Experience what New Zealand is known for—its natural beauty—on this luxurious 12-day road trip. View gulfs and glaciers from seaplanes and helicopters, and breathe in the sulfurous fumes of Hell's Gate Thermal Valley in Rotorua. Hike between towering volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park before soaking in mountain-water hot tubs with nothing but the birds, mountains, and lakes for company. Finish off your stay in one of the world's top lodges overlooking the snowcapped Southern Alps.


  • Ride in a seaplane over the Hauraki Gulf to a wine-tasting
  • Experience the volcanic fury of Rotorua's geothermal sites
  • Hike between volcanoes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Stay at a luxury lodge on the shores of Lake Wakatipu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Rotorua, Helicopter Flight, Geothermal Sites Rotorua
Day 3 Drive to Taupō, Scenic Cruise & Walk, Huka Falls Jet Taupō
Day 4 Day Trip to Tongariro National Park Taupō
Day 5 Fly to Christchurch, Explore the Garden City Christchurch
Day 6 Drive to Ōmarama, Ōmarama Hot Tubs Ōmarama
Day 7 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Aoraki / Mount Cook Half-Day Heli-Hike & Stargazing Lake Tekapo
Day 8 Drive to Wānaka, Wānaka & Mount Aspiring National Park Wānaka
Day 9 Lake Wānaka Cruise & Island Nature Walk, Wānaka Trails Wānaka
Day 10 Drive to Glenorchy, Blanket Bay Lodge Glenorchy
Day 11 Drive to Queenstown, Milford Sound Queenstown
Day 12 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Sample top wines after a seaplane ride to Waiheke Island

Welcome to New Zealand! On arrival at the airport, pick up your rental car and drop your bags at your hotel. If you're not feeling too drained from the flight, head into the "Big Little City" to do some sightseeing or visit Waiheke Island via a scenic 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. For a truly luxurious start to your trip, board a seaplane to Waiheke and fly over the beautiful islands of the Hauraki Gulf before landing on the tranquil waters of Man O' War Bay and taking part in a wine-tasting alongside a deluxe lunch platter. 

For those looking for a thrilling start to your New Zealand trip, Auckland's Sky Tower is the place to go. At 1,076 feet (328 m), it is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand and offers breathtaking views of up to 50 miles (80 km) in every direction. Travel up in the glass-fronted lifts to one of the three spectacular viewing platforms, or for more thrills and excitement, SkyWalk around the outside of the pergola, or do the SkyJump off the tower! 

However you decide to get down the Sky Tower, make a pitstop at the Fish Market in the Wynyard Quarter—a new area built for the World Cup that is fast becoming a hit with Aucklanders. Try huge mussels or the famously delicious oysters here, after which you can take a journey back in time on one of Auckland's restored trams. If you haven't gotten enough of Auckland's skyline, climb Mount Eden—from where you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, plus all of the volcanic cones that make up Auckland's character. 

Day 2: Drive to Rotorua, Helicopter Flight, Geothermal Sites

Take a helicopter flight over the active White Island volcano

Drive south from Auckland and pass through the Bombay Hills and into the rolling farmland and rich dairy pastures of Waikato. Pass through the town of Matamata, where you can visit the fully intact Hobbit film set used in the shooting of the "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies. Continuing on, you'll pass several small farming communities before telltale signs of steam and other geothermal activity signal your arrival in Rotorua. Brace yourself for the smell of sulfur!

Drop your things at your hotel, and get ready for a scenic helicopter flight north over Hell's Gate Thermal Valley to the Pacific Ocean coastline and the active volcano of White Island. Land at the crater's rim and spend approximately one hour on a guided walk of this fascinating natural attraction. Experience the volcanic fury of the main White Island crater, and view sulfur deposits and the remains of the old sulfur mine.

If time allows, you could visit the site of the Buried Village—a first-hand look at the chaos that transpired on the night Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886, destroying the pink and white terraces which were internationally regarded as "the eighth wonder of the world." Alternatively, burn some energy on a mountain bike tour of Redwoods Forest, hike through Waimangu Volcanic Valley, or sight the country's national animal, the kiwi, at Rainbow Springs Animal Park. For a truly luxurious end to your day, soak in a thermal bath at Polynesian Spa—recognized as one of the World's Top Ten Spas.

Day 3: Drive to Taupō, Scenic Cruise & Walk, Huka Falls Jet

Ride to the base of the powerful Huka Falls in a jet boat

Today's drive takes you through the heart of the central North Island volcanic plateau, where you can visit the thermal highlights of Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Carry on to Taupō, which sits on New Zealand's largest lake—Lake Taupō—a volcanic caldera formed following a massive eruption 25,600 years ago. Just north lies Huka Falls, New Zealand's most visited natural attraction. Get up close to the spray with a thrilling jet boat ride—30 minutes of pure fun and exhilaration, skimming close to cliffs, sliding past trees, and feeling the adrenaline of full 360-degree spins. 

