Three Week Traveller

3 Weeks In New Zealand Itinerary

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To many people, New Zealand seems like a faraway land to get to. If you are coming from North or South America, Europe, and Africa, it can be a long trip to New Zealand. But I assure you, it’s all worth it. The distance of travel is something to consider for sure, this is why 3 weeks in New Zealand is perfect.w

New Zealand is a great choice if you are looking for an annual holiday destination. There are so many places that can only be found in this country. Are you a LOTR or Hobbit fan? Well, you can visit the filming location of Bag End. Do you know that you can pay with Hobbit money in New Zealand?

Have you been dreaming of seeing the famous kiwi animal? Perhaps you have been looking forward to seeing Dunedin, the town with the world’s steepest road (slope of 19 degrees). How about exploring the country that was the last place humans inhabited?

There are many more reasons to visit New Zealand and spend your vacation here. In this article, I will show you my 3 weeks in New Zealand itinerary from North Island to South Island. If you are unfamiliar with those terms, that covers the entire country.

BASIC TRAVEL TIPS FOR NEW ZEALAND

southern lights, auckland, hobbiton - 3 weeks in new zealand

Not only should you remember that New Zealand is south of the hemisphere (which means summer in Europe is winter here), but you should also know these basic things about New Zealand. These things will help you plan your travel itinerary and determine which places you want to see the most and which can be on the “maybe or plan B” list.

If you don’t know much about New Zealand or travelling with someone else, perhaps you can discuss this destination better with these interesting facts about New Zealand , which are also suitable if you’re travelling with young children. Learning about these things will also help in planning or writing your itinerary.

Time difference

New Zealand is on GMT+13 or UTC+12 . That’s 3 hours ahead of Los Angeles, 12 hours ahead of Paris, and 5 hours ahead of Singapore.

If you are coming from the West, going to New Zealand means you are losing hours and going home means you are gaining hours or maybe even a day. This is why I only made this itinerary for 18-20 days. This will give you plenty of free time to prepare before you leave or time to relax once you get home from New Zealand.

Rent a car or not

Just like the UK, New Zealanders drive on the left. If you don’t mind this and are up for adventure in a car, I recommend you rent a car for the duration of your trip. Having your own transportation also gives you the freedom to go and leave whenever. This will also save you so much more time.

Around $30 a day is the cost of a rental car in New Zealand . You can even do a one-way car rental. For example, pick up the car in Auckland, and drive it all the way to Christchurch, where you can take your flight out of the country.

Don’t worry, there is a ferry that takes cars in when crossing the Cook Straight, also known as Wellington to Picton. If, for some reason, you started with a car and want to give it up in the middle of your trip or want to get one, just head to major cities like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queensland. Even the small town of Picton has an Avis car rental centre.

If you plan to drive or rent a car in New Zealand, make sure you have a valid international driver’s license. Check that New Zealand recognises your international driver’s license and for how long they are valid during your visit.

Other ways to get around New Zealand

You can also take public transportation if you don’t want that idea. There is a decent train system in New Zealand , and they are usually on time, and they are also affordable. In cities, there are intercity and other buses go from city to city. Ride-hailing apps are called Uber, zoomy, and Ola NZ .

Of course, another mode of transportation is by plane. There are plenty of domestic flights throughout the country, usually at a reasonable price.

However, if you want to rent a car in some parts of the country and then take flights sometimes, you can do that. But it requires you to take a look at your options in advance so you don’t waste your money and overbook. You want to make sure there are direct flights between the cities or else, you might as well drive than waste time during flight connections.

For example, you can pick up a rental car in Auckland and bring take it to Rotorua. From Rotorua, you can drop off the car and fly to Wellington . Then pick up another vehicle in Wellington to take to South Island or you can fly from Wellington to Christchurch and get another car there to travel around the south.

When is the best time to go to New Zealand

If you are looking for a sunny and warm holiday, planning to go snorkelling, swimming on the lakes, hiking, and outdoor activities, December to March is the best time to go to New Zealand . However, you should also remember that school is on break during this time, so the crowd is bigger in popular places. A price hike in accommodation and other holiday or tourism businesses is possible.

On the other hand, if you want to go skiing, hiking in the snow, and other winter activities, June to September is the wintertime in New Zealand . While for the locals, it could still be a holiday break. There are not as many tourists.

For those who want to see the famous aurora borealis, don’t worry. It’s all year round. However, the best time to see the sky lit green is from March until September.

TOP TIP : How to pack for a 3-week vacation

Are 3 weeks enough for New Zealand

Depending on your transportation of choice and the number of places to see, New Zealand can be done in 20 days. You can plan to spend 10 days on the north island and 10 days on the south island. This can be done in 3 weeks if you rent a car and have the freedom to go and leave.

It can be slower if you plan to use another land-based transportation, such as a bus. But if you mix it with taking domestic flights, it can be done. You can also save time by booking tour packages, allowing you to take a break from all the driving as well.

Average cost of 20 days in New Zealand

On average, a single person will spend $2,500 . It can be brought down to $1,900 if you are OK with sleeping in bunk beds in hostel dorms . Suppose you prefer luxury, $6,500 to $10,000 and up for this 3-week trip is ideal . This budget excludes flights to and from New Zealand.

You can also spend a little less if you plan the trip during the low season, between June and October, unless you plan to ski. If you’re staying longer and unsure how to budget, this guide on what a trip to New Zealand costs might be helpful.

Visa and COVID-19 Policy

New Zealand provides free visas to travellers with passports from Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, North America, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Australian visitors have free movement for an indefinite time.

New Zealand borders have been open since May 1, 2022. New Zealand will allow tourists from visa-free countries will be allowed to enter as long as they are fully vaccinated. All visitors must have NZeTA , which must be obtained before boarding your flight to New Zealand. You can get it online , which can take up to 72 hours.

Package tours

For those who want to make their 3 weeks in New Zealand more comfortable, you can book a package tour. This is when the travel company arranges everything for you. From hotels, transport, food, and activities – all you have to do is show up.

Other travel tips

Planning a trip can be time-consuming and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. When planning a trip, I make sure to use travel sites with flexible cancellations and offer a wide selection in terms of price, location, and comfortability.

Here’s a list of my favourite travel tools and services where I book my travel arrangements. From the hotel, flights, tours, cruises, = and even travel insurance and airport pickup to ensure my trip is hassle-free and with little to zero issues.

TOP PLACES TO SEE IN NEW ZEALAND (pinned map)

Click the expand icon on the top right to have a larger view of the map. Credit: Map data: Google

3 WEEKS-IN IN NEW ZEALAND ITINERARY

Unlike Australia’s very close neighbour, New Zealand can be explored in 3 weeks. In 21 days, you can visit the southernmost capital city – Wellington. Visit Auckland, Nelson, Christchurch, and Queenstown.

Along the way, you will see not only beautiful glacier lakes, reserved natural parks, do fun water activities, do lots of hiking, and learn about New Zealand’s biggest ethnic group – Maori.

When you look at the map of New Zealand, it’s pretty easy to say that there are two major islands: North Island and South Island. There’s a big chance that your flight will land in Auckland, located on the North Island. If you are arriving in Christchurch, then that will be South Island.

Don’t worry, though, this itinerary can easily be rearranged that fit your arrival destination. This travel itinerary for 3 weeks in New Zealand is here to help you visualise and plan your own.

You don’t have to follow everything I write. But read through as I will highly how many days to spend in each location, attractions to see, how to get around, and food to eat during your visit.

RECOMMENDED READ : 3 weeks in Australia itinerary

Day-to-day overview:

  • Day 1 : Arrive in Auckland, get transferred from the airport to your hotel or pick up your car rental
  • Day 2 to 3: Explore Auckland
  • Day 4 : Travel from Auckland to Taupo or Rotorua, choose where is your base
  • Day 4 to 6 : Explore Taupo and Rotorua
  • Day 7 : Travel from Taupo/Rotorua to Wellington
  • Day 7 to 9 : Explore Wellington, either do a day trip to Nelson or make your way to South Island
  • Day 10 : Travel from Welling to South Island (Christchurch)
  • Day 11 to 13 : Explore Christchurch and the surrounding areas
  • Day 14 : Travel to Queenstown
  • Day 15 to 19 : Explore Queenstown and the surrounding area
  • Day 20 : Travel to the city where you’ll be catching your flight back home or the next destination

North Island for 8-10 days

kiwi animal, sky tower, great barrier island - 3 weeks in new zealand

North Island is the home of Auckland, the most famous city in New Zealand. It is also where you can find many villages and towns that are home to ethnic groups. You can do so many things in this region, perhaps about 10-12 days here. With that, you will have plenty of time to explore the entire island.

Auckland and surrounding: 4 days

Auckland is a coastal city and most likely the city where your flight will arrive. It has a major harbour that connects the Acukland to many islands, such as Great Barrier Island, Little Barrier Island, Waiheke, Rangitoto, and Ponui Island. The price ranges from NZ$20 to $100 for one way, and you can even bring your vehicle (for an extra fee).

In the city itself, spending around 2-3 days is enough. If you want to visit the islands and the northernest point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga and Rainbow Waterfalls, add an extra 3-4 days.

Best places to see and things to do in Auckland and around:

  • Explore Auckland – join a group tour for a full-day exploration
  • Cape Reinga
  • Hobbiton Movie set – book a day trip
  • Rainbow Waterfalls
  • Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Kiwi North: Museum
  • Sky Tower – get your ticket in advance
  • Auckland War Memorial
  • Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki
  • Day trip to Waitomo Caves – book a full-day trip
  • Auckland Zoo
  • Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium
  • Auckland Domain
  • Rainbow’s End
  • MOTAT Museum of Transport and Technology
  • Mission Bay Auckland
  • Tandem Skydive – book this exciting tour
  • Achilles Point
  • Auckland Lookout
  • Oakley Creek Waterfall
  • Great Barrier Island
  • Waiheke Island – Waiheke Wineries or Zipline and Native Forest Adventure

Accommodations in Auckland:

  • Affordable: HIT Hostel or Kiwi International Hotel
  • Mid-range: Roomie Apartment Hotel or Holiday Inn
  • Luxury: Grand Millenium or Ohtel Auckland or The Grand

Taupo/Rotorua: 4-5 days

After enjoying Auckland, I recommend you decide between Taupo and Rotorua. Both these places are home to rich Maori culture. These two small towns have so much to offer that is so different from the rest of the countries. To be honest, it won’t matter which.

Choose between Rotorua and Taupo as your base for accommodation while exploring this region. There are over 10 must-see attractions here (including the Hobbiton Village), and coming from Auckland is a long way.

Auckland to Taupo is a 3-hour drive, but you can also take the bus, which is around 5 hours. However, if you plan to go to Rotorua from Auckland, that’s a 5-hour bus or a 2 hr and 30 min drive.

Here is a list of places to see around Taupo or Rotorua:

  • Hobbiton Village – sign up for a popular guided tour
  • Hell’s Gate Geothermal Reserve and Mud Spa
  • Huka Falls – check tour options
  • Rainbow Springs Nature Park
  • Redwoods – Whakarewarewa Forest
  • Lake Taupo – book a cruise to see the rock carvings
  • Waimangu Volcanic Valley
  • Taupo Skydive – check the price
  • Craters of the Moon
  • Tongariro National Park
  • Orakei Korako Geothermal – book a self-guided tour
  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing Trail – Ketetahi side
  • Pouakai Circuit – Henry Peak Lookout – optional as it’s really out of the way, located on the west side of the island)
  • Tukino SkifieldCape Kidnappers – take a stopover here on your way to Wellington

Accommodations in Taupo and Rotorua:

  • Affordable to Mid-range: YHA Finlay Jack’s Backpackers or Acacia Lake View or Taupo Debretts Spa Resort
  • Luxury: The Village Resort or Suncourt Hotel

Wellington/Nelson: 3-4 days

split apple rock, wellington cable car - 3 weeks in new zealand

3 weeks in New Zealand is not complete without a visit to Wellington. A harbour in the south of the North Island. It also has an international airport where flights go directly to Australia and many countries in Southeast Asia. While Nelson is a quiet little town in the north of the South Island.

You can reach Wellington from Rotorua in around 5 hr and 30 mins by car. If you take the bus, that would be a long journey, nearly 10 hours. You can also opt to take a non-stop flight from Rotorua to Wellington or a direct flight from Taupo , it’s a short 1-hour trip and costs somewhere between $50 and up per person.

Once you get to Wellington, you can rent another vehicle to explore the area and even take it to the South Island and discover Nelson.

Personally, I didn’t find many exciting things to do in Nelson, however, from here, it’s only an hour’s drive to Split Apple Rock and Abel Tasman National Park. Nelson is also an awesome place to simply chill and probably process the places you have seen so far. You can get from Wellington to Nelson by taking the 3.5-hour ferry to cross the Cook Strait.

You will arrive in Picton which is an hour from Nelson. You can take your car on the ferry too. The ticket cost from Wellington to Picton without a vehicle is between NZ$60 to $75. With a car, the price starts at NZ$200 up to $300 (depending on how long the car is, which includes motorhomes).

With a motorbike, the ticket costs from NZ$120 to $175. The price is also different if you are travelling with a pet. Check the ferry prices .

When you arrive in Picton, you can rent a car there if you come to South Island without a car. It’s a tiny harbour town though, and I don’t recommend you stay there since there’s not much to do.

Here is a list of must-see places in Wellington:

  • Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne – check out this exciting tour to Zealandia
  • Wellington Museum
  • Wellington Cable Car – get your ticket in advance
  • Kapiti Island – book a day tour
  • Wellington Zoo
  • Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa – join a tour with a guide
  • Mount Victoria Lookout
  • Massey Memorial
  • Do a full-day tour that highlights all the top attractions of Wellington – check the itinerary

Here is a list of must-see places near Nelson:

  • Pic’s Peanut Butter World
  • Split Apple Rock
  • Abel Tasman National Park – check tour prices

Accommodations in Wellington:

  • Affordable: The Marion Hostel or Trek Global Backpackers or Cambridge Hotel
  • Mid-range to Luxury: Rydges Hotel or Apollo Lodge Motel or Bolton Hotel

Accommodations in Nelson:

  • Affordable: T he Prince Albert Backpackers & Bar or The Palace Backpackers or Bridge Backpackers
  • Mid-range: Joya Garden & Villa Studios or The Beachcomber Hotel
  • Luxury: Trailways Hotel or Chelsea Motor Lodge or Palazzo Motor Lodge

South Island for 8-10 days

wanaka - 3 weeks in new zealand

South Island offers a very different experience compared to the North Island. From unique landscapes to beautiful animals – South Island is a great destination. Now, you can base yourself in Christchurch and explore the West coast, which is about a 3.5-hour drive. Then you can head to Queenstown to enjoy the Fjords of New Zealand.

Christchurch: 2 -3 days

Being in Christchurch will remind you of Europe, England specifically. It has deep roots in English heritage and historic buildings. In 2010 and 2011, a massive earthquake destroyed many historical places in Christchurch, however, there are still many areas you can visit. From here, you can also visit the famous Franz Josef which offers beautiful glaciers.

From Nelson, it will take 5 hours to drive down to Christchurch. You might be able to take the bus, but that’s a 12-hour long trip. You can also leave the hired car in Nelson and take a flight to Christchurch directly which is under an hour and costs around $100.

Here is a list of must-see places in Christchurch and around the area:

  • International Antarctic Centre
  • Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
  • Aoraki/Mount Cook – check tour price
  • Glacier Explorers
  • Book a combo tour for TranzAlpine Train, Arthur’s Pass, and Castle Hill
  • Orana Wildlife Park
  • Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools

Accommodations in Christchurch:

  • Affordable: Jailhouse Accommodation or Urbanz Hostel
  • Mid-range: Hotel Give or Carnmore Hotel
  • Luxury: Crowne Plaza or Wyndham Garden

Queenstown: 6 days

Queenstown is a “shore city”, it’s located right on the lade of Wakatipu. It is a popular destination for dozens of outdoor activities which is very famous during the summer (Christmas) season. Queenstown is a small town but depends highly on tourism, so don’t worry, there are plenty of accommodations to choose from.

It’s about a 6-hour drive from Christchurch to Queenstown. To save some time, you can head to Aoraki on the way to Queenstown. Remember to leave Christchurch early so you won’t come to Queenstown too late. This place works best if you are driving since you have to keep your belongings in your car while exploring some attractions.

There’s also an airport in Queenstown. So, you can simply take the 1-hour flight from Christchurch instead of driving if you’re short on time but that means you might miss some attractions that you could have seen if you drive.

There’s also a bus that connect this two cities, the drive will be around 8 hours and 30 minutes.

Here is a list of must-see places in the Queenstown area:

  • Queenstown Gardens
  • Shotover Canyon Swing – check the price
  • Lake Wanaka Lookout and Wildwire Wanaka
  • Shotover River and Kawarau River Jet Ride – compare this tour and this one
  • Skyline Queenstown Cable Car/Gondola
  • Lake Wakatipu – join a catamaran cruise
  • Queenstown Hill Walking Track
  • Queenstown Helicopter Tour with Alpine Landing – book this tour or this one – check which one has better reviews
  • AJ Hackett Kawarau Bungy Centre
  • Fiordland National Park – check the tour itinerary
  • Skippers Canyon – try a jet boat tour
  • Milford Sound/Piopiotahi – full-day tour or a helicopter ride or a cruise and lunch picnic
  • Treble Cone Ski Area
  • TSS Steamship – board a scenic cruise
  • Mount Aspiring National Park
  • Queenstown Tandem Skydive – book this thrilling adventure
  • Enjoy the local wine and food – signup for a fun-tasting tour or a vineyard tour

Accommodations in Queenstown:

  • Affordable: Tahuna Pod Hostel or Southern Laughter Backpackers
  • Mid-range: Pinewood Lodge & Apartments or Wyndham Gaden
  • Luxury: Hilton Resort & Spa or Heartland Hotel or Swiss-Belsuites Pounamu

If you have time, I recommend seeing Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, east of Queenstown and course, Stewart Island or Dunedin, two popular spots for the Southern Lights.

EXTRA TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP TO NEW ZEALAND

Here are more tips when writing your own travel itinerary. It will include places you can skip and destinations that you definitely want to visit:

I’m not saying these are not worthy places to see. Depending on the things you want to do or the place you are very eager to see, perhaps, you can free up time in your itinerary by skipping these areas.

  • Unless you really want to see the city, I recommend you skip Christchurch
  • You can skip the north part of Northern Island
  • Ski locations unless you are doing any winter activities
  • Skip island or water activities tours unless it’s summer

Spend more time in/Must-sees:

  • Spend more time in Taupo and/or Rotorua – there is just so much to do and see, if you like hiking, take your time doing Tongariro Trail
  • Spend more time in New Zealand Fjords – it’s a massive area and simply stunning
  • Visit the kiwi birds
  • Definitely don’t skip Hobbiton Village
  • See Aurora Borealis
  • Visit the penguins at Oamaru, Dunedin, or Stewart Island – these penguins are so different from African Penguins

SUMMARY OF 3 WEEKS IN NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand is a perfect destination for seasonal travellers to spend their 3-week holiday. It offers stunning glaciers, must-do hiking trails, excellent and diverse culture, and very unique experiences.

I hope this 3 weeks in New Zealand itinerary helped you plan your own itinerary to make sure you make the most out of your holiday.

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Going Awesome Places

Detailed itineraries + travel guides

The Ultimate 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary

Last Updated April 19, 2023 William Tang

You are here: Home » Travel Itineraries » The Ultimate 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary

Bold claim I know, but in a country where it’s almost impossible not to have the Lord of the Rings soundtrack play as you’re going there and back again, you’ll instantly fall in love with the jaw-dropping landscapes, heart-pumping adrenaline, never-ending ecological playground, and impossibly cute mascot, the Kiwi.  It’s a paradise that you have to experience for yourself and that’s where I come in.

Planning for a trip to New Zealand is no easy task and as I was planning my own trip, I was overwhelmed with all the choices and places that we could go.  To pass down all the knowledge that I’ve learned from my experiences, this travel guide is meant to get down to the details of what you need to know to plan your own Middle-Earth-sized 3 week New Zealand itinerary .

  • 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary Highlights

aboard milford sound cruise along 3 week new zealand itinerary

New Zealand is a vast, dynamic, yet compact country which makes it easy to explore and see a ton.  That said, you still need time to see it properly which is why this itinerary is perfect.  You get to see almost everything you want to without having to do any real double backs.

Here were my top 5 highlights of New Zealand:

  • Black Water Rafting
  • Milford Sound
  • Flying Kiwi

Curious where our favourite place we stayed was?  More on that below but I highly recommend  Arthur Street B&B in Whitianga of the Coromandel Peninsula

Read more about New Zealand

  • What To Pack For New Zealand
  • Top 5 Things To Do From Queenstown
  • Flying Kiwi New Zealand Tour

How to get the best deals in travel

  • Hottest deals  – Bookmark the  travel deals page .
  • Car rentals  – stop getting ripped off and  learn about car rental coupon codes .
  • Hotels  – Use  corporate codes  or get  Genius 2 tier  with Booking.
  • Flights  – Have you ever heard of the  “Everywhere” feature ?
  • Insurance  – Make sure you’re covered and learn more about  where to buy the best travel insurance .

Table of Contents

Feel free to jump around!

Here's what we're covering:

Trip Planning Map

Day 1 – goodbye sydney, hello queenstown, day 2 – horseback riding in glenorchy, day 3 – milford sound, day 4 – thrills in queenstown, day 5 – the start of the reverse traverse, day 6 to 17 – flying kiwi, day 18 – hot water beach, day 19 – cathedral cove, day 20 – tongariro crossing, day 21 – hobbiton, the trip costs, what we missed, the whole experience, your 3 week new zealand itinerary.

If you want to see the country properly, you need at least 3 weeks , if not more.  This New Zealand itinerary was crafted from a trip that came up quite last minute between the months of October and November which landed in the middle of the Spring season.  Having been to the country before, I knew that I wanted to put something together that was more thorough than the first time around which meant trying to slow things down a little to see more.

Before we begin, make sure to read all of the basics in the Comprehensive New Zealand Travel Guide .  Inside you’ll find the kind of things you need to know when you start planning your very own trip including tips, coupon codes, and travel hacks.

This is a detailed driving route and key highlights custom map that I created for this itinerary.  One thing you’ll notice that the Flying Kiwi portion of the trip is left basic as you can check out their tour itinerary for the full details for the sake of simplicity.

Tip: View the New Zealand planning map in full screen and create a copy for yourself.  Make tweaks for your own trip and in Google Maps, you’ll be able to view it by going into the menu, selecting “My Places” and the “Maps” tab.

Back to the top

tourists shopping in downtown queenstown as part of 3 week itinerary

There’s a lot of ways to start your journey through New Zealand but with efficiency in mind and to make the most of the 3 weeks, I knew that this itinerary had to be a one-way route from the South to the North Island or vice versa.  Ultimately, logistically, things made more sense to start in Queenstown because of flights and spots open on Flying Kiwi’s Reverse Traverse .

What you’ll love about this is that Queenstown in the South Island is a really awesome spot to start off in and get acclimated.  It’s a place where you’re going to want to base yourself at least for a couple of days and that means it won’t be go-go-go right from the beginning.  Out of all cities in New Zealand, it’s also my favourite so you’re in good hands.

scenic descent into queenstown from the plane in new zealand itinerary

Since direct flights into Queenstown aren’t likely, you’ll be likely coming in from somewhere like Sydney such as I did or transit via Auckland.  Wherever you come from, get ready for one of the most scenic landings you’ll ever have.  On approach you’ll see the fjords, giant snow-capped mountains, glistening lakes, and fields dotted with the white wool of sheep.

courtesy phone at queenstown airport to call car rental companies

The Queenstown airport is small but really easy to navigate and your first step once you get your bags is to grab your car rental.  If you followed my recommendation by booking with Snap ( formerly Hitch ), head over to the courtesy phone beside the Avis counter and let them know you’re here.  A van will come around the shuttle pick up loop and you’ll be set up with your eco-box car in a jiffy at their off-site office.  First thing though is to remember that you’ll be driving on the left side of the road so take some time to get used to that and think twice at intersections.

Your first day mainly consists of getting settled in and then exploring the downtown streets of Queenstown so take it as time to get to know the city and walk everywhere.  The stores may close early but a bunch of souvenir shops stay open a little later.

Finish off the night by grabbing dinner at the quirky and cozy Italian restaurant tucked in the corner of an alleyway named Cow Restaurant .  From its namesake, you learn that this used to be an old cow milking shed.  Inside you’ll find a ton of memorabilia from Queen Victoria period.  The pizzas are the best item on the menu hands down and might I add very large.  The best bang-for-buck is the large 14-inch size.

What you’ll see:

  • Downtown Queenstown

Where you’ll eat:

  • Cow Restaurant

Where to stay:

We never would’ve thought we’d be able to find something like this on Booking.com but it really goes to show you how they’ve stepped up their guesthouse game.

WE STAYED HERE

closeburn lakeview house near queenstown

CLOSEBURN HOLIDAY HOUSE

While not in downtown Queenstown, this converted upscale cottage home is set with the perfect view of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables.  There’s an on-site maid which is why everything is so ridiculously clean.  Bonus that it includes laundry facilities.

TripAdvisor

Booking.com

GREAT ALTERNATIVE

queenstown lakeview holiday park

QUEENSTOWN LAKEVIEW HOLIDAY PARK

While you’d think a holiday park is mainly for campervans and RV’s, they actually have private lodges available that are fully equipped.  They’re located in a great spot, walkable to the downtown, and quite luxurious.

TIP:  Parking in Queenstown can be tricky but the best free street parking we found was on Brecon Street.  This spot is good for 240 minutes (4 hours) of free parking (8AM – 6PM, 7 days a week).  In the middle of the day, spots get filled up really quickly but the evenings seemed to be easy.

glenorchy dart river adventure horseback riding rees river itinerary

Your first full day starts with an early morning drive through the stunning drive to the town of Glenorchy.  The drive alone is an attraction on its own so make sure you account for a lot of stops along the way.  The moody morning fog and rising sun with the mountains as the backdrop make for a dramatic scene as the road skirts the pristine shores of the lake.

The best way to take in the landscape around Glenorchy is neither on foot or by car.  It’s by horse and that’s why the early morning start is needed.  The check-in time at the Dart Stables office in Glenorchy is at 7:50AM.  Once you’re all geared up, a shuttle will take you to the location of the stables near the foothills of Mount Alfred.  What makes the 2-hour River Wild experience such a treat is that you’re able to comfortably ride around the backcountry of the Dart Valley in a small group.  Their guide are extremely knowledgeable and will tell you all about the different locations used by films such as Lord of the Rings.

When you’re done, you’ll be famished so head into the small and charming town of Glenorchy which has a fantastic little cafe called The Trading Post which is also next to the beach and wharf which are all worth a walk to.

aerial view of glenorchy new zealand in 3 week itinerary

TIP:  If you have a drone, this is THE place to fly it so make sure you’re all charged up when you get here.

road sign for paradise road in new zealand itinerary

Hit the road again but before you leave Glenorchy, take the drive into Paradise .  Now there is an awesome 4WD Lord of the Rings Tour which heads in there and is probably more comprehensive but if you have your own car, you can easily drive the gravel road yourself.  You’ll see road signs pointing towards Paradise (pun intended) and all you have to do is follow that one way road in.  If you take a look at the map , you’ll see roughly the spot that we drove to and turned back.   This is the area where X-Men: Origins and Lord of the Rings/Hobbit scenes (Beorn’s house, final fight in the forest in Fellowship of the Ring, Isengard) were filmed.

winding road on road towards te anau in south island new zealand

Gauge your time as you’ll need to make a 3 hour drive to Te Anau .  This is another drive that will be filled with many scenic stops.  Ideally you’ll want to make this drive with the sun still up as well.

When it comes to Te Anau, there isn’t too much to do here but if you are looking to do something to close out the night, there’s a fun little zip-line that they’ve built into Lions Park and sunset over Lake Te Anau from the beach is also quite pretty.

Before calling it a night, make sure to pick up food and snack supplies for Milford Sound.  There’s a Four Square in the town centre where you can grab everything from breakfast food, sandwiches, drinks, granola bars, chocolate, and even hot dinner if you’d prefer to do your own thing

MUST-DO:  Fill up your tank.  Do not make the same mistake we did where we ran out of fuel when we got to Milford Sound and that whole debacle.

  • Glenorchy town & wharf
  • Te Anau – Lions Park and Lake Anau

What you’ll do:

  • Dart River Adventures – River Wild

the trading post in glenorchy lunch in new zealand

  • Lunch – The Trading Post – Awesome little cafe with delicious croissant sandwiches and carrot cake to die for.
  • Dinner – Bailiez Cafe – Run-of-the-mill restaurant with an affordable special menu.  Choices are limited in Te Anau and prices quite high for what you get.

yha te anau private room interior in nz

YHA TE ANAU

I’ve stayed here twice and each time I’ve been very happy with its balance of location, price, comfort, and availability of private en-suite rooms.  It’s a hostel but it’s a good option for anyone travelling through Te Anau.

explorer motel and apartments te anau aerial photo

EXPLORER MOTEL & APARTMENTS

If you’re looking for a property that’s not a hostel but at a similar price to the YHA, this one is a great alternative that also offers a barbecue area, free parking and free Wi-Fi access.

milford sound at low tide in 3 week itinerary of nz

As I mention in the Top 5 things to do from Queenstown , one of the jewels of the New Zealand is its largest park, Fjordland National Park .  Deep in the park is the indigo blue waters, flanking mountains, and thunderous waterfalls of Milford Sound.  Carved by glaciers millions of years ago, this is a sight you have to see in person and one of those places that if you missed, you’d have serious FOMO (fear or missing out).

The main reason to split up your time in Queenstown with a stay in Te Anau is to maximize the time you can explore the park.  The issue I have with day trips is that you end up wasting too much time on the road in a single day.

My recommendation is to book the first cruise of the day with Southern Discoveries .  There’s a couple of good reasons for this:

  • Minimal traffic on the drive to Te Anau including Homer Tunnel
  • The first cruise is typically discounted and it comes with a hearty breakfast buffet
  • The morning light at Milford Sound is stunning and much better than the harsh light that you get mid-day.

The drive from Te Anau is only 1 hour 45 minutes but account for 2.5 hours as you’ll be tempted to stop A LOT especially once you enter Fjordland National Park.  Just remember that you’ll be taking the road back out.

TIP:  You won’t have any data the whole day so make sure you’ve made everything available offline on your phone including navigation.  This is where something like maps.me ( iOS / Android ) comes in handy.  If there’s a photo stop you have to skip because of time, just star it and come back on your way out. I talk about how I use maps.me as an offline map tool .

sotuhern discoveries milford sound cruise pass cards itinerary

Everyone parks in the same giant lot once you get to Milford Sound and from there you walk over to the cruise terminal where all ships embarks from.  Simply show your voucher and you’ll be given the passes you need to board.

view of black coral from underwater observatory in milford sound new zealand

The cruise is the best way to see the entirety of Milford Sound starting from the terminal, out into the open waters of the Tasman Sea and then back in.  If you booked the cruise and kayak option, you’ll be able to get off at the Discovery Centre which will give you the opportunity to go down to the underwater observatory to see the very rare black coral, followed by a 1 hour kayaking session in Harrison Cove .  Personally, this is a great combination because you get to take your time to see the grand scale of Milford Sound from the boat and then experience it in a completely different way on the water and up close to the walls of the fjord.

TIP: We found that things are a little rushed when your kayaking session starts. When you’re done at the underwater observatory, ask the staff if you can get geared up earlier so there’s a bit more buffer time.

bowel falls track kiosk

Back at the terminal, decide whether you’re interested in the Bowen Falls Track  (NZ$10 – adult, NZ$5 – child) which you can pay for at a kiosk beside the coffee and vending machines.  Alternatively, you can buy it from your cruise operator.  Tickets are required because a short boat ride is required.  When we were there, we decided to skip it because we didn’t know whether it was worth it or not but this is a short track to Lady Bowen Falls that only re-opened in 2018 after being closed for 15 years .  It’s a shame that it isn’t well promoted but if you’re interested definitely inquire about it.

TIP: Depending on the tide, I encourage you to head out from the parking lot and towards that iconic view of Mitre Peak.  At low-tide you can walk pretty far out and has pretty awesome reflections.

the chasm rushing water new zealand itinerary

Once you leave Milford Sound, it’s up to you how much more you want to see.  There are a ton of photo spots but the main ones to look at for are The Chasm and Humboldt Falls .  The Chasm is right off the road so it’s easy to get to.  Humboldt Falls requires you to turn off onto the Hollyford Track at the Marion Corner.  From there, it’s a very long 4 hour drive back to Queenstown.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

TIP: Gunn’s Camp on Hollyford Road carries emergency fuel if you need it.  The mistake we made was realizing we didn’t have enough so we turned back to Milford Sound only to realize that their machine was broken which left us stranded.

Depending on what time you get back into town, you can either have a sit-down dinner or pick up something on the way back.  Because of our gas issues in Milford Sound, we had to abandon our original plan to have some budget Thai food and just munched on the remainder of our snack food.

  • Bowen Falls Track
  • Hollyford Track’s Humboldt Falls
  • Southern Discoveries cruise & kayak
  • Lunch – Packed with supplies from Te Anau
  • Dinner – Bronze Elephant Thai

Looking or something affordable in the city, we ended up with a budget hostel.

hippo lodge backpackers private room with bunk beds

HIPPO LODGE BACKPACKERS

I’ll be honest, not exactly our favourite property especially since we were booked here for 2 nights but you get what you pay for.  We found that most people staying here were international employees and so really felt more like a university dorm than anything else. Luckily they have free parking.

mi pad smart hotel rooftop patio view

MI-PAD SMART HOTEL

Centrally located hotel that isn’t going to run you through roof.  As a new hotel, everything is modern and extremely comfortable.  On top of that, they have an incredible rooftop patio that offers spectacular views since it’s on a hill and facing the lake.

shotover jet boat ride in queenstown new zealand itinerary

After a couple of days on the road, it’s finally time to enjoy everything that Queenstown has to offer.  Yes, over the years it’s become even more touristy with the influx of Chinese tour buses, and stores like Louis Vuitton taking over (I know…why???) but there’s still a lot of charm to this town.  I liken Queenstown to a really laid back ski village like Park City in Utah.

shotover jet most exciting jet boat ride

There’s an overall buzz and excitement to the city whether it’s from people getting psyched for an upcoming adventure activity, going on a fancy night out, or shopping till something drops.

Instead of a flat white to start your day, head straight to Shotover Canyon for what has to be the most ridiculous boat ride known to man.  It’s called Shotover Jet and it’s an action packed experience that has you barreling through the canyon and boulders at unreal speeds, and pulling 360 degree spins that’s something out of a James Bond stunt team.  The only thing you can do is hold on to the metal bar in front of you dearly and screen at the top of your lungs.

TIP:  Read about the whole experience as part of the best things to do in Queenstown .

enjoy queenstown village green in new zealand itinerary

Head back into town and spend the rest of the day on foot.  There are plenty of stores to browse around.  This is also a good chance to buy any last minute supplies you might need before you hit the road again.  For example, if you forgot waterproof pants or need an extra layer, a store like Mountain Warehouse has reasonably priced gear.

eating fergburger burgers in queenstown as part of 3 week new zealand itinerary

When you’re hungry, it’s time to finally go to my favourite burger place in the world – Fergburger .  New Zealand is probably the last place you’d think would have legendary burgers but this is it.  There’s a reason why the line up goes out the door and why they’re open 21 hours a day.  My recommendation is to either try to Chief Piggum or the Ferg Deluxe.  Also, the hand-cut pepper & squid is a new revelation from this recent trip.  Wasabi mayo will change your life!

TIP:  To avoid the lines, call in to make your order ( full menu ).  That way, all you have to do is pick up your food at the window when it’s ready.

body sanctum spa reception and complimentary water

To round this out, make a reservation at the Body Sanctum Spa for a little bit of relaxation therapy.  Another popular spot that is impossible to book is Onsen Hot Pools .  From their private pools, you get pretty incredible open views of the Queenstown landscape.  If you’re keen on doing this, make sure to book at least 4 months ahead of time.

For dinner, if you’re up for a lighter and healthier, grab some food at Rehab which has a great selection of salads and cleansing juices.

With Flying Kiwi starting the next day, the last thing you’ll have to do is return your car to avoid having to deal with it tomorrow.  This part gets a little bit complicated because you’ll drive your car back to the airport for the return but will then need a way back into the city.  If you’ve read our Queenstown guide , you’ll know that taking the bus is not cost effective at all so call an Uber and get him/her to pick you up closer to the airport since they’re not allowed inside.

This is also probably a good night to do laundry.

  • Shotover Jet
  • Body Sanctum Spa or Onsen Hot Pools
  • Lunch – Fergburger
  • Dinner – Rehab (sadly permanently closed now)
  • Same location as the previous day

boarding flying kiwi bus in queenstown day 5 new zealand itinerary

With the Queenstown leg coming to a close, there isn’t much time to do anything substantial for this day since the Flying Kiwi pick up is at 2:30PM.  As a result, take your time, gather your bags, check-out, and head into the downtown.

The only challenge you’ll have is you’re going to be travelling around with your bags.  If you’d like to walk around town without them, you’ll need to go to the Baggage Storage by Smarte Carte inside the O’Connells Shopping Centre (NZ$13 per day for small items and $16 per day for large items).

If you’re hungry, there’s an excellent cafe named Vudu Cafe & Larder .  While you’re there, make sure to grab a flat white, avocado toast, and ginger crunch bar.  They’re also known for their vegan food if you have any dietary restrictions.

  • Lunch – Vudu Cafe & Larder
  • See Flying Kiwi Reverse Traverse itinerary

sandboarding flying kiwi group photo adventure tour new zealand

Heads up about Flying Kiwi

If you gone over to the Flying Kiwi Reverse Traverse Review , you’ll see that they’ve recently gone under. This is certainly sad news because it was such an incredible way to experience New Zealand.

The good news is that much of the 14 day Reverse Traverse can be replicated on your own if you have a rental car.

Since the Reverse Traverse tour isn’t published anymore, we’ll do a quick breakdown of what days 5 – 18 should look like:

  • Day 5 – Queenstown to Boundary Creek – Leaving Queenstown, you’ll largely be driving on this day to get your first campsite. Stop at one of the local farmer’s markets in Cromwell along the way. Stay at the Makarora Rest Station.
  • Day 6 – Boundary Creek to Fox Glacier – Visit Blue Pools, Thunder Creek Falls, Ship Creek, try whitebait in Haast. Stay at Fox Josef Top 10 Holiday Park cabin.
  • Day 7 – Fox Glacier to Okarito – Fox Glacier climb/heli-hike (weather dependent), Lake Matheson hike, spring bridge over Lake Matheson, Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools, camp at Okarito Beach.
  • Day 8 – Okarito – Punakaiki – Sunrise on Okarito Trig Walk, explore Hokitika (greenstone stores, pie, and National Kiwi Centre & Aquarium), enjoy the west coast drive towards Punakaiki, sunset at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.
  • Day 9 – Punakaiki to Marahau – Drive through Buller Gorge, pitstop at Berlins Cafe & Bar, Skydive Abel Tasman.
  • Day 10, 11 – Abel Tasman – 2 day Ocean and Earth kayaking + hiking tour with Marahau Sea Kayaks including camping at Anchorage campsite. Final day camping at Old Macdonalds Farm.
  • Day 12 – Marahau to Wellington – Stop in Nelson to grab a bite at Deville and walk around town before a wine tour in Marlborough (Saint Clair Family Estate) before arriving in Picton to take the Interislander ferry over to Wellington. Stay at a hgotel in Wellington.
  • Day 13 – Wellington to New Plymouth – Start the day going to Weta Workshop’s “The Weta Cave” before hitting the road again with stops in Otaki, views of Mount Taranaki along the way, and setting up camp at Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park and then head out to the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge for sunset.
  • Day 14 – New Plymouth to Auckland – Waitomo to do the Legendary Black Water Rafting and drive into Auckland. Stay at the Jucy Snooze Auckland. Have dinner at The Lula Inn.
  • Day 15 – Auckland to Paihia – Start with breakfast at Shaky Isles in Auckland. Beach time in Urititi, stop in Kawakawa, Haruru Falls (including mangrove hike on Waitangi Trail). Camp in Paihia.
  • Day 16 – Paihia Diving – Scuba diving with Paihia Dive to see the Rainbow Warrior wreck and Seal Bay.
  • Day 17 – Paihia to Orewa – Sandboarding in Hokianga, Tane Mahuta Walk (see giant kauri tree), lunch in Dargaville. Camp at Orewa Beach Holiday Park.
  • Day 18 – Orewa to Auckland – Final stretch back to Auckland which the next section picks up.

We put together a pretty cool montage of behind the scenes stories we shared from our entire trip so make sure you watch that!

elven green forest during flying kiwi adventure bus tour

In retrospect, this was a really cool hybrid road trip itinerary because we got to spend 2/3 of the trip guided by experts and travelling with new friends that we met on Flying Kiwi.  Their route is really well curated and gave us a chance to do much of what we wanted to see including highlights such as The Legendary Black Water Rafting , skydiving in the Abel Tasman, diving in the Bay of Islands , and our kayak and hiking combo in the Abel Tasman.

hot water beach 3 week nz itinerary beach spa

On the last day of your Flying Kiwi adventure tour, you’ll be returning back to Auckland.  After saying a fond farewell to your new travelling mates, you will be on your own again.  While it’ll be tempted to stay in the city for the day, the truth is that your time is better spent elsewhere (sorry Auckland!)

Considered to be off-the-path and often missed in most New Zealand itineraries is somewhere called the Coromandel peninsula which sits almost parallel to Auckland but on the East coast.  The landscape changes dramatically here and is a mix of gentle beaches, rugged coves, forest-filled mountains, and a haven for local vacation-goers.

Start off by grabbing your rental car and again I recommend Hitch as they have hands-down the cheapest rate.  Just keep in mind, their cars are quite outdated.  Like in Queenstown, their offices are off-site so wait for their shuttle in the designated area of the terminal.

TIP:  Need a cheap way to get from the city to the airport?  Ride the SkyBus Auckland City Express which has several pick up points downtown, runs 24 hours a day everyday, and should take less than 45 minutes to get to the airport.  Book your tickets online to get a cheaper rate (NZ$17.50 one-way for an adult).  It’s cheaper than a taxi/Uber for sure.

Hit the road and set your GPS to Whitianga.  If you’re a car enthusiast, you’re going to love the roads especially once you get into the mountains and you get to drive around the switchback windy and scenic roads that take you through Coromandel Forest Park .

tairua perfect pitstop aerial of the water and boats

Along the way, I recommend stopping at  Tairua which is a great pitstop to grab fresh fruit frozen ice cream and perhaps even fly the drone if you have one.

Whitianga is the closest large city which is why you’re headed that way as there are a number of good accommodation and dining options there.  When you get there, drop off your bags, settle in, and get ready to head out.   If you’re staying at a B&B like ours, they’ll have buckets and shovels available so make sure to load them into the car.

TIP:  How you plan out the rest of your afternoon or evening will solely depend on the tides at Hot Water Beach . When we were there, it happened to be at 5PM.  The best time to be at the beach is anytime in the +/- 2 hours range (3PM to 7PM in our case).  Factoring in the 30 minute drive from Whitianga and sunset time, you will either only have time to do Hot Water Beach or both Cathedral Cove and the beach.

If you don’t want to rush things, I’d recommend just doing Hot Water Beach since it’s not the kind of thing you can jump in and out and you want to make sure you have enough time to do grab dinner.

crowds at hot water beach in coromandel new zealand trip

Hot Water Beach highlights an incredible phenomenon where volcanic activity well below the surface heats up an underwater river and bubbles to the surface at low tide.  Armed with a spade to dig up your own personal pool and bucket to bring cold water from the sea to cool the water down, this is the most outrageous way to spa that I’ve ever experienced but you’ll love it because you’re forced to get your hands dirty.  It’s a cross between treasure hunting and frantic digging and re-digging to maintain your own spa pool in the sand.  It’s hard to describe but once you get there, just look for the crowd of people and you’ll know what to do.  Budget 2 hours here.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Location:   From the main car park, cross the stream and the good places to dig are just north of the first giant boulder and before the rocks that stick out in the water.  In most cases, just follow the crowd.

Low Tide:  Check for low tide before going

  • There are 3 main lots:  The Main Beach carpark (free), Te Waiwai carpark (free) and the Main Store carpark (paid)
  • You can also pay for parking at Hotties Cafe, Hot Waves Cafe and the Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park
  • If the free lots are filled, look out for open spots along Pye Place road before or after the Main Beach carpark

What to bring:

  • Spade and bucket – You can rent them at the beach if your accommodations don’t have them to borrow
  • Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner
  • For the best experience, show up 1 hour before low tide or right at low tide.  If you show up later, the beach will be littered with holes and there won’t be any opportunities to dig up a fresh hole since they’ll already be taken.  Showing up earlier will also have the advantage of finding free parking
  • Instead of renting a spade and bucket, just ask to borrow one from someone else on the beach
  • Use the bathroom at the change rooms as there are no facilities by the beach
  • The easiest way to tell if there’s hot water underneath is to use your spade once and then dig your feet in to feel the temperature.  If it’s cool, there’s no point in digging further and move onto another spot
  • Where can you put your bags? – I’d recommend keeping your valuables in the car as there’s you’ll have to put faith that nobody will take your things.  Most people will put their bags on or near the mound of boulders inland from the beach.  I recommend putting your things close to others and cover your things with your towel
  • Where can I change?  I’d recommend putting your swim wear on in the car or at your hotel/B&B ahead of time.  When you come out of the beach, there’s a new change room facility which is well maintained and clean
  • Where can I shower?  There are open showers just outside the change facility to rinse your feet and wash up

Read the reviews

When you’re done, drive back to Whitianga and have the best seafood of your trip at a restaurant called Squids .

  • Hot Water Beach
  • Lunch –  No specific recommendation as we snacked in the car but if you’re hungry, I recommend eating near Auckland because there is not much once you head out
  • Dinner – Squids Bar & Grill (unfortunately permanently closed)

arthur street b&b whitianga nz bedroom

ARTHUR STREET B&B

Friendly hosts, fully-stocked rooms (including breakfast items), easy parking, and extremely comfortable, and available spade/bucket makes this a favourite of ours from our trip to New Zealand.

whitianga b&b accommodations in new zealand itinerary

WHITIANGA B&B

An adult-only accommodation that’s extremely well rated and affordable.  Like Arthur Street B&B, there’s really no need to look at hostels because the prices are comparable and you don’t have to deal with shared bathrooms.

cathedral cove new zealand itinerary

This naturally formed stone archway between two secluded coves in the Coromandel Peninsula should not be missed.  Expect stunning views at Cathedral Cove as this easy hike hugs along the coast, dramatic cliffs, pristine waters, and lush forests.

