Julie Itinerary, New Zealand 26 Comments

New Zealand…this is the land of fiords, volcanoes, black sand beaches, glaciers, glowworms, hot springs, and breathtaking landscapes. On this New Zealand itinerary, you can road trip through one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Along the way, go hiking, test your wits and go bungy jumping, go wine tasting, and much, much more.

It’s no secret that New Zealand is one of our favorite destinations in the world. 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.

I hope you enjoy New Zealand just as much as we did. And if you are like us, you will be dreaming about returning again someday.

About This New Zealand Itinerary

We spent just over 3 weeks in New Zealand during our trip around the world in 2015. We started in Queenstown and ended in Auckland. This is our exact itinerary, only I wrote it in the opposite order. The North Island is wonderful but the South Island is literally jaw-dropping. Basically, the farther south you travel, the more beautiful New Zealand gets.

So, rather than starting off at the best part, I am saving that for the very end. Trust me, it will be worth it. Every day will be better than one before it, at least in my opinion.

On this New Zealand itinerary, you will spend about one week on the North Island and two weeks on the South Island. This itinerary comes out at 22 days. If this is too long, along the way I let you know what I recommend skipping.

Also, if three weeks is too long, skip the North Island and spend two weeks on the South Island. It’s better to put all of your time in the South Island rather than quickly skipping through both the North and South Islands in just two weeks.

Getting Around New Zealand

This New Zealand itinerary is designed as a road trip. You will rent a car in Auckland and drop it in Queenstown. To cross from the North Island to the South Island, you will take a ferry across the Cook Strait.

Rental Car vs. Campervan

We rented a mid-sized car and stayed in budget hotels. You also have the option to travel by campervan.

We elected not to travel by campervan for several reasons. When we did this, there was no real cost difference between either option (campervan vs. car with hotels). Since we were a group of four people, we would have needed a decent sized campervan. Plus, we had concerns about Wi-Fi, and in 2015, the handy, reliable travel friendly Wi-Fi devices didn’t exist like they do now.

For more information to find out if a campervan or car + hotels is right for you, read this article.

One Way Rental Fee

Since you will be picking up the rental car at Auckland and dropping it at Queenstown, there will be an additional drop fee. It can cost $100 NZD or more for this fee. The fee varies based on the rental car company and time of year you are visiting.

Paying the drop fee is almost unavoidable. You can avoid paying it by shortening your time on the North Island and then returning the rental car to Auckland. Then, fly to Queenstown or Christchurch and then pick up a second rental car from here. However, by doing this, you will miss some sites on the North and South Islands, end up spending valuable time backtracking through the North Island, and you will pay for an additional flight. It hardly seems worth it, both in time and expense, to try to avoid this fee.

Sometimes, the fee can be lower if you travel south to north. If you find that this is the case in your situation, you can do this itinerary in the opposite order.


3 Week New Zealand Itinerary: North Island

How to Use This Map:  Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the driving route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest. 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Arrive in Auckland and get settled into your hotel. Most likely, you will be dealing with some level of jet lag. If you have the energy, you can go out and see the town.

Where to Stay: We stayed at Abaco on Jervois. This highly-rated property is located just outside of the city center. We could walk to the city center in about 20 minutes, the property offers free parking, and we could also easily walk to a handful of restaurants. Visit Booking.com for more options.


Day 2: Auckland

There are a bunch of different ways to fill your time in Auckland. You can stay in town and see the sights or you can leave the city behind and explore the nearby coast and islands.

Here are some of the top experiences in and around Auckland

Rangitoto Island. This island is a dormant volcano that can be seen from Auckland. Take a ferry ride here or, for more adventure, kayak to the island on a tour.

Visit the West Coast beaches. Just a short drive west of Auckland is the Tasman Sea. It is here that you can spend some time exploring the gorgeous black sand at Karekare and Piha beaches.

Cruise Hauraki Gulf. Take a short ferry to Hauraki Gulf and along the way you may be able to spot whales and dolphins.

Sky Tower. There are lots of places in New Zealand where you can tie a rubber band to your ankles and throw yourself off of high spots, and the Sky Tower is one of them.

