Explore New Zealand's diverse landscapes on this 20-day tour. Start on the North Island, where the lush vineyards of Waiheke and the geothermal wonders of Rotorua await. Wander Hawke's Bay's beaches and spot kiwi birds at Zealandia before sailing to the South Island. Here, you'll discover the mighty Tasman and Franz Josef glaciers by helicopter and boat, then cruise UNESCO-listed Milford Sound / Piopiotahi. End with a ride on the TranzAlpine, one of the world's most spectacular railway journeys.


  • Tour the lush Waiheke and Marlborough Winelands
  • Discover geothermal landscapes and Maori culture in Rotorua
  • Explore Tasman Glacier on a thrilling heli-hike and boat trip
  • Cruise the UNESCO-listed Milford Sound / Piopiotahi
  • Spot Kiwi birds at Zealandia and ride the iconic TranzAlpine Railway

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore Auckland
Day 2 Waiheke Island Wine Tour Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua, Waitomo Caves, Māori Culture Experience & Feast Rotorua
Day 4 Explore Rotorua & Visit Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland Rotorua
Day 5 Drive to Napier, Art Deco Evening Walking Tour Napier
Day 6 Explore Napier & Hawke's Bay Napier
Day 7 Drive to Wellington, Visit Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 8 Explore Wellington Wellington
Day 9 Ferry to Picton, Drive to Blenheim Blenheim
Day 10 Explore Blenheim & Half-Day Wine Tour Blenheim
Day 11 Drive to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 12 Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Stargazing Tour Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 13 Tasman Glacier Heli-hike & Explore Aoraki / Mount Cook Village Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 14 Drive to Queenstown, Country Farm Dinner Queenstown
Day 15 Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Full-Day Adventure Queenstown
Day 16 Explore Queenstown & Ride the Skyline Gondola Queenstown
Day 17 Drive to Franz Josef Glacier via Wānaka Franz Josef Glacier
Day 18 Explore Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef Glacier
Day 19 Transfer to Christchurch via Greymouth Christchurch
Day 20 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Explore 

Arrive in Auckland and explore New Zealand's largest city

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at Auckland Airport, meet your driver and transfer to your hotel. Take some time to relax before heading out to explore New Zealand's largest city, which sits on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With two bustling harbors, it's not hard to see why Auckland is nicknamed the "City of Sails."

For supreme views of Auckland, scale the 1,075-foot-tall (328 m) Sky Tower with its dizzying observation deck, or make your way to Mount Eden's summit, one of the city's 48 volcanic cones. Stroll around the flower-filled Wintergardens and learn about the city's Polynesian and European roots at the Auckland Museum. For dinner, delve into Auckland's world-class dining scene.

Day 2: Waiheke Island Wine Tour

Learn about Waiheke Island's unique microclimate, perfect for wine growing

This morning, take a ferry ride over to Waiheke Island. Set on the Hauraki Gulf, the island is a haven of walking trails and white-sand beaches. Waiheke is also known for its unique microclimate and fertile soils, which have resulted in a world-class wine scene with over 30 vineyards.

You'll join a Waiheke wine tour and visit three of New Zealand's most prestigious wineries for tastings. Enjoy a scenic drive with your local guide between stops, who'll tell you about the island's colorful history, geography, people, and culture. The trip ends with a late lunch at one of the island's top restaurants, accompanied by fine wines.

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua, Waitomo Caves, Māori Culture Experience & Feast

Head deep underground to discover the eerie glowworm caves of Waitomo

Pick up your rental car this morning and head south for close to three hours toward the geothermal heartland of Rotorua. The journey winds through Waikato's rolling farmland and dairy pastures to Waitomo, famed for its network of underground caves decorated with glowworms. Stop to explore the 30-million-year-old cave system, traveling deep underground through caverns dripping with stalactites and stalagmites. Then you'll step aboard a boat to slide silently through the glowworm grotto—a galaxy of tiny living lights.

