New Zealand was one of our family’s most memorable stops on our gap year, and one of the longest as well: we spent 6 weeks exploring the best of Aotearoa. Since most visitors can’t spare that much time, we’ve partnered with local expert Veronika of Go Ask A Local to share her top picks for a 2 week New Zealand itinerary.
That reflects the typical time most visitors have to explore, and it’s enough to give you a wonderful taste! You won’t see everything (even we couldn’t!) but you will enjoy many of the best places to visit in New Zealand. In this 14 day itinerary for New Zealand we’ve tried to give as much detail as you need to plan your own adventure, including where to stay, transportation and a mix of free and paid top New Zealand activities.
There’s so much to see and do here that one trip will never be enough to experience it all, but this comprehensive 14 day New Zealand itinerary covers a lot of ground and gives a perfect introduction to my country. Enjoy!
As you can see below, the basic structure is a four day NZ North Island road trip followed by a 10 day South Island New Zealand itinerary.
14 Day New Zealand Itinerary overview
Here’s a quick overview of your 14 day New Zealand itinerary, including quick booking links to expedite your travel planning. You don’t need to do every one of these activities, but choose the ones that excite you! Be sure to book your car, lodgings and must-do New Zealand activities well in advance so you don’t miss out.
- Day 1: Auckland
- Day 2: Auckland to Waikato to Rotorua
- Day 3: Rotorua
- Day 4: Lake Taupo
- Day 5: Rotorua to Christchurch
- Day 6: Banks Peninsula
- Day 7: Christchurch to Mt Cook National Park
- Day 8: Mt Cook National Park
- Day 9: Mt Cook – Central Otago – Queenstown
- Day 10: Wanaka
- Day 11: Wanaka – Central Otago – Te Anau
- Day 12: Fiordland National Park
- Day 13: Queenstown & Glenorchy
- Stay 1 night in Queenstown (unless you’ve modified itinerary as below)
- Day 14: Depart New Zealand
- Return rental car at ZQN
Veronika has done a little bit of everything in New Zealand tourism over the past 20 years. For a decade she worked as a driver-guide, exploring every corner of the country. Since then, she’s settled down a bit and has spent the last 10 years running her own boutique tour agency which specializes in fully custom trips.
With more than twenty years of travel experience and an understanding of the subtle nuances of traveling in this diverse country, she hopes to give travelers the gift of truly exploring and immersing themselves in New Zealand. She’s looking forward to helping you plan an unforgettable visit to her little corner of the world!
If you’re looking for even more personalized help as you plan, Veronika offers one-hour trip planning consultations. She’ll sit down with your for an hour over Zoom to share her secrets and help you plan a better trip to New Zealand.
Detailed 2 Week New Zealand Itinerary
New Zealand Itinerary Day 1: Auckland
Stay 1 night in Auckland
Overview of the city
Imagine an urban environment where everyone lives within half an hour of beautiful beaches, hiking trails and a dozen enchanting holiday islands. Add a sunny climate, a background rhythm of Polynesian culture and a passion for outstanding food, wine and shopping, and you’re beginning to get the picture of Auckland, our largest and most diverse city. The Auckland region is dotted with 48 volcanic cones which provide spectacular panoramic views of the city and harbour. Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf Marine Park encompasses an incredible 1.2 million hectares of coast, sea and islands – and you have myriad ways to explore it.
The jewel of the Hauraki Gulf is Waiheke Island, a haven of beautiful vineyards, olive groves, farm land, and golden beaches. Auckland is also a shopper’s paradise with everything from top-end designers to open air street markets.
For foodies, you can discover the diverse range of cafes and restaurants offering cuisine from around the globe and check out the buzzing nightlife of the central city. Favourite spots include Wynyard Quarter, the Viaduct Harbour, the Britomart precinct and City Works Depot.
Upon arrival in Auckland, you’ll want to pick up your rental car at the Auckland airport. That’ll give you the most flexibility to explore the city and enable an early morning tomorrow. Just be prepared for the city’s terrible traffic!
Where to stay in Auckland
You’ll be staying just one night in Auckland. To make the most of your limited time exploring the city, stay in the Auckland CBD. Here are some great options to research for where to stay in Auckland your first night:
Things to do in Auckland
Viaduct Auckland: Located in the heart of Auckland’s CBD, Viaduct Harbour is a residential, commercial and entertainment precinct. Viaduct Harbour boasts some of Auckland’s finest restaurants and bars, from fresh seafood at Kermadec Ocean Fresh Restaurant, to the ever-popular bar and restaurant Waterfront, the lively atmosphere at O’Hagans to a stylish dining experience at Soul. Regardless of where you dine, you can count on being seated overlooking the water while sipping fine wine and enjoying terrific food.