Start your day early by heading out to Hahei Beach .  While you could take the shuttle to the start of the hike trail, I recommend parking right by the beach itself and make the gentle ascent that only adds an extra 20 minutes.

paved trail cathedral cove 3 week itinerary

One thing that you’ll immediately notice about the hike here is that it’s very well-paved and which makes it very easy and stroller-friendly.  Along the way, you’ll also have a few opportunities to do a few side hikes to additional coves and lookout points.

At the end of the trail that takes no more than 50 minutes from the beach, you’ll descend down into the the cathedral-like arch and the twin beaches on each side of the arch.

Hours:   No official hours

More info:    Website

  • The parking lot at Hahei beach is free
  • The lot at the start of the trail is closed from October 1 – April 30 and NZ$15 for 4 hours from May 1 to September 30 (quite limited)
  • There is private parking from house owners on the road up to the top car park
  • Hahei Visitor car park (on the right as you enter Hahei) is free and from there you can take a shuttle to take you to the top (NZ$5 return for adults, NZ$3 return for children, and NZ$10 for 2 adults and 2 children.  You can pay the driver by cash, use the machine, or pay online .
  • Swimwear and towel if you plan on swimming at the beach
  • Are there change rooms? – No there aren’t any facilities here
  • Are there stairs?   A majority of the trail is smooth paved however steps are required when making your way down and up from Cathedral Cove.  There are also stairs on the beach walk up to the start of the trail

Grab lunch in Hahei as you’ll then need to make the long drive down to Taupo which will take 3.5 hours.  In Hahei, there’s the one plaza that has all o the food.  Coastal Co-Op has pretty awesome pizza and ice cream.

huka falls in taupo new zealand

When you finally make it to Taupo , you’ll only have time to check out Huka Falls . Here you can witness the true power of 220,000 litres of water barrelling down a narrow passageway with ferocity.  The parking lot is only minutes away from the main bridge and with only a few lookout points, you can easily complete your visit in 10-15 minutes.

TIP:  The gates close at 5:30PM in the winter and 6:30PM in the summer.

With the big hike coming up the next day, take time to buy supplies as you’ll need to prepare your own lunch.  For the best prices, go to the Pak’N’Save . What we did was buy a bag of croissants, slices of cheese, and ham with extra water as well.

Sleep early because the pick up tomorrow is really early.

  • Cathedral Cove
  • Cathedral Cove Walk
  • Coffee – Hahei Beach Cafe  (they have a bathroom)
  • Lunch –  Coastal Co-Op
  • Dinner – Mole & Chicken

rainbow lodge backpacker taupo hostel

RAINBOW LODGE BACKPACKERS

A popular hostel in Taupo that is very affordable.  The location is convenient as you’re walking distance to the Pak’N’Save and the restaurants by the lake.  A lively place with a large kitchen and open lounge.  Take advantage of their $5 burger nights.

hilton lake taupo hotel new zealand

HILTON LAKE TAUPO

One of the few Hilton properties in New Zealand.  A first-class hotel with a free pool, gym, and on-site Bistro Lago Restaurant by chef Gareth Stewart.   Rooms are spacious and luxurious.

best photo spot for tongariro crossing in nz itinerary

Dubbed the “hike through Mordor”, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has grown to international fame thanks to Lord of the Rings.  It’s a track that takes you through an other-worldly volcanic landscape, vivid Emerald Lakes, mysteriously red crater, and switchback plains, and ethereal jungle forest.  At 19.4km long, it’s also described as the best one day hike in New Zealand and I have to agree.

The trek is an incredible experience because it takes you through such a dynamic change of landscapes.  It truly gives you an appreciation of the awe-inspiring power of mother nature at work at its rawest form. That said, it’s still one hell of a work out and solid preparation is critical.

tongariro expeditions bus drop off in new zealand itinerary

To do the hike, you need to reserve your spot at Tongariro Expeditions , the best shuttle company out there who will have you covered whether you’re staying in Taupo.  I loved how they were able to pick us up and drop us off directly from the hostel we were staying at.  It really made things so easy.

snow on tongariro crossing hike

If you take a look at the cross section of the entire 7-9 hour hike, you’ll see elevation profile from start to end.  It’s a hike that ascends the saddle between the two mountains of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro before descending into a collection of sulphuric lakes and down the backside.

tongariro crossing walking times and cross section trek

Here are a few lessons learned from our experience:

start of tongariro alpine crossing

Favourite part – My favourite part of the hike was near the beginning of the trail where you’re threading through the valley while the sun rises above the towering Mt. Ngauruhoe which surprisingly was more beautiful than its twin mountain and the hike’s namesake.  This is also the part of the hike that gave me serious flashbacks to Frodo and Sam as they snuck through the razor-shop rocks of Mordor.

red crater summit mt ngauruhoe

Manageable uphills – The truth is that most of the hike wasn’t insanely hard and nothing compared to something like Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail .  All the ascents were manageable as long as you took lots of breaks in between.  When you’ve had enough, the trail usually levels out for a nice long pause.

downhill rocky scramble in tongariro alpine crossing new zealand

The hardest part – The hard part was actually the descent from Red Crater Summit to Emerald Lakes (#5 in the map below).  This part consists of massively eroding loose gravel that seems like a short distance but lasts for an eternity because 1) there’s no good foothold at all 2) the ground slips underneath you without notice 3) others that really don’t have the right footwear act as big obstacles and 4) it’s the spine of a ridge and so there’s drop off on both sides.  It’s not something that most guides talk about so that’s why I highly recommend good shoes and perhaps a bit of slip and slide confidence

Crowds – We weren’t even there during high-season (mid November) and the trail was already quite packed.  Let’s just say there was never a point when it was just us.  Don’t expect to get any clean photos unless you start really early and hike really quickly.

sulphur smell at emerald lakes on tongariro

Time management – We’re not fast hikers and what makes us even slower is the fact that I was also taking a lot of photo and video for the blog.  By the time we made it to the snow near the Red Crater Summit, it was already 10:40AM.  We didn’t make it to the Blue Lakes until 1:45PM.

Without a good grasp of time, I thought we were still good until we saw the signs.  By the time we made it to the Ketetahi Hut, it was 2:45PM and the sign said there was still another 1 hour 30 minutes left.  If you take a look at the Tongariro Expeditions guide, they recommend at least 2 hours.  Needing to make it to the car park by 4PM, we had to literally speed-hike/run back down in 1 hour 15 minutes.

completing tongariro crossing on the bus

Also don’t underestimate that last stretch.  It’s designated as hard for reason – it is never ending and just when you think the forest should clear into marking lot, it keeps going.  Somehow we pulled it off but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.

tongariro crossing topography map with main highlights new zealand itinerary

Location:   Book with Tongariro Expeditions to start your hike at the Mangatepopo Car Park

When:  There are two pick up times in Taupo – 5:20AM and 6:20AM.  Pick up times at the end of the trail happen between 1:30 – 4:30PM but in our case, it was 2PM – 4PM (seasonal reasons).

Price:  NZ$70 adult or NZ$35 child round trip from Taupo.  Alternatively if you’d like to park at the Ketetahi lot, you can hire a shuttle

  Alternative services:   If you have a car and you’d like to park on the Ketetahi side, you can hire a one-way shuttle to Mangatepopo.  Pickups are from 6.30AM-8.30AM.  There is a special Tongariro shuttle parking lot for this

  • Lunch and snacks
  • 1.5 – 2L of water per person
  • Real hiking shoes (i.e. Columbia’s Conspiracy Outdry shoe)
  • Sunscreen – You’re completely exposed the whole trail.  With the ozone layer depletion near New Zealand, it’s so easy to get burnt here.  Re-apply at least once.
  • Wear layers – be ready for all weather
  • Beanie/toque in the winter
  • Waterproof jacket and pants if it rains
  • This hike is very weather dependent so you do need to check-in with Tongariro Expeditions the day before to see if they’re running or not
  • Stock up on lunch, snacks, and water the night before
  • Shuttle buses leave on time – We did not want to find out what would happen if we arrived after 4PM.  Our bus left at 4:04PM so that tells you just how on time they are
  • Free hiking sticks – You’ll notice that hiking sticks can’t be rented from Tongariro Expeditions  and that’s because they them for free to borrow on the bus.  It’s not something they disclose but a pretty sweet perk
  • Pay attention to colour of bracelets – Anyone with Tongariro Expeditions will have a rubber bracelet.  Your bus will be one colour and other buses will be another colour.  If you’re the first bus and notice other colours start creeping up on you, that’s when you know you’re starting to follow behind
  • What happens if you don’t make the bus? – They instructed us to call them if we knew we wouldn’t make the last bus but I found that hilarious because I don’t had signal the whole hike.  Just don’t be late.
  • What’s the bathroom situation? – I was impressed with how many bathroom outhouses were set up along the trail.  They’re frequent enough that you don’t need to really worry too much.  Just expect long lines especially after lunch hour so I’d recommend going before summiting Red Crater and again at Ketetahi Hut.

You’ll be exhausted when you get to Taupo.  Take a breather, reward yourself a great dinner over at Dixie Brown’s, and watch a brilliant sunset over Lake Taupo.

  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Lunch –  Packed lunch
  • Dinner – Dixie Brown’s
  • The same as the previous day

wide angle view of hobbiton movie set from across the lake in new zealand trip

End off your trip on a high with a couple of things two things that the North Island is best known for – geothermal activity and Hobbiton.

craters of the moon geothermal activity steam in 3 week new zealand itinerary

Start of your day by heading to Craters of the Moon which minutes outside of Taupo and across the street from Huka Falls.  While this might not have the scale or diversity of  Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland , it is one of those things that makes sense logistically, doesn’t take too long to do, and is quite affordable (NZ$8 for adults, NZ$4 for children).

Walk through the guided boardwalk which takes you through bubbling craters, hissing steam vents, and colourful soil.

spa thermal park natural hot springs near taupo

Nearby town is a secret treasure that’s been known to locals for a long time but is now becoming a big attraction on its own.  The name gives it away – Spa Thermal Park .  It’s part of a large green space that features walking paths, playground, and open park but what makes this place special is the thermal stream at the edge of the Waikato river.

The hot stream mixes in with the river water and naturally forms several small rock pools.  Each pool is at its own temperature and cools down as you get closer to the river.

 Address:   County Ave, Tauhara, Taupo 3378, New Zealand (look for Otumuheke Thermal Stream)

spa thermal park map in taupo nz

Hours:  7AM -8PM

 Price:  Free

Parking:  Free at the park’s lot but spaces fill up quickly

change facilities at spa thermal park

  • Are there change rooms? – Yes, a brand new facility was built with individual change rooms
  • Are there lockers? – Free lockers are provided as part of the new building but if you’re comfortable, you can easily put your things on the rock near the water where you’ll be soaking

couple photo at hobbiton film set in new zealand 3 week itinerary

Hobbiton is the stuff of legends.  Scouted by Peter Jackson’s team for Lord of the Rings, the story is that they flew over this 1,250 acre sheep farm in Matamata and discovered that it was strikingly similar to The Shire with its giant pine tree and rising hill overlooking a lake.  They completely converted the rolling green hills into Hobbiton but at the time, they created it as a temporary set with the intention to return it back to a farm after filming was done.  When The Hobbit rolled around, they decided to re-build everything permanently for visitors to tour for years to come.

samwise gamgee hobbit hole in film set near matamata

While it is as touristy as things come in New Zealand, its must-do for any Lord of the Rings pilgrimage.  The 2 hour tour takes you through the entire grounds of Hobbiton where it hits you just how thorough, detailed, and complete it is.  When you first enter in, you’ll have that out-of-body experience as I did where you realize that it’s all real.  The only disappointment is the fact that there’s nothing much behind those round doors but being able to stand inside one will make you forget pretty quickly.

free drinks at green dragon hobbiton

From the farmer’s garden, hobbit-scale holes, human-scale hobbit holes, the beekeeper’s mailbox, chimney’s that puff real smoke, the house of the hobbit that picks his nose, and of course Bilbo’s Bag End, it’s easy to forgive the large group of tourists.  To round out the experience, you get to have a pint of Southfarthing’s own ales in the iconic Green Dragon pub.

 Address:   501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata 3472, New Zealand

Hours:   Tours depart daily from 9am until 3:30pm. (Extra 4PM and 4:30PM tours between September 1 – April 30, and 5PM and 5:30PM between December 27 and February 28)

 Price:  NZ$84 for adults, NZ$42 for youth (9-15), and free for children 0-8

Parking:    There’s plenty of parking in Shire’s Rest (where you wait for your bus pick up across the street from Hobbiton)

shires rest hobbiton film fest nz

  • Reservations in advance  are recommended
  • If you have the time and spots are available, I highly recommend booking the evening banquet tour which lets you tour Hobbiton at dusk (best lighting) and a dinner feast in the Green Dragon
  • Note that there are also pickups from the Matamata I-Site (info centre) or Rotorua
  • There’s a Hobbiton Movie Set Store in Rotorua (1235 Fenton St, Rotorua)
  • If you want to get photos of you in the Hobbit holes, your best bet is to stay near the back of the pack.  You won’t be able to hear too much of the commentary but it’s really the only way to get clean shots
  • In Green Dragon, go around and pay attention to the random notes, pictures, and objects.  There aren’t any easter eggs but we found a few signs that gave me a chuckle
  • The hobbit clothing at the back exit of Green Dragon are free for visitors to put on so take advantage of this photo op

Book your tour

The drive back to Auckland will take 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Check into where you’ll be staying at night or have dinner first, depending on your timing.

  • Craters of the Moon
  • Hobbiton Movie Set
  • Spa Thermal Park
  • Lunch –  Paulys Diner
  • Dinner – Sri Penang

new market cozy b&B in auckland

NEW MARKET COZY ROOM

This was the perfect B&B-type of place to end off our trip.  We wanted some something comfortable, not in the city, with easy parking and this ticked off all the boxes.  The room was super spacious and perfect all around.

city lodge backpackers hotel in auckland

If you’re looking to stay in the Central Business District (CBD) area, this is a great affordable option that is still a private en-suite room.  Well rated and close to a lot of food in the area.

As I mention in the New Zealand travel guide , you’ll know that this isn’t the cheapest country to travel through but if you do it smart, you don’t have to spend as much money as you think.

To give you an idea of the kind of money you’ll have to spend on a 3 week New Zealand trip, here’s a break down of all of our expenses.  Note this doesn’t include any flights, is for the two of us and is in NZD.

  • Flying Kiwi – $5,690
  • Activities – $2,692
  • Food – $1,285
  • Accommodations – $991
  • Transportation – $795
  • Souvenirs – $309
  • Communications – $213
  • Clothing – $60

Total = NZ$12,035.39 (for two)

new zealand 3 week trip expenses

No itinerary is perfect and there were plenty of things that I wish we could fit in but just couldn’t with the 3 week restriction we had.

As you can see from the trip map, you’ll see that this itinerary focuses on the western side of both islands of New Zealand which leaves the eastern side largely skipped.  If you’re considering alternatives or have a serious case of FOMO, take a look at some of these activities that may be worth adding if you want to expand from the 3 weeks.

  • Kaikoura – Swimming with dolphins
  • Rotorua – Maori cultural experience (highly recommended to us)
  • Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier – glacier heli-hike experience (thanks to the weather)
  • Lake Wanaka – the famous tree
  • Mt Cook National Park –  Hooker Valley track
  • Milford Sound – Routeburn track

Our full 3 week New Zealand itinerary was simply epic.  It was an unbelievable journey that spanned both the South Island and North Island, giving us a chance to see treasured highlights and experience bucket-list worthy activities.

This is a trip where we mixed and matched a traditional road trip with a guided bus tour and it was quite unique as a result.  For one, it made trip planning a heck of a lot easier because all I had to do was focus on the beginning and the end.   Through Flying Kiwi, we were able to make new friends with people we would’ve otherwise never encountered and it was our fun dynamic of travellers that really made things memorable.  The adventure bus tour also provided a nice change of pace between travelling as a couple and as a group.

New Zealand is somewhere that I could go again and again.  In 3 weeks you’ll be transported over climates that range from alpine, glacial, fjord, sub-tropical, rainforest, and full tropical.  More importantly, it’s a country that emphasizes doing just as much it does seeing which means there’s never a dull moment.  The adrenaline never really wears off while you’re out there and smiles run end to end all day long.

Helpful New Zealand Resources

Make sure you read these next!

Comprehensive New Zealand travel guide

Top 5 things to do from Queenstown

Flying Kiwi Reverse Traverse review

New Zealand packing guide

Got questions from your own trip to New Zealand? Let me help you by dropping a comment down below !

What you should read next

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About William Tang

William Tang is the Chief of Awesome behind the award-winning Going Awesome Places which is focused on outdoor adventure, and experiential travel. His true passion lies in telling stories, inspiring photography and videos, and writing detailed itineraries and travel guides. He is a member of Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC), Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), and Travel Massive. He has also been featured in publications such as Reader's Digest, Entrepreneur, Men's Journal, and Haute Living. Make sure to learn more about William Tang to find out his story and how Going Awesome Places started.

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The Perfect 3 Week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Cathedral Cove

If you’re headed to New Zealand and looking for a day-by-day 3-week road trip itinerary then you’ve found the right page. New Zealand is a place where you can look in any direction and see something beautiful, no matter where you are. Far away from the rest of the world, isolated and alone, New Zealand is nature at its finest. 

I lived in New Zealand for two years and drove just about every highway in the country. So on this page I’ve developed the perfect 3 week New Zealand itinerary for you.

Don’t quite have three weeks to take off? No problem, I’ve got you covered with my ultimate 2 week New Zealand itinerary !

Why Should I Listen to You, American?

Lay of the land, how to get around new zealand, best time of year to visit new zealand, travel insurance, the most amamzing 3 week new zealand itinerary, 3 week new zealand itinerary: the end.

Note: this article contains affiliate links, which means that should you purchase something or get a quote through them I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps keep the site running with up to date information. I do not represent World Nomads, GetYourGuide, Booking.com, or discovercars.com. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy the product mentioned in this article .

I know what you’re thinking. Surely it makes more sense to trust a Kiwi with your New Zealand plans over me, right? But that’s not really the case here. I lived in Wellington – the capital of New Zealand – for two years. In those two years I went just about everywhere there is to go in this beautiful country. 

I’d wager that I’ve seen more of New Zealand than 99% of Kiwis, as New Zealanders typically spend their holidays traveling abroad or going somewhere near where they grew up that they absolutely love going to over and over again. I say this confidently.

I tried to hit every corner of the country while I was there and I was pretty successful in that endeavor. From the south tip in Invercargill to the north tip at Cape Reinga, I’ve seen just about everything New Zealand has to offer, including many things two, three, four, or even five times!

There are few places in the world I’ve been to more than Milford Sound, and I long to go back! So trust me, you’re getting the best advice possible here.

New Zealand Travel – The Basics

Unless you’ve got your own yacht you’ll be flying to New Zealand. Nearly all international flights will arrive in Auckland, though United announced in 2023 that they will begin a direct flight from the US to Christchurch. So just about everyone starts and ends their journey in Auckland.

Auckland has some of the longest direct flights in the world, including Doha (17 hours 15 minutes), Dubai (17 hours 25 minutes) and New York (17 hours 30 minutes). Flights from every continent other than Australia to New Zealand are expensive. If you can find anything under $1200 you are getting a bargain. 

Once you arrive in Auckland, your adventure will begin. Like most New Zealand road trips, this 3 week New Zealand itinerary starts and ends in the City of Sails.

New Zealand is composed of two main islands, creatively called the North Island and the South Island, as well as some smaller islands scattered around. Nearly the entire population lives on the North Island, mainly in Auckland.

The North Island has volcanoes, geothermal pools, beautiful beaches and coastlines dotted with vineyards. The South Island is rugged, barren, full of sharp mountains and endless herds of sheep. Both islands are awesome and you’ll spend half your time on each island following this itinerary.  

This itinerary will involve you renting a car. It is possible to hit all the spots without your own transportation, relying on flights, trains, and organized tours. But my god, that would be a difficult trip to plan and organize! 

This itinerary is written as if you have your own car. You can book your car rental from the Auckland airport here . It’s also possible to do this trip in a campervan , which would save you a ton of money on accommodation.

Campervans are common in New Zealand. Just note that unlike Australia, freedom camping (i.e. parking wherever the hell you want and spending the night) is not legal in New Zealand. You will have to book campsites just like if you were tent camping.

Be prepared to spend a significant amount of money on this trip. This is not Southeast Asia by any stretch of the imagination. You are far from the rest of the world and things are expensive here. 

A burger at a mediocre restaurant will run you at least $25. A nice local beer? Hope you’ve prepared to drop at least $13 on it. Luckily for most other Westerners the exchange rate is pretty good these days. 

So if you’re American, that $25 burger is actually about $18, which is comparable to a burger in the US once you add tax and tip. Keep in mind there is no tipping in New Zealand and tax is included in all prices. 

Still, between the flight, the rental car, hotels/campsites, eating out, and booking some excursions you are going to spend thousands of dollars per person on this trip. But I guarantee you it will be worth it!

Queenstown hill on the perfect 3 week new zealand itinerary

It will be best if you can make the trip in the southern hemisphere summer (December to February). But this is also the most expensive and crowded time. 

Coming in the winter also offers its benefits. You can see the mountains all encapsulated in snow and avoid large crowds of people. But many of the mountain hikes on the South Island are inaccessible in winter. You might also struggle with the short winter days too. 

Spring and fall offer comfortable weather and less crowds. Visiting in early fall means the mountains haven’t been encapsulated in snow yet, so it’s the best of both worlds. 

If you’re coming all the way to New Zealand you don’t want to be limited by short days and snowfall. So my advice is to visit in the late spring, summer, or early fall and just deal with the crowds.

For many people, New Zealand is a dream destination. It’s strikingly beautiful from north to south. But most people don’t realize just how far New Zealand is from the rest of the world. 

Think Australia is close? Only if you consider a 4 hour flight across the Tasman Sea “close.” For Americans it means an 11-12 hour flight across the Pacific from the west coast, on top of whatever you need to get to the west coast (an additional 6 hours if you live in Boston for example). For Europeans, make that two 11-12 hour flights. For Asians, at least 10 hours unless you live in Papua New Guinea. 

But if you are willing to make the journey you will be rewarded with an epic holiday that you will tell your friends about for years to come.

It’s a good idea to have travel insurance when road tripping around New Zealand so that you’re protected in case of unexpected circumstances or illness. We use World Nomads when we travel internationally. Word Nomads provides coverage to travelers in over 100 countries. You can search for a coverage plan using the link below.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Coming to New Zealand for three weeks gives you time to really hit all the country’s highlights. The itinerary is summarized in the table of contents at the beginning of this article. You can click on a day of the itinerary to skip to that day.

Day 1: Coromandel Peninsula

Day 2: cathedral cove and tairua, day 3: tauranga and rotorua, day 4: rotorua, day 5: hawke’s bay, day 6: wellington, day 7: marlborough sounds and nelson, day 8: nelson lakes national park, day 9: glowworm cave tubing, day 10: franz josef and fox glaciers, day 11: queenstown, day 12: milford sound, day 13: mount cook national park, day 14: mount cook and kaikoura, day 15: kaikoura and blenheim, day 16: marlborough wine region, day 17: paraparaumu, day 18: tongariro national park, day 19: tongariro alpine crossing, day 20: auckland, day 21: waiheke island.

The Google Map below shows you the exact route you’ll take on this epic 3 week New Zealand itinerary. It’s a lot of driving, but my god will it be awesome!

Arrive in Auckland, pick up your rental car, and hit the road towards the Coromandel Peninsula. I absolutely love this area of New Zealand. There are so many things to do here. You won’t have time to see everything, so book a holiday home in Tairua for two nights.

Arriving there the first day, just enjoy the views. Take a short walk to the top of Mount Paku or head down to Tairua beach. While the South Island does not have too many amazing beaches, the North Island is blessed with beautiful sandy beaches all over the place, especially in the northern part of the island. This is a very residential area but there are a few dining options in town so you won’t go hungry.

view of Tairua beach from a nice house in Tairua New Zealand

Today you will take a day trip to Cathedral Cove, one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand (and one of the only free things to do in this itinerary). With sharp cliffs and rocks sticking out of the shoreline, it’s a pretty popular place for locals and visitors alike.

To get to Cathedral Cove, leave Tairua early and park in the Cathedral Cove parking lot. In the summer you might have to wait for someone to leave to get a spot. From there it’s about a 45 minute walk along the coast to the beach. The beach here is gorgeous, but beware the water is damn cold! Pack lunch and enjoy the day at Cathedral Cove. 

Cathedral Cove beach in New Zealand

If you’re up for swimming in some geothermal hot springs head a bit north of Cathedral Cove into the town of Whitianga, where you’ll find The Lost Spring . Here you can relax in some natural hot pools. Though the pools themselves are manmade and well manicured, the water comes from the geothermal hot springs in the area.

If you’d prefer a more natural option, check out Hot Water Beach on your way back to Tairua. Whatever else you might choose to do in this region will be spectacular as well.

Today you’ll head to New Zealand’s geothermal playground: Rotorua. But first, stop by Tauranga and Mount Maunganui to check out New Zealand’s 5th most populated city.

From the beach town of Mount Maunganui you can take a short hike to the top of the actual Mount Maunganui to get a great view of the coast and the city of Tauranga. Have lunch in Mount Maunganui or Tauranga and then get back on the road towards Rotorua. 

Rotorua is the southern hemisphere’s answer to Yellowstone. There are geysers, hot springs, mud volcanoes, and green lakes scattered all around. Unlike Yellowstone though, most of these are privately owned and charge individual admission fees.

There are some geothermal features you will randomly find around the actual city of Rotorua though, such as the Kuirau Park Mud Pools, but they’re not that great. Save the big geothermal adventure for tomorrow and if you’re up for it, book an evening dinner and Maori cultural experience at Takaki Maori Village .

Today you will explore the geothermal paradise of Wai-O-Tapu , just south of Rotorua. Some of the geological formations here are just nuts. Neon green lakes and boiling pots of mud are a common sight. 

Plan about a half day here as there is a lot to see. If you haven’t had your fill of boiling lakes and geysers yet, head on over to Waimangu Volcanic Valley to see some stunning turquoise blue lakes. Just don’t jump in them because you know, they’re still boiling. 

Green Lake at Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua New Zealand

When you’re ready to move on from geothermal wonders you will head southeast to Hawke’s Bay . Book a cottage near Bay View and enjoy a peaceful evening on a unique black sand beach.

Wake up early to catch sunrise over the bay then head into the city of Napier for breakfast. Napier has an interesting history and the city’s architecture is Art Deco. It’s like the Miami Beach of New Zealand, architecturally speaking.

Drive down the coast to check out the seriously underrated Hawke’s Bay wine region. The vineyards are right on the coast here and that gives them a unique charm.

Be sure to check out my full guide to the amazingly underrated Hawke’s Bay region .

After lunch, get back on the road and head south. It’s about a four hour drive to Wellington on twisting turning picturesque New Zealand roads. Arrive in the capital in time for dinner on the bay. 

Chris Heckmann and Nimarta Bawa in Hawke's Bay New Zealand

Take a day to rest and enjoy the wonderful city of Wellington. I called this city home for two years, and while there certainly are pros and cons of living in Wellington , I miss it every day.

No 3 week New Zealand itinerary is complete without it. With one day in town walk around the city center and climb some of the hills that give splendid views of Wellington bay. Since you have a car you might as well drive up to Mount Victoria Lookout for a great view of the city.

Have some Thai food for dinner – seriously the best Thai food I’ve ever had including my time in Thailand- and go out for a drink along Courtenay Place. New Zealand makes some of the best beer in the world and stopping by a local brewery or craft beer bar will top off a great day in the city.

Spend the night at the James Cook Hotel in central Wellington if you can. You’ll be safe from any overnight earthquake there, as I personally designed and managed the extensive seismic retrofit to the old hotel in 2015!

Wellington New Zealand - view from the Brooklyn neighborhood

Time to catch the ferry to the South Island. The Wellington to Picton ferry takes about 4 hours and is not cheap, but it’s the best option for this road trip. Arriving in Picton you’re in the heart of Marlborough Sounds, a region of rugged green mountainous coastline. Take a scenic drive through the sounds and arrive into Nelson in time for dinner. 

The Nelson region is known for its hops, as in hops that are needed to make beer. The best hops in the world grow in Nelson and I do not say that lightly. All the best IPAs you will ever taste are made with Nelson Hops. 

I don’t know what it is about this region but the hoppy beer that comes from these hops is second to none. Don’t leave Nelson with some beer tasting at one or two of the local breweries. Kombucha Brothers is the best local microbrewery, so try to make it there if you have time.

From Nelson, head south on Highway 6 towards the west coast and stop in St Arnaud for some light hiking at Nelson Lakes National Park. This isn’t the most beautiful part of the South Island yet, but it’s still pretty nice. 

Take a nice relaxing day with some flat, easy walks, as this is an intense itinerary. When satisfied with the park, continue on to Charleston, where you will spend the night.

Today you will get a unique New Zealand experience: tubing through a glowworm cave. The main tubing outfitter here is Underworld Adventures . I don’t have any personal experience with them as the outfitter I used back in the day has gone out of business, but they have great reviews.

They will take you tubing down a river and through a glowworm cave (spoiler alert, they’re not actually worms, just larvae, but they do glow in the dark). 

Glow worm cave tubing on a 3 week New Zealand itinerary

There are many locations throughout the country to see glowworm caves, but only this area will let you float on a tube through it. These tours usually take about 4 hours and could run you up to $200 NZD. But it’s an experience you won’t get anywhere else, so it’s a very cool thing to do when you’re there. 

After your glowworm cave tubing experience you’ll head south to Franz Josef Glacier, a drive of about 3.5 hours. There are two massive glaciers down here, Franz Josef and Fox.

The road to Fox Glacier was destroyed by a landslide a few years ago and there are no immediate plans to rebuild it. There is still a road to Franz Josef though, so you’ll head there instead. Spend the night in the small village just outside the glacier also called Franz Josef.

Today’s highlight will be viewing Franz Josef Glacier up close and Fox glacier at a distance. The unique thing about these glaciers is that they are in the middle of a rainforest. Not where you typically find glaciers!

These glaciers have carved their way through this temperate rainforest for millenia. A few years ago you used to be able to book a tour that took you on a hike onto Fox Glacier. You could walk on it, and I have. But those days are over now.

Lake Hawea on a New Zealand road trip

To conserve the glaciers, people are no longer allowed to walk on them unless you book a helicopter tour, where they will set you down high up on the glacier, where the ice is not quite as fragile, and let you walk around. Some helicopter tour options with GetYourGuide are shown below. Be sure to book in advance! 

If you’re not willing to drop $350 for the helicopter tour, the closest you can get is the viewpoint on the trail. Set out in the morning to see Franz Josef glacier and drive to the end of the road. There is ample parking in the lot. 

The trail to the foot of the glacier is easy and will take maybe 45 minutes or so. After you’re satisfied with Franz Josef, you can head to Fox Glacier, just be prepared to not get a great view due to the road closure. 

When you’ve had your fill of glaciers it’s time to head to Queenstown, New Zealand’s recreational playground. Arrive in Queenstown in the evening or night and check in to your accommodation.

Take some time to relax today and enjoy the scenic beauty of Queenstown. Walk around the town (it’s small) or if you’re up for it take a hike to the top of Queenstown Hill for a great view of the town and The Remarkables, the mountain range to the south.

For dinner head downtown where there are a ton of restaurants for you to choose from. I don’t have any specific recommendations as none of them really stand out. All I will say is I never got what all the fuss is about with Fergburger . People come from all over and wait in line for hours to get a burger here. I did it once and was sufficiently disappointed. My personal recommendation is to not waste your time, but plenty of other people will tell you differently.

If you’re interested to learn a little about New Zealand’s gold rush in a well-preserved historic village, spend the afternoon in Arrowtown , a short drive away.

Or if you’re interested to try some adventure sports, why not book a bungee jumping experience with the guys who invented it ? Or perhaps a jet boat ride through a rugged canyon ? There is something to do in Queenstown for every type of traveler!

Milford Sound New Zealand

Today you’re visiting one of the most beautiful places in the entire world: Milford Sound. It’s a 3 hour drive from Queenstown so it will be a long day, but it’s worth it. For detailed information be sure to read my entire post on Milford Sound here .

Book your fjord cruise online in advance and allow an entire day for this journey. By the time you get back to Queenstown you’ll be exhausted and ready to hit the hay. Should you have some more energy, take the Skyline gondola up to the observation deck for another great view of the area.

Alternatively, if you want to avoid 6 hours more of driving, there are tons of organized tours that will take you from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back. The benefit of these is that everything is booked for you and you have limited work to do. The downside is that you get to Milford Sound at the most crowded time of the day.

There are a few tours on GetYourGuide offering essentially the exact same thing. One such tour you can read more about here .

Get an early start and leave Queenstown on your way to Mount Cook National Park. It’s about 3 hours on the road, not accounting for stops for photos, and you’ll want to get to the park by noon so you have time to explore. On the way there are some great views along the shores of Lake Pukaki. 

There are various hikes you can do around the park, with the main one being the Hooker Valley track. This is a good place to start. It’s mostly flat and at the end you are right in front of Mount Cook, the highest point in New Zealand. Spend the rest of the day exploring the park. There are a number of lodging opportunities in the park for all budgets, just be sure to book in advance. 

For more info on Mount Cook, read my detailed post about this fantastic national park .

Mount Cook New Zealand from up close

Take some additional time to enjoy Mount Cook National Park this morning. The weather here is hit or miss so hopefully you get some clear skies. When I first went to Mount Cook the rain was absolutely miserable the first day, I couldn’t even see the mountain. The next morning though? Clearest skies I’ve ever seen.

Make sure to check out Tasman Lake and Tasman Glacier and aim to get on the road by noon at the latest because it’s about 6 hours to Kaikoura, a funky peninsula that juts out of the east coast.

Once you pass Oaro the drive along the coast on Highway 1 is simply stunning. Kaikoura is the whale-watching capital of New Zealand. It’s small and there are not many places to stay so be sure to have something booked already. Before dark make sure to drive to the end of the peninsula and see the Kaikoura seal colony, a large colony of seals that have found a home here.

Your whale watching trip will start in the morning and run about three hours. The main tour agency is Whale Watch Kaikoura and they are so confident you’ll see a whale that they offer an 80% refund if you don’t. It’s also possible to do a short whale watching flight if you want quicker satisfaction.

There are also other marine adventures such as swimming with seals or swimming with dolphins if you’d rather do that. If none of that sounds great then just get on the road and head to Blenheim/Renwick for extra time tasting sauvignon blanc in one of the world’s most famous wine regions.

Assuming you’ve done one of the morning adventures in Kaikoura you will arrive to the Marlborough wine region in mid to late afternoon. Most wineries close at 5:00 so you’ll only really have time to hit one of them before the day is over. But don’t worry, you’ve got a full day of wine tasting tomorrow. 

Blenheim is a happening little town and due to its proximity in the heart of the Marlborough wine region, there are ample lodging and dining opportunities. If you’d prefer an even smaller town, Renwick is tiny and closer to more wineries.

Renwick vineyards in Marlborough New Zealand

Today you are waking up in the world famous Marlborough wine region. When you hear about New Zealand wines, they come from here. Of course there are numerous wine regions in New Zealand, but the only one that produces wine for international consumption is right here.

This area is particularly famous for its sauvignon blanc, which you probably already know since that’s usually the only type of New Zealand wine you can get around the world.

You’ve probably seen Matua and Oyster Bay at your local supermarket. While these mass produced wines are everywhere in this region, you can also find small local wineries without the international clout.

Most wineries are open for tastings from 10-5. There is a fee for tasting at most of the wineries, usually $5-15, but if you buy a bottle that fee will be deducted from the cost of the bottle.  

Rent a bike and hit the road for a day of biking around and tasting the world’s best savs. While a full list of the best vineyards in the region is beyond the scope of this post, one of my personal favorites is Brancott Estate . It is one of the mass produced ones but the estate is stunning. There is no shortage of beautiful vineyards in this region so no matter where you end up you will not be disappointed. 

Back to the North Island we go. The ferry leaves Picton at 10:45 so by the time you get back to the North Island the afternoon will be half over. Head on up Highway 1 to Paraparaumu, where you’ll find my favorite brewery in the whole world, Tuatara (named after a funky lizard indigenous to New Zealand). 

The brewery is in the industrial part of town, so no amazing views or anything, but the beer is just fantastic. Stay somewhere along the southwest coast of the North Island and enjoy the sunset on the coast. 

If you’re not a fan of amazing beer, just spend the evening relaxing at your accommodation, as it’s been a super busy trip so far and it’s only going to get more intense.

Enjoy the rare day to sleep in and get a late start to the day. Today you are heading to Tongariro National Park, which looks pretty much like what you’d imagine the surface of the moon to look like. This national park has multiple active volcanoes and very little vegetation.

The tallest mountain in the park is Mount Ruapehu, and if it’s a clear day you will have views of the peak from all over the place. There’s a little ski resort called Whakapapa that will get you the closest to the peak that you can get by vehicle. There are also a few hikes that will take you around the mountain, but you’ve got a long hike tomorrow so enjoy an easy day today.

Spent the night in the tiny town of National Park (that’s the name of the town). It’s basically just a bunch of lodges and campgrounds. The town is solely catered to travelers heading to Tongariro National Park.

Today you will embark on The Tongariro Alpine Crossing . It is probably the most famous hike in New Zealand and one of the most famous hikes in the world.

People come from all over the place to do this hike, and it’s especially popular because it’s doable in 4-6 hours and you can get a shuttle back to your car (since it’s 20km one way). The hike takes you up into the volcanos and treats you to views of hot spring mountain lakes and rocky slopes.

Chris Heckmann and Nimarta Bawa on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Schedule a shuttle to pick you up from National Park and take you back once you’re done and get started on the hike first thing in the morning. The trail will be busy, so be prepared to be slow moving in some locations of the hike, as some treacherous parts of the trail are very narrow.

I completed the hike in about four hours when I did it. This was mainly because I barely stopped due to the weather. It was absolutely miserable that day and visibility was about 10 feet. Unfortunately, that type of weather is pretty common in Tongariro. If you get a clear day, consider yourself lucky. It’s best you manage your expectations by coming prepared for horrid weather.  

Stay another night in National Park and celebrate that all your hiking for the trip is done. You’ve seen some amazing things from the trails!

Auckland view of entire city at dusk

It’s about four hours back to Auckland if you head straight there so get going relatively early. Or if you’re a fan of The Hobbit, take a little detour to the Hobbiton Movie Set . You have to book an organized tour so book in advance.

It takes about two hours so you will still have time to drive back to Auckland for a nice dinner along the water in the City of Sails. If you skip Hobbiton and head back to Auckland early take a walk around the Auckland Domain or head to the top of the Sky Tower before dinner.

a dirt road on Waiheke Island in New Zealand

Your last day in New Zealand. You’ll be in Auckland all day so it’s sort of a choose your own adventure type day. There are a number of things to do in Auckland, but if you’re not sick of spending money yet, take the ferry over to Waiheke Island.

The ferry to Waiheke is quite expensive for a 45 minute hop over to the island with a car, but this island is magical. It’s a playground for Auckland’s rich and famous, but also raw and local. Drive around and enjoy the beaches and boutique wineries.

You can see downtown Auckland from the island, but you’ll think you’re a world apart. Drive to the far east, isolated side of the island and have a glass of wine at Man O’War vineyards . When you’ve sufficiently explored Waiheke, head back to Auckland and have a nice last meal in New Zealand. You’ve earned it! 

What an epic three weeks you’ve just had in New Zealand. Even though you just scratched the surface of all the amazing things to see and do in New Zealand, you’ve really hit the main highlights. Head back home and give the credit card a rest!

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Chris Heckmann

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The Most EPIC 1, 2 or 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary (2024)

Read on the learn about the most epic New Zealand itinerary you can plan!

Welcome to one of the world’s most stunning destinations. New Zealand is, quite justifiably, top of many people’s travel bucket list. 

The home of adrenaline sports, breathtaking scenery and the Lord of the Rings, New Zealand has plenty to keep you entertained for months. 

However many of us sadly don’t have months available, so I’ve put together these 1 week, 2-week and 3-week New Zealand itineraries.

Plus there are a few extra places if you’re lucky enough to have a little longer. 

I’ve varied each New Zealand itinerary so that you can potentially chop and change or merge them together, giving you plenty of options to choose from. 

Table of Contents

Getting To and From New Zealand

Getting around new zealand, day 1 and 2 – auckland , day 3 and 4 – bay of islands, day 5 – waitomo caves, day 6 – tongariro national park, day 7 – hobbiton , day 1- akaroa and the banks peninsula, day 2 – okains beach, the banks peninsula and driving to mount cook, day 3 – mount cook and drive to wanaka, day 4 – hiking around lake wanaka , day 5 – adrenaline sports around lake wanaka, day 6 – milford sound, day 7 – queenstown, day 1 and 2  – auckland, day 3 – mount maunganui, day 4 – rotorua and drive to the tongariro national park, day 5 – tongariro national park , day 6 – wellington, day 7 – crossing the cook strait and driving to the abel tasman national park. , day 8 – hiking in the abel tasman national park , day 9 – south islands west coast – kaiteriteri to hokitika, day 10 – south island’s west coast – hokitika to franz josef or fox glacier and on to queenstown, day 11 and 12 – queenstown, day 13 – mount cook , day 14 – christchurch, day 1 – auckland , day 2 – waitomo , day 3 – tongariro national park, day 4 – the forgotten world highway, day 5 – wellington , day 6 – crossing the cook strait to picton and driving to kaikoura, day 7 – whale watching and dolphin swimming in kaikoura, day 8 and 9 – akaroa, the banks peninsula and driving to mount cook., day 10 – hiking around mount cook, day 11 and 12 – wanaka, day 13 and 14 – queenstown , day 15 and 16 – doubtful sound , day 17 and 18 – catlins national park , day 19 and 20 – dunedin and the otago peninsula , day 21 – christchurch , north island , south island , new zealand itinerary transport tips.

Getting around New Zealand with a rental car is fairly easy, as long as you’re confident with self-driving.

Public transport isn’t a great option, and you’ll end up missing out on the many great spots to visit along the way.

Alternatively, you can look at signing up for a tour. We recommend Haka Tours .

For the vast majority of travellers, New Zealand is a fair distance away. The country has 5 main international airports, Auckland and Wellington on the North Island and Christchurch, Queenstown, and Dunedin on the South Island. 

We have more information on our dedicated New Zealand page here .

Roys Peak Wanak Views

This means you don’t necessarily need to follow circular itineraries.

However, this will bring additional one-way charges for vehicle hire, although these are usually cheaper outside of the summer months. 

All of these examples will require you to hire a rental car or a campervan to get around.

Spaceship does the best, affordable campervans in New Zealand.

New Zealand is not really a country you can visit solely through public transport.

Roads are generally in excellent condition although do watch out for weather warnings and other such notifications from the government in the winter months especially. 

Any New Zealand road trip itinerary is likely to involve a fairly large amount of driving.

It is also very likely that journey times will be longer than in your home countries due to New Zealand’s terrain.

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars , which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

7 Day New Zealand North Island Itinerary (Into and out of Auckland)

This 7-day New Zealand itinerary around the North Island of New Zealand is a circular loop flying in and out of Auckland .

This means you won’t have to pay a one-way charge when hiring a set of wheels.

Our first New Zealand itinerary begins in Auckland, the City of Sails. As New Zealand’s largest city there are plenty of things to do to keep you entertained for a couple of days.

Spend your first day in the city itself. Maybe head up to the Sky Tower , the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, and check out the views. 

The city is also home to the excellent Auckland Museum and Auckland Art Gallery which are well worth checking out.

Spend your evening wining and dining in the city’s slick restaurants and bars.

On your second day take the chance to explore Auckland’s stunning scenery.

Whether you fancy a bit of beach bumming, island hopping, or hiking Auckland has it all. 

Pick up your wheels and head out early to this gorgeous area of New Zealand’s North Island.

From Auckland, it’s roughly 3-4 hours to the town of Paihia which along with Russell forms the heart of the Bay of Islands. 

Spend your first here day exploring Russell and Paihia, home to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds .

Alternatively, you could check one of the many hiking trails in the area.

However, if wildlife is your thing then head out on one of the wildlife cruises that depart from Paihia. 

The next day begins the drive down to Waitomo.

However, make sure you drive back via the Tutukaka Coast . This deserted expanse of stunning coastline is home to plenty of gorgeous beaches and short coastal walks.

7 Day North Island Itinerary Bay Of Islands

Waitomo is one of New Zealand’s best destinations for adrenaline activities. Get ready to squeeze, swim, slide and climb your way through some seriously awesome caves. 

There are numerous trips, tours, and trails ranging from the more sedate, where you can check out the glow worms all the way up to epic caving and black water rafting trips. 

The highlight is probably the Lost World Cave which starts with a 100-metre abseil into the cave. Trust me, it’s awesome! This will be an awesome addition to your New Zealand itinerary.

This stunning national park is home to what some describe as the best one day walk in the world; the Tongariro Crossing.

You’re best off staying in the village of Whakapapa as this is closest to the crossing as well as a number of other trails.

Of these other trails, the pick of the bunch is the short, but stunning ridge walk and the longer Taranaki falls trail.

Get ready for sore feet and spectacular views.

Tongiriro-National-Park

On your way back to Auckland pay a visit to Hobbiton . It is here that numerous scenes for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed.

The movie set is built amongst the rolling hills of Alexander farm in Waikato. 

If you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit then this is a must-visit.  

Check out these awesome Hobbiton tours on Get Your Guide .

There are plenty of other great things to do on North Island New Zealand so give yourself more time if you can before moving on to the South Island.

7-Day New Zealand South Island Itinerary (into Christchurch, out of Queenstown)

This 7 Day South Island New Zealand road trip itinerary takes in some of the South Islands’ most stunning destinations.

Pick up your wheels from Christchurch Airport and make a beeline for Akaroa , the main town on the Banks Peninsula. This will be the first stop on your New Zealand road trip itinerary for the South Island.

The drive from Christchurch is absolutely spectacular. There are amazing views over Akaroa and large swathes of the Banks Peninsula from the Hilltop , an excellent pub/restaurant.

Keep your fingers crossed for a blue sky day!

You could spend the rest of the day hiking around Akaroa, exploring the town itself or checking out one of the wildlife cruises.

Blackcat cruises run excellent dolphin-watching and swimming trips from the harbour. Be sure to book early in the summer months . 

Akaroa-Banks-Peninsula

Get up bright and early and head over to Okains Beach on the eastern end of the Banks Peninsula.

This deserted beach is an absolute gem with spectacular views, both there and on the drive over. The waves are a decent size, although do be aware of potential rip currents and don’t go out of your depth. 

You can spend the rest of the day taking on one of the area’s many hiking trails.

However, you may want to begin the stunning drive to Mount Cook . On the way make sure you check out Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepard before carrying on the Lake Pukaki.

At Lake Pukuai expect stunning views of Mount Cook (on a clear day only I’m afraid) as well as some amazing salmon sashimi from the Mount Cook Alpine Salmon shop . 

Spend the night in Mount Cook village. If you’re in a campervan or have a tent stay at the White Horse Hill campground .

