For many, New Zealand is a once-in-a-lifetime trip so it should be carefully planned to make the most of it. In case this was true for us, I wanted to cram as much as I could into the 2 weeks we had.
You should know when planning your own trip that it’s not an easy task seeing the country in just two weeks. Most people warned that it was not enough time and that we should focus on one island, a month minimum is really recommended to see it, but if you are like me and don’t have a ton of vacation time you have to make do with what you have and I was determined to see both islands. I decided to share the itinerary that I put together. It even got Kiwi certification that it was a “really good itinerary”!! I’ll warn you, this is a fast-paced itinerary, if you haven’t read the disclaimer about how we travel you should.
Preparing for the New Zealand Trip
We went in March. March is a shoulder season there, it’s the end of summer. We prefer to travel during the shoulders because there are usually fewer people and it’s cheaper than in peak season. We lucked out on the weather but heed the warnings you read, The weather is pretty unpredictable. Bring a variety of clothes and layer up. It was hot some days, warm others, wet and rainy and then cold and windy and sometimes all of those in a 2 hour period!
After a lot of research, we opted to stay in AirBNBs as opposed to a camper van, which is often the preferred method of travel for most people adventuring New Zealand. We loved the idea of staying with locals and feeling more at home. All the cities mentioned here have campsites and places to park vans should you choose to go that route.
Read more on why we Airbnb here.
I recommend going to a store and grabbing some snacks and easy dinner or two. The hours of business are short, especially in smaller towns. You might find yourself in town with nothing or very little open. They also don’t always follow the hours posted! Also, you should know that food takes forever, at least compared to what we are used to here in California. Expect your food to take 30-45 min from when you order it, longer if it
There is a couple of things you should know about this itinerary: As I said before, you can’t truly see the whole island in two weeks, so this trip is kind of a highlight trip of many of the must-see things in New Zealand. You should also know that my boyfriend and I are busy busy bees. These days are packed full and there is a good amount of driving each day (anywhere from 2-4 hours). For us, driving is part of the journey so we don’t mind.
New Zealand Trip Day 1 – Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula
You will land in Auckland so take a moment to orient yourself with driving on the other side of the road and head into town for lunch, we stopped at Aotea square and had lunch at Nando’s. Since Auckland is a pretty standard big city and we aren’t really city slickers, we opted to limit our Auckland exploration to that, we made a quick stop at the Auckland botanical gardens on the way out-of-town for a leg stretch. It’s a nice stroll.
Next, you will drive to the Coromandel Peninsula. There is a little lookout with a walking path along the way. All of the lookouts are clearly labeled so easy to find them. We stayed at an Airbnb in Hot Water Beach, there is a campsite there as well if you choose to camp or camper van.
You will likely arrive in the early evening. get settled and walk down to the Hot Water Beach. You will want to bring a shovel or a “spade” as they are referred to (our AirBNB had one but there are places to “hire” them should you need one). Dig yourself a small jacuzzi on the beach! There is geothermal activity under the sand so the water comes up hot, sometimes too hot! From there head over to the campgrounds for some yummy fish and chips. If you are into night photography, this town is fabulous for it! So dark.
New Zealand Trip Day 2 – H
ahei beach and Hobbiton
Head up to Hahei Beach and walk to Cathedral Cove it’s about a 1hr 30 min round trip. It’s a really nice walk and lets out at the iconic cave tunnel rock. It’s was HOT that day, and we forgot to pack summer clothes. Bring lots of water and sunscreen! Take a dip at Hahei when you return. Get an early start to the day so you have time to drive to Hobbiton for the 5 pm tour, it’s about a 2 and a half-hour drive. Be sure to book in advance! We opted for the Trilogy Experience package and I highly recommend it! Then off to the Airbnb in Matamata. (there are campsites here too) We got some dinner at a Turkish place in town.
New Zealand Trip Day 3 – Waitomo and Rotorua
Ruakuri and Waitomo Caves
This was the craziest day, there was no room for much error in time. As part of the Trilogy Experience, we had tours of the Ruakuri caves at 10 am and then the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves 12:20. They are in the same area. I recommend sticking to these times if you want to make it to
Once you finish the cave tours are done it’s off to Rotorua. The Trilogy package includes entry into Te Puia. You get to see a geyser, a kiwi and learn all about the history of the Maori before watching a traditional Haka and having delicious hangi for dinner. Hangi is a traditional meal cooked in an in-ground oven. The experience was fabulous, it is run completely by Maori so you learn so much and it’s not overly touristy. you will want to stay in Rotorua, so you can explore it the next day.
