Active types can explore the diverse landscapes of New Zealand's North and South islands with this stunning 19-day road trip itinerary. Highlights include full-day hikes in Tongariro National Park, Queenstown, and Abel Tasman National Park. You'll also enjoy coastal scenes of the Coromandel Peninsula, cruise Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, and see the Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier up close.


  • Check out volcanoes, glaciers, and rainforests on multiple full-day hikes
  • Cruise on the Milford Sound, Lake Wakapitu, and the Coromandel Peninsula
  • Enjoy free time for hiking, biking, and kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park
  • Spend quality time in cool urban cities like Auckland and Wellington

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Harbor Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Full-Day Auckland Bush & Beach Tour Auckland
Day 3 Drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, Explore Whitianga
Day 4 Cathedral Cove Cruise, Visit Hot Water Beach Whitianga
Day 5 Drive to Tongariro National Park, Explore Tongariro National Park
Day 6 Full-Day Guided Ruapehu Crater Lake Hike Tongariro National Park
Day 7 Free Day in Tongariro National Park Tongariro National Park
Day 8 Drive to Wellington, Explore Wellington
Day 9 Ferry to Picton, Drive to Abel Tasman National Park via Nelson Abel Tasman National Park
Day 10 Full-Day Remote Marine Reserve Tour Abel Tasman National Park
Day 11 Free Day in Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman National Park
Day 12 Drive to Hokitika, Explore Hokitika
Day 13 Free Day in Hokitika Hokitika
Day 14 Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau, Explore Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 15 Free Day in Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 16 Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 17 Full-Day Routeburn Trail Hike Queenstown
Day 18 Full-Day Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Experience Queenstown
Day 19 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Harbor Dinner Cruise

Auckland's skyline
Auckland's skyline is easy to identify thanks to its distinctive Sky Tower

Kia ora! Welcome to New Zealand's North Island! Begin your adventure in Auckland, where a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel. This city is an urban paradise, squeezed between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, and is a playground for adventure-seekers. Relax at your hotel while adjusting to the time change, or shake off jet lag by bungee jumping off the Sky Tower. Whether you're an adrenaline junkie or not, the Sky Tower, with its panoramic views, is an excellent place to begin exploring New Zealand's metropolis. 

Known as the "City of Sails," Auckland boasts more than 500,000 sailboats and yachts in various sizes, anchored and moored at various marinas. What better way to experience the city on your first night than with a sunset cruise? Set sail from Waitemata Harbour as the sun begins to dip into the water. Then enjoy drinks with canapés as you glide toward Westhaven Marina. During dinner, you'll watch the city twinkle after the sun dips below the horizon. Finish the evening with a tasty dessert as you sail back to central Auckland's Viaduct Harbour.

Day 2: Full-Day Auckland Bush & Beach Tour

View of Auckland skyline and volcanoes of Devonport from the North Head mountain
View of Auckland skyline and volcanoes of Devonport from the North Head mountain

Today you'll explore the best of the city's highlights on a full-day tour. Travel up Queen Street, through Auckland's central business district, past Auckland University, and through the inner city park known as the Domain. Continue to the Ponsonby neighborhood, with its historic buildings, before crossing the Harbour Bridge to Auckland's North Shore. Stroll on a beautiful beach before heading to Mount Victoria for panoramic views of the city.

This afternoon, travel 18.6 miles (30 km) from downtown Auckland to the city's largest regional park, the Waitakere Ranges. The Arataki Centre is perched high on the ridge with breathtaking panoramic views from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Admire the magnificent traditional Māori carvings before walking through the lush rainforest with giant tree ferns and New Zealand's famous kauri trees. Finally, experience the power of the wild and rugged west coast—feel black sand beneath your feet as you walk along some of the most awe-inspiring beaches in the world.

