Down the middle Auckland to Invercargill Itinerary

15 DAYS

2537 km

Caractéristiques

  • Tongariro National Park
  • Our highest mountain
  • Adventurous Queenstown

Proximity

CAR-FREE TRAVEL OPTIONS

Includes a ferry across Cook Strait.

This 15-day itinerary through New Zealand is for people who love wild places and outdoor adventures.

From the geothermal attractions, volcanoes, and river journeys of the North Island, to the towering mountains, mysterious fiords and alpine villages of the South Island. You will be blown away by the variety of adventures and natural attractions on offer with this journey down the middle of New Zealand from Auckland to Invercargill.

Day 1: Auckland to Rotorua

Rotorua
Kawakawa Bay Track, Rotorua

By Tourism New Zealand

Rotorua

ROTORUA

Mud pools, adventure and unique Maori culture.

Caractéristiques

  • Mountain biking trails
  • Bungy jumping, zorbing and the luge
  • Geothermal attractions and Maori culture

Proximity

The journey south from Auckland takes you through the fertile dairy farming region of Waikato, accompanied much of the way by the mighty Waikato River. You may want to stop at Matamata and visit Hobbiton Movie Set, where Peter Jackson brought The Shire to life.

In Rotorua, there are signs of geothermal activity everywhere you look. Explore the geothermal areas and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people. Rotorua is also increasingly becoming a hub for thrilling adventure from the familiar such as rafting and mountain biking to the bizarre zorbing and shweeb.

Day 2: Rotorua to Taupo

Lake Taupo
Skydiving , Lake Taupo

By Skydiving, Great Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo

TAUPO

Teeming with outdoor activities and water sports.

Caractéristiques

  • Skydive over New Zealand's largest lake
  • Thrilling Hukafalls jet boat ride
  • Kayak to the Mine Bay Maori carvings

Proximity

The road to Taupo is brimming with unusual, volcanic geology. If you haven't had your fill of geothermal activity yet, take a side road to visit Orakei Korako Cave & Thermal Park or Craters of the Moon where you’ll discover geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud. 

As New Zealand's largest lake, Taupo is the perfect place for water activities. Kayaking, paddle-boarding, boat cruises, jet boating and fishing are all popular activities. For a real thrill try skydiving from the largest commercial tandem dropzone in the world and look down on the stunning volcanic landscape below.

Day 3: Taupo to Turangi

Ruapehu
Taranaki Falls, Ruapehu

By Graeme Murray

Caractéristiques

  • Tongariro National Park
  • Trout fishing in Turangi
  • Walking and hiking trails

Proximity

TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK

Encircling the stunning volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.

Read more

Follow the eastern edge of Lake Taupo to reach Turangi. The town is a perfect base for exploring the stunning landscape of Tongariro National Park with its three volcanic peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.

Arguably, the most famous activity in the park is Tongariro Alpine Crossing, regarded as one of the best one-day walks in the world. However, there are plenty of other things to do in the region, including other short and long hikes, rafting on the Tongariro River and skiing in winter.

Turangi is also a mecca for trout fishers, with famous fishing spots in almost every direction.

Day 4: Turangi to Whanganui

Whanganui
The PS Waimarie., Whanganui

By Whanganui District Council

Whanganui

WHANGANUI

Home to New Zealand's longest navigable river.

Caractéristiques

  • Paddle steamer river cruise
  • Kayaks, jet boats and canoe adventures
  • Heritage buildings and art culture

Proximity

There are two ways to get to Whanganui – the long and winding way via Pipiriki takes you into Whanganui National Park, a fantastic place for hiking. The more orthodox route is along State Highway 4, which wanders through a world of rivers and gentle hill country.

The river city of Whanganui has a long history and plenty of beautifully restored heritage areas to discover, including the Durie Hill elevator, one of only two earth-bound elevators in the world. For some adventure, check out the various options for an expedition on the river, there are jet boats, kayaks and canoe adventures available.

Day 5: Whanganui to Wellington

Wellington
Kapiti Island Nature Tours, Wellington

By Ian Trafford

Wellington

WELLINGTON

A mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine.

Caractéristiques

  • Kapiti Island nature reserve
  • Wellington Botanical Gardens
  • World-class craft beer

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 30 min | 193 km via SH1
  • By bus: 3 h 20 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

Your journey south today is rich with natural wonders and wildlife encounters. 

