From glaciers and natural pools to kayaking and whale watching, this epic 20-day road trip through New Zealand has something for everyone. Discover the country's best from north to south, beginning in Auckland and finishing on the island of Te Anau. Highlights along the journey include wineries, wildlife tours, a three-day mountain trek, glowworm caves, lake and fjord cruises, stargazing excursions, and so much more!


  • Soar through the trees on a canopy tour in geothermal Rotorua
  • Sleep in mountain huts during a three-day trek on the South Island
  • Ride a helicopter to a glacier and follow your guide on an ice hike
  • Spend your last day on a scenic cruise in Fiordland National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Harbour Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Boat to Rangitoto Island, Volcano Hike Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua, Forest Canopy Tour Rotorua
Day 4 Mount Tarawera Crater Walk, Hell's Gate Experience Rotorua
Day 5 Drive to Tongariro National Park, Explore Tongariro National Park
Day 6 Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing Tongariro National Park
Day 7 Drive to Wellington, City Tour & Wildlife Sanctuary Night Tour Wellington
Day 8 Ferry & Drive to Kaikōura, Evening Kayak Trip  Kaikōura
Day 9 Whale Watching Flight, Drive to Arthur's Pass Arthur's Pass
Day 10 Hike Arthur's Pass Arthur's Pass
Day 11 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Dark Sky Project Summit Experience Lake Tekapo
Day 12 Tekapo Trek (Day 1) Lake Tekapo
Day 13 Tekapo Trek (Day 2) Lake Tekapo
Day 14 Tekapo Trek (Day 3) Lake Tekapo
Day 15 Aoraki/Mount Cook Heli-Hike Lake Tekapo
Day 16 Drive to Wānaka, Lake Wānaka Cruise & Island Nature Walk Wānaka
Day 17 Discover Mount Aspiring National Park Wānaka
Day 18 Explore Te Anau Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 19 Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Cruise Te Anau
Day 20 Depart New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Harbour Dinner Cruise

View the skyline from the water after sunset
Welcome to New Zealand! You'll arrive in the country's largest city, Auckland, located on the North Island, and transfer to your hotel to get settled. Take some time to rest before you head out for a dinner cruise on Auckland's Waitematā Harbour. Enjoy drinks and appetizers as you sail toward Westhaven Marina, watching the sun dip below the horizon. A main course will be served, followed by dessert as you cruise to Viaduct Harbour. Return to your hotel for a good night's rest. 

Day 2: Boat to Rangitoto Island, Volcano Hike

Take a relaxed hike around Rangitoto Volcano once you arrive by boat

Today's itinerary features a boat ride to Rangitoto Island, the youngest of the region's 48 dormant volcanic cones. You'll arrive by boat—the ride lasts about 25 minutes—and embark on a relaxed hourlong hike to the top of the volcano. Look for the world's largest Pohutukawa forest and striking black lava formations along the way, and take in spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf from the top. Then make your way back down to sea level and return to Auckland by boat, where you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own.

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua, Forest Canopy Tour

Spend two nights in the geothermal city of Rotorua

Your destination today is Rotorua, New Zealand's famous geothermal city. It's a three-hour drive from the capital city. Once you arrive, roll down the window and brace yourself for the strong smell of sulfur! This area is one of the world's most active volcanic regions. Driving around, you'll find bubbling mud pools, steaming geysers, and signs pointing to natural hot springs.

Check in at your hotel before taking a canopy tour through Rotorua's native forest. Discover this natural wonderland on an extensive network of trails, tree platforms, swing bridges, and zip lines. Enjoy sweeping views of the dense forest and surrounding hills before returning to your hotel to rest. 

Day 4: Mount Tarawera Crater Walk, Hell's Gate Experience

Photograph the colorful stratification on Mount Tarawera

Experience the unique landscape and history of Mount Tarawera on today's outing. When it erupted on June 10th, 1886, Tarawera created the world's youngest geothermal valley, Waimangu. This guided tour takes you to scenic vistas around the volcano, and you'll have the option of venturing into the heart of the volcanic crater.

After lunch, visit Hell's Gate, an active geothermal reserve and mud spa. Take part in a guided or self-guided geothermal walk before soaking in mud and sulfuric waters, experiencing the healing properties that local Māori have enjoyed for over 800 years.

Day 5: Drive to Tongariro National Park, Explore

Enjoy the views as you make your way to Tongariro National Park
Take off this morning on a scenic two-hour drive between Rotorua and Tongariro National Park on New Zealand's North Island. On arrival, you'll have time to explore hiking trails in and around Whakapapa Village and Tongariro National Park. There's something for everyone, from short, easy hikes to longer five-hour treks. Marvel at the towering Taranaki Falls, look for rare birds beside the crystal waters of Lake Rotopounamu, or walk along the ridge from Whakapapa Village to panoramic alpine views. 

Day 6: Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

There are plenty of views during this full-day hiking experience

Get ready to spend the entire day tackling the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which spans the length of Mount Tongariro. The walk commences at Mangatepopo and concludes at Ketetahi, with the highest point at the Red Crater at 6,186 feet (1,886 m). The first segment to Soda Springs is relatively easy and takes about an hour. From there, it's roughly another hour of hiking past ancient and modern lava flows on the steeper trail to South Crater. This section includes the Devil's Staircase, providing sweeping views of the valley below. 

