Perfect for discerning travelers who like to blaze their own trail, this two-week road trip races across New Zealand's North and South Islands at a brisk pace. Break up epic coastal and mountain drives with outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and stops at luxury lodges and secluded eco-retreats. Highlights include cruising around the Bay of Islands, picnicking on the slopes of Mount Ffyfe, sipping your way around the wineries of Marlborough, and soaring over the Southern Alps by helicopter.


  • Visit the Hobbiton Movie Set and drink an ale at the Green Dragon Inn
  • Feast on Maori song, drama, tradition, and food in a Rotorua forest
  • Swim with dusky dolphins off the coast of Kaikoura
  • Cruise across and fly over the UNESCO-listed Milford Sound / Piopiotahi
  • Soak in hot pools overlooking the Shotover River in Queenstown

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Evening Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Full-Day Bay of Islands Tour Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 4 Drive to Taupō, Māori Rock Carvings Cruise Taupō
Day 5 Drive to Wellington, Middle-earth Film Locations Tour Wellington
Day 6 Ferry to South Island, Drive to Blenheim Blenheim
Day 7 Marlborough Discovery Sampler Wine Tour & Lunch Blenheim
Day 8 Drive to Kaikōura, Heli-Picnic on Mount Fyffe, Swim With Dolphins Kaikōura
Day 9 Drive to Punakaiki via Hanmer Springs Hot Pools Punakaiki
Day 10 Drive to Franz Josef Glacier via Hokitika & Scenic Helicopter Tour Franz Josef Glacier
Day 11 Māori Jade Carving Workshop, Drive to Wānaka, Visit Mou Wahu Island Wānaka
Day 12 Drive to Queenstown, Onsen Hot Pools Queenstown
Day 13 Fly-Cruise-Fly to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Cruise, Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 14 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Evening Dinner Cruise

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

Kia ora! Welcome to New Zealand's North Island! Begin your adventure in Auckland, nicknamed the "City of Sails" for its two busy harbors and more than 500,000 sailboats and yachts. Upon arrival, a private driver will be waiting to transfer you to the 5-star Park Hyatt Auckland. Check into your luxurious suite, where you'll enjoy waterfront views across Waitematā Harbour. The hotel's design pays tribute to the Māori wharenui (house), blending art and community ties, your first taste of the local culture.

Tonight's memorable dining experience takes place on those waters as you cruise around Waitematā Harbour. Watch the city twinkle after the sun dips below the horizon. You'll be treated to a drink and canapés as you set off toward Westhaven Marina, followed by the main course. Finish the evening with a tasty dessert as you sail back to central Auckland's Viaduct Harbour.

Day 2: Full-Day Bay of Islands Tour

Full Day Bay of Islands
Hopefully the tide will allow you to see the famous Hole in the Rock on Motukokako Island 
Wave goodbye to the city with a privately guided day trip to the Bay of Islands, a paradise of turquoise waters and 144 islands scattered along the North Island's northeastern tip. It starts with a three-hour scenic drive, where you can sit back and enjoy views of the subtropical landscapes and dramatic coastline. Upon arrival at the region's main hub of Paihia, venture down to the wharf and step aboard a special vessel for a private four-hour cruise around the islands, searching for dolphins and the other diverse marine life that frequent these waters.
You'll stop at Urupukapuka Island to relax on the beach or hike to the top of the island for 360-degree views, then visit the famous Hole in the Rock on Motukokako Island (if the tide permits) as the boat sails to the end of the Cape Brett Peninsula. After a day on the water, join your guide for the return drive to Auckland, stopping en route to stretch your legs with a short hike to the beautiful Whangarei Waterfalls.

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton, Māori Feast & Performance

 Luxury awaits at your retreat on Lake Tarawera (photo courtesy of Solitaire Lodge)

Pick up your rental car this morning and kick off your epic New Zealand road trip with a three-hour drive south to Rotorua. This area is one of the world's most active volcanic regions, and you'll find bubbling mud pools, steaming geysers, and signs pointing to natural hot springs. Your scenic journey passes through J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth, featured in "The Lord of the Rings" films. Set in the heart of the Waikato region's farmland, you'll find The Shire and the Hobbiton Movie Set, where you can stop for a private tour to explore Bilbo's house and drop into the Green Dragon Inn to sip ale, cider, or ginger beer.

Continue to Rotorua and check into the luxurious Solitaire Lodge, which features panoramic views over Lake Tarawera. Here, the lodge integrates the great outdoors, allowing you to savor the serene setting from your peaceful space. Drop your bags, explore the natural surroundings, or book a spa treatment ahead of this evening's special event.

