3 Weeks

Highlights

  • Giant kauri trees
  • Mountain scenery
  • Kiwi birds in the wild

Proximity

  • By car: Total trip distance: 3710 KM (2306 MI)
  • By car: Start your journey from Auckland

This extensive itinerary provides a total view of New Zealand, taking in all the essential attractions.

This full-country itinerary provides a total view of New Zealand, taking in all the best attractions. In the North Island you’ll discover beautiful beaches, kauri forests, caves and phenomenal geothermal activity. In the South Island the emphasis is on grand mountain scenery, adventure activities, historic architecture and wildlife encounters.

Days 1 to 4: Auckland and Northland

Northland & Bay of Islands
Poor Knights Islands, Northland & Bay of Islands

By Alistair Guthrie

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN NORTHLAND

Find out more

Highlights

  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds
  • Dolphins in the Bay of Islands
  • Cape Reinga
Northland & Bay of Islands

Northland & Bay of Islands

Northland Accommodation

Drive over the Auckland Harbour Bridge towards the bays and beaches of Auckland’s North Shore. The motorway will quickly sweep you northward, until the suburban scenery gives way to peaceful farmland. Visit attractions like the Matakana Farmers' Markets and Goat Island Marine Reserve en route to Whangarei.

Base yourself here or in Paihia before exploring the Bay of Islands and the Poor Knights - world famous for its great scuba diving. For your cultural fix, check out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Day 5: Spend the day in Auckland

Auckland
Rangitoto Island, Auckland

By ATEED

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN AUCKLAND

Find out more

Highlights

  • Kayak to Rangitoto Island
  • Waiheke Island
  • Arts, culture, and dining

A vibrant city of harbours, beaches and islands, Auckland is known as the “City of Sails”. Catch a ferry to one of the islands dotted just offshore from the city, or kayak there if you're feeling adventurous.

Waiheke is known for its vineyards, sandy white beaches and quirky galleries, while Rangitoto is a dormant volcano laced with spectacular walking tracks. Many of the islands are within a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. 

Day 6: Auckland - Waitomo Caves

Hamilton - Waikato
Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Hamilton - Waikato

By THL

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN WAIKATO

Find out more

Highlights

  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves
  • Hobbit filming locations
Hamilton - Waikato

Hamilton - Waikato

Learn more about Waitomo Caves

The Waitomo Caves region is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface of this ancient limestone region is a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms. Choose your level of adventure, from a guided walk and gentle boat cruise to blackwater rafting, caving and abseiling into the abyss.

Day 7: Waitomo Caves - Rotorua

Rotorua
Te Puia, Rotorua

By Fraser Clements

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN ROTORUA

Find out more

Highlights

  • Maori culture and villages
  • Hiking and Mountain Biking
  • Geothermal Wonders

Your journey to Rotorua will take you through a mixture of farmland, lakeland and forest. Te Kuiti is the only major town you’ll encounter, so stock up on picnic supplies in preparation for the drive. Serious walkers can explore the beautiful Pureora Forest Park, which is home to several rare bird species. Trout fanciers can try their luck at Lake Whakamaru.

You’ll know you’ve arrived in the city of Rotorua when you see (and smell!) the geothermal steam plumes of Whakarewarewa. Go to Te Puia to find out more information about Maori Arts and Crafts and the world famous Pohutu geyser. 

Day 8: Spend the day in Rotorua

Rotorua
Relax in the Polynesian Spa, Rotorua

By Fraser Clements

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN ROTORUA

Find out more

Highlights

  • Geothermal activities
  • Theme & Leisure parks
  • Thermal Hot Springs
Rotorua

Rotorua

Visit the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua

Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so there’s evidence of volcanic activity everywhere you look. Explore the geothermal areas around the region and then relax into a hot spa in the evening.

Day 9: Rotorua - Taupo

Lake Taupo
Mine Bay, Lake Taupo

By Alistair Guthrie

MUST DO EXPERIENCES IN LAKE TAUPO

Find out more

Highlights

  • Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings
  • Skydive Taupo
  • Huka Falls
Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo

Learn more about the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings

Journey to Taupo and discover the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings. These carvings have become an iconic cultural attraction for the Taupo region and are a clear demonstration that traditional Māori knowledge and skills continue to be passed from generation to generation. These carvings can only be reached by boat and are best viewed up close from a kayak.

