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In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

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42 posts
In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

We just got back from our first time to NZ, and I thought I'd post the itinerary I worked a long time on (with help from here as well) that turned out pretty great for us. Keep in mind though, we are on the go travelers when it's somewhere with a lot to do that is hard for us to get to, or know if we'll be back. If you want "relaxed and slow", this is not the plan for you. We were also more concerned with the nature, so cities took a back seat for us. If you want to hit a lot of north/south island highlights with just a little over 2 weeks to spend though, I was pleasantly surprised how well this worked for us (though I do wish we had a couple extra days). Here's what we did:

Day 1: Auckland to Waitakere: We had a morning arrival into Auckland from the US, picked up our car at the airport, napped about a half hour at out stay and then drove to Piha beach for late afternoon/evening. This is the biggest day I would add another if you can as the jetlag definitely made it hard, and we would have liked more time in the Waitakere Ranges area (we were too tired to do any of the waterfall hikes and just strolled the beach). Easy alternative here would be spend the day in Auckland city or go to Waiheke Island.

Day 2: Auckland to Hamilton: Hamilton Gardens in the early afternoon, Hobbiton in the later afternoon. Fantastic dinner in Hamilton at Gothenburg Restaurant.

Day 3: Hamilton to Rotorua: We did the glowworm caves on the way, but opted for Spellbound's tour over the main Waitomo ones. They give you much longer on the boat ride under the glowworms from what we read. Arrived early evening in Rotorua for hangi dinner at Te Puia cultural center and their Geysers by Night excursion. This will be a late night if you do the latter, hence why we slept in this morning and got a later start.

Day 4: Rotorua to Turangi (Tongariro): Redwoods tree walk in Rotorua in the morning, drive to Wai-o-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland (did the 90 min walk loop), 4pm Aratiatia rapids release (only 4pm in summer), Huka Hunny Shop stop, quick stop at Huka Falls, great dinner in Lake Taupo (Malabar Nepalese and Indian), drove to our stay at Creel Lodge in Turangi.

Day 5: Tongariro National Park to Feilding: This will not be for everyone, as it was a very high energy day for us. We did the Alpine Crossing (100% worth it), which took us about 7 hrs and 15 mins at a decent pace. Then drove evening/early night a few hours to our stay in Feilding because we wanted to be much closer to Wellington than Turangi is. I was surprisingly not as exhausted as I thought I'd be by this day, but note I also am in pretty good shape when it comes to walking and hikes.

Day 6: Fielding to Wellington: Arrived mid afternoon in Wellington and spent around 90 min at Te Papa Museum before a 4:30 Weta Workshop tour (which was awesome). Crab Shack for dinner.

Day 7 :Wellington to Christchurch (fly): Did a tour at Zealandia, which was absolutely worth it if you want to see NZ birds and learn about them. This was the only time we really saw a lot of unique birds on the trip. Late lunch on Cuba St and spent the rest of our afternoon at Mt Victoria lookout and finding the LOTR shire filming location nearby. 6:30 pm flight to Christchurch, dropped off rental car at Wellington Airport and picked up South Island one in CChurch.

Day 8: Christchurch to Punakaiki via Arthur's Pass: Leave CChruch in the morning, headed towards Arthur's Pass. Stop at World Famous Sheffield Pies shortly out of CChurch to pick up some meat pies for easy/quick eats on the road (these were pretty much our meals this day). Stop and spend an hour or so at Castle Hill, filming site of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Hike the Devil's Punchbowl waterfall near Arthur's Pass Village. This is actually a challenging hike despite not being very long, as a heads up. Quick stop in Greymouth for fresh milk at CJs milk. Evening in Punakaiki for the stunning Pancake Rocks trail loop. If you're lucky, you will catch it at high tide, though sadly we were there around low tide. We also had a little time left to do some of the nearby Truman Track on the beach for sunset. Stayed at an Airbnb nearby.

Day 9: Punakaiki to Haast: Passed back through Greymouth to Hokitika. Stopped at Hokitika Sandwich Company to pick up great sandwiches to go. Drove to and hiked in Hokitika Gorge to the beach lookout for a sandwich picnic. Stopped to hike Pakihi Walk Lookout en route to Franz Josef. This is an easy 20-30 min return that is lesser known but we really enjoyed it. Stop for Franz Josef Glacier walk to the lookout, which isn't very far. Next stop Fox to hike some of the Lake Matheson trail and ate dinner in Fox at Betsey Jane Eatery. You likely won't have time to do any of the Fox glacier trails this day, since my understanding is the only ones currently open are quite lengthy multi-hour trails. This was a pretty rainy day and we had poor visibility for the FJ and Fox hikes (barely able to see FJ glacier at all with the mist), so keep that in mind that those stops aren't the greatest if weather doesn't cooperate. Stayed in Haast for the night.

