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New Zealand destinations and itineraries

No one has ever enough time to travel to the last interesting corner of New Zealand. The following destination tips and travel itineraries were developed for trips from 5 days to 2 months and don't include individual detours to other special destinations.

Travel distances are often greater than expected, New Zealand probably only looks so small because nearby Australia is so huge... The driving time from Auckland to Christchurch is at least 12 hours (excluding the ferry) and from Cape Reinga to Bluff over 24 hours! In addition, countless walks, scenic spots, museums, beaches and cafes entice you to linger on the way. Although the South Island is the larger of the two islands, drives in the North Island  often surprisingly take longer because of the many twists and turns.

For this reason, many travellers choose to take a flight back to Auckland from Christchurch or Dunedin (or vice versa), but in addition to the airfare you’ll face additional one way fees from car/campervan rental companies.

Travellers should also take seasonal aspects into account. For example in winter the northern regions are more comfortable due to higher temperatures, in summer the swimming is also better in the north, but the coastal areas may be very busy during the school holidays. There may also be significant weather differences between east and west coasts, consulting the Metservice before major junctions is recommended, also see travel distances and climate.

Whoever has visited New Zealand more than once would recommend that travellers should focus on just a few regions (which means more time spent in the amazing outdoors than in the car). But who can resist the temptation to see everything on their first trip – after all who knows when you might return?

The following travel itineraries lead to the most popular New Zealand destinations:

New Zealand destinations: Key Summit in Fiordland

5 days in New Zealand: Stopover in Auckland

A beautiful cross-country trip via the Karangahake Gorge and Waihi to the Bay of Plenty with Mount Maunganui, then onwards to the geothermal areas of Rotorua and the centre of Maori culture. Back via Hamilton or Matamata (Hobbiton) in the Waikato region. Also plan 1-2 days for an Auckland city experience.

Auckland
Bay of Plenty
Rotorua
Auckland

New Zealand: Stopover in Auckland

Approximately 500 km for the round trip.

Direct driving time Auckland - Rotorua - Auckland: just under 6 hours.

Alternatives: a tour through subtropical Northland or the Coromandel Peninsula.


2 weeks in New Zealand: On the fly

Travel to Rotorua, highlights of Taupo and the Tongariro National Park, then continue to Wellington, the cultural capital. On the South Island proceed to sunny Nelson for a fantastic coastal walk in the Abel Tasman National Park and then on to the wild West Coast with the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. Arthur's Pass follows a spectacular way through the Alps to the final destination of Christchurch.

Auckland
Bay of Plenty or Matamata (Waikato)
Rotorua
Taupo
Tongariro
Wellington
Picton (Marlborough)
Nelson and Abel Tasman
West Coast and Punakaiki
Arthur's Pass and Christchurch

2 weeks New Zealand: North Island destinations

2 weeks New Zealand: South Island destinations

At least 1,600 km for this itinerary.

Direct driving time Auckland - Punakaiki - Christchurch: about 15 hours.

Alternatives: a trip to Waitomo Caves in the Waikato instead of the Bay of Plenty or Kaikoura instead of Nelson. Instead of crossing the Alps via Arthur's Pass you can also opt for Lewis Pass to soak in the thermal pools in Hanmer Springs.


1 month in New Zealand: From highlight to highlight

This itinerary visits the most popular destinations in New Zealand: along stunning coastlines, through geothermal areas soaking up Maori culture, to majestic volcanoes, along the wild remote West Coast of the South Island, to glaciers and snow-capped mountains, crystal clear lakes and interesting cities.

Auckland
Bay of Islands (Northland)
Coromandel
Bay of Plenty
Rotorua
Taupo
Tongariro
Wellington
Marlborough
Nelson
West Coast
Wanaka
Queenstown
Christchurch

1 month New Zealand: North Island destinations

1 month New Zealand: South Island destinations

The distance of this route is at least 2,900 km.

Direct driving time Auckland - Bay of Islands - Wellington - West Coast - Queenstown - Christchurch: about 30 hours.

Alternatives: take two extra days detour from Paihia or take a day tour to Cape Reinga or choose an additional route via the Hokianga Harbour and Waipoua Forest, make a trip to Napier (Hawke's Bay) instead of Tongariro or visit Kaikoura instead of Nelson. From Queenstown you can reach Milford Sound in Fiordland within two or three additional days or take an organised day tour. Also Dunedin, Oamaru and many wildlife viewing opportunities along the east coast are within easy reach on this itinerary.