All Blacks Experience: Your time at the All Blacks Experience will include a 45 minute guided tour where you learn what it takes to make, shape and be an All Black. This will include learning the story and feeling the passion behind the All Blacks haka, up close and personal. You can then test your rugby skills against All Blacks and Black Ferns in a hands on, interactive zone.
Britomart: This is a vibrant shopping, entertainment and business precinct in the heart of downtown Auckland. Surrounded by beautiful heritage buildings, it’s a neighbourhood of buzzing restaurants and cool bars, designer boutiques and quirky art spaces. You’ll find cutting-edge street fashion and the HQs of some of New Zealand’s leading creative and corporate organisations. Plus, the best of downtown waterfront Auckland is just outside your front door. If you’re feeling hungry, you have fresh Italian fare, authentic Vietnamese, best-in-class coffee, and delicious desserts all in one place.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 2: Auckland – Waikato – Rotorua
Stay 3 nights in Rotorua
Driving distance: 3 hours (without stops)
One of the richest agricultural and pastoral areas of the world, the Waikato is home to New Zealand’s famous dairy and thoroughbred horse racing industries and is a base for a number of agri-businesses and research institutes. Rotorua is known for bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers, and natural hot springs, as well as showcasing our fascinating Maori culture.
Where to stay in Rotorua
You’ll be staying 3 nights in Rotorua, which is potentially the longest stop you’ll have on this action-packed 2 week New Zealand itinerary. If you’re normally inclined to stay in vacation rentals for the extra space, creature comforts and laundry then this is the best time to do it!
You’ll be driving around the region so it’s not critical to stay in the center of town. That said, town has a bustling scene especially along Eat Streat.
- Lakeside cottage with full laundry – sleeps 6 guests in 3 bedrooms, beautifully appointed with amazing views
- Sudima Hotel Lake Rotorua – beautiful lakeside hotel with indoor pool, cultural shows and a variety of room sizeas
- Best Western Braeside Rotorua – family-oriented retreat offering multi-room suites with mini golf, playground, pool, game room and more
Things to do in Waikato and Rotorua
Waitomo Caves: Under the green hills of Waitomo lies a labyrinth of caves, sinkholes and underground rivers. The area’s name comes from the Maori words wai (water) and tomo (hole). The caves were carved by underground streams pushing through soft limestone over thousands of years. Many have amazing stalactites growing down from the ceiling and stalagmites growing up from the cave floor. The cave walls are also decorated with galaxies of native glow worms.
The easiest way to see the caves is with a walking or boat tour. If you’re into adventure, try the unique experience of blackwater rafting – you’ll crawl, swim and float through the caves on a rubber tube. You can also abseil or zip-line through the darkness.
Glowing Adventures – Private Glow Worm Eco Tour: An off the beaten track eco tour where guides will escort you through native New Zealand forest and into untouched caves. Small tours of no more than 8 people give groups the ability to move slowly through the caves and really enjoy and explore, including a rather mesmerizing glow worm display. You’ll see the caves just as nature intended. There are no handrails, electric lights, concrete paths, or other modifications, and the tour involves climbing over boulders, up hills and wading through streams. Be aware that a moderate level of fitness is required.
Hobbiton Tours in Matamata -the evening banquet tour: For any Lord of the Ring fans, experience the Hobbiton Movie Set with a guided tour through The Shire at dusk. You’ll be escorted though the 12 acre site, with a guide recounting fascinating stories and anecdotes about the trilogies. The tour concludes at The Green Dragon Inn with a complimentary beverage. You’ll then be moved through into The Green Dragon dining room and treated to a banquet feast fit for a Hobbit.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 3: Rotorua
Rotorua is known for bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, as well as fascinating Maori culture. From crystal-clear streams and gorgeous forest, to epic biking trails and explosive geysers, Rotorua has something for everyone.
Sitting within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland. After marvelling at the distinctive landscapes and volcanic activity within you have lots of options to enjoy a simple soak in a natural hot stream or indulge in a wellness getaway at a luxurious spa.
To experience Maori culture, hospitality and food, try a hangi feast cooked in the steaming ground and take a tour of an authentic pre-European village at Tamaki Maori Village – find out more here. The city is surrounded by mountains, rivers, native forests and 18 fresh water lakes, making it the perfect place to reconnect with nature.