Spend the afternoon wandering around the nearby Craters of the Moon geothermal reserve with its boiling pools and steaming vents. If you would rather sit back and relax, combine geography with culture on a scenic cruise of Lake Taupō, where you will journey to Māori rock carvings. Providing the weather is good, you'll see as far as the mountains of Tongariro National Park.

If you're feeling adventurous, end the day with a thrilling bungee jump on the banks of the Waikato River. Start your jump from a cantilever platform, which projects out from a clifftop above the river. You can choose to bungee alone or with a partner, and for the truly brave, go for the "water touch." After a day of bubbling pools, steam vents, powerful waterfalls, and adrenaline kicks, you'll be ready to conk out back at your lodgings. 

Day 4: Day Trip to Tongariro National Park

Hike between volcanoes on the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Wake up bright and early and get ready for a day in nature. Drive to the oldest national park in New Zealand—the Tongariro National Park—also recognized by UNESCO as one of 28 World Heritage Sites for both its cultural and natural significance. The most popular hiking option, due to the spectacular scenery you will pass through, is the one-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This will take you between two of the park's three dormant volcanoes: Mount Tongariro at 6,453 feet (1,967 m) and Mount Ngauruhoe at 7,503 feet (2,287 m).

There are, however, a plethora of other walks in and around Tongariro National Park. All established tracks are maintained by the Department of Conservation, making it pleasant hiking terrain. If you don't fancy the full, five-hour Tongariro Alpine Crossing, then opt instead for a relaxed two-hour walk on the circular trail to Taranaki Falls. After you've sufficiently stretched your legs and gulped down mouthfuls of the fresh mountain air, head back to Taupō and treat yourself to a delicious dinner in one of the town's many lively restaurants.

Day 5: Fly to Christchurch, Explore the Garden City

Board a colonial-style restaurant tram for dinner
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Set off from Taupō back to Auckland Airport, return your rental car, board a short flight to Christchurch, and pick up a new rental car on the other side. Known as the "Garden City," Christchurch's well-established expansive parks and public gardens owe much to the planning and foresight of the city's founding fathers. Wander around the city, starting with Hagley Park, at Christchurch's heart since the 1850s. Walk to Cathedral Square, a space commonly used for events, with its open spaces and historic architecture. You can still see ruins from the cathedral, whose rebuild is on the cards.

Spend a thrilling afternoon on a zip line tour at Christchurch Adventure Park. It's a dual-lined zip line, which means you can race others through the heights and widths of the park. There are four stages ranging in length from 1,300 to 3,600 feet (400 to 1,100 m), the last one ranking as the highest and longest in the Southern Hemisphere. Zoom past sites of both geographical and historical significance on a tour that lasts two and a half hours. Come back down to earth on a colonial-style dining tram and tuck into a four-course dinner while circling Christchurch's inner city.

Day 6: Drive to Ōmarama, Ōmarama Hot Tubs

Pass the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo

Pick a nice spot to have brunch and spend a relaxing morning ambling around the city. When you're ready, depart Christchurch and drive through the southern Canterbury Plains to Lake Tekapo. See the brilliant turquoise water, the Church of the Good Shepherd, and the Sheep Dog Statue. Marvel at the spectacular mountain ranges, including Aoraki / Mount Cook—New Zealand's highest peak.

With a jam-packed few days ahead of you, take this time to relax and unwind at Ōmarama Hot Tubs. Soak in private outdoor tubs filled with clear high-country water warmed to your liking while listening to the birds and looking out over the marshland and distant mountains. These private tubs add no chemicals to the water, and they are cleaned and refilled after each use. The water is then used to irrigate the land—making it both good for you and the environment. Make a meal out of it—literally—and order a cheese and charcuterie platter, then head to your Ōmarama hotel for the night.

Day 7: Drive to Lake Tekapo, Aoraki / Mount Cook Half-Day Heli-Hike & Stargazing

Take a helicopter flight to the top of the Tasman Glacier

Drive one hour from Ōmarama to Lake Tekapo, and set off on your half-day Heli-Hike to Aoraki / Mount Cook. Only with a helicopter are you able to access and explore the white ice of the world-famous Tasman Glacier, which runs beside the biggest mountains in New Zealand, including Aoraki / Mount Cook. Travel high above the icebergs of the Tasman Glacier Lake and fly past the famous Hochstetter Ice Fall and the east face of Aoraki / Mount Cook. Landing on a remote part of the glacier, your guide will equip you with special ice gear and take you to explore the amazing ice formations in the area.