Day 10: Haast to Lowther: Morning on the private stretch of beach the motel we stayed owns (beware of nz sand fly bites, no one told us about these awful creatures!!!). Started our drive to Wanaka with a stopoff at Thunder Creek Falls, which is literally right alongside the road and a pretty spectacular fall. 30min return hike up to Haast Pass Lookout, which is an entirely uphill climb on the way up. Ate lunch in Wanaka at Big Fig, which is quick and incredibly tasty with much appreciated healthy food. Afternoon at the Wanaka Lavender Farm, which was simply stunning. Make sure to get lavender flavored desserts and tea at the end! Stop off to see That Wanaka Tree on the way out of Wanaka. Stopped in Queenstown for the famous Erik's Fish and Chips cart for dinner, the town was packed with people. Ate along the lake beach. We had an overnight cruise to catch at 3pm the next day, and as such wanted to get closer to Milford. We drove about an hour to our Abnb in Lowther, which was an absolutely phenomenal ABNB if you don't want to go all the way to Te Anau to break up the Milford drive.

Day 11: Lowther to Milford Overnight Cruise: We planned to make all our big stops on this drive on the way back, so mostly drove straight through to Milford (stop in Te Anau for quick lunch) to make sure we were there with time to spare to catch out cruise. We opted to do the Fiordland Discovery overnight cruise on Milford as our big splurge, which is pricey but I would say was worth it. Especially nice to break up all the driving on this itinerary and relax.

Day 12: Milford Sound to Queenstown: Cruise docked around 9am this morning, giving us the morning to explore a couple of the hikes nearby the shore like the Foreshore Walk and Milford Lookout Track. Spent the whole day driving back to Queenstown, making many stops along the way such as The Chasm hike, Monkey Creek, the waterfalls lookout on the hike to Marian Lake (going to the lake takes several hours we didn't want to spend), Lake Gunn nature walk, scenic stops in Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes stopoff, and dinner in Te Anau at The Fat Duck. Couple other scenic lookouts on the way back to Queenstown.

Day 13: Queenstown back to Queenstown via Glenorchy/Paradise: We are big LOTR fans, so this was a day for us to see lots of LOTR filming spots we read are in this area. Visited Ithilien Camp at 12 mile delta from the movies on the way to Glenorchy. Mrs. Woolley's pies in Glenorchy for lunch and walked the lagoon boardwalk (the dead marshes in the movies). Headed towards Paradise, stop at Isengard Lookout (very hard to find the exact Isengard location, we could only really view it well from the car bridge). Did the Routeburn nature walk in Paradise, about an hour. Did the short Bob's Cove track and Bennett's Bluff lookout on the drive back to Queenstown. Evening back in Queenstown eating at the famous Fergburger (queue was a reasonable 25 mins), ice cream by the lake, and watching the sunset at

Day 14: Queenstown to Twizel: Morning in Queenstown for some quick shopping for souvenirs and breakfast at Balls and Bangles (amazing donuts!). Stopped in Arrowtown to find the famous Arwen saves Frodo scene along the Arrow river. Drove over crown range pass and did the lookouts on the way to lunch at the historic Cardrona Hotel. The outdoor garden is incredibly beautiful to eat in, and I had the best lamb here in burger form! Passed back through Wanaka and a not too out of the way detour to do the Omarama Clay Cliffs on the way to Twizel. Arrived in Twizel and found the area of town used for the Pelennor fields in LOTR (most of this is private property so hard to get to exact filming spots). Ate at a Thai place in town for dinner.

Day 15: Twizel to Lake Tekapo: Twizel to Mt Cook Ntl Park to do the Hooker Valley Track in the late morning/early afternoon. Allow 3 hours or so for the hike. Did the 30min blue lakes hike nearby afterwards. Stopped at Alpine Salmon on the way to Tekapo with the BEST salmon sashimi and view of the lake and Mt Cook. Evening dinner from Dolce Pizza truck in Tekapo while we explored the lake shore a bit. Visited the Church of the Good Shepard before our stargazing with Chameleon Stargazing this night (amazing company, highly recommend).

