- Visit the many geothermal highlights of volcanic Rotorua
- Explore Wellington and take the Interislander Ferry to Picton
- Discover gorges, creeks, national parks, and reserves en route to Hokitika
- Tour the grandiose duo of glaciers: Franz Josef and Fox
- Do extreme sports, go wine tasting, and take in the sights around Queenstown
|Arrival in Auckland & Self-Guided Tour
|Drive to Whitianga Via Coromandel
|Stop in Tauranga & Drive to Rotorua
|Stop in Taupo & Drive to Napier
|Stop in Masterton & Drive to Wellington
|Ferry to Picton & Drive to Nelson
|Drive to Hokitika
|Drive to Franz Josef Glacier
|Franz Josef Glacier
|Glacier Tour & Drive to Queenstown
|Drive to Te Anau
|Drive the Southern Scenic Route to Dunedin
|Stop in Moeraki & Drive to Christchurch
|Depart From Christchurch
Day 1: Arrival in Auckland and self-guided tour
Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival in Auckland, make the private transfer to your accommodation. A travel representative will provide your tour packet and support surrounding any questions you may have about your trip. Your tour packet will include itinerary information, along with driving instructions, maps, reservation details, brochures, and activity suggestions. Your tour company will also be able to provide 24-hour support during your two-week journey.
Auckland is New Zealand’s self-proclaimed "City of Sails," and is the country’s largest metro area. Resting between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, this urban paradise has something for everyone. Surrounded by native bush, rainforests, and an abundance of beaches, Auckland is a playground for both the city savvy and those with an eye for adventure.
Explore the central museums and galleries on foot, or take a drive through one of more than 800 regional national parks to see deserted beaches, waterfalls, and native forest.
Day 2: Drive to Whitianga via Coromandel
Wake up and collect your rental car. Today's trip will take you from Auckland to Whitianga via the Coromandel Township.
As you leave the Auckland city boundary, the landscape changes to lush farmland. Cross the fertile Hauraki Plains—one of New Zealand's largest dairy-producing regions. Pass the Thames Estuary, a haven for wildlife and shorebirds. Take a short detour to nearby Miranda (look for the signs posted) to see the large flocks of godwits and oystercatchers. Arriving into the old gold mining town of Thames, there are two different routes to the east coast of Coromandel. Directly over the Coromandel Ranges will deliver you to the coast in a snappy 45 minutes, or if you're after a more leisurely route, head north to the Coromandel Township, along the Pohutukawa Coast (part of the Pacific Coast Highway). This is one of the most spectacular drives in the region and is not to be missed.
Continue down the coast to arrive in the picturesque town of Whitianga to explore at your leisure for the remainder of the day and evening.
Day 3: Stop in Tauranga and drive to Rotorua
Heading south from the Coromandel Peninsula today, pass through the seaside town of Whangamata, a popular location for Kiwi holidaymakers and home to one of the best beaches in the region.
Next, enter the old mining town of Waihi, which still has an open-cast gold mine in operation (Martha Mine) which can be viewed from a vantage point just above the town center. For rail enthusiasts, the Goldfields Railway operates passenger trains along a scenic and historic section of track toward Waikino.
The route then takes you into the Bay of Plenty, and the port town of Tauranga, before you head along the scenic Pyes Pa Road to Rotorua. For The Lord of the Rings fans, a detour to Matamata is recommended, as this is the location of the Hobbiton film set.
Arriving into Rotorua from the north, you are welcomed by the spectacular view of the lake. Rotorua sits on top of one of the world's most active volcanic regions. Below the surface, the earth's crust grinds and moves, producing heat and molten rock. Throughout the city and its surroundings, the evidence of this is surprisingly common—steam rising from cracks in the road, bubbling and hissing water in pools along the lake's edge, and of course, the strong smell of sulfur. The original Maori inhabitants recognized the great potential of this natural resource and applied it to cooking their food along with a plentiful supply to relax and bathe in, which didn't go unnoticed by the early European tourists.
Today, Rotorua offers a myriad of activities for all to enjoy. Its compact city center is ideal to stroll and enjoy the cuisine and hospitality. Government gardens provide a wonderful respite and in the center, the Rotorua Museum is a must-visit attraction. A walk along the lake edge will deliver you to one of the country's oldest Maori villages at Ohinemutu, or a floatplane can whisk you over the craters of nearby Mt. Tarawera.
Surrounding the city are thermal reserves, such as Whakawerawera and Wai-O-Tapu, and here, you can walk amongst bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers, and sulfur ponds. Just a few minutes from the town center, Mt. Ngongotaha and the Skyline Gondola and luge overlook the lake, and a little further on the Agrodome center is where you head for adventure and an adrenaline rush. Here, you can ride the Zorb, travel more than 60 mph on a jet boat, simulate skydiving, or take the plunge on a giant swing. An agricultural exhibition and show is also based here.
No visit to Rotorua would be complete without experiencing the original tourist attraction—a relaxing spa treatment.
Day 4: Stop in Taupo and drive to Napier
Today, your drive to Napier will take you through the thermal region just south of Rotorua. Home to a plethora of unique geothermal attractions, including boiling mud pits, natural hot springs, and steaming geysers, this area is a must-do before you move on to Napier. If you did not explore yesterday, notable attractions are Wai-O-Tapu, Waimangu, and Craters of the Moon. Continue on to Taupo and marvel at the lake—a giant crater formed following a volcanic eruption in the year 180 CE.
As you approach the city, be sure to stop at Huka Falls to view the spectacular sight of water plunging down a narrow, 36-foot drop. For an extra thrill, take a jet-boat ride to the base of the falls. Leaving Taupo, follow the road as it climbs the rugged Ahimanawa Range, before descending back down the Pacific Coast to Art Deco-influenced Napier, which you can stroll and explore at your leisure for the rest of the day.
Day 5: Stop in Masterton and drive to Wellington
The rolling countryside of the Hawke's Bay leads you into some of New Zealand’s richest farmland located around the Manawatu region. Passing along the Manawatu Gorge, the Wairarapa welcomes you. Masterton is home to a sheep shearing competition, while just further south Greytown boasts the largest concentration of historic wooden buildings in the country.
Nearby Martinborough is home to dozens of boutique wineries. The route takes you over the Rimutaka Range and along the magnificent natural harbor the capital city of Wellington sits upon. Once in Wellington, enjoy the city sights at your leisure, and do more exploration tomorrow.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Ferry to Picton and drive to Nelson
Today, take the Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton. The 57-mile journey takes around 3 hours, and has been described as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world. Leaving Wellington Harbour, pass Pencarrow Head atop New Zealand's oldest lighthouse (1859). Red Rocks is home to a seal colony and Oterangi Bay is the site that recorded the country's highest-ever wind speed of 167 mph. From the Cook Strait, enjoy views of the Kaikoura Ranges on the South Island, as well as dolphins and many seabirds. Around 1 hour of the cruise takes you through the Marlborough Sounds, and this region of bush-covered mountains, small islands, crystal-clear waters, and secluded bays offers remarkable photographic opportunities. The final leg of your cruise travels through Queen Charlotte Sound, before coming to an end in the picturesque town of Picton.
Next, collect your rental car and head from Picton to Nelson via Queen Charlotte Drive, which travels the Marlborough Sounds coastline, between Picton and Havelock. Take in the views from many vantage points surrounding the sounds. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. If you can spare the time, take the narrow, windy road to Portage along Mahau Sound and Kenepuru Sound, with their bush-clad hillsides and secluded sandy coves.
The small port town of Havelock has a great variety of cafés and restaurants to choose from, so plan your journey to arrive in time for lunch. The highway between Nelson and Picton also crosses the Pelorus River, and just at this junction is the famous and historic Pelorus Bridge. From here, there are several forest walks, with the most popular being the 30-minute loop through beech, rimu, and totara forest landscapes, over to the swing-bridge.
Crossing the Bryant Range, arrive onto Tasman Bay and the city of Nelson.
Day 7: Drive to Hokitika
Leaving Nelson today, pass through the suburb of Richmond, followed by Nelson Lakes and the Kahurangi National Park region. Trees, rivers, and valleys accompany you now as you head toward the town of Murchison, a quiet place and a great lunch stop. Underneath its sleepy farming facade is an adventurers' paradise, with whitewater rafting, jet boating, gold panning, kayaking, 4-wheel-drive trips, and excellent trout fishing.
Heading south toward Westport, drive along the Buller Gorge, and enjoy some wonderful scenery as you follow the river. Further along the river from the West Coast, turn off one of the must-stop places is Whites Creek and New Zealand's longest swing bridge. Crossing the river, take in the stunning gorge, and once on the other side, there are short bush walks, jet boat rides, and some of the historic gold-mining remnants.
Continuing on your journey, the first major town (by this region's standard) is Inangahua, and a small museum tells of the earthquake that hit the region in 1968, which left 70 percent of the buildings damaged or inhabitable. Heading south, a worthwhile divert is to Cape Foulwind just south of Westport. It is home to a seal colony, and the short walk provides some spectacular scenery. Continuing south on the road to Punakaiki, pass through Paparoa National Park. On arrival to Punakaiki, you may want to visit the Pancake Rocks, which are open to the public, free-of-charge, year-round.
Just a little further south is Greymouth, the administrative center of the West Coast, and a great attraction here is Shantytown, a replica of a gold mining village. The township of Hokitika was built on the pioneering spirit of the West Coast settlers. A busy port in its heyday, it then became a center for the West Coast Gold Rush, and more recently, has become known for local jade or greenstone crafts. Here, find many shops selling intricately carved pieces, as well as other fine arts and souvenirs. The town itself has some great, old buildings, along with restaurants and cafés.
The windswept beach is often covered with driftwood, making for an interesting stroll and the scenery to the mountains is quite spectacular—with Mt Cook very often in view. Around 9 miles inland, find Lake Kaniere, an idyllic spot to take bush walks or simply relax and enjoy the bush-clad hill views.
Just south of the town on SH 6 is Lake Mahinapua Scenic Reserve, where you can enjoy some short walks. The Hokitika Gorge, around 45 minutes from the center, is home to a magnificent granite gorge lined with native bush. A swing bridge just 2 minutes from the car park takes you over milky, blue-green pools and a short walk delivers you to large moss-covered boulders to explore.
Day 8: Drive to Franz Josef Glacier
Leaving Hokitika, go through the old gold-mining town of Ross, where some of the original buildings and workings remain. Ross is also home to one of the few working mines left in New Zealand.
Continuing south, pass through Harihari, the township Guy Menzies crash-landed in after he became the first person to fly solo across the Tasman. Continue on through Whataroa, a small township, home to some of the world's rarest birds—the New Zealand white heron and the kotuku. Arriving into the glacier region, catch your first glimpse of the Franz Josef Glacier before coming into the township, a lively place with a great atmosphere.
Day 9: Glacier tour and drive to Queenstown
Heading south, pass through the second glacier town of Fox Glacier. A short side trip to view the glacier is easy before heading along the coast and more classic West Coast bush scenery. On Knights Point Lookout, elephant seals can often be seen basking on the sandy beaches at the far end of the point. Crossing the massive Haast River, turn inland and head into the valley, climbing through mountains littered with waterfalls.
The Haast Valley offers a spectacular view of the river and its enormous power. The Blue Pools near Makarora are a great, 30-minute walk. Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea guide you into the township of Wanaka before you head over New Zealand's highest, sealed road, Crown Range Road, then dropping into Queenstown. This drive should be planned as a whole day to really enjoy the scenery and to allow time to explore the walks and many stops en route.
Day 10: Queenstown exploration
Although celebrated as New Zealand's ‘adventure capital,’ Queenstown offers far more than a fast-paced, action-packed holiday. Settled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, beneath a soaring panorama of the Remarkables Mountain Range, this alpine town is surrounded by a plethora of historic, gastronomic, and scenic wonders.
Head down the Gibbston Valley Wine Trail to sample some of the region’s best pinot noir, or catch a ride on the 100-year-old steamship—the TSS Earnslaw—to Walter Peak Station for dinner and a farm tour. Browse the waterfront cafes and have lunch at Michelin star chef Josh Emett's restaurant Rata. Check out nearby historic Arrowtown, and enhance your experience with a four-wheel-drive trip to Macetown.
Take a leisurely lakeside stroll or ride the gondola for breathtaking views. Venture further afield into the Fiordland National Park. Drive through The Lord Of The Rings country, or for the really fanatic, jump aboard one of many dedicated LOTR tours.
However, If you're seeking the adrenaline rush Queenstown is known for, take your pick from the following:
- Shotover Jet
- Nevis Bungy
- Canyon Swing
Day 11: Drive to Te Anau
Following the shores of Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables tower over you as you approach township of Kingston. Venture into Southland before crossing the rolling tussock-lands of Mossburn (the deer capital of New Zealand). Then, arrive into Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park.
Day 12: Drive the Southern Scenic Route to Dunedin
The drive from Te Anau to Dunedin takes you through classic Southland farmland scenery, but if you want to spend the whole day exploring a little off the beaten path, taking the Southern Scenic Route through The Catlins is highly recommended. Following the incredible Otago coastline to Invercargill, the route passes through Manapouri and onto Tuatapere, before Colac Bay and the fishing town of Riverton.
From Invercargill, the route hugs the coastline, and there are many side trips to secluded and deserted beaches and bays to explore before you arrive into the remarkable Edwardian City of Dunedin.
Day 13: Stop in Moeraki and drive to Christchurch
Heading north from Dunedin, your first stop should be Moeraki to explore the famous and unique Moeraki Boulders strewn on the beach. Following a look at these unique geological features, don't miss a visit to Fleur's Café in the Moeraki Township for some of the region's freshest seafood.
The town of Oamaru is most famous for its buildings constructed with the unique, locally quarried white stone. Explore the Old Quarter, or if you don't mind a late arrival into Christchurch, stay longer to see the blue penguins come ashore at dusk. The port town of Timaru is next, and then the vast Canterbury Plains. Crossing New Zealand's longest bridge at Rakaia, view some great examples of the South Island's famous braided rivers.
Arriving to Christchurch, bookmark a visit to the International Antarctic Centre. Here, get as close to experiencing life on the frozen continent without actually visiting; plus, see New Zealand's little blue penguins and ride in a Hagglund vehicle.
Day 14: Depart from Christchurch
Explore more of Christchurch before dropping your rental car at the airport depot today. Then, board your flight home with memories of an incredible two-week journey through New Zealand's highlights.