Foodies and oenophiles will love this relaxed—and delicious—self-guided road trip that traverses the heart of New Zealand. From the compact capital, Wellington, make your way north to Napier and Hawke's Bay and then back south through Martinborough, Blenheim, and finally, Christchurch as you partake in famous wine regions and gourmet meals on land, tram, and cruise. The itinerary includes plenty of free time for hiking, biking, and whale watching off the Kaikoura Coast if you so choose.


  • Kick off the trip with a five-hour Wellington food tour and lunch with wine pairings
  • Bike through six wineries in the town of Napier, known for its Art Deco architecture
  • Take a seafood cruise off the Pacific Coast (followed by more wine tasting)
  • Enjoy a gourmet dinner in a historic tram while passing Christchurch's landmarks

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Wellington, Visit the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 2 Visit the Te Papa Museum, Wellington Food Tour Wellington
Day 3 Transfer to Napier, Explore Hawke's Bay, Twilight Winery Dinner Napier
Day 4 Gannet Colony Adventure, Cape Wineries Self-Guided Cycle Tour Napier
Day 5 Drive to Martinborough, Self-Guided Wine Tour Martinborough
Day 6 Martinborough Guided Wine Tour Martinborough
Day 7 Ferry to Picton, Drive to Blenheim, Explore the Marlborough Region Blenheim
Day 8 Seafood Odyssea Cruise, Sounds Connection Half-Day Wine Tour Blenheim
Day 9 Drive to Christchurch, Kaikōura Whale Watching Tour, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 10 Ko Tāne Māori Experience & Guided Kiwi Tour, Explore Christchurch Christchurch
Day 11 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Wellington, Visit the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary

Ride the country's only running funicular for city views and access to the botanic gardens
Ride the country's only running funicular for city views and access to the botanic gardens

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at Wellington airport, pick up your rental vehicle and begin your adventure. New Zealand's quirky capital is truly a city with something for everyone. It's not only a center of government but also art, culture, food, fashion, and fun, so there's plenty to do over the next few days.

An excellent place to start is by heading up the hill to experience Zealandia. In this world-first eco-sanctuary, you can meet some of New Zealand's most captivating and endangered fauna day or night. Surrounded by a predator-exclusion fence, the 500-acre (225 ha) sanctuary protects animals like kiwi, tuatara, and tiny Maud Island frogs, not to mention nocturnal creatures for visitors who come after dark.

If you'd rather head out of town, try one of the nearby sandy beach bays, also home to some of Wellington's best-loved cafés. Another option is to visit the fascinating Wētā Workshop, home to props and costumes from movies such as "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," and "Avatar." Finish the day with dinner at one of Wellington's seafood restaurants serving local specialties like abalone ravioli, steamed prawn dumplings, and fresh ceviche. 

Day 2: Visit the Te Papa Museum, Wellington Food Tour

The Te Papa Museum in Wellington
Dedicate quality time to the Te Papa Museum in Wellington

Wake up rested this morning and enjoy some free time in Wellington. You'll likely want to spend a few hours at New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, which means "container of treasures" in the Māori language. This six-floor modern space offers art, history, and natural wonders of New Zealand's origins from one hundred million years ago. You can also visit Māori artifacts, 17th-century English furniture, and a colossal squid collection.

Later in the day, you'll meet a local food guide and taste why Wellington is known as New Zealand's culinary capital. This is a five-hour tour with about 90 minutes of walking, allowing you to try regional cheese, honey, and chocolate at specialty shops. You'll also have lunch paired with New Zealand wines at a local restaurant. 

Day 3: Transfer to Napier, Explore Hawke's Bay, Twilight Winery Dinner

Explore the foothills around Hawke's Bay for stellar views

This morning, it's time to drive four hours northeast of Wellington to reach Napier, the art deco capital of New Zealand. You'll spend most of the drive in the Wairarapa, a rural region known for its grassy plains and valleys where vineyards thrive. Stop for a coffee or lunch in Greytown, named "New Zealand's Most Beautiful Small Town 2017," for its well-restored Victorian architecture.

