Now, before you bite our heads off, let us explain what we mean. There is definitely more to New Zealand than the stops included on these itineraries (we’ve neglected the north coast of the South Island for example), and the timings are, to say the least, ambitious.
But, if you don’t have the luxury of 3 months in New Zealand, you can use these routes to plan a trip that takes in the highlights. If you’re lucky enough to have even more time, you can build and expand on these to create one epic adventure around the whole country. So here we go, one route for the North Island and one for the South Island, taking in the best that New Zealand has to offer.
Auckland – Wellington| 10 Days | 934 Miles
Day 1: Auckland – Paihia
Highlights: 3 Hours north of Auckland, Paihia is an excellent base from which to explore the Bay of Islands. The town itself is famous for it’s sailing options, dolphin spotting opportunities and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which is one of the most important historical sights in the country.
Day 2: Bay of Islands
Highlights: Spend the day cruising round the islands, snorkelling the crystal waters or just chilling out on the beautiful beaches. You can even go sandboarding!
Day 3: Paihia – Auckland
Highlights: On the drive back to island be sure to stop at Kawakawa (which has an extremely famous public toilet), subtropical Whangarei and the thermal town of Waiwera.
Day 4: Auckland – The Coromandel
Highlights: Cathedral Cove is a perfect place to stop and snap some brilliant pictures before moving on to the thermal springs at Hot Water Beach. Dig your own hot pools in the sand and sit in the naturally warm water as your cares wash away.
Day 5: The Coromandel – Hobbiton – Rotorua
Highlights: What, other than life-sized Hobbit holes? And a pint at the Green Dragon Inn? And actually being in the Shire? Well if all that’s not good enough for you we’re not really sure what to say.
Day 6: Rotorua
Highlights: There’s loads to see here including the geysers of Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, learn about Maori culture at Te Puia, take a dip in the hot springs or walk through giant Redwood forests! Ok you might need more than a day.
Day 7: Rotorua – Waitomo Caves
Highlights: Picture the scene; descending into an underground world of rushing water and darkness, the light from your helmet capturing the shadows of ancient rock formations as you abseil, climb, zip-line and swim through the blackness. Until, finally, you sit back on a tube on the dark, underground, river and drift off, staring up at the multitude of stars above you. Except they’re not stars. They’re thousands of glow-worms.
Day 8: Waitomo Caves – Ruapehu
Highlights: Driving through the desolate landscape of the central plains you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Mordor. Which in fact you are. Rest up though, because tomorrow you’ll be tackling one of the worlds most beautiful hikes…
Day 9: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Highlights: We’re going to let the views speak for themselves here.
Day 10: Turangi – Wellington
Highlights: Recover from yesterday’s exertions by sitting down for 4 hours on a the picturesque drive to Wellington. When in the capital make sure you soak up the culture and take in a few of the museums and galleries. You’ll have been outdoors enough anyway.
Christchurch – Christchurch| 10 Days | 1218 Miles
Day 1: Christchurch
Highlights: Still recovering from the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, the south’s largest city is packed full of great cafes, brilliant bars and enough shopping opportunities to satisfy the most committed shopoholic.
Day 2: Christchurch – Arthur’s Pass – Greymouth
Highlights: First used by Maori tribes crossing to the west coast, Arthur’s Pass is a pretty incredible drive. If you’re a hiker be sure to budget a bit more time here to go exploring the national park. Greymouth itself is a coastal town with a local brewery which is something of a local legend. Any excuse hey?
Day 3: Greymouth – Fox Glacier
Highlights: The white rivers of ice that make up the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are a prime spot for adventure hiking and scenic flights over an amazing landscape. You can even skydive over them!
Day 4: Fox Glacier – Wanaka
Highlights: Wanaka is a base for skiing, snowboarding and even heli-skiing in the winter, and perfect for hiking, wild swimming and watersports in the summer.
Day 5: Wanaka – Queenstown
Highlights: Head over the Crown Range Road (watch out for keas) and stop at the old gold rush town of Arrowtown for a little history, before rolling on up to the adrenalin capital of the world…
Day 6: Queenstown
Highlights: Bungy jumping, rafting, jet boating, horse trekking, skiing and snowboarding, quad biking…name your adrenalin sport and you can probably do it in Queenstown. There’s also this view.
Day 7: Queenstown – Milford Sound
Highlights: Milford sound is one of the most stunning areas of a country known for being stunning. Mountain peaks covered with waterfalls tower over still sea waters populated by a unique ecosystem. Take a cruise and get up close and personal with the cascades, or take to the waters on a kayak and appreciate the true scale of the cliffs surrounding you.
Day 8: Milford Sound – Queenstown
Highlights: Spend today trekking around the Sound (you need 4 days to do the full Milford Track so budget this time if you’re keen) before heading back to Queenstown for a quick bungee jump or three.
Day 9: Queenstown – Mt Cook Village
Highlights: You know that amazing picture you’ve seen of the otherworldly blue lake sitting below the snowy peaks of a craggy mountain? You know that one that looks like it’s from a story book? Yeah, that’s here.
Day 10: Mt Cook Village – Lake Tekapo – Christchurch
Highlights: Drive through the Tasman Valley and Mackenzie Country, through the fields of the Canterbury Plains and back to Christchurch for a well deserved rest.