It does get busy in the summer months so don’t get here too late. The facilities are basic, but the views are amazing. 

Pull on your hiking boots and get ready for some breathtaking alpine scenery.

READ MORE: Here’s our complete guide to the best hikes in New Zealand !

The most popular hike is the Hooker Valley , and with good reason.

The views en route and at the trail’s end on the edges of Hooker Lake are breathtaking. Expect the hike to be around 3 hours return.  

Check out the Red Tarns Track which is a solid stair climb. Your knees will hate you but the view is worth it.

Additionally, the Kea Point Track is well worth checking out especially as it’s only one hour from the White Horse Hill campsite.

Over the other side of the National Park, you will find the Tasman Glacier and Blue Lakes walk , which gives amazing views of the Tasman Glacier and on a clear day, Mount Cook. 

Hop into your wheels and begin the 200km journey to the gorgeous town of Wanaka.

Views Of Mount Cook

Welcome to what many would describe as their favourite place in New Zealand. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit twice and each time it’s taken my breath away. 

Naturally, as you would expect there are hiking trails galore around here, so pull on your boots and slap on the sunscreen. 

Probably the most well-known is the hike up to Roys Peak . It’s a 16km return hike, 8km up and 8km down with no shade and a lot of switchbacks.

However, the views at the top are sublime.

End the day with a BBQ on the edge of Lake Wanaka, utilising one of the many free BBQs along the lake’s edge.

READ MORE: Be sure to add these incredible things to do in Wanaka to your itinerary!

Hiking-Lake-Wanaka

As spectacularly beautiful as Lake Wanaka is, it also has its fair share of adrenaline sports to get your hearts racing. 

Try your hand at one of New Zealand’s newest adrenaline sports – canyoning.

Start at the top of a canyon and work your way down by any means necessary. Deep Canyon is the company to go with, offering some amazing trips. 

If that’s not your thing but you still want to set your heart pounding then head over to Sky Dive Wanaka who are more than happy to throw you out of a plane. 

Get ready for a long drive! You’ll need an early start from Wanaka, but Milford Sound is very doable as a day trip.

You have two options. Book a tour in Queenstown that will handle the travel to Milford Sound and the cruise itself.

Or drive to Milford Sound and book a cruise yourself.

Either way, you will need to book in advance. 

Milford Sound is spectacular and is unsurprisingly one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand. Get ready to have your breath taken away. 

After an epic day in Milford Sound, drive back up to Queenstown that night.

For a real unique experience (if you have the extra day up your sleeve), check out the overnight boat trip with Real Journeys in Milford Sound .

Milford-Sound

Spend your final day in the self-proclaimed adrenaline capital of the world.

If you’ve got the stomach and the money then do one of the many Bungy jumps or the terrifying canyon swing, which is absolutely amazing. 

However, if the pennies are running low the Skyline Luge is an excellent budget option that offers breathtaking views over Queenstown and the Remarkable’s.

Make sure you visit Fergburger to chow down on one of their legendary meat patties. A fantastic way to sign off. 

READ MORE: More great ideas about what to do in Queenstown.

Queenstown

2-Week New Zealand Trip (into Auckland and out of Christchurch)

This 2-week itinerary takes in some of the best moments of the North and South Island’s 1-week itineraries but adds in a few new destinations as well. 

It follows a common route of flying into Auckland and out of Christchurch.

Do be aware that you will be charged one-way fees on any cars or camper vans you rent. You can also do this route in reverse if you wish.  

Spend your first day getting acclimatized and checking out Auckland’s, museum’s galleries and attractions. 

On your second day, get out and explore some of the awesome hikes and natural scenery surrounding the city, especially in and around the Haruki Gulf .

This gorgeous coastal town is one of New Zealand’s most popular domestic tourist destinations.

The beaches here are gorgeous however the real highlight is the Mauao , Mount Manganui’s spectacular walking track.

The views from the top are absolutely spectacular!

Mount-Maunganui

Welcome to New Zealand’s geothermal capital. Head over to Te Whakarewarewa to check various interesting sights in this thermal reserve.

It’s home to over 500 springs as well as the famous geyser Te Puia . 

If you want to get to know some of New Zealand’s birds then head over to the city’s Kiwi Sanctuary when you can see these beautiful, but endangered birds. 

Begin driving over to Tongirio Park late in the afternoon and in the summer months you may be able to time this right to catch the sun setting along Lake Taupo which is absolutely spectacular.

If you want to stay at the campsite in Whakapapa be sure to book ahead, especially in the summer months.

READ MORE: Check out some of the best things to do in Rotorua .

Sunset-Taupo

Pull on those hiking boots and get ready to take a lot of pictures.

We’ve already mentioned some of the top hikes in the region, but an interesting fact is that Mount Ngauruhoe , one of the 3 mountains that make up the park, is Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films.  

New Zealand’s wet and windy capital packs quite a punch. There is a lot to do here, so sadly you will be unable to pack everything into one day. 

If you have time for one thing in Wellington make sure you head to the incredible Te Papa museums situated on the city’s waterfront.

This excellent museum has numerous excellent exhibitions focusing on New Zealand’s history and geography. 

If you fancy getting outside, head up to Mount Victoria for spectacular views over the city. 

Spend the evening eating around Hannahs Lane , followed by a beer or two on Cuba Street .

READ MORE: Check out our guide on what to do in Wellington .

Get up bright and early to board the ferry to cross the Cook Strait to the port of Picton . The journey over is spectacular, especially the final section. 

Once off the ferry, hot foot it over to Kaiteriteri , one of the final towns before the Abel Tasman National Park.

On the way, find some time to stop in the pretty town of Nelson. We have an article on things to do in Nelson if you have more time. 

Kaiteriteri is a tiny town that is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. There’s not much going on here, but there are a couple of decent eateries and nice beaches. 

The full Abel Tasman Coastal Track takes anything between 3 and 5 days.

However, there are plenty of excellent one-day hikes and kayaking trips for those that don’t have quite so much time.

One particularly excellent day hike starts at Bark Bay and then heads south finishing at Anchorage Bay .

This 12km hike takes you through some of the park’s most spectacular scenery. You can also extend this trail by detouring to visit Cascade Falls and the gorgeous Cleopatra Pools .

To get out here you will need to have a sea taxi booked to and from your start and endpoints.

You can privately charter taxis, although it will be much more expensive. There are also options to combine a half-day cruise with a hike as well. 

However, if you fancy getting out onto the water then take the opportunity to take a kayaking or combined kayaking and hiking trip.

We have an awesome article on kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park for you to check out.  

Get a good night’s sleep in Kaiteriteri as there are two epic days of driving coming up!

Abel-Tasman

Get up bright and early and head towards one of New Zealand’s most stunning areas: the South Island’s West Coast. 

Expect desolate coastal roads, windswept beaches, and alpine scenery as you get closer to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. 

From Kaiteriteri you will come through the Buller Gorge with plenty of great scenery and some lovely little towns.

You’ll continue along the coast to Westport and then head south hugging the ocean.

Make sure you check out the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki , the numerous deserted beaches and spectacular viewpoints.

This is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic or a cheeky beer. 

End your day by getting to the quaint town of Hokitika and visiting its rather lovely gorge.

There are numerous awesome campsites in this area, however, like many along the west coast water-saving measures are frequently implemented. 

West-Coast-New-Zealand

Head south towards either Franz Josef or Fox Glaciers. At both, there are decent short hikes where you can see the glaciers up close .

However, you can also see the amount they have receded in recent years. As a result, glacier hikes, unless you’ve got deep pockets for a heli hike, are no longer an option. 

That being said the valley walks to viewpoints at both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers offer some spectacular views, along with a stark reminder about the challenges our planet faces. 

If you fancy something a little more high octane then head to Skydive Franz where you can throw yourself out of a plane with epic views of both the ocean and the Southern Alps. 

Continue on through the Haast pass to Lake Wanaka. 

We’ve already mentioned Queenstown in the previous itinerary, so you already know there is hiking, adrenaline sports or just lazing by the lake on offer!

You could also do a day trip to nearby Arrowtown , a gorgeous little town nestled in the hills between Queenstown and Wanaka.

Make sure you pick up a pie here, which is a classic New Zealand snack. 

From Wanaka head to Mount Cook. The drive up Lake Pukaki is absolutely breathtaking with stunning views available on clear days.

From the Whitehorse Hill campground definitely do one of the many hikes in the area. Although it’s the busiest, the Hooker Valley Trail provides the best views of Mount Cook!

Spend the night at Mount Cook and enjoy an epic sunset behind the Southern Alps .

Mount-Cook-New-Zealand

From Mount Cook make the long journey back to Christchurch.

In the city itself check out the botanical gardens and see how the city is rebuilding itself after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

Head up to the summit of Mount Cavendish via the Christchurch gondola for some lovely views of the city before heading back to the airport.

3 Weeks in New Zealand – Fly into Auckland and out of Christchurch

We’ll continue the north-to-south theme with this itinerary. However, like the 2-week New Zealand itinerary, this one can also be done in reverse.

This route is slightly South Island heavy, but it does include 5 places we haven’t yet mentioned so there’s plenty of variety here!

Get over the jet lag and take it easy in the City of Sails, a true highlight of the North Island of New Zealand. Drive down to Waitomo in the evening. 

Spend the day spying glow worms or making your heart work just a little bit faster in New Zealand’s cave capital. 

After a day of caving drive to the village of Whakapapa in the Tongariro National Park in preparation for taking on the Tongariro Crossing. 

Get ready for some seriously sore feet as you take on what some regard as the best one-day walk in the world. 

After a good night’s sleep, take on the fascinating and often overlooked Forgotten World Highway which runs for 148 km from Taumarunui to Taranaki.

This quirky route is built on old colonial bridle paths through forests, gorges, and tunnels there are a lot of single-lane portions that will require some very careful navigation. 

However, after doing it, it’s easy to see why this is regarded as one of the best one-day drives in New Zealand. 

At the end of the Forgotten World Highway, you will have the opportunity to take in stunning views of Mount Taranaki before you head south toward Wellington.

Hitamangi is a decent place to spend the night as it’s only a couple of hours from here to Wellington.

Forgotten-World-Highway

From Hitamangi head down to Wellington to make the most of the Te Papa museum and then eat and drink yourself silly on Cuba Street!

After the gorgeous crossing from  Wellington to Picton (weather dependent of course) head over to the gorgeous seaside town of Kaikoura. 

Enjoy a well-earned pint in one of Kaikoura’s pubs 

Kaikoura’s greatest attraction is its stunning array of New Zealand wildlife. The seas around Kaikoura are home to sperm whales, dusky dolphins, New Zealand fur seals and albatross amongst many others. 

There are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with these stunning creatures through the amazing wildlife activities on offer. 

If you don’t fancy getting wet then book one of the city’s whale-watching tours .

The ocean waters around Kaikoura are home to the world’s largest predator, the sperm whale, with both humpback whales and orcas passing through on their New Zealand coastal migration routes during the year. 

You can also check out kayaking trips to watch seals and dolphins as well as bird-watching trips to observe the albatross that live in the area. 

If you fancy staying on dry land then head to Point Kean to observe the seal colony. Do not get too close and do not get between them and the water.

Kaikoura-New-Zealand

This gorgeous part of New Zealand keeps you close to the coast, but Kaikoura’s mountainous backdrop is replaced by the green rolling hills of the Banks Peninsula. 

Spend your first day soaking up the sun in Akaroa , maybe head out dolphin watching or head out on one of the many hikes in the area. 

On your second day head over to the gorgeous and often deserted Okains beach before heading south towards Mount Cook.

Stop in at Fairlie bakehouse for an epic pie before powering on past Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki before arriving at Mount Cook.

Akaroa-New-Zealand-Itinerary

You know the deal here! Hiking in some of the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand.

For so many years Wanaka was very much in Queenstown’s shadow.

However there are many that would say it’s little old Wanaka that is the leading light in this region of New Zealand. 

Spend your two days here hiking and giving your heart something to worry about with the various adrenaline activities on offer. 

Wanaka-New-Zealand

A short, very pretty drive away from Wanaka is the adrenaline capital of the world – Queenstown.

Set on the edge of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables across the way this is certainly one of the most picturesque places in New Zealand. 

However be warned, this is also one of the most expensive areas in New Zealand, so expect that to be reflected in the prices of accommodation and food. 

Spend at least one day doing some crazy adrenaline activities. This was the place where AJ Hackett created the bungy from the Kawarau Bridge.

If you fancy something altogether more terrifying then head for the Nevis or the Canyon Swing. I have done the latter and can confirm that it is absolutely amazing. 

On your second take a more sedate pace around Queenstown itself or take a day trip to either Arrowtown or Glenorchy .  

Queenstown-New-Zealand

If you have the time and the money then Doubtful Sound is a must. It isn’t as famous as Milford Sound in New Zealand, but it should be!

Words and photos cannot describe the sheer size and beauty of this stunning expanse of wilderness. 

The drive from Queenstown to Manapouri is a long one, so if you’re planning an overnight trip you will probably need to drive down the night before.

However, if you’re doing a day trip then you can take day 15 to drive down, and day 16 to visit Doubtful Sound. 

We have an article on kayaking in Doubtful Sound which is well worth checking out. 

Day trips are certainly doable, but it is a long day.

To get to Doubtful Sound you will need to take a boat across Lake Manapouri, before and then a coach along the most expensive road in New  Zealand before reaching the shores of Doubtful Sound. 

Whether it’s raining or shining Doubtful Sound is absolutely stunning. 

Doubtful-Sound-New-Zealand

From Manapouri head down to Curio Bay in the heart of the Catlins National Park.

This rarely visited New Zealand national park is nestled in the southeastern corner of the South Island. Its rugged coastline, gorgeous beaches, and hiking trails provide plenty of things to do. 

From Curio Bay , it’s possible to spot dolphins from the beach. 

Catlins-National-Park

A short drive from Dunedin is the gorgeous Otago peninsula. Like the Kaikoura peninsula, wildlife is what draws people here. 

The Royal Albatross Centre on the edge of the peninsula offers the opportunity to see these beautiful birds close up.

Come by in the evenings to see the adorably cute little blue penguins returning to their nests after a day of feeding. 

Additionally, take the opportunity to kayak with the area’s local seal population which is a truly fantastic experience. 

The peninsula is also home to numerous excellent hikes and trails. 

READ MORE: Adventure activities in Otago for you to check out.

Otago-Peninsula

Spend your final day driving back up to Christchurch and exploring the cit’s botanical gardens and visiting some of its museums and art galleries before you return your wheels. 

Alternative Spots

Even 3 weeks in New Zealand is still a squeeze, so there are certainly a few places we’ve missed.

Sadly there are some difficult decisions to be made.

In general, there is probably more to do on South Island than on the North Island. However, this will naturally change from person to person. 

Here are a few areas that are also well worth visiting that we haven’t mentioned here: 

  • Cape Reinga and the Northland 
  • Napier and Hastings
  • Nelson Lakes National Park 
  • Marlborough Wine Region 
  • Mount Aspiring National Park
  • Any of New Zealand’s great walks
  • Arthurs Pass National Park 
  • Hammer Springs 

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About the Author - Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes is our resident China, New Zealand and Central Asia expert, having spent more time than just about anyone backpacking and travelling around there. He is also one of half of the British-Chinese couple that make up abearandapig.com , a blog focusing on travel, life as a local and an expat in the middle kingdom and Chinese social media.

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  • Travel Planning Guide

3-Week New Zealand Itinerary

How to spend 3 weeks in new zealand.

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  • Christchurch

new zealand trip 3 weeks

The Ultimate 3 Weeks in New Zealand Itinerary

Day 1 - arrive in auckland, day 2 - auckland to bay of islands.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Day 3 - Bay of Islands

From paihia: scenic cruise with roberton island stopover, day 4 - bay of islands to cape reinga and 90 mile beach & back again, day 5 - bay of islands to auckland.

Auckland

Day 6 - Auckland to Lake Taupo

Day 7 - lake taupo, lake taupo: maori rock carvings 10.30 am 1.5-hour cruise, day 8 - lake taupo to tongariro, day 9 - tongariro crossing, day 10 - tongariro to wellington, day 11 - wellington to picton, wellington and picton: interislander ferry, day 12 - picton to takaka, day 13 - takaka, farewell spit, day 14 - takaka to punakaiki, day 15 - punakaiki to franz josef (via hokitika), day 16 - franz josef & fox glacier.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Day 17 - Franz Josef/Fox Glacier to Wanaka (Alternative: to Queenstown)

Day 18 - wanaka (alternative: queenstown).

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Queenstown: Shotover River and Kawarau River Jet Boat Ride

Day 19 - wanaka to mount cook (queenstown to mount cook), from queenstown: mount cook small group adventure, day 20 - mount cook to christchurch via lake tekapo, mount cook & lake tekapo day tour from christchurch, day 21 - christchurch flight, final thoughts.

Danny Newman is currently writing and travelling his way around the world in a bid to figure out exactly what he's doing with his life. He'd love you to follow along with his journey over at What's Danny Doing or on Facebook .

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TripTins

A Legendary New Zealand Itinerary 3 Weeks Road Trip

By: Author Charles

Posted on September 24, 2023

A Legendary New Zealand Itinerary 3 Weeks Road Trip

When looking for countries that have it all, New Zealand is high on the list. Do you want beautiful natural landscapes including mountains, valleys, and beaches? How about some crazy adrenaline activities like skydiving or bungy jumping? Maybe you are interested in doing some of the best hikes that the world has to offer?

Well, New Zealand has it all for you and much, much more! And if you are looking to plan a New Zealand road trip itinerary for 3 weeks around the North and South Islands, then you have come to the right place.

*  Affiliate Disclosure : This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you make a purchase through the links provided, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting the work I put into TripTins!

New Zealand Overview

There is just so much to do around the country and having 3 weeks to see the best of the North and South Islands is a great amount of time to enjoy it all. You can choose to follow it from North to South as this New Zealand road trip will go over, or you can reverse it and head in the opposite direction.

This itinerary will go over one week on the North Island followed by two weeks on the South Island.

Before jumping into the 3 week itinerary, I wanted to point out some important things to know that you should take into consideration when planning your trip…

Renting a Car : Since this is a New Zealand ROAD TRIP, your best bet here is to rent a car (or campervan if that is your thing) to get yourself all around the North and South Islands. It would be nearly impossible to complete everything on this itinerary without your own car, so I would highly recommend doing so.

Believe me, it will make everything so much easier for you throughout the entirety of the trip. With this itinerary, you can choose to pick up the car at either Auckland Airport or in Auckland City and then drop the car off in Christchurch, Nelson or Wellington – whatever is easiest for you!

Be sure to check out Rentalcars.com when it comes to renting a car in New Zealand.

The site will show you car options & prices from a variety of companies. This ensures that you will be able to choose the perfect car (and deal) for your trip to the country.

Driving in New Zealand : Continuing on the driving topic…remember that New Zealand drives on the left hand side of the road and the country also has some important driving rules/signs to follow. You should also expect there to be a lot of driving that takes place to get in between cities.

While some routes may seem short on the map, the windy roads can really take some time. Having a couple people switch off between driving can be very helpful during these longer drives.

Take a look at the Driving in New Zealand Guide for everything you need to know about driving the roads.

Gravel Road New Zealand

A Full 3 Weeks : Assume that this road trip is 21 FULL DAYS. That means you should plan to arrive early on day 1 or the night before, and then leave later on day 21 or sometime on day 22.

If you are coming from a farther away place like the US or Europe, you will probably need to set aside closer to ~24 days to account for travel time.

Flight Logistics : If following this itinerary, you will want to fly into Auckland and then fly out of either Christchurch, Nelson or even Wellington. The last stop on the itinerary is Abel Tasman National Park, which is only an hour away from the Nelson Airport.

You could do a round trip to/from Auckland and then have one internal flight on the last day from Nelson to Auckland .

Outdoors & Nature: This itinerary is very outdoors focused from beginning to end. There is a ton of natural beauty to see all throughout both islands and this road trip will take you to plenty of it.

If you are not someone who wants to spend so much time outdoors and a good amount of time on your feet, then this trip may not be for you.

Time of Year : While you can take part of most of this itinerary year round, the optimal time of year would be from September to May .

Since there are a lot of hiking and outdoors activities involved, snow and low temperatures can get in the way of completing certain things. On top of that you will be dealing with slick curvy roads and shorter days during the winter season.

Be Flexible : One thing you can never control on a vacation is the weather. Unfortunately, some parts of New Zealand can be quite frustrating at times.

The wind, the rain, the clouds – all of these can get in the way of completing certain activities or hikes.  My best advice here is to just stay as flexible as possible .

I know this may be difficult though when dealing with a finite period trip. But if the weather is looking very poor in a certain city, maybe just continue along and spend some more time in the next place instead of just being stuck in the rain.

Both Islands : This itinerary combines the New Zealand North Island Itinerary and New Zealand South Island Itinerary I have up on the site.

You can head on over to either one if you happen to be interested in just heading to the North or South, or just want a bit more detail on each island.

Cook Strait Ferry : To get between the North and South Island, you will need to take a ferry across the Cook Strait. Don’t worry though, as these ferries can load cars onto them and have you between the islands in less than 4 hours.

The Wellington to Picton Ferry Guide goes over all you need to know about making the journey.

Helpful Tips : And finally don’t forget to take a look at the 21 Helpful New Zealand Travel Tips to get you all prepared for your trip!

New Zealand Ferry Cook Strait

New Zealand Itinerary 3 Weeks Map View

The map below shows you the type of route that you will be taking from North to South. This is just to give you a better sense of what the overall drive will look like.

It does not include each and every hike or activity mentioned throughout the itinerary. For those, head into the specific guide that will be linked in this itinerary.

A Detailed New Zealand Itinerary 3 Weeks

It is now time to dive on into the itinerary itself. This is going to be a bit of a long one – 3 weeks is a good amount of time. Much of what I write in below may be a bit more high level.

As just mentioned though, for many of the hikes or cities, I do have additional guides that will go into much more detail about certain questions you may have.

Feel free to click on those along the way to get a better idea of what to expect during this New Zealand road trip.

Since you will be visiting so many different places during your trip, I have also added in several accommodation options to choose from in each city that you will be sleeping in.

As a quick overview you will need to book hotels in the following places:

  • Auckland (2 nights)
  • Rotorua (1 night)
  • Taupo (2 nights)
  • Wellington (2 nights)
  • Kaikoura (1 night)
  • Christchurch (1 night)
  • Mount Cook Village (2 nights)
  • Queenstown (3 nights)
  • Wanaka (2 nights)
  • Franz Josef (2 nights)
  • Abel Tasman (2 nights)

New Zealand Itinerary 3 Weeks #1

Day 1 – Auckland

Your first day of this New Zealand itinerary 3 weeks road trip will have you exploring the ins and outs of Auckland.

As mentioned before you can choose to pick up your car immediately from the airport or you can also opt to pick it up early on day 2 from Auckland city, once you are ready to head out of the city itself.

There are several main attractions to see all throughout Auckland, many of which are easily accessible by just walking around (the only time I opted for a cab/Uber was to/from Mount Eden). During my time there I visiting the following 7 places:

  • Wynyard Quarter
  • Viaduct Basin
  • Queen Street
  • Albert Park / University of Auckland
  • Auckland Domain / Auckland War Memorial Museum
  • Mount Eden → Learn more about the Mount Eden Crater

Learn More : The 1 Day in Auckland Guide will go over all you need to know about your time in the city

Where to Stay in Auckland (Nights 1 & 2)

  • All Around: SKYCITY Hotel
  • Budget: Haka Lodge
  • Luxury: Sofitel Viaduct Harbor

Wynyard Quarter

Day 2 – The Waitakere Ranges

On your second day in New Zealand, it is time to head on out to the Waitakere Ranges for a one of kind day trip.

The Waitakere Ranges are located just 45 minutes away from Auckland, and are full of hiking trails, waterfalls, and beaches.

It is a great way to be introduced to New Zealand’s nature and experience what the North Island has to offer.

When I visited the Waitakere Ranges, I wanted to get a good taste of it all and headed off to 7 main spots all around the ranges. You can pick and choose which places / hikes are best for you depending on what you are most interested in, or you can take part of them all!

  • Arataki Visitor Centre
  • Piha Beach & Lion’s Rock
  • Tasman Lookout
  • Kitekite Falls Track
  • Mercer Bay Loop
  • Karekare Waterfall
  • Karekare Beach

Learn More : Take a look at the 7 Best Walks in the Waitakere Ranges for more

Lions Rock Piha Beach

Day 3 – Waitomo Caves & Rotorua

It is now time to start heading south as you make your way to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. If you want to see thousands of bioluminescent glowworms light up some dark underground caves, then this place is for you.

Waitomo Caves

There are a few of these around the country but Waitomo is definitely the most popular option and it has the most to offer its visitors. I would advise to get an earlier start to the day if possible so you will have the time to explore Rotorua later on in the afternoon.

I opted for the Black Water Rafting – Black Labyrinth tour, which was a 3 hour adventure through the caves on inflatable tubes. If you don’t want to take part of a tubing experience, there is also the normal 45 minute tour through the caves on boardwalk / boat.

You can take a look at the Waitomo website to get a better idea of the different offerings they have.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

After you are all finished with your glowworm experience, continue the drive to Rotorua, where you should have some time later in the afternoon to take part of a few Rotorua activities…

Hamurana Springs

Hamurana Springs consists of a short 30 minute path around the area, seeing one of the largest natural water springs in New Zealand. Alongside the crystal clear water you can actually see down into this spring pumping out 4 million liters of water per hour.

Learn more in the Hamurana Springs Walk Guide for all you need to know about the area

Hamurana Springs

Kuirau Park

Located right within the city of Rotorua you will find Kuirau Park.

Spending some time walking through the park and visiting the various geothermal lakes and mud pools is a great way to get to know what Rotorua is all about.

Learn more in the Kuirau Park Guide up on the site .

Kuirau Park

Polynesian Spa (if time permits)

After days of exploring it is always nice to end up in a nice geothermal spa.

That is what the Polynesian Spa is all about and you will really be able to wind down and relax in one of the geothermal pools. It is open until 11PM so it gives you plenty of time for a visit.

Learn More : Take a look at the Best Rotorua Activities Guide I put together, so you can pick which places you might have more interest in over your 1.5 days here.

Polynesian Spa

Where to Stay in Rotorua (Night 3)

  • All Around: Silver Fern Rotorua
  • Luxury: Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel
  • Budget : Hideaway of Rotorua

Day 4 – Rotorua / Drive to Taupo

On day 4, you can spend some more time enjoying what the Rotorua area has to offer before making your way down to Taupo for the night.

Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest

You can start off the day by heading to the famous Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest, which is full of hundreds of redwoods trees all throughout the area.

You can take part of some hiking trails, head up onto the Redwoods Treewalk, or do some cycling around the forest.

Learn more about the trails in the Whakarewarewa Rotorua Walking Guide

Redwoods Forest Rotorua

Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland

After a morning at the forest, make your way to the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland. This geothermal area is packed with plenty of different lakes, geysers, and craters that are sure to have you in awe.

Wai O Tapu Champagne Pool

Kerosene Creek

A natural thermal river, Kerosene Creek gives you the chance to sit down, relax and soak in the warm water to finish up your time around Rotorua.

Kerosene Creek

Rainbow Mountain

If you still have some time (depending on what time you started the day) or if you want to switch things up, there is a fantastic 2 hour hiking trail at Rainbow Mountain . Along the way you will pass by a bright blue lagoon, get some great views of the multi colored rocks, and take in one incredible landscape shot of the surrounding hills and forests.

Rainbow Mountain Rotorua

After you are finished up with some activities around the Rotorua area, it is time to continue on with the drive towards Lake Taupo.

Where to Stay in Taupo (Nights 4 & 5)

  • All Around : The Reef Resort
  • Luxury : Sacred Waters Taupo
  • Budget : Haka Lodge

Day 5 – Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Next up on this 3 week New Zealand itinerary is the North Island’s most famous hike – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

This hike is a 19.4 KM / 12 Mile trek through all different types of landscapes. You will pass through valleys, get up and close to volcanoes, and see the famous emerald lakes.

It really is one of the most diverse hikes I have taken part of during my travels.

Since this is a one way hike, you have two main options to get to the starting point of the trail – 1) take round trip transportation from Taupo to the beginning of trail at Mangatepopo and back to Taupo from the end of the trail at Ketetahi or 2) Self drive to the end of the trail at Ketetahi, where you can park your car, and then take the one way transport option to the start of the trail.

Either one works – with the first option you don’t need to worry at all about driving and logistics but you will need to wait for a shuttle at the end of the trail to get you back to Taupo.

With the second option, you can make your way at your own pace without worrying about getting transport back.

Read up on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing Hiking Guide for everything you need to know about completing the trail

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Walkway

Day 6 – Taupo / Drive to Wellington

You will probably need a little bit of rest and recovery today after the big Tongariro hike the previous day.

Today will mostly be filled with the 5 hour drive from Taupo to Wellington but you can check out a couple main sites in Taupo before heading out.

The first place you can stop at is Huka Falls, a bright blue 11 meter waterfall coming from the roaring Waikato River. You can head to a few different viewpoints around the area to take it all in.

Learn more about the Huka Falls Walk & Lookout for your time in the area .

Huka Falls

Aratiatia Rapids

You can then head to the Aratiatia Rapids, a dam that releases water 4 times a day (10AM, 12PM, 2PM, 4PM). Note the 4PM release is only in summer months.

Before they release the water, there is basically just a small stream of water a few feet high. After only a couple minutes they open the dam, the water levels rise significantly through the canyon.

Aratiatia Rapids End

Once all done with the sites, it’s time to jump into the car and make the drive to the southern tip of the North Island to the capital of Wellington.

Where to Stay in Wellington (Nights 6 & 7)

  • All Around : Bolton Hotel
  • Luxury : Intercontinental Wellington
  • Budget : YHA Wellington

Day 7 – Wellington

On your last day on the North Island of New Zealand, you will spend some time exploring the capital city of the country.

Wellington is a fantastic city located right on the waterfront and there is plenty to do to keep you busy. I would try and head off to the following 8 places during your day in the city:

  • Mount Victoria Lookout
  • Oriental Bay
  • Wellington Waterfront
  • Te Papa Museum
  • Cuba Street
  • Wellington Cable Car
  • Wellington Botanic Garden
  • Parliament Buildings

To learn more about the day check out the 8 Must Do Wellington Activities Guide up on the site .

Mount Victoria Lookout Wellington

Day 8 – The Wellington to Picton Ferry / to Kaikoura

It is now time for this New Zealand road trip to head off the North Island and onto the South Island. Like I mentioned earlier on, you will simply need to utilize the Wellington to Picton ferry to get you there.

The ferries are operated by two companies – Interislander and Bluebridge, and you shouldn’t have much difficulty booking yourself a ride across (with your car too!).

Some car rental companies include the car ticket for the ferry (you still would need to pay for the passenger ticket though) so you may be able to save a little bit of money here.

The Wellington to Picton Ferry Guide will help you out with what to know for the journey

New Zealand Ferry Cook Strait

Once you make the 3 hour journey across the Cook Strait and onto Picton, you will just need to drive another 2 hours to Kaikoura.

Note: near Picton there are many vineyards around the area. If you want to give yourself a nice break from the day, head on over to one of them to enjoy some lunch and a stroll around the vineyards.

Where to Stay in Kaikoura (Night 8)

  • All Around: The White Morph Heritage Collection
  • Budget: Dolphin Lodge

Day 9 – Kaikoura / to Christchurch

Your first full day on the South Island will take you into the water for a once in a lifetime experience – swimming with dolphins in the open water! This is not one of those touristy type places where they keep the dolphins roped off.

The boats will head out and find the dolphins out in the wild, where you will then hop into to the water and swim right alongside of them.

It is a very special experience to have and Kaikoura is one of the best spots to take part. Take a look at the Dolphin Encounter website to learn more about the day and to make your booking.

Kaikoura Dolphins

After getting all dried off, make your way to Christchurch where you will be spending the night. If you have some time when you arrive, feel free to walk the town, enjoy the riverside, and maybe head to the botanical gardens.

Where to Stay in Christchurch (Night 10)

  • All Around: The George Christchurch
  • Budget: Hotel Give

Day 10 – The Drive to Mount Cook

If you did not know already, the driving in New Zealand is an experience on its own – especially on the South Island.

The drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook Village will have you pulling off onto the side of the road numerous times during the journey as there is just so much scenery to take in.

Lake Tekapo

Your first major stop here will be Lake Tekapo. Along the way you should see some signs pointing you to some viewpoints but also be sure to head to the Church of the Good Sheperd right by the waterside for some great photo ops.

Another must do viewpoint in my book is the one on top of Mt John Observatory. There is a small fee to use the road that heads up to the top but it is most definitely worth it. The views from the observatory of the lake and surrounding mountains are just surreal.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Pukaki

Next up on the drive is Lake Pukaki. Just like Tekapo, there will be plenty of viewpoints to stop at along the way to pull over and enjoy the view.

On a clear day you should have a straight shot at Mount Cook out in the distance.

Lake Pukaki

The Drive to Mount Cook

Once you have had enough time taking in the views from afar, it is time to make the turn towards Mount Cook Village. During this portion of the drive you will have Lake Pukaki off to your right and Mount Cook straight ahead of you.

When it comes to driving in New Zealand, there aren’t too many roads better than this one.

While there are some official spots to pull over, there are plenty of unofficial ones as well. If you do pull over just be careful and make sure to get completely off the road.

The Road to Mount Cook

Soon enough, you will arrive in Mount Cook Village, a small town based right in the national park with all the natural beauty surrounding you.

I prefer to stay in Mount Cook Village itself instead of Tekapo or Twizel, as all the hiking trails are right at your doorstep.

Where to Stay in Mount Cook Village (Nights 10 & 11)

  • Hermitage Hotel
  • Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge
  • Aoraki Court
  • YHA Mount Cook Village
  • Mount Cook Lodge and Motel

Day 11 – Mount Cook National Park

The next two days will be spent exploring all that Mount Cook National Park has to offer. There are hikes for every skill level and you should have no problem enjoying a few of them during your stay there.

Below are the main hikes to choose from ranging from less than an hour to 8+ hours:

Learn More : Check out this overview of every single one of the Mt Cook Hikes

Hooker Valley Track

The “must do” hike in Mount Cook National Park would be the Hooker Valley Track. An easy 3 hour trail round trip trail, this hike takes you alongside and into the valley beneath Mount Cook itself.

During the hike you will pass by the Mueller Lake, and onto three suspension bridges on your way to the base of Hooker Lake overlooking Mount Cook in the distance. Since it is a valley walk, there is barely any elevation gain/loss, making this a hike for nearly everyone to take part of.

Hooker Valley Track

An easy add on to the Hooker Valley Track is Kea Point. The hike to Kea Point starts in the same area as the Hooker Valley trail, and is a simple 1 hour round trip walk.

Once you have reached Kea Point, you will get a great view of Mueller Lake from another angle and Mount Cook out in the distance.

Take a look at the Kea Point Track Hiking Guide to learn more .

Kea Point Track

Red Tarns Track

If you are looking to get some views from above, one option is the Red Tarns Track. This track will take you above the valley with views of the glacier lake and Mount Cook out in the distance.

Now the track is full of plenty of stairs as you make the 300 meter ascent. But once up top you will be able to relax and take in those views before making your way back down in the direction you came.

Take a look at the Red Tarns Track Guide to get you prepared for the trail

Red Tarns Track

Mueller Hut

The most demanding of hikes in the Mount Cook region is that of the Mueller Hut. While many may opt to do the hike in two days, it can also be done in one day instead.

Expect the total round trip to be around 6-8+ hours depending on fitness level and the amount of time you want to spend at various viewpoints and the hut itself.

The track begins with 2000+ stairs (as part of the Sealy Tarns track), before continuing the ascent on steep rocky ground towards the Mueller Hut.

Throughout the hike you will be taking in views of the lakes down below, with Mount Cook out in the distance.

Take a look at the Mueller Hut Track Guide to get you prepared for the trail

Note : The Sealy Tarns Track is another option here if you do not want to complete the full trail to the Mueller Hut. Set aside about half the time if you are looking to just head up to the halfway point to the Tarns.

Mueller Hut New Zealand

Blue Lakes and Tasman Lake View & Tasman Lake Track

While these may technically be a couple different trails, you should have no problem combining them into one longer route, taking you a couple hours to complete.

An easy trail takes you to 3 different small lakes around the Mount Cook area. The hike begins at the Tasman Glacier Car Park and follows a path to the first of the lakes.

When you get to each of these lakes note that you can go around each one and follow a path to the next. It may not be so obvious at first, but there is a path around. Once you have seen all of them, turn back around and head back towards the starting point.

On the way back you should see a sign pointing you towards the Tasman Lake View (you would have passed this same sign on the way to the lakes trail). Head up the path where you will be welcomed to a vast view of Tasman Lake down below.

Similarly, as you are walking back you should be pointed in the direction towards the base of Tasman Lake. Follow that path to get you right towards the waters edge, where you can take in the view from down below. It was quite surreal seeing the small icebergs pass by as you enjoy the glacier lake’s surroundings.

Take a look at the Blue Lakes and Tasman Lake View & Tasman Lake Track Guide

Tasman Lake Mount Cook

Day 12 – Mount Cook National Park / to Queenstown

On day 12 of this New Zealand road trip, you can continue on hiking the park and choosing some other trails from above. You also have the option to head off to some other activities that are offered in the area.

These include cycling, glacier boating , heli glacier hiking (similar to Franz Josef), or taking a flight around the mountain ranges .

Click on the links to head over to some of the company websites that offer those activities.

Mt Cook National Park NZ

At day’s end though, hop back into your car and make the 2 hour drive to Queenstown, your next stop on this New Zealand 3 week itinerary.

Where to Stay in Queenstown (Nights 12, 13, & 14)

  • All Around: Lomond Lodge Motel
  • Budget: Absoloot Value Accommodation
  • Luxury: Sofitel Queenstown

Day 13 – Queenstown

For the next two days you will have the chance to explore the ins and outs of what Queenstown has to offer – from hiking to adrenaline activities to just enjoying the beautiful lakeside town.

On your first day you can choose from the following options to fill up your day:

Hike Ben Lomond

You can get started right away and hike Queenstown’s most challenging climb – Ben Lomond. Climbing this mountain that overlooks Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the never ending mountain ranges in every direction will 100% be worth it at the end of the day.

If you do decide to take part of the hike, leave around 4-5 hours to complete the round trip. You can start the hike on top of the Queenstown Gondola or at the base of the Gondola, where you can take the Tiki Trail up (add another 1.5 hours of hiking round trip if you opt for the Tiki Trail).

Check out Hiking the Ben Lomond Track to learn more!

Ben Lomond Track

Queenstown Hill

A much less challenging of a climb is the one up to Queenstown Hill. It takes just about 45 minutes to get to the top (1.5 hours round trip), where you will get some incredible views of Queenstown and the lake down below.

Although it is a much shorter climb than Ben Lomond, it is a great alternative for those that do not want to take part of a full day type of climb. Note that the hike up Queenstown Hill is nearly all uphill so it can get a bit tough at times.

Much of it is also in the forest until the last part, when you then exit through the trees and are able to take in the views.

Read More: Check out the guide to the Queenstown Hill Walk to learn all about the hike up

Queenstown Hill Hike

Enjoy Queenstown’s Waterfront

If you take part of a hike or not, you should still have time to explore the waterfront area of Queenstown. You can walk along the water to Queenstown Gardens, which is full of ponds, flowers, lake views, and lots of ducks!

You can also just sit back and relax near the water with the beautiful scenic mountains all around.

Queenstown New Zealand

Do Some Luging

On top of the Queenstown Skyline Gondola (where Ben Lomond track begins), there is actually a luge circuit that takes you down a portion of the mountain.

If you are looking for some fun (and some views!!) then luging could be a great activity for you. Take a look at the Queenstown luging website to learn more.

Day Hike the Routeburn

One of the most famous of hikes in New Zealand is the Routeburn Track. From Queenstown you can take part of a Routeburn Track day hike that will bring you on the first portion of the trail.

Not only will you get to do some hiking but you will also drive along one of the most scenic roads from Queenstown to Glenorchy.

Learn more in the Routeburn Track Day Hike Guide

Humboldt Mountains

Day 14 – Queenstown

During your second day in Queenstown it is time to get that adrenaline going. Queenstown offers everything you can imagine when it comes to heart pumping activities.

You can take a look at some of the activities below and decide what you are most interested in (click on each one to book through some reputable companies):

  • Bungee Jumping
  • Canyon Swinging
  • Jet Boating
  • Paragliding
  • Hang Gliding

I opted for a once in a lifetime skydiving experience over the mountains of Queenstown. It was just surreal being above the lake and the never ending mountain ranges out in the distance.

Feel free though to pick 1-2 that you think you will enjoy most to cap off your time in Queenstown.

Queenstown Skydiving

Day 15 – Milford Sound / Drive to Wanaka

This is probably going to be the longest driving day of the trip but at the end of the day it sure will be worth it. Get up nice and early to make the 3.5 hour drive out to Milford Sound – one of the most picturesque fjords in the world.

Once you arrive at Milford, you can join in on a boat tour that will take you all around the Sound towards the open sea. There are a few companies that offer these boat rides including: Real Journeys , Jucy and Southern Discoveries to name a few.

Milford Sound New Zealand

Once all done with the boat tour, you can spend some time on land, walking the waterfront and enjoying some nice views of Milford Sound out in the distance. Do not head out too late though because your next stop will be Wanaka, a 4.5 hour drive away.

Day 15 Notes

Rainfall : Milford Sound is one of the wettest regions in New Zealand, receiving rainfall on over 200 days per year! Don’t worry though if you get stuck in the rain as the waterfalls will be in full force and the fjord itself will have a more mystical element to it.

Logistics : If you want to save some driving time in the morning, you could head out to the town of Te Anau on the night of day 14 and spend the evening there.

Where to Stay in Wanaka (Nights 15 & 16)

  • All Around: Edgewater
  • Budget: Altamont Lodge

Day 16 – Wanaka

Wanaka is truly one of my favorite places I have visited. It is a small lakeside town and is just surrounded by mountains in every which direction.

Not only can you sit back and enjoy the lake, but you also have the chance to climb those mountains and get some vast views of the surrounding areas.

There are plenty of hikes to choose from including some of my favorite South Island New Zealand hiking trails :

The most famous of hikes around Wanaka is Roys Peak. During this 5-6 hour trek you will take in some of the most scenic views over Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains.

Learn more in the Roys Peak Hiking Guide

Roys Peak

Isthmus Peak

While not as famous as Roys Peak, Isthmus Peak is high up on my list of hikes in New Zealand. It is similar in length and difficulty, and it comes will some incredible views as well. It also will definitely be the less crowded option out there.

Learn more in the Isthmus Peak Hiking Guide

Isthmus Peak Summit View

Rob Roys Glacier

A bit different than Roys and Isthmus peaks is Rob Roys Glacier. This one is a bit further away from Wanaka and instead of a mountain climb, you will head through a valley until you reach the foot of Rob Roys Glacier.

Learn more in the Rob Roy Glacier Track hiking guide

Rob Roys Glacier Wanaka Trail

Lastly on the list is Mt Iron, located just a few minutes from town. The easiest and shortest of all treks, Mt Iron will give you some great views of the city itself, with the lake and mountains out in the distance.

Learn more in the Mount Iron Track Hiking Guide

Mt Iron Wanaka

Day 17 – Wanaka / Drive to Franz Josef

On day 17, you can rest up after hiking the previous day and just enjoy the town of Wanaka and the nearby lake. Head on over to That Wanaka Tree to take in one of the most famous trees out there.

You can also make your way to the nearby lavender farm to stroll the fields and even doing some honey tasting. And if you still have that desire to hit the trails, head out on another hike around the area!

That Wanaka Tree

At some point though you will need to jump back in the car and continue your New Zealand road trip with a 4 hour drive to Franz Josef.

Where to Stay in Franz Josef (Nights 17 & 18)

  • All Around: Aspen Court Franz Josef
  • Budget: Glow Worm Accommodation

Day 18 – Franz Josef Heli Hike

A highlight of the West Coast of New Zealand is the Franz Josef Glacier. Here you have the chance to take a helicopter ride onto the glacier, where you will then spend the next several hours exploring the ins and outs of this massive piece of ice.

You can book your glacier hike in advance to secure your spot on the trek.

Franz Josef Helicopter

If you do not want to take part of the glacier hike, another option here is to do the ~5 hour Roberts Point Track, which takes you across some suspension bridges right up close to the glacier (but not onto the glacier itself). It is a great alternative if you do not want to spend the money on the glacier hike.

Day 19 – Drive to Abel Tasman

Day 19 Note : the weather in Franz Josef can be hit or miss and there is a chance the glacier hike can be cancelled or delayed. If you do not have the chance to take part on day 18, then try to reschedule nice and early on day 19. If this happens you will not get to Abel Tasman until later in the evening most likely.

Another long drive is up next as you make the trip from Franz Josef all the way up to Abel Tasman National Park. The drive should take you 6 hours give or take as you make your way up the West Coast of the island.

You have the chance here to make the quick stop at the pancake rocks at Punakaiki. If you do add it onto the route, expect the drive to take a bit longer (closer to 7 hours) as Punakaiki is not on the fastest route up to Abel Tasman.

Pancake Rocks

When choosing where to stay in Abel Tasman I highly recommend the small town of Marahau. It is basically at the entrance of the national park, which makes it easier for hiking and/or taking part of activities such as kayaking or canyoning.

Where to Stay in Marahau (Nights 19 & 20)

  • All Around #1: Abel Tasman Lodge
  • All Around #2: Abel Tasman Haven
  • Budget: Adventure Inn

Day 20 – Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman has a ton to offer its visitors but the main attraction here is the famous Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

While the full track can take up to 5 days to complete, you can easily take part of just a section of the track during your time here.

My recommendation would be to take the water taxi out to Bark Bay and walk to Anchorage from there. Once at Anchorage, you can hop on another water taxi back to Marahau.

You can also opt for an overnight on the trail itself. That would mean getting a water taxi out to the park and then spending day 20 and the morning of day 21 hiking back to Marahau.

There is also an option to do a one day hike/kayak tour that is offered by several companies in Marahau if you do not want to just spend your time hiking.

You can learn more about all these options in the Abel Tasman Track Hiking Guide .

Torrent Bay Abel Tasman

Day 21 – Abel Tasman / Travel

At some point on your last full day of this New Zealand road trip, it will be time to depart.

You can actually choose to leave from a number of places depending on what is easiest logistically – Christchurch (5.5 hour drive), Wellington (3 hour drive + 4 hour ferry), or Nelson (1 hour drive). Each one of those cities has an airport to fly out of, if for example you needed to get back to Auckland for your flight out.

Depending on where you are going / what time you are leaving, you could have some time to continue to explore Abel Tasman.

This could mean taking part of the 2 day hike, getting a half day kayak in, or just heading to the beach to relax. Once all done though it is time to end your New Zealand 3 week itinerary.

New Zealand Flight

Getting Around

When it comes to getting around New Zealand, I have to say that renting your own car (or campervan) is the move. While there are some companies that run busses throughout the country, it really is just not going to be the same type of experience.