Things to do in Rotorua
Tamaki Maori Village: Rotorua is, in many ways, the modern capital of Maori culture in New Zealand. In this fun-filled evening you’ll see traditional performances, take part in Maori games and agility training activities and enjoy the traditional hangi feast. It’s one of the best things to do in Rotorua for good reason!
Rotorua Canopy Tours · Ultimate Canopy Tour – Eco Zip Line experience: This tour takes you deep into untouched New Zealand forest. It’s an adrenaline-fueled experience with great kiwi guides who lead small groups on really personal tours.
OGO Rotorua · Zorbing: Try out a slice of Kiwi ingenuity – take a sneak peek at the OGO making factory and try out a dry or wet ride OGO Ride while overlooking the spectacular views of Lake Rotorua & Mokoia Island.
Te Puia Arts and Crafts Centre, Rotorua – Geyser by night: Discover one of New Zealand’s most magnificent geothermal wonderlands – featuring dramatic geysers, bubbling mud and beautiful native bush. During this nighttime experience you’ll get to experience the geothermal valley in an inimitable multi-sensory experience.
Redwoods Treewalk Rotorua – Nightlights Forest Walk: Another nighttime activity, this tour offers the opportunity to explore Rotorua’s majestic Redwood forest under the shroud of darkness. Illuminated by design and sustainability champion David Trubridge’s bespoke creations it’s an immersive and captivating environment which encompasses 30 lanterns, over 40 “infinite colour spots” and feature lights that illuminate the 117-year-old redwood trees, forest ferns and pungas.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 4: Day trip to Lake Taupo
The town of Taupo sits at the edge of Australasia’s largest lake. Local attractions include trout fishing, skiing, and geothermal parks. Lake Taupo is actually a huge volcano with a fiery history whose most recent eruption, in 181 AD, was large enough to change the sky as far away as Europe and China. According to Maori legend, the lake is the pulsating heart of Maui’s fish (New Zealand’s North Island).
The lakeside town provides a base for visitors who love to fish for trout, ski Mount Ruapehu and explore the local geothermal phenomena. Popular Taupo experiences include Huka Falls, geothermal walks, a prawn farm, and lake cruises. This is also a fantastic region for year-round mountain biking, with the recent completion of the Great Lake Trail. Along with cycling, there’s excellent hiking and golf opportunities.
Things to do in Lake Taupo
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland: Sculpted by volcanic activity and thousands of years in the making, Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland is one of New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse sightseeing attractions. You’ll see a uniquely different natural landscape whose formation lies below the surface – one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand, extending over 18-sq. km. Just don’t mind the smell!
Huka Falls: The Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river, moves gracefully north from Lake Taupo between banks 100 metres apart. Just before the Huka Falls it enters a shallow ravine of hard volcanic rock. The effect of this rapid change is nature’s large-scale equivalent of a fire hose feeding into a very fine nozzle. The previously placid waters roar and rumble at great speed along the ravine before bursting into space out over Huka Falls to crash into the pool 11 metres below. A foot bridge right at the top of the falls puts you in a prime position to get up close and witness the explosive display of more than 220,000 litres of water blasting by every second.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 5: Fly from Rotorua to Christchurch
Stay 2 nights in Christchurch
Christchurch city promises an eclectic mix of historic elegance and contemporary culture. As the gateway to the South Island, it’s a must on any itinerary. Christchurch has an evident energy which Lonely Planet described as a “vibrant city in transition, coping resiliently and creatively.” The city has bounced back after the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 with innovative new attractions, as well as some old favourites.
Visit the Re Start container mall, the transitional Cardboard Cathedral, and some of the many pop up restaurants and bars. Contemporary art galleries, boutique shops and open-air markets add to the creative vibe. Traditionally known as the Garden City, Christchurch’s award winning Botanic Gardens are over 150 years old and boast an enviable collection of exotic and native plants. The Avon River flows gently through the city centre, making Edwardian punt rides an iconic way to sightsee. Alternatively, catch a ride aboard the Historic Tram or take a bicycle tour to learn about Christchurch’s history.
Where to stay in Christchurch
It’s worth staying in Christchuch Central City for your two nights, as it’s a lovely area full of wonderful sites to explore. The city also boasts numerous charming bed & breakfasts in the heart of the action, even with a variety of room sizes to accommodate all needs.
