Discover a paradise for adventure seekers and nature lovers on this 12-day tour through New Zealand's North and South Islands. Take a cruise across Auckland's scenic harbors, enter the magical world of Hobbiton, and stand in awe at Rotorua's geysers. Experience the remarkable stillness of Milford Sound, then head into the backcountry to find Lake Tekapo and take a zip line ride over Wanaka before heading back to civilization in the second city of Christchurch.


  • Take a dinner cruise in Auckland, the City of Sails
  • Explore Hobbiton and see Waitomo Cave's glowworms
  • Marvel at the bubbling Rotorua Geysers
  • Relax in Lake Tekapo's hot springs

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Auckland Walking Tour, Harbor Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 3 Transfer to Rotorua via Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves Rotorua
Day 4 Rotorua Geysers, Māori Heritage Tour & Dinner Rotorua
Day 5 Fly to Queenstown, Adventure & Wine Excursions Queenstown
Day 6 Milford Sound Air Tour & Fjord Cruise Queenstown
Day 7 Drive to Wānaka via Arrowtown Wānaka
Day 8 Puzzling World, Wānaka Trails & Wine Tour Wānaka
Day 9 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Braemar Station Backcountry & Dark Sky Lake Tekapo
Day 10 The Mackenzie Country & Lake Tekapo Lake Tekapo
Day 11 Drive to Christchurch, Historical Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 12 Farewell New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Auckland is known as the City of Sails for its many harbors and boats

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at Auckland Airport, you will be met by your driver, who will take you to your hotel. Take some time to relax and unwind before exploring the city.

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, Auckland's urban paradise is a playground for both city lovers and adventure-seekers. You may just want to kick back and relax back at the hotel while adjusting to the time change. Or, shake off your jet lag by heading to the Sky Tower and opt for a bungee jump! If acquiring sea legs is more your thing, a sunny stroll around Waitemata Harbour will do the trick. 

Day 2: Auckland Walking Tour, Harbor Dinner Cruise

Auckland Domain has endless gardens to explore

Auckland is set on 52 dormant volcanic cones and between two harbors—Waitemata and Manukau. On today's walking tour, you can see this extraordinary landscape as you get your bearings in this outdoor-oriented city. Follow Queen Street past Auckland University to reach Auckland Domain, a 185-acre (75 ha) park home to sculptures, ponds, and the Auckland Museum. Spend some time in the residential district of Ponsonby to browse boutiques and independent bookstores, then cross Harbour Bridge to Auckland's North Shore and hike up Mount Victoria for panoramic views. 

As the sun begins to dip into the water, get on a boat at Waitemata Harbour headed for Auckland Harbour. The boat will then sail toward Westhaven Marina. Enjoy appetizers and drinks on board to add to the relaxing environment, eat dinner with harbor views, and finish with dessert during a leisurely sail to end the evening. 

Day 3: Transfer to Rotorua via Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves

Auckland to Rotorua, Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves
Hobbiton will take you to the magical Middle-earth

Today your driver will take you from Auckland to Rotorua, traveling 139 miles (225 km) south on a fantasy journey through the fictional Middle-earth and Shire region of the "The Lord of the Rings" films. Head over the Bombay Hills and pass through the Waikato region's farmland to join a Hobbiton movie set adventure. See iconic settings such as the Hobbit Holes, Double Arch Bridge, and the Party Tree, make sure to stop at Bilbo's house and Bag End for photos, then end your visit at the Green Dragon Inn for a sip of ale, cider, or ginger beer.

Continue your drive south, passing Lake Karapiro and crossing Arapuni Dam. At the Waitomo Caves, you can marvel at natural limestone formations and glowworms as you ride a boat through the sparkling glowworm grotto. After a full day, settle into your Rotorua hotel for a restful night's sleep. 

Day 4: Rotorua Geysers, Māori Heritage Tour & Dinner

Rotorua geyser and mud pools
Rotorua's geysers and mud pools are among the largest in the Southern Hemisphere

Rotorua has some of the largest active geysers in the Southern Hemisphere, and this morning you'll witness a spectacular above-ground show as you explore geysers, bubbling mud holes, steaming vents, and sulfurous pools. Take your time as you walk around the many lakes and rivers, and make sure to look out for Pōhutu Geyster, the largest in the area.

After your geyser spotting, visit New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute to learn about Māori carving and weaving techniques, and then meet the artists keeping these traditions alive in Rotorua. As night falls, see how this art and culture come alive as a manuhiri (guest) at Te Pa Tu (Tamaki Māori Village). Sit down to a three-course feast and four-hour celebration of dancing, music, and storytelling. The themes change according to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), so ask your guide about the show. 

Day 5: Fly to Queenstown, Adventure & Wine Excursions

Adventure-seekers have many options for a full day in Queenstown

New Zealand's South Island is your next destination. A driver will pick you up from your hotel for a transfer to the airport to catch an approximately three-hour flight to Queenstown. From there, you'll have another transfer to your hotel to settle into the city that pushes the limits of adventure. On the shores of Lake Wakatipu and with views of The Remarkables mountain range, it's an area popular for skiing, skydiving, river rafting, and bungee jumping.

You can opt for one of those adrenaline-charged activities, or, for a more relaxing day, follow the Gibbston Valley wine trail or take a leisurely walk around Fiordland National Park. For a more extreme sport, book a ride on a Shotover Jet rafting the Shotover River Canyon, dive off the Nevis Bungy, free fall on a canyon swing, or travel through a canyon by zip line. 

Day 6: Milford Sound Air Tour & Fjord Cruise

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound
Milford Sound is best experienced by boat or air

One of the best ways to see Milford Sound (also known as Piopiotahi) in Fiordland National Park is by air. From your hotel, transfer to the airport in Queenstown for a 40-minute flight to the fjord, and don't forget your camera for views of the Southern Alps. At the fjord, you'll board a catamaran for a two-hour boat tour.

