New Zealand is one of those countries where you’re in for the trip of a lifetime, even if you’re just spending two weeks in New Zealand. And that isn’t only because the country looks like it was painted and sculpted to perfection so much that you actually have to remind yourself when you’re hiking on a gorgeous coastal trail or looking across at an icy glacier that you are in fact not dreaming.
New Zealand is also quite far away for travelers coming from the US, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa, so it’s understandable that if you only have limited vacation time you’d want to see as much of this beautiful country as possible. But, it’s good to remember that you cannot possibly see the whole country in even as long as a month unless you want to spend all of your time trying to get somewhere and not really enjoy the incredible things you’re seeing.
We visited New Zealand only for a little over two weeks and we did a combination of self-drive, domestic flights and intercity buses so we could see the places we really wanted to on the North and South Islands and not get extremely tired in the process. All the while we were in NZ, I had this growing feeling that I’d have to come back another time to explore more of it- once is just not enough if you like natural landscapes and hiking as much as I do, so I wasn’t stressed out about the things I’d missed.
I’ve put together this detailed post on our two weeks in New Zealand and hope that it can help you plan your trip if you’re going for two-three weeks and would like an itinerary that’s not too rushed and has enough rest and slow travel days- I spent a lot of time (weeks) planning it and it worked out really well traveling in April- May. If you’re undecided between traveling New Zealand independently or taking a tour, which might be more practical if you have little time and want to take the pain out of organization and driving times, I’ve also listed some affordable tours at the end of this post. One example of a cheap and flexible tour is this 15-day hop on hop off tour of the North Island.
Where To Go
We arrived in Auckland seriously jet lagged and spent an entire first day in bed, trying to get our bodies to cooperate. While we did the usual city exploration (Sky Tower, Botanic Gardens, Harbour etc), most of it was a blur, probably due to the exhaustion and lack of sleep. Some ways to see Auckland other than on your feet are a hop on hop off bus and half day city tour with a visit to the SkY Tower.
Our favorite memory from Auckland was a day trip to the wineries on Waiheke Island- surrounded by a lush vineyard, we enjoyed a beautiful pink sunset over wine and later rushed to a bus stop in the middle of nowhere to catch the last bus to the port for the ferry back to the mainland. If you love wine and have more time in Auckland, or aren’t much of a city person like me, and want to get away, then consider a wine makers’ picnic tour or a tour that takes you to a few different wineries including lunch and a visit to a volcanic black sand beach in the wine region.
So if you’d ask me what to do in Auckland, I’d say-go on a wine-tasting tour to Waiheke Island, throw in a zipline adventure if you’re feeling adventurous, or better still, go skydiving in Auckland, a whale and dolphin ecotour, and go on a Hobbiton Tour of LOTR fame, something I regret not having done.
Book your hotel in Auckland or consider one of these options:
The Langham, Auckland
Auckland City Apartment
Auckland Harbour Oaks
Winsun Heights Apartments Auckland
Waldorf Tetra Serviced Apartments
YHA Auckland International – Hostel
Nomads Auckland Backpackers
Freemans Backpackers Lodge – Hostel
Book an Auckland City Tour..
We drove from Auckland to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
Driving time: 3hrs 15mins.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The Glowworm Caves are a great stop on the way from driving from Auckland to Rotorua and honestly, they’re one of the most incredible things you’ll witness on your travels in New Zealand. Imagine gliding on an underground river in complete silence and looking up at the roof of a dark cavern that’s lit up by millions of twinkling glowworms forming strange, weird and fantastic shapes. If you’re having a hard time imagining that, I can’t even tell you what the real scene feels like, but I can tell you this- goose bumps are guaranteed! If you’re physically fit and can take the time for a full day visit, going on this Black Water Rafting Tour is definitely a cooler way to experience Waitomo. If you’ve got less time, like us, then this Cave and Kiwi House Tour is a great introduction to Waitomo.