So many of the activities & attractions I took part of required getting to certain locations that public transport just would not cover. In addition, the ability to be on my own schedule is what made this trip possible.

There is just no way you could spend three weeks taking part of this particular itinerary by using public transport. You would just be able to see a subset of the highlights laid out.

If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend reading through the driving in New Zealand overview I put together to learn more about getting around the country.

What is the Best Time to Visit

While you can visit New Zealand year round, the most ideal time to visit will be during the warmer months of the year. This is usually between September and May.

During this time, you will have a better chance to enjoy those warmer temperatures and take part of all sorts of activities along the way.

I visited New Zealand during March (the Fall time period), which ended up being an ideal time to visit. The weather was still very comfortable, the crowds were minimal, and I got to fully enjoy the trip from beginning to end.

Is 3 Weeks Long Enough for New Zealand?

At the end of the day, New Zealand is a massive country and there is just so much to do and see throughout. If you are looking for an all encompassing trip that heads to both the North and South Islands of the country, three weeks will give you enough time to enjoy a little bit of everything.

As you can tell in this itinerary, a vast amount of the country is covered as you head from north to south. Now, it will not cover everything of course, but it is enough to really give you a great idea of what this country is all about.

If you have even longer, go for it! But if you are worried if 3 weeks is long enough, I would not sweat it. You will get to see so much during that amount of time and have a holistic overall trip.

Mueller Hut Sealy Tarns View

That about does it for a New Zealand itinerary 3 weeks road trip! I hope this guide has given you a better idea of how to plan your New Zealand itinerary and has helped out with some logistics.

Obviously this itinerary can be mixed and matched a bit to change things up, but overall this can be a good starting point to get you going in the right direction.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to write them in below. Also don’t forget to check out the rest of the New Zealand itineraries and guides up on the site. Have fun out there and safe travels!

New Zealand Itinerary 3 Weeks

Related posts:

Walks in the Waitakere Ranges

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Audrey Schnyder

Friday 14th of October 2022

Thanks for the amazing itinerary! I will be following it when I visit NZ in March. Do you have idea gas/food costs for this trip as an estimate? Trying to get my budget together :) thanks!

Sunday 16th of October 2022

Hi Audrey - glad you enjoyed it! You will have a great time there (March is when I visited too). Gas prices certainly have changed so it is a bit tough to give an estimate. It also depends on your car choice, etc. Same with food - I was a solo traveler on a budget so my food choices may be very different than yours. I can say on average though my totals costs came out to somewhere around $110-$120 per day. Hope that helps a bit, but there may just be a few too many variables to give you an accurate number for yourself.

Thursday 18th of November 2021

Thank you for this itinerary. It is perfect for me. Nothing too crazy and still seeing all the main sights. Well written.

The Little Adventurer

new zealand trip 3 weeks

New Zealand: The perfect 3-week North and South Island road trip itinerary

New Zealand is the perfect road trip destination offering up volcanoes, black sand beaches, moody forests, thermal pools, picturesque tarns, rugged ridgelines, turquoise lakes, clay cliffs and glaciers.

Together with a couple of newfound road trip buddies, I ventured across the North and South Island in search of some of the best and unique landscapes New Zealand has to offer. Here’s a look at my 3-week itinerary to help you plan your own island road trip.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Recommended time: 2-3 days

If you start your road trip on the North Island, you’ll most likely start in Auckland. From here, you can head east to the Coromandel Coast or south to Rotorua. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get to the Coromandel Coast so started my road trip by heading down to Rotorua.

Rotorua smells like rotten eggs but that’s because it’s surrounded by a very active geothermal area. There’s a range of geothermal areas you can pay to visit or if you just want to get a quick look for free, you can roam through the Kairua Thermal Park near Lake Rotorua.

I only went to a couple of geothermal areas and I would recommend seeing both. Not far from Rotorua is the Waimangu Volcanic Valley geothermal area. Entry is $44 per person. You can do a self-guided walk passing crater lakes and hot springs. The return walk takes about 2 hours.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Further afield, Craters of the Moon geothermal area is located between Rotorua and Lake Taupo and is a five minute drive from Haka Falls , which is also worth a look. Entry to Craters of the Moon is $10 per person. Haka Falls is free.

You can also do the Redwood Treewalk in Rotorua ($37 per person), or the Kerosene Creek natural hot spring located off Old Waiotapu Road, located about a 30 minute drive from Rotorua.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Turangi & Tongariro National Park

Recommended time: 3 days

Turangi is the perfect base to explore the Tongariro National Park, which is home to volcanoes, lakes and waterfalls.

There’s a number of hikes in the park but the most famous one is the 20-kilometre Tongariro Alpine Crossing . This hike was the most memorable hike of my trip to New Zealand – partly due to the landscapes, but also because my hiking buddies and I walked through some very bad weather to complete the hike!

new zealand trip 3 weeks

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes you across volcanic terrain, but you need to be prepared for wild weather. Despite a fairly favourable forecast at the start of the day, my hiking buddies and I ended up being hit by stinging rain, wind and little to zero visibility. The hike itself wasn’t too hard but the conditions made it difficult and uncomfortable. We barely stopped walking the whole hike as it was too cold, exposed and wet to stop – we just wanted to get out of the elements as fast as possible. Luckily we did get to see some views at the start of the hike before the rain set in but never saw the Red Crater and only got a hazy glimpse of the lakes through the fog and rain. You win some, you lose some! But it was still worth doing.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

If you get luckier than me and get good weather, then you’re sure to enjoy the volcanic landscapes.

No matter the weather forecast, you need to be prepared for poor conditions as the weather can change quickly. Essentials include a rainjacket, warm clothing, gloves and good hiking boots.

The hike takes about 6-8 hours to complete depending on experience, fitness and weather conditions.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Another hike in the park is the hike to Taranaki Falls and the Lower and Upper Tama Lakes . The hike to the waterfall takes about two hours return, or you can then continue onto the Tama Lakes. The return hike to the lakes takes about six hours return.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Mt Taranaki

From Turangi, head over to the New Plymouth region to check out Mt Taranaki. Mt Taranaki dominates the landscape as you near New Plymouth, which serves as a good base to explore the region and Egmont National Park.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

There are multiple hiking trails at the base of Mt Taranaki and even to the summit of the volcano in the summer months, with hikes starting from various points. Mt Taranaki consists of several sections, spread across the base of the volcano.

The North Egmont section of Egmont National Park is closest to New Plymouth. From the Visitor Centre, you can hike up a number of small trails, head for Holly Hut or reach the summit (only for the very experienced hiker). A beautiful trail is the Veronica Loop track , which offers some good viewpoints as well as an enchanting forest.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

You can also choose to hike to the Pouakai Reflective Tarn from the carpark at the end of Mangorei Road. The Mangorei Track takes you up to Pouakai Hut and then onto the tarn. On a clear day, you can get a great reflection in the tarn of Mt Taranaki looming above. The hike itself up to the tarn was actually my favourite part as it weaves up through a moody, mossy forest. Be warned though – there’s hundreds of steps to reach the tarn. The return hike takes about 4-5 hours.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

On the other side of Mt Taranaki is the Dawson Falls section. Again, there’s multiple trails to choose from at this starting point. My friends and I opted for the hike to Dawson Falls and to explore the so-called Goblin Forest on the Wilkies Pool and Kapuni Loop trails. It’s called the Goblin Forest because of the many moss-covered twisted trees, which are particularly moody and enchanted on a cloudy day.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Recommended time: 1 day

From New Plymouth, your next stop should be in Waitomo. It’s a very pretty drive up to Waitomo and you can opt to pay and visit the famous Waitomo Caves , or do a free version with smaller caves on the Ruakuri Bushwalk Trail . We stopped at Waitomo overnight, did the Ruakari Bushwalk Trail first up in the morning, then made our way to Raglan.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Raglan is a favourite among surfers in New Zealand as well as anyone wanting a place to relax. From Waitomo, it’s about a 90-minute drive to the charming town of Raglan and it’s worth a short detour to Bridal Veil Falls on the way.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

While in Raglan, you can just chill with a coffee or a beer, browse the second-hand bookshop, or head down for a surf at the black sand Ngarunui Beach . You can also hire a kayak or paddleboard and float in the bay, but don’t forget it’s a tidal bay that runs from the ocean so you’ll need to be aware of the tide times. Experienced kayakers can also head over to Pancake Rocks.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Recommended time: 3-4 days

The second part of my road trip itinerary took me to the South Island. I opted to fly to Queenstown from Auckland and start my journey there. Queenstown is home to dozens of adventure activities, so you’ll never get bored. Options include skydiving, bungee jumping, canyoning and white-water rafting.

You can also hike up to Ben Lomond or Queenstown Hill from the town centre. The Ben Lomond hike will take about 6-8 hours (depending if you take the gondola part way which saves about 45 minutes to an hour in either direction). The hike up is steep and you’ll need at least a moderate level of fitness to complete. But the views up and from the summit are spectacular and well worth the trip.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

It’s also worth catching sunset across the Remarkables mountain range (while enjoying one of Queenstown’s famous Fergburgers) on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

For a relaxing and picturesque half day trip from Queenstown, one option is to head over to Glenorchy . Glenorchy is located about an hour’s drive from Queenstown, but it might take you longer to drive over there with all the photo stops. One photogenic spot is Bennetts Bluff , which takes you on a short walk to a viewpoint over Lake Wakatipu. Glenorchy itself also has postcard views, and you can take a stroll around the Glenorchy Lagoon or check out the views from the jetty.

It’s well worth adding a few days in the Fjordland region to see Te Anau and Milford Sound . Te Anau is a pretty town by a lake, and also has some glowworm caves.

You can do a day trip to Milford Sound from Te Anau independently or on a tour.

If you’re not doing the Milford Sound cruise, you can opt to do some hikes located off Milford Road, such as Lake Marian and Key Summit , and photo stops at Humboldt Falls and the Mirror Lakes viewpoint.

Another option from Te Anau is the Kepler Track . You can choose to hike the whole track over three days, do an overnight hike to Luxmore Hut , or do a day hike to Luxmore Hut.

I chose to do the day hike option, which took 8 hours return to cover nearly 30kms, so it’s not for everyone to do it light and fast.

The hike leads up through pretty forest and past some rock formations, before coming up onto a plateau with nice views of the surrounding mountains.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Wanaka is heaven for landscape lovers in its setting beside a beautiful lake surrounded by rugged peaks and snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Popular trails include the hikes up to Rob Roy Peak and Isthmus Peak . Rob Roy Peak was closed at the time of my visit due to lambing season (1 October to 10 November), so I opted for the hike up to Isthmus Peak, which offers up superb views over Hawea and Wanaka lakes.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Both hikes take about 4 to 6 hours to complete. The trail are essentially fire trails, so are quite boring and exposed, but the views of the lakes below and the snow-capped mountain beyond are worth the trek.

Haast & Franz Josef Glacier

From Wanaka, head up the Haast Pass to Haast, Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier . The Haast Pass offers up several small hikes to waterfalls, such as Fantail Falls and Thunder Creek Falls . The waterfalls are signposted along the way.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

It’s also worth a stop to the Blue Pools – a beautiful turquoise pool. The hike takes about an hour return from the carpark.

For keen and experienced hikers, you can also opt to do the hike up to Brewster Hut, but you’ll need a full day to do this. The Brewster Hut trailhead is located next to Fantail Falls. The return hike will take 6-8 hours return and includes a river crossing at the very start. While the distance isn’t that far, it’s very steep, you’ll have to negotiate lots of tree roots and it ascends 1,000m of elevation.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Heading from Haast towards Franz Josef Glacier, you can stop in at Lake Matheson and walk around the lake for panoramic views of Mt Cook.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

There are also several hikes starting near the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint. Before you enter the township, turn right onto the Franz Josef Glacier Access Road and head to the carpark at the end of the road to find the trailheads to the smaller hikes. There are also trailheads to longer hikes along this road.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Another must do stop on your New Zealand road trip is Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. If you’re short on time, the best bang for buck hike is the Hooker Valley trail . Hooker Valley is an out and back trail which will take about three hours return. The trail takes you into the Hooker Valley via a series of suspension bridges, and offering up incredible views of Mt Cook and the surrounding mountains on a clear day. The hike ends at the glacial Hooker Lake.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

If you’ve got more time, I recommend you head up to the Sealy Tarn . This hike takes about two to three hours return and involves hundreds of stairs, but the views are well worth the effort. In clear conditions, you will get to see the Hooker Valley from a different perspective to the Hooker Valley hike.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

More adventurous and experienced hikers can head up to the photogenic Mueller Hut from Sealy Tarn if weather conditions are good. This hike is not for the faint hearted – and even in late spring, the second half of the trail can be completely covered in snow so it’s a slog to get to the hut. But the views are well worth the slog! At the time of my visit, the trail was so steep in the snow that the best way to get down was to sit down and slide!

new zealand trip 3 weeks

If you plan to attempt the hike to Mueller Hut, check the weather conditions before you go and bring enough food and water as well as waterproof and warm clothing. The weather can change quickly in the mountains so be prepared for all conditions. Expect the return hike to take around six hours from the Hooker Valley carpark via Sealy Tarn, depending on weather conditions.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

If you’re heading back to Queenstown after your trip to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, you can make a stop at the Omarama Clay Cliffs . Entry is $5 per car, payable by an honesty box system. It’s then a short walk to the clay cliffs.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

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The Ultimate 3-Week South Island New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

  • 23 November 2021 8 May 2023

In early 2018, Ben and I set out on a three-month road trip throughout New Zealand. We traveled both the North and South Islands in our renovated Sprinter van, staying in campsites as we went. The South Island in particular was a very beautiful drive that is a must for any nature lover. I’ve taken our trip and fine-tuned it into this 3-week ultimate South Island New Zealand road trip. Read on for every can’t-miss destination, as well as some lesser-known stops along the way!

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. When you purchase through links on my site, I may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you!).

Stops along your South Island New Zealand road trip

Christchurch (2-3 days), south island new zealand road trip overview.

Total driving distance : 2,474 km / 1,537 mi

Total driving time : 31 hours

This South Island itinerary assumes that you’re starting in Picton and ending in Christchurch, but you can obviously reverse the direction if you need to. If you’re visiting the North Island as well, it’s easy to connect via the Interislander Ferry in Picton. Most people visiting New Zealand want to see both islands, and the ferry makes it easy and convenient to cross the Cook Strait.

To make this South Island road trip into a full loop, simply continue north from Christchurch back to Picton on Highway 1.

Picton (1-2 days)

Nelson (1-2 days), abel tasman national park (2-3 days).

  • West Coast (3-4 days)

Wanaka (2 days)

Queenstown (3 days), te anau & milford sound (1-2 days), invercargill & the catlins (3 days), dunedin (1-2 days).

  • Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (1 day)

Lake Pukaki & Lake Tekapo (1 day)

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Things to know before you go

  • Although distances between places on a map may seem small, actual drive times can be much longer. This is because mountains, lakes , and valleys often get in the way!
  • Road conditions on the South Island can change very quickly due to weather or construction patterns. A one-hour drive can easily turn into two (or more!). Allow yourself extra time to avoid frustration.
  • Accommodation options in certain areas can be few and far between. Check for Department of Conservation campsites, Airbnbs, or youth hostels if you can’t find any standard hotels in your price range.

South Island New Zealand road trip itinerary

If you’re coming in on a ferry from the North Island, Picton will be your first stop. Located in the Marlborough region, Picton is a beautiful little town with lots in the surrounding area to do. If you can, try to spend some time out in the Marlborough Sounds for a relaxing break from reality. This whole region reminds me a lot of the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island — simply breathtaking.

Things to do in Picton:

  • Tirohanga Track : 6.5 km (4 mi) hike over volcanic terrain with views over the town and water
  • The Snout : Scenic spot overlooking the Sounds
  • Queen Charlotte Track : 71 km (44 mi) Great Walk that can be partially done as a day hike
  • Visit a winery : Marlborough is wine country. Drive south to Blenheim and have a tasting at one of the many wineries.

Book a tour in Picton

Ferry from Wellington to Picton, New Zealand

Driving distance : 139 km / 86 mi

Driving time : 2 hours

Nelson, the oldest city on New Zealand’s South Island, is known for its local art scene (as well as for being the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park). Its eccentric vibe and lush landscapes combine to give it a very unique feel when visiting. Make sure to try a local beer from one of the many breweries before leaving!

Things to do in Nelson:

  • Tahunanui Beach : Sandy beach with a picturesque coastline
  • Pic’s Peanut Butter World : Take a tour and sample some of New Zealand’s most popular peanut butter
  • The Brook Waimārama Sanctuary : Nature preserve with wildlife and hiking tracks
  • Cable Bay Lookout : Scenic area where the bay meets the sea. Come here for kayaking, swimming, and hiking.

Book a tour in Nelson

South Island New Zealand road trip: Sunset in Nelson, New Zealand

Driving distance : 60 km / 37 mi

Driving time : 1 hour

Crystal clear water, sandy beaches, and exotic wildlife come together at Abel Tasman National Park. The tropical climate and flourishing plants will make you feel like you’re on a different planet. Whether you take a guided tour or forge ahead solo, the activities in the park are not to be missed.

Things to do at Abel Tasman National Park:

  • Day cruise : See all the major sights in one fell swoop
  • Attempt a Great Walk : The Abel Tasman Coast Track (60 km / 37 mi) can be done in as little as three days
  • Kayak around the park : Can be hired out for half days or full days
  • Look out for wildlife : Fur seals, little blue penguins, and bottlenose dolphins all call the park their home
  • Takaka Hill : See the Ngarua Caves and walk the Takaka Hill Walkway
  • Golden Bay : Long stretches of sandy beaches and clear water

Book an Abel Tasman Tour

South Island New Zealand road trip: Crystal clear green water in Abel Tasman National Park

The West Coast (3-4 days)

Driving distance : 642 km / 399 mi

Driving time : 8 hours 30 minutes

The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is a large region made up of many small towns. It’s remote, off-the-beaten-track, and less touristy than other places in the country. With forests that make you feel like you’re in Jurassic Park and glaciers bigger than you can imagine, the wild West Coast is simply breathtaking.

Things to do on the West Coast:

  • Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes : Natural phenomena made from limestone
  • Hokitika Gorge : Short hike with high swing bridges and powdery blue water
  • West Coast Treetop Walk & Cafe : Canopy walkway through the trees
  • Blue Pools : Easy track that leads to bright blue glacial water
  • Franz Josef : Take a helicopter tour to Franz Josef Glacier (or hike if you’re looking for a budget option)
  • Fox Glacier : Another cool small town with a glacier. Drive to the nearby Lake Matheson which is known for its reflective views of Mt. Cook.

⇉ West Coast New Zealand Itinerary: An Adventurous 7-Day Road Trip

Book a tour on the West Coast

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Driving distance : 143 km / 89 mi

Driving time : 1 hour 45 minutes

Wanaka is like a smaller, chiller version of Queenstown. You’ll still find all the natural beauty and trendy spots but with less adventure and fewer crowds. Don’t be deceived — Wanaka is still a bucket list destination in its own right. With the stunning peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park in the background, Wanaka’s scenery is unmatched.

Things to do in Wanaka:

  • Roys Peak : Popular 16 km (10.1 mi) hike with picture-perfect views
  • Wildwire via ferrata : Guided waterfall cable climb with views over Wanaka
  • #ThatWanakaTree : A solitary willow tree on the lake that’s gained fame for being very Instagrammable
  • Lake Wanaka : Post up for some swimming or boating on Wanaka’s main lake
  • Lake Hawea : A smaller, neighboring lake with great freedom camping sites

Book a tour in Wanaka

South Island New Zealand road trip: Shores of Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Driving distance : 68.5 km / 43 mi

Ahh, Queenstown. Adventure capital of New Zealand, hipster haven, and backpackers’ paradise. There is so much to do in this city. Whether you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping activities or a luxurious spa getaway , Queenstown is the place for it.

The drive between Wanaka and Queenstown follows Highway 6 and Crown Range Road . It’s a very scenic drive and one that you’ll want to give yourself more time to experience. Make sure to stop at any of the roadside lookout points along the way!

Things to do in Queenstown:

  • Skyline Queenstown : Take a gondola up to the Queenstown Ultimate Viewpoint (or hike the Tiki Trail for a budget option)
  • Skydiving : Tandem with a pro with NZONE Skydive
  • Bob’s Cove : Easy hike with a lookout over Lake Wakatipu
  • Jet boating : Exhilarating jet boat ride down the Matukituki River
  • Coronet Peak : Hit the slopes for some skiing or snowboarding in winter
  • Go cafe hopping : Queenstown has the coolest cafe culture

Book a tour in Queenstown

South Island New Zealand road trip: Queenstown road and lake Wakatipu

Driving distance : 289 km / 179.5 mi

Driving time : 3 hours 30 minutes

If you were to send a postcard from New Zealand, Milford Sound would be on it 9 times out of 10. This famous fjord is home to hundreds of powerful waterfalls and colonies of fur seals. Spend your days here out in nature, then head back to a bit of comfort by staying at the Milford Sound Lodge .

Things to do in Te Anau & Milford Sound:

  • Drive the scenic road to Milford Sound : The stops along the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound deserve at least a few hours to explore!
  • Boat cruise through Milford Sound : Hands-down the best way to see Milford Sound. There are various operators running tours of different types & lengths. Prices start at about $60 NZD per person.
  • Scenic flight : Unbeatable views of Milford Sound and the Southern Alps for those that don’t mind the splurge. Many of these tours leave from Queenstown.
  • Lake Te Anau : Largest lake in the South Island
  • Doubtful Sound : Larger but less famous fjord than Milford Sound
  • Kepler Track : Another multi-day Great Walk that can be partially done as a day hike
  • Mirror Lakes : Super short walk with perfectly reflective water
  • Fiordland National Park : Tons of hikes and activities around the fjords. Cascade Creek Campground is a great campervan option!

⇉ 16 Exciting Things to Do in Te Anau, New Zealand

⇉ 14 Best Things to Do in Milford Sound: First Timer’s Guide

Book a tour to Milford Sound

South Island New Zealand road trip: Milford Sound from the back of a boat

Driving distance : 318 km / 197.5 mi

Driving time : 4 hours

The Catlins region is the most underrated in New Zealand. Stretching from Invercargill in the west to Balclutha in the east, the Catlins is filled with waterfalls , striking seaside cliffs, and mystical forests. This area of the country is remote and far-flung, but definitely worth the drive.

Things to do in Invercargill & the Catlins:

  • Queens Park : Spacious park with diverse foliage in Invercargill
  • Nugget Point : Dramatic cliffside lighthouse with big “nugget” rocks
  • Slope Point : Southernmost point on the South Island
  • Curio Bay : Coastal headland with a petrified forest and yellow-eyed penguin colonies
  • Cathedral Caves : One of the longest sea caves in the world

⇉ Catlins Road Trip Itinerary: 4 Days in New Zealand’s Most Underrated Region

Nugget Point Lighthouse, the Catlins, New Zealand

Driving distance : 78.4 km / 49 mi

Dunedin is a charming student town with a strong Scottish heritage. Throughout the adjoining Otago Peninsula, you’ll find windswept landscapes and plenty of outdoor activities to partake in. Dunedin is another town that is also known for its wildlife — in this case, albatross, seals, and penguins.

Things to do in Dunedin:

  • St Clair beach : Sandy beach that’s good for surfing (and wildlife spotting)
  • Larnach Castle : New Zealand’s only “castle”
  • Tunnel Beach : Rugged beach walk with a manmade tunnel
  • Signal Hill Lookout : Scenic lookout over Dunedin and the Otago Harbour
  • Baldwin street : Steepest street in the world

⇉ Dunedin Travel Guide: The Best Things to Eat, See, and Do

Book a tour in Dunedin

South Island New Zealand road trip: Niki stands in front of the ocean, Dunedin, New Zealand

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park (1 day)

Driving distance : 317 km / 197 mi

Driving time : 3 hours 45 minutes

New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook, dominates the skyline of its namesake National Park. With some of the best Southern Alps mountain views in the whole country, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is a must for any South Island New Zealand road trip itinerary. There is a variety of hikes for all experience levels, from quick walks to multi-day excursions.

Things to do in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park:

  • Mueller Hut Route : Iconic alpine track with a bright red hut. The first half of this hike is the Sealy Tarns Track.
  • Hooker Valley Track : Easy, flat walk with stunning views that end at Hooker Lake
  • Red Tarns Track : Lots of stairs for a killer view over Mt Cook Alpine Village
  • Tasman Glacier : The largest glacier in New Zealand. Can be seen on the Blue Lakes/Tasman Glacier hikes
  • Hermitage Hotel : Historic hotel with a museum and planetarium in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village

⇉ The Ultimate Guide to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Book a tour to Mount Cook

South Island New Zealand road trip: view of mountains and lake, Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand

Driving distance : 104 km / 64.6 mi

Driving time : 1 hour 10 minutes

With bright blue water and snow-capped mountains, Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo are a photographer’s dream. Make sure to wear a cute outfit on the day you visit, because you’ll definitely be taking a lot of pictures! Because they’re so close, the two lakes can easily be combined into one day’s worth of exploring.

Things to do in Lake Pukaki & Lake Tekapo:

  • NZ Alpine Lavender : Roadside lavender farm that sells tasty lavender-flavored treats
  • Church of the Good Shepard : Picturesque stone church on the shores of Lake Tekapo
  • Mt John Walkway : Easy hike with views over the Canterbury Plains that ends at Mount John Observatory
  • Dark Sky Project : Planetarium that runs stargazing tours. This area is known as a Dark Sky Reserve, meaning there is very little light pollution!
  • Tekapo Springs : Soak in some hot pools to relax after a long day of exploring
  • Hunt for lupins : These pink, purple, and orange flowers bloom around the shores of Lake Tekapo in November and December

⇉ Tekapo Travel Guide: 14 Can’t-Miss Things To Do Around Lake Tekapo

Book a tour in Tekapo

Mountains and Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Driving distance : 230 km / 143 mi

Driving time : 2 hours 50 minutes

Known as the Garden City , Christchurch is famous for its mix of city living and lush outdoor spaces (as well as for the massive earthquake that hit in 2010). It’s the largest city on the South Island by population, and the city center has a lot to offer. Although a lot of areas have been rebuilt, you can still see remnants of the rubble in certain spots downtown. The city has a trendy and eclectic vibe, with lots of unique restaurants, cafes, and boutique shops.

Things to do in Christchurch:

  • Christchurch Gondola : Mountain cablecar with panoramic views
  • Hagley Park : Sizeable urban park with frequent festivals and markets
  • International Antarctic Centre : Come here to learn all about New Zealand’s footprint in Antarctica
  • Lyttelton : Trendy port town with cute cafes and shops
  • Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula : Unique, hilly landscape with a quirky French settlement

Book a tour in Christchurch

South Island New Zealand road trip: Gates with a crowd of people, Christchurch, New Zealand

If you have more time in New Zealand

There is so much more to do in New Zealand than what I’ve listed above. You’d need several months (or more!) to fully experience everything. If you’re blessed with a lot of free time, here are some suggestions to extend your New Zealand road trip.

  • Marlborough Sounds : Rent a holiday home and spend some time kayaking, hiking, and swimming
  • Embark on a Great Walk : Multi-day treks through New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery
  • Kaikōura : Coastal town known for its whale watching tours
  • Mt Aspiring National Park : Tall peaks, glaciers, and tons of waterfalls
  • Glenorchy : Charming town on Lake Wakatipu that’s great for outdoor enthusiasts. Only a 40-minute drive from Queenstown!
  • Central Otago : Visit the quaint small towns of Cromwell, Alexandra, and Roxburgh
  • Bluff : Coastal town in the far south that’s known for its oysters
  • Oamaru : Quirky town that’s home to the Steampunk HQ
  • Twizel : High country town with several nearby lakes. This is a great place to stay to take a day trip to Mt. Cook!
  • Timaru : Port city that’s perfect for a pleasant stopover between Christchurch and Dunedin
  • Arthur’s Pass National Park : Between Christchurch and the West Coast
  • Castle Hill : Alpine village in Canterbury with strange rock formations
  • Nelson Lakes National Park : Mountain park with beech forests, streams, and lakes
  • Stewart Island/Rakiura : Home to unique wildlife, incredible views, and Rakiura National Park
  • North Island : Get there by airplane or by ferry. You’ll find a warmer climate, Maori culture, and unique natural phenomena .

Thanks for reading this South Island New Zealand road trip itinerary! I hope that it’s been useful in planning your next trip .

Related posts

Best day hikes South Island New Zealand: Kea on Avalanche Peak, Arthur's Pass

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new zealand trip 3 weeks

3-Week New Zealand Itinerary

By: Author Robyn Robledo

Posted on Last updated: March 2, 2024

3 week New Zealand road trip itinerary

A month was way too short of time to spend in New Zealand and we knew it when we booked it. But I love the saying “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.”  If we only had a month, we were going to make the absolute most of it.  But in doing so, I discovered that the best parts of New Zealand can absolutely be crammed into an epic 21 day road trip.  Here’s how I would do three weeks in New Zealand if I were to go back.

When I was planning our trip I was overwhelmed with all the places to visit because it seemed like all the blogs said that every destination was a spot you had to see. After spending a month here I realized not every destination is worth the effort and I wanted to help others narrow down their trip so they don’t spend as much time driving as we did.

If you are looking for a blog with the best restaurants, hotels, and pricey excursions, you won’t find that here.  We travel on a budget and love the outdoors.  Our travel focuses on ways to be active in nature so these are the top destinations if you are looking to hike, bike or surf.  We tent camped through New Zealand so we will mention lots of great campsite we stayed at on our 3 week road trip but we will also mention alternatives such as as nearby towns where I’d recommend getting accommodation.

Road Trip Day 1 & 2: Fly into Auckland; Drive to Raglan

I’ve surfed a lot of places in the world and this one is special. In a good way and a bad way. It’s good because it really is a perfect wave.  It sets up in a perfectly peeling left that can give you a couple hundred yard ride across the bay. It’s also a very forgiving wave, making it easy to catch.

Raglan, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Catching a wave is the bad part. Because it breaks so predictable, the competition at the point in the lineup is fierce and mainly from the groms who don’t like to share.

Raglan, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Beware that getting in and out requires navigating a fierce field of lava rocks. Booties are certainly helpful but will also stamp KOOK on your forehead and make fighting for the peak even more of a challenge. With or without the wave,  I loved this town and found as much joy, if not more, just walking through town, eating delicious gelato and homemade fig sourdough bread.

Related: 7 Things To Do In Raglan, New Zealand

Road Trip Day 3 & 4: Drive to Rotorua; Mountain bike Whakarewarewa Forest

Mountain biking the Whakarewarewa forest was one of the top highlights for me in New Zealand.  This was so much fun for the entire family that I had to make a YouTube video of our incredible experience.  

We rented our bikes at the trailhead from Mountain Bike Rotorua .  I can’t emphasize enough how incredible their customer service is.  They were so helpful in getting everyone sized up (there are a lot of us) and made sure our experience was top-notch.  Check out our YouTube video of our biking adventure and don’t forget to subscribe to our channel.

The trails in the redwood forest here are so great for kids and adults alike. My two youngest, who aren’t always excited to go hiking, begged us to do this again and again. I was amazed at how good my 7 year old got at bike handling in just an hour and the trails were so fun and flowy that even my older kids had a blast on them.

Rotorua, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

If mountain biking isn’t your thing, you can opt to hike in the Whakarewarewa forest or head over to Blue and Green Lake .  There is a nice trail that goes around Blue Lake and at the far end of Blue Lake there is a nice view of both lakes.

Blue and Green Lakes, Rotorua, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Road Trip Day 5: Hot springs and mud pools; Drive toward Tongariro

Getting to Kerosene Creek hot springs from Rotorua is about 45 minute drive.  You’ll turn down a bumpy dirt road and take it for 6 kilometers until you get to a large parking area (also the start for some great mountain biking if you have bikes).  From here it’s a short 5 minute stroll to the hot spring.  Though there are no signs here with warnings, at some other hot springs we saw signs about dangerous bacteria so stay on the safe side and don’t put your head in the water! 

Lake by Kerosene Creek, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Our next stop was the mud pools.  They are cool to see, but certainly not a destination in themselves.  Plan on only needing a half hour here.  This is right next to Wai-O-Tapu , which we skipped since it cost money and we had just gone to Yellowstone last summer but is home to the Lady Knox Geyser and other geothermal features .

Mud pools by Rotorua, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

One more quick free sight to see in right next to the mud pools is Under the Bridge.  I wouldn’t recommend swimming in it since there are warning signs but it is very pretty to see.

Hot Spring by Rotorua, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

After exploring the geothermal wonders of New Zealand, try to camp or get an Airbnb close to the Tongariro trailhead to save some time tomorrows.  It’s a long day hike and you’ll want most of the day to do it.

Road Trip Day 6: Hike Tongariro; Drive toward Wellington

Today is a big day!  In the high season you aren’t allowed to park at trailheads for more than four hours and this hike will take you at least six so you’ll want to make sure you get a shuttle to the trailhead, unless of course you have someone in your group who isn’t hiking and can shuttle you.  

Hiking Tongariro, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

While you can hike in either direction, I recommend starting at Mangatepopo so that Mt Doom is in your view for the first half of the hike.  Going this direction makes the downhill a little more gradual, but I’m warning you, it’s a really long descent .  

Hiking Tongariro, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Remember to pack layers of clothing because it can get very cold at the top, but the hike up is strenuous and you will want to be able to take layers off for it.  

This is definitely one of those #GOAT hikes so I encourage you to go for it.

It’s a challenging hike but doable for most people. The trail is very well maintained.  My 9 year old did it, but it was a lot for him.

Road Trip Day 7: Cross on the early afternoon ferry

It’s usually cheaper to book the ferry ahead of time.  

We used both Inter Island and Blue Bridge and while we found both good, we preferred Blue Bridge mainly because it is smaller and felt more kid friendly.

Wellington Ferry, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Blue Bridge even give the kids a bag with an activity book to do while sailing! I also liked that there are bench seats which allowed us to lie down and sleep for part of the journey.

Keep in mind that the entire process of checking in, waiting to board, and sailing is a long endeavor (especially for kids). I recommend having healthy snacks or even bringing a meal on board since the food onboard isn’t good or healthy.

If you can take the afternoon or early evening ferry then you can go explore Wellington for half the day.   I’m not a city girl so half a day here was enough for me, although I really enjoyed eating amazing craft food at the farmers market and grabbing some fresh produce and cheese. We saw a really cool street performer while walking through the downtown area.  Wellington is the windiest city I’ve ever been to.  I saw parked motorcycles blow over!

Wellington, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

When you get to Picton, get an Airbnb here or if it’s still daylight drive along the sound towards Abel Tasman.  If you are camping, there are some great campgrounds and free camping areas along the highway to get there, but I don’t recommend driving this at night as it is very windy and you’d miss out on the gorgeous views.

Related: I’m Not a City Girl

Road Trip Day 8-10: Arrive in Abel Tasman; Take the water taxi to for a two night backpacking adventure 

This was my second favorite experience in all of New Zealand , which means you totally should do it.  

Abel Tasman, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Hiking from Marahau to Anchorage doesn’t do this park justice. You really need to experience the areas from Anchorage to Bark Bay and preferably to Awaroa in order to get the most value out of this park. 

Related:   3 Day Backpacking Itinerary For Abel Tasman

Road Trip Day 10: Drive towards the West Coast; Camp at Lyell Campground/Old Ghost Road Trailhead (Optional: add a day mountain biking)

This was one of the coolest places we camped at mostly because of the amount of stars we could see at night.

Old Ghost Road, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

This is also the trailhead for the famous 85km-long famous Old Ghost Road trail that is on our priority list to go back and bike although we may need to up our game since this is a grade 4/5 trail and we don’t want to recreate our experience in Jackson Hole WY ( click here to read about our epic fail ).  You can also walk this as a five day backpacking trip.

Remember:  Driving on the South Island takes a lot longer than most places so don’t cram too much into today. 

There are plenty of gorgeous lookouts on the way to Westport to stop and stretch you legs.

Take a quick detour to stop in Westport to stock up on groceries.   Westport is the last town with grocery stores until Greymouth, 100 kilometers away.  If you feel like surfing or a surf lesson, go surf Tauranga Bay in Westport before heading to your secluded beach house.  Supposedly it can become a really long left but it takes quite a bit of swell and no wind.  This however, is a really great place to learn to surf.

Tauranga Bay, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

For more details on the next 2 days of this New Zealand itinerary, check out out related blog:   7 Stops You Must See on the West Coast of New Zealand  

Road Trip Day 11: Relax and take in the views

I felt so spoiled staying at this Airbnb  and I highly recommend you stay here.  After driving so many miles and hiking/backpacking, it was really nice to spend one full day doing absolutely nothing, especially in such a beautiful location .  This AirBnb literally has its own private beach!  

West coast AirBnb, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

There is great WiFi here so you can catch up on some work before the next half of your New Zealand adventure.  Personally, I was just stoked to have a shower and washing machine!

Road Trip Day 12: Drive towards Franz Josef

I personally don’t think the town of Franz Josef is worth staying in.  It is very overpriced but it’s the only actual town, if you can call it that, for a long time and so it can demand the high ticket price.  

The drive from Fox River to Franz Josef Glacier is, guess what, LONG.  Stopping in the cute town of Hokitika is a good place to stretch the legs, grab some food, stock up on groceries, and fill the gas tank because there won’t be much until you get to Wanaka and IMO, this stretch from Franz Josef to Wanaka is a great area to spend more days than I put in this itinerary if you can.  

There are also good surf breaks in nearby Greymouth.  We spent a few nights in the area and camped at MacDonald Campground , which was very pretty and had good facilities, and stayed in this Airbnb which I also recommend if you need more r&r or didn’t get a chance to stay at the previous airbnb.  There isn’t much around here though so I recommend it as more of a rest day than as a home base.

Road Trip Day 13: Hike Franz Josef & Fox Glacier

You brought rain gear right?!  It’s a very easy, but often wet, hike to see the Franz Josef glacier.  Parking can be tough so get there early.  I really wanted to hike to Robert’s Point but we didn’t get a chance to because the fog was so dense the day we were there.

Franz Josef Glacier, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Another popular option is to Heli-Hike Franz Josef meaning you take a helicopter up onto the glacier and then hike around and explore ice caves.  Click here to find a tour.

The road to Fox Glacier was closed due to damage from Cyclone Gita, but if the road is open, this should be your next stop.

Bonus: If you can squeeze in another day or two, stop to hike part or all of the Copland Track.   Click here to learn more

Franz Josef Glacier, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

If you are pushing onward, I highly recommend camping in Mount Aspiring National Park because it too is gorgeous and you’ll want a full day to explore.

Mount Aspiring National Park, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

I recommend Pleasant Flat Campsite, which is a low-cost campground with toilets, water, and a nice flat grassy area for your tent, but mainly I’d camp here for the view of the mountains.  There is not much accommodation here besides camping so if you are looking for a house/hotel/etc, you’re going to want to stay in a town right before Mt Aspiring such as Haast.  Click here to find accommodation.

Road Trip Day 14: Mount Aspiring National Park

Take your time driving through Mount Aspiring National Park.  There are so many points of interest between Pleasant Flat and Lake Wanaka including Thunder Creek Falls, Fan Tail Falls (someday I want to go back to hike from here to the Brewster Hut), and Blue Pools.  

Mount Aspiring National Park, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

If you are camping, stop before you get to Wanaka and camp at Kidds Bush Reserve, one of my all-time favorite places I’ve ever camped.  If you are not camping, get accommodation in Wanaka (which BTW is one of my favorite towns in the whole world).

Kidds Bush Campground, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Note: There won’t be grocery stores after Hokitika until you actually get into Wanaka, other than the overpriced mini market in Franz Glacier, so if you are stopping at all these rad campgrounds, make sure you stocked up yesterday.

Road Trip Day 15: Wanaka + Isthmus Peak

Wanaka is a cute town with plenty of hipster food options, but before you drive into town, stop and hike to the top of Isthmus Peak .  Yep, it’s another one of our favorites!  We skipped Roy’s Peak and heard it was a good call since Isthmus was better especially for the crowd factor.

Get beta on hiking Isthmus Peak here.

Hiking Isthmus Peak, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

If you have time, spend an extra day here to explore the area.  We had reserved tickets for the Routeburn Track so we had to press on.  There’s a free campground about halfway between Wanaka and Queenstown called Bendigo.  If not camping, try to get accommodation between Queenstown and Wanaka or in Queenstown.

Free camping at Bendigo, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Related blog: 5 Reasons to Visit Wanaka, New Zealand

Road Trip Day 16: Queenstown + Glenorchy

While I didn’t love this town, if I had more money to spend, it may have been a different story.  This is the adventure capital of New Zealand, but here, adventure costs a lot of money.  There are plenty of inexpensive adventures involving hiking up steep mountains, we just didn’t have time to explore them.

Do you have a favorite hike in Queenstown? Let us know in the comments below!

Related: Things to Consider Before Booking a Trip to New Zealand

We picked up our tickets at the DOC office to hike the Routeburn Track and headed towards Glenorchy to camp near the trailhead. 

Glenorchy is very cute but a bit limited in supplies so stock up of food and cash in Queenstown.  There are really nice views on the drive to Glenorchy and even if you aren’t thru-hiking the Routeburn Track, it’s still totally worth hiking half of it from the Glenorchy side.

Mountains around Queenstown, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Camp at Sylvan Campsite , which is about 30 minutes past Glenorchy and only a few minute drive from the start of the Routeburn.  It’s absolutely gorgeous and lies in a valley with dramatic mountains surrounding you.  If you’re not camping, c lick here to see other accommodation in the quaint town of Glenorchy.

Sylvan Campsite, Tips for Camping in New Zealand

Road Trip Day 17-18: Routeburn Track (or Kepler Track)

This was definitely the highlight of our trip. It was our first backpacking experience and I can’t recommend it enough.  

If you backpack it, you have to reserve your tickets WAY ahead of time and if you can’t get them I recommend just day hiking all the way to Harris Saddle and back.  The views at Harris Saddle are incredible whether you backpack or hike it!!! See our related blog for more info on getting backpacking permits.  PS we made our March reservations in November.

Routeburn Track, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

If you are day hiking, use the remainder of Day 17 to drive toward Milford Sound after the hike.  It’s going to be a very long drive, but there are many campgrounds on the way and plenty of places to stretch your legs on smaller hikes.  Day 18 is then a bonus day and I’d recommend spending it at Arthur’s Pass at the end of your trip (see bottom of this post).

If you do the Routeburn Track like we did and only camp one night at Lake Mackenzie, you should be done hiking by 1 p.m. on day 18.

Routeburn Track, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

This way, you can use the rest of the day to get a shuttle back to Glenorchy to get your vehicle. (See related blog below for details on how to hike this Track).

Related blog: How to Backpack the Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

When you finish hiking the Routeburn, head down the road another 45 minutes to see Milford Sound.  You may want to book a cruise into the sound as there isn’t much to see from the harbor, but keep in mind the drive back to Queenstown is about 4 hours.

Consider camping near Queenstown; while Lumsden Parking Area is free and on the way, it lacks scenery.

Personally, I’d skip Milford Sound unless you can afford a cruise or a kayak excursion.  That being said, a cruise and kayak excursion looks AWESOME!   Click here to check out the top deals on kayak/cruise excursions on Milford Sound.

Milford Sound, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Road Trip Day 19: Mount Cook

It’s a long drive again from Queenstown to Christchurch.  I would break it up by spending a night at Mount Cook Village.  

The glaciers here are mind-blowing, especially the one that you can see from White Horse Hill Campground.  If you aren’t going to camp here (which is almost a crime) get accommodation in Mount Cook Village so you’re wishing walking distance of the hikes.

White horse hill campground, Mount Cook, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Since the hikes can get a bit touristy, I recommend trying to camp here overnight so you can experience the magnificence of the area in peace. Seriously, I think I was the first person awake in the campground and it was a magical feeling sitting under the glacier in silence in the morning.

Related: Tips for Camping in New Zealand

White horse hill campground, Mount Cook, 3 week New Zealand Itinerary

Road Trip Day 20: Mount Cook 

If you didn’t do the Hooker Valley Track yesterday, make sure you do it today.  Hiking it early in the morning is better before all the tour buses show up.

Hooker Valley Track, Mount Cook, 3 week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

If you are looking for a less active form of adventure, try out H2 Explore on Lake Pukaki.  If you’ve never been on a hovercraft before (I hadn’t), it feels like a submarine ride above the water.  On a clear day, it provides epic views of Mount Cook.

It’s another 4 hour drive to get to Christchurch from Mount Cook.  If you need to break it up, we stayed in this Airbnb in Geraldine , which is about halfway.  

Road Trip Day 21: Fly Out of Christchurch

Try to get a late night flight out so you have the day to walk around Christchurch before saying good-bye to this beautiful country.

Optional bonus day: Arthur’s Pass

Do you love mountains?  We love them!  If you have an extra day or two (such as if you day hike the Routeburn Track), I recommend spending one day hiking in Arthur’s Pass.  

The drive up is so gorgeous and you pass Castle Crags, which is a great rock climbing destination but we didn’t bring our gear for this trip.

I truly believe New Zealand is best experienced by camping. Wether you’re in a camper van or tent doesn’t matter, it’s just that the most beautiful spots in New Zealand are often just the campgrounds along the way.   Check out this related post if you’re considering camping on your 3 week New Zealand road trip.

  • Tips for Camping in New Zealand
  • Deals on kayak/cruise excursions on Milford Sound
  • How to Backpack the Routeburn Track  
  • Things to Consider Before Booking a Trip to New Zealand
  • Backpacking the Copland Track  
  • 7 Stops You Must See on the West Coast of New Zealand  
  • Biking or hiking the 85km-long Old Ghost Road trail
  • 3 Day Backpacking Itinerary For Abel Tasman
  • 7 Things to Do in Raglan
  • 5 Reasons to visit Wanaka
  • Franz Josef heli-hiking tours/deals
  • Tips for camping in New Zealand

Got questions about a New Zealand road trip? We’ll answer them in the comments section below!

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mountainjillian

Thursday 6th of August 2020

Hi! Love this itinerary and have been dreaming of travel so much lately. How old were your kids when you did this trip? It's a lot of hiking and I am just curious. We only have a 3 year old right now so anything like this is WAAAYYYYY down the road but we live in Colorado and are raising a very active little one. Just wondering how many years I probably have to wait to do something like this (I know it's many years out!)

Hey! On that trip my husband stayed back in the car often with our youngest who was 7 at the time but my 10 year old did most of the hikes. Tongarriro was his favorite. The whole fam did Abel Tasman and I think if you carried all the gear, you could get an adventurous 5 year old to do it in small chunks of 4-6 miles a day. There were a lot of campgrounds.

Paul Atwell

Wednesday 6th of March 2019

Hi! Just found your 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary. What month of the year did you take your trip? I'm planning a 3 week trip in May and struggling with finding out what will still be doable that time of the year.

