tour, Transfer to Auckland, Explore

Hobbiton in Matamata
Visit the Hobbiton set in Matamata

This morning, you'll meet your shuttle driver at your accommodation in Rotorua and transfer to the Hobbiton Movie Set for a guided tour. This location is the largest "green set" in the world and the only part of the set remaining in New Zealand. You'll see 44 Hobbit holes, the Mill, and the Party Tree. You can also take a photo at the gate to Bilbo's house, Bag End, looking out over the whole set to the hills in the distance. The tour ends with a visit to the Green Dragon Inn for a drink, followed by a sumptuous buffet lunch in the marquee.

Take some time for shopping before continuing northward to Waitomo for a 45-minute guided tour of the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. Then move on to Auckland, New Zealand's largest metropolis, known as the "City of the Sails," thanks to its many sailboats. Auckland and its surrounding area are home to 26 regional parks featuring diverse landscapes. There are countless options for day trips here, including excursions to black-sand surf beaches, hiking ancient volcanoes, wine tours at nearby vineyards, and plenty more.

Day 19: Full-Day Tour of Auckland

Cityscape of Auckland
Spend a full day exploring New Zealand's largest city

Auckland is set on 52 dormant volcanic cones and between the two harbors of Waitemata and Manukau. On today's full-day tour, you'll travel up Queen Street, through Auckland's central business district, past Auckland University, and through the inner city park known as the Domain. Continue through the picturesque suburb of Ponsonby before heading over the Harbour Bridge to Auckland's North Shore. Stroll on one of the beautiful white-sand beaches and take some time for a coffee before continuing up to the summit of Mount Victoria.

In the afternoon, travel from downtown Auckland to the city's largest regional park, the Waitakere Ranges. At the Arataki Centre, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Learn about and admire the magnificent traditional Māori carvings here before continuing on to the lush rainforest, where you can follow the easy walking trails through giant tree ferns and view the country's iconic kauri trees. Move on to the wild and rugged west coast, and feel the black sand beneath your feet as you stroll along awe-inspiring beaches.

Day 20:  Depart Auckland

Squeeze in one more walk around Auckland before departure
It's time to say goodbye to New Zealand! At the appointed hour, meet your driver for your transfer to the airport in Auckland. Have a safe and comfortable journey home or to your next destination!

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Map of New Zealand Outdoor Adventure: Queenstown to Auckland - 20 Days
Map of New Zealand Outdoor Adventure: Queenstown to Auckland - 20 Days