But the journey can be long, driving from Waitomo to Rotorua and if you are not in a rush, you might want to break it up by spending the night close to Waitomo. Consider one of these options:
Somersal Bed & Breakfast
Waitomo Orchard Estate B&B
Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge
We drove from the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to Rotorua.
Driving time: 2.5 hrs
It was in Rotorua that we got a taste of Maori culture and we also spent an amazing afternoon relaxing in the geothermal pools at the Polynesian Spa. Our friend was generous enough to gift us a voucher for the spa as a wedding present and we went all out with our own private mineral pool with a view over Lake Rotorua. Afterwards, we spent the day at an indigenous cultural center learning about Maori traditions, watching geysers erupt in the village, dancing along at the cultural show and listening to stories under the stars over hot chocolate. Know more about what to do in Rotorua and book your hotel in Rotorua.
Arista of Rotorua
Millennium Hotel Rotorua
Don’t like any of these? Look for more options here.
We took a flight from Rotorua to Nelson with Air New Zealand. Check your flights here.
Flight time: 2 hrs 20 mins.
To be honest, the real reason we chose to stay in Nelson for a couple of days was because it made for a comfortable base to explore the Abel Tasman National Park- something I knew I had to do. Camping in the park wasn’t an option because of low temperatures and rainfall so we had to do a day trip. It’s a nice little town with a great vibe that art-lovers will appreciate, plenty of lovely B&Bs, some interesting sites and a decent nightlife with many restaurants, bars and pubs. Our B&B here was especially comfortable (with a Jacuzzi bathtub!) and the rainy days meant that it was a perfect time to slow down, sleep in, try the local breweries and just explore the town without rushing off to the next activity. My favorite memory from Nelson is dancing the night away to live country music at one of the local breweries with the rain pouring furiously outside.
Book your hotel in Nelson or consider one of these options I picked out:
Century Park Motor Lodge
Cedar Grove Motor Lodge
DeLorenzo’s Studio Apartments
Trailways Hotel Nelson
Quality Inn Nelson
YHA Nelson by Accents
Abel Tasman National Park
This was another highlight of our New Zealand trip and once we got here, we realized it was totally worth spending more time in Nelson to be able to make it here. The Abel Tasman National Park is home to a coastal track that is one of nine ‘Great Walks’ in NZ, i.e. trails that are considered some of the most beautiful and challenging in the country. With only a day trip like this
Abel Tasman National Park Cruise and Trekking tour, we were able to tackle a part of the coastal track and kayak to hidden coves that are home to seal colonies. The whole experience was pretty incredible and considering the weather, there weren’t many people around so we had a lot of time and places to ourselves. Read more about hiking and kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park.
We took a flight from Nelson to Christchurch with Air New Zealand. Check your flights here.
Flight time: 50 mins.
The name Christchurch brings to mind thoughts of the earthquake in 2010 and 2011 that severely damaged the city and as much as I don’t like to think of cities in terms of their tragedies, the truth is that these realities become a huge part of their identities, at least for a few years. Despite this, the rebuilding efforts in Christchurch are everywhere and as such you cannot help but feel a deep admiration for the warm and positive attitudes of the locals, who’re only too willing to share stories of the city.
We met some of the nicest and friendliest people in the city and though we spent just a day there, we were glad we went. Our introduction to the city came with this one hour bus tour of the important sights, giving us some perspective and context. If you like the idea of seeing Christchurch from the air, this gondola ride might be appealing.
It was interesting to see how the city had made the best of its situation by a building an entire shopping district using shipping containers. Red, blue and yellow, these boxes housed cafés, boutiques and trendy restaurants. We also loved punting on the Avon and spending time in the beautiful Botanic Gardens. Read more about what to do in Christchurch.
One of the highlights, wait, let me rephrase, the absolute highlight of our visit to Christchurch was this four-course dinner on a Tramway restaurant that we were lucky to experience on our night there, thanks to booking in advance. The classic tram rides you around the city while you’re served elaborate cuisine (very good food and free-flowing bubbly) by friendly servers. Considering it’s pretty much all you can drink, it seemed worth the price to me. This is a great activity for friends and couples, but gets booked up quickly, so buy tickets online in advance.
