Get ready for an authentic road trip exploring New Zealand's charm, natural beauty, and local food and wine scene. Over 19 days, you'll savor New Zealand's finest vineyards in Hawke's Bay and Queenstown, cruise across serene Lake Taupo and the stunning Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, and explore geothermal wonders in Rotorua. You'll also hike majestic mountains and dine well in Auckland, Napier, and Christchurch for a trip of a lifetime.


  • Explore the best sights and local landmarks across New Zealand
  • Join wine-tasting tours in three distinct destinations
  • Experience Māori culture, food, and traditions
  • Cruise through Milford Sound / Piopiotahi and two stunning lakes
  • Go stargazing and hiking in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Free Time Auckland
Day 2 Cruise to Waiheke Island, Explorer Bus or Waiheke Wine Tour Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua, Visit the Waitomo Caves, Free Time Rotorua
Day 4 Explore the Te Puia Springs, Māori Cultural Dining Experience Rotorua
Day 5 Full-Day Whirinaki Forest Walk, Twilight Glow Worm Kayak Rotorua
Day 6 Drive to Taupō, Māori Rock Carving Cruise Taupō
Day 7 Explore Taupō & Tongariro National Park Taupō
Day 8 Drive to Napier, Explore Napier & Hawke's Bay Napier
Day 9 Half-Day Private Food & Wine, Progressive Winery Dinner Napier
Day 10 Hawke's Bay Half-Day Wine Tour or Gannet Safari Napier
Day 11 Drive to Christchurch, Evening Restaurant Tram Christchurch
Day 12 Christchurch Gondola Ride, Ko Tāne Māori Experience & Kiwi Tour Christchurch
Day 13 Drive to Aoraki / Aoraki / Mount Cook, Big Sky Stargazing Adventure Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 14 Free Day in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 15 Drive to Queenstown, Onsen Evening Session Queenstown
Day 16 Half-Day Macetown 4WD Tour, Walter Peak Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 17 Half-Day Central Otago Wine Tour Queenstown
Day 18 Full-Day Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Experience Queenstown
Day 19 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Free Time

Auckland's skyline
Auckland's skyline is easy to identify with its distinctive Sky Tower
Kia ora! Welcome to New Zealand! Begin your adventure in Auckland, where a driver will wait to transfer you to your accommodation. The country's largest metropolis is known as the "City of the Sails" since it's surrounded by water and sailboats. You won't find a better introduction to New Zealand's world-renowned natural beauty and cultural diversity than Auckland.
Besides a bustling urban center with chic waterfront promenades, Auckland is home to 26 regional parks featuring a diverse array of landscapes. These include everything from tropical rainforests to rugged coastlines and golden beaches. 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 2: Cruise to Waiheke Island, Explorer Bus or Waiheke Wine Tour

Waiheke Island is a wine paradise close to Auckland
Today's first full-day adventure takes you to Waiheke Island, a natural paradise of beaches, forests, olive groves, and vineyards. Board a ferry from downtown Auckland and, on arrival, look for the Hop-On Hop-Off Explorer Bus so you can explore the island at your own pace. Choose to stay on for a scenic 90-minute loop tour of the island or hop off at any of the 16 stops to explore vineyards, restaurants, shops, art galleries, beaches, and nature walks.
Alternatively, on a winery tour, you can explore small-scale, award-winning wine producers and sample some of the country's most prestigious wines. You'll be chauffeured around three of Waiheke's top vineyards to swill mouthfuls of cabernet sauvignon and learn about tannins and unique terroir. Your professional wine guide will enlighten you about the island's colorful history, geography, people, and culture between stops. Finish with a late lunch at one of the island's gastronomic gems accompanied by a glass of wine.