If it's still light on your return, take a refreshing swim in a glacier lake from Willow Bay Beach. Once the sun sets and the night sky moves in, you're in for a treat. Head to the Mount John Summit for a stargazing tour, where you will find the University of Canterbury's astronomical observatory at 3,382 feet (1,031 m) above sea level. Picked as the best observatory site in New Zealand due to its high number of clear nights throughout the year, the stability and transparency of the atmosphere, and the uniquely dark skies in the Mackenzie Basin, there is no better place from which to explore the night sky.

Day 8: Drive to Wānaka, Wānaka & Mount Aspiring National Park

Sample pinot noirs at the stunning Ripon Valley Vineyard on the shores of Lake Wānaka

Leave Lake Tekapo and drive 30 minutes to Lake Pukaki. As you approach the lake, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the full length of the lake and into Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. There are many short hikes in and around the park for almost every ability, in case you want to stretch your legs on the drive to Wānaka. Twizel, just south of Aoraki / Mount Cook, was the location of many "The Lord of the Rings" movie scenes—the tussock-covered hills offer an unusual contrast as you pass from the Mackenzie Basin and into Central Otago.

Continue southwest until you reach Wānaka. This resort town has a wide variety of activities available, and in winter, it's New Zealand's premier ski destination due to its proximity to Treble Cone and Cardrona. Mount Aspiring National Park sits on the western edge of Lake Wānaka and offers excellent walking tracks for all abilities. Fishing, sailing, and kitesurfing are popular pastimes on the lake, and the many beach access points provide some great picnic spots where you can relax and take in the views.

Central Otago is also famous for its vineyards and, in particular, its pinot noirs. After your scenic drive, take yourself off for lunch and wine tasting at the Rippon Valley Vineyard—considered one of the most beautiful vineyards in the world—and swill different grape varieties as you look over Lake Wānaka and the Buchanan Mountains. Once evening begins to set in, head back to Wānaka and see what's on at the Cinema Paradiso—a small, classic movie theater where you can watch films from a comfy old sofa or in one of three seats of an old Morris Minor car. 

Day 9: Lake Wānaka Cruise & Island Nature Walk, Wānaka Trails

Cruise along Lake Wānaka to visit the Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve

The mesmerizing beauty of Wānaka requires two full days to be fully appreciated. From the edge of the lake, board a small boat for a 35-minute cruise to Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve. A glacial remnant from the last Ice Age, the island is also the historic site of early shipbuilding and used to be a stopping place for the steamers and log rafts that once plied the lake. Hike to the top of Tyrwhitt Peak, where you will see Arethusa Pool—a small lake on the island with tiny islands in it. Re-join the boat for the cruise back to Wānaka.

Once you've finished the cruise, you may fancy another walk along one of Wānaka's many trails. Arguably the most famous is Roy's Peak Track—a steep trail that climbs 4,921 feet (1,500 m) with views of Lake Wānaka, its islands, bays, and the Southern Alps's snow-capped mountains, including Mount Aspiring. This lasts a total of five to six hours, but there are plenty of short routes you can take instead. Relax your weary legs back at your hotel, and indulge in a large dinner at one of Wānaka's many restaurants.

Day 10: Drive to Glenorchy, Blanket Bay Lodge

Gaze over spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu from Blanket Bay Lodge
Bid farewell to Wānaka and drive one hour and 45 minutes west to Glenorchy along Lake Wakatipu. Nestled amid rugged snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps on the shores of Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand's finest lodge—Blanket Bay. The lodge is made up of intimate lodge rooms, suites, and chalet suites, all of which take full advantage of the magnificent lake and mountain vistas. Get settled in, then spend the day reading a book in your plush surroundings and sampling New Zealand's finest cuisine.

Day 11: Drive to Queenstown, Milford Sound

Be entranced by the astounding Milford Sound

Tear yourself away from your Blanket Bay idyll and drive a short distance to Queenstown—your final stop. From here, you will spend the day discovering Milford Sound. No visit to New Zealand is complete without a visit to the spectacular Milford Sound, and the Fly-Cruise-Fly option from Queenstown takes you to the heart of the Fiordland region. Your scenic flight from Queenstown will soar over alpine lakes, lush rainforests, rugged snow-capped mountains, and the glacially carved valleys of Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park.

Once at Milford Sound, board an intimate and immersive two-hour cruise and simply relax while taking in Mitre Peak, cascading waterfalls, towering cliffs, and native animals. Keep your eyes peeled for seals basking in the sun, dolphins leaping, and—if you're really lucky—you may even spot the rare Fiordland crested penguins. Your return flight will take you a different route back to Queenstown, where you will spend the last evening of your tour.

Day 12: Depart Queenstown

Sunset over Queenstown
If you have time, explore more of Queenstown before dropping your rental car off at Queenstown Airport and bidding farewell to New Zealand. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore different ways to spend 12 days in New Zealand, and discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of New Zealand's Natural Wonders: Auckland to Queenstown - 12 Days
Map of New Zealand's Natural Wonders: Auckland to Queenstown - 12 Days