Day 3: Drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, Explore

Mercury Bay in Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula
The Coromandel Peninsula is a popular boating area
Pick up a rental car this morning and say farewell to the "City of Sails". You'll travel south along the Seabird Coast, taking around three hours to reach the Coromandel Peninsula on the east coast. Before reaching Whitianga, stop at the Driving Creek Railway, a Coromandel icon. Owner Barry Brickell dreamed of establishing a pottery workshop and built a railway to access the clay. Now visitors can experience this unique attraction with a one-hour train journey through replanted native Kauri forest. Pottery is still produced here, and you can watch artists at work. 
You're now in the Coromandel Peninsula, a region that extends from Waihi in the south to Port Jackson in the north and features dramatic bush-clad mountain scenery. The west coast of the peninsula is lined with steep pohutukawa-covered cliffs, while the east coast has an abundance of golden sandy beaches and inlets. Spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing at Whitianga and Mercury Bay, or take the small foot ferry over to Cooks Beach and Flaxmill Bay

Day 4: Cathedral Cove Cruise, Visit Hot Water Beach

Boat to the stunning Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Peninsula
This morning explore the region's spectacular coastline of Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve, including its most famous feature—the hidden paradise of Cathedral Cove. Get close to the stunning volcanic rock formations, pinnacles, and sea caves in a glass-bottom boat, and spot many different species of fish, crayfish, stingrays, octopus, and more. Watch the marine life through the glass of your personal aquarium or take the plunge and experience sensational snorkeling.

In the afternoon, visit the creatively named Hot Water Beach, where geothermally heated water seeps through the sands. At low tide, dig a hole and create your own mineral pool. The beach itself has golden, fine sand and is an ideal place to relax throughout the rest of your day. Here you'll find cute cafés and art stores, including Moko, which has a great range of local Indigenous arts and crafts for sale.

Day 5: Drive to Tongariro National Park, Explore

Views of Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park has a unique landscape with three active volcanos
Today you'll make an epic five-hour drive to Tongariro National Park, a stunning landscape with active and extinct volcanoes and a diverse range of ecosystems. Pass the seaside towns of Whangamata and Waihi, and if time allows, visit Waihi Beach. Pause for lunch in Mount Maunganui to admire its famous beach and try to catch a glimpse of the smoldering White Island volcano. As you cut back inland, take in the pungent sulfur smell as you drive into geothermal Rotorua. If you have time, stop at Wai-o-Tapu to discover geysers, silica terraces, and crates of boiling mud.
Continue on to Taupō, through pine forest, past the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station, and stop at Huka Falls to watch more than 220,000 liters of water per second barrel over a 36-foot (11 m) high waterfall. As you come over the hill into town, marvel at Great Lake Taupō, New Zealand's largest lake. You're on the final 90-minute stretch to Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's first national park created after the three peaks were gifted by Te Heuheu Tukino IV, paramount chief of the Tuwharetoa people, to the people of New Zealand in 1887.

Day 6: Full-Day Guided Ruapehu Crater Lake Hike

Mount Ruapehu is an active volcano that last erupted in 2007
Lava flows, active craters, hot springs, lakes, forests, tussocks, and alpine herb fields fill Tongariro National Park, and today you'll explore it on a full-day guided hike. Set off early to climb Mount Ruapehu, which at 9,177 feet (2,797 m) is the highest of the three active andesitic volcanoes in the park. It's not an easy climb and requires a good level of fitness. Your efforts will be rewarded when you sit down for lunch on top of the North Island's highest volcano. From here, you can gaze down into the geothermal waters of the crater lake.
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Day 7: Free Day in Tongariro National Park

Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The stunning emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Today is yours to explore Tongariro National Park as you wish. After yesterday's big hike, you might like to rest and recharge, and you could cool down with a handful of short, family-friendly hikes. But if you still have the energy, tackle the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which spans the length of Mount Tongariro at 12 miles (19.4 km) and takes around eight hours to complete. The crossing takes you through a stunning and diverse alpine landscape, showcasing dramatic volcanic features.
Or, for something completely different, you could take a half-day whitewater rafting expedition down the Tongariro River. Over two hours, you'll navigate through 60 roller coaster rapids over the spectacular unspoiled wilderness with an expert guide at the helm.  

