Get to know New Zealand's cities, towns, and stunning landscapes on this 13-day road trip. Begin in the North Island, where you'll explore Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula, and Hobbiton, the film set of "The Lord of the Rings." Continue to Taupo for bungee jumping and hiking, then visit Rotorua to see Waiotapu's geothermal wonders. Next, move on to Christchurch and the South Island, where you'll hike, dine, cruise, and fly your way around Aoraki / Mount Cook, Queenstown, and the Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier.


  • Enjoy a relaxing dinner cruise in Auckland
  • Get your adrenaline pumping with a "water touch" bungee jump in Taupo
  • Stargaze from the top of Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain
  • See Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier by helicopter

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Harbor Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Coromandel, Visit Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre Coromandel
Day 3 Cathedral Cove Cruise, Hiking Around the Coromandel Peninsula Coromandel
Day 4 Drive to Taupō, Visit Hobbiton, Bungee Jumping & Sunset Guided Walk Taupō 
Day 5 Lake Taupō Cruise, Visit Orakei Korako Geothermal Park & Cave Taupō 
Day 6 Drive to Rotorua, Explore Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland Rotorua
Day 7 Transfer to Christchurch via Waitomo & Auckland Christchurch
Day 8 Drive to Mount Cook Village, Enjoy Hiking & Stargazing on Aoraki / Mount Cook Mount Cook 
Day 9 Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown 
Day 10 Milford Sound Sightseeing Flight & Nature Cruise Queenstown 
Day 11 Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier via Wānaka, Twin Glacier Helicopter Flight Franz Josef
Day 12 Scenic Drive & Train Ride to Christchurch, Optional Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 13 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Enjoy a Harbor Dinner Cruise


Your self-drive adventure on New Zealand's North Island begins today. After arriving at the airport, pick up your vehicle and head into central Auckland. This urban paradise, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, is a playground for city lovers and adventure-seekers. Relax at your hotel while adjusting to the time change, or shake off jet lag by heading to the Sky Tower to go bungee jumping. To appreciate more of the North Island city's scenery, take a stroll around Waitematā Harbour, a starting point for sailing, cruising, and whale watching excursions. 

Spend the evening enjoying a dining experience on the water. Savor your dinner as you sail around the stunning harbor, taking in the view of the sunset and watching the city come alive with twinkling lights. You'll be treated to a drink and canapés as you set off toward Westhaven Marina, then finish with a tasty dessert course.

Day 2: Drive to Coromandel, Visit Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre

New Zealand wrybill
New Zealand wrybill

Leave Auckland today to travel through the Waikato countryside, then cross the Hauraki Plains. Soon you'll pass by the Firth of Thames, a sparkling blue bay known for its wildlife—especially the shorebirds that congregate near the coastal village of Miranda. Here, you can stop to visit the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre. Nearly half the native wrybill bird population is found at Pukorokoro Miranda, and along the coastline, numbers of shorebirds often exceed 10,000—making this a must-see spot for any birder.

Later, drive onward until you arrive at the historic gold town of Thames. Then, cross the southern Coromandel Range and continue onto the Coromandel Peninsula, littered with white sandy beaches. End your journey in the coastal town of Coromandel. This settlement experienced its most tremendous success and growth during the gold rush of the 1850s and still features many historic buildings from this time. It's also home to a heritage museum and the nearby Driving Creek Railway, where you can take a scenic train ride through the surrounding kauri forest. 

Day 3: Cathedral Cove Cruise & Hiking Around the Coromandel Peninsula

Aerial view of the Coromandel Peninsula
Aerial view of the Coromandel Peninsula

Join a cruise for a morning of adventure as you explore the peninsula's volcanic coastline. Your boat trip will take you to Cathedral Cove and its nearby islands, beaches, and sea caves. Begin your journey at Whitianga Wharf. From there, travel past Shakespeare Cliff and the golden sands of Cooks Beach. You'll have a chance to see the many species of fish in the reserve up-close on a snorkeling excursion. If you'd prefer to stay dry, view the vibrant underwater panorama on an onboard TV instead. 

When the cruise ends, spend the afternoon enjoying some hiking. One of the must-visit treks on the peninsula is the Cathedral Cove Walk, which is only accessible by foot or boat. This 1.5-hour hike starts in Hahei and continues for 1.5 miles (2.5 km), taking you past beautiful coastal scenery. You could also try the short walk to Shakespeare Cliff Lookout, which offers a stunning panorama of Mercury Bay. Or hike to the Kauri Block Track just outside Coromandel, a trek that takes about 45 minutes each way. You'll be treated to views of the coast and the inland Coromandel Range.
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Day 4: Drive to Taupō, Visit Hobbiton, Bungee Jumping & Sunset Guided Walk

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupō

Set off from Coromandel and drive to Hobbiton, where you can explore the famous "Lord of the Rings" movie set. Afterward, continue your journey to Taupō. This town sits on the shores of a lake of the same name, which is located in a volcanic caldera and is an excellent place to enjoy outdoor adventure sports. While here, visit L'Arté Cafe and Gallery, known for its garden filled with sculptures and mosaics, or head to the Craters of the Moon, where you can wander along boardwalks and see hot water geysers, mud pools, and colorful sulfurous lakes. 