Walk the Coast to Coast Walkway. The Coast to Coast Walkway is an 8-mile walking route through Auckland that passes Mt. Eden, One Tree Hill, the Auckland Domain, shopping areas, and restaurants. For adults who want to see the city, this is a nice way to do it. However, Tyler and Kara weren’t big fans of this activity.

Waiheke Island. Go wine tasting and explore the vineyards on this island, just 40 minutes from Auckland by ferry.

Auckland New Zealand

The view from Mt. Eden

Karekare Beach

Karekare Beach

Day 3: Glowworms and Waitomo Caves

Total Driving Distance: 300 km
Total Driving Time: 4 hours

Get an early start and drive to Waitomo. From Auckland, it takes two and a half hours to drive to Waitomo Caves.

Seeing the glowworms at Waitomo Caves is one of the most unique experiences to have in New Zealand.

By rowboat, you will silently drift into a dark cave. Above your heads will be thousands of tiny glowworms, twinkling like stars in the night sky. These tiny glowworms, which are the larvae of adult insects, use bioluminescence to produce the light that attracts prey to their “web.”

There are several different ways to visit Waitomo Caves. We took the basic rowboat tour into the grotto. For the ultimate experience, go blackwater rafting, which is white water rafting in a cave. Blackwater rafting still on our bucket list, and if you have done this, let us know how it was in the comment section below!

Glow Worm Caves Waitomo

Photography is not allowed inside of the caves so the souvenir photo is the only one I have to share.

Click here to get updated pricing, hours of operation, and to book your tickets in advance. Tours leave every 30 minutes and last 45 minutes.

Once you are finished at Waitomo Caves, continue the drive to Matamata (1.5 hours, 103 km). Matamata is the location of Hobbiton, a movie filming set for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Day 4: Hobbiton

Total Driving Distance: 67 km
Total Driving Time: 1 hour

Hobbiton is a fairytale world of colorful, child-sized houses and a restaurant/saloon called the Green Dragon. This was built as a movie set for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, but the houses sparked such an interest that Hobbiton still remains open for tourism.

If you are traveling with kids or if you are a fan of the LoTR and The Hobbit movies, this is not to be missed.

A tour of the property lasts about 2 hours. You will walk the 12 acres, learn the history behind the movie sets, and end with a pint of ale at the Green Dragon.

Visiting Hobbiton

The Shire


We were told that morning is the best time for photos. However, you have the option to take the tour and lunch combo, which is the basic tour plus lunch at the Green Dragon. This tour lasts 3 hours.

You can also take an evening banquet tour, where you tour the Shire at dusk and end with dinner at the Green Dragon. This tour lasts 4 hours and is only offered several days a week.

Learn more about the tours and book your tickets in advance on the official website.

New Zealand Itinerary Modification: It is possible to combine the Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton into one day. Leave early from Auckland, take an early tour of Waitomo Caves, and then take the evening banquet tour of Hobbiton (this tour typically starts at 4 pm). You will need to book your tickets in advance and keep your fingers crossed that the evening banquet tour is available on your date of travel. Visiting Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton on the same day is busy but it can save you a day of travel through New Zealand.

Once you are finished at Hobbiton, drive to Rotorua.

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Red Rock Thermal Motel. We had a one-bedroom apartment and had access to a washer and dryer. You can relax in the hotel’s mineral pool, a nice perk. For more options, visit Booking.com.

Day 5: Rotorua

Total Driving Distance: 82 km
Total Driving Time: 1 km

We liked to joke that Rotorua is New Zealand’s smelliest city. Rotorua is located in a geothermal area, and with the bubbling hot springs, the entire town smells like rotten eggs.

Here are the top experiences in Rotorua

Learn about Maori culture. Visit a Maori Village and watch a traditional Maori performance and dine on traditional Maori food.

Te Puia. Watch the eruption of Pohutu Geyser, the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere, and take a Maori led tour of the geothermal area.

Walk among Redwoods at Whakarewarewa Forest. Located just outside of Rotorua is a forest of California Redwood trees. You can also tour the canopies of these massive trees at the Redwoods Tree Walk.

