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New Zealand – how to plan a perfect itinerary?

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Wondering how to plan a route to see all the most beautiful places? Or do you want to know how much this trip to New Zealand may cost? I honestly admit that despite being a relatively “small” country, traveling in New Zealand is much more exhausting than, for example, in the United States (which are much bigger!). Still, you can see all of the country’s greatest attractions. I hope that our experience will help you plan the perfect New Zealand itinerary.

We spent 20 days in New Zealand. When planning a trip, you must bear in mind that the flights from and to Europe will take about 4 additional days solely. We also wanted to spend a few days in Fiji, so we had to adjust our New Zealand itinerary to 20 days. Unfortunately, we had to skip some places, but I also mentioned them below. If your trip to New Zealand is longer, maybe you can check them out? ๐Ÿ™‚

Tip:ย Driving in New Zealand is pretty tiring. Not mentioning left-hand traffic (and having constant trouble “who yields” on roundabouts), roads are mostly narrow and winding (not anything like flat, 3-lane highways in California). It’s best to change behind the wheel from time to time. When planning a route, remember to always add some time to what Google Maps show. Let’s be honest – on average, every 10 minutes you gonna notice a place where you wanna take a pic ๐Ÿ™‚ Some roads are usually very busy, eg. a one-way tunnel towards Milford Sound. You have to also consider these conditions when planning!

OUR NEW ZEALAND ITINERARY

NORTH ISLAND

Day 1-2, Auckland

After landing in Auckland, we picked up the car and decided to stay in this largest city in New Zealand for another day. Although it may tempt you to hit the road just after your arrival, frankly speaking, it’s not worth it. Jet lag is powerful (12 hours of time difference to Europe!), and by the way, you are thrown into the deep water – as long as you are not from the UK or Ireland, you have to get used to left-hand traffic on the road! Better spend one night somewhere in a hotel in Auckland (at the airport you will find, eg. an inexpensive Ibis Budgetย orย Holiday Inn), relax and start your journey on the next day.

We really loved Auckland, despite the rainy weather (as always!). What is worth seeing? Be sure to visit the Sky Tower, the tallest building in New Zealand, with panoramic views of the entire city and the sea. As we are in New Zealand, there is also something for extreme sports lovers – you can bungee jumping or take a walk outside of the tower, hanging on ropes… Any volunteers?ย 

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

When in Auckland, you should also take a look at the Food Alley. Although at first glance it doesn’t look appealing, I can assure you that you will eat there the best Asian specialties in your entire life. Yes, better than in Thailand, China or India! Everything is cooked by local immigrants and it tastes great.ย ย 

What else?ย After visiting Auckland, we went straight to the south. If your trip to New Zealand is longer, head north, to the Bay of Islands. Only 3 hours drive and you will end up in outdoor lovers paradise. Bay of Islands is a region consisting of nearly 140 diverse islands, where everyone can find something for themselves, especially fishing and sailing fans. According to research, Bay of Island has the second bluest sky in the world (after Rio di Janeiro). Check it out and let us know whether it’s true!

Day 3, Hot Water Beach

What is better than relaxing in SPA? Relax in a self-dug jacuzzi! About 2 hours from Auckland, there is an amazing spot – Hot Water Beach. The underground hot springs filter upย through the sand, giving you a unique opportunity to swim in thermal springs, about 2 hours before and after the low tide. Visitors grab spades (they can be rented on site), dig their own hot tubs, jump in and indulge in this unusual place. Although Hot Water Beach was a highlight of our New Zealand itinerary, the rain ruined our plans – both roads to the peninsula were closed ๐Ÿ™ We had to go to Rotorua one day earlier than planned, where we booked a hotel with a thermal water pool as a consolation prize…

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Due to rain both roads to Hot Water Beach were closed, so we only managed to get nearby Whakatete Bay

Day 4, Matamata

On the way to Rotorua, you will find one of the most visited places in New Zealand – Hobbiton. Sincerely? Even if you are not a fan of Tolkien, it’s still worth visiting. The whole village is so cute! Our Hobbiton experience was really great, although keep in mind it’s quite a touristy place.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Day 5-6, Rotorua

Rotorua is the capital of geothermal activity and you simply have to include this city in your New Zealand itinerary! Kiwi bird, geysers, bathing in the famous Rotorua mud, the mystic Maori culture… and zorbing! Let’s find out top attractions in Rotorua.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Day 7, Waitomo Caves

Waitomo Cavesย are an unusual place where thousands of glowworms light up the cave’s ceiling with turquoise light. You can go for a standard cave tour, but we decided to do… rafting! Definitely not recommended if you have claustrophobia or fear of water, but if you like the adrenaline jump, we would highly recommend it.