Eventually, you'll cross into the Hawke's Bay region, where you can rest at Havelock North, a rural town amid many orchards and vineyards. Upon arrival in Napier, choose how to spend your day in the area. One option is to see prominent Art Deco landmarks on a 1930s vintage car tour. You'll cover plenty of Napier's architecture, including one of the finest Art Deco buildings in the world, the Napier Municipal Theatre.

Meanwhile, there are over 124 miles (200 km) of cycling trails for those after fresh air. You can also spend the day at one of the many beaches in the area, like Ocean Beach or Waimarama Beach. You can join a food orchard tour and indulge in local cheese, chocolate, and honey. Save your appetite, though, because tonight you'll take the guided Twilight Odyssey Tour, which includes a progressive three-course dinner with wine pairings at one of New Zealand's top winery restaurants.

Day 4: Gannet Colony Adventure, Cape Wineries Self-Guided Cycle Tour

Get up close to a gannet colony on Cape Kidnappers

Today starts with a scenic drive along the coast from Napier to Te Awanga, where you'll join a tour to discover the world's largest, most accessible gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. You'll cover some ground in a comfortable 4WD vehicle through Cape Kidnappers Station, crossing riverbeds, rolling pastures, and native bush.

From here, rent a bike and join a 10-mile (16 km) cycling trail through the picturesque orchards as you follow the Tuki Tuki River to the Pacific Coast. Upon reaching Te Awanga, you'll recoup your strength with visits to renowned wineries, including Elephant Hill and Clearview Estate. This route has up to six wineries, so you can create your own self-guided tour. 

Finish the day with a scenic drive toward Te Mata Peak, with breathtaking panoramic views. While here, enjoy a glass of bubbles and perhaps a meal at Peak House as the sun sets.

Day 5: Drive to Martinborough, Self-Guided Wine Tour

Stretch your legs at Manawatu Gorge on the way to Martinborough

Pass through the rolling countryside of Hawke's Bay this morning and dairy pastures in the Manawatu Gorge until you reach the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre. Here you can see some of the country's native animal species before taking another break in Masterson and visiting the interactive Woolshed Museum to learn about sheep farming in New Zealand.

As you drive south, cross over the Ruamahanga River into Martinborough wine country. This area of New Zealand produces some of the world's finest wines, including notable pinot noir, syrah, riesling, and sauvignon blanc varietals. Start your self-guided adventure at the Martinborough Wine Center to get more information. There are at least 30 vineyards, and most are family-owned. Some wineries are also within walking distance of the picturesque colonial town center, so you can easily park the car and explore on foot.

Day 6: Martinborough Guided Wine Tour

Vineyards in Martinborough are often compared to Burgundy, France

Today is a chance to learn more about Martinborough's wine scene, often compared to Burgundy, France, because of its soil and climate. On this guided half-day tour, your local expert will make stops at Te Kairangi Wines, Tirohana Estate, Cabbage Tree Vineyard, and Martinborough Vineyard, where you'll learn about (and taste!) some of the best wineries in the region that produce notable pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and syrah, to name a few. 

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
From here, the rest of the day is yours to relax and explore independently. The charming colonial town center offers boutiques, restaurants, and breweries, or you may rent a bike and enjoy the pastoral scenery on two wheels. Several bike rental companies can be found in the village, and you can pick up a map from the local visitors center.

Day 7: Ferry to Picton, Drive to Blenheim, Explore the Marlborough Region

Sail through the stunning Marlborough Sounds to get to the South Island

It's time to travel to the South Island! First, you'll drive from Martinborough to the ferry port in Wellington to take the car ferry across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds, one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world. The trip from North to South Island takes approximately three hours, with highlights including Red Rocks (look for the seal colony), Cook's Lookout, Tory Channel, and some beautiful coves best enjoyed from the top deck, weather permitting.

