Top of the North to Top of the South Itinerary


2215 km


  • Coastal scenery
  • Caves and geysers
  • Lakes and mountains



Includes a ferry across the Cook Strait.

Discover some of New Zealand's greatest attractions on this two-week tour from Kaitaia to Christchurch.

Travel the length of the North Island, from maritime adventures in the Bay of Islands to the urban charms of Auckland and the geological wonders of WaitomoRotorua and Taupō. Savour world-class wine in Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa, heritage and culture Wellington then cross the Cook Strait to Nelson Lakes and the wild scenery of the West Coast. End your journey with a trip over the Southern Alps to Christchurch.

Day 1: Auckland to Kaitaia

Northland & Bay of Islands
Ninety Mile Beach, Northland & Bay of Islands

By Amos Chapple

Northland & Bay of Islands


A place of history, long beaches and giant trees.


  • Rich Maori History
  • Cape Reinga, the top of New Zealand
  • Sandboarding


  • By car: 4 h 15 min | 310 km via SH1
  • By bus: 6 h 40 min | by Intercity

Kaitaia is the main centre for the ‘winterless north’. From here, you can catch a bus tour along Ninety Mile Beach, or visit the very top of the North Island, Cape Reinga. Other local attractions include Ahipara Beach, Te Ahu (the Far North Regional Museum) and Millennium Nocturnal Park where you can view glowworms day or night.

Head out to Carrington Estate for a round of golf with sweeping ocean views.

Day 2: Kaitaia to Bay of Islands

Northland & Bay of Islands
Russell, Northland & Bay of Islands

By Alistair Guthrie


  • Historic sites and heritage architecture
  • Maori cultural experiences
  • Hiking, kayaking and wildlife encounters


  • By car: 1 h 40 min | 118 km via SH10
  • By bus: 2 h 30 min | by Intercity


A subtropical wonderland of islands, marine life, kauri forests and Maori myths & legends.

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The Bay of Islands has an array of unique settlements for you to explore. In Kerikeri, you’ll find galleries, cafes and vineyards, gourmet food shops, golf courses and historic sites such as the Stone Store and the Mission House. There are superb hiking trails in the area – Rainbow Falls is a perfect picnic spot. Just before Paihia, you’ll have to chance to visit Haruru Falls. These falls tumble down in a perfect horseshoe.

Paihia makes an excellent base for exploring the Bay of Islands. Catch a cruise to the outer islands, enjoy a dolphin-spotting safari, or take a ferry to the charming township of Russell. The historic Treaty House at Waitangi marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation.

Day 3: Bay of Islands to Auckland

Kayak near dormant volcanoes, Auckland

By Julian Apse



Vibrant city style and spectacular landscapes.


  • By car: 3 h 10 min | 227 km via SH1
  • By bus: 4 h 10 min | by Intercity
  • By plane: 50 min | Auckland direct by Air New Zealand


Discover a combination of metropolitan delights and natural landscapes.

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As you journey southward, be sure to visit Kawakawa's beautiful public toilet. This masterpiece of glass tiles and imagination was the very last building designed by Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser.

A series of small settlements will lead you to Whangarei, a subtropical city on the edge of a beautiful harbour. At the Quayside Town Basin complex, you’ll find stylish cafes and restaurants, as well as museums, art galleries and shops. Stretch your legs with a gentle stroll to nearby Whangarei Falls.

Auckland is situated between two enormous harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. It’s a place to enjoy marine adventures, wine trails, forest walks and urban sophistication.

Day 4: Auckland to Waitomo Caves

Hamilton - Waikato
Waitomo, Hamilton - Waikato

By Discover Waitomo


  • Explore caves of glittering glowworms
  • Experience blackwater rafting
  • Hamilton Botanical Gardens


  • By car: 2 h 30 min | 195 km via SH1 & SH39
  • By bus: 4 h 10 min | by Intercity 


Explore an underground world of glowworm caves and hidden chambers.

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New Zealand's longest river will accompany you for much of your journey south to the Waikato. At Ngaruawahia, you can turn onto State Highway 39 and travel straight to Waitomo or alternatively, spend some time checking out the city of Hamilton.

Waitomo is an ancient limestone region that hides a series of vast cave systems beneath its surface. Walking tours and boat cruises are easy ways to explore these stalactite, stalagmite and glow-worm decorated caves. For something more adventurous, try Blackwater rafting, or abseil into the hidden depths.

Day 5: Waitomo Caves to Rotorua

Fly fishing, Rotorua

By David Lambroughton



Mud pools, adventure and unique Maori culture.