Go White Water Rafting. Raft the Kaituna River, home to the highest commercial raftable waterfall in the world, the 7 meters high Tutea Falls.

Explore Wai-o-tapu Thermal Valley. This area of New Zealand is similar to Yellowstone National Park with its bubbling mud pots, geysers, and wet, crusty, multicolored landscapes. This is located south of Rotorua, along the drive to Taupo.

Redwood Forest

Redwoods in New Zealand


End the day with a drive to Taupo. Consider saving Wai-o-Tapu for the end of the day, since it is located between Rotorua and Taupo.

Where to Stay in Taupo: We had a great experience at the eMotel. We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment. For more options, check Booking.com.

Day 6: Taupo

Total Driving Distance: 130 km
Total Driving Time: 1.5 hours

Taupo, the adventure capital of the North Island, is very similar to Queenstown on the South Island. Here you can go bungy jumping, jet boat riding, kayaking, hiking, paragliding, and skydiving.

We chose to go mountain biking, since we had already spent a small fortune in Queenstown. From the town of Taupo, we mountain biked through more Redwood forests to Huka Falls.

Mountain Bike Taupo

Drive to Turangi and get settled in your hotel.

Where to Stay in Turangi: We stayed in the cottage at Sportsmans Lodge. It’s a great value for the money. Many people stay here for fishing trips but it also works well as a nice home base for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike. For more options, check Booking.com.

Day 7: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Total Driving Distance: 66 km
Total Driving Time: 1 hour

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been labeled as the world’s greatest single day hike. This hike climbs up through volcanic terrain, past old lava fields, near several giant calderas, and even past a smoking volcano that recently erupted.

Hike New Zealand

3 Weeks in New Zealand

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

It is 19.4 km in length and since it is done as a point-to-point hike, you will need to arrange transportation to the start or the finish of the hike. We parked at Ketetahi car park and had a shuttle take us to the start of the hike at Mangatepopo.

Get the full details of how to arrange the shuttle and what to expect along the hike in our article about hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Sleep in Turangi.

Day 8: Wellington

Total Driving Distance: 325 km
Total Driving Time: 4 hours

Today you drive south to Wellington. Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand and the second largest city after Auckland, but even so, it feels wonderfully small.


Here are some of the top experiences in Wellington

Enjoy the View from Mount Victoria. For the best view over Wellington, walk or drive to the Mount Victoria lookout.

Visit Te Papa. Learn about the history and culture of New Zealand at Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand.

Tour Weta Cave. Weta Workshop is the company that produced the props, costumes, and digital effects for the LoTR and Hobbit movies. While on tour here, we also learned that Weta Workshop has worked on other movies such as Avatar, Narnia, and Spiderman.

Cuba Street. Lined with bars, cafes, and boutique shops, this a vibrant area of Wellington that is not to be missed.

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Gilmer Apartment Hotel in downtown Wellington. This property gets great reviews and apartments can accommodate up to four people. For more options check Booking.com.

Day 9: Wellington

Spend a second day in Wellington. This gives you enough time to see all the main sites in town. I read that there are more bars and restaurants per capita in Wellington than in New York City. This city is filled with phenomenal restaurants. So, why not have a leisurely day and end it with a nice meal tonight?

New Zealand Itinerary Modification: If you need to save some time, or if you would rather spend more time in the country than in the city, consider eliminating this day from the itinerary.

3 Week New Zealand Itinerary: South Island

Day 10: Travel to the South Island

Total Driving Distance: 180 km + the ferry crossing
Total Driving Time: 2.5 hours driving, 3 hours on the ferry

In the morning, take the ferry from the North Island to the South Island.

The Cook Strait separates the North Island from the South Island. It takes 3 to 3.5 hours to travel from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island.

Interislander Ferry View


The two main ferry companies are Interislander and Bluebridge. The Interislander ferry is larger. Since it is a larger ship, it is less likely to get cancelled in the event of bad weather, plus, there is plenty of room to get up and move around.

We sailed with Interislander and thought it was wonderful. We could get up and walk around as we pleased. The ferry felt enormous, with multiple decks, cafes, TV’s and I even think it had a movie theater!