Tonight, New Zealand's most awarded cultural attraction invites you to feast on song, drama, tradition, and seasonal kai (cuisine) within a forest-formed amphitheater. Over four hours, you'll learn about Māori history, traditions, and culture as you savor a delicious al fresco meal featuring seasonal kai horotai (delicacies) such as roasted tuna, creamy paua (abalone) on rewena (bread) crostini, and foraged greens.

Day 4: Drive to Taupō, Māori Rock Carvings Cruise

New Zealand's most famous luxury lodge sits on the banks Waikato River (photo courtesy of Huka Lodge)
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Get back on the road today and make the hour-long drive to Taupō, passing through the thermal region of Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Taupō sits at the edge of Lake Taupō, New Zealand's largest lake, and a volcanic caldera formed by a huge eruption 25,600 years ago. Upon arrival, you'll check into the revered Huka Lodge. From humble beginnings as a fisherman's camp almost a century ago to becoming one of the country's oldest and most celebrated luxury stays, this is an impressive lodge packed with history.

Taupō is the North Island's capital of outdoor activities—here, you can go bungee jumping, jet boating, take helicopter flights, or skydive. Drop your bags, then board a yacht for a scenic sail across Lake Taupō. Relax in luxury bean bags as you float by 33-foot-high (10 m) Māori rock art, only accessible by boat. You're guaranteed amazing photo opportunities as you glide across the smooth lake and soak up the warming sun or go for a swim before light refreshments at the rock carvings. 

Day 5: Drive to Wellington, Middle-earth Film Locations Tour

Iconic red trams traverse the hilly New Zealand capital

Set off early to conquer the 4.5-hour drive to Wellington, New Zealand's capital. You'll skirt Tongariro National Park, one of New Zealand's three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Look for the peaks of Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro, and Mount Ngauruhoe—three active volcanoes. Farther south, pause at the military town of Waiouru, take a picture with the gumboot statue in Taihape, and stop to take in the view at Mangaweka Gorge lookout. Pass the coastal seaside towns of Paraparaumu, Paekakariki, and Plimmerton before arriving in the capital.

Wellington is set on a deep natural harbor surrounded by bush-clad hills. The city center is quite compact, so exploring on foot is relatively easy. Get checked into the luxurious Bolton Hotel, a family-owned property named after one of the first immigrant ships that arrived in the 1800s. Set just footsteps away from Parliament, you're located in the heart of the city, just a short stroll from the best shops, cafés, restaurants, and Wellington's lively waterfront. Drop your bags and refresh ahead of this afternoon's tour, designed especially for "The Lord of the Rings" fans.

Follow the Hobbits' footsteps with this afternoon's private journey through Middle-earth. Your local guide and fellow fan will take you to film locations, such as Rivendell, the River Anduin, and the Gardens of Isengard. End at the Mount Victoria lookout and Buckland Forest, where you can find the "shortcut to the mushrooms." Hide where the Hobbits hid from the Black Riders before taking a run to Buckleberry Ferry.

Day 6: Ferry to South Island, Drive to Blenheim

Wellington to Picton ferry
Cross from Wellington to Picton aboard a huge ferry, passing spectacular scenery

You'll cross from New Zealand's North Island to the South Island aboard a car ferry this morning. After a few hours, you'll arrive in the picturesque seaside town of Picton. From here, drive 25 minutes to Blenheim, the heart of New Zealand's world-famous Marlborough wine region. This area is renowned for its excellent sauvignon blancs, and the unique climate and breathtaking scenery make it a must-visit destination for wine lovers. In the 1990s, there were just 18 vineyards, but now you'll find more than 160.

Most of the wineries are located around Renwick, including the Marlborough Boutique Hotel, an elegant estate and winery set on 16 acres (6.4 ha) of secluded gardens and vines. The peaceful destination is the ultimate retreat in the heart of New Zealand’s gourmet province, so drop your bags and enjoy the property, or venture to nearby vineyards, such as Montana Brancott Estate, for wine and beautiful views. 

Beyond wine, you could visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, where human stories from the World Wars come to life with rare memorabilia. Or head to Pelorus Bridge, where locals swim and kayak in the river of the same name. For something a little more adventurous, choose the track that leads to a waterfall and rock pool, or walk up along a ridge to a peak rising 1,368 feet (417 m).

Day 7: Marlborough Discovery Sampler Wine Tour & Lunch

Discover the best of the Marlborough region with wine tastings and an exquisite lunch

Marlborough is an unmissable destination for wine lovers, and today, you'll sample some of the region's world-renowned sauvignon blancs on a private tour. Visit a handful of wineries, starting at an award-winning cellar door. Relax and soak up the beautiful landscape, surrounded by the Richmond Ranges, as you taste a glass or full flight of wines in one of the sunniest places in New Zealand. Enjoy a light lunch pairing, either fresh oysters, seafood, and salads in summer or soul-warming snacks and shared platters in winter.