Head east now to Rotorua, where you'll check into your hotel. Tonight, you'll immerse yourself in the region's heritage at Te Pā Tū (Tamaki Māori Village). You'll be welcomed with an opening ceremony and appetizers, followed by stories, songs, and dance performances in the forest amphitheater. Themes change according to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar) but tell the stories and traditions of the local people.

Follow your Māori guide by torchlight to your three-course hākari (feast). Select from a table of hāngī dishes (meat, fish, and vegetables) and other local specialties from Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand. Hāngī is a traditional Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in an umu (pit oven).

Day 4: Explore Rotorua & Visit Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

Rotorua's geothermal attractions
Marvel at Rotorua's geothermal attractions

Discover New Zealand's geothermal gems today in Rotorua. The area is renowned for its otherworldly green and orange sulfur pools, bubbling mud baths, and spurting geysers. Witness it all at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, where you can walk along boardwalks and paths that span over 7 square miles (18 square km). Stroll among the steamy landscape, home to the country's largest mud pool.

If you're a fan of "The Lord of the Rings," you can also take an optional tour to the nearby Hobbiton movie set on the 12-acre (5 ha) Alexander family sheep farm in the hilly Waikato region. Start with a short bus ride from The Shire's Rest to the filming location, followed by a walking tour. Your guide will show you all the intricate sets and tell stories about filming the movies.

Soak up the atmosphere of Middle-earth on this two-hour trip, visiting the Shire's iconic Hobbit holes and the Mill, with plenty of photo opportunities along the way. You'll stop at the Green Dragon Inn for a complimentary Southfarthing ale, cider, or ginger beer before taking the bus back to The Shire's Rest and driving back to Rotorua.

Day 5: Drive to Napier, Art Deco Evening Walking Tour

Tour Napier's Art Deco monuments in a vintage car
Tour Napier's many Art Deco buildings

Leave Rotorua this morning and make the three-hour drive south to Napier. Along the way, you'll pass treasures such as New Zealand's largest lake, Taupō, where you can pause for lunch and visit the nearby Huka Falls. Afterward, drive into the wild Ahimanawa Range before descending to the Pacific coast and the Art Deco capital, Napier.

Settle in and then join a local guide for tonight's walking tour. You'll learn about Napier's fascinating heritage, which includes being destroyed by an earthquake and fire in 1931. Learn how the city was rebuilt in just two years, featuring a range of architectural styles of the period. Your guide will highlight striking Art Deco, Spanish Mission, and Stripped Classical buildings as you wander the city, including the world-renowned Art Deco Napier Municipal Theatre.

Day 6: Explore Napier & Hawke's Bay

Enjoy some downtime on one of Hawk's Bay's many beaches

Enjoy a free day to explore Napier and the Hawke's Bay region. If you're feeling active, rent a bike to tackle one of the area's 124 miles (200 km) of cycling trails or spend the day at one of the many beaches in the area. Ocean Beach or Waimarama Beach are good choices, and surf lifeguards patrol both during the summer. You can also indulge in local produce on a cheese, chocolate, honey, or orchard tour.

Then there are the wineries of Hawke's Bay. The region's Mediterranean climate produces ideal grape-growing conditions, and there are dozens of wineries in Hawke's Bay. Hone in on Mission Estate Winery, touted as the birthplace of New Zealand wine. Wine connoisseurs can take a guided tour of some of the area's best vineyards.

Day 7: Drive to Wellington, Visit Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary

Spot the iconic Kiwi at Zealandia
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Drive four hours south today to New Zealand's capital, Wellington. Nicknamed "Windy Wellington" for the fierce gusts that come off the Cook Strait, the city sits at the southern tip of the North Island. Check into your hotel and relax before this evening's tour to Zealandia. Located just outside of Wellington, Zealandia, is a 555-acre (225 ha) reserve that has been restored to its natural state with no mammalian predators. Hence, it's a haven for some of the country's rarest animals. These include native birds, reptiles, and insects rereleased into the park.