2 months in New Zealand: Round trip through both islands

A round trip allows you to visit both of the North and South Island coasts and opens the way to secluded but no less spectacular areas like Taranaki and Southland. Two months is an ideal time for a tour of New Zealand, without having to be constantly on the move and with the additional flexibility to spontaneously react to bad weather forecasts or exciting travel tips on the way.

Auckland
Northland
Waitomo (Waikato)
Rotorua
Taupo
Tongariro
Taranaki
Whanganui
Wellington
Marlborough
Nelson
West Coast
Wanaka
Queenstown
Fiordland
Southland
Dunedin and Otago
Christchurch and Kaikoura
Marlborough
Wellington
Wairarapa
Hawke's Bay
East Cape
Bay of Plenty
Coromandel
Auckland

2 months New Zealand: North Island destinations

2 months New Zealand: South Island destinations

Driving distance is at least 6,200 km for this itinerary.

Direct travel time for the trip Auckland - Cape Reinga - Waitomo - Rotorua - Tongariro - Taranaki - Wellington - West Coast - Milford Sound - Southland - Dunedin - Mount Cook - Christchurch - East Cape - Coromandel - Auckland: 72 hours.

Alternatives: depending on whether you want to see Waitomo Caves in the Waikato or the Forgotten World Highway it is necessary to optimise the route between Taupo, Tongariro and Taranaki. Arthur's Pass (in combination with Lewis Pass) is a possible detour as well as Stewart Island at the southern tip of the South Island. Instead of the East Cape you can explore the Te Urewera Rainforest Route.


The most popular North and South Island routes

The most popular North Island routes

New Zealand destinations: North Island

The most popular South Island routes

New Zealand destinations: South Island

Special New Zealand destinations and attractions

Volcanoes:

  • the numerous volcanic cones in Auckland and coastal volcanoes in Northland,
  • the active volcanoe White Island and Mount Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty,
  • the geothermal attractions of Rotorua with the volcano Tarawera,
  • the active volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park,
  • the perfectly shaped Taranaki volcano.


Forests:

  • Waipoua Forest and other Kauri forests in Northland and Coromandel,
  • Redwood Forest in Rotorua,
  • remote Te Urewera National Park near East Cape,
  • the protected forests in the Waikato and Whanganui National Park,
  • the mystical cloud forests on the shoulders of the Taranaki volcano,
  • the tea trees in Abel Tasman National Park near Nelson,
  • the overgrown rainforests of the West Coast,
  • beech forests of Fiordland and other alpine areas.


Rock formations and caves:

  • Hole in the Rock in the Bay of Islands in Northland,
  • Cathedral Cove and the abandoned mines of Coromandel,
  • Waitomo glowworm caves in the Waikato,
  • karst areas and caves near Takaka in Nelson,
  • the Oparara Basin, the Pancake Rocks and abandoned mines of the West Coast,
  • the Moeraki Boulders of Otago,
  • the spectular alpine landscapes of Christchurch, Wanaka, Queenstown and Fiordland.


Rivers and lakes:

  • the long Waikato River in the Waikato region,
  • the many coloured and geothermal lakes and rafting rivers of Rotorua,
  • idyllic secluded Lake Waikaremoana near East Cape,
  • Huka Falls and Lake Taupo, the result of a large volcanic eruption,
  • the multi-day ‘walk’ on the Whanganui River in Whanganui,
  • crystal clear Pupu Springs in Nelson,
  • the milky alpine Tekapo and Pukaki lakes in the Christchurch area,
  • the clear and odd-shaped Wanaka and Hawea lakes in Wanaka,
  • beautiful blue Lake Wakatipu and the breathtaking rafting rivers in Queenstown,
  • many quiet bush lakes and wild rivers on the West Coast,
  • pristine lakes and high waterfalls of Fiordland.


Coastal adventures and beach destinations:

The top 10 best New Zealand beaches!
  • the wild endless beaches on the west coast and magical coves and islands of the east coast of Northland,
  • black surf beaches and peaceful regional parks around Auckland,
  • the beautiful bays of the Coromandel peninsula,
  • the popular surf beaches of the Bay of Plenty and the secluded beaches around East Cape,
  • spectacular remote coasts and lighthouses of Wairarapa,
  • the Marlborough Sounds,
  • the golden beaches of Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay in the Nelson Region,
  • famous wild driftwood beaches of the West Coast,
  • dangerous cold east coast beaches near Christchurch and Dunedin and the bays of Banks and Otago Peninsula,
  • the epic fjords of Fiordland,
  • the Catlins Coast and other beautiful wild beaches in Southland,
  • Half Moon Bay, Ulva Island and other coastal landscapes in Stewart Island.