New Zealand Trip Day 4 – Rotorua and Taupo
Kick off the morning with Zorbing, what is it you ask? It’s a giant inflatable hamster ball with a little water in it, then they push you down a hill. I would experience can be likened to what your clothes feel like when they are in the wash, but worth the experience, so go for it. Read all about our ride along with some video here.
After, head into Rotorua and explore a bit, see a traditional Maori church at Saint faiths, then head over the sulfur pointe. after those quick stops take a walk along the Grove Memorial Track through the redwoods of New Zealand, it’s about a 30-minute walk, there are other longer tracks if you are interested but in the interest of time, we just did the shorter one.
Grab some quick lunch then head out to the Blue and Green Lakes Lookout. You will drive past the first lake you come to, stop if you want a dip though, follow the road up a little farther, you will see signs that say lookout, park in the carpark and then look towards the road you will see stairs. You can see both lakes from there. Scenic 360 views. Continue that road just a little more and you will hit the Tarawera lookout. If you aren’t careful you will drive right past this. It’s a little lookout just on the side of the road with a Maori statue and a great view of the lake.
From here, start the journey to Taupo Lake. If Geothermal activity is something you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing there is the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal wonderland ($32.50/person
We did stop at the
Then head on to Taupo lake. Take a 45 min walk around the Craters of the Moon (they close early so plan for that) then head across the way to Huka Falls. The water is so amazing, a turquoise blue. You will see different signs pointing to Huka Falls, signs to Huka Falls take you to the bridge, Huka Falls lookout signs take you to the 30-minute walking track. Stay in Taupo for the night, it’s a very cute town.
New Zealand Trip Day 5 – Wellington
This day is the longest day of driving on the trip headed down to Wellington it’s about 4-5 hours. Pop into the free Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It’s a great place to learn about the county and its inhabitants, both animal
New Zealand Trip Day 6 – Wellington to the South Island
Get up and finish exploring Wellington, check out Mt. Victoria Lookout, and grab brunch at a quirky little place called Fidel’s. Then take a ride up the famous Wellington Cable Cars for a nice view of the city.
The North Island had a lot to love but we were told the South was the Island to see, so the trip is weighed a little heavier on the South end.
The South Island
The Ferry is centrally located, head there about an hour before you are scheduled to leave. You also want to book this in advance we went with Bluebridge. Find a comfy spot by the window and enjoy the view, you might even see dolphins!
After a three-and-a-half-hour ferry ride, stretch your legs on the Tirohanga Track in Picton, a 45-minute loop. Head off to Blenheim for the night and grab dinner at Mango Restaurant, really good Indian food.
New Zealand Trip Day 7 – Kaikoura and Christchurch
This adventure is about a 4-hour drive but Kaikora is halfway there so it’s broken up well. Kaikoura is a really neat city, book a whale watching tour or swim with some dolphins. Be sure to book these far in advance, the dolphins were already booked when I tried. We were able to get into a Whale watching tour but it was canceled last minute due to high winds. Instead, we went over to Point Kean, It’s a nice walk and you will see seals!
Head down to Christchurch in time for dinner and walk around the city center. You can see the damage done by the earthquake. We happened to be there for the Lantern Festival which was really cool to see.
New Zealand Trip Day 8 – Christchurch to Hokitika
This journey is about 3 hours total driving but there
Prepare for a stair master workout at Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall, but it is worth every step, it’s a beautiful and powerful waterfall. Stop for a peek at the Otira Viaduct lookout, maybe you will be lucky and find some Kea! We did, funny little birds who may try to eat parts of your car, so be careful.
You should arrive in Hokitika in the early evening, we stayed in the coolest Airbnb right on the beach. are Once its dark head over to the Glow Worm Dell. It’s much smaller than the Waitomo caves but it’s just a quick walk up and so neat to see them, also nice if you wanted to try for a long exposure shot and get a picture of them. Be mindful of them, be quiet, and don’t shine your flashlights. This is another great town for some astrophotography also.
New Zealand Trip Day 9 –
Hokitka to Fox Glacier
Get an early start, of course, and head Dorothy falls if it’s open (it wasn’t for us) which is 30 minutes from Hokitika, a short walk to the falls then head to Hokitika Gorge, it’s about a 30-minute walk to the water, which is so so blue. Break out the bug spray though! Those nasty Sand Flies will get you for sure! Get your pictures and then head to Mananui Bush and Beach Walk, quick 20-minute return (look at me, sounding like a Kiwi!).
Franz Josef Glacier
Now prepare yourself for a steep walk at the Okarito Trig Walk before you head to Franz Josef Glacier, park at carpark it’s a 30-minute return to glacier view-point add on the 20-minute steeper walk up sentinel rock for a different view of the glacier. You likely won’t find an Airbnb here, I recommend The Ivory Towers hostel in Fox Glacier if you want something affordable. We got food at the Big Foot restaurant at the bottom of the hill. Our friend living there told us to skip the tours unless you splurge on a helicopter tour.