Your trip begins with an interactive exhibition, followed by a guided, torch-lit walk through the New Zealand bush. You may spot tuatara (an endemic reptile) hunting for food, Maud Island frogs, parrots, and glowworms lighting up the night. Zealandia is one of the best places to see kiwis in a wild environment; over 100 live freely inside the protected valley. Look out for these flightless birds foraging on the forest floor.

Day 8: Explore Wellington

Ride the country's only running funicular for city views and access to the botanic gardens
Ride the country's only running funicular for city views and access to the botanic gardens

Spend today exploring Wellington independently. Stroll through the compact city center with its museums, galleries, craft-beer joints, and striking Beehive parliament building. Down at the teeming waterfront, you'll get views of the hillsides with their brightly-colored wooden houses. Browse New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, which means "container of treasures" in the Māori language. This six-floor space offers everything from Māori artifacts to Kiwi art and a colossal squid collection.

You can also visit the Wētā Cave. This award-winning creative design and effects company displays film props and memorabilia featured in films like "The Lord of the Rings," "King Kong," and "Avatar." Take a guided tour through Wētā Workshop and browse the mini-museum's film artifacts. You'll watch behind-the-scenes interviews from Wētā co-founders Sir Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, and Jamie Selkirk.

If you'd rather head out of town, try one of the nearby sandy bays, also home to some of Wellington's best-loved cafés. Alternatively, take a two-hour round trip to Martinborough and have a leisurely lunch in the beautiful wine country. Stop off at Martinborough Wines or Ata Rangi Martinborough for a real treat. The winding Remutaka Hill Road out of the city is scenic in itself—stretch your legs at the lookout and enjoy the panoramic views.

Day 9: Ferry to Picton, Drive to Blenheim

Take the scenic Interislander ferry to Picton

Say goodbye to the North Island this morning and make the three-hour ferry journey to Picton, described as one of the world's most beautiful ferry rides. As you sail, you'll see New Zealand's oldest lighthouse on Pencarrow Head and the seal colony at Red Rocks. Look out for dolphins and sea birds when you pass the Cook Strait, with the South Island's Kaikōura Ranges looming in the distance.

Disembark and then make the 30-minute drive south to Blenheim, located in the heart of Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine-producing region. You'll travel past fields grooved with vines and marvel at the magnificent dry hills of Marlborough in the distance.

Day 10: Explore Blenheim & Half-Day Wine Tour

Taste award-winning wines in Marlborough wine country

Explore Blenheim today, a small town whose focal point is a quaint marketplace. Soak up the country atmosphere and stop for a coffee in one of the cozy cafés. If you're an aviation buff, take a side trip to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, which features rare aviation memorabilia and interactive exhibits.

Later, you'll enjoy a half-day wine trip to immerse yourself in the Marlborough wine country, visiting three or four boutique wineries. During the tour, you'll taste award-winning wines and fresh produce and learn about the region's winemaking history. Spend a final evening in Blenheim, enjoying the country-town vibes.

Day 11: Drive to Christchurch

Take time out of your drive to Christchurch to visit the stunning Kaikōura coast

Today, drive four hours to Christchurch. You'll hug the spectacular Kaikōura coast, stopping at secluded coves to spot seabirds and New Zealand fur seals. Don't miss Kaikōura, a small town known for its incredible marine life, which thrives thanks to a 2-mile (3 km) ocean-floor canyon named the Hikorangi Trench. This is a prime spot for whale watching trips.

Carrying on, you'll drive along the coast, heading inland through the Waipara Valley, considered North Canterbury's major wine region. Before arriving in Christchurch, you can take a 40-minute detour to Hanmer Springs for a dip in the thermal pools.

