If you plan to visit New Zealand in June, July, or August, this two-week winter trip includes the best of the North and South islands, with seasonal adventures like skiing and whale watching adding a layer of richness. Your self-drive journey begins in Queenstown with a snow day and a Milford Sound / Piopiotahi tour. Journey north to Picton via Aoraki / Mount Cook, Christchurch, and Kaikoura, then cross between the islands by ferry to see the best of temperate Wellington, Rotorua, and Auckland.


  • Go downhill skiing and jet boating in Queenstown, the adventure capital
  • Experience some of the world's best stargazing in Aoraki / Mount Cook 
  • Take a whale watching trip along the Kaikoura Coast, north of Christchurch
  • Catch the ferry between the North and South Islands for amazing views
  • Connect with Maori culture and geothermal wonders in Rotorua

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Queenstown, Free Time in the Adventure Capital Queenstown
Day 2 Full Day at The Remarkables Ski Field Queenstown
Day 3 Shotover River Jet Boat Ride, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 4 Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Full-Day Adventure Queenstown
Day 5 Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Stargazing Experience Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 6 Drive to Christchurch, Explore the City Christchurch
Day 7 International Antarctic Centre, Progressive Māori Dinner Tour Christchurch
Day 8 Drive to Kaikōura via Hanmer Hot Springs Kaikōura 
Day 9 Kaikōura Whale Watching Tour, Drive to Picton Picton
Day 10 Ferry to Wellington, Te Papa Tongarewa Māori Tour, Zealandia by Night Wellington
Day 11 Fly to Rotorua, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 12 Rotorua Forest Canopy Adventure, Hot Springs, Kiwis & Māori Arts Rotorua
Day 13 Drive to Auckland via Hobbiton & Waitomo Auckland
Day 14 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Queenstown, Free Time in the Adventure Capital

Views over Queenstown
Queenstown is a spectacular place to begin your New Zealand adventure

Kia ora! Welcome to Queenstown! Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in the Southern Alps, this ruggedly beautiful region offers hair-raising thrills, beautiful vineyards, and historic gold-mining towns. On arrival, a private driver will be waiting to transfer you to your accommodation. Settle in and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring New Zealand's adventure capital. 

One of the best ways to appreciate the area's majesty is to ride the Skyline Gondola, one of the steepest cable cars in the Southern Hemisphere. You'll climb over 1,400 feet (450 m) to Bob's Peak for top views of The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and sparkling Lake Wakatipu. Drink in those panoramic views before taking the downhill luge track back to town. Alternatively, you could walk, jog, or bike ride around Lake Wakatipu; go wine tasting in the Otago Peninsula for the afternoon, or seek out adrenaline-pumping activities like paragliding and bungee jumping.

Day 2: Full Day at The Remarkables Ski Field

Remarkables Ski Field
Spend today on the slopes of The Remarkables

Every ski field is blessed with magnificent views, but the vistas from The Remarkables might be the best in New Zealand. Today you'll hit the slopes of the famous mountain range, which overlooks Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. The NZSki Bus will pick you up at the hotel and return you at the end of a huge day, navigating a great network of wide, gentle slopes and mega mountain runs. If you're a beginner, there's a great first-timer package that includes a full-day group lesson, a lift pass, and all the gear so you can find your feet and have a blast.

Located just 45 minutes from Queenstown, The Remarkables is a laid-back ski resort that offers something for everyone, with an almost even mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced terrain. While on the mountain, make sure you take a spin on the purpose-built snow tubing lanes before warming up with a steaming hot chocolate at Remarkables Café.

Day 3: Shotover River Canyon Jet Boat Ride, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner

Cruise to a historic high-country farm on the TSS Earnshaw steamship

Lean into the thrills of Queenstown and kick off your day with an exhilarating trip through the Shotover River Canyon in a high-speed jet boat that seems to defy gravity. Take a ride on "Big Red" through the spectacular canyon walls of the upper Shotover River. You'll gasp in amazement as your jet navigates 46 miles (75 km) of rapids and narrow twists and turns.

Reward your bravery with a leisurely lunch cruise across the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Wakatipu aboard "The Lady of the Lake." The historic TSS Earnslaw steamship will take you to the lakeside gardens of Walter Peak High Country Farm for a gourmet lunch 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 cheeses before the return cruise, complete with a singalong from the ship's pianist.

Day 4: Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Full-Day Adventure

The world-famous Milford Sound
You'll see the world-famous Milford Sound / Piopiotahi by bus, boat, and plane on today's full-day adventure

Today, you'll experience the world-famous Milford Sound / Piopiotahi from the air and the water. From your glass-roofed bus, you can gaze up at the rocky mountains as you travel along Milford Road. Be mesmerized by the reflective Mirror Lakes, and quench your thirst with pristine glacial water at Monkey Creek. Travel through Homer Tunnel, carved out of solid rock, and marvel at The Chasm, a series of uniquely shaped rocks and potholes formed by erosion. Eventually, you'll descend through the Cleddau Valley into Milford Sound / Piopiotahi.

Board a small boutique boat to enjoy views of Mitre Peak and towering cliffs. Cruise past rugged cliffs covered in native rainforest, with powerful waterfalls that tumble down into the fjord. Keep a look out for seals, dolphins, and penguins in the waters below. The return journey to Queenstown is equally rewarding. Board a 45-minute scenic flight and soar over the glacially carved valleys of the sound and Fiordland National Park. Closer to Queenstown, enjoy a bird's-eye view of the rugged Central Otago region.

Day 5: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Stargazing Experience

Aoraki / Mount Cook
The drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook might be the most beautiful in the world
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Your epic road trip across New Zealand begins today with a three-hour drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook. New Zealand's highest peak, Mount Cook, measures 12,315 feet (3,754 m) and is also known by its Māori name Aoraki, which means "Cloud Piercer." It's one of 20 peaks in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Collect a rental car in town, then make your way east over the historic Kawarau Bridge. If you haven't already, stop to bungee jump from the bridge (if you're game!) or watch others throw themselves off.

Travel through Lindis Pass, one of New Zealand's highest roads, with the summit reaching 3,185 feet (971 m), into the Mackenzie Basin. The towns of Ōmarama and Twizel are the last stops before you arrive at Lake Pukaki and take the Mount Cook Highway along the shores to the village. Finally, you'll arrive in Aoraki / Mount Cook. In town, stop for a buffet dinner at the Alpine Restaurant in the Hermitage Hotel.

When darkness falls, make the most of the International Dark Sky Reserve. Renowned for their clear, star-studded skies, the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and nearby Mackenzie Basin offer an astronomical night to remember. Join a tour to use state-of-the-art telescopes and have your guide explain the constellations, planets, the Milky Way, and faraway galaxies.

Day 6: Drive to Christchurch, Explore the City

Pass one of the South Island's most famous photo ops, the lakeside Church of the Good Shepherd

Rise early and hit the road toward Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest metropolis. Along the four-hour drive, make time to stop in Lake Tekapo, the first of the large Southern Lakes, where you can photograph the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, and the Collie Dog statue. If you have time, join a guided horse trek or boat tour. Continue through Burkes Pass and into the rich farming valley that surrounds Geraldine. Then, cross the vast Canterbury Plains until you arrive in Christchurch.

Nicknamed the "Garden City," Christchurch is known for its green spaces like Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. Bundle up and step back in time along the Avon River / Ōtākaro, where guides dressed in Edwardian costumes lead punting boat trips past landmarks. Or ride one of Christchurch's heritage trams and stop at 17 key places, such as Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Museum.

Day 7: International Antarctic Centre, Progressive Māori Dinner Tour

International Antarctic Centre
Meet New Zealand's wild locals at the International Antarctic Centre

This morning, you'll go behind the scenes at a penguin habitat and penguin welfare center, the International Antarctic Centre. Explore off-limits areas and find out what it takes to keep these little stars happy while learning about their daily routines, penguin feeding and husbandry, and the long-term goals of the program. Your pass includes general admission, so you can also visit "Antarctica" with the snow and ice experience and survive an Antarctic storm.

This evening, you'll embark on a unique gastronomic experience that connects Christchurch's booming culinary scene with Māori culture. Over three hours, you'll enjoy a progressive dinner with drinks across the city, led by a local host. From sophisticated vineyards to artisan distilleries, get ready to immerse yourself in the city's stirring foodie scene like never before. As you explore, your host will share tales and popular Māori phrases with this sensory-rich experience.

Day 8: Drive to Kaikōura via Hanmer Hot Springs

Kaikōura Coast
The coastline of Kaikōura is off-the-beaten-track but rewards those who visit

Cross the rolling hills of North Canterbury's major wine region, the Waipara Valley, this morning as you head toward the spectacular Kaikōura coast, about 2.5 hours north. Allow time for a detour and visit Hanmer Springs for a dip in the mineral hot pools. Continue on and cross the Hawkswood Range before descending to the Kaikōura coastline, where the road hugs the ocean for the last leg of the drive.

Kaikōura draws in huge numbers of visitors each year for its abundant sea life, which thrives in the local icy waters. Unlike other popular sea-watching spots, Kaikōura's whales, seals, and dolphins tend to visit year-round, so you may be able to spot them from a boat trip no matter when you visit. 

Day 9: Kaikōura Whale Watching Tour, Drive to Picton

Whale watching Kaikoura
This morning, you'll go whale watching along the Kaikōura coast

This morning, sail the South Pacific on a special catamaran designed for whale watching. During your 3.5 hours on the water, you'll be looking for giant sperm whales and will likely also spot fur seals and dusky dolphins leaping through the waves while albatross swoop overhead. Depending on the season, you might also catch southern right, pilot, or blue whales and, if you're lucky, migrating humpbacks. When you return to dry land, jump back behind the wheel and follow the coast to Picton, located at the top of the South Island.

As you leave Kaikōura, you'll take in the scenic shoreline and keep a lookout for native wildlife as you go. Stop to see fur seals at Ohau Point and take a quick stroll inland to glimpse the pups playing in the waterfall upstream. Continuing on, you'll have the ocean on one side, and the Kaikōura ranges on the other before traversing the dry hills of Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine-producing region. Visit one of the vineyards surrounding Blenheim for a wine tasting or a gourmet lunch before beginning the final leg of your journey to Picton. On arrival, return your rental car and settle in for the night.

Day 10: Ferry to Wellington, Te Papa Tongarewa Māori Tour, Zealandia by Night

Marlborough Sounds
Cross between the North and South islands by ferry, passing through Marlborough Sounds

This morning, you'll make the crossing to the North Island by ferry. This is no ordinary journey—the 57-mile (92 km) trip takes around three hours and has been described as "one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world." You'll pass Pencarrow Head, topped by New Zealand's oldest lighthouse from 1859, see Red Rocks, home to a seal colony, and Oterangi Bay. From the Cook Strait, enjoy spectacular views of the Kaikōura ranges, and keep your camera handy for Marlborough Sounds—a region with bush-covered mountains, small islands, crystal-clear waters, and secluded bays.

Once on the North Island, make your way to Wellington, New Zealand's capital. You'll join a behind-the-scenes Māori tour of New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, and discover history through storytelling and objects. Later in the evening, venture to Zealandia, a wildlife eco-sanctuary and forest just 10 minutes from Wellington. Kiwi birds, tuatara reptiles, and Maud Island frogs come alive at night. With a private guide and a flashlight, come eye-to-eye with more than 100 nocturnal species exploring the more than 500-acre (225 ha) area.

Day 11: Fly to Rotorua, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance

Rotorua's geothermal attractions
Rotorua's geothermal wonders make this destination unmissable

This morning, take a one-hour flight from Wellington to Rotorua, New Zealand's famous geothermal wonderland. This area is peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools, and steaming geysers, thanks to its location within one of the world's most active volcanic regions. It's also home to several prominent Māori tribes, incredible redwood forests, and amazing nature for hikers and mountain bikers. Collect a rental car on arrival, and if you're after thrills, visit Velocity Valley Adventure Park, which features stomach-dropping attractions like static skydiving or a giant swing.

Tonight, you're invited as a manuhiri (guest) at Te Pā Tū (Tamaki Māori Village). Settle into an enchanting space surrounded by towering tawa trees, blazing bonfires, and a forest-formed amphitheater for a four-hour celebration of Māori history and culture. An opening ceremony kicks off with kai horotai (appetizers). Listen to stories and songs and watch dance performances, then follow your Māori guide by torchlight to your three-course hākari (feast). Select from a table of hāngī dishes (meat, fish, and vegetables). This a traditional Māori method of cooking food underground.

Day 12: Rotorua Forest Canopy Adventure, Hot Springs, Kiwis & Māori Arts

Rotorua Canopy Tours
Take a tour of the Rotorua forest canopy by treetop platforms, bridges, and ziplines 

This morning, join a three-hour canopy tour through Rotorua's brilliant native forest. You'll explore via an extensive network of trails, tree platforms, swing bridges, and ziplines, taking in sweeping views of the dense forest and surrounding hills as you feel the adrenaline rush. You'll be accompanied by a local guide who'll share their passion and knowledge of the forest as you explore in this unusual way.

This afternoon, you'll discover New Zealand's green and orange sulfur pools, bubbling mud baths, and spurting geysers. You'll see all of 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. Afterward, 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 with artists at the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute before heading home to refresh.

Day 13: Drive to Auckland via Hobbiton & Waitomo 

Step into the wonderland of Hobbiton, with its homes built into the hills

Today, you'll drive three hours north to Auckland, New Zealand's largest city. Your scenic journey passes through J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth and the Hobbiton Movie Set, where you'll explore Bilbo's house and drop into the Green Dragon Inn to sip ale, cider, or ginger beer. The next stop is the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to discover an ancient world 30 million years in the making. Glide through the starry wonderland of the Glowworm Grotto and experience a serene ambience like no other under this galaxy of tiny living lights.

Back on the road, you'll continue north through lush Waikato dairy farms and over the Bombay Hills to Auckland. With two bustling harbors and more than 500,000 sailboats and yachts, it's easy to see why Auckland is nicknamed the "City of Sails." Use the rest of your afternoon to explore this urban playground. For supreme views of the city, scale the 1,075-foot (328 m) Sky Tower with its dizzying observation deck, or make your way to Mount Eden, one of its 48 volcanic cones.

Day 14: Depart Auckland

If you have time today, take a gentle stroll around Waitemata Harbour

Your epic adventure to New Zealand has come to an end. If you have time before your flight, use your morning to take a walk through the city or soak in one of the nearby beaches. When the time is right, drive to Auckland Airport with enough time to return the rental car ahead of your departing flight. 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 two weeks in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


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Map of New Zealand Winter Discovery - 14 Days
Map of New Zealand Winter Discovery - 14 Days