Continue to Red Crater on a short climb along an exposed ridge, taking in views over the Oturere Valley, Rangipo Desert, and the Emerald Lakes. Continue to Blue Lake and Ketetahi Hut, where, during fair weather, you'll have spectacular views over Mount Pihanga and Lake Rotoaira. The trail then drops steeply to Mangatetipua Stream. From here, walk through the native forest for about an hour and a half, passing a waterfall before you reach Ketetahi to finish. Return to your hotel for some well-deserved rest!

Day 7: Drive to Wellington, City Tour & Wildlife Sanctuary Night Tour

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Ride Wellington's iconic cable car upon arrival for city and harbor views

This morning you'll make a 3.5-hour drive from Tongariro National Park to Wellington, North Island's southernmost city and the nation's capital. Get settled at your hotel, then ride a cable car to the Wellington Botanic Garden and the Carter Observatory for excellent city and harbor views. Soak up Wellington's famous café culture before continuing on a half-day tour around the city's highlights, including the quirky Cuba Street district and Lambton Quay, the main shopping street.

The adventure isn't over yet! In the evening, you'll go on a night tour of Zealandia, one of the country's top conservation attractions. Located just outside the city, the reserve is a haven for some of the country's rarest animals, including birds, reptiles, and insects that have been re-released into the park. On a torch-lit walk through the New Zealand bush, spot frogs, glowworms, and flightless birds called kiwis.  

Day 8: Drive to Kaikōura, Evening Kayak Trip 

Paddle off the coast of Kaikōura at sunset

After breakfast, travel by ferry to New Zealand's South Island. From Picton, you'll make a two-hour drive to the town of Kaikōura, famous for its abundant marine fauna. On arrival, you can choose from a variety of activities, including dolphin-watching, bird-watching, fishing, and hiking. Or sit down for a leisurely meal in one of Kaikōura's charming restaurants, where crayfish and lobster are local specialties. You can also learn about the area's history of whaling by visiting the Fyffe House.

Save some energy because, in the evening, you'll go on a kayaking excursion around sunset. Paddle past seals, blue penguins, and dolphins on this guided experience.

Day 9: Whale Watching Flight, Drive to Arthur's Pass

Look for giant sperm whales in the air
Today you'll enjoy a unique whale watching experience. Instead of spotting whales from a boat, you'll take a 30-minute flight over the water to observe whales from the air! Your pilot will fly above the deep Kaikōura Canyon, where two sea currents converge, pushing nutrients from the sea to the water's surface, which attract giant sperm whales. This is a popular place to spot these massive creatures from an aerial perspective! After this memorable experience, you'll make the four-hour drive from Kaikōura to Arthur's Pass Village in preparation for tomorrow's hike.

Day 10: Hike Arthur's Pass

Choose your own adventure today in Arthur's Pass
Make your way to Arthur's Pass National Park today for self-guided hiking to panoramic viewpoints. Options include Devil's Punchbowl, a one-hour hike along the river to a waterfall. If you want to see gorgeous summer alpine flowers, try the two-hour trek to Otira Valley. Half-day hiking options include the Bealey Valley and Temple Basin, leading to a magnificent view of Mount Rolleston

Day 11: Drive to Lake Tekapo, Dark Sky Project Summit Experience

Stop by the lakeside Church of the Good Shephard for photographs

Drive four hours today from Arthur's Pass to Lake Tekapo today, an area celebrated for its turquoise water surrounded by snowcapped mountains and green hills. From here, you can hike or drive to the Mount John University Observatory, located just outside of town, to breathe in the purest air in New Zealand. Other options include visiting the Church of the Good Shepherd, perched on the lake's edge, or stopping by nearby thermal pools for a refreshing dip. Swimming in the glacial lake known as Willow Bay is also possible. 

After dark, return to the observatory to learn about the southern sky using telescopes. Your guide will point out the Milky Way, Southern Cross, Alpha-Centauri, and Sirius, one of the brightest visible stars. You'll also see star clusters, planets, nebulae, clouds of gas and dust, and distant galaxies. Get some rest at your hotel before beginning a trekking adventure tomorrow. 

Day 12: Tekapo Trek (Day 1)

Tekapo Trek 3 days - 2 nights - DAY 1
Get an early start on this guided three-day hike

Rise and shine! Get ready to experience some of the finest alpine hiking in New Zealand during a three-day hike known as the Tekapo Trek. On the first day of the trek, you'll be briefed by your guides, then travel by 4WD vehicle to a sheep station on the lake's western shore. Explore the picturesque Cass Valley, passing roaming Merino sheep and numerous endangered bird species. Hike past moraine walls, towering glaciers, and cascading waterfalls before breaking for lunch. 

In the afternoon, climb to a private backcountry hut looking out over alpine scenery. The total hiking time today is between three and four hours. Relax over a cup of tea or a glass of wine at your accommodations. After dark, you'll enjoy another stargazing excursion before getting some sleep. 