Day 12: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook & Stargazing Tour

Marvel at the Milky Way in Aoraki / Mount Cook's dark skies

Drive four hours west this morning to Aoraki / Mount Cook village, which sits at the base of its namesake mountain. New Zealand's highest peak measures 12,315 feet (3,754 m) and is known by the Māori title Aoraki, which means "Cloud Piercer." The mountain is one of over 20 peaks in the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village will be your base for exploring the park's glacial landscapes through trekking, lake trips, or heli-hikes.

To see Aoraki / Mount Cook's 500-year-old icebergs up close, cruise around Tasman Glacier Lake. As you weave around floating icebergs in a specially-designed boat, you'll see the country's largest glacier, Haupapa / Tasman Glacier. A guide will point out key landmarks as you glide across the water, surrounded by towering ice cliffs.

End the day with a stargazing experience. Aoraki / Mount Cook has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve for its clear, star-studded skies. On this tour, a guide will take you to an outdoor viewing platform with state-of-the-art astronomy telescopes and binoculars to help you spot constellations, planets, the Milky Way, and distant galaxies. There's also an indoor digital planetarium where video images are suspended on the enormous domed ceiling.

Day 13: Tasman Glacier Heli-hike & Explore Aoraki / Mount Cook Village

Get up close to New Zealand's longest glacier on a heli-hike today

Experience the majestic Tasman Glacier today on a heli-hike. Covering an area of 39 square miles (101 square km) and stretching over 16 miles (27 km) in length, it's New Zealand's longest glacier. Fly over Tasman Glacier Lake to witness its striking ice formations and then step foot directly onto the ice, where you'll breathe fresh alpine air as your guide takes you on a hike through this otherworldly landscape.

Spend the rest of the day as you please. Embark upon one of the hikes from Aoraki / Mount Cook village; popular trails include Bowen Bush for an easy forest hike or the more challenging two-hour Red Tarns Track, which leads to a viewpoint of Aoraki / Mount Cook.

Day 14: Drive to Queenstown, Country Farm Dinner

Head south alongside Lake Wakatipu to New Zealand's adventure capital, Queenstown

Travel three hours south today to New Zealand's adventure capital, Queenstown. The town is the birthplace of AJ Hackett Bungy, the world's first commercial bungee-jumping company. Other adrenaline-pumping activities in Queenstown include sky diving, jet boating, and whitewater rafting, but if you prefer something tamer, there are plenty of hiking and cycling paths. Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown boasts a backdrop of the Remarkables.

This evening, you'll step aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship to cruise Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. You'll enjoy a barbecue dinner of New Zealand's signature dishes, sitting down to a meal featuring rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads. Finish with dessert and demonstrations about high country life on the farm. After the meal, join a singalong with the ship's pianist and watch the lights of Queenstown come into focus.

Day 15: Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Full-Day Adventure

Return to Queenstown by air
Discover the Eighth Wonder of the World today and return to Queenstown by plane
Your driver will be waiting this morning to take you from Queenstown to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi. Dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, this 10-mile-long (16 km) sound lies in UNESCO-listed Fiordland National Park. Enjoy scenic stops before arriving at the harbor, where you'll get on a boat to sail across the sound, surrounded by rainforest-covered mountains. You'll pass crashing waterfalls and spot seals, Fiordland crested penguins, and dolphins. Return to Queenstown on a breathtaking 45-minute flight with birds-eye views.

Day 16: Explore Queenstown & Ride the Skyline Gondola

Ride the Skyline Gondola for incredible Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu views

Today is yours to explore Queenstown at your own pace. Cruise Lake Wakatipu or head out for a dose of adrenaline on a jet boat ride or bungee jump. If you want to venture farther afield, check out nearby Arrowtown or brave the steep, winding trip to Macetown to learn more about New Zealand's 19th-century gold rush. The nearby resort town of Wānaka makes for a popular day trip, or you can relive scenes from "The Lord of The Rings" by 4WD.

