14 Day New Zealand Itinerary
14 Days In New Zealand
When I began to plan our trip to New Zealand I was immediately overwhelmed. An abundance of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, incredible landscapes and endlessly friendly people are what makes New Zealand appealing. Unfortunately the same things that make it appealing make it painfully difficult to plan because you won’t want to miss a thing!
Most blogs will tell you to spend as much time as possible in New Zealand which I absolutely agree with. However, I know that for a lot of people it isn’t realistic to spend 3-4 weeks on vacation. This itinerary will make the best of your 14 Days in New Zealand. You will see some of the best sites in the country and split your time between the north and south island. Keep in mind that this itinerary assumes you have rented a car which honestly, is the only way to go.
The Plan At A Glance:
- Day 1: Auckland explore Mount Eden, Ponsonby and the city
- Day 2: Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
- Day 3: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Day 4: Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland to Rotorua
- Day 5: Rotorua Te Puia Geyser, Redwoods and Mitai Maori Village
- Day 6: Travel from North to South Island (Rotorua-Christchurch-Kaikoura)
- Day 7: Kaikoura Whale Watching Tour and Seaside Walk
- Day 8: Christchurch City Tour
- Day 9: Christchurch: Orana Wildlife Reserve Lion Experience
- Day 10: Queenstown City Exploration and Skyview Gondola and Luge
- Day 11: Queenstown AJ Hackett Bungy Jumping and Coronet Peak Hang Gliding
- Day 12: Milford Sound: Drive from Queenstown and overnight on Milford Sound
- Day 13: Milford Sound and Return to Queenstown
- Day 14: Finish Exploring Queenstown Flight Out
Day 1: Auckland
Almost any itinerary for New Zealand will begin in Auckland simply because Auckland International Airport will likely be your port of entry. Auckland has everything you need and a couple cool things to see but in general don’t spend too much time here. There is nothing wrong with the city but there are just too many way cooler things to do that you need to get a start on ASAP. Check out how to get acclimated to New Zealand via Auckland in just 1.5 days here.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Auckland and a place to get sweeping views of the city and coastline is Mount Eden. Take a leisurely hike to the top of this volcano to get oriented and to get a taste of the incredible landscapes in your future.
Day 2: Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Get an early start this morning for your 2.5 hour drive to Waitomo to see the incredible glow worm caves. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get used to driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. It can be tough and nerve wracking at first but you will get used to it fairly quickly. Just be careful not to hug the line too much and it is best to have a passenger to keep you on your toes.
You will love the drive from Auckland to Waitomo. You will be literally driving through postcard perfect landscapes. Bright green rolling hills dotted with fluffy sheep and rainbow after rainbow it is truly a dream.
If you did not book your glow worm tour in advance then you will want to head straight to the information booth in Waitomo so you can figure out a plan. You might have some time to kill before your tour begins and Waitomo is pretty tiny so booking in advance is ideal. Check out all the details you need to know about Waitomo here: Waitomo Glowworm Cave.
After your tour you will be making the 2 hour and 15 min drive on to Tongariro. The earlier you can get to your Tongariro accommodations the better as your day will start very early in the morning.
Day 3: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Depending on the season you are visiting you will start at a different time but either way it will be an early morning. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is listed as on of the most beautiful hikes in the country. It is recognized for both its physical beauty as well as its cultural and historical importance to the local indigenous people of New Zealand. The trek is 19.4 km in total and takes on average 6-8 hours. You will ascend between the peaks of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, two volcanoes that were active fairly recently. Maybe don’t look too much into that if you’re easily scared.
The hike itself is definitely challenging not only because it is long but the hike to the peak gets very steep. There are also some steep descents where you are essentially just sliding down a hill trying your best to stay upright. The weather along the track is very unpredictable so be sure to pack for anything and wear or bring lots of layers. We thought we were prepared but in reality we should have brought more wet water gear and another warm layer or 2.
You will see some incredible sites along the way to your hard fought efforts worth it. My absolute favorite was the emerald lakes which are just after the summit. Bright, light icy blue gems glow in your eyes as you catch your breath from hiking the summit. To read all about what can go right (and wrong) check out the Tongariro Alpine Crossing post.
One more important thing to note, be sure you arrange a drop off and a pick up from the start and end of the track before you leave in the morning. Most local hotels offer this service but be sure you have it situated as the crossing is NOT a circle. This means if you drive your self to the entrance then do the crossing you will be very sad at the end because you will be about 19.4km away from your car.
Day 4: Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland
You might be hurting a little bit this morning after such an intense day yesterday so take your time, sleep in and eat a hearty breakfast. Once you are ready set off on a 2 hour drive to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which is about 20 minutes outside Rotorua.
On arrival there is plenty of parking, wear your walking shoes again but don’t fret because the walk around this park is pretty easy. You can explore the entire wonderland in about 60-90mins depending on how long you take to stop and look at things. Tickets are $32.50 each for adults with discounts for children, families and large groups.