  • Stunning lakes & geothermal spectacles
  • Maori cultural experiences
  • Thrilling adventure


Your trip to Rotorua takes you through a series of small towns. Meet New Zealand's iconic bird at Otorohanga Kiwi House or visit Te Awamutu's beautiful rose gardens. Cambridge is the heart of the Waikato's affluent horse breeding district. Its lovely tree-lined streets and boutique shops make a good rest stop. Another interesting stop is Tirau, known for its animal-shaped corrugated iron buildings.

Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so volcanic activity is part of the city’s past and present. Explore the geothermal areas and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people. Rotorua is entertaining in any weather, at any time of the year.

Day 6: Rotorua to Taupo

Lake Taupo
Hukafalls Jet, Lake Taupo

By Destination Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo


Teeming with outdoor activities and water sports.


  • Take a thrilling Hukafalls jet boat ride
  • Kayak to the Mine Bay Maori carvings
  • Relaxing natural hot pools


  • By car: 1 h | 82 km via SH5
  • By bus: 1 h 35 min | by Intercity
  • By : Visit the local iSITE for tour options

The road to Taupo will keep you entertained with its unusual, volcanic geology. Take a side road to a geothermal park (like Orakei Korako or Craters of the Moon), where you’ll discover geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud. Towards the end of your journey, you’ll encounter Huka Prawn Park, Huka Falls and a world-acclaimed golf course.

The resort town of Taupo sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake, which is well stocked with sizeable trout. A boat trip to the Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay is a great way to get out on the lake and learn about the area's history.

Day 7: Taupo to Napier

Hawke's Bay
Napier, Hawke's Bay

By Kirsten Simcox Photography

Hawke's Bay


Discover wineries, wildlife and Art Deco design


  • Art Deco architecture
  • World-class food and wine
  • Beautiful cycling trails


  • By car: 3 h | 214 km via SH2
  • By bus: 4 h | by Intercity

The major entertainment on the road from Taupo to Napier is the fantastic scenery. There’s a bit of everything - rugged hills, beautiful valleys, gentle plains and huge vistas. At Tarawera, take a break and walk to the hot springs above the Waipunga River. You might also want to stop at the Waiarua Falls lookout, to view the twin waterfalls.

In 1931, a devastating earthquake nearly destroyed the city of Napier. It was rebuilt in the style of the times and is now a treasure of Art Deco architecture. The vineyards of Hawke’s Bay are all within easy reach of Napier, with many connected by easy cycle trails. Another attraction is the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers.

Day 8: Napier to Wellington via Martinborough

Toast Martinborough, Wairarapa

By Mike Heydon - Jet Photography


  • Discover Wairarapa's wineries
  • Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre
  • Art and culture in Wellington


  • By car: 4 h 20 min | 230 km via SH2
  • By bus: 5 h 25 min | via Kapiti Coast by Intercity


Must-dos in the 'coolest little capital'.

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Your journey today takes you through the scenery and charming towns of the Wairarapa. Carterton is a great place to stop for souvenirs and Greytown is a hub of antique shops and Victorian heritage buildings. Martinborough features over 20 wineries, most within cycling and walking distance of the village square. Some of New Zealand’s best pinot noir comes from this region. Cycle-the-vines or take a guided wine tour.

In Wellington, you'll find a compact, cultured city, full of character. The downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot, with plenty of cafes, restaurants and museums all within easy walking distance. Be sure to check out our national museum Te Papa.

Day 9: Spend the day in Wellington

Weta Cave, Wellington

By Positively Wellington Tourism



A mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine.


  • Visit Weta Studio Workshop
  • Te Papa New Zealand's national museum
  • Climb Mount Victoria


  • By walking: Visit the local iSITE for more activities

Spend the day exploring New Zealand's cool little capital Wellington. Along with the array of museums and galleries that have made Wellington the country's cultural centre, there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained. Film fans will love the Weta Workshop Tour, where you can discover the special effects and props that bring imaginary worlds to life.

Wellington is also a great place for gardens and wildlife. The iconic red cable car will take you up to the botanical gardens and Zealandia wildlife sanctuary, where you can meet some of New Zealand's most unique creatures. Visit the seal colony at Red Rock Reserve via a lovely coastal walk.

Day 10: Wellington to Blenheim

Winery, Marlborough

By Mike Heydon



From valleys of vines to sheltered waterways.


  • Home of Sauvignon Blanc
  • Cruise waterways of Marlborough Sounds
  • Hiking, kayaking and wildlife encounters


  • By ferry: 3 h 30 min | to Picton via Cook Strait ferry
  • By car: 25 min | 28 km via SH1
  • By bus: 30 min | Intercity 

The passage across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds is one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world. Along the way look out for the Red Rocks seal colony, Tory Channel, Cook’s Lookout and the beautiful coves of the sounds. You'll arrive in Picton, the South Island base for ferry services linking the North and South islands. It’s also the gateway to the marine, forest and island attractions of the Marlborough Sounds.