Take a ride on the Skyline Gondola, one of the steepest cable car lifts in the Southern Hemisphere, climbing over 1,400 feet (450 m) to Bob's Peak for views of the Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Lake Wakatipu. After a ride on the peak's two hilltop luge tracks, you can catch the gondola back down the mountain or opt to hike or even mountain bike.

If you love wine, take a tasting tour of the region's best boutique vineyards. The excursion crosses Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Cromwell—three subregions known for their cool-climate wines, which are generally more acidic and lighter than other varieties. Pick your favorite wine to pair with lunch at a fourth vineyard, and take a walk through Old Cromwell to end your journey among some of the most picturesque vineyards in New Zealand.

Day 17: Drive to Franz Josef Glacier via Wānaka

Stop off at Lake Wānaka to see the famous willow tree

Drive north this morning to Franz Josef Glacier (five hours). On the way, cross the Crown Range, following the highest sealed road in New Zealand. Pause at the alpine town of Wānaka, known for the gnarled tree that protrudes from its glassy lake. Skirt the shore of Lake Wānaka and Lake Hāwea to the small town of Makarora. You can stop at the blue pools for an hourlong walk through the 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 pass Fox Glacier before arriving at your final destination: Franz Josef / Waiau. This cute town on the Waiho River is planted among rainforests and mountains, famed for the 7-mile-long (12 km) Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier.

Day 18: Explore Franz Josef Glacier

Perhaps take a heli-hike to explore Franz Josef Glacier up close

Start today by visiting the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre to plan one of the area's many hikes. Some of the most popular trails include the Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk and Sentinel Rock Walk, which both offer staggering views of Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. Then there's the Terrace Walk, which takes you through the forest and past historic gold mining operations.

To experience Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier firsthand, take a heli-hike. You'll fly over all three of the glacier's icefalls, landing for a two-hour guided trek through this otherworldly landscape. A guide will take you through ice caves and help you spot icy pinnacles, explaining the geology and history of the glacier. You'll receive a waterproof jacket, over trousers, glacier boots, ice crampons, and woolen socks for the trip.

For something tamer, take an optional cruise on Lake Mapourika, the largest lake in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Your boat, the Hannah-K, has a covered cabin and outdoor viewing platforms where you can spot native birds and ancient rainforests. Sail across the UNESCO-listed lake, traversing mirrored estuaries of Okatarito Kiwi Sanctuary, home to New Zealand's famous Kiwi birds.

Day 19: Transfer to Christchurch via Greymouth

Ride the TranzAlpine train through Arthur's Pass

This morning, drive north through the gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its pounamu (greenstone), this seaside town has a rich history dating back to the 1860s. Head to the coast and take in the endless sea views, or pick up a souvenir at one of the many craft shops. Continue to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast and the starting point for the next leg of your journey—the TranzAlpine Scenic Train. Drop your rental car at the Greymouth Train Station before boarding your train to Christchurch.

The TranzAlpine is considered one of the world's most extraordinary train journeys, taking you from the east side of the South Island to the west through Arthur's Pass National Park. Soak up the views on the journey, which range from thick beech forest to deep river valleys and the peaks of the Southern Alps.

Finally, you'll descend to the wind-swept Canterbury Plains to Christchurch. A driver will be waiting at the train station to take you to your hotel. Spend the evening exploring the country's second-largest metropolis, known as the "Garden City," for its green spaces.

Day 20: Depart New Zealand

Say goodbye to Christchurch as you board your onward flight

This morning your New Zealand adventure ends. Your driver will drop you at the airport in Christchurch in time for your 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, explore different ways to spend 20 days in New Zealand, and discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


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Map of Self-Drive  & Discover New Zealand’s Landscapes: Winelands, Glaciers, Fjords & Geothermal Wonders - 20 Days
Map of Self-Drive & Discover New Zealand’s Landscapes: Winelands, Glaciers, Fjords & Geothermal Wonders - 20 Days