Book your hotel in Christchurch or consider one of these options:
Ramada Suites Christchurch City
Rendezvous Hotel Christchurch
Bella Vista Motel and Apartments Christchurch
TranzAlpine Scenic Journey from Christchurch to Greymouth
If you know about my love for train travel, you’ll understand why I totally had to do this train journey that is often called one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. Honestly, the TranzAlpine Scenic Journey with KiwiRail was one of the reasons we went to Christchurch, just so we could ride through dramatic landscapes and enjoy spectacular views on the way to Glacier Country. During the ride, we saw frozen glacial rivers, snow-capped peaks and emerald beech forests, all right outside the viewing gallery of the train. The coaches were luxurious with super comfortable seats, an onboard café, and onboard commentary via headphones. Would we recommend it? Without a doubt.
The transfer from Greymouth to Fox Glacier Village was via a comfortable InterCity coach that dropped us off right to our B&B a little further away from the central bus stop. But it was quite a long journey, so if that sounds too tiring, you can spend the night in Greymouth to break the journey up.
Book your hotel in Greymouth or consider one of these:
Gables Motor Lodge
Alpine Rose Greymouth Motel
The Ashley Hotel
Noah’s Ark Backpackers
Christchurch to Greymouth Rail Journey Time: 4.5 hrs.
Greymouth to Fox Glacier Village via InterCity coach: 4 hrs 15 mins
A first trip to NZ almost always has to include a trip to glorious Glacier Country and when the weather is right for glacier hiking, it’s worth trying to get a spot on a glacier tour. We knew we wanted to avoid the tourist crowds at Franz Josef Glacier and chose the small village vibe of Fox Glacier Village instead. As we realized over the next three days, it was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone and a group quickly came together to solemnly discuss the destruction of a tree by a particularly nasty storm. Our B&B was right next to a sheep farm, a few minutes’ drive from the center of the village and our B&B owner was super nice to lend us his car for free to drive around the area.
Ultimately, the weather did play spoilsport and our glacier hike was cancelled twice, but we did hike up to the terminal face of Fox Glacier and enjoy a lovely hike around Lake Matheson. As for the glacier hike, I’m sure there is next time! Read more about what to do around Fox Glacier and book your hotel or B&B in Fox Glacier village.
The Church at FOX
Fox Glacier Lodge
Heartland Hotel Fox Glacier
We took a bus from Fox Glacier Village to Queenstown. Buses are also available for transfers between Franz Josef Glacier and Queenstown.
Journey Time: 6 hrs 30 mins- 8 hours
We decided to embrace our inner adventurers in Queenstown, the city that is often called the ‘Adventure Capital of the world’. The title is no exaggeration- with a massive choice of activities like hiking, ziplining, jet boating, paragliding, skiing, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, horse-riding, and snowboarding, chances are that if you’ve never heard of an adventure activity before in your life, you can most likely do it in Queenstown. After a lifetime of a fear of heights, I jumped off a cliff to paraglide over Queenstown and the incredible view over Lake Wakatipu meant zero fear and zero regrets.
By day, the town is picture-perfect with the lake on one side bordered by the Mt. Remarkables and you can choose to hike around the town, explore by Segway, spend your day at Skyline Gondola or join a day trip to Milford Sound like we did. You can also take a scenic heli-flight to enjoy unbeatable views over Queenstown. Wine lovers will enjoy this half-day wine tour and LOTR fans who didn’t make it to Hobbiton should visit Middle Earth with this tour instead.