The ferry docks in the seaside town of Picton, where you will disembark and take the short drive to Blenheim across the Wairau Plains' vineyards and wineries. Blenheim sits at the heart of the Marlborough wine region, surrounded by row upon row of vines. A compact town, Blenheim is a great place to soak up the atmosphere of its old-fashioned marketplace. While away in the late afternoon as you relax in any café, restaurant, or shop. 

Day 8: Seafood Odyssea Cruise, Sounds Connection Half-Day Wine Tour

Marlborough wineries are known worldwide for the sauvignon blanc grape

This morning, you have the option of taking the Seafood Odyssea Cruise. This experience allows you to sail out into the paper-flat waters of Queen Charlotte Sound, exploring its isolated bays and tiny coves. Spot birds and marine life as you cruise while a guide teaches you about the area and the local seafood grown here. Of course, you'll participate in a seafood tasting on board, paired with Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

From here, enjoy an afternoon among the vines and immerse yourself in Marlborough's wine country with a half-day wine tour. You'll be collected from your accommodation and taken around three or four hand-picked wineries to taste the award-winning produce this region is known for. You'll also hear about the history of winemaking in Marlborough and learn about the unique processes each winery goes through. 

Day 9: Drive to Christchurch, Kaikōura Whale-Watching Tour, Historic Tram Dinner

Take an exciting whale watching cruise off the Kaikōura Coast

Today's driving route to Christchurch crosses the dry hills of the Marlborough ranges as you head toward one of the most spectacular coastlines of the South Island: the Kaikōura Coast. The road hugs the shore for much of the journey and offers many chances to view the native wildlife, such as seabirds and New Zealand fur seals. Stop at Kaikōura Township, a bustling place with many cafés, shops, and wildlife.

While here, set sail on a catamaran designed for whale watching. During the 3.5-hour tour, you'll be looking for giant sperm whales, but you'll also likely see fur seals and dusky dolphins leaping through the waves while albatross swoop overhead. Seasonal sightings may include southern right, pilot, or blue whales and, if lucky, migrating humpbacks. After your whale watching trip, continue south for 2.5 hours to Christchurch, the country's second-largest metropolis. The city is known for its green spaces like Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens—it's nicknamed the Garden City, after all—so a stroll through one is always a good idea.

Enjoy an elegant dinner in a historic colonial-style tram that rounds up central Christchurch's top attractions. Sit back and relax as you take in the views from your window-side table. Professional waitstaff serves a welcome drink upon arrival, followed by a gourmet four-course meal. 

Day 10: Ko Tāne Māori Experience & Guided Kiwi Tour, Explore Christchurch

Glide along the Avon River / Ōtākaro in Christchurch in a flat-bottomed boat

This morning you'll learn a little about the Indigenous Māori culture at the Ko Tāne Living Māori Village and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. You'll begin with a guided kiwi tour of the reserve with one of Willowbank's experienced guides. Then enjoy the Māori cultural performance, which includes action songs, poi dances, a haka, stick games, and weapons displays, followed by a four-course hāngī meal of meat and vegetables cooked in an underground pit.

From here, take the rest of the day to explore Christchurch. Since 2011, when an earthquake damaged much of the city center, Christchurch has been well on its way to restoring its former glory. You can see some new builds from its billion-dollar makeover, like the impressive Cardboard Cathedral. Or immerse yourself in Christchurch's history by punting on the Avon River / Ōtākaro with a guide dressed in Edwardian attire, or by riding a gondola to the rim of an extinct volcano—or both!

The fun doesn't stop at Christchurch's city limits, though. If you drive an hour in any direction, you can find yourself skiing, mountain biking, wine tasting, bungee jumping, or golfing in this diverse area. You might want to learn about modern exploration at the International Antarctic Centre or see stunning wildlife at Orana Wildlife Park, an open-range zoo. 

Day 11: Depart Christchurch

Until next time, Christchurch!
The day has come to say goodbye to New Zealand! At the appointed time, return your rental car to Christchurch airport and board your departing flight. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

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Map of New Zealand Scenic Food & Wine Tour - 11 Days
Map of New Zealand Scenic Food & Wine Tour - 11 Days