An easy detour from Levin takes you to beautiful dune lakes, surrounded by wetland and lush native forest. Further south, you'll find Kapiti Island, a nature reserve for close encounters with rare birds. The Kapiti Coast is known for its gourmet delights and lovely beaches; take some time to explore the region before making your way to New Zealand's capital city.

Wellington is home to a myriad of cafes, restaurants, museums and live music venues for you to enjoy.

Day 6: Spend the day in Wellington

Wairarapa
Rimutaka Cycle trail, Wairarapa

By TBS Photography

Caractéristiques

  • Rimutaka Cycle Trail
  • Museums, art galleries & Weta Workshop
  • Native wildlife at Zealandia

Proximity

TOP EXPERIENCES IN WELLINGTON

New Zealand's cool little capital is renowned for its vibrant creative culture.

Read more

Nestled between the harbour and the hills, Wellington's downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Delve into museums and galleries, sample local craft beers and experience the funky culture of New Zealand's capital city.

For trips further afield, there are plenty of walks, including a coastal walk to the Red Rocks Reserve where you'll find a colony of fur seals. The Rimutaka Cycle Trail is an interesting ride, the full trail takes 2-3 days but you can choose to do a single section in a day.

Day 7: Wellington to Nelson

Nelson
Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson

By Fraser Clements

Nelson

NELSON

National parks, local artists & world-class wine

Caractéristiques

  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Kayaking and boat cruises
  • Walking and cycling trails

Proximity

  • By ferry: 3 h 30 min | to Picton by a Cook Strait Ferry
  • By car: 1 h 50 min | 107 km via Linkwater & SH6
  • By bus: 2 h 15 min | by Intercity via Blenheim

The passage across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds is one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world, with the beautiful coves of the sounds greeting you in the South Island.

From Picton, travel on through the town of Havelock (famous for its greenshell mussels) to Nelson. This seaside city is home to an artistic community of over 300 working artists and a plethora of galleries as well as delicious restaurants, wineries and boutique craft breweries. Explore the region by bike, kayak or on foot. Try cycling the Great Taste Trail, a network of trails that connect Nelson with nearby towns.

From Nelson it is a short distance to Abel Tasman National Park.

Day 8: Nelson to St Arnaud

Nelson
Lacs Nelson, Nelson

By Julia Apse

Caractéristiques

  • Nelson Lakes National Park
  • Kayaking, rafting & horse trekking
  • Fly-fishing

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 20 min | 88 km via SH6 & Kerr-Hill Road
  • By bus: No direct bus route - see car-free options

NELSON LAKES NATIONAL PARK

An enchanting alpine landscape of rugged peaks, forests and stunning glacial lakes.

Read more

Travel through a mixture of forest, farmland and hill country until you reach Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park.

The alpine village of St Arnaud, on the edge of the lake, is the perfect base for exploring New Zealand's second largest national park. Magnificent hiking trails, kayaking, river rafting, mountain biking and horse trekking are all popular activities in this region. In winter, nearby Rainbow Ski field offers every type of terrain for skiers and snowboarders. 

Car-free option

Consider travelling to Christchurch via Kaikoura instead of St Arnaud and Hanmer Springs.

Day 9: St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs

Christchurch - Canterbury
adventure-off-road-driving, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Thrillseekers Adventures

Caractéristiques

  • Outdoor adventure activities
  • Skiing and snowboarding in winter
  • Thermal pools and spa

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 10 min | 235 km via SH63, SH6 & SH65
  • By bus: No direct bus route - see car-free options

HANMER SPRINGS

Hot pools, stunning landscapes and thrilling outdoor adventure.

Read more

From St Arnaud, follow the Buller River west to Murchison, where you can get your adrenaline pumping with a Buller Canyon jetboat ride. Murchison is also home to the country's longest swing-bridge.

Traditionally, Hanmer Springs is known as a destination for relaxation and indulgence. You can soak in the hot springs or treat yourself to a range of spa therapies. However, there are also plenty of outdoor adventure activities on offer including forest walks, horse trekking, paintball, rafting, and 4WD Quad bikes.

Day 10: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch

Christchurch - Canterbury
Port Hills, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Julian Apse

Christchurch - Canterbury

CHRISTCHURCH -  CANTERBURY

 From the alps to the ocean.

Caractéristiques

  • Hiking & cycling in the Port Hills
  • Swim with dolphins in Akaroa
  • Hot Air Ballooning

Proximity

Farmland, vineyards and olive groves characterise the route to Christchurch. Along the way, you'll pass through the Waipara Valley, one of New Zealand's premier wine regions. The last leg of your journey takes you past the surf beaches of Amberley, Leithfield, Waikuku and Woodend.

