Wellington Harbour at Night, from the Orient Parade

New Zealand Itineraries – What should you do?

New Zealand is small island…I should be able to see it all in a week, right? Unfortunately not. Although relatively small compared to other countries like Canada, Russia, and the United States, there is a surprising number of things to do in New Zealand.

Once you take into account the ferry crossing and the narrow, winding roads, it can take upwards of 30-40 hours to drive from the north to the south, for all that the distance isn’t that great. Of course, you can always drive east to west in as little as 5 hours, with no town in New Zealand being situated further than a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest ocean.

Cape Palliser Lighthouse
Cape Palliser Lighthouse

With that being said, New Zealand remains a very popular tourist destination, with many people taking days or weeks of their hard earned vacation to visit.

So, what should you do on your vacation?

3-5 days

Stick to a single area. This is enough time to fully immerse yourself in one city. Many places in New Zealand have so much to do in a single city that you just can’t see it all!


In the zorb
In the zorb

Rotorua is frequently considered the Vegas of New Zealand. Geothermal activity and Maori cultural experiences abound, along with one of the best opportunities to see a kiwi bird in a sanctuary.

Andrew and I spent a fair bit of time in Rotorua, both as a couple and with a friend. There’s just so much to do that you could almost spend an entire week here!

In front of the Champagne Pools
In front of the Champagne Pools

Here’s some of our highlights and favourites, along with some that we missed last time but would love to do if time and finances allow!


Queenstown-the adventure capital of the world! If you are looking for adventure in New Zealand, then look no further than Queenstown.  The city that invented bungee jumping, they didn’t stop there when they were handing out adrenaline fuelled activities.

First run of the season!
First run of the season!

For those from Canada, think a large Banff with an over abundance of adventure activities. For those from the USA, think a really small Denver.

Highlights of things to do in Queenstown include:

  • Shopping
  • Skiing in the winter
  • Boating in the summer
  • Tramping/Hiking
  • Bungee jumping
  • Paragliding
  • Hang Gliding
  • Sky diving
  • Ice bar

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is stunning in its beauty and amazing in its weather. Temperate year-round, the sun shines most days with temperatures in the 15C-25C range year round. Visit the historic capital of New Zealand, see where history was made, or soak up the sun with some time on the water.

Raglan Beach Sunset

Highlights include:

 5-10 Days

While this isn’t enough time to explore the entire country, it does open up a bit of flexibility. It is possible to explore both islands in this time frame if you are open to flying between destinations. The Intercity bus line is also a useful and cost effective way to get around New Zealand.

Suggested itineraries include:

Auckland-Hot Water Beach – Rotorua

Monarch Butterfly in the Gardens
Monarch Butterfly in the Gardens

This itinerary starts off in Auckland. Most international flights land in Auckland, which make it the logical starting point. In Auckland, explore the maritime history, volcanoes, and check out the many museums and parks.

Hop on the bus and head off to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, taking a stop at Hot Water Beach. Dig your own pool and enjoy the crashing waves and a natural hot spring at the same time.

From here, take the bus down to Rotorua for some adventure. Hop in the Zorb, experience Maori culture, and see a Kiwi.

Rotorua – Hobbiton – Waitomo-Raglan

Me and Glowworms
Me and Glowworms

From your departure point, fly or bus to Rotorua. Explore the area for a couple of days, then get a transfer to Hobbiton. Enjoy the movie set with an afternoon tour or a sumptuous supper, then take the bus (or hitchhike) to Waitomo.

Spend a day or two exploring the glow worm caves. There’s something for everyone from wheelchair accessible tours to epic underground adventures.

From Waitomo head to the surfing capital of New Zealand for some beach time. Check out Raglan’s unique shops, horseback ride on the beach, and catch some waves in the warm Tasman sea.

Christchurch – Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown

Experience the beauty of the South Island with a trip from Christchurch to Queenstown. See the rebuilding of Christchurch and the raw power of this earthquake-prone area. They don’t call New Zealand the Shaky Isles for nothing!

Venture across Arthur’s pass and see Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Take a guided tour up the Franz Josef Glacier and then warm up in the hot pools afterwards.

From here, head down to Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. Ski, Paraglide, or try bungee jumping in the place that invented the sport. There’s plenty of shops, restaurants, and spa’s for those who want to simply relax and unwind.

10-15 Days

It is recommended to have between 10 days and 2 weeks at a minimum if you wish to explore both islands. You can choose to do either an in-depth look at one island, or skip around and see both islands. If you don’t have a day to spend on the ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton, it is advisable to fly instead.

Add on to the suggested itineraries above, or create your own. Some suggestions include the following options.

Rotorua -Hobbiton – Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Lake Taupo – Waitomo-Raglan

Emerald Lakes
Emerald Lakes

Take in everything that the Rotorua to Raglan itinerary mentions above, but enjoy New Zealand’s best single day hike on the way. The Tongariro Alpine crossing takes you through stunning volcanic and geothermally active terrain, much of which was used in filming Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai. Take in the area by horseback or do the 20km hike, both are spectacular.

Head south to Lake Taupo, a lake formed in the crater of a once-active volcano. Enjoy some sailing, beach time, or skydiving at New Zealand’s largest lake.

Then head back up towards Waitomo and Raglan, rejoining the itinerary mentioned above.

Christchurch – Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown-Dunedin-Oamaru

Atop the boulders
Atop the boulders

Start the trip the same, but continue on to see more of the South Island. Take the bus to Cromwell and ride the 150 km Otago Rail Trail to Middlemarch (you could drive as well). From there, take the train through Taieri Gorge to Dunedin.

Experience all that Dunedin has to offer, from great surfing beaches to the Cadbury Factory to the world’s only mainland albatross colony.

From here, head up to Oamaru with a stop at Moeraki boulders. In Oamaru take in the steampunk museum, the Victorian shops, the penguin colony, and the Rainbow Confectionary.

3 -4 Weeks

Time to settle in and truly explore! This is enough time to see the highlights of both islands. Simply combine several of the suggested itineraries above, or contact me for more in-depth advice.

Explore Milford Sound, take in a great walk, wander around Nelson or Napier, or head out to the farthest reaches by exploring Cape Reinga in the North or Gisborne to the East.

If you would like assistance setting up a custom itinerary that suits your time, interests, and budget, as well as cost saving advice and other benefits, then please feel free to check out my travel consultations!


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