Once inside the park you will see some of the most colorful and unique geothermal pools and elements you can imagine. There are stunning and bright green ,yellow and orange pools of every shade. These are separated by thick hot boiling mud pools and strange lava and rock formations. This area is definitely one of the most unique places I have ever been on my travels. To read all about it and more details on what you will see check out the Wai o Tapu Thermal Wonderland post.
On the way out get a recommendation for a nearby hot spring. With all of the volcanic activity they are prolific in the area. After such a grueling day at Tongariro you will really need it! Waikite Valley is a common recommendation and only a short drive away. The hot springs were very busy and just average but it felt great to soak your sore muscles a bit, they’ve earned it. If you’re lucky you can catch a sunset through the steam of the volcanic activity of Rotorua. Cool!
Make the short drive (20-30mins) into Rotorua and settle in at your accommodations. If you are looking for a dinner spot, Eat Street is the place to go for tons of choices and nightlife too!
Day 5: Rotorua Geysers, Redwoods and Mitai Maori Village
Ok so there are literally tons and tons of things to do in Rotorua so you need to pick and choose your favorites. The volcanic activity is unique, the nature is abundant and the culture is incredible. Rotorua literally has something to offer everyone. Unfortunately in this itinerary there is only one full day here but if you have the ability to add an extra day or so, spend some more time in Rotorua. It is a very cool place with a nice vibe and you will definitely not run out of things to do and see.
One thing you should not miss is some sort of Maori Village experience. There are a couple different options to choose from so take a look and see what you prefer. The Mitai Maori Village was the only one that performed a sunset waka on a boat at the time of my research! This makes it a unique choice. To read more about that as well as the other things to do in Rotorua please check out the Rotorua blog post.
Interested in learning more about New Zealand? Check out my other New Zealand Travel Tips & Tricks
Day 6: Travel from North to South Island
Today will be spent traveling by both plane and car. It is an unfortunate way to spend the day but the only way to get to the South Island’s must-see attractions that you will definitely NOT want to pass up. Step one is a flight out of Rotorua to Christchurch. Along with Queenstown, Christchurch is the only other major airport on the south island.
There is no need to plan for tons of time at the Rotorua airport. It took us 10 minutes to drive to the airport and another 5 to return the rental car. There is one counter where there was no line and there was no security area. What I am trying to say is we ended up being at the airport about 2.5 hours early for no reason. At an airport where there is 1 gate, 1 restaurant and 1 check in counter. On the upside, the view was great, the restaurant had options and the wifi was free and unlimited.
It is only a 2-hour flight to Christchurch and the view out of the windows is lovely. Upon arrival, catch a shuttle to your car rental location. Make a note that as with most things in life, you get what you pay for and Jucy car rental is not different. Take from that what you will (*cough* Jucy rental sucks *cough*)
On The Road Again
Next up is a 2.5-hour drive to Kaikoura, located on the east coast of the south island. The regular driving route to Kaikoura, if open, is breathtaking. Just like when driving on the north island it seems like every direction you look at any moment could be the cover of a book or a postcard. The vibrant colors and wide open landscapes of New Zealand do not disappoint.
Take note that the restaurants and stores in Kaikoura all close around 8:00pm so plan accordingly for dinner and breakfast the next day if you have an early start.
Day 7: Kaikoura Whale Watching & A Seaside Walk
Kaikoura is a one-stop shop for marine wildlife. Take your pick from several excellent options including whale watching, scuba diving and swimming with seals. The whale watching is SO good in this location that most tour operators actually offer a money back guarantee if you do not see anything. It didn’t turn out super well for me but you can read all about that here if you’re into sad stories.
The seaside walk is a must do. It doesn’t take much time at all but is one of the best location I have found to make you feel like a tiny speck of dust on a rock hurdling through space.
After your done exploring Kaikoura make the 2.5 hour drive back to Christchurch. Not that I would know from personal experience but you might want to keep an eye out for the police and/or watch your speed on this drive. A super fun fact about New Zealand is that if you exceed the speed limit by too much your license gets automatically and immediately revoked for 28 days! These Kiwis don’t mess around when it comes to speeding! So AJ got kicked off the rental agreement, license revoked in New Zealand and a big old whopper of a fine! And that is the story of how I had to drive for the reminder of the trip….not that I know from personal experience though…
Day 8: Christchurch City Tour
This day is a little more low key and a bit of a recovery day. At this point you have been going pretty hard for 7 days do take this day slow, sleep in and rejuvenate for the second half of your trip.
Christchurch is a really interesting little city due to the hardships it has had to endure recently. The city was hit hard by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and the landscape and vibe of the city have changed completely. The best way to start your day is to learn about these events at Quake City as you will continue to see evidence of them wherever you go. For a daily itinerary check out this Christchurch post.
Day 9: Orana Wildlife Park Lion Experience
Hopefully you have booked your tickets to the Lion Experience in advance but if not, head out to Orana Wildlife Park anyways as there is a chance you can get same day tickets. It is only about a 15 minute drive from Christchurch airport making it an easy day trip. Arrive earlier than your Lion experience time or plan to stay late so you can look around the rest of the park. As one of the only open range zoos in the world, it is a breath of fresh air from the typical metal bars and glass walls of most other zoo’s.