Here are the links to both companies. Check ferry prices and availability. I recommend booking your tickets in advance because they do sell out.

Once in Picton, drive to Motueka or Nelson and get settled in your hotel. This will be your home base for exploring Abel Tasman National Park.

Where We Stayed: We stayed at Chalets @ Terraced Gardens in Motueka. This place is fabulous! Upon arrival, we were offered a bottle of wine or a jar of homemade jam. Our chalet was clean, quiet, and came with a kitchenette and private bathroom. From here, it was just a short drive to Kaiteriteri.

Days 11 & 12: Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest park.

Located on the northern coastline of the South Island, Abel Tasman is home to one of New Zealand’s multi-day walking tracks, aptly named the Abel Tasman Coast Track. This is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. At 51 km, it takes 3 to 5 days to walk the entire track. You can do this, by adding time onto this itinerary or by swapping the full day in Wellington for a third day at Abel Tasman. Learn more about the Abel Tasman Coast Track here.

If you don’t have the time or the desire for a multi-day trek, you can still have a wonderful time at Abel Tasman. You can day hike sections of the Coast Track or explore the coast by kayak.

Our original plan was to spend one day kayaking and one day hiking part of the Coast Track. Unfortunately, a solid day of torrential rain kept us indoors.

With our one precious day, we hired Wilsons for a combination cruise and hiking excursion. We cruised along the coast for one hour and then hiked 6 miles from Medland’s Beach to Anchorage. It was a great day and this part of New Zealand, with its lush, tropical foliage and dense forests, looks and feels a lot different from the rest of New Zealand.

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman with Kids

There is more to do from Motueka and Nelson. You can walk along Wharariki Beach, hike to Wanui Falls, or explore Kahurangi National Park. Click here to learn more.

In the evening, drive to Blenheim so you have one full day to explore the wine region tomorrow (2.5 hours, 160 km from Motueka).

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Ellena Court Motel in Blenheim and it was wonderful. There are apartments that can accommodate up to six people. For more options check Booking.com.

Day 13: Marlborough Wine Region

The Marlborough wine region is New Zealand’s premiere wine region. This area is famous for its white wines, mostly Sauvignon Blancs, but it also produces some lighter reds as well.

You can tour the Marlborough wine region by car or by bicycle. We thought it would be more fun to tour the region by bicycle, especially since this would let Tyler and Kara burn off some energy in between wine tastings.

We rented bikes from Wine Tours by Bike and went on a self-guided tour through the wine region. The shop owner gave us a map and recommendations on wineries. We spent all day cycling from winery to winery.

Marlborough Wine Region

This was fun for our whole family. Tim and I loved tasting the wines. Tyler and Kara loved touring the wine region by bicycle. We dined on cheese and crackers at the wineries. And when we did this, it was April, so New Zealand was ablaze in fall colors. It is still one of my favorite memories from New Zealand.

Learn more about the wine region on the official website. 
Learn more about Wine Tours by Bike and get updated pricing and hours.

Sleep in Blenheim.

Day 14: Kaikoura & Christchurch

Total Driving Distance: 310 km
Total Driving Time: 4.5 hours


Today you work your way down the South Island. The day ends at Christchurch and the Banks Peninsula. Along the way, you have the option to make a pitstop at Kaikoura.

Kaikoura is located almost 2 hours south of Blenheim. This is one of the best spots in New Zealand to get out on the water and go whale watching, fishing, or swim with dolphins.

Kaikoura Beach

If you want to swim with dolphins while in New Zealand, this is the place to do it. We skipped this and now I regret it. On the day we drove through Kaikoura, it was windy, overcast, and chilly, and the kids and I weren’t thrilled about jumping into the water, even if we could get up close with dolphins. Guess we will just have to go back someday…

For a full list of everything there is to do in Kaikoura, take a look at this article.


Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island. Earthquakes hit Christchurch in 2010 and 2011, severely damaging the town. During our visit in 2015, we could still see the mark the earthquakes left on this city.

We didn’t spend much time here, other than a quick drive through the city on our road trip along the coast. Instead, we spent our time on the beautiful Banks Peninsula.