- Orari Boutique Hotel – lovely historic home that has been converted to a bed & breakfast
- The Grange B&B – modern amenities in a historic mansion
- Sudima Christchurch City – a taste of luxury in a fantastic location
Things to do in Christchurch
Christchurch Bike Tours: Take a leisurely 2.5 hour guided cycle tour along the peaceful cycle paths of Christchurch’s beautiful Botanic Gardens, riverside cycle trails, and through the green expanse of Hagley Park to historic Mona Vale. With flat elevation and purpose-built cycle paths, the route is both accessible and enjoyable, and urban hire bikes are custom-fit to each client.
Riverside Market Christchurch: This is an exciting new development consisting of a 7-day-trading, indoor farmers’ market that links to a vibrant network of boutique retail, restaurants, cafes & bars. It provides a reliable source of fresh, organic, locally grown food and supports small local businesses, community, and the environment through an initiative to minimize packaging and waste.
Waka on Avon: Explore Christchurch by Waka on the Avon River. Leaving from Margaret Mahy Playground, this 45 minute waka paddling experience is a unique historical and cultural trip on Ōtākaro Avon River. You’ll paddle a hand-crafted waka down the River Avon while learning about the importance of the waka to Māori culture.
Early Māori originally came to Aotearoa New Zealand by Waka. Then 180 years ago, waka were an important part of the early building of Christchurch, with Māori and early settlers transporting on, trading by and working along the Avon River together. It’s a memorable experience.
Margaret Mahy Playground: If you’re traveling in New Zealand with kids, you won’t want to miss Margaret Mahy Playground! It’s the best playground in New Zealand and has apparatus for children from toddlers through tweens. You can easily spend several hours here, so bring snacks.
Quake City: This interactive exhibit explains how the Canterbury Earthquake occurred and the far-reaching impacts on Christchurch and its surroundings.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 6: Day trip to Banks Peninsula
An easy drive south-east of Christchurch, Banks Peninsula is the South Island’s most interesting volcanic feature. Originally an island formed by two volcanic cones, the peninsula has two dominant craters which form Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbours. The peninsula was named for botanist Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain James Cook on the Endeavour.
The Banks Peninsula is likened to the crown of Christchurch with the two magnificent harbours as the main jewels set within it, where the old craters were invaded by the sea in ages past. The crater rims stand majestically in a ring of craggy peaks and the outer flanks boast some of the most spectacular outer coast scenery in New Zealand of towering cliffs punctuated by beautiful sandy beaches.
Things to do in Banks Peninsula
Black Cat Cruises, Akaroa: The ultimate dolphin experience – during this cruise you’ll get the chance to see and swim with these beautiful marine mammals close up in the wild in their natural habitat. You’ll swim with the endangered Hector’s Dolphin, the world’s rarest and smallest oceanic dolphin. Hector’s dolphins are protected in Akaroa Harbour by a marine mammal sanctuary. Please note though that there is no touching of the dolphins as this is a pure natural encounter where participants enter and respect Hector’s dolphin’s environment and behaviour.
Akaroa: Located on the south-east side of the deep, sheltered Akaroa Harbour, the charming township of Akaroa is unique as it was the only French settlement in New Zealand. And the best way to explore Akaroa is on foot. You can visit local restaurants which focus on French cuisine and head along to Barrys Bay Cheese, where they continue making cheese with century-old methods. If you have time after strolling through the town, take a harbour cruise to view dolphins, penguins and fur seals.
Pohatu Penguin Habitat: How about an evening penguin tour? This is a wonderful option for people who wish to view penguins in the wild. You have a few tour options, one of which includes pick-up at Akaroa with a truly spectacular Scenic 4WD van ride to Pohatu. The tour concentrates mostly on the Little penguin but other native and endemic birds may also be seen.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 7: Christchurch – Canterbury Plains – Mt Cook National Park
Stay 2 nights in the Park
Driving distance 3.5 hours (without stops)
The Canterbury Plains is an area of braided rivers and pastoral perfection between the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean. Almost perfectly flat, the plains are a remarkable sight from the air – a patchwork of agricultural activity that ranges from grazing grass and wheat to herbs and sunflowers. The area produces more than 80% of New Zealand’s grains, crops and seeds.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers in the country. It is alpine in the purest sense, with towering peaks, glaciers, and permanent snow fields all set under a star-studded sky.
Where to stay near Mt. Cook
You’ll want to stay right in Mount Cook village for easiest access to some of the best scenery in New Zealand. When you consider where to stay, keep in mind that the area is very remote with just a few restaurants. Many visitors find it easiest to bring provisions with them to prepare at least breakfast and lunch, even if they opt to dine in one of the village’s handful of restaurants for dinner.
- Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge – Clean, budget-friendly accommodations with a lovely shared kitchen and lounge that opens to a perfect deck for daytime relaxing or nighttime star gazing
Note from Melissa: We stayed here during our own visit to Mount Cook and met many wonderful fellow travelers! We would return in a heartbeat.
- The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook – Full service hotel, including most of the village’s dining options so it’s a great choice if you don’t want to worry about bringing and preparing food
- Aoraki Alpine Chalet – Perfect for a big group (up to 8) or those wanting more space without sacrificing location or amenities
Where to stop between Christchurch and Mt Cook
Lake Tekapo: picturesque by day and dazzling by night, Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect spot for stargazing. Lake Tekapo gets its intense milky-turquoise colour from the fine rock-flour (ground by glaciers) which is suspended in the water. On the shores on the lake you’ll see the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, where the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps beyond the lake. The church was built in 1935 for the pioneer families of the Mackenzie district and is still used as a place of worship.
Dark Sky Project – The Summit Experience: at Otehiwai, University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory. Prepare for an awe-inspiring evening of discovery at the world-renowned research centre, New Zealand’s most popular stargazing & observatory experience. Minimum age 7.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 8: Mt Cook National Park
The park encompasses 23 peaks over 3000 meters high, but is surprisingly accessible for people wanting all different levels of physical activity.
As mentioned previously, far from city lights, the stargazing here is magnificent, and the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park forms the majority of New Zealand’s only International Dark Sky Reserve.
Mountaineers regard the area to be the best climbing region in Australasia, but less-skilled adventurers can still find plenty of satisfaction with the mountain walks that lead to alpine tarns, herb fields and spectacular glacier views. Encounters with cheeky kea (mountain parrots) are part of the fun.
At 27 kilometers in length, the mighty Tasman Glacier is a powerful piece of landscaping equipment. While it slowly carves the valley sides, it provides a landing place for small ski planes and helicopters.
Things to do in Mt Cook National Park
Top of the Tasman Glacier Hike: You’ll start with a scenic flight into the Tasman Glacier, with views of Aoraki Mount Cook, Mount Tasman and the surrounding snow-capped mountains that form the Southern Alps. From there, you’ll continue to explore the incredible Tasman Glacier on this one in a lifetime hiking experience. You can do this with Mt Cook Glacier Guiding which offer an excellent level of safety with guides certified by the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association. The guides have years of experience exploring the glacier so you get extensive local knowledge to help you discover hidden gems.
Tekapo Springs · Hot Pools: This complex has three hot pools and an Aqua Play Area with yet another two pools. You get steam and sauna rooms with cold plunge pools adjacent to the hot pools. As you relax, you have stunning views of the lake, mountain, and forest. You also have an excellent onsite café with both indoor and outdoor dining.
Hooker Valley: This is one of the most popular walks in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, seen in the photo above. You’ll pass through Hooker Valley as you walk alongside the Hooker River. Walking one of these tracks is the best way to experience the pristine wilderness here. Walks encompass up close views of icebergs, glaciers and majestic mountains. Good luck ever putting your camera away!
The full Hooker Valley walk takes 4 hours start to finish. It starts at the Visitor Centre or White Horse Hill campground/carpark (at the end of Hooker Valley Rd off State Highway 80) and the track leads up the Hooker Valley, along the Hooker River and ends at the glacier lake, where on a clear day you’ll catch amazing views of Aoraki/Mount Cook. It’s a mostly flat trail but a few sections are rocky or muddy, and there are three swing bridges to cross. As always, be prepared for ever-changing weather conditions.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 9: Mt Cook – Central Otago – Queenstown
Stay 2 nights in Queenstown (or potentially 3 depending on the timing of your departing flight – see note on Day 13)
Driving distance 3 hours (without stops).
You will cross one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets The “Lindis Pass” as you head into Central Otago. It’s a powerful landscape, sunny, dry and brown with weathered ancient mountains, alpine herb fields and fast lowing rivers.
Central Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island, is know for its wine, cycling and dramatic scenery. Taste your way around the sunny Central Otago’s Pinot Noir vineyards, cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail or explore picturesque heritage towns.
Your destination for today is Queenstown which sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables mountains rising up behind it. This is a sophisticated resort town that’s mindbogglingly scenic. With both lake and mountain activities, its well-suited to almost any kind of adventure. For those looking for some luxury, Queenstown is just as well known as a place for indulgence.
