Begin in New Zealand's biggest city Auckland and explore the beautiful beaches, geothermal attractions and wineries of the North Island before crossing the Cook Strait to the South Island. Here you'll meet fascinating wildlife, visit ancient glaciers and majestic fiords, and experience thrilling adventures as you journey the length of the South Island.
Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city 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.
Head out on a ferry to visit the island volcano of Rangitoto, or Waiheke, also known as the 'Island of Wine'. Alternatively, you may like to indulge in a little inner-city culture. Enjoy the shops and diverse restaurants of downtown Auckland, and visit the Auckland Museum and Auckland Art Gallery.
The resort town of Paihia makes an excellent base for exploring the Bay of Islands. Catch a cruise to the outer islands and go dolphin spotting. Or take the ferry to the charming township of Russell, where you can explore the historic buildings of New Zealand's first capital. In nearby Kerikeri, you'll find historic sites like the Stone Store and the Mission House. The historic Treaty House at Waitangi is worth a visit, it marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation; take a guided tour to learn more.
Explore New Zealand's famous Kauri forest.Read more
From Paihia, travel across to the east coast to Omapere/Opononi where you can enjoy stunning views of the Hokianga Harbour. The awesome Waipoua Forest, home of New Zealand's largest kauri trees is a great place to learn more about Maori myth and legend. Take a guided tour through these giant trees.
Return to Auckland via Dargaville. Along the way, Trounson Kauri Park offers more chances to treegaze and the Kai Iwi Sand Lakes are great for swimming. Visit Matakohe’s kauri museum, where you’ll discover the district’s fascinating history or pause in the village of Maungaturoto and explore the local antique and craft shops.
Formerly a centre of gold-mining and timber, Coromandel Town is now a haven for artists, craftspeople and conservationists. There is plenty to explore, including a train trip through the forest at Driving Creek.
Nearby, Whitianga makes a good base for visiting two of the region's must-see attractions, Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. The road south takes you through the surf town of Whangamata and the dramatic Karangahake Gorge.
Before you get to Rotorua, you'll have the chance to visit Hobbiton Movie Set, where Peter Jackson brought the Shire to life in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies. In Rotorua itself, you'll find a place of spectacular geothermal activity, Maori culture and ample adventure.
Taupo sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake, making it a great place for boat cruises, kayaking, jet boating and fishing. Take a tour to the Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay to learn about the history of the area. Nearby, Tongariro National Park is a favourite with hikers. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a particular highlight.
After a 1931 earthquake nearly levelled the city of Napier, it was rebuilt in the style of the times and is now a hub of Art Deco design. The Hawke's Bay region is also known for its excellent vineyards many of which can be accessed along easy cycle trails. The gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and the premier golf course next door are also worth a visit.
The Classic New Zealand Wine Trail takes you south to Wairarapa, where you'll find a collection of charming colonial style towns with a mix of boutique shops, art galleries, antique stores, cafes and restaurants. Some of New Zealand’s best pinot noir comes from this area's family-owned vineyards, so it’s not surprising it is a popular destination for those who enjoy premium wines and vineyard cafes.
Journey over the Rimutaka Ranges to Wellington, New Zealand's capital. This compact and cultured city is full of character and ideal for explorations on foot. Enjoy cafes, restaurants, and a huge range of museums and art galleries. Dance, theatre and live music are another Wellington speciality.
From here, it's a short journey to Blenheim, the heart of wine-growing Marlborough. With more than 20 wineries nearby this is a great place for a wine tour, or explore the area by bike, kayak or on foot via one of the hiking trails. Further south, Kaikoura is all about wildlife experiences. Here you can see whales mixing it with dolphins, orcas and fur seals.
Continue on to Christchurch, the South Island's largest city, where you will spend the night.
Today you'll cross the South Island using a route known as Arthur's Pass. Maori tribes crossing to the west coast first used the route, today it is home to Arthur's Pass National Park and a great place for walking.
Greenstone (NZ jade) is a highlight in Hokitika; you can see carvers sculpting and polishing pieces in workshops around the town. Next travel the short trip to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. These mighty rivers of solid ice are some of the most accessible glaciers in the world and well worth the visit.
Enjoy waterfalls and river scenery as you leave the coast and travel over Haast Pass to Wanaka. Here you'll find an appealing mix of fine living, family fun and adventure. Hiking, cycling, boat cruises and 4WD Safaris are just some of the ways to explore this beautiful area. You’ll also find unique attractions, like Puzzling World and the quirky Paradiso Cinema.
The alpine resort of Queenstown is exciting, sophisticated and fantastically scenic. It’s the place to source almost any kind of adventure, including bungy, jet boating, horse trekking, skydiving and rafting. It’s also a destination for luxury experiences – gourmet food and wine, spa treatments and leisurely games of golf.
Once described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth natural wonder of the world’, Milford Sound is a relaxing contrast to Queenstown. It takes a fair amount of time to get there but it's worth it once you're out on the water of the Sounds. Take a boat cruise or hire a kayak and soak in the magical blue skies, green mountains, crystal-clear water and tumbling waterfalls.
Alternatively, take a flightseeing tour of the Sounds, departing from Queenstown. Spend the night in Te Anau, where you can explore the local glowworm caves.
Caution: If you choose to self-drive to Milford Sound, be sure to give yourself plenty of time as conditions varying greatly on this route, particularly in winter.
Choose between two routes to Invercargill; the longer, wilder route takes you past spectacular Lake Manapouri and on to Riverton, one of the country's oldest settlements. The quicker route takes you through Lumsden where you'll find some premier cycling routes.
Invercargill is New Zealand's southernmost city. Enjoy the tuatara house at the local museum or take a stroll around the gardens, aviary and duck ponds of Queens Park.
From here, you'll cross Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island. Much of the island is a national park and a good place to enjoy nature at its wildest. Highlights include spotting kiwis on Ocean Beach, walking amidst the birds on Ulva Island and hiking the tracks through the park.
In the late 19th century, Dunedin acquired an impressive amount of ostentatious Victorian architecture. No expense was spared. Today you can enjoy the historic public buildings, imposing churches, palatial homes and ornate hotels. There’s even a castle.
Eco-tourism is the other face of Dunedin; head out to the Otago Peninsula to visit colonies of penguin, albatross and seals.
Discover alpine landscapes, ancient glaciers and turquoise lakes.Read more
Follow the coast north to Oamaru, stopping along the way to visit the mysterious Moeraki Boulders. The heritage town of Oamaru is home to a lovely collection of historic whitestone buildings, a Steampunk museum and a colony of little blue penguins. Further inland Omarama, is a magnet for gliding enthusiasts. The northwesterly wind blows steadily to form the famous Northwest Arch, a thermal that can take the glider pilots to 10,000 metres.
Your next stop is Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, home to New Zealand's highest mountain and longest glacier. This is a region simply made for mountain climbing and hiking. It is also part of the International Dark Sky Reserve, making a spectacular spot for stargazing.
Travel through Central Otago instead of Oamaru and spend a night in Cromwell.
On your way back to Christchurch today, be sure to stop at the lakeside settlement of Tekapo, where you can enjoy of a whole raft of activities. Fishing, kayaking, bike riding and horse trekking are some of the things to do here. Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd and the sheepdog statue for great photo opportunities.
Your final stop, Christchurch, is an entertaining mixture of refined lifestyle and cultural excitement. The tranquil Avon River meanders through the city and adjacent Hagley Park, historic buildings house a lively arts community and restored trams make it easy for visitors to get around. Spend the rest of your journey visiting heritage sites, museums, galleries, and enjoying the vibrant restaurant scene.