Banks Peninsula & Akaroa

Just south of Christchurch is the Banks Peninsula. The drive from Christchurch to the town of Akaroa is beautiful. Green, rolling hills dotted with literally thousands of sheep…it was gorgeous.

Banks Peninsula

Akaroa New Zealand itinerary

We spent an afternoon in Akaroa, dining on fish and chips and exploring the town and the tiny harbor.

Tonight, you can stay in Akaroa, Christchurch, or, if you really want to stay somewhere unique, check out SiloStay in Little River. Brand new silos have been transformed into eco-friendly, one-bedroom apartments. How often do you get the chance to sleep in a silo? And it’s surprisingly luxurious. Read all about it here.

SiloStay New Zealand itinerary

Day 15: Drive to Aoraki Mt. Cook

Total Driving Distance: 332 km
Total Driving Time: 4.25 hours

This may look like another long driving day, but you will get to see some beautiful sights along the way. Lake Tekapo is gorgeous and this is a great place to get out and stretch your legs.

New Zealand Itinerary

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo New Zealand itinerary

Another view of Lake Tekapo

As you approach Mt. Cook, the drive along Lake Pukaki is also very beautiful.

Lake Pukaki New Zealand itinerary

Sheep at Mt Cook

Get settled in your hotel at the Mt. Cook Village.

Here are some great ways to spend your time at Mt. Cook

Walk the Hooker Valley Track. If you do one thing while you are here, it should be to walk this hiking trail. At 5 km in length and almost completely flat, it is perfect for all ages and ability levels. The trail is a mix of gravel paths and boardwalks. It takes 3 to 4 hours round trip and along the way you are treated to beautiful views of Mt. Cook.

Mt Cook Track New Zealand itinerary

Hooker Valley Track

Tim Tyler Kara Mt Cook

Take a Scenic Flight Over Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park. For the best view of the park, take a flight by helicopter or airplane. Flights leave from Lake Tekapo Airport or Mt. Cook Airport.

Go Heli-Hiking. For the ultimate adventure, take a helicopter flight to the Tasman Glacier and go hiking.

Go Stargazing. Aoraki Mt Cook is located in the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, one of the best places in the world for stargazing.

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge in a quad room with four bunk beds. There is a living room and kitchen that is shared with other guests. The view from the windows to Mt Cook is gorgeous. For more options, check Booking.com.

View from the Lodge New Zealand itinerary

Day 16: Aoraki Mt Cook & Wanaka

Total Driving Distance: 210 km
Total Driving Time: 2.5 hours

Spend as long as you like at Mt. Cook and then drive to Wanaka. Once in Wanaka, get settled into your hotel.

Where to Stay: We stayed at Mt Aspiring Holiday Park. Rooms are nothing special but it fit our budget well. For more options check Booking.com.

Day 17: Hike Roys Peak Track

For one of the best views over Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park, hike to the top of Roys Peak. It’s a tough, uphill hike but you are rewarded with jaw-dropping views.

Roys Peak

Roys Peak Track

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Wanaka New Zealand itinerary

The hike is 16 km round trip and takes five to six hours. It’s best done on a clear day so that you can enjoy the views.

Afterwards, spend the rest of the day in Wanaka. Photograph #ThatWanakaTree, spend some time down by Lake Wanaka, or watch a movie and eat warm cookies at Cinema Paradiso.

Day 18: Drive to Te Anau

Total Driving Distance: 225 km
Total Driving Time: 3 hours

The Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s must-see sights. It’s located 4 hours south of Queenstown, so it is possible to visit it on a day trip from Queenstown, but it’s a long, long day. Instead, base yourself in the quiet, much closer town of Te Anau.

Today you will drive right past Queenstown to get to Te Anau. It may sound strange to go right to Te Anau, but there are reasons for this. Doing it this way will save you an additional hotel reservation and another day packing and unpacking. Plus, your trip will end with several memorable days in Queenstown.

From Wanaka, it only takes 3 hours to drive to Te Anau. You will drive right past Queenstown on the way. So, if you want, you can stop into Queenstown for lunch, or even go bungy jumping or jet boat riding midday. Another nice idea is to spend part of today in Arrowtown, a charming town that is just a short drive north of Queenstown.