Everyone gets a “floaty”, helmet with a headlamp and sexy, baggy wetsuit. In the cave you move mainly thanks to the natural water flow – note, sometimes water is deep. Once you have to jump from the top of the waterfall with your BACK (not face) facing the direction of the jump (scary as hell!), the second time – slide off, falling into the water at high-speed. However, the most impressive moments are these, when everyone turns off the headlamps and floats freely, admiring the turquoise interior of the cave, resembling the Milky Way… And it’s all thanks to the prosaic, nasty “glowing worms”!

When it comes to rafting, most people choose the Black Water Rafting Company, which has one minus – if it rains, your trip will be canceled (the caves where they operate are flooded). In that case, choose Tube It, make trips to glowworms caves located higher, regardless of the weather.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Day 8-9, Tongariro Alpine Crossing

New Zealand itinerary for outdoor lovers wouldn’t be complete without hiking the Tongariro Pass. Crossing Tongariro takes up to 8 hours, during which you experience the unusual volcanic landscape with amazing turquoise lakes. In a more gloomy version, you could see this place in the Lord of the Rings, where Tongariro was starring as Mordor and volcanic Mount Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom. Tongariro decided to show us its darker side as well – after 20 minutes of hiking, everything covered with thick clouds and started raining heavily. Going further in these foggy and wet conditions was pointless… Well, maybe next time you will succeed? ๐Ÿ™‚

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

This is how Tongariro Crossing looks like during good weather conditions

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

And here during heavy rain and foggy day ๐Ÿ™‚

Day 10, Wellington

Wellingtonย made a very nice impression on us. At first glance, the city is a bit quirky, full of hipsters, widely understood “creative” young people, crazy bars and restaurants, especially around Cuba Street… Kiwis probably couldn’t choose a better city as a capital to captive this unique atmosphere of the whole country. For a perfect pad thai in a street-food atmosphere, visit theย Aroy Thaiย restaurant – yum! We loved this place so much!

We really enjoyed even a simple stroll in the harbor. This is where ferries leave for South Island. While crossing the Cook Strait, keep your eyes wide open (if you don’t suffer from sea sickness like me) – chances are good that you will meet whales!

What else? Many people recommend the Te Papa Museum if you want to learn more about the Maori culture and the history of New Zealand. Tolkien fans should visit the local airport in search of Smaug!
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Wellington harbour

SOUTH ISLAND

Day 11, Marlborough and Punakaiki

South Island welcomed us in a very nice way… At its northern end, just after youย leave a ferry, you will find yourself in Marlborough, the famous wine region. Be sure to stop for a wine tasting in one of the vineyards (and buy a bottle for a poor driver who couldn’t taste anything). We visited 3 vineyards: Villa Maria (one of the most famous New Zealand vineyards in the world), Spy Valley (great Gewรผrztraminer,ย all James Bond fans should visit this funny place) and Grove Mill (very reasonably priced wine and cool gin!). We highly recommend all!

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

After visiting vineyards, take Route 6 towards Greymouth, after some time you will enter an extremely scenic route, straight on the Pacific Ocean shore. This road is considered as one of the most beautiful in the world (next to Pacific Coast Highway in the USA). Remember to stop in Punakaiki. Here are the famous “Pancake Rocks” and the big blowholes filled with sea water. Amazing place, we didn’t even bother the pouring rain.ย 

What else? If you love wildlife, visit Kaikoura. This is where you can go on a whale-watching cruise or… swim with the seals ๐Ÿ™‚ We had to miss this place unfortunately because both roads leading to Kaikoura were closed (earthquake damaged Route 1 and we had to completely change our New Zealand itinerary) – maybe you will have more luck?
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Even rain didn’t disturb our visit to Pancake Rocks ๐Ÿ™‚

Day 12, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

New Zealand glaciers are one of the country’s landmarks. The most popular are Franz Josef and Fox and obviously, you should see them both. However, if you only have time to visit one, we will help you decide which one to choose. Be sure to consider a trip to the glacier by helicopter – it looks more impressive seen from this perspective. You can see giant blue ice cracks, big icefalls, and finally, stand on the snow.