We took this trip in late February and early March. I think a lot of this itinerary will still be doable in the New Zealand's fall it will just be a little bit rainier than summer, though New Zealand is rainy no matter what time of year you visit. It will really only be the high elevation places where you'll have to be concerned about weather. You could definitely still visit Mount Cook but there's a chance snow could prevent you from hiking. You will be able to partake in all activities in areas like Abel Tasman, the West Coast, Raglan, and Rotorua. If you go at that time I'd definitely just be prepared to skip out on a few high elevation hikes if the weather is too bad and if there's be sure to pack lots of rain gear.

14 Tips For Planning Your First Road Trip • Nomads With A Purpose

Sunday 27th of May 2018

[…] Related Blog: 3 Week Road trip through New Zealand […]

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The ultimate 3 week south island new zealand itinerary.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Hello and welcome to the Ultimate 3 Week South Island, New Zealand Itinerary ! I’m so excited you’re considering a three week (or longer) journey to the bottom of the world. The South Island was my home for five months in 2018, and where I think I’ll eventually end up living.

I love this island and know you will too. The itinerary is fast paced and we will circle the entire island, but feel free to slow things down and cut out a destination or two. If you’ve already checked out my Ultimate 2 Week South Island, New Zealand Itinerary , you’ll see a lot of repeat information.

You’ll also see, however, recommendations for some very off-the-beaten-path destinations . These are destinations that don’t get nearly as many visitors as Milford Sound or Wanaka, but still have charm and beauty. Off-the-beaten-path destinations like the Catlins and Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula are some of my favourite places.

So without further ado, let’s get moving!

new zealand trip 3 weeks

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support is much appreciated! You can learn more by reading my full disclosure .

How to Get Around & Where to Stay

Getting here.

In this guide, we’re going to make a big loop around the island by starting and ending in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island. Christchurch has frequent flights to and from Auckland, and there are even some direct flights to Australia.

Getting Around

Although it is possible to get by hitchhiking and using public transport, I wouldn’t recommend doing this. By renting a car or camper van you’ll have significantly more freedom to explore destinations off the main highways.

Accommodation

There are a quite a few options for accommodation in the South Island, depending on your budget and desired comfort level.

  • Camper Van : Portable and (potentially) very cozy, more expensive than renting a car and also a bit more expensive for gas. The easiest way to find one that meets your needs and budget is to use Camper Van Finder .
  • Car Camping : There are a lot of campsite around New Zealand that you can access with a car, all you need is a tent!
  • Hostels : Both cities and smaller towns have hostels, which are comfortable and range in price (typically between $25 and $40 NZD for a dorm bed). However, this isn’t the case in some of the really small destinations. I typically used Hostel World to find and compare options.
  • Airbnb : This was my favourite option, because my boyfriend and I loved meeting Kiwis and getting their recommendations. Plus it’s cheaper than a hostel if you have two people (rooms were as low as $35 NZD for a night, but we typically paid around $50 for the two of us).
  • Hotels : There are plenty of options for hotels, but we typically didn’t stay in them because they were the most expensive option and we liked to have our own kitchen. In the few cases we did stay in hotel, I found Booking.com the most helpful.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

3 Week South Island New Zealand Itinerary

In this itinerary, you will swim with dolphins and kayak with seals, go on day hikes and maybe even try out an overnight hike or two. You’ll visit all the main destinations and towns like Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown and Wanaka, but also relax in Akaroa and watch the sunrises on the east coast, take surf lessons and boat cruises.

If three weeks feels a bit too long, I also have a 2 Week South Island Itinerary and my friend Caroline at CK Travels has written a good one-week itinerary for Christchurch to Queenstown .

Day 1-2: Whale Watching & Swimming with Dolphins in Kaikoura

You’ll land in Christchurch, pick up your rental car or camper van and get on the road to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a three hour drive north from Christchurch and situated on the east coast.

Compared to Milford Sound or Wanaka, very few people go to Kaikoura. I’d argue that the opportunity to swim with dolphins in the wild, out in the open ocean, makes Kaikoura worth the effort.

That being said, if you choose to include this in your itinerary, it’ll still be a relatively quick stop. There’s just so much to do in the South Island.

Things to do in Kaikoura

If you arrive in the afternoon : Stiff from the flight and driving? Stretch your legs with a little hike at Mount Fyffe . There are four options: a 45 min, 1 hour 45 min, 8 hour and 2-3 day routes.

Alternatively, you could go whale watching (the most popular activity in Kaikoura though I’d recommend snorkeling with dolphins over whale watching).

You can either take a whale watching cruise or go whale flight-seeing (plus get an incredibly view of the mountains). I did the flight-seeing over the cruise.

In the early evening: Walk along the Kaikoura Peninsula for some beautiful mountain and ocean views. (Here you can find my complete list of recommendations for Kaikoura ). You will probably see some seals lounging on the boardwalk.

In the morning: Go snorkelling with dolphins – this is an absolute must-do; it is easily one of the best experiences of my life. The best part is that you’re out in the ocean with WILD dolphins, not dolphins held in captivity. You’ll want to book with Dolphin Encounter in advance. The groups are small and they book up quickly.

In the afternoon : Unfortunately we don’t have much time in Kaikoura and already have to get back on the road – it’s a four hour drive to our next destination (the entire trip won’t be like this, I’m just front-loading most of the long drives for you).

Speaking of your next destination, you’ll be going to Abel Tasman National Park! This is another destination often left off South Island, New Zealand itineraries because it’s far away from Milford Sound and Wanaka.

It isn’t far away from Kaikoura though, so we’re making a stop! You won’t actually be staying in the National Park, but there are plenty of options for accommodation in the towns outside the park.

We stayed at this Airbnb and it is in the top two best Airbnbs of my life (mostly because the place is beautiful and the host is incredibly interesting and friendly).

Night 1: Kaikoura

Night 2: Motueka (the main town outside of Abel Tasman)

Day 3-4: Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is best viewed from the water. I’d highly recommend doing a combined boat-kayak tour to get the most out of the park. If the conditions are right, you may be able to kayak into a secret harbor of baby sea lions.

Things to do in Abel Tasman National Park

In the evening: Check into your hotel or Airbnb, grab some dinner and relax a little. Today will be a full day!

On the first day : Take a full day kayak and boat cruise . Kayaking is the best way to enjoy the park. The reason I like the combined kayak and boat cruise is that the cruise takes you further away from the town and into the heart of the park, and then you can kayak into the areas the cruise boat can’t access.

I’d highly recommend the tour that includes Shag Harbour, where the baby seals play. At the strong recommendation of my Airbnb host, I went with Kaiteriteri Kayaks and had an amazing time.

On the second day : Today let’s do some hiking. Abel Tasman National Park has many options for hiking, but I recommend choosing one of the Totaranui walks as these bring you up close with Abel Tasman’s sprawling golden sand and prehistoric jungle.

If you want to get up early, you could do to 5.5 hour trek from Gibbs Hill to Whariwharangi. Otherwise you could choice from a variety of shorter 1-2 hour hikes.

If you want to slow things down : You could either hike in the morning and leave Abel Tasman in the afternoon / evening for your next destination, or you could relax in the park and Moteuka and get moving in the morning. Either works in this itinerary!

2 Nights in Motueka or 1 Night in Motueka & 1 Night on the West Coast

Day 5-7: Drive the West Coast & Visit Glaciers

After Abel Tasman, you’ll make your way to the west coast. The first part of the drive is through the mountains to the coast. There aren’t a lot of stops here, but the views are excellent the entire way. Once you’re on the coast, you can refuel / pick up food and supplies in Westport.

Things to do on the West Coast

As you drive south along the west coast, there are a few places worth stopping. The first is Paparoa National Park where you can check out Punakaiki , known as the pancake rocks (30 minutes) and do an easy 1.5 hour walk at the Poporari River.

Continuing south, you can make a stop at Hokitaki Gorge Walk for a quick walk to a beautiful gorge (the track is 650 m each way).

Things to do at Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

The main attractions on the west coast are Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers . The area has some good hiking and the opportunity to go on a heli-hike. Some people find they only need one day at the glaciers, while other people never want to leave.

In the afternoon / early evening : Do the 1.5 hour hike to Lake Matheson , where you’ll see gorgeous mountain reflected in a crystal clear lake. It’s especially beautiful when the sun is going down.

Full day activity : If you are an experienced hiker, you can hike the Alex Knob Track . It takes about 4 hours to reach the summit for a round-trip time of a little under 8 hours (or, almost 9 km each direction). Check out the DOC website for important information regarding safety on the track.

Half day activity : Join a guide heli-hike for the opportunity to see the glacier from the air and then walk on it. It’s pricey ($500) so I didn’t do it, however it’s the top item on my bucket list for the next time I go to the island.

Half day activity : Skydiving  is another activity I haven’t tried myself (it’s also expensive), but if you can afford it, I’ve heard it’s absolutely incredible. I know you can also go skydiving from Queenstown, but I’ve heard it is better at Fox Glacier.

Three Nights: Fox or Franz Josef Glacier area

Day 8-10: Explore Wanaka and Queenstown

Wanaka is a three hour drive from the glaciers and the road takes you through Mount Aspiring National Park. Some things to potentially stop for on the drive:

Things to do around Wanaka

I’ve written an entire post about things to do in Wanaka – here are some of the highlights. On the drive into Wanaka:

  • Blue Pools hike is an easy walk (one hour return trip), but leads to a beautiful swimming spot.
  • Blue Valley Track – I haven’t done this walk, although I’ve heard it’s a nice one. It starts at the car park for the Blue Pools, but continues into the valley. It’s 2-3 hours each way, so do a little research on it before attempting.

Once you’ve arrived in Wanaka, there are a few things I’d recommend doing:

  • Hike Roy’s Peak – this is that iconic hike you see a thousand photos of on Instagram, but it really is a spectacular view. The majority of people only go up as high as the view point (they take that iconic picture and go back down) – don’t do this! Go to the actual top and you get a much better view! And I highly (HIGHLY) recommend hiking Roys Peak for sunrise (or sunset).
  • Visit the Wanaka Tree – no trip to New Zealand would be complete with out a visit to that Wanaka Tree.
  • Paddle on Lake Wanaka – in the late spring-autumn, you can rent a kayak or stand up paddle board from the shore.

So I generally recommended Wanaka over Queenstown – I just didn’t like Queenstown that much. That said, everyone else raves about it so definitely worth checking out if you have extra time. (I actually spent so little time in Queenstown, I wouldn’t feel good giving you recommendations. Check out my friend Aimee’s post on 24 Hours in Queenstown if you want a complete download on what there is to do!)

Three Nights: Wanaka and/or Queenstown

Day 11-13: Kayaking and hiking in Fiordland National Park

Fiordland (home to Milford Sound) is probably the most popular destination in the South Island. From Queenstown, it’s a two hour drive to Te Anau.

Once you reach Te Anau, it’s another two hour drive to Milford Sound, however there are plenty of places to stop along the way (for views, not for services – fill up on gas ahead of time!). You also have the option to take a shuttle bus from Te Anau to Milford Sound because in the summer the drive can get quite congested.

I’d recommend spending a night at Gunn’s Camp, rather than at a campsite, located along the drive from Te Anau and Milford Sound. It’s pricier (we paid $70 for a cabin), but I think it’s very worth it. You’re cozy, right on the river and the couple who runs the place are so friendly and interesting. For your second night, stay in the Milford Sound lodge (a dorm bed is $40 NZD – just make sure you book early). This way, you’re close to Milford Sound to catch the sunrise and/or sunset.

Things to do in Fiordland National Park

Many of the hikes in my Best Hikes in South Island New Zealand are in Fiordland. This area is just so incredible for hiking!

Half day activity : Hike to Lake Marian (3 hours). This is best done on a clear day, otherwise you won’t see any of the view at the top (which happened to me). Here’s a really good guide for what to expect on the Lake Marian hike .

Half day activity : Hike to Key Summit (3 hours) – this trek is also best done on a clear day.

Half day activity : Join a Boat Cruise through the Milford Sound. This is the best way to explore the entire fiord.

  • Go kayaking in the fiord  – this was one of the highlights of Milford Sound for me.
  • If you have more time, you can go to Doubtful Sound for an overnight kayak trip or overnight boat cruise . I haven’t done either of these, but my friends who have highly recommended them.

Three Nights: Milford Sound

Day 14-15: Waterfalls and more in The Catlins

Here is where the two itineraries deviate. In the 2 Week South Island, New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary , you drive directly to Mount Cook after Fiordland. However since you have more time we’re going to make stops in Southland and Otago.

After leaving Milford Sound and Te Anau, drive south to The Catlins (I have a guide to visiting the Catlins for more info). The drive from Milford South to the Catlins is 4 hours, so I’d recommend leaving Milford in the morning, driving to the Catlins, do some exploring and then spend the night in the area.

The next day you can do a little more exploring in the Catlins before moving on. There are dozens of places to explore in the Catlins, and I’ve spent my fair share of time in this area. This map  outlines all of the possible destinations you could visit, but here are the ones I’d most recommend.

  • Cathedral Caves – When the tide is in, these caves are underwater. But when the tide goes out, you can walk in and around the caves. Be sure the check the website for tide times in advance though – you don’t want to show up and learn the caves are underwater! There is a small park fee (something like $5 NZD).
  • Waterfalls –  There are a number of nice waterfalls in the Catlins region (Purakaunui and McLean Falls are my favourite).
  • Nugget Point – This place is especially beautiful at sunrise, but worth a stop any time of day (see below). The lighthouse is a 25 minute walk from the car park on a very easy and well maintains trail.

I’d recommend either camping at Purakaunui Bay or in the town of Owaka.

Night: The Catlins

Day 16: Beaches in Dunedin

A little north of The Catlins is the town of Dunedin, my home for five months in 2018. While many people glass over the town, I think there are many great things to do in Dunedin .

Things to do in Dunedin

In the early morning :  Tunnel Beach is my favorite place in Dunedin to catch a sunrise. From the car park, it’s a twenty minute walk down to the view point (which is really pretty) and you can walk over this land bridge and stare out into the ocean. What gives tunnel beach its name however is that you can go through an actual tunnel to get from the cliff shores to a secret little beach.

In the morning : Dunedin has some of the best surfing in New Zealand, and St Clair Beach is a great place to take some surf lessons. If you’re more into lounging on your own secluded beach, Aramoana is personal favourite of mine.

In the afternoon : Drive out to the Otago Peninsula. It has a few great walks, like Lover’s Leap. I’d also recommend going to Sandfly Bay if you want to try spotting some sea lions (remember to stay at least 10 meters away from them).

If you have extra time : As this itinerary is already full of so many things to do, I’ve only left one day in Dunedin but I think two full days would be perfect. Here you can find a complete list of my recommendations for things to do in Dunedin .

One Night: Dunedin

East Coast Sunrises

And since you’re spending time on the East Coast again, I’d highly recommend getting up early each day to catch the sunrise (even if it means going back to bed afterwards). Here are some of my favourite destinations for sunrises (plus Nugget Point as mentioned above).

Day 17-19: Hike in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

After some time in Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula, drive from Dunedin to Mount Cook. I would highly recommend driving the route that takes you through the town of Alexandra.

I’ve done the Dunedin-Mount Cook drive many, many times and this is by far the most scenic route. It takes a little longer than shooting up the east coast to Timaru, but it is such a nicer drive.

Things to do at Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

  • Take a driving break at Lake Pukaki – there are beautiful views here.
  • Check out the Tasman Glacier  – To be honest, everyone says to do this walk (it’s only an hour return) but I didn’t find the view that nice. It’s not much of a time investment, so I guess it’s worth checking out, I just didn’t love it myself.
  • Hike the Hooker Valley Track  – This is a three hour walk, but a very easy one with little elevation change. It gives you beautiful views of Aoraki/Mount Cook, Mueller Glacier and Hooker Lake.
  • If you have time for an overnight hike, go to Meuller Hut (only feasible in the late spring-early fall). It’s a challenging hike, so important to be prepared (I recommend reading this detailed post by We12Travel for how to prepare).

You can camp in the park or there are hotels/inns near the park. Three Nights: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park area

Day 20-21: Wander Lake Tekapo, Christchurch and Akaroa

From Mount Cook National Park it’s a four to five hour drive to Christchurch. Make sure you stop by Lake Tekapo on the way.

  • Lake Tekapo – Wonderful lake to make a stop at and take some pictures. If you’re visiting about November, you’ll have the chance to see the beautiful purple lupins. You can also stop by the photogenic Church of the Good Shepard.

Christchurch has some nearby hikes and so many great restaurants or check out the International Antarctic Center which was so cool. A very underrated destination is, in my opinion, Akaroa. Akaroa, meaning “long harbour”, is a little town outside of Christchurch on the Pacific Coast. 

I will admit that after the dramatic scenery of Milford Sound and Mount Cook (and even Dunedin and the Catlins), Akaroa will feel pretty anti-climatic. There aren’t mountains or stunning beaches or anything.

What I like about Akaroa is that it’s a great place to really slow things down and relax a little. Have you ever ended a vacation that was so much go-go-go that you need a vacation afterwards? I have, so I like to spend two days at the end of a trip just chilling before I have to travel again.

And Akaroa is great for this. There are cute shops and some good places to eat and nice cafes. You can take a boat cruise along the entire length of the harbour and see seals and sea lions and albatross.

Although, if you do want a little bit of adventure, the Banks Track is a nice three day hiking trip from Onuku to Akaroa.

Two Nights: Akaroa or Christchurch

Bonus: Stewart Island

I unfortunately didn’t make it to Stewart Island during my time in New Zealand, in a guide claiming to be the ‘ Ultimate South Island, New Zealand Itinerary’ I’d be doing you a disservice to not at least mention it at.

Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island (New Zealand has three islands? Yeah, I didn’t know either). Stewart Island is considerably smaller and almost entirely protected as a National Park/nature reserve. I can’t speak to what you should do or how long you should visit, since I haven’t been there myself, but keep it in mind when you’re planning your trip.

Additional Resources

What to pack to survive a new zealand winter (it’s colder than you think), south island, new zealand: the ultimate 2 week road trip itinerary.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Mikaela | Voyageur Tripper

Mikaela has been canoeing, hiking and camping for over ten years. She previously worked as a canoeing guide in Canada, and spent a season guiding hiking and kayaking tours in the high Arctic. Mikaela is a Wilderness First Responder and Whitewater Rescue Technician.

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New Zealand Discovery Tour Tour

New Zealand Discovery Tour

I have just returned from the most fantastic time in beautiful New Zealand. Departing for the 24 Day New Zealand Discovery Tour on December 23rd 2017, little did I know what was ahead of me. From day one, I was quickly immersed in the New Zealand culture, landscape and stories of its history and current stance on the environment, politics, social, economical and humanitarian pathways. This was all thanks to Robbie our wonderful guide. Starting as a group of 16 for the Northern Trail and ending as a group of 9 of us who completed the whole 24 Day Tour, Robbie was incredibly organised, highly energetic, always on point and patient (mostly with the playlists we forced him to listen to on our drives, along with our incredibly high end singing and professional harmonizing to such playlists). His knowledge of New Zealand is outstanding, including his answers for the random, insignificant little queries we threw his way (sometimes just to test him) as well as his 'typical' Kiwi humour which was refreshing. Robbie made the tour one of a kind and as I am someone who travels alone a lot of the time as I do not enjoy group tours, this was of great importance. The tour itinerary has been well thought out and although I do wish we stayed multiple evenings at some locations as there was simply too much to do in one day, this gives me a great opportunity to return and continue to discover the delights of the places I felt a connection to...perhaps even as a part of another Wild Kiwi tour. If there was anything to 'complain' about it would be that there is a lot of driving as we did need to cover a huge amount of land in a short period of time however, these long drives also allowed us to stop off at little spots to stretch our legs and have the opportunity to check out little hidden gems of the country that I most certainly would have missed if I wasn't travelling with Wild Kiwi. They also gave us the time to get to know each other and get creative with conversations. Most importantly, the people this tour attracted were the most wonderful travel companions. I think the target demographic that Wild Kiwi markets to is completely on point. I have met some incredibly fascinating characters who I will most certainly remain friends with for years to come. It was quite surprising to me how quickly we all bonded and although it was 24 days in each others pockets, I have left feeling like I've known most for a lifetime. If you are an avid traveler who is a little skeptical about touring with a group of people, I would highly suggest you look into touring with Wild Kiwi. The small group numbers, organisation of the company keeping you updated with the tour planning and any changes to schedules as well as the personal approach taken by the company and guides makes everything a breeze. If you don't have time to plan a trip yourself but need to get away, Wild Kiwi are your go to for this. The planning was seamless and for the first time ever, I didn't have to stress about making time to plan a trip that I know I will love, it was done for me. Thank you to Robbie and the Wild Kiwi crew for a fantastic adventure and for sharing your spectacular land with me. I'll be back!

New Zealand By Train, Bus & Ferry Tour

New Zealand By Train, Bus & Ferry

Premium New Zealand Encompassed (12 destinations) Tour

  • Sightseeing

Premium New Zealand Encompassed (12 destinations)

New Zealand Uncovered (Northbound) Tour

New Zealand Uncovered (Northbound)

NEW 21-Day - Grand Kiwi Experience Tour

NEW 21-Day - Grand Kiwi Experience

  • 10% deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

Spirit of New Zealand (2024/2025, 21 Days) Tour

Spirit of New Zealand (2024/2025, 21 Days)

  • €100 deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

Legendary New Zealand Tour

Legendary New Zealand

New Zealand Uncovered Tour

  • In-depth Cultural

New Zealand Uncovered

Great tour. Amazing tourguides.
  • €75 deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

Legendary NZ Tour Tour

Legendary NZ Tour

Burto made what would have been a good tour into an absolutely incredible and unforgettable experience! Legend!

New Zealand Winter Wonders in reverse Tour

New Zealand Winter Wonders in reverse

New Zealand Winter Wonders Tour

New Zealand Winter Wonders

Remarkable New Zealand - 20 days Tour

Remarkable New Zealand - 20 days

New Zealand Explorer Tour

New Zealand Explorer

Very good programme well balanced between visiting cities, coast outings, boat trips, and forests and lakes walk

Walking in New Zealand Tour

  • Hiking & Trekking

Walking in New Zealand

It may be useful if you were to recalibrate the definitions of "easy" and "moderate" walks. The Tongariro Crossing was labelled as "not easy", which, given the terrain and the unpredictability of the potential weather conditions, is something of an understatement. More emphasis on the level of clothing and the likelihood of sub-zero temperatures at the summit coupled with a significant wind-chill factor would have been beneficial.

Reviews of 3 Week New Zealand Tours

My 3-week trip to New Zealand was fantastic! We saw a lot of the country, even though it was during Christmas and New Year's. Some activities weren't available due to the holidays, but our guides, Ben and Tegan, made sure we had a great time regardless. Ben and Tegan were amazing, sharing interesting facts about New Zealand and keeping the trip fun. The tour offered good value, with nice accommodations (except for one place in Rotorua) and enjoyable included activities. Just keep in mind the cost of optional activities when planning your budget. Also, expect some long drives. Being at the back of the bus can make it hard to see the scenery. Overall, the trip was memorable, thanks to the careful planning and the effort of our guides to ensure we didn't miss out on the fun, despite the holiday season.

Regions in New Zealand

  • New Zealand South Island (24)
  • New Zealand North Island (7)
  • Milford Sound (10)
  • Aoraki Mount Cook (5)

Other Regions in New Zealand

  • New Zealand South Island 10 day Tours (43)
  • New Zealand South Island 2 week Tours (43)
  • New Zealand South Island 7 day Tours (41)
  • New Zealand North Island 10 day Tours (26)
  • New Zealand South Island 3 week Tours (25)
  • New Zealand North Island 7 day Tours (23)
  • New Zealand Central North Island 10 day Tours (21)
  • New Zealand North Island 2 week Tours (14)
  • New Zealand Central North Island 7 day Tours (11)
  • Milford Sound 10 day Tours (11)
  • Milford Sound 3 week Tours (11)
  • Milford Sound 2 week Tours (9)
  • Otago 7 day Tours (8)
  • New Zealand South Island 3 day Tours (7)
  • New Zealand North Island 3 week Tours (7)
  • Milford Sound 7 day Tours (7)
  • New Zealand Travel Guide | All You Need to Know
  • Best 2 Week New Zealand Itineraries 2024/2025 (with Reviews)
  • Best 3 Week New Zealand Itineraries 2024/2025 (with Reviews)

International Versions

  • Deutsch: 3 Wochen Neuseeland Rundreisen
  • Français: Circuits Nouvelle-Zélande de 3 Semaines
  • Español: Circuitos por Nueva Zelanda de 3 Semanas
  • Nederlands: 3-Weekse rondreis Nieuw-Zeeland

Wanderful Stories.

Lindis Pass NZ

3 weeks on the South Island of New Zealand: the ultimate road trip itinerary

  • April 10, 2020
  • Itinerary , New Zealand , South Island

There’s nothing I love more than hopping in a car and just driving around a country. Seeing nature flash by through the car window, driving from one amazing sight to the next… it’s the best! One place that is particularly great for this kind of adventure, is the South Island of New Zealand. So, if you’ve always wanted to travel to this beautiful place and love a good road trip, you’re in luck! Today I’m sharing my ultimate 3-week South Island road trip itinerary.

In this itinerary, you’ll find both the greatest highlights and the hidden gems of New Zealand, that are often missed by tourists. I’ve traveled around the South Island 3 times now and made sure every single one of my favorite places is included in this itinerary. So, you don’t have to miss out on anything!

Overview: 3 week South Island road trip itinerary

  • About the itinerary : how to get around | time customization | budget tips
  • Week 1 : Kaikoura | Blenheim & Picton | Abel Tasman | Golden Bay | Punakaiki | Arthur’s Pass
  • Week 2 : Franz Josef & Fox glaciers | Wanaka | Queenstown | Milford Sound
  • Week 3 : The Catlins | Lake Pukaki | Mt. Cook | Lake Tekapo | Christchurch
  • Tips for your road trip : where to stay | where to eat | where to shop | weather

About the itinerary

Before jumping in, let’s have a look at ways you can customize the itinerary to fit your stay and budget.

How to get around on the South Island

This itinerary is a road trip itinerary – I’ve created it for you to have your own amazing road trip adventure. I’ve always traveled around New Zealand with my own car and I can’t recommend it enough. It gives you so much freedom! Besides, driving in the gorgeous New Zealand nature is an incredible experience on its own.

You can get a rental car or van, but you can also buy your own backpacker car if you’re in the country for a long time. Getting and driving a car is super easy in New Zealand, lots of tourists do it. Just make sure to stick to the left side of the road, though. 😉

Not a fan of driving yourself? Find the type of transport that’s right for you and simply adjust the itinerary a bit!

Customize the itinerary

Got more or less time no problem.

I created this South Island road trip itinerary for 3 weeks, simply because I think it’s the perfect amount of time to see the island’s major highlights without having to rush. However, it’s very easy to adjust this itinerary, depending on how much time you’ve got:

  • 1 week – limit your road trip to a certain part of the island, e.g. the upper or lower half. See what you love most and come back another time for the rest.
  • 2 weeks – try and see if you can skip a few highlights or combine them, by spending less time on each. Think about what kind of adventures you love most (e.g., nature, cities, hiking) and focus on those.
  • 4 or more weeks – I’ve added extra dark blue markers on the map below. These are other things I love on the South Island, so you can easily add them to your itinerary!

How to make the road trip happen with a small budget

Unfortunately, New Zealand isn’t a cheap country to travel in. But don’t worry! Even if you’re budget is a little smaller than you’d like, you can still have an amazing trip. Luckily, there are lots of ways to fully customize your South Island trip to your budget. First of all, lots of the best highlights you’ll find in this itinerary are totally free to visit. And even better, there are lots of ways to save money during your travels.

Check out these resources I wrote if you want to know more about keeping the costs of your trip low :

  • 15 x the best free things to do on the South Island
  • 25 easy ways to travel New Zealand on a budget

3 weeks on the South Island: the ultimate road trip itinerary

This itinerary starts in Christchurch, the biggest city in the east of the island. It’s the place where most travelers begin their trip, after flying to the big international airport.

Arriving on the South Island by ferry? You’ll arrive in Picton, in the northeast of the island. You can just as easily start off in Picton (day 2) and catch up on the rest in the end.

Now, let’s jump straight into this 3 week South Island road trip itinerary!

Day 1: Christchurch – Kaikoura – Blenheim

Driving time: 2h 25m in the morning + 1h 40m in the afternoon Total distance: 310 km (192 miles)

The first day starts off with a trip past the beautiful southeast coast.

First, make your way to the little seaside town of Kaikoura . This town is famous for its incredible sea life population and wildlife spotting. It is the perfect place to see lots of dolphins , swimming and jumping just off the coast. While you drive near or in the town, keep an eye out for any dolphins near the coast. There are lots of places you can stop your car and admire the dolphins in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky and visiting at the right time of year, you may even be able to spot whales!

After your wildlife spotting adventures, find a lunch spot in Kaikoura. It’s the perfect place if you love seafood, but the town also offers many other options. Then drive further to the Marlborough region.

Stop and stay for the night in the city of Blenheim . It’s a relatively big city that’s at the heart of the Marlborough wine region and gives you a perfect starting point for tomorrow’s adventures.

Day 2: Blenheim & Picton

Driving time: 2 x 25 mins Total distance: 55 km (34 miles) Added time + distance depending on your activities

Today, it’s time to explore the region of Marlborough. This area is well known for two things: world-famous wine and the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds.

Morning: explore the Marlborough Sounds

First off, head over to Picton, the harbor town in the midst of the Marlborough Sounds. The Sounds are sunken river valleys that form the most beautiful South Island coastline. Picton is a perfect starting point to explore them. I’d recommend just taking your car and start driving. The winding roads will take you deeper and deeper into the stunning and deserted landscape. This local secret is something that tourists don’t often do, but it honestly is one of the most gorgeous experiences of New Zealand.

During this road adventure, you can park your car near any viewpoint and explore the area. Find hidden gems, short hikes and small beaches along the coast (but be careful, because a lot of it is privately owned by families).

Afternoon & evening: wine tasting

In the afternoon, it’s time to enjoy the best wine New Zealand has to offer. From Picton, make your way back to Blenheim. The vineyards surrounding the city offer wine tastings that are often cheap or even totally free. I’d highly recommend visiting Cloudy Bay . It’s a gorgeous estate with incredible wines – lots of their wines are hand-picked ( helped by me, haha! ). Cloudy Bay offers tastings ranging from $10 to $25 per person.

Not a wine lover? Neither am I! It’s still worth visiting a vineyard, though, because it’s such a big part of New Zealand culture and export. If you really want to avoid everything wine-related, simply spend more time in the gorgeous Sounds & Picton!

Day 3: Blenheim – Nelson – Abel Tasman

Driving time: 1h 30m in the morning + 2h 30m in the afternoon Total distance: 250 km (155 miles)

After a day full of exploration (and wine), it’s time to get back on the road. Start driving along the north coast, heading for Nelson .

Make a stop in Nelson for a little break. Stretch your legs or grab lunch in a local cafe. Some of Nelson’s highlights include a quick walk to the geographical Centre of New Zealand (with some amazing views) or a visit to Jens Hansen, the ring maker of the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings.

The final stop of the day is the Abel Tasman region . Here, you can do lots of incredible activities, from hiking part of the incredible Coast Track (recommended!) to renting a kayak. But that’s for tomorrow! Today, I’d recommend visiting a local i-site to find out which activity you’d love to do the most in this incredible park. They are happy to give you a map of the region or map out a hike for you. Spend the night in a place close to the starting point of your Abel Tasman adventures, so you can enjoy a full day in the incredible National Park tomorrow.

Day 4: Abel Tasman National Park

No driving required (depending on activities)

Today is a full day to explore and enjoy the incredible Abel Tasman National Park. This park is known for a gorgeous tropical setting. You can find beaches everywhere in the park. Some are immense while others are tiny hidden gems.

How you want to spend your day in the park is totally up to you! Personally, I can really recommend hiking part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. You don’t have to be super fit, but it’s good to take into account that it is quite uphill. Other incredible Abel Tasman activities include renting a kayak, going on a boat trip or exploring the park by bike. You can also go snorkeling or skydiving even!

If you liked your accommodation of the night before, simply head back there for tonight. There’s no driving involved today!

Day 5: Abel Tasman – Golden Bay – Richmond

Driving time: about 1h 50m in the morning + 2h 25m in the afternoon Total distance: about 225 km (140 miles) Time + distance depend on your Abel Tasman accommodation

On the morning of day 5, make your way out of Abel Tasman by heading up north to Golden Bay . Golden Bay is the northernmost area of the South Island and home to incredible nature and far-stretched beaches.

Though there are many gorgeous places to visit in the Golden Bay area, I’d recommend heading towards Wharariki Beach . This beach is one of my all-time favorite places in all of New Zealand! Oh, and if you visit in summer, you may even be able to spot lots of baby seals playing around in the puddles of ocean water. If you want to know when & where to go, you can read all about that here.

Depending on how long you want to spend on Wharariki Beach, you can further explore Golden Bay before heading back down south. Drive for about 2,5 hours back, past Abel Tasman National Park to Richmond . This city is a great spot to get groceries or other items you may need and spend the night before heading south in the morning.

Day 6: Richmond – Punakaiki

Driving time: 3h 30m Total distance: 250 km (155 miles)

In the morning, make your way down south through forests and mountains, until you finally meet the sea. The winding roads along the west coast of the island make for incredible sightseeing. Honestly, simply driving and enjoying the still nature is one of my all-time favorite things to do in New Zealand.

After about 3,5 hours you’ll reach Punakaiki , a little coastal town. Here, you’ll find the famous Pancake Rocks and the blowholes in between them. The rock formations are named after their layered appearance, created by thousands of years of rain, wind and ocean water. The Pancake Rocks are located right on the side of the road. Opposite it, you can browse a gift store or visit a cafe. You won’t find a whole lot of buildings, but the area is great for outdoor activities.

Besides the Rocks, I also loved visiting Punakaiki Beach . I stumbled upon it during an evening run from our campsite and was in awe by the far-reaching, totally deserted beach. It was incredible and I still remember the beach fondly. Punakaiki offers a few accommodation options, so spend the rest of the day enjoying the outdoors and incredible nature before heading off to bed.

Day 7: Punakaiki – Arthur’s Pass

Driving time: 1h 55m Total distance: 140 km (87 miles)

Although you’ve only just reached the west coast, today is all about making a little detour back inland before heading back out again. From Punakaiki, drive to Arthur’s Pass National Park . Arthur’s Pass is a gorgeous park that – in my opinion – is really underrated by most visitors.

If you love hiking, you’re gonna love Arthurs Pass. There are lots of hikes you can do , totally depending on your level of fitness and the time you want to spend being active. Upon arrival in the park, I’d recommend visiting the local i-site. Arthur’s Pass is not big, so it won’t be hard to find.

Despite its small size, Arthur’s Pass does have some accommodation options for you to stay the night.

Day 8: Arthur’s Pass – Franz Josef

Driving time: 3h 5m Total driving distance: 235 km (146 miles)

It’s time to start the second week of the South Island road trip itinerary, which includes some of the island’s top highlights. Hop in the car in the morning and leave Arthur’s Pass National Park. Upon arrival in Franz Josef , you can choose to explore the area, hike for a little bit or just take some time to relax.

The ‘free’ afternoon also provides a great opportunity to book any special activities you want to do in the area. The glaciers offer incredible opportunities to splurge a little if your budget allows it. I took a helicopter flight over both glaciers when my mom was visiting, which was such a cool thing to share with her. Read all about that awesome experience here!

Good to know: the glacier areas are pretty popular with tourists, so if you’re planning on doing anything special, you may want to plan it a little ahead of time. (The same goes for accommodation if you’re traveling in peak season.)

Day 9: Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers

No driving required

Today is all about visiting the incredible glaciers of New Zealand.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around in Europe quite a bit in my younger years, so I’ve seen more than a few glaciers in my life. However, none of them were like these! What makes the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier so special is that they’re located in a tropical setting. For example, along the Franz Josef Glacier Walk will have you stroll through a rainforest one minute and spot the glacier the next. Seriously, I still can’t get over how diverse this country is!

There are lots of things to do in the area. For example, if you love to walk, pick a trail near Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier . While you’re there, see if you can spot the Kea – the unique New Zealand alpine parrot that’s mainly found in the southern part of the South Island. If you want to splurge a bit, go for a helicopter ride or get a guided hiking adventure on the glacier. Absolutely amazing for the daredevils!

After your day full of activities, spend one more night in the same accommodation.

South Island road trip itinerary

Day 10: Franz Josef – Wanaka

Driving time: 3h 55m Total distance: 285 km (177 miles)

Start your day with a drive into the southern region of the South Island, toward the lovely town of Wanaka . During my trip, I stayed in Wanaka a bit longer than expected, because I had to arrange some practical stuff for my Working Holiday . And I completely fell in love with the town! It’s similar to the famous Queenstown (which you’ll visit next) but less touristic.

While you’re in Wanaka, there are several things you can do. Visit one of the well-known photography spots in the town, such as the jetty or the world-famous Wanaka Tree . Most of all, though, I’d really, really recommend doing a hike. The Wanaka region is absolutely gorgeous and there are lots of incredible hikes you can do.

My personal favorite is Roys Peak – it’s one of New Zealand’s most popular hikes and for good reason. Go late in the afternoon to watch a gorgeous sunset – check out my experience and the incredible views here ! It’s important to make sure to bring a headlamp to find your way back down to your car, to drive back to your accommodation for the night.

Day 11 & 12: Wanaka – Queenstown

Driving time: 1h 5m on day 11, no driving required on day 12 Total distance: 65 km (40 miles)

In the morning, drive from Wanaka to Queenstown. It’s a relatively short but just as beautiful drive through stunning landscapes.

Queenstown is one of the most incredible and beautiful towns on the entire island , so I’d recommend spending two whole days here. You’re gonna love the vibe this little town has! There are a lot of different things to do, so there’s something for everyone!

Things I love to do when in Christchurch:

  • Stroll through the local market
  • Take the gondola up to the Skyline Queenstown complex for incredible views over the town
  • Grab a coffee or ice cream at one of the lovely cafes
  • Drive up to Glenorchy (best place for an incredible sunset!)
  • Chill at the waterfront
  • Grab a (veggie) burger at the famous Fergburger
  • Go hiking. I loved the challenging but incredible Ben Lomond hike .

Daredevil? If you want to include a bit more adventure into your South Island road trip itinerary, Queenstown is the place to be! You can do any extreme sport you can possibly imagine, from skydiving and bungee jumping to all kinds of water activities – and much more! I’d recommend booking your activities a little bit ahead, to make sure you can enjoy them on the dates that suit you.

Queenstown is a popular town, so you’ll find lots of stores, shops and big supermarkets. There’s also plenty of accommodation. I’d book ahead of time, especially during peak season.

View over Queenstown

Day 13: Queenstown – Fiordland National Park

Driving time: 3h 45m Total driving distance: 285 km (177 miles)

Today, you have some more time to enjoy the wonderful vibes of Queenstown . Perhaps you’ve booked an adventure, or maybe you want to stroll past the shops and drink coffee in one of the many waterfront cafes. It’s up to you! When you’re all good to go, start driving towards the west coast, passing Te Anau to enter Fiordland National Park .

Plan your trip to Milford Sound

Tomorrow’s all about exploring Milford Sound, the most famous fjord of the National Park. For this, I recommend booking a cruise (I always go with JUCY , they have fun tours that are budget-friendly). I prefer to take an early morning one (starting at 9 am), so you can avoid the crowds and enjoy the quiet nature. Spend the night as close to Milford Sound as possible, to avoid long drives in the morning.

Important to know: the area between Te Anau and Milford Sound becomes increasingly remote. There are no supermarkets and no gas stations, so make sure to stock up on things you need in Te Anau . Likewise, there is barely any cell reception. Make sure your accommodation and the Milford Sound cruise is booked ahead of time!

South island road trip itinerary

Day 14: Milford Sound – The Catlins

Driving time: 4h 35m Total driving distance: 355 km (220 miles)

In the morning, drive from your accommodation to the Milford Sound jetty. Make sure you leave on time, especially since the tour operators expect you to be there ahead of time and the roads can get busy. Then, enjoy a beautiful cruise along some of the most beautiful fjords in the world! Depending on the time your cruise finished, explore surroundings a bit more by going for a walk through the area.

Customize your fjord experience: if you absolutely love nature and aren’t as much of a town person, I’d recommend spending one less day in Queenstown. Simply start driving towards Fiordland National Park on day 12 and enjoy an additional day in this beautiful world heritage area.

In the early afternoon, drive towards the southeast coast of the island. Upon passing Te Anau, you may want to stock up on food or anything else you need, or grab a coffee or lunch. Then, drive towards The Catlins, a natural area known for its incredible opportunities for wildlife spotting . In the area, you’ll find anything from sea birds and penguins to dolphins and seals.

Penguin spotting

For the evening, find accommodation near the southern border of the Catlins. After checking in, visit Curio Bay . This is the perfect place to spot the endangered yellow-eyed penguin in its natural habitat. I visited a lot of places in The Catlins, but this was the place where penguins were more visible and punctual, haha. Read my experience & tips for spotting yellow-eyed penguins here.

Day 15: The Catlins

Estimated driving time: about 2h, depending on your activities Estimated total distance: about 115 km (71 miles) Time + distance depend on the route of your Catlins activities

At the beginning of the third week of this South Island road trip itinerary, you get to explore some more of the beautiful Catlins!

There are lots of i-sites you can visit for information, but you can also ask your accommodation for a map. If you want to plan ahead of time, check out this online map . It shows the best places to spot different kinds of wildlife, so you can map out exactly where you want to go.

There is one spot I particularly recommend you to visit: Nugget Point. It’s located near the northern border of The Catlins, so it’s the perfect spot to end your Catlins adventure. Stroll from the parking lot to the lighthouse and be in awe by the incredible view. Depending on your time of visit, you can watch an incredible sunset! I’m not sure why, but of all the places I’ve visited in New Zealand, this spot is one of the things that made the greatest impression on me.

In the evening, head back up north to spend the night near Kaka Point.

Day 16: The Catlins – Lake Pukaki

Driving time: 4h 10m – 4h 30m (depending on your route) Total distance: 350-375 km (217-233 miles)

Day 16 of the itinerary is all about making your way up north. You’re driving a significant distance, but luckily there are lots of incredible things to see on the way. Drive from The Catlins, past Cromwell and Omarama, to Twizel until you finally reach Lake Pukaki. I absolutely love Twizel . If you want, stop for coffee or lunch in this lovely little town just south of the lake. However, my favorite part has to be the gorgeous Lindis Pass you’ll encounter on the way – this place is unreal and almost unearthly!

Customize your trip: you can also choose to drive a little more past the southeast coast. Visit Dunedin and see the world’s steepest street. For this, take the following route: Dunedin – Papakaio – Otematata – Omarama – Twizel – Lake Pukaki (4h 30m, 375 km (233 miles).

Tip: stop for groceries somewhere along the way. The shopping opportunities are limited in Twizel and beyond. Upon arrival, you can find accommodation near the town. Or if you prefer in one of the towns along the way, simply drive a little more the next day.

Day 17: Lake Pukaki – Mt. Cook

Driving time: 30m Total distance: 40 km (25 miles)

On day 17, you get to explore the beautiful Lake Pukaki. Along with Lake Tekapo (day 19), it’s my favorite lake on the island. The blue color of the lake is absolutely amazing, unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s unreal! And the best thing? You can do a lot of fun things in the area!

Some must-do activities along the lake are:

  • Go for a hike or walk on one of the great paths in the area
  • Grab some food and have a picnic with the most scenic backdrop ever
  • Visit a lavender farm (open from December to March)

In the late afternoon, head over to Mt. Cook . Drive all the way along Lake Pukaki on what I think is one of the most scenic roads in the entire world. Be in awe by the amazing views as you slowly get closer to Mt. Cook. Watch an incredible sunset and enjoy the rest of the night in accommodation near the mountain.

Day 18: Mt. Cook

Today you get to explore beautiful Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Visiting the mountain is a great way to explore the famous Southern Alps. There are lots of fun things to do in the area. For example, I recommend going for a hike. Yes, again – hiking is just such a fun way to explore the beautiful country! On top of that, New Zealand has lots of well-developed hiking trails, making it accessible for lots of different people.

If you’re looking for a trail that is very accessible, doesn’t require much fitness yet still takes you from one great view to another, the Hooker Valley track may be right for you. It’s absolutely beautiful and brings you quite close to Mt. Cook. Curious? Here, you can read about my experiences and see my pictures . Because it’s quite popular, I’d recommend going early in the morning. If you’re looking for something more challenging or less busy, check out the DOC website for many more trails in the area.

One thing you absolutely cannot miss while you’re in the area, is going out at night for some incredible stargazing. The Lake Pukaki/Mt. Cook area has some of the darkest skies in the world, so it’s perfect for not only seeing starts, but also the Milky Way. It absolutely had me in awe! Other good places for star & Milky Way gazing are Wanaka, Queenstown & Glenorchy and Lake Tekapo.

Day 19: Mt. Cook – Lake Tekapo

Driving time: 1h 15m Total distance: 105 km (65 miles)

In the morning, hop in the car and head from Mt. Cook, past Lake Pukaki, to the next gorgeous lake: Lake Tekapo .

Just as at Lake Pukaki, I’d highly recommend hiking along the lake to take in the beautiful views. If you want, bring some food and drinks: Lake Tekapo is yet another place for a beautiful picnic. If you need to, you can get some groceries in the town.

Another fun thing to do near Lake Tekapo is to head up to the Mt. John observatory . You can drive your car up to the observatory, walk around or have a drink in the cafe. Stop for a minute to take in the amazing views over the area. Oh, and if you’re looking for a really unique experience and want to splurge a bit, look into a summit stargazing experience ! Spend a final night in the New Zealand nature somewhere close to the lake.

Day 20: Lake Tekapo – Christchurch

Driving time: 2h 50m Total distance: 225 km (140 miles)

In the morning, spend a little more time enjoying the incredible views of Lake Tekapo. Then, get back into the car for one last road trip. In about 2,5 hours, head to both the final stop and the beginning point of your South Island trip: Christchurch .

Now, you’re able to explore the city. Christchurch has quite a complicated history, with the 2011 earthquakes destroying a large part of the city and the 2019 terrorist attack shaking up the country. The country has spent a lot of time and energy rebuilding it. Though it was a bit of a ghost town when I visited back in 2015, I really have come to love this city this time around.

If you want to do something fun in the afternoon, you can hop on the Christchurch Gondola for a great view of the city and its surroundings. In the evening, head over to Little High , a local food court. It’s great to mingle with the locals on shared tables, taste every kind of different food you can imagine. Have a few drinks, unwind and look back on your big adventure.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Day 21: Christchurch

The final day of the itinerary has come! Today, you have a little more time to explore Christchurch.

In the morning, I recommend visiting Christchurch’s Botanical Garden . I come here every time I visit the city, it’s wonderful! If you want, pay a visit to the National Earthquake Memorial . It’s quite impactful to see and part of what has come to define the country. In the city center, you can still visit the old cathedral that was largely destroyed by the earthquake. Stroll through the city and take in the vibes as tourists mix with locals.