Nearby Blenheim is the heart of wine-growing Marlborough, with more than 20 wineries on its doorstep. Character accommodation is another highlight here with everything from homestays to boutique hotels.

Day 11: Blenheim to Murchison

Kayaking on Lake Rotoiti, Nelson

By Adventures Unlimited


  • Explore Nelson Lakes National Park
  • Fish for trout
  • Kayaking, river rafting & horse trekking


  • By car: 2 h 15 min | 162 km via SH63
  • By bus: No direct bus route - see car-free options


An enchanting alpine landscape of rugged peaks and glacial lakes.

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After the town of Renwick, you’ll follow the Wairau River up to the Southern Alps. Stop in Mount Richmond Forest Park and explore one of the park's many hiking tracks.

The alpine village of St Arnaud sits on the edge of Lake Rotoiti against a stunning backdrop of mountains. It’s the perfect base for exploring the Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand’s second largest. There are magnificent hiking trails – short and long. Local adventure operators offer you a choice of kayaking, river rafting, mountain biking, horse trekking and 4WD motorbikes. 

Spend the night here or in nearby Murchison.

Car-free option

Skip St Arnaud and add a night in Nelson before heading on to Murchison.

Day 12: Murchison to Greymouth

West Coast
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, West Coast

By Miles Holden

West Coast


Rugged natural beauty and unique experiences.


  • Punakaiki pancake rocks & blowhole
  • Gold mining heritage
  • West Coast Wilderness cycle trail


  • By car: 2 h 45 min | 185 km via SH6
  • By bus: 3 h 45 min | by Intercity 

The road to Greymouth provides spectacular views of wild beaches and the tempestuous Tasman Sea. At Charleston, you can arrange underground rafting and cave exploring trips. Punakaiki is famous for its ancient pancake rocks and booming blowholes. It is the centrepiece of the Paparoa National Park, which is packed with a variety of stunning landscapes.

Greymouth itself has a long gold mining history. It’s the largest town on the West Coast and is known for its awesome seascapes. The local brewery runs tours or you can shop for carved pounamu (greenstone/jade) – a local treasure highly prized by Maori.

Day 13: Greymouth to Arthur's Pass

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

By Julian Apse


  • Arthur's Pass National Park
  • Walking and hiking trails
  • Encounter cheeky alpine parrots


  • By car: 1 h 20 min | 95 km via SH73
  • By train: 2 h 15 min | by TranzAlpine


Traverse the highest pass over the Southern Alps.

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Maori tribes crossing to the West Coast to find pounamu (jade) first used the route known as Arthur’s Pass. Today it’s a sophisticated mountain pass, memorable for its scenery as well as its breathtaking civil engineering. Drive the route yourself or take the stunning TranzAlpine railway.

Either way, take time to stop at Arthur’s Pass Village. This little settlement in the mountains is a base for climbing, hiking, hunting and skiing adventures in the adjacent national park. There’s a good choice of short walks and native birds are common including the kea, tui and bellbird.

Day 14: Arthur's Pass to Christchurch

Christchurch - Canterbury
TranzAlpine train, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Canterbury Tourism

Christchurch - Canterbury


From the alps to the ocean.


  • TranzAlpine railway journey
  • Punt down the Avon River
  • Explore aboard a heritage tram


  • By car: 2 h 5 min | 150 km via SH73
  • By train: 2 h 5 min | by TranzAlpine

As you travel from the Southern Alps to the Canterbury Plains, rural serenity and friendly towns will lead you on to Christchurch.

As the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch is packed with charming heritage, innovation and outdoor activities. Punting on the Avon River, heritage tram rides, street art trails, botanical gardens and scenic heli-flights are just some of the things to do here. Spend the afternoon discovering all this city has to offer.

Day 15: Explore Christchurch and surrounds

Christchurch - Canterbury
Wildlife encounters, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Miles Holden


  • Encounter dolphins, seals and penguins
  • French heritage & colonial architecture
  • Explore the Port Hills


  • By car: 1 h 30 min | 81 km via SH75
  • By bus: 1 h 55 min 
  • By : Visit the local iSITE for day trips & tours


Learn more about this unique French influenced settlement.

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Spend your last day exploring Christchurch's surrounds with a day trip to the French colonial settlement of Akaroa. Self-drivers can choose to take State Highway 75 via Lake Ellesmere and Lake Forsyth or the longer and more difficult route through the Lyttelton tunnel and around Lyttelton Harbour.

Akaroa is elegant and full of character. The streets wear French names, and local restaurants pay homage to French cuisine. Visit the Akaroa museum and beautifully restored historic cottages. Harbour cruises provide a chance to meet dolphins, penguins and fur seals.

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Important things you need to know about driving in New Zealand.

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