Day 10: Taupo - Wellington

New Zealand
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

By Andy Belcher

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN RUAPEHU

Find out more

Highlights

  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Kapiti Island
Wellington

Wellington

Do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Travel through the Central Plateau to get amazing volcanic views of Tongariro National Park. In Waiouru, the National Army Museum is worth a look. As you drive south towards Taihape (the Gumboot Throwing capital of the world), the landscape becomes dominated by rivers and valleys. The Mangaweka Gorge is a scenic masterpiece.

Offshore from Waikanae is Kapiti Island, a nature reserve for close encounters with rare birds. The Kapiti Coast is known for its gourmet food, especially cheeses; stop for a bite before carrying on to Wellington.

Day 11: Spend the day in Wellington

Wellington
Cable car, Wellington

By Wellington Tourism

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN WELLINGTON

Find out more

Highlights

  • Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Wellington Cable Car
  • ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary

Nestled between the harbour and the hills, Wellington is ideal for explorations on foot. Navigate a maze of street art and coffee shops before taking a tour of the nearby film studios. Other famous attractions include the Wellington Cable Car, the Houses of Parliament, Zealandia and the Wellington waterfront.

Day 12: Wellington to Marlborough

Marlborough
Blenheim, Marlborough

By Mike Heydon

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN MARLBOROUGH

Find out more

Highlights

  • Art galleries
  • Wineries and restaurants
  • Cycling tours
Marlborough

Marlborough

Explore the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail

Welcome to Marlborough, where neat rows of thriving vines remind you that you’re truly in wine country. There are plenty of guided tour options that'll allow you to taste the best food and wine in the region. Marlborough is also on the 380km Classic New Zealand Wine Trail that spans four wine regions and more than 100 cellar doors.

Day 13: Marlborough - Hanmer Springs

Christchurch - Canterbury
Hanmer Springs, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Julian Apse

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN HANMER SPRINGS

Find out more

Highlights

  • Off-road tours in Hanmer Springs
  • Thermal pools & spas
  • Waipara Valley Vineyard Trail
Christchurch - Canterbury

Christchurch - Canterbury

Visit Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa

Hanmer Springs is a destination for relaxation and indulgence. You can soak in the hot springs or treat yourself to a range of spa therapies. Outdoor activities are also a Hanmer specialty. Forest walks, horse trekking, trout fishing, jet boating, bungy jumping and golf are some of the options. See more must do experiences in Hanmer Springs

Day 14: Hanmer Springs - Christchurch

Christchurch - Canterbury
Christchurch City, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Julian Apse

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN CHRISTCHURCH

Find out more

Highlights

  • Christchurch Botanic Gardens
  • International Antarctic Centre
  • Punting on the Avon River
Christchurch - Canterbury

Christchurch - Canterbury

Accommodation in Christchurch

Fast-changing and funky, Christchurch is the South Island's largest city. Old English gardens contrast with pop-up bars and container-based shopping malls in this enduring centre, which is rebuilding itself after a damaging earthquake in February 2011. Favourite activities include punting down the Avon River, biking in the Port Hills, visiting Sumner Beach, or exploring the Antarctic Centre.

Day 15: Christchurch - Dunedin

Waitaki
Moeraki Boulders, Waitaki

By Miles Holden

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN DUNEDIN

Find out more

Highlights

  • Lanarch Castle
  • Royal Albatross Centre
  • Moeraki Boulders

Heading south, the Southern Alps provide outstanding scenery for your journey. Just before Timaru you’ll drive into Temuka, a town that produces high quality pottery – look for the Temuka factory shop if you’d like a useful souvenir. 

The town of Oamaru boasts attractive historic buildings and its own colony of little blue penguins which wander up the beach at dusk. As you carry on to Dunedin, be sure to stop off at the famous and mysterious Moeraki Boulders.

Day 16: Dunedin - Stewart Island

Stewart Island - Rakiura
Ulva Island, Stewart Island - Rakiura

By Miles Holden

Stewart Island - Rakiura

Stewart Island - Rakiura

Explore Rakiura National Park

Highlights

  • Wildlife Encounters
  • Incredible Walking & Hiking

Half an hour south you’ll come across tranquil Lake Waihola, a popular venue for picnics, yachting and waterskiing. As you continue onwards through the Catlins, winding roads will take you to see seals and sealions, wilderness beaches, waterfalls, walkways and rivers.

