One could easily spend months exploring New Zealand. But if you’ve got limited vacation hours, picking a few highlights is the best way to maximise your visit. This two-week travel guide will give you a taste of Aotearoa’s famous beaches, vineyards, and incredibly picturesque attractions.
Day 1: Auckland
New Zealand’s biggest city tends to be where most people arrive from. Spend the day recovering from the jetlag by exploring the central area – it’s only a 20-minute bus trip from the airport. If you do want to explore a bit further out – and this includes the wineries and beaches – hiring a car will be your best choice. For inspiration, look no further than our 24-hour guide to Auckland.
Day 2: Waiheke Island
A 40-minute ferry trip from downtown Auckland will lead you to one of its most popular day trip destinations: Waiheke Island. Follow our tips on how to spend the day on the island to get the most out of your trip. Options are abundant in this wonderful area, and includes its famous vineyards, a diverse range of beaches, plus some adventurous attractions like zip lining and sea kayaking.
Day 3: Auckland to Waitomo Caves
Hop on a car and enjoy the picturesque drive from Auckland to the Waikato region. The city of Hamilton is right in between your departure point and final destination – if you want to make a quick stopover, the Botanic Gardens are a definite must-see. An hour’s drive south of Hamilton will finally get you to Waitomo and its famous caves, where you’ll be able to try your hand at a number of adventurous activities as well as getting to see New Zealand’s unique species of glowworms light up the limestone formations.
Day 4: Waitomo Caves to Rotorua
A two-hour drive from Waitomo will lead you to Rotorua. The trip is going to be a treat for nature lovers – you’ll pass through a compelling mixture of rural backdrops, lakes and wilderness. On the way, stop over Pureora Forest Park to get a glimpse of New Zealand’s rarest bird species. Keen anglers should also consider making a pit stop at Lake Whakamaru to try their hand at trout fishing.
Day 5: A day in Rotorua
Rotorua is a place that deserves at least a day of exploring. The area is known for its geothermal wonders, rich Maori culture, and wonderful forested terrains. The Government Gardens, Lake Rotorua and a living Maori village are among the city’s top attractions.
Day 6: Rotorua to Taupo
This is where we start moving southwards to reach New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. On the way, the first stop is Taupo – the town where you’ll find the country’s largest lake by surface. It is only an hour’s driving distance from Rotorua, meaning you’ll have plenty of time to explore the area’s prized attractions: from the adventurous experiences its lake is renowned for, to the alpine setting of its neighbouring Tongariro National Park.
Day 7: Taupo to Wellington
It takes just under five hours to drive from Taupo to Wellington. But if you want to dedicate more time to exploring the capital, consider taking a one-hour flight instead. For those who have chosen the open roads, the Wairarapa and the Kapiti Coast are your two best options for a stopover. The Wairarapa is a favourite among nature lovers and wine connoisseurs, while Kapiti Coast is a great place to experience a mix of coastal beauty and interesting wildlife.
Day 8: A day in Wellington
Compared to most world capitals, Wellington is quite compact. You can easily walk around the city to get to many of its top attractions, like the Botanic Gardens and Te Papa Museum. Zealandia is a little further out, but a Cable Car trip and a shuttle service will easily get you to this wonderful wildlife reserve. Wellington is New Zealand’s culture and foodie capital, so make sure to set your sights on the various artistic and culinary gems it has on offer.
Day 9: Wellington – Picton – Blenheim
We’re off to the South Island now. A four-hour inter-island ferry trip, with wonderful views of the Marlborough Sounds, will get you into Picton. If needed, there are car hire places by the ferry terminal (some companies don’t allow people to take their vehicles from one island to the next, but most are quite flexible). A 25-minute drive will then take you to Blenheim, a lovely township known for its vineyards, extended sunshine hours and aviation history.
Day 10: A road trip from Blenheim to Christchurch
A six-hour drive from Blenheim to Christchurch, via Murchison and Lewis Pass, is going to bring plenty of interesting sights and attractions. There’s a trove of lakes, picnic areas, and parks scattered along this scenic trajectory, so do make a few rest stops while you’re on your way. Highlights include Nelson Lakes National Park and Hanmer Springs. Alternatively, if you want to dedicate more time to exploring Christchurch, you can always opt for a 50-minute flight instead.
Day 11: A day in Christchurch
Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city, is known for its post-quake endurance. Street art, salvaged heritage buildings, impressive art galleries and museums, as well as a marked English heritage are among the many things that continue to draw people to it. Follow our 24-hour guide to Christchurch to get a feel for what the city has to offer.
Day 12: Christchurch to Queenstown
If you’re up for a second road trip, the six-hour drive from Christchurch to Queenstown will greet you with some of the South Island’s finest alpine views. If you have time, you can even make a quick visit to Wanaka along the way. Your other alternatives are booking a direct one-hour flight or taking the scenic 8-hour bus route – the latter tends to be the best if you’re on a tight budget.
Days 13-14: Queenstown and surrounds
New Zealand’s adventure capital packs a wonderful assortment of breathtaking sights and heart-wrenching activities. This 24-hour guide will help you select the best vineyards, extreme sport activities and day trips to fill up the final stretches of your itinerary. From there, you can easily depart from the local international airport to conclude your trajectory.