Where to stay in Queenstown
Queenstown can get very busy, especially in summer and winter. You’ll be happy to have centrally located accommodations that offer parking.
- Crowne Plaza Queenstown – Queenstown’s best located luxury hotel. With lake views and all of the amenities you’d expect from a 4-star hotel, the Crowne is a top choice for those who don’t mind a little splurge.
- Holiday homes – Because Queenstown is a year-round adventure destination, there’s an enormous selection of holiday homes for rent! Find one that offers the space you need within your budget and enjoy. If you’ve packed light for New Zealand, this is also a great opportunity to catch up on laundry (especially if you wind up staying for 3 nights). Just double-check that your chosen property includes bed linens, as not all holiday homes in New Zealand do.
Where to stop between Queenstown and Mt Cook
Clyde: in historic Clyde you can wander the town, relax in countless lovely cafes, and just enjoy the atmosphere or hire a mountain bike to explore the surrounding hills. This historic town is located at the foot of a river gorge and is surrounded by rounded hills of schist punctuated with large craggy rocks. Schist is gold bearing rock and pretty substantial finds in the rivers near town sparked a gold rush in the late 1800s. It’s easy to see why some of the first Europeans here chose this site as a place to settle. The micro-climate offers hot, dry summers, with mild springs and autumns that are full of nature’s colours.
Bike It Now! – Biking the Otago Rail Trail: Hope on a bike and explore the Otago Central Rail Trail as it cuts through the Raggedy Range that separates the Manukerikia and Ida Valleys. Highlights of this section of the trail include the 37m high Poolburn Viaduct, two tunnels, the trails longest bridge, and of course Central Otago’s stunning landscapes. You should allow 5- 6 hours for the whole experience including some time to stop for a bite to eat.
Queenstown: Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s top visitor destinations. It sits on the shore of crystal-clear Lake Wakatipu amidst dramatic mountain ranges. Queenstown is suited to all kinds of adventures – especially throughout summer. Activities like hiking (like Queenstown Hill pictured above), paragliding, zip lining, 4WD driving, and kayaking are a great way to enjoy Queenstown’s beautiful outdoors.
Other activities like skydiving, jet boating, river rafting and bungie jumping offer a fun and exhilarating day out. If adventure isn’t your thing and you just need time to kick back and relax, there are plenty of experiences on offer. Treat yourself to some boutique shopping and be sure to experience the excellent local food and wine.
A popular holiday spot at any time of the year, Queenstown is renowned for its four distinctive seasons. Winter brings crisp, blue-sky days, spring retains the snow but blooms into longer, warmer days, summer offers sunshine and long twilights, and autumn a burst of brilliant red and gold. Over the years, the town has transformed into a sophisticated cosmopolitan town. There’s a permanent buzz in downtown where you’ll find a fantastic choice of restaurants, a lively bar scene and excellent shopping.
Read more: A local’s guide to 2 days in Queenstown
New Zealand Itinerary Day 10: Lake Wanaka Adventures
45 kilometres long and covering 193 square kilometres, the crystal clear waters of Lake Wanaka are perfect for jetboaters, sailors and kayakers. Nestled below towering mountains, Wanaka is the most tranquilly set of the South Island lakes and is much more than a winter destination. Year round activities include fishing, hiking, canyoning, climbing and skydiving.
Excavated by massive glaciers more than 10,000 years ago, Lakes Wanaka and Hawea lie side by side. Lake Wanaka is the source of New Zealand’s largest river, the Clutha. Lake Hawea feeds into the Hawea River, which joins the Clutha at Albert Town. Ringed by pebbly beaches and with magnificent views to the surrounding peaks, both lakes offer a variety of adventures, especially during the long, hot months of summer.
Things to do in Wanaka (and nearby)
Wanaka River Journeys – Jet boat and wilderness walk: Enjoy an exciting half day Jet Boating adventure beneath the spectacular scenery of Glaciers & lots of Lord of the Rings film locations. You’ll head into into Mount Aspiring National Park, part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage area. You’ll shoot down shallow braids, drift into turns and experience some thrilling spins as local guides tell you about this history and nature here. After the ride, you have a 50-minute walk through remote moss covered forest, waterfalls and glacier fed streams.
Wild Wire: For anyone not interested in the jet boat and walk, consider joining in on the highest waterfall via ferrata in the world.
Choose from 1 of 3 climbs: The easiest climb “Go Wild” is one of those great Wanaka activities that’s fun and easy to do with the family, the Intermediate climb “Wild Thing” is perfect for those looking for a bit more adventure and the advanced climb “Lord of the Rungs” is the highest waterfall via ferrata in the world and includes a return via helicopter and is definitely one of the most spectacular things to do in New Zealand.