Day 13: Tekapo Trek (Day 2)

Tekapo Trek 3 days - 2 nights - DAY 2
This ridgeline trail offers views over peaks, glaciers, and rock summits
This morning, you'll embark on a full day of backcountry hiking after breakfast, starting with a gentle climb to a viewpoint over Mount Fitzwilliam and the Jolley Valley below. Break for lunch, then enjoy a ridgeline hike offering magnificent views over endless peaks, glaciers, and rocky summits. Enjoy this beautiful landscape as you descend to another picturesque alpine hut surrounded by towering peaks and mountain streams. The total hiking time today is between six and eight hours. If the skies are clear, there will be more stargazing tonight!

Day 14: Tekapo Trek (Day 3)

Tekapo Trek 3 days - 2 nights - DAY 3
Say goodbye to your last backcountry hut after breakfast
Begin the final leg of the hiking journey after a hearty breakfast. Descend along a pretty stream, passing impressive moraine walls, rocky valleys, and roaming herds of wild Himalayan goats. Take a break for water and snacks as you arrive at the valley floor. Then journey back to Lake Tekapo to enjoy a free afternoon and evening. Your hiking time today is between four and five hours. 

Day 15: Aoraki / Mount Cook Heli-Hike

Get ready for spectacular views over the Tasman Glacier

Experience an exciting fly-in, fly-out heli-hike today at the mighty Tasman Glacier. Equipped with crampons, an ice ax, and walking poles, board the helicopter with your guide and travel high above the icebergs of the Tasman Glacier Lake past the famous Hochstetter Ice Fall and the east face of Aoraki/Mount Cook. You'll touch down on the Tasman Glacier's white ice on an exceptionally beautiful part of the glacier.

Now the adventure of hiking on the glacier begins. Your guide will go first, creating steps in the ice ahead of you, enabling participants to walk more easily on the glacier. Take in unforgettable views on this short hike before catching the helicopter back to civilization. 

Day 16: Drive to Wānaka, Lake Wānaka Cruise & Island Nature Walk

Stop as often as you like as you approach Wānaka Lake

Not long after starting the 2.5-hour drive to Wānaka this morning, you'll be rewarded with views of Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain at 12,300 feet (3,754 m). Stop for photo ops at the visitor center at the southern end of Lake Pukaki. This stunning alpine lake welcomes you to town as you approach Wānaka, New Zealand's premier ski destination. Fishing, sailing, and kitesurfing are popular activities on the lake, and you'll find excellent picnic spots along its shores. 

In the afternoon, explore Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve—one of five islands on Lake Wānaka—accessible via a 35-minute boat ride. Home to native New Zealand wildlife, the island was also home to early shipbuilders. An old stone wharf and hut still stand on the eastern side of the island. Another notable feature is Arethusa Pool, a small lake on the island. See the best views from the top of Tyrwhitt Peak; you'll also enjoy panoramic views of Lake Wānaka and the surrounding glacial mountains and valleys. Take a break for tea or coffee before heading back down to the boat for the return trip.

Day 17: Discover Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park is surrounded by ski areas and vineyards

This morning you'll have free time to explore Mount Aspiring National Park, a natural wonder surrounded by ski areas and vineyards that produce some of the best pinot noirs in New Zealand. Today's activities depend on your interests. You can hike or bike in the national park, try rock climbing, go for lunch, or have a wine tasting at the Rippon Valley Vineyard, considered one of the most beautiful vineyard sites in the world. You could also go on a kayaking excursion or venture to nearby Rob Roy Glacier

Day 18: Explore Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Take a cruise across Lake Te Anau to enter an underground cave network

This morning you'll make the three-hour drive from Wānaka to Te Anau, located in the heart of the Fiordland region and part of the UNESCO-listed Te Wahipounamu Park. There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy here. See birds native to New Zealand at the Wildlife Center, observe local flora and fauna at Ivon Wilson Park, or go for a swim at Dock & Brod Bay.

A classic activity is a visit to the Glowworm Caves. In total darkness, observe the region's famous glowworms! The excursion starts with a cruise across Lake Te Anau on a catamaran. You'll enter the 12,000-year-old underground cave network, where your guide will point out whirlpools, intricate rock formations, and an underground waterfall. Board a small boat to glide through the darkness, spotting thousands of glowworms on the cave walls and ceiling. 

Day 19: Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Cruise

Take a two-hour scenic cruise on the Milford Sound / Piopiotahi
On the last full day of the trip, drive along the iconic Milford Road to reach Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, where you'll begin a two-hour scenic cruise. Along the route, you'll see waterfalls tumbling down high cliffs, mountains rising straight out of the sea, fur seals, and possibly dolphins. After the cruise, you'll have free time to walk on the stunning Key Summit. Then return to your hotel in Te Anau for a relaxing dinner to celebrate your last night in New Zealand.

Day 20: Depart New Zealand

Until next time, Te Anau!

Sadly, your New Zealand adventure has come to an end! After breakfast, drive to the airport to catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore other ways to spend 20 days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


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Map of Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip & Tekapo Trek - 20 Days
Map of Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip & Tekapo Trek - 20 Days