New Zealand Trip Day 10 – Fox glacier to Wanaka
This three-hour journey will fly by since there are tons of places to stop along the way. Start the day with Peak Viewpoint,
Then walk the loop about Lake Matheson, Take an iconic picture of the lake’s reflections on the smooth glass water and stop at all the little lookouts, took us about 2 hours.
Head over to Fox Glacier. There is an hour walk to the edge of the glacier but it was closed so we just went to the lookout about 15 min up the track. On the drive, you pass Bruce Bay, pull over for a stretch and a picture, then stop at Knights Point Lookout for a bathroom break and a couple of pictures. Take a walk at Ship Creek, there is a nice lake view and a great beach for finding rocks and shells.
Continue along the road, then take a quick walk at Roaring Billy Falls, Thunder Creek falls and Fantail falls. All are quick stops with short walks. Blue pools walk is about a half-hour return, there is a tension bridge to cross at the end over the large blue pools, take a dip if you wish and then the last stop before Wanaka will be the Lake Hawea Lookout.
Once in Wanaka settle in and get some dinner, we opted for Indian… again. Indian is very budget-friendly in New Zealand.
A very important note: You will not have cell service pretty much at all this day after leaving the glacier area, so don’t count on GPS. Don’t worry though, everything mentioned here is very clearly labeled and easy to find.
New Zealand Trip Day 11 – Wanaka to Queenstown to Te Anau
Wakana is a cute little town, spend the morning exploring. There is a cute little breakfast place tucked away in an ally called Federal Diner. It’s a great place for Eggs Benedict (a staple breakfast in NZ) before you head down to the lake.
Walk the edge of the lake, if you head left when facing the lake and walk for about 15 min you will find yourself at “That Wanaka Tree” the cute little tree that grows in the water. People come from all around to get the perfect picture of this little tree that started off as a fence post.
Begin the journey to Queenstown, take a stop at the Cardrona Bra Fence which is literally a fence of bras, it’s for breast cancer. This is a great place to horseback ride too, be sure to make a reservation.
Grab some lunch in Queenstown, we had a burger at Devil Burger then take a walk around the town. Stop for some delicious ice cream with a nice view of Patagonia before heading to Te Anu.
New Zealand Trip Day 12 – Milford Sound
Book your tour of Milford sound well in advance, we booked the first cruise of the day with Mitre Peak Cruises. These boats are a lot smaller than the other tour offerings and there was hardly anyone on ours so there was plenty of space to roam about the boat and see everything.
Leave Te Anu with plenty of cushion time. There is a large tunnel you will have to pass through that you often have to wait your turn for. The infamous Kea like to hang out here too, mind you windshield wipers! On the way up, if you have time, stop at Mirror Lake, its best in the mornings, the still water makes a perfect reflection. On your way down from the sound be sure to check out the chasm, it’s a short walk. We stayed in Te Anu again.
Read more about Milford Sound.
New Zealand Trip Day 13 – Dunedin
Sleep in a tad and then head off to Dunedin (said done-E-din, btw…not dune-din to dun-i-din).
Stop in Gore for pies, meat pies are a thing in New Zealand so don’t leave without having one. When you pass the sign welcoming you to Dunedin don’t be fooled. It
Once in town explore, there is a lot of interesting building in town. Head over to Nova where you can fill your own over-priced but delicious donut. You literally inject the donut with a yummy filling with a giant syringe.
Take a walk up the steepest road in the world, Baldwin street, your calves will love it, ask my boyfriend. Not me. Explore the town, it is a pretty hip little college town so there is seems to always be something to do. For example, the Fringe Festival was going on while we were there so we caught a comedy show, a improved comedy dude name Gary Starlight. It was an experience, to say the least, a good laugh though.
Then dinner at Home Edition. Which is Chinese and Thai food. The pork belly and lo mien were delicious. H
New Zealand Trip Day 14 – Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula
Hopefully, you will have a later flight so you can spend some time exploring the Otago Peninsula today. See the Albatross and stop at the various lookouts for great views. Sandymount will give you a great view of the whole area. Then get a view from the other side of town that is almost a 360 view of the city from the top of Mount Cargill.
Then Bid the city adieu! Dunedin airport is super tiny but you still
So there you have it, The path we took to see both islands, full of so much of what New Zealand has to offer in just 2 weeks. Are you planning a New Zealand trip? Maybe went already? Share in the comments about it!
Want my itinerary?
Would you like a copy of this Itinerary for planning your own trip? No problem! Enter your email and I will send it right over!