Finally, head back to your accommodation, start packing up your stuff and get ready for your next adventure or trip back home.

Tips for your South Island road trip itinerary

For the complete overview of all my best tips and recommendations, check out my complete first-timer’s travel guide to New Zealand!

Where to stay

As you see, I haven’t mentioned much about accommodation in this road trip itinerary for the South Island. That’s because there are a lot of different options. I personally love camping (great views and super budget-friendly!), but I know it’s not for everyone. So many travelers have so many different experiences in New Zealand. Because of that, you can do exactly what you like best!

Some popular South Island accommodation options & more information on them:

  • Hotels – I always book mine on Booking.com
  • Hostels – Hostelworld is all you need for this great budget option
  • Camping – everything you want to know about NZ camping

For campsites, you usually don’t need to book ahead. Some free ones or those with limited spaces may be full, though there are usually lots of other options nearby. I would recommend booking hostels & hotels in advance, especially during peak season.

Where to eat

Where and what to eat is another matter of personal preferences & budget! As always, New Zealand offers many options, so you can totally customize your trip the way you want to. If you’re on a tight budget, try cooking as much of your food yourself and work with seasonal products to save lots of money ( check out 20+ more budget tips here! ). If your budget allows it, enjoy visiting local cafes and restaurants and try the local specialties.

Where to shop

As you may have noticed, in some areas in this South Island road trip itinerary, you need to plan ahead a little bit in terms of shopping – especially when you’re going to Milford Sound! Luckily, pretty much all towns in New Zealand will have at least one shop. More often, you’ll even find several big supermarkets. Well-known large supermarkets are PAK’nSAVE (my go-to), Countdown and New World. In smaller towns, you’ll often find local shops and Four Squares.

For camping gear and other non-food products, check out Kmart and the warehouse. They offer good quality stuff for really good prices and have anything you could possibly need.

Prop tip: always check the weather

It really is worth checking the weather in various places before starting on your road trip. Case in point: when my mom was visiting us back in 2019, we did a quick 2-week trip around the island. We had amazing weather every single day. In the end, we met people who traveled exactly the same route as us, but the other way around. They had had rain every day of their trip. That’s awful! With good weather, most sights are just more spectacular and more activities can be done. So, it really is worth checking the weather and adjusting your trip a bit if needed.

Let’s go!

This 3 week South Island road trip itinerary should have you all set to go out and explore the beautiful island. Want to know everything else there is to know about the South Island? Continue reading below, check out all my South Island blog posts or follow me on Instagram for inspiration. I hope you have the best time in the country – let me know which part of the island you love the most!

Some links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning I earn a small percentage of any purchase made. They’re at no extra cost to you, but allow me to keep creating new content for you guys. Of course, you’re free to use any other link!

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Tips for your South Island road trip

new zealand trip 3 weeks

First time in New Zealand: the complete travel guide for planning your trip

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New Zealand Family Itinerary: 3 Weeks / 21 Days 👪 [2024]

21-day family itinerary for new zealand.

Three weeks is just enough time to experience both islands of New Zealand . Exploring the country by moving from destination to destination is the right way to make the most of this diverse land but moving too much can be exhausting if you have younger ones in tow. That’s why we’ve put together this New Zealand family itinerary for three weeks (21 days) which includes stays at almost all destinations for a couple of nights. What’s more, the 21-day family itinerary hits exciting North and South Island destinations, while including accommodation and activity recommendations for all ages. Not to mention, we show you how to plan this itinerary the EASY way with First Light Travel .

Start planning your 21-day family vacation in New Zealand with the itinerary below.

New Zealand Family Itinerary for 3 Weeks (21 Days): Overview

  • Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Auckland Central
  • Day 2 – Auckland to Waitomo
  • Day 3 – Waitomo to Rotorua

Day 4 – Explore Rotorua

  • Day 5 – Rotorua to Ohakune
  • Day 6 – Explore Ohakune
  • Day 7 – Ohakune to Wellington
  • Day 8 – Explore Wellington
  • Day 9 – Wellington to Kaikoura
  • Day 10 – Explore Kaikoura
  • Day 11 – Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs
  • Day 12 – Hanmer Springs to Christchurch
  • Day 13 – Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
  • Day 14 – Lake Tekapo to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
  • Day 15 – Explore Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
  • Day 16 – Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to Queenstown
  • Day 17 – Explore Queenstown
  • Day 18 – Explore Queenstown
  • Day 19 – Queenstown to Te Anau
  • Day 20 – Day Trip to Milford Sound
  • Day 21  – Te Anau to Queenstown Airport.

How to Get Around New Zealand in Three Weeks with Kids

New Zealand is best experienced as a family road trip – i.e. moving around the country. With that in mind, renting a car or campervan allows you to have full flexibility and comfort compared to using public transport. However, parents who are on a tight budget might want to consider the national bus service, while those who want fewer things to organise might prefer an escorted bus tour. The best ways to get around, using the below itinerary, are as follows:

Rental Car or Campervan

This option gives you the freedom to visit all of the stops we recommend in this family 21-day itinerary by renting a car or campervan. As this itinerary starts in Auckland and ends in Queenstown , we recommend choosing a rental company that has depots in both cities – of which there are many . Start your research using The Guide to Renting a Car or The Guide Renting a Campervan in New Zealand .

National Bus Service

InterCity offers the cheapest way to get between the destinations mentioned in this budget itinerary. However, you are restrained by bus schedules and don’t have the option to do all of the road trip stops mentioned in this itinerary. Find out more about the passes available in What’s the Difference Between InterCity Bus Passes?

Escorted Bus Tours

Let a professional guide drive your tribe around New Zealand on a fully guided experience, often including accommodation and some meals. AAT Kings offers a 21-day tour of New Zealand for families with children aged 5 years and above. However, escorted bus tours have their own set itineraries and will not follow the below itinerary. Nevertheless, check out  The Best 20+ Days Tours of New Zealand if you’re tempted.

This itinerary includes the ferry journey between Wellington and Picton. Learn more in our guide to The Ferry Between the North Island and South Island .

Domestic Flights

The below itinerary begins in Auckland and ends in Queenstown. Both cities have international airports and are well-connected with domestic flights. If you’re leaving from Auckland, you will need to consider booking a domestic flight from Queenstown to Auckland .

If you’re new to long road trips with the kids, be sure to check out the  10 Ways to Relax on a Road Trip to help make the trip run smoothly.

Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Auckland Central

Travel time: 40 minutes

Welcome to New Zealand! For your first day in the country, we recommend taking it easy in Auckland Central , which is just a short drive away. Pick up your car rental , if it’s at the airport, or use one of the airport shuttles to get into the city.

Depending on what time your flight arrives and how eager the family is to start exploring there are a few things you can be doing in Auckland on your first day. Easy and short activities include going up the Sky Tower (more info on Viator and  Klook )   and visiting the Auckland Museum (on Viator and Klook ) . If you have most of the day free, we recommend a ferry trip to one of Auckland’s outer islands, whether it’s the volcanic island of Rangitoto or the bird sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi .

More tour and activity ideas are listed below so you can curate your ideal family day out in Auckland.

Family Activities in Auckland

  • Wise up about the world of technology at the kid-friendly MOTAT museum
  • Learn about the Kiwi farming lifestyle at Sheepworld in Warkworth
  • See the wild and wonderful birds of New Zealand on Tiritiri Matangi
  • Watch a Maori cultural performance at the Auckland Museum (on Viator  and Klook )
  • Take a family road trip to one of Auckland’s regional parks .

Find out more about each experience in our 10 Things to Do in Auckland with Kids .

Family Accommodation in Auckland

  • SkyCity Hotel Auckland
  • Nesuto St Martins Apartment Hotel
  • ibis Budget Auckland Airport
  • VR Auckland City
  • Kiwi International Hotel

Find out more about each accommodation in our 10 Best Family Accommodations in Auckland .

Day 2 – Auckland to Waitomo

Travel time: 2 hrs 20 mins

Travellers of all ages can’t help but be in awe of Waitomo ‘s glowworm caves, which is your final destination today. Set off from Auckland in the morning to give you enough time to do a cave tour once you arrive. If you need to pick up supplies or want to grab a bite to eat, take a quick detour to Hamilton . You can also stop by the quirky town of Otorohanga which is the self-proclaimed “Kiwiana Capital of the World”.

In Waitomo, you have a wide array of tours available to experience its famous glowworm caves. Walking cave tours are suitable for all ages, while older kids and teens might like underground tubing. Check out tour options in the 8 Best Waitomo Cave Tours .

Family Activities in Waitomo

  • Do a walking tour through Waitomo’s limestone and glowworm caves at Ruakuri Cave
  • Or enjoy a gentle boat trip through the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
  • Figure out the puzzles of the Troll Cave
  • See the filming locations of The Hobbit at Hairy Feet Waitomo
  • Meet a kiwi bird and other native wildlife at the Otorohanga Kiwi House .

For more details on each activity, take a look at the 10 Things to Do in Waitomo with Kids .

Family Accommodation in Waitomo

  • Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park
  • Woodlyn Park Motel
  • Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge
  • Glow Worm Motel
  • The Loft at Te Kumi Tirohanga

For more information on our top picks, take a look at the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Waitomo .

Day 3 – Waitomo to Rotorua

Travel time: 1 hr 55 mins

Start off your morning with any of the activities you might have missed in Waitomo. Then, the road to Rotorua is just under two hours. If you’re a family of Middle-earth enthusiasts, however, you will need to take a mandatory 15-minute detour to the Hobbiton Movie Set . Check out Viator or Klook  to book your tickets or head to How to Get the Best Hobbiton Discount for tips on how to get in cheaper.

An alternative place to stretch your legs is just a 5-minute detour to the Putaruru Blue Spring/Te Waihou Walkway . The walkway is stroller-friendly and free to see the brilliant blue waters of the spring flowing down a stream.

If you haven’t worn the kids out once you get to Rotorua, you can always check out the free geothermal Kuirau Park in the city centre. Check-in at your accommodation from the recommendations listed below.

Family Accommodation in Rotorua

  • Holdens Bay Holiday Park
  • Rydges Rotorua
  • Arista of Rotorua
  • Regal Palms Resort
  • Sudima Hotel Lake Rotorua

For more information on our top picks, check out the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Rotorua .

You have a free day in Rotorua to experience its family-friendly activities. How about a sheep and farm show at Agrodome ? Why not zip through the trees with Rotorua Canopy Tours (more info on Viator , Klook or KKday ) ? For something free to do, go for a short walk in the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest or one of Rotorua’s surrounding lakes like Lake Okareka .

Family Activities in Rotorua

  • Experience the famous sheep show and farm tour of Agrodome
  • Meet the kiwi birds, giant trout and more at the National Kiwi Hatchery   (more info on Viator or Klook )
  • See Rotorua’s highlights and lakes on Rotorua Duck Tours (on Viator and Klook )
  • Do the family-friendly walks of the Whakawerawera Redwood Forest
  • Experience that famous NZ adrenaline at Velocity Valley (on Viator or Klook ).

For more information on each experience, check out the 20 Things to Do in Rotorua with Kids .

Day 5 – Rotorua to Ohakune

Travel time: 2 hrs 40 mins

Leave Rotorua in the morning to allow enough time to enjoy a pitstop-filled road trip to Ohakune . As you leave Rotorua, treat the kids to exploring a geothermal park. You have Wai-O-Tapu , Waimangu Volcanic Valley (on  Viator and  Klook )  and Orakei Korako  to choose from.

Before reaching Taupo , check out the powerful rapids of Huka Falls or, better yet, take an exciting jet boat ride to the falls with Hukafalls Jet   (more info on Viator and KKday ) . Or wait until you reach Turangi to do a family-friendly white water rafting trip on the Tongariro River with Tongariro River Rafting .

For some free stops along the way, take a quick detour towards Whakapapa Village to do the short Tawhai Falls walk , the Mounds Walk for excellent volcano views or the 2-hour Taranaki Falls . You’ll then reach Ohakune with probably some very worn-out little ones, so check-in at one of our recommended accommodations.

Family Accommodation in Ohakune

  • Rocky Mountain Chalets Ohakune
  • Station Lodge
  • The Hobbit Motorlodge
  • The Powderhorn Chateau
  • Ohakune TOP 10 Holiday Park

For more information on our top recommendations, check out the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Ohakune .

Day 6 – Explore Ohakune

Today can be as adventurous or as relaxed as you like. Short walks like the Mangawhero Forest Walk and letting the kids loose at the Ohakune Carrot playground are easy ways to relax. For something more epic, do a jet boat tour down the Whanganui River to the Bridge to Nowhere or head up Mt Ruapehu for some family skiing, if it’s winter .

Family Activities in Ohakune

  • Horse trek through streams and a historic town with Ruapehu Homestead Horsetrekking
  • Hire bikes and ride the Jubilee Walkway , Mangawhero River Trail and more
  • Let the kids loose at the Ohakune Carrot playground
  • Tackle the indoor climbing walls at the Vertigo Adventure Centre
  • Check out Dinosaur House in Raetihi
  • Treat the kids to a world-famous Johnny Nation ‘s chocolate eclair.

For more information on each activity and its location, check out the 10 Things to Do in Ohakune with Kids .

Day 7 – Ohakune to Wellington

Travel time: 3 hrs 45 mins

Once the tribe is ready to go, it’s time to hit the road to Wellington with loads of interesting sights that the kids will dig. The first you’ll encounter is Waiouru , home to the National Army Museum . With all the tanks displayed outside, just try to pass without the kids begging to stop! Next, you’ll pass through Taihape with its giant gumboot sculpture and Mangaweka makes a nice coffee stop.

Before you reach Hunterville, we recommend taking the alternative route to Wellington stopping by Manawatu Gorge . This will just add 15 minutes to your drive time, but it’s well worth it to walk the family-friendly Tawa Loop Walk .

Finally, it’s a couple of more hours to Wellington where you can put your feet up at one of the recommended accommodations.

Family Accommodation in Wellington

  • Rydges Wellington
  • CityLife Wellington
  • Copthorne Hotel
  • Quest on Johnston
  • Apollo Lodge Motel 

Find out more about each accommodation in the 15 Best Family Accommodations in Wellington .

Day 8 – Explore Wellington

You have the whole day to explore the capital of New Zealand! The kids (and your wallet) will love some of the free activities including the Te Papa Museum and exploring the Botanic Garden . A paid activity well worth doing, however, is Zealandia Ecosanctuary . This affordable attraction gives you access to a predator-free reserve where New Zealand’s weird and wonderful birds thrive. This fun educational sanctuary is ideal for all ages. But if any of our suggestions so far aren’t your cup of tea, we have some other suggestions:

Family Activities in Wellington

  • Get active on the high-wire course at Adrenalin Forest
  • Spend the day at Wellington’s beaches
  • Learn about the night’s sky at Space Place
  • Meet the animals and birds at Staglands Wildlife Reserve
  • See how the movies are made at the Weta Workshop (on Viator and  Klook ).

Find out more about each activity for families in 10 Things to Do in Wellington with Kids .

Day 9 – Wellington to Kaikoura

Travel time: 3 hours ferry, 2 hours drive

It’s time to leave the North Island behind and take an exciting journey to the South Island . Kids and adults alike love taking the Cook Strait ferry, not only for the stunning scenery of the Wellington Harbour and Marlborough Sounds but because driving onto a big boat is pretty darn cool. Learn more about the journey and prices in our guide to The Ferry Between the North Island and South Island .

Once you arrive in Picton on the South Island, hit the road to Kaikoura. An interesting stop in Blenheim is the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre displaying realistic scenes of warplanes from World War Two. Find out more on Viator or Klook .  For parents who have been dying to experience a New Zealand wine region, stop by one of the family-friendly wineries, like Wairau River , Cloudy Bay and Forrest Wines , that have games and/or toys for the kids while you enjoy a tipple.

Depending on how much time you have when you get to Kaikoura , relax with a potter around the Kaikoura Museum or play a round of mini-golf at The Emporium before checking in.

Family Accommodation in Kaikoura

  • Alpine-Pacific Holiday Park
  • Kaikoura TOP 10 Holiday Park
  • Kaikoura Quality Suites
  • Alpine View Motel
  • The Fairways at Ocean Ridge

Find out more about each accommodation in the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Kaikoura .

Day 10 – Explore Kaikoura

Get your wildlife fix in Kaikoura today, whether it’s through family-friendly tours like Seal Kayak Kaikoura (more info on Viator and Klook ) , on a whale watching boat tour (on Viator and  Klook ) , or looking out for seals on the free Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway . There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the little ones’ faces light up at the wonders of nature.

Family Activities in Kaikoura

  • Kayak with cute fur seals in their natural environment (more info on Viator and Klook )
  • Ride the Coastal Pacific train
  • Go on a whale watching cruise (on Viator or  Klook )
  • Or a whale watching flight (on Viator or Klook )
  • Look out for seals on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway .

For more information on each activity, see our 10 Things to Do in Kaikoura with Kids !

Day 11 – Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs

Travel time: 2 hrs 30 mins

Today, you hit the road to the alpine resort town of Hanmer Springs . On your way into the town, stop by the historic Wairau River bridge to treat the family to a family-friendly jet boat  or white water rafting experience (more info on Viator or Klook ) .

If adrenaline isn’t your family’s thing, head straight to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools to indulge in one of the largest hot pool complexes in the country. What’s more, it has an awesome waterpark!

Then check-in at one of the family holiday parks or chalets in the town.

Family Activities in Hanmer Springs

  • Experience the Amuri Jetboat or white water rafting experience for families (more info on Viator or Klook )
  • Bond over an archery competition or hire some “rocket bikes” from the Hanmer Adventure Centre
  • Soak and slide at the Hanmer Spring Thermal Pools
  • Enter a world of whimsy on the Fairy Door Track
  • Go on a llama trek with Hanmer Llamas .

For more details and the locations of each activity and others, head to the 10 Things to Do in Hanmer Springs with Kids .

Family Accommodation in Hanmer Springs

  • Clear Ridge Apartments
  • Alpine Adventure Holiday Park
  • Settlers Motel
  • Forest Peak Motel
  • Hanmer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park

See the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Hanmer Springs for more details on our top recommendations.

Day 12 – Hanmer Springs to Christchurch

Travel time: 1 hr 40 mins

Have one last soak in the pools before making your way to Christchurch where a stop on the road could include the jet boat, quad bike, white water raft, bungy jump and paintball experiences of Hanmer Springs Attractions – check them out on Viator or Klook . You can also pop by one of the beaches, like Leithfield Beach , Woodend Beach , Spencer Beach or Waimairi Beach . Or swap the beach for a more polar landscape by taking a detour to the International Antarctic Centre .

Once you have arrived in the city of Christchurch and checked in at your accommodation, there’s plenty of easy activities to enjoy if you have the time. For instance, explore the Botanic Gardens with the little ones, who will love the duck ponds, interactive water features and running around gorgeous gardens. Next to the gardens is the free-entry Canterbury Museum with all sorts of artefacts and stories about the early Maori, wildlife, Antarctic exhibitions and more.

See the list below if you require more inspiration for Christchurch antics.

Family Activities in Christchurch

  • Ride the chairlifts, find the fairy doors or zipline over the trees at Christchurch Adventure Park
  • Do the treetop obstacle course of Adrenalin Forest
  • Take a day tour to Akaroa with Leisure Tours
  • Experience the Polar regions at the International Antarctic Centre
  • Ride the Christchurch City Tram (more info on Viator  and Klook ) .

For more details on each experience and others, see 10 Things to Do in Christchurch with Kids .

Family Accommodation in Christchurch

  • Country Glen Lodge
  • Tasman Holiday Parks – Christchurch
  • Lorenzo Motor Lodge
  • Fable Christchurch
  • Sudima Hotel Christchurch Airport

For more details on our top recommendations, check out the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Christchurch .

Day 13 – Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Travel time: 2 hrs 45 mins

It’s time to continue your way down the South Island, stopping by a few fun towns along the way. First, check out Rakaia for refreshments and to see the giant fish sculpture. Next is Ashburton where the kids can burn off some energy in the gorgeous gardens of the Ashburton Domain. You’ll then come across the town of Geraldine with nearby attractions such as horse trekking, alpaca farm tours and the Talbot Scenic Reserve – all ideal for families. Find out more in the 10 Excellent Things to Do in Geraldine .

A pie from the Fairlie Bakery is mandatory before you finally arrive in Lake Tekapo where you can soak in the scenes of the blue lake and Southern Alps or literally soak in the Tekapo Springs . The latter also includes a kiddies’ water play area, as well as large waterslides in summer and ice skating in winter .

Enjoy one night in your Tekapo accommodation (which you’ll need to book early due to the limited choice).

Family Activities in Lake Tekapo

  • Have a splash a Tekapo Springs
  • Take the kids up the ski fields of Mt Dobson or Roundhill in winter
  • Do the easy Lake Tekapo Walkway
  • Wow the family with a scenic flight from Tekapo to the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
  • Take a pic of the picturesque Church of the Good Shepherd and the sheepdog statue.

For more ideas, head to the  10 Unmissable Things to Do in Lake Tekapo .

Family Accommodation in Lake Tekapo

  • Lakes Edge Holiday Park
  • Peppers Bluewater Resort
  • Tekapo Luxury Apartments
  • Mantra Lake Tekapo
  • Lake Tekapo Village Motel

Day 14 – Lake Tekapo to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Travel time: 1 hrs 10 mins

It’s a relatively short yet really scenic drive to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park as you follow the vibrant turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki to a tiny village in the shadows of New Zealand’s highest mountain.

In Mt Cook , you have a selection of stunning short walks to enjoy, from glacier walks to bush walks. If your budget will allow, jump on an exciting boat tour to see giant icebergs on the Tasman Glacier Lake or take to the skies in a helicopter or ski plane (more info on Viator and Klook ) . Whatever you don’t have time for today you can always do tomorrow.

Family Accommodation in Mt Cook

  • Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge
  • Glentanner Park Centre
  • The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook
  • Aoraki Alpine Chalet
  • Aoraki Court Motel

For more details on each recommendation, take a look at the 8 Best Family Accommodations in Mt Cook .

Day 15 – Explore Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

You don’t have to leave the dramatic scenery of New Zealand’s highest mountains and longest glacier just yet, as you have the whole day to experience Mt Cook the way your family prefers. It could be checking out the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre with its 3D dome cinema, relaxing with a family-friendly meal with grand views, or doing any of the activities mentioned yesterday.

Family Activities in Mt Cook

  • See the Tasman Glacier on the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Track
  • Roam around in the forest on the Governors Bush Walk
  • Take the skies in a helicopter or ski plane (more info on Viator and Klook )
  • Check out a planetarium and use powerful telescopes on a stargazing tour
  • Whiz around a glacier lake with giant icebergs on a boat tour.

For more details on each experience, check out the 7 Things to Do in Mt Cook with Kids .

Day 16 – Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to Queenstown

Travel time: 3 hrs 10 mins

It’s your longest drive yet, but there are many exciting reasons to break up the journey starting with the town of Twizel . Twizel offers plenty of cafes and the Twizel River Trail .

In Omarama , take a 30-minute detour to the Clay Cliffs for its otherworldly formations of pinnacles and narrow ravines. You can also sample part of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail if your kids are super active.

After Omarama is the Lindis Pass , which is often deemed the most beautiful road in New Zealand . After the Lindis Pass is Cromwell where you can get refreshments including fresh fruit that the town is renowned for – they have a giant sculpture to prove it . You might also want to try the go-karting at the Highlands Motorsport Park .

As you travel down the Kawarau Gorge toward Queenstown, stop by the Goldfields Mining Centre to pan for gold or jump on Goldfields Jet for an adrenaline-pumping ride down the river.

By the time you get to Queenstown, you’ll probably need a good rest, so check-in at your accommodation. You’ll experience more of the “Adventure Capital” tomorrow.

Family Accommodation in Queenstown

  • Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park
  • Peppers Beacon
  • Holiday Inn Queenstown
  • The Waterfront
  • Whistler Holiday Apartments

For more information on each accommodation, check out the 15 Best Family Accommodations in Queenstown .

Day 17 – Explore Queenstown

Because there’s so much to do in Queenstown , we’ve given you two full days to tick the items off your bucket list. It could be whizzing through the trees with Ziptrek Ecotours (more info on Viator , Klook and KKday ) , learning about New Zealand’s unique wildlife at the Kiwi Birdlife Park , or racing each other on the gravity-fuelled go-karts of The Luge .

Family Activities in Queenstown

  • Get the adrenaline pumping on an exciting jet boat ride
  • Zip through the trees on a zipline tour (more info on Viator ,  Klook and KKday )
  • Learn about New Zealand’s birds at the Kiwi Birdlife Park
  • Watch the sheep being worked on the Walter Peak farm tour (on Viator , Klook and KKday )
  • Race each in downhill go-karts at The Luge .

For more information on each activity, as well as a few more ideas, head to the 20 Things to Do in Queenstown with Kids !

Day 18 – Explore Queenstown

If we hadn’t given you enough things to do in Queenstown yet, have you taken the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship to Walter Peak farm? Watch sheepdogs working the sheep, see sheep shearing demonstrations and learn how wool is spun in this family-friendly experience. Find out more about Walter Peak on Viator , Klook and KKday .

If your family wants a taste of Queenstown adrenaline, try the family-friendly Kawarau Bridge Zipline and watch mum or dad do the Kawarau Bungy?!

We also recommend a day trip to Arrowtown where you can pan for gold, indulge in the many candy and ice cream shops, and more. Check out the 10 Amazing Things to Do in Arrowtown for ideas.

For more information on all of the activities mentioned and more, head to the 20 Things to Do in Queenstown with Kids .

Day 19 – Queenstown to Te Anau

Travel time: 2 hours

Today you make your way to Te Anau , the gateway to Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park. Start with a picturesque drive on the lakeside of Lake Wakatipu, stopping at the lookouts along the way. You can get refreshments in Kingston and Lowther before continuing to Te Anau.

In Te Anau, short but excellent activities include visiting the free-entry Te Anau Bird Sanctuary where they have New Zealand birds to meet while they are in rehabilitation. There’s also the cheap Trout Observatory to see fish and crayfish in their element.

If the Waitomo Caves were a highlight of your trip earlier in this itinerary, then you have another chance to get your glowworm on at the Te Anau Glowworm Caves . The boat trip across Lake Te Anau includes a guided cave tour among glowworms and underground waterfalls. Check it out on Viator or Klook .

Family Activities in Te Anau

  • Delve into the Te Anau Glowworm Caves (more info on Viator or Klook )
  • Watch the birds at the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary
  • Check out the fish at the Trout Observatory
  • Let the kids loose at the Lions Playground
  • Visit Lake Manapouri and play on Frasers Beach .

For more ideas, check out the 10 Best Things to Do in Te Anau .

Family Accommodation in Te Anau

  • Kepler Oaks Chalet
  • Anchorage Motel Apartments
  • Lakefront Lodge
  • Bella Vista Motel Te Anau

Check out the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Te Anau for more recommendations.

Day 20 – Day Trip to Milford Sound

Travel time: 3 hours

While most travellers rush from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back in one day, we find that the best way to experience it as a family is to visit the famous fiord from Te Anau so you can take your time. That way, there’s no stress visiting the ton of short walks and stunning natural attractions on the way to Milford Sound.

Recommended short walks on the road to Milford Sound include the Lake Mistletoe Track , Mirror Lakes Walk , Lake Marian Falls Track , the Lake Gunn Nature Walk and The Chasm . Find out more about these walks in the 10 Things to Do in Milford Sound with Kids .

So how can you experience Milford Sound once you get there? One option is a scenic cruise of the famous fiord where the boat dips under waterfalls, sails by seal colonies, and takes in the breathtaking landscape carved by glaciers. Compare all of your options in the 6 Best Cruises in Milford Sound .

Another cool way to take in the glorious views of Milford Sound is via a helicopter tour.  Milford Sound Helicopters  departs from Milford Sound Airport, offering families several flight options. Flights are suitable for all ages and infant seats are available.

Family Activities in Milford Sound

  • Look out for wildlife and see spectacular waterfalls on a Milford Sound cruise
  • Stop by the Mirror Lakes
  • Enjoy the forest and lake scenery of the Lake Gunn Nature Walk
  • Check out the underwater observatory with Southern Discoveries (more info on Viator , Klook or KKday )
  • See spectacular waterfalls on the Lake Marian Falls Track .

For more details on each activity and others, check out the 10 Things to Do in Milford Sound with Kids .

Day 21 – Te Anau to Queenstown Airport

After three weeks in New Zealand, it’s time to wrap this adventure up with any of the activities you might have missed in Te Anau before heading to Queenstown Airport .

Remember to give yourself plenty of time to return your rental vehicle . There are connecting flights between Queenstown and Auckland if you are flying out of Auckland, otherwise, flights to Australia leave from Queenstown .

Plan This Family Itinerary with First Light Travel

If you like this three-week family itinerary but don’t like the hassle of planning everything yourself, then there’s a way to lighten the load. First Light Travel is an online travel agent specialising in customisable family itineraries in New Zealand at no extra cost to you. Plus, using their service is super simple:

  • First , send First Light Travel an enquiry by completing their online form
  • Then , you’ll receive your customised family itinerary
  • Review your itinerary and work with your First Light Travel agent on perfecting it
  • Finally , First Light Travel will organise the rest including the bookings.

First Light Travel has access to more than 20,000 travel products, including almost all the tours and accommodations featured on this list (and more). With that and their local expertise here in New Zealand, they will create a well-catered itinerary to meet your needs while also suggesting some dream travel experiences that you may have never heard of. They only work with companies where their past clients have had positive experiences, so you know you’re in good hands.

What’s more, all of the bookings are arranged by First Light Travel, so instead of having to contact each individual accommodation and operator should your travel plans change, any amendments can be done through your FLT agent – easy! Did we mention the service is at no extra cost to you?!

For more information on planning your own New Zealand itinerary, see  How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary . Or better yet, jump on firstlighttravel.com and start making your own itinerary there.

More About a New Zealand Family Itinerary for 3 Weeks / 21 Days

That’s it for our New Zealand family itinerary for 21 days. If that wasn’t the itinerary you were looking for, check out these alternative 21-day itineraries:

  • New Zealand in 3 Weeks : Road Trip Itinerary
  • New Zealand Budget Itinerary: 3 Weeks / 21 Days
  • New Zealand Luxury Itinerary: 3 Weeks / 21 Days
  • New Zealand Foodie Itinerary: 3 Weeks / 21 Days
  • How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Finally, get advice on planning more of your family getaway with  The Travel Guide to New Zealand for Families .

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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new zealand trip 3 weeks

The ultimate South Island NZ road trip: 3-4 week New Zealand travel itinerary

Small, incredibly isolated, and home to about 6-times as many sheep as humans, New Zealand may not seem like the perfect road trip destination—but it is undoubtably one of the world’s finest. From soaring alpine peaks and blue-ice glaciers to lush rainforest and pristine beaches, NZ is dominated by natural beauty and ruled by a wild spirit, kiwis and international travellers alike enchanted by the contagious sense of adventure waiting around every bend in the road. There’s only one way to describe it: magic.

It’s true that too much is never enough with New Zealand, but 3-4 weeks is still an awesome amount of time to cram in all of the South Island’s most popular attractions, as well as some of the hidden gems that really make this place special.  Use this guide to help plan the ultimate 3-4 week South Island road trip around New Zealand,  including heaps of helpful tips on car and campervan hire, campsites, budgeting, and more. 

A bit tight on time? Check out my 10-day New Zealand road trip itinerary: BEST OF THE SOUTH ISLAND: 10-DAY NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP ITINERARY

What's in this travel guide

Road trip logistics

Best time to visit.

New Zealand is a wonderful year-round destination, with winter drawing snow bunnies to the slopes of popular ski resorts and summer bringing hordes of hikers, but  for road tripping, late September to early April is probably the best time . 

The shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) will be  less crowded, much cheaper in terms of car hire, and can have some really beautiful colours  as wildflowers or fall foliage bloom, but summer does still have the appeal of  longer days, warmer temperatures, and better weather. 

It should be said that  New Zealand’s South Island is  really  cold . Even in summer, it’s not unusual for  night temperatures in the mountains to dip down to 5C  and I’ve even woken up to snow in the middle of January (twice)! The days can fluctuate wildly, with  sunny afternoons in town approaching the high 20s  and yet windy mountaintops still enough to make you wear 3 jackets and a scarf. It just means you’ll need to  pack for all seasons, even if you’re visiting in peak summer (December to February).

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Getting to New Zealand

The best way to get to New Zealand for this itinerary, and indeed just about any visit to the South Island, is to  fly into Christchurch Airport . This is the largest international airport on the island and flights tend to be cheaper here than Queenstown Airport (which only operates international flights from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Gold Coast anyway). You’ll also have  a greater selection of hire car and campervan choices, since Christchurch is a larger city.

If you’re coming down from the North Island, and this is actually really easy for this itinerary since you can start near Abel Tasman, there’s also the option to  take the  InterIslander ferry from Wellington to Picton . The journey takes 3.5hrs and costs about $60NZD per adult, $250NZD for 2 adults in a car, or $300NZD for 2 adults in a campervan. It’s a really beautiful trip across the Cook Straight, so  I’d recommend a day sailing to experience all the awesome scenery!

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Getting around New Zealand

The classic way to explore New Zealand is in a campervan, but unfortunately it’s not always the cheapest option.  In peak summer months (December – February), campervan hire can range from $80-300NZD per DAY (including insurance), which is cost-prohibitive to a lot of travellers, especially considering this is already a really expensive country! If you’re determined to experience NZ in a campervan, I’d recommend either: 

  • travelling in the shoulder season  (spring or autumn), when hire can easily be 50% of the summer rate, OR
  • getting a self-contained campervan  that will allow you to  freedom camp  rather than paying for DOC campsites or holiday parks every night ($15-25/person) and cook in your vehicle to save money on eating out.

Yep,  only campervans with a “self-contained” sticker are allowed to freedom camp  outside of official campsites, and the fines can be really big if you try to do this in a car or in a non-self-contained camper. It’s not really going to save you money on the hire costs (if anything, a self-contained campervan will be more expensive), but it will help you save on heaps of other expenses like  camping  and food, so it’s 100% essential. 

  • Download the  Campermate app  to find all the best freedom camping spots!

Most campervans will have a  chilly bin or small fridge, some sort of sink or water storage, gas stove, cookware, and kitchen utensils,  but the quality and extras will vary van to van. Do your research and stop off at Countdown or Bunnings in Christchurch to pick up anything additional.

There are an insane number of campervan companies in New Zealand offering anywhere from  budget vehicles  like  Spaceships , to  mid-range vans with some nice extras  like  Jucy  and  Madcampers , to  really luxurious mini-RVs  like  Apollo  and  Maui  with a price-tag to match. The best way to find a good deal is to  book at least 3 months in advance (if travelling in the summer) and use a comparison site to shop around:

  • Campervan Finder
  • Motorhome Republic

If the cost of campervan hire is just TOO much (or if you don’t really like the idea of freedom camping without showers and toilets), there’s always the option to  hire a car and camp in a tent . It’s especially good for this itinerary, since you’ll be staying in mountain huts or DOC campsites along the Abel Tasman Coast Track and the Routeburn Track, and this way you aren’t paying for an expensive campervan when you’re not even able to use it every night. There are also some seriously amazing DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites, and tent camping is actually my favourite way to explore New Zealand! 

  • Use the  Campermate app  to find all the best tent camping spots around NZ , just make sure to filter out “self-contained only” sites.

Car hire can still be really expensive in New Zealand, so you’ll need to do some digging to find a good deal, but  it’s definitely possible to get something as cheap as $40-80/day, depending on time of year . These prices reflect the absolute cheapest rentals available, so you’ll probably end up driving a 20+ year old compact car (the kind of thing that wouldn’t even be legal to hire in Australia), but it truly doesn’t matter if all you’re using it for is transport. Also note that  these prices don’t include comprehensive car insurance  and the excess on our shit-box hire car was $6,000NZD, so you’ll either need to pay extra for good cover, use the car insurance included with your credit card (which is what we did), or take a  big  risk. 

I’ve personally used  Bargain Rental Cars  a few times  and, although the opposite of glamorous, they are routinely the best price around.  To compare other car hire options, I like to use  Momondo .

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Road trip budget

Transport costs vary widely depending on what kind of car or campervan you hire, but expect to pay through the roof for fuel, no matter what.  As of January 2020, fuel prices ranged from $2.30 to as much as $3.10 per litre … UGH. Here are some rough ideas of what you can expect to pay in terms of transport for this specific itinerary:

  • Car hire for 25 days:  $500-1,000NZD for a budget compact car, OR
  • Campervan hire for 25 days:  $2,000-4,000NZD for budget campervan
  • Fuel:  we spent about $800NZD on fuel for this itinerary

Accomodation

Accomodation costs can also vary widely depending on how you want to travel, but  I’d budget for 1x night in a hostel  (it’s pretty common for flights to arrive in Christchurch around 1am, so it’s nice to just crash in a bed), a majority of nights at a mix of DOC and freedom campsites (depending on your car/campervan situation), and a few mountain huts on the trail.

  • Hostel:  Jucy Snooze  is right next to the Christchurch Airport and has dorm beds for about $35/person
  • DOC campsite:  typically $8-15/person, regardless of whether you have a tent or are sleeping in your campervan
  • Holiday or caravan park:  around $20-25/person for a tent or caravan site
  • Freedom camping:  FREE, but only for self-contained campervans
  • Mountain huts: ranges wildly from backcountry huts like Crow Hut ($5) and Mueller Hut ($45) to Great Walk Huts on the Routeburn Track ($130/night)

So, if you’re  hiring a car and tent camping, with some mountain huts:

  • expect to pay around $700NZD per person for this itinerary

And if you’re  hiring a campervan for a mix of freedom camping and DOC campsites, with some mountain huts:

  • expect to pay around $550NZD per person for this itinerary

If you’re staying in a self-contained campervan and preparing all of your own meals, you don’t need to spend much on food at all. Supermarket prices can be a little high depending on where you are, but still aren’t ridiculous.  You can spend as little or as much as you want!

Tent camping is also pretty cost effective, especially if you’re happy to eat some freeze-dried mountain meals when campsites don’t have BBQ or kitchen facilities. These mountain meals are available in pretty much  all supermarkets, including Four Square, Countdown, and New World , for around $15 per pouch. If you supplement with cheese and crackers or some other easy starter like soup, it’s possible to get away with one mountain meal between a couple. Obviously you need to  bring a camp stove if this is your plan— I love my  JetBoil !— and then buy gas in Christchurch  when you land (there’s a huge Bunnings right next to the airport).

On nights you’re staying at holiday parks (which I do recommend intermittently for showering!), you can  plan to cook up a barbie or something easy like pasta  to avoid eating out too much.

Rather than give you an overall budget for activities, since it can vary SO MUCH, here are some  prices for specific tours and excursions that fit in well with this itinerary :

  • Whale watching cruise: $150NZD
  • Abel Tasman kayak hire : $85NZD for 1 day
  • Heli-hiking on Franz Josef Glacier: $499NZD
  • Skydiving in Wanaka : $299-469NZD
  • SUP hire in Lake Wanaka : $20/hr
  • Milford Sound scenic cruise : $85NZD
  • Scuba diving (x2 dives) in Milford Sound : $345NZD
  • Bungy jumping in Queenstown : $205-275NZD
  • Half-day dual suspension e-bike hire : $89NZD
  • Skyline Queenstown gondola + luge tickets : $61NZD
  • Scenic helicopter flight around Mt Cook : $249-599NZD
  • Lake Tekapo star-gazing tour : $185NZD

Total budget

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the total budget for this exact 25-day itinerary around New Zealand’s South Island, either for a campervan or tent camping trip. Both options include the hikes discussed in this itinerary and an assortment of activities, so the main differences accounting for price will be van/car hire, the ability to freedom camp/only staying at paid sites, and the ability to cook in your van/over a camp stove.

For a campervan trip where you mostly stay at free camping spots and cook in your van, you can expect to spend a total of $4,950NZD, or $198NZD ($185AUD) per day for 25 days . The best way to cut down some of this cost is to find a super great deal on a campervan by booking early!

If opting to hire a car and tent camp instead, you can do this entire itinerary for $3,700NZD, or $148NZD ($138AUD) per day for 25 days . It’s equally essential to book early to get a good deal on car hire, and you can also shave some money off this itinerary by opting to cook inexpensive camp meals like pasta or doing a BBQ rather than eating only dehydrated food.

Note that both of these options have quite a lot of included activities, so you can hack even more money off the overall cost of your roadtrip just by limiting pricy tours like a scenic flight or scuba diving (although it’s totally worth the money if you can swing it!).

Table showing budget for campervan and camping trip New Zealand itinerary

Travel tips for New Zealand

After spending 2 months road tripping around New Zealand on a couple different trips, I’m keen to share all my first-hand knowledge, insider tricks, and best travel hacks! From passing the biosecurity inspection at the airport and getting a local SIM card to finding the best deal on a campervan and reserving Great Walks,  here are the most useful travel tips for your road trip around New Zealand : 15 ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR ROAD TRIPPING AROUND NEW ZEALAND

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Fiordland National Park

*Overview: recommended itinerary

  • Kaikoura (1-2 days)
  • Abel Tasman National Park  (3-4 days)
  • Arthur’s Pass  (2 days)
  • Franz Josef Glacier (1-2 days)
  • Wanaka (2-3 days)
  • Milford Sound (2-4 days)
  • Routeburn Track (3 days)
  • Queenstown (4-5 days)
  • Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (2-3 days)
  • Lake Tekapo (1-2 days)

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Kaikoura coastline

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Dolphins, seals, and whales in Kaikoura

Begin your South Island road trip by driving up the east coast to beautiful Kaikoura, a tiny mountain-framed town known for its tranquil beaches and abundant marine life . This is actually one of the best places, not only in New Zealand but in the world (!!), to see giant sperm whales, as well as humpbacks, dolphins, albatross, and huge colonies of adorable fur seals (best at Ohau Point Seal Colony).

Book a whale watching cruise for amazingly close encounters with the sea life here, and then spend a quiet afternoon wandering along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway for even more sweeping views. Although slower-paced than many of the South Island’s most popular destinations, there’s an undeniable charm to this peaceful stretch of coastline, making for the perfect introduction to NZ and all the natural beauty still to come.

Recommended time: 1-2 days

Highlights: Enjoy Kaikoura’s coastline on the 12km Peninsula Walkway ; visit Ohau Point Seal Colony to see hundreds of fur seals lounging on the rocks; take a whale watching cruise to see giant sperm whale, orcas, humpbacks, dolphins, and seals; go snorkelling with adorable fur seals

Getting there: Drive 2.5hrs from Christchurch International Airport to Kaikoura.

Where to stay: Pitch your tent just out of town at Puhi Puhi campsite for $8/person.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Paddling along the Abel Tasman Coast Track

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Abel Tasman National Park

For more spectacular coastal scenery, secluded beaches, and impossibly turquoise water , drive several hours north to Abel Tasman National Park, a sparkling gem set on the wild Tasman Sea. Large populations of New Zealand fur seals, penguins, and dolphins inhabit the waters around Tonga Island Marine Reserve and water-access-only campsites take you away from everyone and everything to enjoy the most magical spots.

Although NZ’s smallest National Park, Abel Tasman is home to the most popular Great Walk in the country, the 60km Coast Track winding from Marahau to Tōtaranui . It’s possible to explore on a series of smaller walks or 1-day kayaking tours, sure, but there is truly nothing better than kayaking the first 2 days of the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk and tramping the remaining 1-2 days along a sandy trail, experiencing the length of the park on an epic adventure. For novelty alone, this is one of my all-time favourite treks.

Recommended time: 3-4 days

Highlights: Tackle the  Abel Tasman Coastal Track , NZ’s most popular Great Walk, with a mix of trekking and kayaking; paddle along the shores of the National Park, discovering some of the best water-access-only campsites, like  Mosquito Bay ; explore Tonga Island Marine Reserve to see New Zealand Fur Seals, penguins, and dolphins

Getting there: Drive 4hrs from Kaikoura to Marahau on the eastern border of Abel Tasman National Park. This is the perfect place to start your exploration of the park and is the trailhead for the Coast Track.

Where to stay: Use the DOC booking platform to reserve campsites along the Abel Tasman Coast Track in advance. I’d highly recommend water-access-only sites when you’re kayaking, as these are amazingly untouched and beautiful.

Read more: KAYAKING THE ABEL TASMAN COAST TRACK

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Descending from Avalanche Peak to Crow Hut

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Hiking in Arthur’s Pass

Arthur’s Pass

Swapping coastal landscapes and friendly marine life for a panorama of alpine peaks, make the 5-hour drive from Abel Tasman National Park down to Arthur’s Pass National Park. It’s a pretty long slog, but you can detour along the west coast to explore wild beaches or stop off in Nelson Lakes National Park for the afternoon to break up the drive; neither one of these options adds more than one hour to the journey.

Less popular than other National Parks in the region, it’s not hard to lose the crowds and get off-piste in Arthur’s Pass , which makes this an excellent place to explore the dramatic beauty of the NZ wilderness. The most popular hike is up Avalanche Peak , but I recommend tacking on an additional section from Avalanche Peak to Crow Hut to make this an overnighter. The trail is no joke and it’s definitely an adventure!

Between summiting peaks and challenging yourself on rugged backcountry tramps , mingle with the many local kea who have made Arthur’s Pass their home. These cheeky alpine parrots are known for picking zippers and nibbling holes through just about any material, but it’s not a trip to New Zealand without a few alarming encounters. Keep those snacks close.

Recommended time: 2 days

Highlights: Climb steeply to the summit of  Avalanche Peak  for amazing views of the surrounding mountains; stay overnight in backcountry  Crow Hut ; walk out to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, a spectacular 131m waterfall just outside of the Arthur’s Pass township

Getting there: Drive 5hrs from Abel Tasman National Park to Arthur’s Pass

Where to stay: Camp at Klondyke Corner for $8/night; the Avalanche Peak Track (Crow Hut Route) conveniently finishes here.

Read more: SURVIVING AVALANCHE PEAK

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Franz Josef Glacier by helicopter

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Walking to Fox Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

In Westland Tai Poutini National Park about 3hrs south of Arthur’s Pass,  New Zealand’s most famous glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef , are sandwiched between  the rugged, wind-whipped beaches of the west coast and the icy Southern Alps . The result is an incredibly varied and dramatic landscape quite unlike anything else in the country.

Spend the next couple days exploring jurassic-era rainforests with gigantic ferns, trickling waterfalls, and the blue-ice glaciers of both Franz Josef and nearby Fox Glacier. The tiny townships of the same names don’t have a lot going on (especially Fox Glacier), but short walks , scenic flights , heli-hiking tours , and skydiving offer insane views of the glaciers and will more than occupy your time. Just go easy on your budget.