Drive to Te Anau New Zealand itinerary

On the drive between Queenstown and Te Anau

There is not a whole to do in Te Anau. Visit the glowworm caves or spend some time by Lake Te Anau.

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Alpenhorn Motel and loved it here. This place is great for families, with a bedroom for the kids, a kitchenette with microwave and cooktop, and a living area with TV, DVD, and free movies to borrow from the office. It was clean and quiet and conveniently located in Te Anau. For more options, check Booking.com.

Day 19: The Milford Sound & Key Summit

Total Driving Distance: 240 km
Total Driving Time: 3.5 hours

To drive from Te Anau to the Milford Sound takes almost 2 hours. Along the way, there are various viewpoints to visit. We gave ourselves 3 hours to get to Milford Sound, allowing extra time to stop at these viewpoints.

Driving Te Anau to Milford Sound

Driving to the Milford Sound from Te Anau


Road to Milford Sound

There are several companies that offer cruises of the Milford Sound. We used JUCY because of their low cost. All of the cruises make the same loop through the fiord, so what you get see on the cruise is almost identical, regardless of the company you choose. However, some companies also offer kayaking trips.

Cruises last 1.5 to 2 hours. Before or after the cruise, you can walk the short, easy trails along the sound.

Milford Sound New Zealand itinerary

Milford Sound Waterfall

Milford Sound in April

On the drive back to Te Anau, you have the option to hike to Key Summit. This is a 3-hour hike that walks a portion of the Routeburn Track. Honestly, we liked this hike more than the Milford Sound Cruise.

Hiking Key Summit with Kids

Key Summit Hike New Zealand itinerary

Read more about the Milford Sound Cruise, hiking Key Summit, and the drive between Te Anau and the Milford Sound: The Perfect Day Trip: Te Anau to the Milford Sound

You can sleep in Te Anau or drive all of the way back to Queenstown. From the Milford Sound, it is a 290 km drive and takes almost 4 hours. We slept in Te Anau.

Days 20 & 21: Queenstown

With two days in Queenstown, you have just enough time to go crazy and indulge yourself in all of the heart-racing, thrilling activities that this town has to offer. On the list are bungy jumping, jet boat riding, paragliding, mountain biking, skiing, and hiking. Have a burger at Fergburger, take the Skyline Gondola for amazing views over Queenstown, and then hike higher for even better views. Day trip out to Glenorchy or Arrowtown.

Queenstown is a blast and it’s a great way to end a road trip through New Zealand.

Julie Rivenbark

Bungy jumping at Kawarau Bridge


Kara Paragliding



Queenstown New Zealand itinerary

The view over Queenstown


Shotover Jet New Zealand itinerary

Shotover Jet

Where to Stay: We stayed at Absoloot Value Accommodation Hostel. The four of us had a 4 bunk room with a private bathroom. We really liked this place and if you are on a budget, this is a great place to consider. For more options, check Booking.com.

Day 22: Fly Home

Time to pack your things and fly home (or continue on to your next destination). If you are like us, you’ll be dreaming of a return visit someday!

How to Modify This New Zealand Itinerary

With Less Time

To make this itinerary shorter, you can eliminate the full day in Wellington and combine Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton in one day. You also have the option to spend less time in Abel Tasman or Taupo and Rotorua, or eliminate the day in the Marlborough wine region.

With More Time

This itinerary takes you to the highlights of New Zealand but there is still so much to see and do. With a few extra days, you can hike one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, add on places like Franz Josef Glacier, Invercargill, the Bay of Islands, Coromandel, and more.

When To Go

We did this trip in April 2015. It was autumn, a gorgeous time to visit New Zealand. Plus, the crowds were relatively low. We did have to deal with some rain but it didn’t impact our schedule too much.

The busiest time to visit New Zealand is during the summer months (December through March). Expect large crowds, sold out accommodations, and more expensive prices.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Comment below if you have any questions about this New Zealand itinerary.

More Information about New Zealand

Read all of our articles about New Zealand in our New Zealand Travel Guide.