From here, visit Invercargill or Bluff before catching the ferry to Stewart Island (Rakiura in Maori). The ferry trip, which at times can be rough, takes about an hour. Alternatively you can choose to fly from Invercargill, which takes 15-20 minutes. Much of Stewart Island was recently declared New Zealand’s newest national park. Visitors come to the island to enjoy nature at its wildest. 

Day 17 & 18: Depart from Stewart Island and Discover Fiordland

Fiordland
Kayaking in Fiordland, Fiordland

By Fraser Clements

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN FIORDLAND

Find out more

Highlights

  • Milford Sound
  • Kayaking
  • Te Anau Glowworm Caves

The road to Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives, and if you want to drive in winter (July- August) find out more about winter driving tips first. If you prefer to relax, book a coach tour from Te Anau.

The first part is relatively mild farmland, then you’ll ease into beech forest near the entrance to the Fiordland National Park. Look for the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain and the Mirror Lakes. A cruise on Milford Sound will be an essential component of your time in Fiordland. This remarkable natural environment features stunning fiords, spectacular waterfalls and snow-capped peaks.

 

Day 19: Fiordland - Queenstown

Queenstown
Queenstown, Queenstown

By Tourism New Zealand

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN QUEENSTOWN

Find out more

Highlights

  • Jet Boating and Bungy Jumping
  • World-class Red Wines
  • Adrenaline Activities
Queenstown

Queenstown

Top Attractions

The alpine resort of Queenstown is exciting and fantastically attractive. It’s the place to source almost any kind of adventure, including bungy, jet boating, horse trekking, rafting and river surfing. It’s also a destination for luxury experiences – gourmet food and wine, spa treatments and leisurely games of golf.

Day 20: Queenstown - Wanaka

Wanaka
Rippon Vineyard, Wanaka

By Julian Apse

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN WANAKA

Find out more

Highlights

  • Rippon Vineyard
  • Arrowtown
  • Flightseeing, skydiving, and canyoning

The shortest route to Wanaka is over the Crown Range Road. It’s a challenging drive, but the views are amazing.

More conservative drivers can take the route that runs beside the Shotover River, Lake Dunstan and the Clutha River. The vineyards of the Gibbston area and bungy jumpers at the Kawarau River Bridge are interesting distractions along the way. Whichever route you take, add on an easy detour to the charming historic village of Arrowtown.

Day 21: Wanaka - Fox Glacier

West Coast
Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast

By Fraser Clements

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN WEST COAST

Find out more

Highlights

  • Glacier Walks
  • Scenic Flights above Aoraki Mt Cook
  • Rainforest, waterfalls and lakes
West Coast

West Coast

Visit the glaciers

You'll want to leave early today so you have plenty of time to stop and enjoy the remarkable scenery, as well as visiting the West Coast Glaciers.

Lake Hawea is the first scenic highlight of your journey, followed closely by the northern end of Lake Wanaka. The famous ‘bra fence’ is impossible to miss – it started as a joke, but it’s become a local legend. At the wilderness town of Makarora you can fuel up and refresh before you take on the dramatic twists and turns of the Haast Pass. Enjoy waterfalls and river scenery as you arrive in rainforest country. Stay in the town of Fox Glacier and from here take guided walks of the region.

 

Day 22: Fox Glacier - Arthur's Pass - Christchurch

Christchurch - Canterbury
Devils Punchbowl, Arthurs Pass, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Julian Apse

DISCOVER EXPERIENCES IN CHRISTCHURCH

Find out more

Highlights

  • Tranz Alpine Rail Journey
  • Walking, Hiking or Mountaineering
  • Castle Hill
Christchurch - Canterbury

Christchurch - Canterbury

New Zealand's most beautiful waterfalls

Classic west coast river and forest scenery leads you east towards Christchurch. Rushing water, impressive bridges and tiny towns gradually give way to the misty mountains of the Southern Alps. The route known as Arthur’s Pass was first used by Maori tribes crossing to the west coast to find pounamu (jade). Today it’s a sophisticated mountain pass, memorable for its scenery as well as its breathtaking civil engineering.

View the journey below

Experience another adventure

Choose your journey →

Top New Zealand trips →

Christchurch to Dunedin Itinerary →