In the afternoon, you'll pull up at three more cellar doors to experience more award-winning wines. Good wine starts in the vineyard, and your wine guide will explain how vines are planted, pruned, managed, and harvested in Marlborough. After a big day of wine tasting, you'll return to the estate for another relaxing evening amid the vines.

Day 8: Drive to Kaikōura, Heli-Picnic on Mount Fyffe, Swim With Dolphins

The landscape of the Kaikōura Coast will take your breath away

Cross Marlborough's "dry hills" this morning as you head toward the spectacular Kaikōura Coast, about 90 minutes south. The road hugs the shore for 30 miles (50 km) as you cruise between the South Pacific and the towering Kaikōura Ranges. 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. 

In Kaikōura, the fun starts with a private heli-picnic experience. You'll be whisked away to a favorite local spot on Mount Fyffe, where you'll unpack a locally prepared, organic picnic hamper and a bottle of local Marlborough wine. Devour the spread while soaking up views of surrounding mountain ranges, the Kaikōura Peninsula, and the Pacific Ocean.

After, return to base and set sail. Kaikōura is one of the few places in the world where dolphins can be encountered daily. Join a catamaran trip off the coast where you can go snorkeling and have the chance to interact with the friendly dusky dolphins in a completely natural environment. Try singing to the dolphins and watch as they come closer to investigate! Finally, check into your luxurious PurePod, a luxe glass cabin nestled inland from the coast that blends creature comforts like wood floors, a fabulous shower, and high-quality linens with the secluded feel of a camping experience.

Day 9: Drive to Punakaiki via Hanmer Springs Hot Pools

End your day at a beachfront retreat in Punakaiki (photo courtesy of Scenic Hotel Punakaiki)

If you have time before you depart this morning, consider exploring the peninsula walkway for views of the ocean and the Seaward Kaikōura Range. After, jump behind the wheel and start with a two-hour drive to Hamner Springs along Route 70. This less-traveled road offers a peaceful drive with rolling pastoral lands, small forests, rugged mountain scenery, and a few thrilling tight bends and dips. En route, you could pause near Mount Lyford for a walk or photo stop.

Famous for its natural hot pools, Hanmer Springs is the perfect spot to break up your drive with a dip in the rejuvenating waters. Change into your swimwear and check in for a soothing soak in your own private pool, listening the peaceful sounds of nature. When you're ready to get back on the road, you'll cross the South Island's rugged interior on a 3.5-hour drive to Punakaiki, set on the dramatic and wild West Coast. You'll cross the Lewis Pass, and en route, you might stop at Maruia Falls, admire ancient beech forests, stretch your legs at Springs Junction, and see gold-mining history at Reefton.

When you arrive at your destination, check into the Scenic Hotel Punakaiki. This stunning 4-star retreat is located right on the beach with uninterrupted ocean views. Watch the sunset over the Tasman Sea as the chef prepares a special meal using the best New Zealand ingredients, then curl up by the fire with a nightcap.

Day 10: Drive to Franz Josef Glacier via Hokitika & Scenic Helicopter Tour

Soar over the Southern Alps and ancient glaciers on a private helicopter tour

You'll continue your journey south this morning, but make sure you squeeze in a visit to Punakaiki's Pancake Rocks before departure. The famous rocks are best at high tide when incoming ocean waves send seawater up the blow holes, creating spectacular plumes. When it's time to hit the road, follow State Highway 6, pausing partway in Shantytown, a replica gold rush town with lots of great displays from yesteryear, then continue to the wild surf coast of Hokitika, about 70 minutes south. 

Here, you'll board a helicopter for a private tour over the Southern Alps, soaking up dramatic landscapes as you admire six glaciers in the Whitcombe Valley. You'll fly to remote locations, home to pounamu (Māori greenstone) and gold, spot historic deer stalker huts, and glimpse wildlife like the Himalayan tahr. Your experienced pilot will share stories about the land as you admire crystal-clear waters formed by the glaciers' snowmelt. The 45-minute tour ends with a snow landing, where you'll find 360-degree views of the mountain peaks.

After, continue south for two hours to Franz Josef Glacier. En route, you can pause at the old gold-mining town of Ross to see original buildings or Whataroa, home to some of the world's rarest birds—the New Zealand white heron and the kotuku. Once in the glacier region, enter the small village of Franz Josef / Waiau and check into Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier. Situated on the edge of Westland Tai Poutini National Park, this 4-star hotel offers inviting modern suites, and the on-site restaurant serves hearty West Coast fare.