Highlights: Book a  scenic flight or helicopter tour  to see Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers from above; join a  heli-hiking  or  ice climbing  tour on the glaciers; get a glimpse of Fox Glacier on the  Te Ara o Tuawe Valley Walk ; see Franz Josef Glacier on the  Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk ; skydive over Franz Josef Glacier  for even more incredible aerial views; admire the dazzling reflection of Mt Cook in Lake Matheson

Getting there: Drive 3hrs from Arthur’s Pass to Franz Josef Glacier township.

Where to stay: Franz Josef township is slightly larger than Fox, so I’d recommend staying at the Franz Josef Holiday Park for $50/night (for 2 people). Alternatively, Okarito Campground about 25min away is an absolutely lovely place to stay if you want to escape the crowds; $15/person for a tent or caravan site.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Overlooking Lake Hāwea from Isthmus Peak

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Beautiful day over Lake Hāwea in Wanaka

After a few days of stunning alpine scenery (and possibly some big splurges) around Franz Josef Glacier, make the 4hr drive south to Wanaka,  a charming little lake-front town  that is quickly emerging as an adventure and adrenaline hotspot on the South Island.  Framed by the Southern Alps and nestled between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hāwea , this is the perfect place to relax, maybe hiring bikes to explore the waterfront or paddle boards if you’re feeling a bit aquatic— and then get right back out on the trail.

Nearby  Mt Aspiring National Park offers some truly incredible tramping routes , with scenery that is every bit as beautiful but markedly different than the cool ice of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. The most popular trail is  Roy’s Peak , but if you fancy a similar view without all the crowds and fuss,  Isthmus Peak  (5hrs return) is the perfect choice and one of my very favourite treks in New Zealand.

Recommended time:  2-3 days

Highlights:   Hike up to the summit of Isthmus Peak  or Roy’s Peak for panoramic views of the Southern Alps, Lake Hāwea, and Lake Wanaka; drive around Lake Hāwea, stopping on the side of the road for awesome views of the bright blue water; hire bikes and pedal through town; hang out on the shores of Lake Wanaka; snap a photo of #ThatWanakaTree; check out  RedStar Burgers  for some delicious bites in town

Getting there:  Drive 4hrs from Franz Josef Glacier to Wanaka, breaking up the drive by stopping off at the beach or lakefront in Haast.

Where to stay:   The Camp  has great tent sites located right on the shores of Lake Hāwea ($20/night per person). It’s about 10min outside of Wanaka, but the setting is beyond gorgeous and actually closer to some of the best hikes in the area.

Read more:   ISTHMUS PEAK, THE BEST ALTERNATIVE HIKE TO ROY’S PEAK IN WANAKA

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Exploring Milford Sound with Descend Dive

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Diving in Milford Sound

Milford Sound

At the chilly, distant tip of the South Island, Fiordland National Park is home to some of New Zealand’s most spectacular landscapes, perhaps  none more breathtaking or better known than Milford Sound.  From Wanaka, drive 3hrs to Te Anau, the nearest town to Milford Sound, or 4hrs to  Cascade Creek , the nearest DOC camp (just 45min from Milford Sound) . As you continue through Fiordland towards the water, be sure to stop off at all the amazing lookouts along the side of the road, like  Pop’s Viewpoint, The Chasm, and Monkey Creek .

There are heaps of cool ways to experience the fjord, whether it’s on a  classic scenic cruise , a splurgy  helicopter flight , or,  my personal favourite,  a scuba diving tour . In a fjord reaching depths of up to 500m, there’s so much happening beneath the surface— this lesser explored, shockingly vibrant marine area is home to species of sharks that predate dinosaurs and coral trees typically only found at 1,000m.  Descend Dive  is the only operator running dive tours in Milford Sound , and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Unless you’re doing the Milford Track or Kepler Track (which you have to book around 6 months in advance these days!) or an overnight cruise through the fjord , you really only need one full day to see Milford Sound. Try to pack in as much as possible, because  it really is  breathtaking .

Recommended time:  2-4 days

Highlights:  Take a  scenic cruise  through the fiord to see waterfalls, NZ fur seals, penguins, dolphins, and heaps of amazing mountain scenery, like 1700m Mitre Peak; scuba dive in Milford Sound with  Descend Dive ; splurge on a  scenic flight  over the mountains and glaciers of Milford Sound; walk the spectacular  Milford Track or  Kepler Track ; enjoy the scenic drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound, stopping off at Pop’s Lookout, Monkey Creek, and other awesome viewpoints within the park

Getting there:  Drive 3hrs from Wanaka to Te Anau, the nearest town to Milford Sound. From here, it’s a further 2hrs to Milford Sound along winding mountain roads.

Where to stay:  There are a number of hostels and motels in Te Anau, but if you’re in a campervan or tent camping,  Cascade Creek  is an awesome place to stay. This is the closest DOC campsite to Milford Sound, which means your morning drive will only be 45min rather than 2+ hours from Te Anau. It’s a large site with heaps of space (no bookings), $15/person for the night paid on arrival with cash.

Read more:   DEEP WATER EMERGENCE: SCUBA DIVING MILFORD SOUND WITH DESCEND DIVE

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Hiking out to the Routeburn Falls Hut

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Hiking up to Harris Saddle on the Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

Winding through forests, past serene alpine lakes, and across swing-bridges in New Zealand’s stunning Southern Alps and Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Area, Routeburn Track is an undemanding but overwhelmingly beautiful hike , and one of the best ways to experience classic New Zealand tramping. Thanks to the DOC’s amazing hut network, the trail is accessible for nearly all levels of walkers , even those without overnight backpacking experience.

Traditionally, this 32km tramp is walked from (near) Glenorchy towards Fiordland National Park as a one-way, necessitating the use of a shuttle or bus to make the extremely circuitous journey back to your car. Instead, I’d recommend walking the first half of the walk as far as Harris Saddle, and then returning the way you came. You will miss some of the Fiordland scenery, but this itinerary is a lot less stressful, much cheaper, and still affords phenomenal views on the Glenorchy side of the trail. Stay both nights in the Routeburn Falls Hut and enjoy a leisurely trip through some of NZ’s finest wilderness.

Recommended time: 3 days

Getting there: Drive 2hrs from Wanaka to the Routeburn Shelter, the trailhead for the Routeburn Track. It’s fine to leave your car parked here while you go off tramping for a few days.

Where to stay: Stay in DOC mountain huts along the Routeburn Track. During the Great Walk season (October – April), these huts are $130/night booked in advance through the DOC.

Read more: ADVENTURES ON THE SOUTH ISLAND: 11 OF THE BEST HIKES IN NEW ZEALAND (UPDATED 2020)

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Queenstown from Skyline

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Bungy jumping at Kawarau Bridge

From the Routeburn Shelter outside of Glenorchy, it’s just a quick 1hr drive to  New Zealand’s long-standing adventure capital, Queenstown . Set against the spectacular backdrop of The Remarkables and bright Lake Wakatipu, this is a lively, backpacker-filled resort town whose  incredible landscape and palpable energy are absolutely infectious . It’s truly impossible not to fall in love, so just know that  a few days is never going to be enough.

While in Queenstown, spend your days doing all sorts of crazy things, like  giant canyon swings ,  the world’s first bungy jump ,  white water rafting ,  mountaintop luge , or  canyoning . There are also countless trails to explore, either in hiking boots or on the seat of a mountain bike, and every hill offers a better view than the last. 

If you need a break from all the pumping adrenaline, hire a kayak or aqua bike to  explore Lake Wakatipu , take the gondola up  Skyline Queenstown , hire an e-bike to go  wine tasting in the Gibbston Valley , or take a scenic drive along the lake to  Glenorchy . There are seriously more things to do in Queenstown than I could possibly list (although I do list  my favourite 15 things to do in this post ), but suffice to say that, whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, avid tramper, mountain biker, wine lover, photographer, or party animal,  there won’t be a single dull moment here.

Recommended time:  4-5 days

Highlights:  Get your adrenaline up on  a bungy jump or giant swing ; walk or take the gondola up to  Skyline Queenstown  for a breathtaking view of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu, plus an awesome  luge track ; queue for a burger at the insanely-popular  Fergburger  in town; hike to the summit of Ben Lomond, or even just the easier Queenstown Hill, for great views of the region; go  wine tasting in the Gibbston Valley  on a bike

Getting there:  Drive 1hr from the Routeburn Shelter to Queenstown.

Where to stay:   Queenstown Holiday Park & Motels Creeksyde  is located right downtown, an easy walk to anywhere in Queenstown, and is well-equipped with a communal kitchen, lounge, and decent WIFI. Powered sites are $65/night for 2 people.

Read more:   15 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND (UPDATED 2020)

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Mt Cook from the Mueller Hut Route

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Mt Sefton from Sealy Tarns

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Leaving the intense adrenaline of Queenstown behind, set off for Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, the crown jewel of the South Island. If you aren’t already brimming with excitement (which you should be), the drive will get you there— this is one of the most scenic stretches of highway in the entire country , Mt Cook looming large on the horizon and viewpoints like Peter’s Lookout over Lake Pukaki offering plenty of excuses to pull over.

Mt Cook Village (and the awesome DOC camp at  White Horse Hill ) is the perfect base to explore what is honestly  one of the country’s finest and most breathtaking National Parks . Conveniently, all the park’s best hikes also depart right from  White Horse Hill , making it possible to cram in  several different treks per day without even having to get in the car. 

If you have some time after setting up camp, set out on the  Kea Point Track   (easy, 30min return) or  Hooker Valley Track  (easy, 2.5hr return). The following day, tackle the incredible  Mueller Hut Route (3.5hrs to the hut) with a summit of  Mt Ollivier  (1hr return). This is my NUMBER ONE pick in New Zealand for mountain scenery , but be warned that it’s a moderately challenging track with steep, unrelenting ascents and loose, difficult terrain. All part of the adventure!

On the final morning, if weather cooperates, book in for a  spectacular  scenic flight  or  heli-hike  on the Tasman Glacier  to see the best of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park from above.

Highlights:  Enjoy amazing scenery of Mt Cook, Mt Sefton, and the glacier lakes on the  Sealy Tarns Track, Mueller Hut Route, Mt Ollivier Summit ,  Kea Point Track , and  Hooker Valley Track ; take a  scenic flight or helicopter ride  around Mt Cook and enjoy a snow-landing on the Tasman Glacier

Getting there:  Drive 3hrs from Queenstown to Aoraki/Mt Cook Village.

Where to stay:  For $15/person, pitch your tent directly in front of Aoraki/Mt Cook at  White Horse Hill Campsite .  This is one of my very favourite campsites in all of New Zealand, both for the incredible scenery and the convenience of literally being the trailhead to half a dozen different hikes in the National Park.

Read more:   THE BEST OF AORAKI/MT COOK: SEALY TARNS & MUELLER HUT TRACK (UPDATED 2020)

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Lake Tekapo overflowing with lupins

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Lake Tekapo shoreline

Lake Tekapo

Set against the snowy Southern Alps and wild fields of lupin in every shade of pink and purple,  Lake Tekapo and its impossibly turquoise water is one of the most colourful places on the South Island . And at only a few hours from Christchurch Airport, it’s the absolute perfect way to  wrap up and wind down from a spectacular trip around New Zealand.

Cruising away from Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, catching the final glimpses of Mt Cook in your rearview mirror, arrive at brilliantly blue Lake Tekapo to  relax by the shore, do some short hikes  ( like the easy walk up Mt John ), and  visit the amazing lupin fields . It will be genuinely hard to leave, but  I’m sure you’ll be back.

Recommended time:  1-2 days

Highlights:  Hike up to  Mt John Observatory  for sprawling views of Lake Tekapo; frolic through endless fields of lupin and foxglove in every shade of pink and purple; go for a swim in the chilly waters of Lake Tekapo; hire a stand up paddle board from the beachfront; stop off at Peter’s Lookout over nearby Lake Pukaki for amazing views of Mt Cook;  star-gaze  in one of the best locations on the entire planet, said to have some of the lowest light pollution and one of the most vibrant night skies

Getting there:  Drive 1h from Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park to Lake Tekapo. From Lake Tekapo, it’s only 3hrs to the Christchurch Airport. Until next time, New Zealand!

Where to stay:  Grab one of the lakeside  tent sites for $50/night  (per 2 adults) at Lake Tekapo Holiday Park.  Enjoy BBQs, kitchen facilities, hot showers, and laundry in a convenient location.

Read more:   TOP 10 PLACES TO VISIT IN NEW ZEALAND

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Flower field just outside Lake Tekapo

Read more about New Zealand

THE ULTIMATE NEW ZEALAND TRAVEL GUIDE

THE BEST OF AORAKI/MT COOK: SEALY TARNS & MUELLER HUT TRACK (UPDATED 2020)

15 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND (UPDATED 2020)

ADVENTURES ON THE SOUTH ISLAND: 11 OF THE BEST HIKES IN NEW ZEALAND (UPDATED 2020)

BEST OF THE SOUTH ISLAND: 10-DAY NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP ITINERARY

TOP 13 PLACES TO VISIT IN NEW ZEALAND

15 ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR ROAD TRIPPING AROUND NEW ZEALAND

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brooke brisbine

I've spent the last decade exploring the world— everything from solo trekking in the Andes to overlanding in Zambia, all while completing a PhD in Biomechanics, teaching at a university & securing permanent residency in Australia. In 2020, I finally fulfilled my dream of becoming a full-time nomad! Whether it’s vanlife in Mexico, scuba diving in the Galápagos, ticking off incredible US National Parks, or climbing in the Dolomites, I hope this blog will inspire your future adventures & help you find wonder in every corner of the globe. xx bb

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Love Life Abroad

New Zealand Campervan Itinerary (3 Weeks)

Are you planning a road trip in New Zealand and thinking of renting a campervan for your trip? We have curated this great New Zealand campervan itinerary for a 3-week road trip.

New Zealand is beautiful and offers such diversity in the scenery on a relatively small surface. Unlike Canada or the United States, you don’t have to drive a lot to find a completely new landscape. If you are an adventure and outdoor family, New Zealand won’t disappoint you. From hot springs to eternal mountain peaks, you’ll be amazed by New Zealand.

But first, why should you consider renting a campervan to explore New Zealand?

Disclaimer: Just a heads up, this free article contains affiliate links . If you purchase after clicking one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost . Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Your support helps me continue to provide helpful and free content for you .

Why a Campervan is the Best Way to See New Zealand

Traveling New Zealand by campervan is the ultimate way to explore its stunning outdoors at your own pace. With a campervan, you can enjoy the flexibility of self-driving and stay in breathtaking locations. New Zealand’s excellent campervan infrastructure includes fee-paying campsites like Top 10 Holiday Park and over 200 basic Department of Conservation (DOC) sites , offering minimal fees, drinking water, and basic toilets.

For a more budget-friendly option, consider Freedom Camping , available to certified self-contained campervans with their own waste tanks. This initiative allows free camping in diverse locations, from city-center car parks to secluded rural areas.

While renting a campervan can be pricier than a car, it eliminates the hassle of hotel check-ins and offers built-in cooking facilities. Keep in mind, fuel costs can be higher, and larger vehicles might be challenging to drive and park. Remember to pack all the essentials for a stress-free road trip adventure in New Zealand!

»» Read our: Escape Campervans Review for an Adventure Family

new-zealand-campervan itinerary

Your New Zealand Campervan Itinerary (3 Weeks)

This 3 week New Zealand itinerary covers both the North Island and the South Island . The North and South islands are very different from one another. Both should definitely be included on a New Zealand campervan itinerary. It’s a one-way route designed to maximize time and avoid a costly return ticket on the inter-island ferry.

Week 1 : Auckland – Rotorua – Wellington

new-zealand-campervan-week1

Fly into Auckland and explore New Zealand’s biggest city before picking up your campervan.

Drive 2 hours south to Hobbiton , the film set for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Kids will love exploring the landscaped site with 44 Hobbit houses whether they have seen the movies or not!

Your next stop is the cave region of Waitomo. In Waitomo, you can take a family-friendly caving trip to see the glow worms . Seeing the glow worms is truly a magical experience.

Continue to Rotorua . The town is famous for its sulfurous smell and its geothermic features. You’ll see bubbling mud pools, geysers, and hot pools . Then, make a stop at Tamaki Maori Village to learn about Maori culture and enjoy a traditional Hangi dinner .

Finally, visit Lake Taupo before arriving in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington . You’ll want to make time for a tour of Te Papa . Te Papa is a fantastic and varied museum of New Zealand .

»» For a more detailed itinerary of New Zealand’s North Island, check out our New Zealand’s North Island 7-Days Road Trip Itinerary .

Week 2 : Wellington – Christchurch – Queenstown

new-zealand-campervan-week2

Take the car ferry from Wellington to Picton to reach South Island. The ferry drive is about 3.5 hours. Drive to Kaikoura on the east coast, a town renowned for whale and dolphin spotting. Head south to Hanmer to enjoy hot springs before arriving in Christchurch .

Spend a day exploring this charming city which has some of the best city center playgrounds in New Zealand. Turning inland, Lake Tekapo is reputed to have the darkest skies in New Zealand. V

Then, visit the awe-inspiring Mt Cook and hike the family-friendly Hooker Valley Track . It’s a 5 kilometers trail perfect for families. From here, drive to Queenstown . Make sure to spend some time at stunning Wanaka en route.

Week 3 : Queenstown – Milford Sound- Christchurch

new-zealand-campervan-week3

Explore bustling Queenstown and take a steamboat trip on Lake Wakatipu. You can also take part in one of Queenstown’s many adrenaline-pumping activities, such as jet boating. Visit nearby Arrowtown, where kids can hire gold panning equipment to pan for gold in the river.

Drive to Te Anau for an overnight stay before visiting Milford Sound . The driving time from Te Anau to Milford Sound is about 2.5 hours (according to the kilometers between both places). But it will take much longer as you’ll want to stop to savor the incredible views.

Take a boat trip on the 15-kilometer-long Milford Sound to fully appreciate its size, scale, and jaw-dropping scenery.  From here, it’s a full-day drive to reach Fox Glacier and its neighbor, the Franz Josef Glacier . There are family-friendly paths that wind through the valley to the base of the glacier. There are also numerous activities on offer, such as heli-hiking (age restrictions apply) or a helicopter ride.

It is now time to return to Queenstown to drop off your rental campervan. You can also decide to continue up the East Coast. If you do so, you’ll want to stop at the family-friendly Hokitika Gorge and Kahikatea Forest . Then, you can make your back across the stunning Arthurs Pass to Christchurch. 

FAQ New Zealand Campervan Itinerary (3 Weeks)

Can you sleep anywhere in a campervan in new zealand.

No, you can’t sleep anywhere in a campervan in New Zealand. This is because there are restrictions on where campervans can be parked overnight. But, there are many freedom camping sites where you can park for free or for a small fee. Freedom camping sites are designated areas where you can only stay overnight. They can be found in parks, beaches, and other recreational areas.

When is the Best Time to Visit New Zealand?

Long warm days will maximize sightseeing opportunities and your enjoyment of New Zealand’s outdoor attractions. However, New Zealand’s extended school summer holidays run from late November/December to early February .

If you choose to visit in summer , it’s the high season. Attractions will be busier. There will be more competition and demand for camping spots. And, of course, you’ll experience higher campervan rental fees and camping fees . 

Visiting New Zealand in Spring and Autumn will avoid this but be prepared for some cooler and wetter weather. 

A campervan trip in New Zealand in the winter will be cold , especially on the South Island . Ok, it may not be as cold as the winter in Canada, but it still can get cold. You may encounter poor driving conditions and multiple road closures in mountain regions. But it’s an ideal time to visit if you love winter sports and snowy landscapes. 

Where to Rent a Campervan in New Zealand

Major cities on the North Island and the South Island have a few campervan rental companies. such as Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown , are offering city center or airport depots for most campervan rental companies. 

Well-known campervan brands include:

  • Euro Campers

You can also check Auto Europe to compare the different campervan options that are available in New Zealand.

How much money do I need for 3 weeks in New Zealand?

It depends on your budget and the activities you plan during your stay in New Zealand. You could get away with spending around $2,800-3000 for 3 weeks if you want to stick to budget-friendly activities and accommodations. Still, you might need more money if you plan on doing more expensive activities or staying in nicer accommodation.

Which New Zealand island is better to visit?

South Island is the better of the two New Zealand islands to visit. With its rugged coastlines, towering mountains, and breathtaking glaciers, it’s truly a sight to behold. Of course, there are plenty of activities to enjoy, from hiking and kayaking to skiing and exploring the various towns and cities. You’ll also find some of the country’s best food and wine there!

When can you see Aurora in New Zealand?

The best time to see Aurora in New Zealand is from March to September. The best chance of seeing the aurora can generally be found on nights with a clear sky and little light pollution, which are more common during this period.

Final Thoughts on New Zealand Campervan Itinerary (3 Weeks)

There are so many things to do and see around both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. You could spend months exploring New Zealand. With 3 weeks in a campervan, you’ll get a great overview of most must-see places.

Would you rather visit New Zealand in a campervan or in a rental car?

Related Articles

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like to read the following articles:

  • Escape Campervans Review for an Adventure Family
  • Camping With Toddlers Checklist So You Don’t Forget a Thing.
  • TIPS FOR FAMILIES: How to Survive Long Road Trips?

Emilie Brillon

Emilie is the founder of Love Life Abroad. She helps moms plan epic road trips and outdoor adventures with their families. Because who said adventuring had to stop once we have kids? She’s based in the Canadian Rockies and shares her love for the region as well as other unique places in Canada & USA. She works with tourism boards and outdoor brands to inspire families to experience new unique destinations and outdoor activities.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

The Ultimate Two-Week New Zealand Road Trip

By Caitlin White

New Zealand was one of those countries that shut down its borders tight during the pandemic, a strategy that turned out to be effective not just for dealing with a highly contagious sickness, but also in making it a coveted destination for travelers once the lockdown was lifted. Even before that, ever since the wildly popular Lord Of The Rings franchise introduced the natural beauty of these two islands to a much larger audience than just travel obsessives and #vanlife connoisseurs, New Zealand has been on the national radar as a bucket list trip for plenty of Americans, 14-hour plus flight be damned. 

At the same time, though, as a destination it’s a bit daunting for newcomers — where to start if the country’s natural beauty is the main draw? Is it better to focus on one island at a time? Is one of them unabashedly better? And if not, how do you choose? Besides, by the time you’ve survived a 14-hour flight, doesn’t seeing both seem justified? Luckily, my own personal journey through New Zealand is designed to answer all these questions and more, as I had about a year of preparation before a friend’s wedding on the south island to put together my own plan of attack. 

With a little help from a native Kiwi, said friend’s fiance and now-husband (congrats Matt and Theo!), I landed on an approximately 16-day itinerary road trip that led me through most of the major cities on both islands, as well as some more rural stops filled with natural beauty along the way. Feel free to take my blueprint and make it your own, trimming or adding days to suit your own interests and wants, or skipping to one island if you’re not planning to travel to both.

Starting off and (heading back home) from a base in Auckland, I traveled down to Lake Taupō and Wellington on the north island, then took the ferry across to the south island where I ventured over to the golden sands of Kaiteriteri in Tasman, down to the infamous Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, and finished up with a few days in the lake town, Wānaka, a nearby attraction from the south island’s main port of Queenstown. After a final few days exploring Queenstown, I flew back up to Auckland, crashed in an airport hotel, and headed home the next morning. Here are my tips, tricks, suggestions and recommendations broken up by each city and region.

How to get there

The bulk of the direct international flights from America land in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand by far. You can also fly directly into Wellington, but if you want to see Auckland too, it makes sense to fly there first, and then make your way down to Wellington before heading across to the south island. Another option is flying into Christchurch with a stopover in Australia  or another New Zealand city first. (I opted to skip Christchurch for this trip, but it is the second largest city in New Zealand with the largest population on the south island. Unfortunately, several devastating earthquakes in 2010, 2011 and 2016 have deeply impacted the city’s infrastructure, and it’s still in recovery mode from some of the damage. My Kiwi guide recommended skipping it on a first visit in favor of some coastal explorations instead.) 

West Coast flights

I have status on American Airlines, so I opted to fly from LA to their hub in Dallas, where they offer a daily direct to Auckland. The perks of going three hours out of the way was the chance to use credit from canceled pandemic-era flight, and a free upgrade to premium economy seats, which matters quite a bit on a 14-hour trip. I booked about seven months in advance of the actual trip, and saw the ticket prices spike just after that, around six months, and continue to go up, so planning ahead is key.

For west coasters looking to depart directly from their home city, Air New Zealand offers direct flights out of both LA and San Francisco, and United also flies direct from SFO to Auckland. Portland and Seattle will have to route through San Francisco or Vancouver to catch a direct. Qantas (operating with Air Tahiti Nui) is another good option to check out, as they offer a one-stop option with a layover in Papeete, and Hawaiian Airlines flies a similar route with a quick stop in Honolulu. Finally, Fiji Airways is another potential one-stop selection, with a brief layover in Nadi, Fiji, before the final leg to Auckland.

East Coast flights

The best bet from the east coast will always be out of New York, and there is a direct from JFK to Auckland happening twice a week on either United or Air New Zealand. Be warned: This flight is over 16 hours. This might be the perfect trip to finally splurge on Business class?

North Island

Auckland: 3-5 days .

Think of Auckland as the New York City of New Zealand — though this one is a thriving metropolis with a population hovering around 1.6 million. There’s no other city in the country that even comes close in size, and some might argue, culture, and even though in my experience there was pretty incredible food all over the country, the restaurants in Auckland were particularly exceptional. It is a great town for eating, drinking and shopping, and will likely be the most familiar city for Americans as far as recognizable businesses and brands etc. 

Bonus tip: Plenty of merchants in New Zealand don’t take Amex, so bring your other favorite travel points credit card of the Visa or Mastercard persuasion just to be safe. 

Double bonus tip: If you pick up a rental car at the Auckland airport, some carriers don’t let you take it across on the ferry to the south island (mine was Hertz). You will be asked to return the first car in Wellington and pick up a new one at the south island ferry terminal. Just make sure to plan for this slight inconvenience ahead of time, disobeying the rule comes with hefty fines. 

Optional side trip: If you’re starting your trip in Auckland, consider whether you want to drive up to the rugged, forested Northlands region. As the name suggests, it’s directly north of Auckland. I didn’t, and kind of regretted the fact, but if you do head up there, you’ll have to pre-pay for any toll roads at the rental car counter when you first pick up your car. That means doing some research on what you’d like to see and how to get there — and again, I didn’t make the trek up, so I can’t be of much service here except to warn you about the tolls. If you do choose to go, I’d say a day or two would be the max, as it’s mostly rural cities, colonial towns and wineries that are the draw aside from just driving the coastline, which is always the number one attraction in this country.

Where to stay in Auckland:

Mövenpick Hotel Auckland

American hotel brands are present in some parts of New Zealand, but other hospitality companies like Accor have a much larger presence. If you’re a points fiend, settling on one hotel company for a trip of this size is a great idea, and I went with mostly Accor properties because they have a presence in all the major cities. Accor is actually the largest hotel operator in the Pacific and has been in the area for over thirty years, so they’re experts in the space. After witnessing that firsthand on a recent trip to Fiji , working with them on this trip was a no–brainer. 

If you’re going with Accor, sign up for their membership rewards and use that number everywhere. (Please tell me you’re already doing this for any long trips and extensive hotel bookings!) Mövenpick was originally a Swiss brand that Accor acquired in 2018, and they wasted no time opening the first property in New Zealand with this Auckland hotel in 2022. Since it’s currently their newest property in town, and I’ve never stayed in one, I wanted to check it out. 

Located right in the heart of the CBD (Central Business District) on the waterfront, this hotel is perfectly situated within walking distance of countless bars and restaurants, tourist attractions like the Sky Tower, nearby shopping neighborhood of Ponsonby, and the ferry over to Waiheke island. The company’s Swiss origins included holdings in ice cream and chocolate, and instead of a daily happy hour they offer a “chocolate hour” at the restaurant on the top floor of the hotel, with complimentary sweets galore for guests. 

Location is everything for this affordable and polished property, with ocean views of the Viaduct Harbor from many of the rooms and the upstairs restaurant, a downstairs coffee bar, in–house valet and walking distance to the Britomart shopping area and the harbor itself.

Hotel Britomart

Another option in the CBD area, this independently owned hotel was actually founded by the brother and sister duo, Suzie and David Lucas, who originally hail from Seattle. Working with a whole host of locals and experts to create a property with an emphasis on sustainability, the hotel initially opened in the tumultuous fall of 2020. Since then it’s been recognized as the first 5-Green Star hotel in New Zealand, as certified by the NZ Green Building Council. You’ll pay around $500 USD a night to snag one of just 99 rooms, but the place is certainly beautiful. 

Sofitel Viaduct

If you prefer to be even closer to the harbor, check into the Sofitel Viaduct for luxury accommodations and marina views. Overlooking the Waitemata Harbour, plenty of the Sofitel’s rooms offer balconies and panoramic views of Auckland’s stunning waterfront — and you’re still well within walking distance of all the shops and restaurants in the CBD.

What to do in Auckland:

Visit Piha Black Sand beaches

About an hour or so drive outside the city center, these black sand beaches are some of the most visually stunning in the area. Beloved by surfers due to the massive ways, this somewhat tourist–y spot is still under crowded because of how tucked away it is. Definitely bring along snacks if you head out, as there’s not a ton of options near the beach, probably a good place to bring one of New Zealand’s famous meat pies (more on that below).

Shop and explore Ponsonby

This walkable neighborhood near the CBD is well–known as a shopping haven in the city if you want to pick up trinkets, souvenirs, a new wardrobe or just wander around Ponsonby Road feeling out the vibe. The boutiques are filled with handmade crafts from local artisans and high-end clothing, so there’s plenty to window shop even if you’re not in the mood to buy.

Venture to the top of the Sky Tower

It’s a little touristy, but hey, you’re a tourist! Just like the Hollywood Sign and the Empire State Building, checking out the Sky Tower is a rite of passage for newbies in Auckland. From restaurants at the top of the tower and morning yoga to bungee jumping or walking around the tower’s outdoor edge (in a full harness), there’s plenty of ways to experience the landmark. 

Explore Mt. Eden’s volcano walk 

Those more inclined to a nature walk than a height–defying tower might have a better time on the short 2-kilometer walk up Mt. Eden. Though it’s very close to the central downtown area, this is the highest volcano in Auckland at a height of about 650 feet. Reaching the summit affords some beautiful views, and the trails are easy to maneuver for most — plus there’s plenty of parking if you want to drive right in.

Take the ferry across to visit Waiheke island 

Hands down my favorite day trip from Auckland was visiting the winery-laden isle of Waiheke. If you’re familiar with the LA to Catalina trip, this is in that vein, and the island is similarly a vacation home haven for plenty of locals. Save yourself taxi fare and climb the meandering hill from the ferry dock, then reward yourself with Island Gelato and a bevy of fresh seafood at The Oyster Inn . You can also book an overnight stay on Waiheke, and yes, the Oyster Inn itself does host guests. Staying there or a romantic night at Mudbrick Vineyard would be my suggestions.

Where to eat in Auckland:

I liked it here so much that I came twice during — and during a three day trip! They just have everything you want…housemade pastas laden with fresh seafood, bougie cocktail and mocktail options, a studied wine list, fresh breads and salads, pate, steak, lamb shoulder — it’s all here, nestled into the exposed brick and wooden beams. They open in the morning and even have breakfast cocktails, takeaway options, and, of course, fresh made pastries and coffee. If you’re within walking distance, you won’t go just once. 

Pasture / Boxer / Alpha

Fine dining lovers have likely already heard about the seven-seat prix fixe menu at Pasture from chef Ed Verner, something of a local legend at this point. A restaurant without tables and no dietary accommodations might sound unfeasible, but Verner’s mesmerizing dishes bring new ingredients to the table and transform old ones. For a slightly less intense (or pricey) experience, the crew have also opened Boxer, the de facto bar for Pasture, and Alpha, a test  kitchen, bakery, and an a la carte joint at the front of the space that’s deliberately more affordable and accessible. Knowing my trip was over two weeks, I went there, and have been  thinking about the caviar grilled cheese with honey “snack” ever since.

Cazador Deli

Given the amount of driving and walking you’re likely to do on a trip of this nature, keeping a variety of snacks on hand is a good move. As I mentioned earlier, in New Zealand, pie has a whole new meaning, one that has nothing to do with dessert. Plenty of bakeries, shops and even gas stations sell hand–held size savory pies stuffed with cheese, meat, gravy and vegetables that make for an excellent lunch, midday snack or midnight tune up. I tried almost every kind that BP gas stations sell (they take Amex) as well as a few other bakeries around town, but by far the ones at Cazador Deli blew everyone else out of the water. This deli is fairly near Mt. Eden, so if you  do venture out for that walk, stop by here and stock up on pie, too.

Bonus tip: Even in the heart of the CBD on a weekend, restaurants close early in New Zealand. Make sure you’re out and about between 7-8 PM latest to snag a table or a bar snack before kitchens close.

Lake Taupō: 1-2 days maximum

I’m originally from Oregon, so I grew up thinking Crater Lake was the pinnacle of natural beauty in the world (still kind of think that, to be honest). If you’re similarly awed by crater lakes, you’ll love Lake Taupō, which is the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand (!) Definitely a local’s destination, this massive lake was formed after an eruption from Taupō Volcano left a hollow known as a caldera, which was then filled with water. Right in the middle of the north island, this is a perfect stopping point on a drive from Auckland to Wellington, which is a straight shot of eight hours. Technically, you could do it in one day, but why not do as the locals do and check out a pristine lake on the way?

Where to stay in Taupō:

I found out about this lakeside paradise too late to do an overnight, so I had to be satisfied with a day trip, but if I were going to stay I’d probably go for a night at Lake Taupo Lodge . Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, the couple who built and own this luxury lodge also live out there on their own little plot of land… I’m guessing a night here is worth any price but there are countless options at all price points available . 

What to do in Taupō:

New Zealand is well known as one of the adventure sport capitals of the world, and Taupō  is a great place to get into some of them. From skydiving to boat cruises, hikes through volcanic alpine terrain, visiting geothermal pools or dramatic waterfalls, to river rafting, there’s plenty to do on and  around the lake. Still, the number one activity is probably fishing, so expect to see a lot of veterans out on the waters.

Wellington: 2 days 

Remember, every city after Auckland will be markedly smaller, even when you’re not in a rural lake town. The bulk of Wellington is located right on the water, but steep cliffs make up the other half of the city, kind of like a San Francisco vibe. It’s a city of close to 200,000 people, and there is a pretty robust film industry connection with many productions filming here, in part to the presence of local artisans who run Weta Workshop , another company made famous by their work on Lord Of The Rings . It’s also the unofficial coffee capital of the country, and pretty much any local shop you go into will have great brew.

Where to stay in Wellington:

Sofitel Wellington

The options are more limited in Wellington, so sticking with a Sofitel is the wise choice — especially since this property comes with a fine dining steakhouse in the lobby, the Jardin Grill . New Zealand produces some of the best beef in the world, and this is the perfect place to try it.

What to do in Wellington:

Take the Weta Workshop tour

These masterful creatives are responsible for some of the most iconic costumes, props and vehicles in the world. Originally started by just two founders, Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, the team has now grown exponentially, including an additional outpost in Auckland. At just $50 NZ for a 90 minute tour, this lowkey walking experience is well worth the price, even if you’re not a diehard cinema fan.

Hike or drive to the top of Mount Victoria for epic views

Since most of the big New Zealand cities are port cities, the potential for excellent views is always high. Right in the center of Wellington, the viewpoint from Mount Victoria is one of the best places to go to get a sense of this city’s sprawl, and the surrounding ocean. On a clear day,  you can even get a peek at south island miraging in the distance if you know where to look.  

Ride the Wellington cable car

Again, is it a little touristy? Yes. But tickets are only $9 NZ and the trip up the hill takes less than ten minutes. At the top, take in the views, peruse the museum and botanical gardens, or get a snack and a beer at the appropriately named Cable Top Eatery . As is often the case with trams, it’s about the journey, not the destination. 

Where to eat in Wellington:

I know I ate at other places in Wellington, but the single most impactful experience of this city for me was eating at Koji. Owners Johnon MacDonald and Kat Strand regularly tour New Zealand in order to source specific local ingredients they want to use in the restaurant’s pan-Asian cuisine, which incorporates traditional Kiwi flavors right alongside influences from Malaysia, Japan, Thailand and more. Don’t waste any time, settle in for the “just feed me” chef’s menu, a relatively affordable prix fix of nine dishes for $85 NZ — which leaves plenty of room in your budget for wine pairings. Also, you will very likely need a reservation, so save yourself the trouble and make one before your trip.

Great little coffee shop with a lunch-y/brunch-y all day menu and a delightful array of cold coffee options, plus other ideas like Bloody Marys, an assortment of wines and even an espresso martini!

Best Ugly Bagels

These are the foremost New Zealand bagels, done in the Montreal style because the owner, Kiwi chef Al Brown, had one in Canada and fell in love with it. Similar to their Canuck counterparts,  these bagels are hand rolled, poached in honey water, then wood fired in a stone oven, this one burning the very New Zealand timber, Manuka wood. If you want to go even more local, you can get one smeared with marmite (the New Zealand vegemite) and butter — but they’re just as great with standard cream cheese or done up as one of the specialty sandwiches. They’re a great option for a quick local snack in Wellington — including a kiosk at the Wellington airport. 

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It’s not difficult to find the ferry ports in Wellington, as they’re within a five minute drive of each other and centrally located downtown. Remember to leave enough time to drop off your rental car and make your way back to the harbor. There are two ferry companies, Interislander , the larger, more tourist-friendly original operator, and Bluebridge , the smaller ferry geared more toward locals. I originally pre-booked on Bluebridge and had a really bad experience, only to be saved by a day-of ticket on the Interislander, so that’s definitely my recommendation between the two. 

The whole trip from Wellington to Picton, the small ferry hub town on south island, takes about three and a half hours, as the boat goes pretty slowly the whole time navigating the narrow strait between islands. If you don’t get seasick, the views are stellar, but don’t be surprised if the lull of the boat rocks you to sleep.

South Island

Kaiteriteri: 1-2 days.

Picton is by no means a destination unto itself, so roadtrippers can either head four and a half hours south to Christchurch, or crawl along the south island’s northwest coast for some pretty incredible beaches. I opted for the latter and drove about three hours to Kaiteriteri, a seaside resort town in the Tasman region that’s near the Abel Tasman National Park . Known for its golden, almost egg yolk-yellow sands, and shockingly blue water. The sand looks magical, but it’s really just the result of crystals, mica and quartz weathering off ancient granite over the course of the years.

Where to stay in Kaiteriteri:

Kimi Ora Eco Resort

Full disclosure I found this place on Hotels.com, but it turned out to be one of the unexpected gems of the whole trip. With ocean views from plenty of the suites and the property’s main restaurant, charming exposed wood and cozy cabin touches in the room, and a whole suite of hot and cold pools including a steam room and two saunas, this hotel is like a hidden paradise. Very crunchy, with a vegetarian restaurant and a true emphasis on sustainability, there’s even a glow worm trail built into the hill above the hotel, so guests can go explore this fascinating natural phenomenon. 

What to do in Kaiteriteri:

Aside from luxuriating in the spa pools after hours of driving, there are tons of ocean activities available too, like kayaking and cruises, or a nearby mountain biking trail that’s also quite popular.

Where to eat in Kaiteriteri: 

There isn’t a whole lot of culinary game in town, but Kimi Ora’s on-site restaurant, The Views , served delicious vegetarian pizza and salads, as well as dishes made with tempeh, cauliflower, tofu and other meatless options. A full breakfast buffet was loaded with treats like homemade chia pudding, as well as eggs and cheese, toast, pastries and more.

Punakaiki: 1 day

Some of the most beautiful coastline on the entire southern island is the area leading up to and around the tiny village of Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes landmarks. It’s about four hours driving between the northwest area of Kaiteriteri down to Punakaiki, so as long as you leave in the morning you’ll have the bulk of the afternoon to go on the short hike around the Pancake rocks, maybe dip in the ocean, take lots of photos and fall asleep to the sound of the crashing waves.

Where to stay in Punakaiki:

As this is a fairly rural place, even the nicer accommodations tend to be dorm and motel-like.  Hostels abound and are the more popular choice by far, but if you aren’t up for bunk beds and shared showers, look into The Ocean View Retreat – Punakaiki , one of the only properties  around with AC and wifi.

What to do in Punakaiki:

The beach is the thing, whether you’re on the short, paved walk through the Pancake Rocks reading about their history, sitting on the sand listening to the waves crash, driving along the coast to take it all in, or tucked into your hotel room watching the sun come down. This isn’t a place with activities — the place is the activity.

Where to eat in Punakaiki:

If you’re staying at The Ocean View Retreat, they have a restaurant on-site . Across from the Pancake Rocks  entrance is the rather touristy Pancake Rocks Cafe that serves, you guessed it, pancakes, among other things. Further up the road is the Punakaiki Rocks Hotel & Garden Bar , serving up pub and diner fare and plenty of libations from 8 AM until 9 PM, seven days a week.

Wānaka: 3-4 days

The drive from Punakaiki to Wānaka will be the most brutal of the trip, coming in around six  and a half hours. That goes up to just under eight hours if you opt to go the mountain way in order to take in the majestic views at Arthur’s Pass National Park, as anyone who has seen it will urge you to do. Settle in for a car day and stock up on coffee, snacks and meat pies at gas stations along the way. The good news is, once you hit Wānaka, the next and last location is only an hour or so away, so this is the last long car day. 

As for Wānaka itself, this is one of the most popular resort towns in all of New Zealand for a reason. Aside from being beloved by snow bunnies in the winter, it’s a gorgeous place to summer due to the proximity of the lake, which easily earns its constant comparison to the Swiss alps.

Where to stay in Wānaka:

I can’t say enough good things about this resort, especially since it offers private beach and lake access that was literally 2-3 minutes from my room’s patio door. As the only resort in town actually perched on the lakeside, it has a distinct advantage over other accommodations, and a central restaurant, the Wineglass Cafe , is another draw, not just for Edgewater guests but all of Wānaka. If you think you might like to stay here, consider booking your room right now! This place sells out all the time, and it was only through repeated emails and cajoling, and eventually a manager taking pity on me and upgrading my room, that I was able to spend four solid nights here. 

After the upgrade, I was in a lakeview apartment that could’ve easily slept four people when you include the queen size sofa bed in the living room. With a separate bedroom, desk area, kitchenette and a luxurious spa bathroom, I’d say this was one of my favorite experiences in New Zealand and I can’t recommend it enough.

What to do in Wānaka:

Day Trip to the Blue Pools

Just an hour or so outside of Wānaka, and after a lovely drive alongside two lakes, no less, these glacial pools are located about a 20-25 minute walk from a central parking area. Taking the trail down to the pools requires crossing over a couple of rope bridges, so keep that in mind as far as mobility. Once you’re there, though, these breathtaking (literally, they’re freezing) crystal clear pools are more than worth the trip.

Wine tasting and at Rippon Vineyard

These days, New Zealand and Australia have confidently entered the ring as interesting winemaking regions in their own right. Still, Rippon is something special. Just outside the main borders of Wānaka, and only a few streets over from Edgewater, this family-owned vineyard and tasting room is perched on a hillside overlooking the lake. They specialize in biodynamic wines and stunning postcard–ready views, with appointments for tastings are available 12-5 PM, seven days a week. Just keep in mind there’s no restaurant or food options on site, so a pre–tasting lunch at the Wineglass Cafe might be the move.

Wander through the Wānaka Lavender Farm

Like something out of a movie, the bucolic fields of lavender that guests can explore for an entrance fee of $7-15 NZ are worth every penny. Across twenty acres of gardens, including the occasional barnyard animal here and there, the Lavender farm is a stunning testimony to the healing power of plants. Honey from the bees who pollinate the fields is available for purchase, as are any number of botanical and herbal concoctions made from and with the flowers. Great gift ideas: lavender water spray , l avender lip balm , lavender bar soap .

Where to eat in Wānaka:

There is a sweet little food truck lot on Brownston Street with a bevy of options for takeaway, and since plenty of rooms in town come with kitchenettes, stopping by the New World Supermarket for some groceries is another idea. Big Fig Wānaka offers a cafe style “slow food” approach that’s deli-like, and Adam & Eves bakery can fill in whatever blanks there might be for bread, pastries, coffee and snacks.

Queenstown: 3-4 days

Since Wānaka is the idyllic small town feel on south island, Queenstown manages to feel big by comparison — except it isn’t. Wānaka clocks in with a population of just under 9,000, Queenstown has just over 47,000. Both townships are located on lakes, but with a lot more infrastructure, like an airport, highways, and local industry, Queenstown manages to feel like a city while Wānaka is decidedly a village. That’s good news if the last week or so of small, rural enclaves on the south island have left you wanting a little bit of bustle and excitement. 

Where to stay in Queenstown:

Another Accor brand, this hotel might not be quite as bougie as its Swiss counterpart, but what it lacks in Olympic status it makes up for in charm. Queenstown is another ski bum haven, so summer is the low season, which makes for a quiet and serene hotel atmosphere. As most of the common rooms and plenty of hotel suites overlook the lake, guests would naturally wander toward the windows to take in the natural beauty, like flies to honey.

What to do in Queenstown:

Milford Sound flight and cruise

Truly one of the most infamous tourist attractions in the country — if not the world — opt to skip the lengthy bus ride and just fly right into the sound on a private plane. From there, a brief cruise around the fjord lets visitors really experience the heart of Milford, before getting back on the plane and heading home. The whole thing takes around four hours and costs about $600 NZ, well worth the chance to see all this natural beauty from the air and by sea.

Oxbow Adventure Co.

If you haven’t indulged in any skydiving, bungee jumping, or otherwise death-defying adventure activities as of yet, Oxbow is the place to get into the mix. With off-roading, jet sprint boats and clay bird (skeet) shooting, visitors can opt for one activity, a pair, or engage in all three. By the end of the day, you might’ve uncovered a hidden talent for marksmanship, or just screamed your head off during the breakneck boat ride. Either way, these activities are designed to offer accessible danger, a little less risky than skydiving, but with all the adrenaline packed in.

Gibbston Valley Cheesery & Deli

On the way out to Oxbow, or on the way back, pull into the Gibbston Valley Cheesery & Deli compound for a master class in hospitality at its finest. There’s wine cave tours, a tasting room experience, a cheesery, woodfired pizza hut, guest lodging and so much more. Whether you’re a cheese fanatic or studying for the next level of your WSET and ready to flex your wine tasting chops, there’s something here for all the foodies and winos.

Skyline Queenstown

Once again, it’s the journey that makes this tram ride a must, not the boilerplate restaurant at the top. Still, the Skyline comes much more highly recommended than the Wellington Cable Car, partially because the views are that killer and partially because it goes like a hundred times as high.

Where to eat in Queenstown:

The locals running the ship at Oxbow recommended Blue Kanu to me, and we couldn’t have been more grateful. It was a delicious mashup of pan-Asian cuisine, similar to what was going on at Koji, but with more of an emphasis on Kiwi and Fijian seafood and even some Polynesian influences. They call it a mix of Pacifica and Asia that becomes “Polynasia,” so make of that what you will.