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua, Visit the Waitomo Caves, Free Time

Glowworm Cathedral at the end of Waipu Cave in New Zealand
Glowworm Cathedral at the end of Waipu Cave in Waitomo
Pick up a rental car and hit the road as you make the 2.5-hour drive to Rotorua. You'll pass through the rolling farmlands and rich dairy pastures of the Waikato region before arriving in the limestone hills of the Waitomo countryside. Here a vast 30 million-year-old cave network filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and glow worms begs to be explored. Embark on a gentle boat trip and glide beneath a galaxy of tiny living lights, or try black water rafting in an underground cave. Continue to Rotorua.

Set within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Rotorua is a wonderland of geothermal activity, complete with boiling mud pools, steaming geysers, and natural hot springs perfect for bathing and relaxing. It's also a great spot to experience New Zealand's fascinating Māori culture, and it's fast becoming a haven for adventure-seekers and mountain biking. Spend your afternoon exploring the natural landscape with a hike, or seek out an unusual adventure such as zorbing or ziplining.

Day 4: Explore the Te Puia Springs, Māori Cultural Dining Experience

A shooting geyser is just one geological wonder you'll see in Rotorua
Today you'll discover New Zealand's geothermal landscapes in Rotorua, an area famed for its otherworldly green and orange sulfur pools, bubbling mud baths, and spurting geysers. You'll see all this at the Te Puia Springs, home to Pohutu Geyser, which erupts up to 20 times a day, shooting a plume of scalding water up to 100 feet (30 m) into the sky.
A Māori guide will lead you on a walk through the Whakarewarewa geothermal valley. After, you'll visit the Kiwi Conservation Centre, a refuge for native birds, including New Zealand's national emblem, the flightless Kiwi. Next, learn about carving and weaving at the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute before heading home to refresh.

Tonight you are invited as a manuhiri (guest) to Te Pā Tū (Tamaki Māori Village) for a celebration and feast. Enjoy kai horotai (appetizers) as you listen to stories and songs and watch dance performances in the forest amphitheater. Then follow your Māori guide by torchlight to your three-course hākari (feast). Select from a table of hāngī dishes (meat, fish, and vegetables cooked underground in a pit) and other local specialties from Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand.

Day 5: Full-Day Whirinaki Forest Walk, Twilight Glow Worm Kayak

Explore one of the world's last prehistoric forests when you explore Whirinaki Forest
Wake up and get ready to explore the world-famous Whirinaki Forest today. Regarded as New Zealand's most complete canopy, it ranks as one of the world's most incredible rainforests and best one-day walks. Discover stunning scenery, cascading waterfalls, rare birdlife, and giant 1000-year-old trees. Today's walk is 5.5 miles (9 km) and will take four hours.

Later, arrive on the shorelines of Lake Okareka as the sun is setting and meet expert kayak guides. Follow your guide around the lake edge as night sets in, then duck into incredible hidden caves home to galaxies of glow worms. Take ample time to enjoy the magical moments inside the caves before returning along your course in the dark. On a clear night, the magic continues as the Milky Way fills the sky.

Day 6: Drive to Taupō, Māori Rock Carving Cruise

Tourists approaching the famous Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupo by cruise boat
The famous Mine Bay Māori rock carvings on Lake Taupō
When you're ready this morning, make the hour-long drive to Taupō through the heart of the Central North Island volcanic plateau, passing through the thermal region's Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Taupō sits at the edge of Lake Taupō, New Zealand's largest lake, and a volcanic caldera formed by a massive eruption 25,600 years ago. This is the North Island's capital of outdoor activities—here, you can go bungee jumping, jet boating, take helicopter flights, or skydive.

Relax in luxury bean bags on board a yacht as you enjoy a scenic sail across Lake Taupō to see 33-foot-high (10 m) Māori rock art, only accessible by boat. You're guaranteed amazing photo opportunities as you experience one of life's postcard moments on this Māori tour. Glide across a smooth lake as you soak up the warming sun or go for a swim before you enjoy free light refreshments at the rock carvings. If you're looking for a little more activity, you can help hoist the sails or take a turn at the wheel.

