Explore the highlights of New Zealand's North and South Islands on this self-drive adventure. Start in cosmopolitan Auckland before passing by the expansive cave system of Waitomo on your way to Rotorua. Here, you'll visit Tolkien's "Shire" and dip in thermal pools. Then, you'll fly over to South Island, where you'll drive yourself around Christchurch, explore the Glacier Region, and end in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world.

Highlights

  • See the bioluminescent glowworm caves of Waitomo
  • Visit Hobbiton, a filming location for the "Lord of the Rings" & "The Hobbit"
  • Relax as you soak in Rotorua's natural geothermal pools
  • Take a helicopter to the top of Franz Joseph Glacier
  • Hike, bungee jump, zipline or mountain bike in exciting Queenstown

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Waitomo Adventure Tour & Drive to Rotorua Rotorua
Day 3 Day Trip to Matamata Rotorua
Day 4 Fly to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 5 Drive to Franz Joseph Glacier Region Franz Josef Glacier
Day 6 Franz Joseph Heli-Hike Tour Franz Josef Glacier
Day 7 Drive to Queenstown Queenstown
Day 8 Depart from Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Auckland skyline
Auckland skyline

Welcome to Auckland, the City of Sails! On arrival, you will pick up your rental car and make your way to your accommodation.

After checking in, you'll have the rest of the day to explore New Zealand's largest city. Head downtown and walk by the waterfront, or go up to Mt. Eden at sunset to get a panoramic view of the entire city. 

Day 2: Waitomo Adventure Tour & Drive to Rotorua

Waitomo glowworm caves
Waitomo glowworm caves

Leave the cosmopolis of Auckland behind and drive towards the Waitomo cave area in the Waikato region.

Here, you'll join a Black Abyss Adventure Tour: a five-hour expedition that includes abseiling down a 114-foot (35m) waterfall, climbing, and exploring caves full of flying fox bats. The highlight of the experience will be cave tubing into the famous glowworm caves, where these bioluminescent animals create an indoor night sky on the cave walls. At every stage, you'll be accompanied and supported by experienced caving guides. 

After a full day of adventure travel, you'll drive to Rotorua to rest for the night.

Day 3: Day Trip to Matamata

Hobbiton in Matamata
Hobbiton in Matamata

Rise early and get behind the wheel for a one-hour drive to Matamata.

Once a little-explored part of New Zealand, the town is now world-famous for being the home of "Hobbiton." Visitors from all over come to tour the Alexander Brother's Farm, which was the set of the Shire in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Hobbit." Even if you're not a fan of the series, the set is the perfect picture of an idyllic town from another world and is thus well worth visiting.

Later, you can drive back to Rotorua and go to the Te Puia Geothermal Reserve. The boiling mud-pools and the cascading Pohutu Geyser give Rotorua its nickname of "Thermal City." You can also stop by the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and see local Maori carvers in action.

In the evening, you'll enjoy an authentic Maori hangi (feast) and concert.

Day 4: Fly to Christchurch

Cathedral Square in Christchurch
Cathedral Square in Christchurch

This morning, you'll return your rental vehicle at Rotorua Airport and check-in for your flight to Christchurch. As you fly towards South Island, keep your eyes glued to the window for some spectacular views of New Zealand from the air. 

Once you land, you'll pick up your rental car and start exploring the country's second-largest city. Enjoy a walk through Hagley Park or the Botanical Gardens. Visit Cathedral Square, ride a punt along Avon River, or learn about Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre.

Day 5: Drive to Franz Joseph Glacier Region

Sunset over Franz Joseph Glacier
Sunset over Franz Joseph Glacier

Today, you'll drive through the Southern Alps to one of New Zealand's most magnificent natural landmarks: the majestic Franz Joseph Glacier.

What makes this area so incredible is that the glacier is surrounded by a rainforest, whose green juxtaposes the frigid blue of the snow-capped mountains. Spend the day exploring Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers; you can do a guided hike, paddle on a glacial river, and mountain bike through the area. If you visit during the right season, you can also tour the blue ice caves that form from the glaciers.

Day 6: Franz Joseph Heli-Hike Tour

View of the glacier from a helicopter
View of the glacier from a helicopter

See the Glacier Region from a completely different perspective on a three-hour heli-hike. 

This adventure takes you on a helicopter to the top of Franz Joseph Glacier. From the air, you'll see three ice-falls and other gorgeous scenery.  As soon as you land, you'll start a guided hike around the glacier, challenging your body as your guide explains more about the geology of this natural wonder. 

After coming back to solid ground, you'll soak up your sore muscles at the Glacier Hot Pools Spa. Surrounded by the jungle and offering different pamper packages, there's no better way to end an intense day of extreme sports.

You'll have the late afternoon off to do more excursions around the area or to relax at your accommodation.

Day 7: Drive to Queenstown

Panoramic view of Queenstown
Panoramic view of Queenstown

On your last full day in New Zealand, you'll drive south to exciting Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. 

Before reaching this incredible city, stop by Arrowtown, a nearby former mining village. Here, you can see historic houses, enjoy a delicious lunch, and pass by the beautiful Shotover Gorge. Then, continue driving towards Queenstown.

One of the country's most visited and famous cities, Queenstown offers numerous activities to travelers looking for an adrenaline rush. If you are one of these travelers, you can bungee jump (in fact, this is where the sport started), mountain bike, zipline, do canyoning, jetboat, or race down the luge track. 

For those who want something significantly more low-key yet active, there is always hiking. Queenstown is surrounded by the appropriately named Remarkables mountain range, so there are plenty of opportunities to work up a sweat for amazing views of Lake Wakatipu

If you're willing to drive out of town, there are also several vineyards in the surrounding area where you can enjoy local wine varieties.

Day 8: Depart from Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown Garden
Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown Garden

To truly make the most of your last morning, do a sunrise hike up Queenstown Hill.

Afterward, you can drop off your rental car at Queenstown Airport and check-in for your onward flight.

Map

Map of New Zealand Self-Drive Tour: Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch, Franz Joseph & Queenstown - 8 Days
Map of New Zealand Self-Drive Tour: Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch, Franz Joseph & Queenstown - 8 Days