When it is time for your Lion Experience meet near the lion enclosure. Try not to pass out as the lions jump right up next to your face and wander around above your head with little more than a cage between you. Bring your camera because this is one experience you are going to want to brag about and words just won’t do it justice. More specific details about the Lion Experience here.
Have a relaxing evening and get plenty of sleep as you will be entering the fast-paced and adrenalin-pumping phase of your trip next!
Day 10: Queenstown City Exploration
Take the earliest flight you can muster out of Christchurch to Queenstown and be sure to book yourself a window seat. Landing at the Queenstown airport is an absolute dream. Located in a valley between the peaks of the The Remarkable’s, your descent into Queenstown will be exactly that…remarkable. If your flight is early enough the fog overlaying the mountain lakes and surrounding the tips of the snow peaked mountains will leave you breathless.
Queenstown is where you will ditch your rental car game but there are plenty of options for transport to your hotel on arrival. You should always ask your hotel in advance if they offer airport transports but if not there is a shuttle that leaves regularly. Ask at any info booth and an incredibly friendly Kiwi is sure to help.
After dropping your gear off at your hotel, catch a nice breakfast before heading out on some activities you have hopefully pre-booked. If you did not pre-book or just have time to kill, head into town and right on the main street you will find tons of info booths that are just waiting to book you on the vast multitude of adventure excursions available to you here. I would HIGHLY recommend the bungy jumping but for more details of all your options, learn all about Queenstown. If you did not book a Milford Sound tour in advance today is the day to try your luck and hope something is still available.
Day 11: Bungy Jumping and Hang Gliding
Spend the day living your most adventurous life again! If your heart rate didn’t increase well above its normal limit yesterday than you might not be doing it right. This is your last full day in Queenstown so be sure to not skip anything that you will regret later (*bungy jumping*). If all else fails at least make an effort to get up high somewhere to see a birds eye view of Queenstown. Hang gliding is great for this but for those more chill folks you can always just take the Queenstown Gondola.
When you get a good view you really notice that Queenstown is nothing but a tiny mountain town that has been totally taken over by adventure tourists. Even in the winter it is full of skiers and snowboarders, so there is very little tourist downtime for the locals. It is a truly stunning location that has something for everyone. The Queenstown post will give you all the details you need to make the most of your time here, so live it up!
P.S. If you don’t have any go buy bug spray for your Milford Sound trip, the sand flies are unreal there!
Day 12: Queenstown to Milford Sound
Your day will likely start off early today as you are picked up by your Milford Sound tour for a long drive. hopefully you chose a tour with a larger, more comfortable bus to take you through Fjordland National Park. The drive is about 4 hours and you will pass through lush green valleys, drippy rainforests and snowy mountain passes to get there. Understandably, these tours can often get cancelled due to weather as the roads can literally become impassable during the winter months. If the weather is nice enough the drive is fantastic.
Although you have likley become immune to the excessive beauty that envelops the entire country of New Zealand try to take a step back for a second and remember the concrete jungle you likely came from (if your from the urban USA). Fjordland National Park contains so many unique ecosystems, you will feel like you are driving through the pages of a science book on your way.
Cruising Milford Sound
Once you arrive at the dock you will unload your bags and load right onto your boat. There are several activities on board that you can choose from. The weather is very unpredictable and often rainy so plan accordingly and don’t get flustered if it rains a lot. In fact you might want to encourage the rain as the storms send water cascading down the mountain cliffs surrounding you creating walls of waterfalls, a true feast for the eyes.
Although your experience will vary based on the tour you chose, I would definitely recommend doing at least 1 night onboard a boat in the sounds, this way you can catch a sunrise, sunset and a couple different weather experiences. The Milford Sound post has all the details you need for an incredible trip.
P.S. If you have the chance to jump into the glacial waters..do it…make the jump..its gonna be freezing but you NEED to swim in glacial waters, you just don’t know it yet.
Day 13: Milford Sound to Queenstown
Spend the morning in awe as the sunrise adds an incredible backdrop to the already picturesque mountain range and waterfall cliffside’s surrounding you. No seriously, read that last sentence back and then tell me you don’t want to see Milford Sound in real life. If you’re lucky the sea lions and dolphins will be out to play this morning! Have a leisurely breakfast on board before disembarking and heading back to Queenstown the same way you came.
Day 14: Final Goodbye’s and Bug Bite Balm
Depending on when your flight leaves today you may have more time to spend in Queenstown. We just had time for a nice breakfast and a quick trip into town for emergency bug bite balm. The sand flies in Milford Sound are absolutely brutal so plan accordingly. If you still get eaten alive and the thought of spending the entire plane trip back with itchy bites all of your body is excruciating then head into town and get the local Tui Balm bug bite balm. It works wonders and might be the best money you ever spend.
Remember to nab a window seat out of Queenstown especially if you didn’t have one on the way in. Try not to cry as you leave on of the most naturally stunning countries in the world.
Your trip to New Zealand will not be the shortest or the cheapest but it very well might top the list as one of your all time favorites. I know for sure it will be a hard one for me to top! Happy Travels!