Day 16: Tekapo to Christchurch: Morning breakfast at Astro Cafe at the St Johns Observatory overlooking Tekapo. Stop in Geraldine for an incredible lunch at the charming Cafe Verde, which was the highlight of the otherwise blah drive to CChurch. Late afternoon and evening to spend in CChurch. We did the gondola up to the lookout and ate a very nice dinner at Twenty Seven Steps on New Regent Street.

Day 17: Morning flight to Auckland to catch our flight back to the US

Some other tips since this is a road trip intensive itinerary would be to make sure to get lots of car snacks from the stores. We loved pineapple lumps, Poppa Jacks, and Squiggles among NZ unique snacks. This plan probably only works in summer when there's lots of daylight, otherwise you'd have to be up very early and probably be too tired. We didn't get up until 8 or 8:30 most mornings, allowing a solid 7+ hours of sleep each night. Obviously pack good shoes for the hikes. The stops on the road trips are essential, we never really spent more than 2.5 hrs in the car at a time.

9 replies to this topic
Preston, United...
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1. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

Personally I would file this as how not to do a New Zealand tour but each to their own.

13 posts
2. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

Like I said, not going to be for people who just want to take it slow on vacation. But great if you want to see lots of the country without having a month to spend on vacation. All about meticulous planning ahead of time and budgeting your time well.

Christchurch, New...
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3. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

Definitely a "city heavy" tour with little time for wildlife or extensive hiking/kayaking/cycling. Another vote for how to do NZ in a hurry.

13 posts
4. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

We sure felt like we were constantly hiking on this trip haha (my tracker said I walked 60

miles)! We didn’t do any great walks, but we’re not fans of multi-day hikes where you don’t have the best sleeping conditions so that was the reason there. We were able to kayak on Milford a bit on the overnight cruise

13 posts
5. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

Here’s the Lowther place I mentioned we stayed that was so great, since I had a very hard time finding good places to stay between Queenstown and Milford if you’re not going all the way to Te Anau


some others that were some of the best abnbs I’ve stayed at





Edited: 26 February 2024, 15:10
Rarotonga, Cook...
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for Rarotonga, Waiheke Island, Southern Cook Islands, Auckland Central, New Zealand, North Island, Cook Islands
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6. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

Am I correct in believing that you are running two TA signons in tandem? Against TA rules if so.

However Andrew H/A J, I am pleased to learn that you made it safely over 2 weeks. Not to be copied in haste. I am concerned about anyone hopping into a rental car and driving across Auckland on Day 1 off a long haul flight. Not something that is recommended on the NZ forums.

Thanks for the heads up to fellow travellers about the potential effects of jet lag and travel fatigue on Day 1, landing in NZ.

13 posts
7. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

Hmm… it would appear so? I was unaware of this myself, I just post as whatever my browser has me logged into. Must have two over the years without knowing

New Zealand
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8. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

#6 its no longer against the TA rules apparently due to multiple devices. i myself only have one and thats enough, but its also been a problem overseas when its been used for less ethical means to tag posts.

i actually prefer punakaiki at low tide when more rock formations are exposed so it really doesnt matter. and the blowhole is surge dependant, not tide.

hour itinerary is rushed and not one i recommend. we recently did a tour of south island trying all the “top rated pies” and fairlie bakehouse bacon and salmon, mackenzie lamb and pork belly were head and snoulders above all others. sheffield ones were really mudane and just like supermarket ones, so they have done some great social media advertising. the chicken was mainly glug and so was pork.

i prefer the high country salmon just before twizel - amazing sushi, amazing food, sashimi, meals. the mt cook salmon at lake pukaki just really sells expensive sashimi and vaccum packed fish, while high country salmon have a huge huge range.

13 posts
9. Re: In depth 16 day north and south NZ itinerary

^^Good to know about the forum.

That’s nice to hear you didn’t think the Sheffield Pies were all that great, because I honestly have to agree. Mind you, we basically just ate those pies all day for our lunch and dinner so that could have factored in too. My favorite pies I had while there were actually a mince one I got at the Hamilton Gardens cafe, and the salmon and bacon one from Mrs Woolleys.

Our original plan was actually Twizel High Country Salmon, but we didn’t feel we could fit it in without cutting into the Mt Cook or Tekapo time too much. Alpine was a much quicker stop. Bummer, pitfalls of a time crunch itinerary.

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