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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.