Mt. Aspiring National Park: Stretch your legs in this beautiful wilderness of native forests, towering mountains and river valleys. Named for Mt Aspiring, one of New Zealand’s highest peaks, the park is a veritable dreamland and hiker’s paradise. You have a host of short walks concentrated at the end of the park’s access roads. Shorter walks include the Routeburn Nature Walk, Haast Pass Summit, Lake Sylvan near the lower dart River and the Blue Pools Walk. You also have longer hikes with options to traverse mountain saddles; the Dart/Rees River circuit, Greenstone/Caples and the Wilkin Valley tracks are a few options. In summer, it’s possible to walk from one valley to another over spectacular mountain passes.
Hook Restaurant – Lake to plate fishing/dining experience: For a dinner experience a bit different from the norm; catch a Chinook salmon from their spring-fed fishing lakes then relax or explore while the team prepares it for you! This is the Hook experience – “from lake to plate”.
Puzzling World: If you’re visiting New Zealand with children or teens, be sure to plan a few hours at Puzzling World. It has an indoor museum full of engaging optical illusions and puzzles along with an enormous outdoor maze.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 11: Wanaka – Central Otago – Te Anau
Stay 2 nights in Te Anau
Driving distance 3hrs (without stops)
Central Otago is the home of New Zealand Pinot noir and you have countless options for wine tasting and touring. The town of Cromwell was established by gold miners, but now its treasure is stone fruit.
Today, by late afternoon you’ll reach Te Anau. Lake Te Anau is the largest of the southern glacial lakes, covering an area of 344 square kilometres. The main body of the lake runs north-south and three large fjords reach out from its western side – these arms are called North Fjord, Middle Fjord and South Fjord.
Where to stay in Te Anau
Te Anau is a compact town with many walkable restaurants and a lovely waterfront. It’s nice to stay in town if possible to walk, but even if not it’s easy to navigate by car as well.
- Edgewater Model – great lakeside location and plenty of options to suit all needs
- ASURE Explorer Motel & Apartments – walking distance to most of Te Anau, while also providing spacious accommodations and pretty grounds
- Holiday home for active groups – sleeps up to 11 people in a cluster of cottages, also includes 6 bikes (with helmets) and 2 kayaks (with life jackets)
Things to do in Central Otago and Te Anau
Oxbow Adventure Co – Ultimate Off Road Ride and Jet Sprint Boat Ride: Enjoy a ride on totally custom-built 4WD, 4-wheel-steer off-roaders. The off-roader ride is one of Queenstown’s most unique adventure experiences, though definitely not for the fainthearted.
Arrowtown: Arrowtown is a living historic settlement. Wander the tree-lined streets of restored cottages and explore gold mining sites. This is one of the most picturesque settlements in New Zealand, and sits alongside the gold-bearing Arrow River. The town was established in 1862, during the height of the Otago gold rush. The settlement grew quickly as pioneers constructed cottages, shops, hotels and churches, more than 60 of which can still be seen today.
A special highlight is the Chinese settlement at the edge of the river. Built by Chinese miners from 1868, this area of restored shelters and buildings paints a picture of earlier times. In April and May Arrowtown ignites with colour as deciduous trees prepare for winter. A festival is held in the last week of April to celebrate the gorgeous seasonal colours.
Te Anau: This is the perfect town to base yourself in to visit Milford Sound. Nestled on the edge of a lake, you have lots of accommodation options. Te Anau is the main visitor base for the glacier-carved wilderness that is Fiordland National Park. Do be aware that it’s best to book accommodation ahead in the busy months of January, February and March. In town, you have loads of restaurant options dishing up local fare like venison, lobster and all manner of seafood.
At the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre you can make plans to walk the Milford, Routeburn, or Kepler Tracks. Apart from hiking, popular local activities include scenic flights, lake cruising, fishing, kayaking and exploring the Te Anau Glowworm caves – this tour is a great choice if you didn’t get to visit the Waitomo cave and it includes a lovely boat ride across Lake Te Anau. There’s also a bird sanctuary that specializes in native birds.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 12: Fiordland National Park
One of the most dramatic and beautiful parts of New Zealand; the power of Fiordland’s scenery is seriously impressive. Ancient rainforest clings impossibly to the mountains; waterfalls tumble hundreds of meters into massive fiords; and shimmering lakes and granite peaks look the same today as they did a thousand years ago. The fourteen fiords that ringe this south-west corner of the South Island were 100,000 years in the making, with the final details added during the most recent ice age just 10,000 years ago. On all sides of the fiords, spectacular waterfalls tumble incessantly as the region’s plentiful rainfall finds its way to the sea.
