Embark on a 13-day whirlwind tour of New Zealand's North and South Islands as you follow the east coast. Begin in Queenstown, a southern city known for extreme adventure sports, then make your way up as you visit wine regions like Wanaka and Kaikoura and see glaciers in Aoraki / Mount Cook. Take a ferry to North Island, stopping in Wellington, the capital, before visiting volcanic landscapes and Maori villages in Rotorua. The tour finishes with a tour of Waitomo Caves and Auckland, the country's largest city.


  • Hike around Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
  • Go on a whale watching tour in Kaikōura
  • Enjoy wine tastings in North and South Islands
  • See geysers and hot springs in Rotorua

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 2 Drive to Wānaka via Arrowtown, Wānaka Wine Tour Wānaka
Day 3 Hiking in Wānaka, Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook Village Aoraki / Mount Cook Village
Day 4 Tasman Glacier Helihike, Drive to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 5 Christchurch to Kaikōura via Wineries and Hot Springs Kaikōura
Day 6 Kaikōura Whale Watching Tour, Drive to Blenheim Blenheim
Day 7 Marlborough Food & Wine Tour, Drive to Picton Picton
Day 8 Ferry to Wellington, Wētā Workshop & Zealandia by Night Wellington
Day 9 Drive to Masterton via Martinborough, Self-Guide Wine Tour Masterton
Day 10 Drive to Napier, Bird Watching Safari Napier
Day 11 Drive to Rotorua, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 12 Rotorua to Auckland via Waitomo Glowworm Caves Auckland
Day 13 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner

TSS Earnslaw will deliver you to the farm
Cruise Lake Wakatipu on board a historic steamship

Your New Zealand adventure begins in Queenstown, often called the "Adventure Capital of the World." Upon arrival, pick your rental car up before heading to your accommodation to freshen up. Once ready, head out to explore this lakeside city, starting with a ride on the Skyline gondola for views of the mountains, or visit the Queenstown Gardens. Alternatively, hike up to the summit of the popular Queenstown Hill.

This evening, step aboard an elegant steamship for a ride on Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak High Country Farm. Prepare for a delicious barbecue dinner featuring rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads, followed by dessert and New Zealand cheeses. After the meal, step back on board the steamship and join a singalong with the ship's pianist as you sail back to town.

Day 2: Drive to Wānaka via Arrowtown, Wānaka Wine Tour

Shotover River in Arrowtown
Shotover River in Arrowtown

Queenstown is the birthplace of commercial bungee jumping, so you can't leave town without partaking in this thrilling activity. You can do the highest bungee jump in New Zealand at AJ Hackett Bungy, with an 8.5-second freefall over a 440-foot (134 m) drop. But if that's not enough adrenaline for you, make it a combo by braving the world's largest swing, which completes a 984-foot (300 m) arc. 

After the thrills, prepare to drive to Wānaka by following the Arrow River. Make a stop in Arrowtown, where you can learn about the region's 19th-century Gold Rush as you tour historic homes and the Lakes District Museum. Continue through the Crown Range until you reach Wānaka, where you'll partake in an exciting small-group wine-tasting tour. Visit four vineyards and enjoy local wine and cheese.

Day 3: Hiking in Wānaka, Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook Village

Pick between a range of hiking trails in the area
Roy's Peak in Wānaka, South Island

Hiking is one of Wānaka's favorite pastimes, so choose from numerous trails around mountains, glaciers, and lakes. Despite its steepness, Roy's Peak Track is among the most popular walks. From the top, you'll be rewarded with a panorama that includes Lake Wānaka and the snow-capped Southern Alps. For something less challenging, try the Mount Iron Track loop that starts in town.

As you leave Wānaka, get excited to enjoy even more nature at your next destination: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. Drive through Lindis Pass, one of New Zealand's highest roads, passing by small towns like Ōmarama and Twizel. Once you arrive at Aoraki / Mount Cook village, prepare for a spectacular night of stargazing and astronomy in an International Dark Sky Reserve.

Day 4: Tasman Glacier Helihike, Drive to Christchurch

Tasman Glacier Helihike with The Helicopter Line
Tasman Glacier Helihike tour

Stretching for 17 miles (27 km), the Tasman Glacier is New Zealand's longest glacier, covering an area of 39 square miles (101 sq km). Witness the beauty of Tasman Glacier Lake and its stunning ice formations on a helicopter ride that will take you to remote terrain, usually accessible only to experienced mountaineers. As you descend from the aircraft, start a two-hour hike around the glacier.

After your adventure, drive to Christchurch. The road takes you through lovely scenery like the Tasman River, the plains of the Mackenzie Country, and sheep-filled pastures. Once you arrive in the city, board a historic tram for an unforgettable four-course restaurant experience. Lasting two and a half-hours, you'll pass spots like New Regent Street, the Avon River / Ōtākaro, and Victoria Square.

Day 5: Christchurch to Kaikōura via Wineries & Hot Springs

Soak in the thermal pools in Hanmer Springs
Soak in the thermal pools in Hanmer Springs
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

The road from Christchurch to Kaikōura takes you through the rolling hills of North Canterbury's major wine region, the Waipara Valley. After a winery visit, take a slight detour to visit Hanmer Springs for a dip in the mineral hot pools. Dip in and out of rock pools at various temperatures, or try the aqua therapy pools for muscle relief. Then, continue the drive north.

With icy waters home to whales, seals, and dolphins year-round, Kaikōura offers coastal walks perfect for wildlife enthusiasts. Try the Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway or climb Mount Fyffe. Other popular activities include a helicopter ride over the area, swimming with the local seals, and boat trips. For something more relaxed, visit Fyffe House to learn about the area's whaling history.

Day 6: Kaikōura Whale Watching Tour, Drive to Blenheim

Whale watching Kaikoura
Breaching whale in Kaikōura

Sail the South Pacific Ocean on an exciting whale watching tour. Look for giant sperm whales, fur seals, and dusky dolphins leaping through the waves while albatross swoop overhead. Seasonal sightings may include southern right, pilot, or blue whales, and, if you're lucky, migrating humpbacks. After your whale watching adventure, start the drive to Blenheim.

The road north hugs the shore, offering many opportunities to view the native wildlife. Stop at Ohau Point to see adult seals sleeping on the shoreline as pups frolic in a nearby waterfall. Continue the scenic drive toward Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine-producing region. Blenheim sits at the heart of Marlborough and is ideal for an afternoon spent sampling the local wine.

Day 7: Marlborough Food & Wine Tour, Drive to Picton

Rows of grapes at a Blenheim vineyard

Marlborough has become world famous for two iconic areas: the Marlborough wine region and the Marlborough Sounds. Enjoy both sites on a tour that starts with two wine-tasting experiences. Then, go on a delectable seafood cruise in the Marlborough Sounds. Learn about seafood farming, take in some stunning scenery, and try fresh local seafood with a glass of award-winning Marlborough wine.

Begin the short drive from Blenheim to Picton through more wine-growing regions. Picton is a port town best known for being the departing point of the Interislander ferries. The town center is small and charming, with plenty of shops and cafés in the waterfront area. Visit the Edwin Fox Maritime Centre on the wharf to see the star attraction: the Edwin Fox, the world's ninth-oldest ship. 

Day 8: Ferry to Wellington, Wētā Workshop & Zealandia by Night 

Marlborough Sounds
Ferry crossing Marlborough Sounds

The 57-mile (92 km) journey between Picton and Wellington is one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world. Pass many interesting points like Pencarrow Head (on top of which is New Zealand's oldest lighthouse); the Red Rocks, home to a seal colony; and Oterangi Bay. You'll also cross the Marlborough Sounds—a region with bush-covered mountains, small islands, crystal-clear waters, and secluded bays.

When you arrive in Wellington, head over to the cinematic world of the Wētā Workshop, which is responsible for set and costumes for films like "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "Furious 7," and "Master and Commander." Once the sun starts to set, join a night tour through Zealandia, a sanctuary for native birds and other species. As you walk around, you might get to see a colony of adorable kiwi birds.

Day 9: Drive to Masterton via Martinborough, Self-Guided Wine Tour

Visit charming wineries in the Martinborough area
Visit wineries in the Martinborough area

As you depart Wellington, enjoy the more relaxed pace of the Wairarapa countryside through the wine region of Martinborough. Tour its small historic towns: Featherston is the gateway to large wetlands, Martinborough has boutique vineyards and delicious pinot noir, Greytown and Carterton are great for antique and souvenir shopping, and Masterton is the biggest population center in the area.

Dedicate most of your self-guided tour to Martinborough. With a climate similar to Burgundy, France, the area produces some of the world's finest wines. Start at the Martinborough Wine Centre to learn more about the region, then visit a couple of the over 30 vineyards and wineries in the area. Some are within walking distance of the town center, so you can easily explore them on foot or by bicycle.

Day 10: Drive to Napier, Bird Watching Safari

The Napier colonial town center

Departing the Wairarapa wine region, come to the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary, home to birds like the titipounamu (rifleman), kārearea (New Zealand falcon), kererū (wood pigeon), and Kahurangi the kōkako. You can also stop at points of interest like the Te Mata Peak, Mission Estate Winery, or the Victoria Esplanade.

Right before arriving in Napier, detour at Te Awanga and join an overland safari to see the world's largest, most accessible gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. Traverse riverbeds, broad rolling pastures, and native bush stopping at a spectacular clifftop with panoramic views of Hawke's Bay and the Māhia Peninsula. After observing the gannet colony for some time, continue your drive to Napier.

Day 11: Drive to Rotorua, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance

Rotorua's geothermal attractions
Erupting geyser in Rotorua

Cross the Ahiminawa Ranges to arrive in Taupō. The town sits on Lake Taupō, a volcanic caldera formed during one of the world's most significant eruptions. As New Zealand's largest lake, it is a site not to be missed. Visit the impressive Huka Falls, easily seen from a wooden platform or on a jet ride. Then stop at the volcanic Craters of the Moon to see boiling pools and steaming vents.

Continue to Rotorua, the heart of New Zealand's Māori culture. Explore the area's natural hot springs, boiling mud pools, and steaming geysers at your own pace. For thrills, go skydiving at Velocity Valley Adventure Park, or ride up the Rotorua Gondola for luge tracks and ziplining. At night, be a manuhiri (guest) in Te Pā Tū, a Māori Village, where you'll enjoy a feast and cultural celebration. 

Day 12: Rotorua to Auckland via Waitomo Glowworm Caves

A glowworm cave in Waitomo
A glowworm cave in Waitomo

The rolling green farmland of the Waikato region greets you on the drive to Waitomo. Make rest stops in the village of Tirau—famous for its corrugated iron sculptures—or in the quaint township of Cambridge. Once you arrive in Waitomo, take a slow boat tour into the spectacular limestone caves. You'll float underground and see the darkness interrupted by the magical light of bioluminescent glowworms.

After the tour, continue driving north toward Auckland. Along the way, plan to visit Otorohanga Kiwi House or the Native Bird Park. Both of these attractions provide the opportunity to see some of New Zealand's native species. Once in Auckland, do a self-guided tour to points of interest like the Waitemata Harbour, Mount Victoria, or the Sky Tower. After dark, enjoy the city's exciting nightlife.

Day 13: Depart Auckland

Auckland harbor at sunset
Auckland cityscape at sunset
Spend the morning walking around Auckland. Then, drop your rental car off before catching your flight back home. 

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, check out these other ways to spend 13 days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of Ultimate New Zealand East Coast Road Trip: Queensland to Auckland - 13 Days
Map of Ultimate New Zealand East Coast Road Trip: Queensland to Auckland - 13 Days