Wildlife tour destinations:

  • diving, Kiwi sanctuaries and swimming with dolphins in Northland,
  • the Muriwai gannet colony, the Tiritiri Matangi Island bird sanctuary and whale watching in Auckland,
  • the sea birds of Miranda in Coromandel,
  • glowworms in the Waitomo Caves in Waikato,
  • trout in and around Lake Taupo,
  • the Cape Kidnappers gannet colony in Hawke's Bay,
  • Little Blue Penguins in the bays of Wellington,
  • sea birds along Farewell Spit in Nelson,
  • marine mammals of Kaikoura and the Hector's Dolphins of Akaroa in the Christchurch region,
  • the penguins of Oamaru and the albatrosses of the Otago Peninsula,
  • Kea in the Fiordland alps,
  • fur seals, sea lions and penguins on the Catlins Coast in Southland,
  • the bird paradise Stewart Island.
  • See our New Zealand animals ebook for more information.


Hiking:

  • the rewarding coastal walks of Northland and Coromandel,
  • the regional parks of Auckland,
  • the forests around Lake Waikaremoana near East Cape,
  • many lakeshore and forest walks of Rotorua,
  • famous Tongariro Crossing of Tongariro National Park,
  • Taranaki volcano ascent,
  • Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds,
  • coastal walks of Abel Tasman National Park in Nelson,
  • countless beautiful bush walks of the West Coast including glacier walks,
  • the alpine walks of the Christchurch, Wanaka and Queenstown regions,
  • Milford Track and other wonderful walks of Fiordland,
  • Hump Ridge Track and shorter walks in Southland,
  • Rakiura Track on Stewart Island.


Cities and culture:

  • Auckland, the gigantic multicultural with its modern skyline, harbour and volcanoes,
  • Wellington, the cultural capital in its hilly harbour setting,
  • the creative Christchurch which reinvents itself,
  • the well-preserved heritage precinct of Oamaru, built of white stone,
  • Dunedin, the former gold rush town with its Scottish origins.


Maori culture:

  • the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and the home of the biggest tribe (Ngapuhi) in Northland,
  • Te Urewera and other traditional areas of the East Cape,
  • Rotorua, the centre of Maori culture and home of successful Maori tribes with numerous tourist attractions,
  • Marae style accommodation in Whanganui National Park,
  • Te Papa National Museum in Wellington,
  • impressive Okains Bay Museum near Christchurch and many other regional museums focusing on Maori culture.
  • See our separate page about Maori culture.


Activities and sports:

  • diving, kayaking and sailing in Northland and Coromandel,
  • jumping from the Skytower and America's Cup sailing in Auckland,
  • boogie boarding in the Bay of Plenty,
  • surfing and jetboating in Waikato,
  • river rafting and mountain biking in Rotorua,
  • horse riding in the East Cape region,
  • tandem skydiving and trout fishing in Taupo,
  • wine tasting in Hawke's Bay and Marlborough,
  • skiing in Tongariro,
  • canoeing in Whanganui,
  • kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park near Nelson and in the Marlborough Sounds,
  • jetboating and much more in Queenstown,
  • bike tours and much more in Wanaka,
  • historic train rides and cycle trails in Otago and Christchurch,
  • helicopter flights to the glaciers on the West Coast and over the alps.


Secluded destinations for adventurers:

Best New Zealand hotel tips
  • Cape Reinga in Northland, the northernmost point on the North Island,
  • Great Barrier Island and Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf, north of Auckland,
  • the volcanically active White Island in the Bay of Plenty,
  • the Te Urewera Forest and East Cape,
  • the Forgotten World Highway near Taranaki with the independent Republic of Whangamomona,
  • the lighthouses at Castle Point and Cape Palliser in Wairarapa,
  • Farewell Spit in the Nelson region,
  • the magical spots Karamea, Kohaihai and Jackson Bay on the West Coast,
  • Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound in Fiordland,
  • highland stations of Central Otago and in the Christchurch area,
  • Bluff with the famous signpost and the Catlins Coast in Southland,
  • of course Stewart Island south of the South Island,
  • also the Chatham Islands to the east of New Zealand are inhabited.


For further information concerning travel destinations and itineraries, see:

 
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