Day 11: Māori Jade Carving Workshop, Drive to Wānaka, Visit Mou Wahu Island

 Stay on the doorstep of Mount Aspiring Park in a luxury homestead (photo courtesy of Mahu Whenau)

Immerse yourself in Māori culture and artistry this morning with a private family-run jade workshop. Learn about the mythology and techniques of traditional carving, and create a special piece of jewelry out of locally sourced pounamu (jade or greenstone) under the guidance of Mike, a Tainui/Ngati Maniapoto tribe descendant. After the two-hour workshop, you'll walk away with a personal keepsake made from New Zealand's most prized stone.

Afterward, say your goodbyes and get back on the road once more with a four-hour drive from Franz Josef / Waiau to the township of Wānaka. Watch the dramatic mountain scenery fold away as you pass by Fox Glacier toward the Haast Pass. En route, stop at the Blue Pools outside Makarora for a quick walk through the pristine native beech forest. 

Wānaka sits on a vast lake of the same name and is known as the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. This walker's paradise offers remote wilderness, high mountains, and beautiful river valleys. Check into the beautiful Mahu Whenua, a luxury homestead nestled within New Zealand's largest private conservation project. If you can tear yourself away from the comforts of your boutique suite, spend this afternoon on a gentle lake cruise to the remote Mou Waho Island nature reserve, a predator-free zone that's home to the rare flightless buff weka bird. 

Day 12: Drive to Queenstown, Onsen Hot Pools

Head just outside of Queenstown to your lakeside retreat (photo courtesy of Rosewood Matakauri)

Your final day of driving takes you over New Zealand's highest sealed road—Crown Range Road—before dropping into Queenstown. It's only a one-hour journey, so you might like to take a detour east to Gibbston, a community by the Kawarau Gorge known for its fantastic wineries. Vineyards line both sides of the road, and you can pull up at notable wineries, such as Peregrine, Chard Farm, Gibbston Valley, or Two Paddocks, to taste Gibbston's specialty—pinot noir.

When you reach Queenstown, parked on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, you'll find a small but bustling town surrounded by soaring vistas of the Remarkables mountain range. As the self-proclaimed "adventure capital of the world," this is the place to come for adrenaline-inducing thrills, such as paragliding and bungee jumping. Head just out of town to check into the secluded Rosewood Matakauri, a sumptuous lodge set on the shores of the lake with mountain panoramas.

Leave your bags in your plush suite and head to Onsen Hot Pools, where you'll slip into a cedar-lined hot tub under the stars. Based on the Japanese bathing tradition, this onsen gives the traditional experience a unique Kiwi twist. Here, the steaming pools are set on a cliffside overlooking the Shotover River and surrounding mountains. Enjoy an hour-long soak accompanied by a drink and snack as you take in the alpine scenery. 

Day 13: Fly-Cruise-Fly to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Cruise, Farm Tour & Dinner

The world-famous Milford Sound
Explore the world-famous Milford Sound / Piopiotahi with a half-day tour

Celebrate the penultimate day of your trip in style with a private excursion to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi. This Fly-Cruise-Fly tour from Queenstown takes you to the heart of the Fiordland region and back in half a day. Your scenic flight from Queenstown will soar over the rugged backcountry of Central Otago, high altitude lakes, lush rainforest, rugged snowcapped mountains, and glacially carved valleys of Milford Sound / Piopiotahi and Fiordland National Park.

Once at the sound, board an intimate and immersive two-hour cruise and simply relax while taking in Mitre Peak, cascading waterfalls, towering cliffs, and native animals. Passengers often spot seals basking in the sun, dolphins leaping, and sometimes the rare Fiordland crested penguins. After soaking up nature from the water, you'll fly back to town.

This evening, take a leisurely cruise across the beautiful Lake Wakatipu. 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 mountain scenery at the homestead and watch as chefs prepare a seasonal bounty of meats, vegetables, and salads. Enjoy desserts and New Zealand cheese before the return trip, complete with a singalong from the ship's pianist.

Day 14: Depart Queenstown

 Savor your final morning in Queenstown (photo courtesy of Rosewood Matakauri)
Your grand two-week adventure through New Zealand comes to a close today. After a final leisurely morning at your lodge, drive to the airport, drop off your rental car, and catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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Map of North to South New Zealand Luxury Road Trip: Auckland to Queenstown  - 14 Days
Map of North to South New Zealand Luxury Road Trip: Auckland to Queenstown - 14 Days