Things to do in Fiordland Park
Day trip to Milford Sound: Situated on the west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound is a fusion of spectacular natural features. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, Milford Sound was carved by glaciers during the ice ages. The fiord’s cliffs rise vertically from the dark waters and waterfalls cascade downwards, some as high as 1000 feet. If you’re lucky to arrive after heavy rainfall (a common occurrence here!), the waterfalls multiply with magnificent effect. Boat cruises during the day are an excellent way to experience the Sound. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you might also like to head out sea kayaking, diving or flightseeing.
If you’re interested in learning more about local marine life, you can visit the underwater observatory at Harrison Cove.
Mirror Lakes: One of the Milford Road highlights, the Mirror Lakes, are world-famous for their beauty and the way they reflect their surrounding scenery. Stunningly scenic, they provide breathtaking reflections of the Earl mountain ranges on a calm day. While thousands of tourists visit the Mirror Lakes every year searching for the perfect photo op, they’re also habitats for many animals, including some of New Zealand’s rarest birds. Our smallest duck, the scaup or pāpango, lives in the Mirror Lakes and other Eglinton Valley waterways, as do the grey duck or pārera. Under the water, you’ll find long-finned native eels and brown and rainbow trout.
Southern Discoveries – Nature Cruise of Milford Sound: Pack your camera and join expert nature guides on a special cruise that takes you closer to the natural beauty of Milford Sound. These are smaller boats which let you get close enough to see basking seals, dolphins, or, if you’re lucky, a rare Fiordland crested penguin. If Southern Discoveries is booked or doesn’t match your schedule, the RealNZ Milford Sound cruise is excellent and covers much the same route.
Roscos Milford Sound Kayaks: If you feel like a more active day, consider an organized kayaking trip! This trip takes you on a big loop of Milford Sound, meaning you get to take in all the highlights.
New Zealand Itinerary Day 13: Glenorchy to Queenstown
Stay 1 night in Queenstown, or if your return flight is late on day 14 you can instead bump Glenorchy to day 11 as a day trip from Queenstown and extend your stay there by one night. You’d then stay the last two nights of your trip in Te Anau and drive directly to the Queenstown airport (2 hours). That may be an easier option for those who don’t want to unpack and repack an extra time.
Enjoy your last full day in New Zealand exploring the area of Glenorchy before you head back for another night in Queenstown.
Things to do in Glenorchy
Glenorchy: Just 45 minutes from Queenstown, Glenorchy is nestled on the northern shores of Lake Wakatipu & is the gateway to hiking trails and “Middleearth” magic. Set against a background of native beech forest and towering mountain ranges, it is rather awe-inspiring, even for those of us who have seen it countless times. Glenorchy’s spectacular landscapes have become a prime location for film scouts, and many scenes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Narnia movies were filmed here.
Queenstown: We’ve already been over many of the options for things to do in Queenstown on Day 9. Today’s your chance to do anything you didn’t have time for then!
New Zealand Itinerary Day 14: Depart New Zealand
After 13 busy days it’s time to head home or on to your next destination. You’ll have seen and experienced some of the best that New Zealand has to offer, but there’s still plenty left to discover on your next trip!
Want more help planning your New Zealand travel itinerary? Be sure to reach out to Veronika for her expertise.
PS – Be sure to grab one last Fergburger on your way to the airport!
With more than twenty years of travel experience and an understanding of the subtle nuances of traveling in this diverse country, Veronika hopes to give travelers the gift of truly exploring and immersing themselves in New Zealand. She’s looking forward to helping you plan an unforgettable visit to her little corner of the world! Veronika is available for one-hour Zoom trip planning consultations to work with you one-on-one to share personalized local tips and recommendations and help you plan a better trip to New Zealand.
Planning your trip to New Zealand
Are you getting ready for an epic trip to New Zealand? Don’t miss these articles to help you plan:
- 10 things to know before you visit New Zealand
- A Local’s Guide to 2 Days in Queenstown
- Bike the Otago Central Rail Trail
- The best things to do in Tasman, New Zealand for outdoor lovers
- Beautiful pictures of New Zealand’s North Island beaches
- Up close with Maori culture at Tamaki Maori Village
- Glass Bottom Boat Whitianga: Exploring the beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand