So, you’re thinking of heading to New Zealand? Good choice. Now comes the hard part, what to see, what do to… New Zealand is a fairly small country but the windy, scenic roads can take up some of your travel time. Here is the itinerary that I used, covering cover both the South and North Islands, and loved. If you really want to have some quality beach or hiking time you may want to skip something on the list or extend the trip to three weeks.
Fly into Queenstown on the South Island and hop in the car to head to Te Anau (a 2 hour drive).
1. Te Anau & Milford Sound (1 night)
Take in the quiet in the tiny town of Te Anau. This is really just your way of settling into New Zeleand and getting ready for tomorrow’s activities. On the main street there are a few good pubs, bars and restaurants. Try the Ranch, where the seafood was excellent and, weather permitting, there is a plethora of outdoor seating.
In the morning hop right into the car and head to Milford Sound (2 hour drive). Once there grab tickets for one of the cruises. I recommend the Jucy Cruise (about $45). If you rented a car from Jucy (by far the cheapest that I found) your driver also gets a discount on the cruise. The boat was a brand new catamaran and, happily, it was quite empty. Take in the scenery of your ~2 hour cruises through the Fiord (a little bay that was carved by glaciers). Be sure to keep you eye out for the seals that live on the rocks on the edge.
Once your cruise is finished hop back in the car for a long, four hour ride to Queenstown. On the way stop by the Mirror Lake, which is just on the side of the road, for some great views of the mountains reflected in the still, clear water. As you approach Queenstown you’ll also have some incredible views of Lake Wakatipu.
2. Queeenstown & Central Otago (2 nights)
After the long ride you’re going to want to unwind. This tiny little city has a lot going on. Bars, shops, even a gondola to the top of the mountain that it lies in the shadow of. Located on the edge of a lake there are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water as well. Queenstown is also the home of adventure sports in New Zealand. Whether you want to go paragliding, ride in a shark boat or go bungy jumping (this is where it was invented!) your options are numerous.
Just outside of Queenstown is Cromwell and wine country. Take care of your adventurous side in the morning and head to the vineyards for the afternoon. Every couple of miles you’ll see vineyards, some with specular wine, others with incredible views. Go further out and start with lunch at Mt Difficulty (make a reservation) and then make your way back to Queenstown. If you’re not ready to bungy jump, do a full day of wine tasting in Central Otago.
3. Wanaka (1 night)
Take in the views on the curvy road that you takes you over to Wanaka. If you’re still up for some adventure, head straight to Codrona, where you can race mountain bikes down trails at the top of the mountain. This is not for the faint of heart but you’ll see people of all ages participating.
In Wanaka head down to the lake to take your obligatory picture of the Wanaka Tree. Chill out and relax at one of the restaurants overlooking the lake or do as the locals do and grab an incredible meal at Red Star Burger Bar.
4. Haast & the Glaciers (1 night)
Get ready for a long day in the car. Leaving Wanaka you’re going to head toward Haast. These are some of the most scenic roads on earth with dramatic mountains and seaside views all in one. You’re going to drive up the coast until you reach Fox Glacier. Here, do the hike around Lake Matheson. It only takes about an hour and is definitely worth it. If you want to see more of Mt Cook or Fox you can stay in this area for a night and do helicopter tours or hikes. You can no longer go onto Franz Joseph Glacier but you can do a one hour hike to the bottom of it. Alternatively, keep heading north to Hokitika.
5. Arthur’s Pass and Punakaiki (1 night)
Drive from Hokitika over to Arthur’s Pass. This is another scenic view and a historical site to experience. You’re going to have to backtrack the hour+ ride so you decide if you want to see this. Head back up the coast to Punakaiki and stop to see the pancake rocks and blowholes. These constant blowholes are an experience with intense bass sounds and constant rainbows due to the ocean spray. They’re right on the highway so they’re easily accessible. Once you’re done site seeing you decide if you want to stay on the coast or start heading inland toward your next wine country…
6. Marlborough (1 night)
Arrive in Marlborough right around lunch time when the vineyards open. Head to Wairau River for a wine tasting and lunch. If you order first you can tell the person hosting the wine tasting what you’ll be having to eat and they’ll pair your tasting to match your meal. You’ve been in the car a lot lately. Chill out in wine country and enjoy the whites of the region. The popular option is to rent a bike and do your own tour, since there are a ton of wineries within just a few miles.
7. Wellington (1 night)
Head to Picton from Marlborough to grab the ferry to Wellington. Ideally, you’ll have clear weather and be able to enjoy the scenery of Marlborough Sound on the trip to the North Island. Spend the afternoon getting to know Wellington and visiting the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa).
8. Tapou (1 night)
Head north to Tapou. There are some incredible sights to see on the way and you’ll start to see the differences between the North and South islands. Tapou is small, fairly touristy town so just relax and enjoy. If you are there early enough head over to the Waikato River. Follow Spa Road to the river. Take the hour long hike along the river to see Huka Falls (just over an hour). When you return the starting point hop into the natural springs that flow into the river to relax the day, and the hike, away.
9. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland & Mount Maunganui (2 nights)
Leaving Taupo stop by the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland to see (and SMELL) the natural hot springs. The sulfur and minerals create amazing colors within the park. Keep heading north up to Tauranga and then Mount Maunganui. This scenic peninsula means beach time. With clear water, warm beaches and perfect waves it may be time to rent a surf board. Hike up ‘The Mount’ and wander around the small town where you can often find live music and friendly pubs.
10. Whitianga & Cathedral Cove (1 night)
Head up the west coast from Mount Maunganui toward Hot Water Beach. Try to time your trip with the tides to get the full impact of the hot water that comes up from under the sand. Head up the coast ten minutes and take a hike or water taxi out to Cathedral Cove. Grab a hotel, AirBnB or a ‘batch‘ (the common Kiwi term for a cottage) in Whitianga for the night.
11. Waiheke (2 nights)
Head west from Whitianga over to Coramandel. After your breakfast and coffee stop, head over to Auckland (2 1/2 – 3 hours). Hop the ferry over to Waiheke (The Island of Wine) for a relaxing end to your trip. Head to the beach or use the hop-on-hop-off bus to go from vineyard to vineyard.
More about Waiheke
Back to Auckland for the flight home…
Your Itinerary for 2 Weeks in New Zealand
|Te Anau & Milford Sound||1 night|
|Queenstown & Central Otago||2 nights|
|Haast & the Glaciers||1 night|
|Arthur’s Pass and Punakaiki||1 night|
|Mount Maunganui||2 nights|
|Whitianga & Cathedral Cove||1 night|