Day 8: Drive to Wellington, Explore

Wellington is New Zealand's small but charming capital city
There's another big 3.5-hour drive ahead today as you make your way into Wellington, New Zealand's capital. Along the way, you could stop in Taihape for a photo with the large Gumboot Statue or at Mangaweka Gorge, with plenty of outdoor activities. You can also stop to browse the antique shops of Bulls or spy on wading birds in the estuary near Foxton
Wellington is not your typical capital city. The compact village-like size makes it easy to walk around, yet it still has the sophistication of a big city. Take a ride up the cable car to the Wellington Botanic Garden and the Carter Observatory for a vantage point with excellent views of the city and harbor. Or stroll the city streets for a delicious meal at one of the many inner-city cafés where you can soak up some of Wellington's famous café culture.

Day 9: Ferry to Picton, Drive to Abel Tasman National Park via Nelson

Take the Interislander from Wellington to Picton and swap to the South Island
This morning you'll make the crossing from New Zealand's North Island to the South Island aboard a car ferry. After a few hours, you'll arrive in the picturesque seaside town of Picton. From here, make the 3.5-hour drive to Abel Tasman National Park via Nelson. You'll skirt the Marlborough wine-growing region and pass Mount Cullen on the way to Havelock, the Greenshell Mussell capital. Take a Greenshell Mussel Cruise for lunch or continue on, stopping at the many lookouts along the drive. From Nelson, it's just an hour's drive to Abel Tasman National Park.
Named after Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman, the first European to sight New Zealand in 1642, this is New Zealand's smallest national park covering an area of 91 square miles (237 sq km). You can explore the park by boat, water taxi, or on foot—and each year, people flock here to enjoy outdoor activities, including walking, camping, canyoning, and kayaking.

Day 10: Full-Day Remote Marine Reserve Tour

Anchorage Bay in Abel Tasman Park
Kayaking is one of the best ways to explore Abel Tasman National Park
You might meet dolphins, seals, and penguins when you kayak around the Tonga Island Marine Reserve today. This one-day kayak tour explores the best of the park and marine. Visit Shag Harbour, a hidden inlet like nowhere else in the Abel Tasman. Paddle south and explore Tonga Arches, the carved granite coastline, tranquil lagoons, and the golden sand of Bark Bay. Or paddle from Onetahuti to Tonga Island for your first encounters with New Zealand fur seals. Explore sculptured granite headlands, tranquil lagoons, and everything that's special about Abel Tasman.

Day 11: Free Day in Abel Tasman National Park

3 Day Abel Tasman Guided Walk
How you explore Abel Tasman National Park today is up to you
Today is yours to explore the gorgeous Abel Tasman National Park at your own pace. You could choose to take a water taxi to one of the more secluded golden beaches. Or set out on a hike—it's possible to walk the length of the park on the coast track, starting at the southern end in Marahau or from the northern end at Wainui Bay.

Day 12: Drive to Hokitika, Explore

Hokitika Gorge
Hokitika Gorge is a vivid milky blue pool surrounded by native forest
Jump behind the wheel and make the 4.5-hour drive south to Hokitika today. Along the way, you could stop at Pancake Rocks, Monteith's Brewery, World of Wearable Art & Collectable Cars Museum, and Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. Hokitika is a historic seaside town known for its greenstone or jade (pounamu). Here you'll experience the best of the west coast of New Zealand, where you can stroll a dramatic beach, choose between a wide range of walks, visit two serene lakes, and enjoy wild rivers, mountain views, and great cafés and galleries.
Hokitika town is well known for its many arts and crafts, the most famous being Māori jade and bone carving. If you're a fan of the art form, spend your afternoon exploring the many shops and studios across town, seeking out a unique souvenir. If you prefer to be in nature, venture inland about nine miles (15 km) to Lake Kaniere, an idyllic spot for bush walks.