After settling into your accommodation, begin your time in Taupō with a thrilling bungee jump on the banks of the Waikato River. Later, cool down from the adrenaline rush with a relaxing guided walk through Tongariro National Park. As you walk, your guide will regale you with their knowledge of the local area, including its geography, geology, and cultural history. Hike for around 60-80 minutes, then choose a spot to enjoy a glass of New Zealand bubbly as you take in the sunset. 

Day 5: Lake Taupō Cruise, Visit Orakei Korako Geothermal Park & Cave

Maori rock carvings at Lake Taupo
The Māori rock carvings at Lake Taupō

Lake Taupō is home to some of New Zealand's most spectacular Māori rock carvings. This morning, you'll have the chance to experience them up close with a 90-minute tour of the lake and its scenic bays. The carvings were created by Matahi Brightwell, a traditional Māori carver, and were completed in 1980. The largest one depicts Ngātoro-i-rangi, a celebrated Māori hero and tohunga (spiritual leader).

Pay a visit to Orakei Korako Geothermal Park & Cave in the afternoon. This geothermal area is home to a spectacular volcanic world of hot springs, geysers, bubbling mud pools, and sprawling silica terraces. It's also home to more active geysers than any other geothermal park in New Zealand—up to 23 at any given time, depending on changes in the terrain. After wandering through the Hidden Valley, visit the thermal Ruatapu Cave, which extends more than 118 feet (36 m) downward into volcanic tuff (porous rock made from volcanic ash). At the bottom of the cave, you'll find the Waiwhakaata (Pool of Mirrors) hot pool. 

Day 6: Drive to Rotorua, Explore Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

Today's drive takes you from Taupō to the city of Rotorua, famous for its Māori culture and bubbling mud pools. On the way there, you'll pass several attractions, including Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity, Waiotapu (Wai-O-Tapu) Thermal Wonderland is a spectacular showcase of New Zealand's natural wonders. Take time to explore this out-of-this-world landscape, which has been shaped by what lies below its surface—one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand, extending over 7 square miles (18 sq km).

Experience diverse and wild volcanic features as you walk at your own pace along well-defined tracks. This area is home to the largest mud pool in the country and was originally the site of a large mud volcano, which was ultimately destroyed through erosion in the 1920s. Once you've finished your visit, head to Rotorua, where you can visit the beautiful Government Gardens and pop by the Blue Baths and Rotorua Museum to learn about the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. On a scenic plane tour, you can even get a closer look at this imposing volcano found within the Ōkataina Caldera.

Day 7: Transfer to Christchurch via Waitomo & Auckland

Christchurch Botanical Gardens
A fountain at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

On the way back to Auckland, pass through the rolling green farmland of the Waikato District and King Country. Follow the Waikato River to the village of Tīrau, known for its antique shopping and corrugated iron sculptures. Afterward, continue to the quaint town of Cambridge, named "New Zealand's Most Beautiful Large Town." Then, turn south and head toward the limestone region of Waitomo. Along the way, stop by the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park to see some of New Zealand's native birds.

Once you reach Auckland, drop your rental car off at the airport and board your flight to Christchurch, nicknamed the "Garden City." As New Zealand's second-largest city, Christchurch is also a bustling urban center with plenty of neighborhoods to explore. After you arrive, take a walk in one of the city's many gardens, or wander along its wide, tree-lined avenues. If time allows, jump on a double-decker bus to easily see the city's major sites, such as the Canterbury Museum, Hagley Park North, and the cardboard Transitional Cathedral. You could also ride a tram across town to the botanical gardens.

Day 8: Drive to Mount Cook Village, Enjoy Hiking & Stargazing on Aoraki / Mount Cook

Mount Cook
Aoraki / Mount Cook

The following day, pick up your rental car and hit the road again as you drive to Mount Cook Village. This village is located in stunning Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, known for its glaciers and alpine terrain. First, head through the pastoral Canterbury Plains, stopping off in the towns of Geraldine and Fairlie as you make your way to Burkes Pass and the lakeside town of Tekapo. Then, skirt the edge of Lake Pukaki to reach Mount Cook Village. There aren't any grocery stores in this remote spot, so be sure to stock up on food and supplies before you arrive.