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3 Week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

New Zealand Itinerary and Road Trip Guide


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Comments 26

  1. Julie – Amazing!! this is (almost) perfect for our family. A few questions – we want to make sure we do Franz Josef Glacier (heli/hike) so what day would we put that in (add a day) and what would the one day be to eliminate so we still have the same number of days? Also, we have 6 in our family with ages 17, 14, 12, 9 – so in regards to accommodations any additional recommendations besides adding rooms? Oh we have to book December 17-Jan 7 time frame (this year!) Can I just pay you to book everything lol! Thanks!

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      Heli hiking sounds awesome!! I was just talking to Tim about how I would really love to do that someday. I recommend adding in the heli-hiking around day 16, when you are in the Mt. Cook area. I think the tours leave near here but double check that with the company you use. You could take a day from Abel Tasman and just see Abel Tasman in one day. Planning and booking everything is so much work, right? This is a great road trip and New Zealand is spectacular…still one of our favorite travel spots in the world. Have a great trip with your family! Cheers, Julie

  2. What a beautiful country! The view of Queenstown from the flight and the Te Anau Lake look gorgeous!! I was planning a trip to New Zealand sometime this year and I can’t wait now. The travel tips are really useful… I love this blog; please keep updated us with such information. Well, I have visited another site Seasonz.co.nz having some wonderful and similar information.

  3. We’re off to NZ for 3 weeks, March 26-April 15, so your itinerary is about as ideally useful as it could be. Thanks so much! We’ve been traveling the majority of the year for 6+ years now and I blog travel myself (not commercial, but just to share practical info like this), so I know what goes into the planning and writing and really appreciate it.

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  4. Hello! Thank you for sharing your trips online; thoroughly, coherently, and with lots of pictures. Regarding your 3 weeks in New Zealand, I am writing to ask whether you think going there from May 10th to the end of that month might possibly be too late in the season? How was it starting to feel by the time you left? Was it getting a little too cold and too dark for your adventurous style of trip? Mine is also a family of 4, with a son (10) and a daughter (6). We are from Colorado, and we are adventurous too, and we plan to do hikes like Key Summit and perhaps the Tongariro crossing as well. I know this is a subjective question to answer, but do you think we’d have issues with snow down south, or with seasonal closures anywhere, or perhaps a lack of offerings in the way of activities? Do you know if rains more in late May than in early May? Thank you in advance for any opinions you care to share!

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      Hello Craig. It was a little chilly by the time that we left, but we didn’t mind it. We started in the south and went north, so it got a little warmer, actually, during the 3+ weeks we were in New Zealand. When we arrived in Queenstown, it was mid April and they had just gotten an early snowstorm. So, you might want to reverse the order of this itinerary, and start at Queenstown and end in Auckland. You might have to deal with the snow down south and rain up north. I think that it does get rainier in May, but you can check the weather averages using this link. This is a great website to get a rough idea of what to expect with the weather and daylight hours. A big advantage to traveling this time of year is that it is off season, so places should be less crowded. Cheers, Julie

    2. Hey Craig, You wont have any issue with snow in May … its not even ski season until at least July down there, so you should be fine. Fiordland is one of the rainiest places in the country, having up to 200 days of rain a year. But its also want makes amazing waterfalls in the region. I would always go to Fiordland expecting rain, and hoping for the best. Its likely to still be quite cool, so do dress appropriately 🙂

  5. We will be in New Zealand for two weeks in late November. I love your driving itinerary and would love to use it as a guide but was wondering what you suggest to cut out 7 days but still see both islands?