Gaze out the catamaran's tall windows and walk around the outdoor deck and its upper level for panoramic views. Depending on the weather, see if you can spot seals, dolphins, and penguins. Your guide will explain the wildlife that's native to the area, and you'll have a chance to ask your skipper questions. At the end of the cruise, a driver will take you to Milford Sound Airport for the flight back to Queenstown. You'll follow a different route for another remarkable look at the landscapes below before settling into your Queenstown hotel for the night.

Day 7: Drive to Wānaka via Arrowtown

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Mount Aspiring National Park and Wānaka are ready for adventure seekers

The self-drive portion of your adventure begins today as you pick up your rental car in Queenstown and head for the Otago region. This area and its Arrow River were the sites of gold fields in the 1800s, attracting miners from Europe and China for an explosive gold rush. In Arrowtown, about a 20-minute drive from Queenstown, you can step back in time to learn about the area's history. Walk along the Arrow River, past the Historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, and the Lakes District Museum. From Arrowtown, make your way to the Crown Range, heading for Wānaka, the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park.

With remote wilderness, high mountains, and river valleys, Wānaka is known for its winter sports, hiking, and extreme sports activities. The town's population more than triples in winter as snow enthusiasts flock to Treble Cone's and Cardrona's slopes. No matter what the season is, you'll find plenty to do here. If you're feeling adventurous, try skydiving, rock climbing, jet boating, or taking a flight over Wānaka in a Tiger Moth biplane.

Day 8: Puzzling World, Wānaka Trails & Wine Tour

Taste your way through the Otago wine country on a vineyard tour 

For a break from the great outdoors, head to Wānaka's Puzzling World this morning to test your mind and senses. With a multi-level outdoor maze and optical illusion rooms, you can spend a day or afternoon in another dimension. To get your feet back on the ground and feel a little closer to nature, you can hike or walk on the Wānaka trails. There are hikes at all levels around Wānaka, and the Department of Conservation information center is your best resource to get updates on track conditions, weather, and trail options.

After a morning of exploring, learn about the award-winning Central Otago region's vineyards on a small group wine tour. Visit four vineyards, pairing local cheese and other specialties with your tastings. Following an afternoon of wineries, travel to Old Cromwell Town, a gold rush-era town restored with boutiques, restaurants, and cafés. Head back to your Wānaka hotel whenever you're ready. 

Day 9: Drive to Lake Tekapo, Braemar Station Backcountry & Dark Sky

Mount Cook and Mount Tasman are some of the most scenic areas on the South Island

In the morning, hit the road for a two-hour drive on winding alpine roads to reach Lake Tekapo at the base of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. You'll be driving through the Mackenzie Basin sheep farming country, which extends approximately 62 miles (100 km) north to south and 25 miles (40 km) east to west. One of the best ways to experience it is in a 4WD vehicle, so leave your car and join a driver who will take you to Braemar Station, a working farming outpost for sheep, beef, cattle, and deer. Throughout the day, you'll have views of Aoraki / Mount Cook, Mount Tasman, Lake Pukaki, and the Ben Ohau mountain range. 

After the 4WD tour, get back in your rental car to reach Mount John Observatory to learn about the southern sky using telescopes and even just your eyes. Your guide will point out the Milky Way, Southern Cross, Alpha-Centauri, and Sirius—one of the brightest visible stars. Looking at distant galaxies will spark your imagination before you settle into your Lake Tekapo hotel for the night.

Day 10: The Mackenzie Country & Lake Tekapo

Mackenzie Country is a place to explore by car or even on horseback

Mackenzie Country's crystalline Lake Tekapo and chiseled mountains are your scenic backdrop today. You can ditch your rental car and take a ride on horseback and then go swimming in Tekapo Springs' thermal pools. With views of Mount John and Lake Tekapo, swimming in the pools is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. The pools range from 96°F (36°C) to 104°F (40°C), and massage jets and fountains take relaxation to the next level. Rest your muscles from your days on the road, and then return to your hotel for the evening.

Day 11: Drive to Christchurch, Historical Tram Dinner

Christchurch city center
Christchurch's greenbelt gives it the nickname the Garden City

Traveling to Christchurch, or "The Garden City," is a return to the urban lifestyle. In the morning, say goodbye to the rural landscapes of Mackenzie Country after passing through Burkes Pass and continue to travel northeast for about 3.5 hours and 143 miles (230 km). During the drive, you don't want to miss the last moments of farms and open space near Fairlie and Geraldine. Once you cross the Rangitata River, you'll see the vast Canterbury Plains. Then take a brief detour in Ashburton, a center of sheep and wheat farming, crossing the Rakaia River to reach Christchurch. 

Christchurch is New Zealand's second-largest city, and it has plenty of neighborhoods to explore. Take a walk in one of the city's many gardens and along its wide, tree-lined avenues. Jump on a double-decker bus to see major sites such as Canterbury Museum, Hagley Park North, the cardboard Transitional Cathedral, and Botanical Gardens. By night, board a colonial-style tram as your dining room, enjoying a multicourse dinner while passing New Regent Street, the Avon River / Ōtākaro, High Street, and Victoria Square

Day 12: Depart New Zealand

Say goodbye to New Zealand and its natural beauty

Enjoy your last morning in Christchurch before you drop off your rental car to end your New Zealand adventure. Then catch your flight home or on to your next destination. 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, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of New Zealand's North & South Islands: Auckland to Queenstown - 12 Days
Map of New Zealand's North & South Islands: Auckland to Queenstown - 12 Days