Day 13: Free Day in Hokitika

Visitors enjoy the view of temperate rainforest and the mountains from the 20m high viewing platform on the Treetops Walk.
The West Coast Treetops Walkway takes you 75 feet (20 m) above the forest floor

Today is yours to explore Hokitika. You could visit the National Kiwi Centre and get up close with native animals, or visit the Hokitika Museum to learn about the town's gold rush history. You could also venture out to the beautiful Hokitika Gorge, a vivid milky blue pool surrounded by native forest and a magnificent granite gorge. It's a short walk from the car park to a number of viewing platforms. If you prefer cycling, hire a bike and explore the West Coast Wilderness Trail.

For a real adventure, the West Coast Treetops Walkway is an exhilarating experience among temperate rainforest giants. Experience life with the birds high in the ancient Rimu and Kamahi tree canopy. Or chase a pure adrenaline rush at the top of Hokitika Tower, 130 feet (40 m) above the forest floor.

Day 14: Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau, Explore

Franz Josef Glacier
Picture yourself hiking over the fast-moving Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier

Wave goodbye to Hokitika this morning and make your way two hours south to the first of the west coast's two well-known glacier settlements: Franz Josef / Waiau. The famous Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier is a majestic 7.5-mile (12 km) long glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. This steep glacier is known for its sparkling ice and picturesque views, with temperatures varying between 32-77°F (0-25°C).

This afternoon you could relax and rejuvenate in the Glacier Hot Pools, soaking in warm waters surrounded by lush rainforest. Or join a thrilling quad bike tour and experience an adrenaline rush while traversing the rugged west coast terrain.

Day 15: Free Day in Franz Josef / Waiau

Franz Josef Glacier
Experience the untouched rainforests surrounding the Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier
Today is yours to explore Franz Josef / Waiau as you wish. If feeling adventurous, you could take an exhilarating helicopter ride to the top of the Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. First, look out over the staggering scenery and panoramic views of Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere before you land on the ice, then find yourself squeezing through narrow crevasses, winding between ice towers, sliding through ice caves, or if you're lucky, all three!
Or glide effortlessly across Lake Mapourika's reflective water, taking in the panoramic views of the surrounding tall peaks and glaciers from a kayak. On the far side of the lake, you'll pull up and enter a kiwi sanctuary set among some of Westland's oldest untouched rainforests. Walk through the Jurassic-era setting, listening to native birdsong, and then enjoy lunch at one of the most scenic natural locations imaginable.

Day 16: Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner

The TSS Earnslaw crosses Lake Wakatipu in style
Glide along Lake Wakatipu in style during this evening cruise
From Frans Josef / Waiau, it's a 5.5-hour drive to Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital. Travel through a former sawmilling area to Fox Glacier, then pass forests of red and white pine to Bruce Bay. See tranquil lakes Paringa and Moeraki, then pass Wānaka, Lake Hawea Dam, and Lake Hayes on the descent to 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.
Then get ready for a leisurely cruise across the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Wakatipu. At the appointed time, 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 cruise, complete with a singalong from the ship's pianist.

Day 17: Full-Day Routeburn Trail Hike

Full Day Famous Routeburn Trail
Hike the rewarding Routeburn Trail

The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand's most renowned and picturesque hiking trails. Tackling this 20-mile (32 km) track takes two or three days, so today, you'll experience part of it with a full-day hike, enjoying the stunning landscapes of Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park. Surrounded by the sound of rivers, waterfalls, and native birds, you will be transported to a world of peace and tranquility as you hike with awe-inspiring vistas of snowcapped mountains and ancient beech forests.

Day 18: Full-Day Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Experience

Milford Sound
Marvel at the beauty of the Milford Sound / Piopiotahi fjord-like 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 thrilling Queenstown adventure 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 Self-Drive Wilderness Tour - 19 Days
Map of New Zealand Self-Drive Wilderness Tour - 19 Days