What else? Mount Cook. On the map, it seems to be very close to the glaciers (in fact, you will see Mount Cook from eg. Lake Matheson), in fact, it takes about 6 hours to reach it by car! However, if you are more flexible, add some more days to your New Zealand itinerary for exploring hiking trails in Cook Mountain National Park.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Day 13, Queenstown

Queenstown is probably the most beautiful city in the world. Even the road to the city makes a spectacular impression, as you have to cross the mountains. Don’t miss the famous Blue Pools, a turquoise lake. Some brave ones jump from the hanging bridge straight to the super icy water. Ouch!

The town is located next to Lake Wakatipu, its calm waters reflect the mountains surrounding Queenstown. During the sunset, take the Skylineย cable car to the top of one of them. Panorama is truly breathtaking.

When it comes to more down-to-earth experiences, visit the Fergburger restaurant, the multi-award winning spot with “best burgers in the world”. They have a very large selection of burgers, also vegetarian – prices range from NZD 11 and up. Sadly, you have to stand in line and it may be hard to get a free table – take your burger away and enjoy a picnic on the lake’s shore ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

What else?ย Queenstown is considered as the capital of extreme sports. Here the first commercial bungee jumping spot was opened (and still operates!). Need more adrenaline rush? Go rafting, paraglidingย or… play golf at an altitude of nearly 1400 meters ๐Ÿ™‚ Read more about this quirky town here.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Admiring sunset over the Queenstown

Day 15-16, Fiordlandย and Milford Sound

Don’t even think about not including Milford Sound cruise in your New Zealand itinerary. Just don’t. This stunning place is considered one of the eight wonders of the world. Of course, your stay in Fiordland shouldn’t be limited to this one place. Maybe it’s worth staying a bit longer and visiting the less crowded Doubtful Sound? Or relax on Lake Te Anau? Our post about the biggest attractions in Fiordland will help you choose best things to do.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Day17-18, Catlins

Catlinsย is definitely our favorite place in our New Zealand itinerary. On top of the wonderful waterfalls, the atmosphere of the mysterious tropical forest, yellow-eyed penguins, there is a nice surprise here – very few tourists! Although it may seem “not on the way”, really try to include this place in your trip – it’s so amazing and peaceful. Find out what’s worth seeing in Catlins.

What else? If you have more time, go to Stewart Island. It’s the best place to see a kiwi bird in the wild.ย In conservation center, you may see it in this place, onย the North Island.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

The Purakanui Falls inย Catlins

Day 19, Moeraki Boulders

Famous rock giants, you will read more about them here. Moeraki Boulders are only available at low tide, so you will most likely have to spend the night in the area. Hampden is a good place to stay, a convenient stopover on a tiring route between Dunedin and Christchurch.

What else?ย Dunedin is also worth visiting. Take a look at Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world (beats Lombard Street in San Francisco!), the Cadbury Chocolate Factory and the Speight’s Brewery. Dunedin is also famous for albatrosses if you want to see these majestic birds in nature, come to the Royal Albatross Center.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

Day 20, Christchurch

Our trip to New Zealand ended in Christchurch, from where we returned by plane to Auckland, to start a new adventure (ahoy, Fiji!). In the city, traces of the 2011 earthquake are still visible. The local botanical garden is definitely worth visiting. Looking for unique (but expensive) experience? Dine in a… tram ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

What else?ย Near Christchurch, there is aย picturesque village of Akaroa, the most French town in New Zealand. Formerly, used to be the only French settlement in the country. If you want to rest from ubiquitous burgers, wedges and fish ‘n’ chips, come here for more exquisite dining ย ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ar you going to New Zealand? Which places will you include in your New Zealand itinerary?ย For more our adventures in New Zealand, click here!

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Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Still figuring out your New Zealand itinerary? Find out how to create a perfect travel plan for NZ!

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    jessica
    August 19, 2017 at 08:59

    This is an awesome itinerary! I didn’t get to see much a Tongarino because the weather was such crap!! Guess I’ll have to go back!

    • Reply
      Magda
      August 19, 2017 at 09:31

      Glad to hear we were not the only ones!!

  • Reply
    Kalilah Hayward
    August 19, 2017 at 09:38

    Wow, this is awesome! I wouldn’t even know where to begin to start while planning for NZ, thanks!

  • Reply
    Chandrika
    August 19, 2017 at 10:26

    Love this! Perfect timing since we may be planning a trip to NZ next year. I’m definitely going to keep your itinerary in mind!

    • Reply
      Magda
      August 19, 2017 at 10:33

      Thank you a lot for such nice words! xoxo

  • Reply
    Brianna
    August 20, 2017 at 18:46

    There is just so much to see and experience in New Zealand! I was only able to visit 5 days and it was SO not okay. I will definitely have to go back some time.

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