Day 7: Explore Taupō & Tongariro National Park

Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Hit the trail to experience magnificent Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Today is yours to explore the Taupō region as you wish. At the heart of New Zealand's central volcanic plateau sits the largest freshwater lake in Australasia, Lake Taupō. The clear waters are the ideal backdrop for a lakeside stroll or for a picnic along the Great Lake Walkway between Two Mile Bay and Five Mile Bay. Lake Taupō is one of New Zealand's premier freshwater fishing destinations, offering large brown and rainbow trout all year. Or feel the power and energy of Mother Nature at Orakei Korako Cave & Thermal Park, accessible only by a short ferry trip across Lake Ohakuri.
You could also tackle the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which spans the length of Mount Tongariro at 12 miles (19.4 km) across a diverse alpine landscape with dramatic volcanic features. Get up close to the mind-blowing roar of the thunderous Huka Falls. View the falls from a footbridge, or get close with a thrilling Huka Jet boat ride. See the Craters of the Moon geothermal reserve with its walking tracks around boiling pools. Or step back in time at the Waikare Terraces, a traditional Māori village that combines mud pools, geysers, and a sacred healing spa.

Day 8: Drive to Napier, Explore Napier & Hawke's Bay

The classic cars tour parked in front of T&G building an iconic art deco landmark building in Napier town, New Zealand.
Explore art deco landmarks in Napier with a classic car tour
Today you'll make the two-hour drive from Taupō to Napier. Napier and its neighbor Hastings are rich farming lands supporting vast orchards, vineyards, and sheep farming. Wool and fruit growing are the backbones of the region's economy, and Napier is fast gaining an international reputation for winemaking. In 1931 a violent earthquake and subsequent fires destroyed most of Napier's commercial heart, and 988 acres (4,000 ha) of new land was formed. The people of Napier rebuilt their city with an Art Deco flare. 

Choose how to spend your day. You can explore prominent Art Deco landmarks with a 1930s vintage car tour or rent a bike and take your pick of one of over 124 miles (200 km) of cycling trails. Or, spend the day at one of the many beaches in the area, such as Ocean Beach or Waimarama Beach. You could also indulge in local produce on a cheese, chocolate, honey, or orchard tour.

Day 9: Half-Day Private Food & Wine Tour, Progressive Winery Dinner

Half Day Private Food & Wine Lovers Delight
Explore the vineyards of Hawke's Bay with two wine experiences today
Become absorbed into the vibrant world of Hawke's Bay wine with today's half-day tour. Talk with the personalities who are passionate about crafting world-class wines from this soil, visit some of the best wineries, and taste award-winning drops at each. The rich soils and warm Mediterranean climate of Hawke's Bay have attracted more than winemakers—you can also find innovative epicurean food producers and taste their unique products.

Later today, embark on an interactive and progressive food and wine journey. Enjoy scenic drives through the vineyards as you hop from a winery to one of New Zealand's top winery restaurants, enjoying a progressive three-course meal along the way. Then take in the breathtaking panoramic views from Te Mata Peak while enjoying a glass of bubbles as the sun sets from 1,310 feet (399 m) above sea level overlooking the glimmering lights of the Twin Cities

Day 10: Hawke's Bay Half-Day Wine Tour or Gannet Safari

Spend a half-day exploring the area's stunning vineyards
Spend a half-day exploring the area's stunning vineyards
There's always more to explore in the world of wine, so this afternoon, you can join another tour. Enjoy driving through stunning scenery, and meet like-minded people who share an appreciation of Hawke's Bay's fantastic wines. The region is best known for its red blends, specifically Syrah, and equally impressive chardonnay. Taste great wines made with passion and learn of the area's unique growing conditions. Did you know that approximately 90% of New Zealand's Syrah, cabernets, and merlots are produced here? 
Alternatively, go on a special bird-watching safari. Drive along the scenic coast from Napier to Te Awanga to visit the world's largest, most accessible gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. Your air-conditioned 4WD will traverse riverbeds, broad rolling pastures, native bushes, and steep gullies. Pause at a spectacular cliff top to enjoy panoramic views right across to the Mahia Peninsula, where the amazing geology of the area can also be taken in. On arrival at the gannets, you can stretch your legs and take in the scenery from the edge of the cliff 330 feet (100 m) above the ocean.

Day 11: Drive to Christchurch, Evening Restaurant Tram

Christchurch is a buzzing city with loads to see and new secrets to uncover
This morning you're hopping down to New Zealand's South Island. Drive to the airport, return your rental car, and board your flight to Christchurch. On arrival, collect another rental car and set out to explore the "Garden City". Christchurch features many majestic trees and extensive parks and gardens—the most notable being Hagley Park in the heart of the city. Bordering the park, you'll find the botanical gardens and the Gothic revival building, which houses the Canterbury Museum.
Visitors to Christchurch today will witness a virtual rebirth of the city rebuilding following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The urban city center is full of new secrets, from modern architecture and immense street art to cocktail bars and bustling restaurants. Explore the city ahead of tonight's unique dining experience. You'll board a historic colonial-style dining tram for a moving four-course dinner. Journey along the inner city tram loop, taking in the regenerating central business district and the city's top landmarks, all while enjoying a memorable feast.

Day 12: Christchurch Gondola Ride, Ko Tāne Māori Experience & Kiwi Tour

Christchurch Gondola
Take a spin on the Christchurch Gondola for amazing views
This morning, you'll venture to the Heathcote Valley, 15 minutes from the heart of Christchurch. Here you can ride the Christchurch Gondola for half a mile into the collapsed rim of an extinct volcano that exploded six million years ago. Soak up 360-degree views of the city, Lyttelton Harbour, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury Plains, and the distant peaks of the Southern Alps. Choose from a number of nature walks, or visit the Time Tunnel, a dramatic reconstruction of the history of the Port Hills and Christchurch.

Get a unique glimpse into Māori culture when you visit the Ko Tāne Living Māori Village and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve this afternoon. Begin with a guided kiwi tour of the reserve with an experienced guide. Following this, enjoy a Māori kapa haka performance, which includes action songs, poi dances, a haka, stick games, and weapons displays. Learn the poi (soft balls on strings that are twirled) and the haka (war dance), then enjoy a four-course hāngī dinner of meat and vegetables cooked in an underground pit.

Day 13: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Big Sky Stargazing Adventure

Welcome to Mount Cook Village
Feel the power of the Southern Alps around Aoraki / Mount Cook
Today make your way to Aoraki / Mount Cook, around 4.5 hours away. Travel across the Canterbury Plains, cross multiple rivers, and turn at Geraldine, the gateway to the lakes. Then make your way over undulating sheep country to Fairlie and ascend to Lake Tekapo. Continue to Lake Pukaki and up the western shore, following the Tasman River to arrive. Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park is home to the highest mountains and the longest glaciers. This is alpine scenery in the purest sense, with skyscraping peaks, glaciers, and permanent snow fields, all set under a star-studded sky.

Tonight take a mesmerizing journey through the cosmos with an astronomist guide. Enjoy a homemade hot chocolate, then learn about the night sky while using high-powered telescopes.

Day 14: Free Day in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

Welcome to Mount Cook Village
Hit the trails surrounding Aoraki / Mount Cook
At 12,300 feet (3,754 m), Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand. This is where Sir Edmund Hillary made many expeditions, and this morning you'll embark on your own. Take it easy with the one-hour Tasman Glacier Lake Trail. The lake freezes in winter, and you'll see icebergs in summer. Meanwhile, the Governor's Bush loop track takes a similar amount of time, or you can embark on the two-hour Kea Point or Red Tarns tracks.

Stop for lunch at the Hermitage Hotel Complex, where you can take your pick of fine dining, cafés, and a bar. When you are refreshed, visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Named for New Zealand's most illustrious alpine climber, you can learn both about the region's climbing history and about the achievements and philanthropic work of the man himself.

Day 15: Drive to Queenstown, Onsen Evening Session

Welcome to Queenstown!
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand, with no shortage of things to do
From Aoraki / Mount Cook, it's a 3.5-hour drive to Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital. Follow the shoreline of Lake Pukaki into the Mackenzie Country. Pass the scrub and tussock of the high plains over the Lindis Pass. Then follow the Kawarau River into Queenstown. Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in the Southern Alps, this ruggedly beautiful region offers hair-raising thrills, vineyards, and historic gold-mining towns.
The best way to appreciate the area's majesty is to ride the Skyline Gondola high above the city. Up here, you can enjoy a drink with panoramic views of Coronet Peak and the Remarkables mountain range before taking the downhill luge track back to town. This evening, relax in a hot pool under the stars with a session a the Onsen Hot Pools. Based on the Japanese bathing tradition, Onsen offers cedar-lined steaming pools on a cliffside overlooking the Shotover River. Enjoy an hour-long soak accompanied by a drink and snack as you take in the alpine scenery. 

Day 16: Half-Day Macetown 4WD Tour, Walter Peak Farm Tour & Dinner

Off to Macetown
Board the TSS Earnslaw, a historic steamship, for a farm tour

Hop in a 4WD vehicle this morning for a fun off-roading adventure north of Queenstown. You'll follow an old miners' wagon trail to Macetown, a historic mining settlement that dates back to 1862 when gold was discovered here in the Arrow River. Soak up landscapes used in the "The Lord of the Rings" movies en route, then explore relics of the well-preserved settlement. In Macetown, there are restored 19th-century structures, including a battery, bakehouse, and cottage, as well as the remains of a schoolroom and stone fences. You'll even try gold panning in the Arrow River.

This evening take a leisurely cruise across the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Wakatipu. The historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship will take you to the lakeside gardens of Walter Peak High Country Farm for a gourmet dinner by the water. Soak up the alpine scenery at the homestead and watch as chefs prepare a seasonal bounty of succulent meats cooked on the outdoor rotisserie and a selection of delicious vegetables and salads. Enjoy desserts and New Zealand cheese before the return trip, complete with a singalong from the ship's pianist.

Day 17: Half-Day Central Otago Wine Tour

Vineyards in Cromwell
Cromwell's dry, arid landscape is perfect for pinot noir vines
Spend today exploring wine in the Central Otago region. Here you'll discover the incredibly scenic and diverse wine sub-regions of Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Cromwell with tastings at three boutique vineyards, followed by a platter-style lunch at a local wine country restaurant. Stroll through the charming historical settlement of Old Cromwell and learn about this wine region's early pioneering history and development through fun facts and anecdotes from your knowledgeable wine guide.

Day 18: Full-Day Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Experience

Milford Sound
Marvel at the beauty of the Milford Sound / Piopiotahi landscape
Known for its spectacular mountains, waterfalls, and rainforests, the dramatic landscape of Milford Sound / Piopiotahi is unmissable on any New Zealand itinerary. On today's full-day, small-group tour, you'll ride in a Mercedes van to the launch point. Sit back in the customized glass-roofed van and enjoy views of the gorgeous Fiordland National Park.
Once at Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, you'll board a boat and set out across the fjord to enjoy views of thundering waterfalls, sky-high mountains, lush rainforests, and Mitre Peak. Enjoy fun and informative commentary from your nature guide and cruise to plenty of off-the-beaten-track spots away from the crowds. Along the way, keep an eye out for fur seals, penguins, and occasionally dolphins. On completion of your cruise, you'll drive back to Queenstown.

Day 19: Depart Queenstown

Squeeze an extra Queenstown adventure, like bungee jumping at Kawarau Bridge, before your flight

Sadly it's time to say goodbye to New Zealand. This morning drop your rental car off at Queenstown airport in time for your departing flight home. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.
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Map of New Zealand Road Trip: Local Food, Wine, Culture & Nature  - 19 Days
Map of New Zealand Road Trip: Local Food, Wine, Culture & Nature  - 19 Days
Written by Liz Neal, updated Jun 27, 2023