At night, the adventure addicts come out to play and pubs, breweries and bars in the city center come alive with live music and happy hours. Add to that tons of cool restaurants and a winery right in the town and you have a place that is always fun and full of energy. Read more about what to do in Queenstown and book your hotel or B&B in Queenstown. Here are some options for where to stay in Queenstown:
Pounamu Apartments Queenstown
Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel
Scenic Suites Queenstown
Mercure Queenstown Resort
Queenstown Holiday Park & Motels Creeksyde
Holiday Inn Queenstown Frankton Road
Haka Lodge Queenstown – Hostel
Nomads Queenstown Backpackers
YHA Queenstown Lakefront – Hostel
The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is a long one and we figured we wanted to take the easy way out by joining this
Milford Sound Coach, Cruise and Walk from Te Anau group tour. Now now, I know some people think they’re allergic to these tours, but sometimes they just end up being more practical and convenient, and every once in a while, we won’t shy away from joining these rather than exhausting ourselves to the point where we don’t enjoy the trip.
I had originally wanted to hike in the area, which is why we had allowed for extra days in Queenstown and would have loved to go on a guided half-day hike on Milford Track, but the weather was having none of that. So we went with the idea of exploring Milford Sound onboard a cruise, so we took a Milford Sound tour that combined a glass-roofed coach (to be able to enjoy the scenery) and a scenic cruise plus a forest walk. If you like the idea of kayaking in Milford Sound and are lucky to have good weather, this Cruise and Kayak tour is a good choice.
We were picked up and dropped off in Queenstown, and the tour was great. We got to tour the majestic fiords from the comfort of our cruise and though the skies were a bit grey, the landscape still looked amazing. We also explored a few places on the way to Milford Sound and stretched our legs on a short hike. Read more about our trip to Milford Sound.
Tour Duration: 12.5 hrs
There you have it- our two weeks in New Zealand. I know some people cover a much bigger area geographically in the same time, but as I mentioned, we weren’t in a rush and had plenty of time to just do nothing, enjoy an extra glass (or two) of wine at lunch and simply sit and stare at a beautiful lake for hours.
Book Your New Zealand Tour
If organized tours are more your style, here are some tour recommendations.
New Zealand Journey
11 Day Trip going to 10+ destinations on North and South Island of New Zealand for USD 2,999, starting in Auckland and ending in Queenstown.
21 day trip going to 14+ destinations on North and South Island for USD 3,199 starting in Auckland and ending in Wellington.
16 day trip starting in Sydney ending in Queenstown for USD 3,570.
New Zealand Adventure Northbound (ex Christchurch)
22 day trip going to almost ALL the best spots on the North and South Island for USD 5,605.
17 day trip starting in Nadi and ending in Queenstown covering 14+ destinations for USD 4,720.
General Tips on New Zealand Travel
- Renting your own car or campervan to explore the country is by far the best way to see New Zealand and car rental companies are very flexible about where you can pick up and drop off rental cars if you want to travel using a combination of car, domestic flights and long-distance coach. Domestic flights can get booked up quickly and can be expensive last-minute so book well in advance. Shop around a little and find something that suits your budget.
- Wherever possible book all your activities online in advance to skip long queues.
- Pack sensibly for the weather with plenty of layers in winter. Carry a majority of active wear as you will be outdoors a lot and you’ll need comfortable clothes and hiking shoes. In smaller towns, you won’t feel the need to dress up too much, smart casuals will do.
- Do not ignore road signs while driving and hiking- if a sign prohibits going ahead, it’s likely that there has been a rock fall or landslide, just turn around and use your common sense.
- While calculating driving times, account for the times when you might take a wrong turn and set off in some unknown direction and your GPS stops working (happened to us while driving to Rotorua).
- We went to New Zealand on our honeymoon, so if you’re looking to go on a similarly adventurous honeymoon, this two-week itinerary is perfect.
Some links on this page are affiliate links, which means if you use them to book, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, which goes towards running this blog. That said I never recommend tours, accommodations and products that I wouldn’t book or haven’t booked myself.
For more posts about New Zealand, check out my New Zealand Travel Blog.
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Have you been to New Zealand? What did you think of it?