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      Hello Marianne. Two weeks to see the North and South Islands is a bit tight. If you need to eliminate 7 days, here are the days that I recommend: both days in Abel Tasman (2), on day 8, drive to Wellington and explore it with whatever time you have left in the day, see Rotorua OR Taupo, combine Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton into one big day. That’s 5 days, and then I get stuck. I’d say take a day from Queenstown, but that was our favorite place in New Zealand, so it’s hard for me to recommend shortening your stay here. And everything else is so great, or you just need the time to drive from one spot to another, that I have a hard time telling you what else to eliminate. Any chance it can be a 16 day itinerary? 🙂 I guess you could also eliminate the Marlborough Wine Region and then one more spot that doesn’t look like a must-visit for you. I hope this helps! Cheers, Julie

  6. Hi Julie,

    We have a plan to visit NewZealand in 2020, and your intenary very helpfull. Thank you for sharing


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      Hello Kim. I’m glad you like our itinerary! You can stay near Waitomo, near Hobbiton, or somewhere in between. We stayed in Hamilton. Cheers, Julie

  7. I read somewheres while researching New Zealand that February was a great time as the people leave during the summer and it is less crowded and the prices are lower, which is opposite of what you are saying. I am not sure what to think now. We had originally thought October, but after I read about February, we changed it to February.
    What are your thoughts about these two thinkings??

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      Hello Mimi. I only have firsthand knowledge of what it is like in April and May, since that is when we visited New Zealand. Several sources I read stated that the summer time months, up through March, can be crowded. January and December are the busiest months to visit to visit New Zealand, so yes, it does get a little less crowded in Febraury, but it is still one of the busiest months of the year. If you want to avoid the crowds, October is quieter than February. Cheers, Julie

  8. My boyfriend and I are wanting to do a New Zealand Road Trip sometime soon and this Itinerary helped us plan every single detail so thank you so much!

    What would be an appropriate budget for this trip including fuel, car hire, food etc.

    I can’t wait to read more about your holidays.

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      Hello Kiana. I’m glad you like our itinerary! We did a very similar version to this trip and for our family of four, we spent roughly $400 USD per day. This covered hotels, rental car and fuel, food, and activities. Queenstown was our most expensive spot, where we paid for bungy jumping, the jet boat ride, and so on. How much you spend can vary by time of year. We did this in April, which is shoulder season, so we did not have to pay the higher peak season prices. And this did not include or flights to/from New Zealand. Cheers, Julie

  9. This is absolutely awesome – thank you so very much!!! My husband has put me in charge of our NZ trip in January, and I just didn’t know where to begin. This is wonderful, so thank you for posting this!! Wishing your family all the very best for your future travels!
    Kind regards

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      No, just the maps for the North Island and South Island. But together, they become a map of the entire trip. 🙂 Cheers, Julie

  10. Fantastic, thank you so much! I’ve also subscribed to your newsletter so look forward to hearing more about your travels!

  11. Hello! This is such a wonderful post, I’ve read it multiple times and we’ll probably do a very similar trip. Can I just check how many nights you spent in each place as I’m not entirely sure I’m reading it right? For example, was it just 1 night in Abel Tasman (but you left late on the last day?) And after Blenhiem the next night was on the Banks Peninsula? Did you feel rushed at all, i.e. would you have added an extra night somewhere if you could? Thank you! 🙂

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      Hello Bella. I’m glad you like our itinerary! At the end of each day, I usually list where to stay. If nothing is listed, then you remain in that same town for the night. As for Abel Tasman, you spend 2 nights here (nights of days 10 and 11). On the evening of your last day at Abel Tasman (day 12) you drive and stay in Blenheim. You will also spend 2 nights in Blenheim (evenings of 12 and 13). Then you spend the day driving towards the Banks Peninsula and stay nearby for the night (Akaroa, Christchurch, or Silo Stay).

      For clarification, here is where to stay each night: Auckland (1, 2), Matamata (3), Rotorua (4), Taupo (5), Turangi (6,7), Wellington (8,9), Abel Tasman (10,11), Blenheim (12, 13), Christchurch/Akaroa (14), Mt Cook (15), Wanaka (16, 17), Te Anau (18,19), Queenstown (20, 21).

      We did this same itinerary but with a little more time. I sped it up simply because for many people, even having 3 weeks can be hard to do, to get off of work, etc. But yes, if you have more time, you can insert days here and there for the areas that look the most interesting to you. The Queenstown/Wanaka area is amazing and this would be my first pick. Another day at Mt Cook would allow you to go heli-hiking or take a plane flight, but of course, it will also be expensive. From Auckland, you can take a lot of great day trips, so more time here would also be nice.

      Cheers, Julie

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