Margo’s  

As a Californian, I’m pretty picky about the authenticity of my Mexican cuisine, but even I had to give it up for Margo’s, a Mexican fusion spot with killer blended margaritas (virgin or otherwise) and a whole host of tacos that lean into pork belly, fried chicken, artichoke and more. Fish tacos make the most sense from a Kiwi point of view, and even their queso — which could hold its own against local LA options — leveled things up with toasted seeds and smoked corn salsa. A whole smattering of vegan options and a party atmosphere made this place officially the most versatile restaurant in town, so definitely make a reservation if you want to stop by, it gets crowded quickly.

Heading home

After dropping off my rental car, I took an Air New Zealand hopper flight from Queenstown to Auckland. I booked this flight about three months before the trip and it cost me $130 USD. It was just under a two hour flight, akin to an LA to Phoenix route. As I’m a huge proponent of airport hotels , particularly when it comes to international destinations I’m not all that familiar with, I flew back up to the north island the day before my flight home and booked into the Novotel Auckland . This turned out to be a great idea, as flash flooding in the airport a few days earlier meant things were still very chaotic.

Luckily, the Novotel was literally across the street from the international terminal, as in, less than a block away. I was able to sleep in, grab a leisurely breakfast and a shower, and still show up at the counter at 11:30 AM to check in for my 1:45 PM flight. The alternative to that was leaving Queenstown on a 7 or 8 AM domestic flight, schlepping to the international terminal, and going through security a second time in one morning to then board a 14-hour flight home. Airport hotels, they’re worth their weight in gold.

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' class=

Hi, we are a family of 3 with a 9 year old kid planning the travel in first week on May. Please share your suggestions. Thanks in advance!

Day 2 - Auckland Dolphin and Whale Watching Eco-Safari Cruise for half a day and spend rest of the day local sight seeing In Auckland

Day 3 - Day trip to Bay of Islands from Auckland and come back to Auckland

Day 4 - Travel to Hamilton in the morning by car , spend rest of the day sight seeing in Hamilton

Day 5 - Day trip to Hobbiton and Waitomo caves, come back to Hamilton for stay at night

Day 6 - Day trip to Rotorua , come back to Hamilton for stay at night

Day 7 - Lake Taupo or Tongario national park, come back to Hamilton for stay at night

Day 8 - Take a flight from Hamilton (or Auckland) to Queenstown , spend rest of the day in Queenstown (include some adventure activities)

Day 9 - Day trip to Milford Sound , come back to Queenstown for stay at night

Day 10 - Day trip to Glenorchy and include something else with this, come back to Queenstown for stay at night

Day 11 - Day trip to Lake Tekapo , Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook, come back to Queesntown for stay at night

Day 12 - Otago wineries day tour, come back to Queenstown for stay at night

Day 13 - Leave for Christchurch early morning by car and local Christchurch tour for the rest of the day

Day 14 - Day trip to Kaikoura and include something else too, come back to Christchurch for stay at night

Day 15 - Flight back home

26 replies to this topic

' class=

Day 8 return to AKL & fly to ZQN (3N)

Day 9. Milford Sound day tour

Day 10. Pick up rental car & drive to Glenorchy etc

Day 11. AM drive to Aoraki Mt Cook; short hike; PM continue on to Lake Tekapo ; evening star gazing

Day 12. AM Drive to Christchurch ; PM Willowbank Wildlife Park (2N).

Day 13. Day trip to Akaroa; dolphin cruise

Day 14. Final shopping, Heritage tram, botanic gardens etc.

#5 that is very very false - astronomers are usually only able to predict a southern lights event about 30 minutes before it happens. The University of Otago has launched a fantastic website which will alert you of the next possible occurrence.

sometimes with a major solar storm you can get a day warning, but they cant predict a month in advance as a solar event hasnt even occurred. Particles from solar eruptions bombard Earth's magnetic field and enter the atmosphere at regions called auroral ovals. These particles interact with gases in the atmosphere, creating auroras.

Thanks! Won’t go chasing the auroras

#17 yes thermal wear, rainjackets, and layers will be required in may. im travelling mckenzie county, central otago and fiordland for 6 weeks and already needing thermals when we passed through canterbury. but also had beautiful stunning sunny hot days. the evenings are cooler.

Thermals become too warm during daytime, and at night simply wear winter pjs to bed, and possibly a singlet underneath. None of my family has ever owned thermals in the North Island. Un-necessary unless you plan to spend hours outdoors in a cold wind whilst hiking. Sturdy footwear and warm socks are de rigour though to keep lower extremities warm and dry. And a woollen beanie hat to protect head warmth/body heat.

It is a requirement in NZ that homes and holiday accommodation remains warm and dry. Heat pumps are now standard in most properties. Gas, electric and oil filled heaters are routine. Some accommodation lodges will have open or closed wood fire boxes. In the winterless north of NZ our winter house only has a modern slow-burning wood fuel fire to keep our entire home warm from late afternoon through to early morn. Too hot inside otherwise.

#19 we have often needed thermals in the north island when travelling in shoulder and winter seasons and even summer. they are very useful if snorkelling and for putting on afterwards. Also for walking tracks and in alpine areas, especially in places around tongaririo national park. you would be foolish to visit tongaririo national park and not take good thermals - even at peak summer the wind chill at the red crater can be near freezing.

Thermals are great for boat trips where the wind chill drops so a merino as a base layer, mid layer and then an outer layer are required. We were in bay of islands in nov/dec and used all layers on boat trip.

So definitely bring them for nz trip.

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China's foreign minister meets New Zealand counterpart, beginning trip that also includes Australia

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday that his country is ready to work with New Zealand to deepen trade and economic ties and address climate change.

Wang met his New Zealand counterpart, Winston Peters, at the start of a tour that will also include Australia.

China is willing to hold talks on reducing barriers to investment in the service sector “at an early time” and build new drivers of economic growth with New Zealand in the digital economy and through technological innovation, Wang said, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry.

Peters, who is also deputy prime minister, met Wang in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital.

“There have been some significant developments since we last met, not least a global pandemic that impacted both our countries,” Peters said in his opening comments in their formal meeting at New Zealand’s parliament house.

“Today is a valuable opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities that are now before us,” he said.

Wang is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the country since his own previous visit in 2017. He called for the creation of better conditions for exchanges including education, tourism and youth programs, citing the example of Rewi Alley, a 20th-century New Zealander who was a member of China’s Communist Party.

New Zealand has had strong economic ties with China in recent years and was the first developed country to sign a bilateral free trade deal with Beijing in 2008. The two countries expanded that trade agreement in 2022.

Wang also had a brief meeting with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on Monday and also is to meet Trade Minister Todd McClay while in Wellington.

Wang arrives in Canberra, Australia, on Wednesday to meet with counterpart Penny Wong, with talks between them expected to include the case of detained Australian Yang Hengjun .

It will be the first time the two foreign ministers have met face-to-face since Yang was found guilty of espionage in a closed trial and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in February.

Also on the agenda will be the removal of the last remaining trade tariffs that were imposed by China in 2020 and were widely regarded as punishment for the previous Australian government’s passage of laws that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics, for barring Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out Australia’s 5G network due to security concerns and for calling for an independent investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trade tariffs cost Australia’s economy an estimated 20 billion Australian dollars ($13 billion), but have since been wound back on most goods except wine, rock lobsters and some abattoirs.

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Middle East Crisis Netanyahu Rebuffs Biden and Vows to Press Ahead With Rafah Invasion

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  • Palestinians searching for missing people under the rubble of a destroyed home in Nuseirat, central Gaza, on Tuesday. Mohammed Saber/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • A Palestinian family breaking the fast in Rafah, Gaza. Associated Press
  • A woman praying near a memorial in Tel Aviv for those killed or taken hostage on Oct. 7. Oded Balilty/Associated Press
  • Palestinians fleeing strikes on Gaza City. Associated Press
  • Police officers in Jerusalem remove ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters from a demonstration against their conscription into the armed forces. Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Children waiting for food aid at the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. Mahmoud Essa/Associated Press
  • Palestinians fleeing Gaza City during strikes. Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Netanyahu acknowledges a dispute with the U.S., but says Israel will press on into Rafah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel brushed aside disagreement with the Biden administration over a planned ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, saying Tuesday that his government would press ahead despite pleas for restraint from the United States and key allies.

Mr. Netanyahu made the remarks to Israeli lawmakers a day after speaking by phone with Mr. Biden, who the White House said had reiterated concerns that invading Rafah would be “a mistake.” Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that Israel’s objectives in Rafah “can be done by other means,” and that Mr. Netanyahu had agreed to send a team of Israeli officials to Washington to hear U.S. concerns and to discuss alternatives.

But on Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu insisted that sending troops into Rafah was necessary to eliminate what he said were Hamas battalions in the city.

“I made it as clear as possible to the president that we are determined to complete the elimination of these battalions in Rafah, and there is no way to do this without a ground incursion,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Given the forum where the Israeli leader was speaking — a committee of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset — it was unclear whether the intended audience for his comments was primarily domestic, and whether the divisions might be smoothed at the meetings planned in Washington.

But Mr. Netanyahu acknowledged the dispute with the Biden administration over invading Rafah, saying “we all know this.” The United States has expressed increasing concern over civilian deaths in Gaza, but Mr. Netanyahu emphasized on Tuesday that he and Mr. Biden remained on the same page about the main objectives of the war.

“We have a debate with the Americans over the need to enter Rafah, not over the need to eliminate Hamas, but the need to enter Rafah,” he told the lawmakers.

He said that “out of respect for the president,” he had agreed to send a team to Washington so that the U.S. officials could “present us with their ideas, especially on the humanitarian side.”

Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, told reporters at a news briefing on Tuesday that the U.S. and Israel were “just squarely in a different place” on the expected invasion of Rafah.

“We have a different strategic viewpoint on what we believe is necessary to help target the key elements of Hamas,” he added.

The Biden administration has repeatedly warned Israel against sending ground troops into Rafah without a plan to get the more than one million Palestinians sheltering there out of harm’s way.

On Monday, Mr. Sullivan said that no such plan had been presented.

Many Palestinians who have fled from fighting in other parts of the Gaza Strip have sought safety in Rafah, obeying Israeli directives to move south. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are crammed into temporary shelters.

“They went from Gaza City to Khan Younis and then to Rafah,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters. “They have nowhere else to go.”

And Rafah’s limited resources have been exhausted as the population has multiplied. Many people in the city spend their days trying to secure basic needs: finding clean water for drinking and bathing, getting enough food and calming their children when Israeli strikes hit nearby.

— Cassandra Vinograd

The White House says a meeting with Israeli officials on Rafah is expected early next week.

The White House is expected to meet with an Israeli delegation early next week to discuss Israel’s plans for an invasion of Rafah, a point of tension between President Biden and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday that the Biden administration expected the Israeli officials to arrive in Washington “likely” early next week.

The leaders are at odds over how to proceed in Rafah. The White House said that Mr. Biden told Mr. Netanyahu on Monday that sending Israeli forces into Rafah, which has become the last refuge for more than half of Gaza’s population, would be disastrous when there are other ways to defeat Hamas.

But Mr. Netanyahu has not moved from his position that he must send troops into Rafah to defeat Hamas, the Palestinian faction that led the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, even though about 1.5 million civilians are currently seeking shelter in the southern city.

“Our view is that there are ways for Israel to prevail in this conflict, to secure its long-term future, to end the terror threat from Gaza, and not smash into Rafah,” Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Monday. “That’s what we’re going to present in this integrated way when this team comes.”

He also said the face-to-face meetings would be necessary to make progress in negotiations between Israel and Hamas on a deal to release Israeli hostages held by Hamas and a cease-fire to the fighting in Gaza.

“We’ve arrived at a point where each side has been making clear to the other its perspective, its view,” Mr. Sullivan said. “And now we really need to get down to brass tacks and have the chance for a delegation from each side on an integrated basis — everyone sitting around the same table, talking through the way forward.”

— Zolan Kanno-Youngs

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Maps: Tracking the Attacks in Israel and Gaza

See where Israel has bulldozed vast areas of Gaza, as its invasion continues to advance south.

How Gazans have fared after Israel has asked them to flee.

For many civilians in Gaza, fleeing from Israeli attacks has become a grim cycle. Israeli evacuation orders have prompted more than a million people to move from one destination to another since October, each time packing belongings and seeking transport — by vehicle, cart or foot — to escape airstrikes and ground fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The latest example is Rafah, in southern Gaza, a city swollen to more than 1.4 million people by forced displacement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Tuesday that his military would invade the city to root out Hamas but that it would provide humanitarian aid and “facilitate an orderly exit of the population.”

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, has said that a major ground invasion in Rafah would be a mistake, not least because it would further imperil humanitarian access. Displacement has contributed to a hunger crisis sweeping the territory, and the United Nations has said that an invasion could mean that an already catastrophic situation slides “deeper into the abyss.”

Some civilians say they have fled time and again . As many people face the prospect of being displaced again, here is a look at what happened on a few occasions when Israel has told civilians to evacuate.

Northern Gaza

Israel began telling more than one million civilians to evacuate northern Gaza about two weeks ahead of its ground invasion on Oct. 27, though the area was pummeled by Israeli airstrikes soon after the Hamas-led attack in Israel on Oct. 7.

“Hamas is using you as a human shield,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said on Oct. 22, calling on civilians still in northern Gaza to move south.

The Israeli military also dropped Arabic-language leaflets over the area, warning that anyone who did not move south “may be considered as a partner in a terrorist organization.”

The United Nations said that the evacuation order was impractical, and the U.S. asked Israel to delay its invasion to give civilians more time. Even so, hundreds of thousands of people obeyed the order and moved to southern Gaza, carrying a few possessions away from an area that had already been shattered by airstrikes before the full-scale invasion began.

The south proved to be no escape from peril. An investigation by The New York Times in December found that Israel had used some of the largest and most destructive bombs in its arsenal in southern Gaza, posing a pervasive threat to civilians.

Mr. Netanyahu says that Israel intends to minimize civilian casualties while fighting Hamas, and Israeli officials said that Hamas fighters had set up checkpoints to prevent people from complying with the orders to move.

Khan Younis

In early December, after a one-week cease-fire, Israel launched a major military operation in Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s largest city. Many civilians there had fled to the city from northern Gaza.

The Israeli military again warned civilians to leave parts of Khan Younis for Rafah and other places farther south, though residents said that they sometimes had mere hours of notice. Israel also dropped leaflets over Khan Younis and broadcast information about which parts of the city were safe at any given moment.

Several Palestinians said, however, that the orders to leave Khan Younis, or to move within it, were confusing, not least because they appeared to shift over time and left little opportunity to gather possessions. In addition, obeying the orders meant carting relatives — many of whom had been displaced several times previously — to a new place where the prospects for shelter and basic essentials were uncertain.

Civilians also said that when they fled as instructed, they sometimes found themselves at locations engulfed in fighting or subject to airstrikes.

The most recent designated large scale safe zone is Rafah, which lies against the closed Egyptian border and has been immensely swollen by displacement. Without sufficient accommodations, many of its new residents have pitched makeshift tents.

Rafah has been subject to airstrikes and fighting in recent weeks. In one example, the health authorities in Gaza said on Feb. 12 that at least 67 people had been killed overnight in airstrikes in the city. Israel’s military had launched an operation to rescue two people held hostage in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack.

The Israeli authorities have asked people at least twice to head to Al-Mawasi, a coastal village in southern Gaza that could be a destination for people asked to leave Rafah. Aid officials have said that the village lacks shelter, humanitarian aid and basic infrastructure.

— Matthew Mpoke Bigg

Israel’s military says its forces are still operating at Al-Shifa Hospital.

The Israeli military said its forces were pressing on with a raid of Al-Shifa Hospital and had detained scores of people there, in an operation that has drawn condemnation from Gazan health officials and raised questions about how much control Israeli forces have over northern Gaza.

The latest raid of Al-Shifa began on Monday in what Israeli officials said was an operation targeting senior Hamas officials who had regrouped there, setting off a battle that both sides said had resulted in casualties.

On Tuesday, Israel’s military said its troops were “continuing precise operations” in the sprawling complex of the hospital, which is Gaza’s largest. It said it had killed dozens of militants, though its account of the fighting could not be independently verified.

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The Al Jazeera news network said that one of its journalists had been detained for 12 hours. It said the journalist, Ismail al-Ghoul, had been severely beaten . Israel’s military has not responded to the allegations, which drew outrage from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Gazan Health Ministry condemned the raid as a “crime against health institutions,” and humanitarian organizations expressed alarm over the situation at the complex. The hospital, along with the surrounding area, had been sheltering 30,000 patients, medical workers and displaced civilians.

“Hospitals should never be battlegrounds,” the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a post on social media warning that the situation was “endangering health workers, patients and civilians.

Doctors Without Borders said it was “extremely concerned” for the safety of patients and medical staff in the hospital compound. In a statement on Monday, the organization urged “all warring parties to respect the grounds and perimeter of the hospital and ensure the safety of medical personnel, patients and civilians.”

Israel has said that the hospital complex doubled as a secret Hamas military command center, calling it one of many examples of civilian facilities that Hamas uses to shield its activities.

Four months ago, Israeli forces stormed the complex and found a tunnel shaft that they said supported their contention that the armed group had used it to conceal military operations.

Since then, Israel has withdrawn many troops from northern Gaza and has shifted the focus of its invasion to the south. As a result, lawlessness has increasingly taken hold in the north, prompting international aid organizations to suspend operations despite a dire humanitarian crisis.

The Biden administration has grown increasingly critical of Israel’s conduct of the war and its toll on civilians. On Monday, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that “more innocent civilians have died in this conflict, in this military operation, than in all the wars in Gaza combined, including thousands of children.”

“A humanitarian crisis has descended across Gaza, and anarchy reigns in areas that Israel’s military has cleared but not stabilized,” he said.

Gabby Sobelman and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting.

The U.N. human rights chief says Israel may be using starvation as a war weapon.

The United Nations human rights chief, Volker Türk, blamed Israel on Tuesday for what he said was the entirely preventable catastrophe of starvation and famine unfolding in Gaza, urging international pressure on the country to allow for the unimpeded entry of humanitarian aid.

International alarm has been growing over the hunger crisis in Gaza, with food experts predicting an imminent famine in the north of the enclave and foreign leaders and diplomats becoming increasingly blunt in pointing the finger at Israel.

“The situation of hunger, starvation and famine is a result of Israel’s extensive restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods, displacement of most of the population, as well as the destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure,” Mr. Türk said in a statement.

Mr. Türk said Israel’s restrictions on aid, together with its conduct in its campaign to destroy Hamas, including the displacement of people and the destruction of infrastructure, may amount to the use of starvation as a weapon of war, which is a war crime.

Israel has pushed back on criticism that it is restricting aid from entering Gaza, pointing to its support for several recent initiatives , including efforts to provide supplies by air and sea that aid groups say are far less efficient than road.

It has accused Hamas of diverting aid and of using Palestinian civilians as human shields. The country’s mission in Geneva said on Tuesday that Mr. Türk “seeks once again to blame Israel for the situation and completely absolve the responsibility of the U.N. and Hamas.”

A report released Monday by the U.N.-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification said that 1.1 million people, half the population of Gaza, would most likely face catastrophic food insecurity and predicted an imminent rise in hunger-related deaths.

“The coping mechanisms we have seen the past weeks, even months, are people eating bird seeds, animal fodder, wild grass and weeds,” Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. aid agency in Geneva, told reporters on Tuesday while discussing the report. “We are beyond that. There’s literally nothing left.”

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that it had set up a center to try to stabilize malnutrition levels in the south of Gaza and was looking to set up another in the north, but it said that to bring in supplies at the scale needed would require a cease-fire. Talks in Qatar are continuing amid another intensive diplomatic push to secure a pause in the fighting.

— Nick Cumming-Bruce reporting from Geneva

Israel’s spy chief returns home as cease-fire talks continue in Qatar.

The head of Israel’s delegation has returned home from cease-fire talks in Qatar, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, but talks there are continuing amid another intensive diplomatic push to secure a pause in the fighting in Gaza as famine looms.

Warnings from the United Nations that a “famine is imminent” have added urgency to efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and get more humanitarian aid into Gaza. In addition to the discussions in Qatar, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week to discuss postwar plans for Gaza and the wider Middle East.

Israeli negotiators arrived in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on Monday for a new round of in-person talks about a potential cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups. Their delegation was led by David Barnea, the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign spy agency.

Mr. Barnea returned to Israel on Tuesday morning, according to an Israeli official who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. Further details were not immediately available, but the Israeli news media reported that other members of Israel’s negotiating team remained in Qatar.

Officials from Qatar and Egypt have acted as intermediaries in the cease-fire discussions, in part because negotiators for Israel and Hamas do not talk directly with each other.

A spokesman for Qatar’s foreign ministry, Majed al-Ansari, confirmed that Mr. Barnea had departed but said on Tuesday that “technical teams” seeking to hash out finer details of a potential agreement were continuing to meet in Doha.

He said that while there had not yet been a breakthrough in talks, Qatar remained “cautiously optimistic.”

Two senior Israeli officials said the government had initially given its negotiating team an amorphous mandate for the latest round of talks. The team had now been authorized to go deeper into details during the talks, they said, but wasn’t given the full latitude it had requested. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to communicate with the news media.

The Israeli officials said on Monday that a proposal being discussed included a 42-day pause in the fighting in exchange for the release of 40 of the more than 100 hostages taken from Israel and still held in Gaza by Hamas or its allies. But they emphasized that they expected it would take a long time to reach an agreement.

Last week, Hamas presented a new proposal that omitted a previous demand that Israel immediately agree to a permanent cease-fire in return for beginning an exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The Israeli officials said Hamas’s new proposal included details that were unacceptable to Israel.

For months, Hamas leaders have been publicly calling for a comprehensive cease-fire and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israeli officials repeatedly rejected the demands and indicated that they would be open to only a temporary pause.

Cassandra Vinograd contributed reporting.

— Aaron Boxerman

The top U.S. diplomat will make his sixth wartime trip to the Middle East.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week, a trip that comes as the Biden administration tries to broker a hostage deal that would pause Israel’s offensive in Gaza and allow more humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.

Speaking to reporters during a stop in Manila on Tuesday, Mr. Blinken said his discussions would include postwar plans for Gaza and the wider Middle East, including a potential agreement that would normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and lay the groundwork for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

Mr. Blinken will be traveling to the region as mediators from Egypt and Qatar hold meetings in Qatar about a possible cease-fire. Israel sent a team of negotiators to Qatar on Monday.

The trip will be Mr. Blinken’s sixth to the region since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which set off the war in Gaza. In the announcement of his travel, the State Department said that he would meet with the Saudi and Egyptian “leadership,” without naming specific officials. There was no mention of a visit to Israel.

Mr. Blinken said that during stops in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, and Cairo, the Egyptian capital, he would be discussing “the imperative of having a plan for Gaza, for when the conflict ends,” and that the hope was such a conclusion would come “as soon as possible, consistent with Israel’s needs to defend itself and make sure that Oct. 7 can never happen again.”

Any postwar plan for Gaza will involve the question of how to provide governance and security in Gaza, a subject on which the United States and Israel disagree .

Mr. Blinken also said he would address “what is the right architecture for lasting regional peace,” an apparent reference to diplomacy between the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia to broker a joint agreement.

Such a pact would likely require Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in return for its first-ever formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. In turn, the Saudis want the United States and Israel to support the creation of a civil nuclear program on Saudi soil , as well as greater military support from Washington.

Mr. Blinken stressed the urgency of providing humanitarian relief to Gaza, whose inhabitants, he said, “continue to face a horrific humanitarian situation.” He said that Hamas bore blame for the crisis but that it was also “incumbent on Israel” to protect civilians during its military campaign.

He is expected to travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and to Egypt on Thursday.

— Michael Crowley Reporting from Manila

Who was Marwan Issa, the Hamas commander killed by Israel?

Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza and a presumed mastermind of the Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, was confirmed dead on Monday by a senior U.S. official after an Israeli airstrike more than a week ago.

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told reporters that Mr. Issa, one if the highest-ranking officials in Hamas, had been killed. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said on March 11 that Israeli military warplanes had targeted Mr. Issa and another senior Hamas official in an underground compound in central Gaza.

With his death, Mr. Issa, who had been among Israel’s most wanted men, became the senior-most Hamas leader to be killed in Gaza since the start of the war. Israeli officials have characterized the strike as a breakthrough in their campaign to wipe out the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

But experts cautioned that his death would not have a devastating effect on Hamas’s leadership structure. Israel has killed Hamas’s political and military leaders in the past, only to see them quickly replaced.

Here is a closer look at Mr. Issa and what his death means for Hamas and its leadership.

What was Mr. Issa’s role in Hamas?

Mr. Issa, who was 58 or 59 at the time of his death, had served since 2012 as a deputy to Mohammed Deif, the elusive leader of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing. Mr. Issa assumed the role after the assassination of another top commander, Ahmed al-Jabari.

Mr. Issa served both on Hamas’s military council and in its Gaza political office, overseen by Yahya Sinwar, the group’s highest-ranking official in the enclave. Mr. Issa was described by Palestinian analysts and former Israeli security officials as an important strategist who played a key role as a liaison between Hamas’s military and political leaders.

Salah al-Din al-Awawdeh, a Palestinian analyst close to Hamas, described Mr. Issa’s position in the group as “part of the front rank of the military wing’s leadership.”

Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, the former Israeli military intelligence chief, said Mr. Issa was simultaneously Hamas’s “defense minister,” its deputy military commander and its “strategic mind.”

What does his death mean for the group?

Experts described Mr. Issa as an important associate of Mr. Deif and Mr. Sinwar, though they said his death did not represent a threat to the group’s survival.

“There’s always a replacement,” Mr. Awawdeh said. “I don’t think the assassination of any member of the military wing will have an effect on its activities.”

Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli military intelligence officer and an expert on Palestinian affairs, said Mr. Issa’s death was a significant blow to the Qassam Brigades, though he conceded it wasn’t “the end of the world” for Hamas.

“He had a lot of experience,” Mr. Milshtein said. “His death is a big loss for Hamas, but it isn’t a loss that will lead to its collapse and it won’t affect it for a long time. In a week or two, they’ll overcome it.”

Mr. Milshtein added that even though Mr. Issa’s opinion was valued at the highest levels of Hamas, the fact he did not directly command fighters meant his death did not leave a gaping hole in Hamas’s operations.

How has he been described?

Mr. Issa was a lesser-known member of Hamas’s top brass, maintaining a low profile and rarely appearing in public.

Gerhard Conrad, a former German intelligence officer who met Mr. Issa more than a decade ago, described him as a “decisive and quiet” person lacking charisma. “He was not very eloquent, but he knew what to say, and he was straight to the point,” Mr. Conrad said in an interview.

Mr. Conrad said he met Mr. Issa, Mr. al-Jabari and Mahmoud al-Zahar, another senior Hamas official, about ten times between 2009 and 2011 in Gaza City. The men met as part of an effort to broker a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.

“He was the master of the data on the prisoners,” Mr. Conrad said of Mr. Issa. “He had all the names to be negotiated on.”

Mr. Conrad, however, said it was apparent at the time that Mr. Issa was a subordinate to Mr. al-Jabari. “He was a kind of chief of staff,” he said.

It was only after Mr. al-Jabari’s assassination that Mr. Issa’s prominence grew, but he still was keen to stay out of view. Few images of Mr. Issa are in the public domain.

Mr. Awawdeh, the analyst, called Mr. Issa a man who liked to “remain in the shadows” and who seldom granted interviews to the media.

In one of those rare interviews , Mr. Issa spoke in 2021 about his role in the indirect talks that resulted in Israel exchanging more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for a single Israeli soldier, Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit, and his hopes for a future conflict with Israel.

“Even if the resistance in Palestine is monitored by the enemy at all hours, it will surprise the enemy,” he told Al Jazeera at the time.

In a separate interview with a Hamas publication in 2005, Mr. Issa lauded militants who raided Israeli settlements and military bases, calling the actions “heroic” and an “advanced activity.”

What is known about his early life?

Mr. Issa was born in the Bureij area of central Gaza in 1965, but his family hails from what is now the Ashkelon area in Israel.

A Hamas member for decades, he was involved with the militant group involved pursuing Palestinians who were believed to have collaborated with Israel, according to Mr. Awawdeh.

Mr. Issa spent time in prisons operated by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Admiral Hagari has said that Mr. Issa helped plan the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack. Mr. Issa is also thought to have planned operations aimed at infiltrating Israeli settlements during the second intifada in the 2000s, Mr. Milshtein said.

An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of a former Israeli military intelligence chief. He is Tamir Hayman, not Heyman.

How we handle corrections

— Adam Rasgon reporting from Jerusalem

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Bowdoin College

JK Bradley

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W : Maggie Wallin (4-0) L : Hester, Kathleen (2-1)

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W : Current, Maddie (4-1) L : H. Alguire (1-1)

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W : Hester, Kathleen (3-1) L : Sydney Trentman (3-3)

Game Recap: Softball | 3/20/2024 9:09:00 PM

Softball Caps Most Successful Spring Trip Since 2018

  • Bowdoin finished their trip with wins over Keuka (11-2), SUNY Brockport (11-0), and Carleton (11-5), and a loss to Wisconsin-River Falls (5-4).
  • Against Keuka, Anika Ewert led the offense with three runs scored while Elise Siciliano , Sydney Lang , and Shea Sullivan had two hits apiece. Ava Biasotti tossed three innings, striking out two for the win. Bowdoin used a six-run second inning to propel themselves to the mercy-rule win in five innings.
  • Bowdoin fell behind early and rallied, but suffered an eventual extra-inning loss to River Falls, 5-4. Ewert had three hits while Siciliano had three RBI in the loss. Katherine Hester tossed five strong innings, allowing no earned runs and striking out three.
  • Bowdoin capped its trip with two more offensive outbursts, including an 11-0 win over Brockport. Bowdoin scored six in the first inning on its way to the win. Ewert had three more hits, three runs scored and three RBI. Maddie Current got the win with 4.0 innings pitched, allowing no earned runs and just three hits.
  • The Polar Bears ended their trip with an 11-5 win over Carleton. Trailing 3-1 after the first inning, Bowdoin scored five in the second and never looked back. Sydney Lang had a three-run homer in the win while Ewert had five hits and JK Bradley had three hits and three RBI. Kathleen Hester collected the wins with 4.0 innings, striking out eight and allowing just one earned run.
  • Bowdoin will return home to open its new Pickard Field softball stadium on Sunday, March 24 against Wesleyan at noon.

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new zealand trip 3 weeks

  • Category: Xbox Game Pass

Coming to Xbox Game Pass: Diablo IV, The Quarry, Ark: Survival Ascended, and More

  • Megan Spurr, Community Lead, Xbox Game Pass

new zealand trip 3 weeks

This “coming soon” announcement we’re going to many different places with Game Pass, including the Old West, the open road, the other roads meant for toy themed cars, and even going to hell. That’s just a small taste of where Game Pass is taking us, so let’s dive in!

Available Today

Lightyear Frontier (Game Preview) (Cloud, PC, and Xbox Series X|S)   Available on day one with Game Pass : Start your interstellar homestead in this peaceful open-world farming adventure! Build your sustainable exofarm, grow alien crops, customize your mech, and explore a new world full of mystery with up to three friends!    

MLB The Show 24 (Cloud and Console)   Available on day one with Game Pass: Swing for the fences, experience game-deciding moments, become a legend and live out your baseball dreams in MLB The Show 24 . 

Coming Soon

The Quarry (Cloud and Console) – March 20   When the sun goes down on the last night of summer camp, nine teenage counselors are plunged into an unpredictable night of horror. The only thing worse than the blood-drenched locals and creatures hunting them are the unimaginable choices you must make to help them survive. 

The Quarry Key Art

Evil West (Cloud, Console, and PC) – March 21   A dark menace consumes the Old West. In solo or co-op, fight with style in visceral, explosive combat against bloodthirsty monstrosities. Eradicate the vampiric hordes with your lightning-fueled gauntlet and become a Wild West Superhero. 

Terra Invicta (Game Preview) (PC) – March 26   From the creators of Long War, an alien invasion has fractured humanity into seven ideological factions each with a unique vision for the future. Lead your chosen faction to take control of Earth’s nations, expand across the Solar System, and battle enemy fleets in tactical combat. 

Diablo IV (Console and PC) – March 28   The next-gen action RPG experience is coming to Game Pass with endless evil to slaughter, countless abilities to master, nightmarish dungeons, and legendary loot. Experience a gripping story or jump straight into Season of the Construct to unearth a new threat looming deep beneath the sands of Kehjistan. 

new zealand trip 3 weeks

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged (Cloud, Console, and PC) – March 28   Get behind the wheel of the coolest cars and vehicles from the Hot Wheels universe, including the new ATVs and motorcycles. Explore 5 new stunning environments and race the way you want with new mechanics in exciting challenges and crazy game modes! 

Open Roads (Cloud, Console, and PC) – March 28   Available on day one with Game Pass: Long-lost family secrets. Hints of a hidden fortune. And miles to go before they sleep. Tess Devine’s relationship with her mom has never been easy, but they’re about to set out together on a journey into the past that they’ll never forget. 

Ark: Survival Ascended (Cloud, PC, Xbox Series X|S) – April 1   Respawn into a new dinosaur survival experience as Ark is reimagined from the ground-up into the next-generation with Unreal Engine 5! Are you ready to form a tribe, tame and breed hundreds of species of dinosaurs and other primeval creatures, explore, craft, build, and fight your way to the top of the food-chain? Your new world awaits! 

new zealand trip 3 weeks

F1 23 (Cloud) EA Play – April 2   EA Sports’ F1 23 will be available with Xbox Cloud Gaming via EA Play. Test your driving talents, create your dream team, and be the last to brake in the official video game of the 2023 FIA Formula One World Championship.   

Superhot: Mind Control Delete (Cloud, Console, and PC) – April 2   Making a return to the Game Pass library! Time moves only when you move. Superhot: Mind Control Delete gives you more insight into the signature power fantasy world of Superhot with more story, more signature gameplay, more action, more guns. Keep dancing the slow-motion ballet of destruction for so much longer than ever before.   

In Case You Missed It

NBA 2K24 (Cloud and Console) – Available now   Strive for greatness with NBA 2K24 – experience a collection of competitive game modes and immerse yourself in a sports simulation unlike any other. NBA 2K24 boasts a variety of exciting game modes, now available for all Ultimate Game Pass Subscribers. We’ll see you on the court! 

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DLC / Game Updates

Fallout 76 : America’s Playground – March 26   Experience a new Fallout story set in the fading glitz and glam of Atlantic City. In this intrepid return visit to New Jersey, players will work together with competing local factions to take on a new threat lying in wait deep within the New Jersey Pine Barrens.   

The Elder Scrolls Online : Scions of Ithelia DLC – March 26   A challenging new dungeon crawling adventure awaits in the Scions of Ithelia DLC. Do you have what it takes to emerge victorious? Conquer both dungeons to unlock unique rewards, including new item sets, collectibles, achievements, and more. Game Pass members can save 10% on their purchase of Crowns to use towards the Scions of Ithelia DLC in the Crown Store. 

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Perks

Persona 3 Reload : Expansion Pass – Available now   Dive deeper into the world of Persona 3 Reload with this expansion pass featuring upcoming content including new costumes, background music, and extended story content. Play this role-playing turn based content in the expansion pass Episode Aigis -The Answer-, offering over 30 hours of additional gameplay in this reimagining of the genre-defining RPG! This Perk content requires Persona 3 Reload to use, available now with Game Pass Ultimate. 

Super Animal Royale Spring Perks Pack – Available now   Take your animal apparel to the next level with the Super Animal Royale – Spring Perks Pack. Claw your way to the top of the food chain in style with this exclusive set of cosmetics in this 64-player, top-down 2D battle royale. This Perk content requires Super Animal Royale, available free-to-play. 

Smite Netherbeasts Perk – Available now   Play the all new Netherbeasts Event in the popular action MOBA, Smite . Unlock the Gods, Voice Packs, Emotes for: Chaac, Cernunnos, and Cerberus. Plus enjoy a 3 Day Account Booster! This Perk content requires Smite to use, available free-to-play. 

Leaving March 31

The following games are leaving the Game Pass library soon, be sure to show them some love before they go or consider using your 20% membership discount on your purchase to keep them in your library! 

  • Hot Wheels Unleashed (Cloud, Console, and PC) 
  • Infinite Guitars (Cloud, Console, and PC) 
  • MLB The Show 23 (Cloud and Console) 

Time for me to decide what my next Diablo IV build will be (spoiler alert it is probably going to be another necromancer). Let us know what you’re pushing the leaderboards with over at @Xbox,  @XboxGamePass or @XboxGamePassPC . See you next time!

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VIDEO

  1. New Zealand Trip 2024

  2. New Zealand trip Sep'27 to Oct'22 2023

  3. Our New Zealand Road Trip Begins!

  4. New Zealand

  5. 2023 New Zealand Trip Day 12

  6. Part 3 of my New Zealand trip 🇳🇿

COMMENTS

  1. New Zealand Itinerary: 3 Week North & South Island Road Trip

    New Zealand is the perfect blend of outdoor adventures, breathtaking landscapes, beautiful cities, and gourmet food. One of the best ways to tour New Zealand is from behind the wheel of a car (or a campervan). This itinerary is designed as a 3 week road trip, starting in Auckland on the North Island and ending at Queenstown on the South Island.

  2. 3 Weeks In New Zealand Itinerary

    Average cost of 20 days in New Zealand. On average, a single person will spend $2,500. It can be brought down to $1,900 if you are OK with sleeping in bunk beds in hostel dorms. Suppose you prefer luxury, $6,500 to $10,000 and up for this 3-week trip is ideal. This budget excludes flights to and from New Zealand.

  3. Your Perfect New Zealand 3 Weeks Road Trip (With Prices!)

    Day 3 - Rotorua and Tamaki Village tour. Day 4 - Lake Taupo and Skydiving Experience. Day 5 - Taupo, Tongariro Crossing. Day 6 - Taupo to Wellington (or Auckland to Wellington by plane) Day 7 - Wellington. Day 8-20. The South Island. Day 8 - Christchurch. Day 9 - Artur's Pass and Hokitika.

  4. New Zealand in 3 Weeks (21 Days): Road Trip Itinerary [2024]

    New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary for 3 Weeks (21 Days): Overview. Day 1 - Arrive in Auckland. Day 2 - Auckland to Hahei (Coromandel) Day 3 - Hahei to Waitomo (via Karangahake Gorge) Day 4 - Waitomo to Rotorua (via Hobbiton) Day 5 - Rotorua to Taupo/Tongariro National Park. Day 6 - Taupo/Tongariro National Park.

  5. The Ultimate 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary

    Your 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary. Trip Planning Map. Day 1 - Goodbye Sydney, Hello Queenstown. Day 2 - Horseback Riding in Glenorchy. Day 3 - Milford Sound. Day 4 - Thrills in Queenstown. Day 5 - The Start of the Reverse Traverse. Day 6 to 17 - Flying Kiwi. Day 18 - Hot Water Beach.

  6. The Perfect 3 Week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

    Day 2: Cathedral Cove and Tairua. Today you will take a day trip to Cathedral Cove, one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand (and one of the only free things to do in this itinerary). With sharp cliffs and rocks sticking out of the shoreline, it's a pretty popular place for locals and visitors alike.

  7. The Most EPIC 1, 2 or 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary (2024)

    3 Weeks in New Zealand - Fly into Auckland and out of Christchurch. Day 1 - Auckland. Day 2 - Waitomo. Day 3 - Tongariro National Park. Day 4 - The Forgotten World Highway. Day 5 - Wellington. Day 6 - Crossing the Cook Strait to Picton and driving to Kaikoura. Day 7 - Whale watching and dolphin swimming in Kaikoura.

  8. 3-Week New Zealand Itinerary: How to spend 21 days

    Based on the 3 week New Zealand road trip I did last year, I've put together a day-by-day route for an epic whistle-stop tour of the country. Check it out! The Ultimate 3 Weeks in New Zealand Itinerary You can definitely explore a fair amount of New Zealand in 3 weeks. It won't be easy, though!

  9. A Legendary New Zealand Itinerary 3 Weeks Road Trip

    A Detailed New Zealand Itinerary 3 Weeks. Day 1 - Auckland. Day 2 - The Waitakere Ranges. Day 3 - Waitomo Caves & Rotorua. Day 4 - Rotorua / Drive to Taupo. Day 5 - Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Day 6 - Taupo / Drive to Wellington. Day 7 - Wellington. Day 8 - The Wellington to Picton Ferry / to Kaikoura.

  10. New Zealand: The perfect 3-week North and South Island road trip

    New Zealand: The perfect 3-week North and South Island road trip itinerary. By Lisa Owen. New Zealand is the perfect road trip destination offering up volcanoes, black sand beaches, moody forests, thermal pools, picturesque tarns, rugged ridgelines, turquoise lakes, clay cliffs and glaciers. Together with a couple of newfound road trip buddies ...

  11. The Ultimate 3-Week South Island New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

    The West Coast (3-4 days) Driving distance: 642 km / 399 mi. Driving time: 8 hours 30 minutes. The West Coast of New Zealand's South Island is a large region made up of many small towns. It's remote, off-the-beaten-track, and less touristy than other places in the country.

  12. 3 Weeks in New Zealand

    Itinerary #1: Epic New Zealand Road Trip: Auckland to Queenstown. This self-drive itinerary is ideal for first-timers who appreciate nature and good eats that want to experience the best of both islands, including unique culinary activities aboard trams and boats. With several romantic excursions—such as geothermal spa treatments, a sunrise ...

  13. 3-Week New Zealand Itinerary • Nomads With A Purpose

    Mountain biking through New Zealand ferns in Rotorua. If mountain biking isn't your thing, you can opt to hike in the Whakarewarewa forest or head over to Blue and Green Lake. There is a nice trail that goes around Blue Lake and at the far end of Blue Lake there is a nice view of both lakes. Blue and Green Lakes hike in Rotorua.

  14. The Ultimate 3 Week South Island New Zealand Itinerary

    3 Week South Island New Zealand Itinerary. In this itinerary, you will swim with dolphins and kayak with seals, go on day hikes and maybe even try out an overnight hike or two. You'll visit all the main destinations and towns like Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown and Wanaka, but also relax in Akaroa and watch the sunrises on the east coast ...

  15. New Zealand North Island Itinerary: 3 Week Road Trip

    3 Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary. This New Zealand North Island itinerary will take you to the Island's best hiking areas and the country's finest wine regions. This isn't your average tourist route with recommended tourist activities. This is a travel plan for independent explorers who relish the outdoors, wildlife, and a good ...

  16. New Zealand Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 3 Weeks / 21 Days

    21-Day Budget Itinerary for New Zealand. A destination that many of us have to travel tens of thousands of kilometres to get to, New Zealand is a country you're going to want to spend as much time in as possible to experience it to its fullest. Three weeks or 21 days is our recommended minimum timeframe to travel both of New Zealand's main islands.

  17. Ultimate New Zealand 3 Week Road Trip Itinerary

    What to pack for a New Zealand road trip. New Zealand 3 week road trip itinerary. Day 1: Arrival in Auckland. Day 2: Auckland. Day 3: Hobbiton. Day 4: Rotorua. Day 5: Taupo. Day 6: Mt Taranaki. Day 7: Koitiata.

  18. 10 Best 3 Week New Zealand Tours & Trips

    Find the best 3 week tours to New Zealand with TourRadar. Choose from 84 tours with 411 real tour reviews. Book now and save with TourRadar.com! ... Australia and New Zealand Travel Company. 10% Off . Duration 21 days Price per day $192 From US $4,038. View tour Download Brochure Save and compare this adventure ...

  19. 3 weeks on the South Island of New Zealand: the ultimate road trip

    Now, let's jump straight into this 3 week South Island road trip itinerary! Day 1: Christchurch - Kaikoura - Blenheim. Driving time: 2h 25m in the morning + 1h 40m in the afternoon Total distance: 310 km (192 miles) The first day starts off with a trip past the beautiful southeast coast.

  20. New Zealand Family Itinerary: 3 Weeks / 21 Days [2024]

    New Zealand Family Itinerary for 3 Weeks (21 Days): Overview. Day 1 - Auckland Airport to Auckland Central. Day 2 - Auckland to Waitomo. Day 3 - Waitomo to Rotorua. Day 4 - Explore Rotorua. Day 5 - Rotorua to Ohakune. Day 6 - Explore Ohakune. Day 7 - Ohakune to Wellington. Day 8 - Explore Wellington.

  21. The ultimate South Island NZ road trip: 3-4 week New Zealand travel

    Here are some rough ideas of what you can expect to pay in terms of transport for this specific itinerary: Car hire for 25 days: $500-1,000NZD for a budget compact car, OR. Campervan hire for 25 days: $2,000-4,000NZD for budget campervan. Fuel: we spent about $800NZD on fuel for this itinerary.

  22. New Zealand Campervan Itinerary (3 Weeks)

    This 3 week New Zealand itinerary covers both the North Island and the South Island. The North and South islands are very different from one another. Both should definitely be included on a New Zealand campervan itinerary. It's a one-way route designed to maximize time and avoid a costly return ticket on the inter-island ferry.

  23. The Ultimate Two-Week New Zealand Road Trip

    The best bet from the east coast will always be out of New York, and there is a direct from JFK to Auckland happening twice a week on either United or Air New Zealand. Be warned: This flight is ...

  24. 2 weeks trip plan to New Zealand

    Hi, we are a family of 3 with a 9 year old kid planning the travel in first week on May. Please share your suggestions. Thanks in advance! Day 1 - Reach Auckland by late night and move to hotel in Auckland, pick up car from the airport. Day 2 - Auckland Dolphin and Whale Watching Eco-Safari Cruise for half a day and spend rest of the day local sight seeing In Auckland

  25. New Zealand's weather: What's in store for Easter Weekend? Cold and

    Kiwis are in for a bumpy week of weather - and there's no guarantee the long weekend will bring much better. Kiwis are in for a bumpy week of weather - and there's no guarantee the long ...

  26. China's foreign minister meets New Zealand counterpart, beginning trip

    New Zealand has had strong economic ties with China in recent years and was the first developed country to sign a bilateral free trade deal with Beijing in 2008. The two countries expanded that ...

  27. Middle East Crisis Netanyahu Rebuffs Biden and ...

    Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week, a trip that comes as the Biden administration tries to broker a hostage deal that would pause Israel's offensive ...

  28. Softball Caps Most Successful Spring Trip Since 2018

    CLERMONT, Fla. - The Bowdoin College softball team picked up three more wins on its final two days of its spring break trip to Florida this week, capping an extremely successful start to their campaign. The Polar Bears stand at 11-3 overall, their most successful Florida trip since going 13-3 in 2018. Game Highlights

  29. Coming to Xbox Game Pass: Diablo IV, The Quarry, Ark: Survival Ascended

    Build your sustainable exofarm, grow alien crops, customize your mech, and explore a new world full of mystery with up to three friends! MLB The Show 24 (Cloud and Console) Available on day one with Game Pass: Swing for the fences, experience game-deciding moments, become a legend and live out your baseball dreams in MLB The Show 24.