As the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch has a fascinating mixture of heritage and innovation. Favourite activities include punting down the Avon River, visiting the International Antarctic Centre, biking in the Port Hills, relaxing on Sumner Beach or encountering wildlife in Akaroa.

Day 11: Christchurch to Mount Cook Village

Christchurch - Canterbury
Tasman Glacier, Aoraki Mt Cook, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Fraser Clements

Caractéristiques

  • Explore Tasman Glacier
  • New Zealand's highest mountain
  • Stargazing in the Dark Sky Reserve

Proximity

  • By car: 4 h 20 min | 333 km via SH1, SH79 & SH8
  • By bus: 5 h 40 min | by Intercity

AORAKI MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK

Home to New Zealand's highest mountain and longest glacier.

Read more

Small towns appear regularly as you travel across the Canterbury Plains to Aoraki Mount Cook. Lake Tekapo is a beautiful place to stop along the way, with spectacular views of the turquoise lake framed by towering snow-capped mountains.

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home to the highest peak in Australasia (Mt Cook - 3755m), attracting mountain climbers, hikers and nature lovers from all over. Explore the mountains with a heli-skiing, heli-hiking or aerial sightseeing adventure or take a boat trip to visit Tasman Glacier.

Aoraki Mount Cook is also part of the International Dark Sky Reserve, making it a premier spot for stargazing.

Day 12 - 13: Mount Cook Village to Queenstown

Queenstown
Shotover Jet, Queenstown

By Shotover Jet

Queenstown

QUEENSTOWN

Home of the ultimate adventure bucket list.

Caractéristiques

  • Adventure activities of all kinds
  • Hiking, cycling and mountain bike trails
  • Delicious food and winery tours

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 15 min | 264 km via Sh8 & SH6
  • By bus: 5 h | by GreatSights

Make your way from Aoraki Mount Cook to Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital. 

Located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and with The Remarkables mountain range as a backdrop, Queenstown is visually spectacular. It is also the perfect place to source almost any kind of adventure, including bungy, jet boating, horse trekking, rafting and skydiving. When you need a break from the adventure activities, there is a whole range of luxury experiences on offer, from wine tours to indulgent spa treatments and leisurely games of golf.

Day 14: Day trip to Milford Sound

Fiordland
Milford Sound, Fiordland

By Alistair Guthrie

Caractéristiques

  • Kayaking, diving, or scenic flights
  • Walking and hiking trails
  • Boat cruises day and night

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 45 min | 287 km (one way) via SH6 & SH94
  • By : Driving times may vary during winter
  • By bus: Visit the local iSITE for scenic tour options

EXPLORE MILFORD SOUND

Decorated with waterfalls and alive with unique wildlife.

Read more

The road to Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most scenic routes. Along the way, you'll pass the Mirror Lakes with their amazing reflective views and the rough-hewn Homer Tunnel.

Boat cruises are a great way to experience the sounds; choose either a day trip or a more leisurely overnight cruise. Many cruises offer an underwater observatory, allowing you to see the fiord's fascinating depths. Or hire a kayak and explore at your own pace. Tall waterfalls, vertical rock faces and seals are some of the Sound's highlights.

If you've opted for a day cruise, spend the night in Te Anau.

Caution: If you choose to self-drive, be sure to give yourself plenty of time as conditions can vary greatly on this route, particularly in winter.

Day 15: Milford Sound to Invercargill

Southland
Around the Mountains Cycle, Southland

By Venture Southland

Southland

SOUTHLAND

A land of rugged coast and rolling plains.

Caractéristiques

  • Around the Mountain cycle trail
  • Hiking on Stewart Island
  • Transport World

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 30 min | 187 km via SH6
  • By bus: 3 h 5 min | by Intercity
  • By : Visit the local iSITE for more activities.

There are two routes to Invercargill. The longer, wilder route takes in Lake Manapouri, Tuatapere and Riverton, one of New Zealand’s first settlements. Or take the east road through forested hills, valleys and river plains to Gore, home of the Hokonui Moonshine Museum, which showcases the region’s illicit whisky-making past.

Spend the rest of your journey exploring the country's southernmost region. Visit Transport World in Invercargill or take an excursion to Stewart Island. Alternatively, carry on along the southern coast and explore the wilderness area of the Catlins. Be sure to try the region's famous Bluff Oysters and blue cod before you depart.

Driving in New Zealand

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

View the route below

You may also be interested in...

Recommended Trips →

Travel to NZ →

Visas & Immigration →