Spend the rest of the day enjoying a scenic hike. You'll find many trail options suitable for all ages and abilities, with treks ranging from 10 minutes to four hours long. In the evening, head to an outdoor viewing platform for some stargazing. Weather permitting, guides will show you the southern night sky with state-of-the-art astronomy telescopes and binoculars. There will also be an indoor alternative in New Zealand's first full-dome digital planetarium, with high-definition video images on a suspended dome. 

Day 9: Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner

Lindis Pass
Lindis Pass

It's time to head south from Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park toward Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. Pass through the towns of Twizel and Ōmarama, then ascend the Lindis Pass into the Otago region. The route will take you through Cromwell, a town at the top of the Kawarau Gorge, as well as the Gibbson Valley wine-growing region. When you reach the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, consider a bungee jumping experience or simply watch other people take the leap. The Remarkables mountain range heralds your approach to Queenstown.

Upon your arrival, step aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship for a ride on Lake Wakatipu to the lakeside garden and homestead Walter Peak High Country Farm, where you'll enjoy a barbecue dinner of New Zealand's signature dishes. Sit down to a feast with your local guide, with a menu of rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads. Finish with dessert, New Zealand cheeses, and demonstrations about high country life on the farm. After the meal, join a sing-along with the ship's pianist and breathe in the fresh night air as you watch the lights of Queenstown come into focus.

Day 10: Milford Sound Sightseeing Flight & Nature Cruise

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound
Stirling Falls, Milford Sound

One of the best ways to see Milford Sound / Piopiotahi in Fiordland National Park is by air. To start today's adventure, take a 40-minute flight from Queenstown to the fjord for a view of the Southern Alps. At the fjord, get onboard a catamaran for a tour on the water.

Gaze out the catamaran's tall windows and wander around the outdoor deck for panoramic views during your two-hour tour. Depending on the weather, see if you can spot seals, dolphins, and penguins. Your nature guide will tell you which types of wildlife to look out for, and you'll have the chance to ask your skipper questions. At the end of the cruise at Milford wharf, a driver will take you to Milford Sound Airport to return to Queenstown, following a different return route to see the scenery from a new perspective. 

Day 11: Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier via Wānaka, Twin Glacier Helicopter Flight

Blue Pools
Blue Pools

Leave Queenstown and cross the Crown Range, following the highest sealed road in New Zealand to arrive in the Alpine town of Wānaka—the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. Wānaka's remote wilderness, high mountains, and beautiful river valleys are popular with hikers, making this the perfect place to stop for a trek on your way to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. If you have extra time, try sky diving, rock climbing, jet boating, or a scenic flight in a Tiger Moth biplane.

After leaving Wānaka, stop at Blue Pools for a one-hour round-trip walk through a native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Continue through the remote seaside settlement of Haast, then head up the wild West Coast—a 373-mile (600-km) stretch of bush and native rainforest. You'll see Fox Glacier first before arriving at your final destination: Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier, a majestic 7.5-mile (12 km) long ice structure in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. This afternoon, take a scenic flight over both these glaciers, landing at the head of one to see it up close. 

Day 12: Scenic Drive & Train Ride to Christchurch, Optional Historic Tram Dinner

TranzAlpine train
View from the TranzAlpine train

Make your way from Franz Josef / Waiau to Christchurch on a scenic drive and train ride. Heading north on State Highway 6, you'll first pass through several interesting small West Coast towns. Then, turn onto State Highway 73, which originally was a path used by Māori. The modern road was developed during the West Coast's gold rush period, and a scenic train known as the TranzAlpine now runs along this route. As you drive along a tall viaduct through the Otira Gorge, you may spot some kea birds, the world's only alpine parrot (but watch out—these intelligent, playful birds can cause trouble!).

Stop at the Arthur's Pass National Park Visitor Centre to learn more about the area's geography and history and perhaps enjoy a short hike. Then, head back along Highway 73 to the coastal town of Greymouth, where you'll drop off your rental car and board the TranzAlpine. Get a full view of this area's gorges and valleys on this relaxing train ride as a private driver transports your luggage from Greymouth. If you'd like, cap off your day with a special dinner on one of Christchurch's historic trams, taking in the sights of the city center as you savor a multicourse meal. 

Day 13: Depart Christchurch

Christchurch historic buildings
Christchurch historic buildings

Pack your things and prepare to say goodbye to beautiful New Zealand. If you have some extra time, enjoy one last wander around Christchurch's gardens, heritage buildings, and historic sites. Later, take a shuttle to Christchurch Airport for your flight home. Have a safe and comfortable journey!

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Map of New Zealand North & South Islands Road Trip: Auckland to Queenstown - 13 Days
Map of New Zealand North & South Islands Road Trip: Auckland to Queenstown - 13 Days