New Zealand Road Trip: The Perfect Itinerary if You Only Have 2 Weeks

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There are some countries and regions of the world that just beg to be explored on a road trip. And I'm a firm believer that New Zealand is one of these countries.

Sure, you *can* get around New Zealand without a vehicle; you can use buses and trains and cheap flights and still see a lot of the country's highlights. But for a true New Zealand adventure? You just can't beat a road trip here.

But how in the world should you go about planning a New Zealand road trip, knowing all the amazing things there are to see? And how do you do it when you can only dedicate two weeks to the adventure?

Driving in New Zealand

In an ideal world, you'd have the time and money to spend at least a month in New Zealand in order to really appreciate it. But we don't live in an ideal world, and I know that many of my fellow Americans only get about two weeks of vacation time to use every year.

With that in mind, here's my suggestion for a 2-week New Zealand road trip that includes the highlights of both the North and South islands. It covers the major must-sees from cities to mountains to hobbit holes to fjords, as well as some short hikes and cool activities you can add to make your trip extra memorable.

(And yes, this itinerary is based 100% on personal experience – I've been to New Zealand 5 separate times, and even lived there for a while in 2008!)

First things first: Car vs. campervan

When planning a New Zealand road trip, you have two main modes of transport to consider: a car, or a campervan.

The benefits of renting a car are that it's usually much cheaper, cars are easier to handle on New Zealand's narrow and winding roads, and there's more inventory on both islands.

The benefits of renting a campervan are that you can save some money by camping and cooking your own meals. Plus, campervanning around New Zealand is an iconic way to explore the country!

Both are excellent choices, and it all boils down to your budget and your preferred accommodation type. If you prefer B&Bs and hotels, rent a car. If you're up for sleeping in a van at campsites and holiday parks, then a campervan might be right for you.

For car rentals, you can compare prices here. For campervans, I recommend checking out brands like Spaceships for smaller vans (this is who I personally used), and Euro Campers, Britz, or Maui for larger campers.

Other New Zealand road trip posts you may want to read:

The perfect 2-week New Zealand road trip itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive in Auckland

Even though this is a road trip itinerary, I actually don't recommend picking up your rental car (or campervan, or whatever it is you're going to rent) until Day 3 of this itinerary. You don't really need a vehicle to get around in Auckland, so save yourself a couple days of rental fees!

You'll likely arrive in Auckland this morning. You have a couple options when it comes to getting downtown: taxi, Uber, and the SkyBus. The SkyBus to downtown runs a flat fee of $18 NZD per adult for a one-way ticket, and is what I usually recommend. *Sometimes* you can find an Uber fare that will be $40 NZD or less, but the price can often be a lot higher.

Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland skyline

You probably won't be able to check into your hotel yet, but you can definitely drop off your luggage and maybe change your clothes in preparation for an afternoon of exploring Auckland.

Some things I recommend doing today include:

  • Going up the Sky Tower for excellent views of Auckland (buy tickets in advance here)
  • Strolling along the waterfront from Queens Wharf, past Viaduct Harbor, and into the Wynyard Quarter
  • Getting a fancy ice cream at Giapo

RELATED: The Best Things to Do on Your First Trip to Auckland

View from the Auckland Sky Tower
View from the Auckland Sky Tower

By the time you've done this (and thrown in some lunch and maybe a bit of shopping), you'll be able to head back to your hotel to check in and just crash.

In order to combat the jet lag, I recommend trying to stay up as late as possible without any naps. But ordering room service and going to bed by 8 p.m. tonight is totally acceptable.  😉

Total driving time today: 0 hours

Costs: SkyBus from Auckland airport – $18 NZD per person; Sky Tower admission – $29 NZD

Where to stay in Auckland: I love the Grand Millennium Auckland. This upmarket CBD hotel is clean and comfortable, and has a lovely staff. There's an indoor pool, a bar, and two restaurants on-site, plus a pretty great room service menu. You can walk to the Sky Tower and harbor in about 15 minutes. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)

Day 2 – Waiheke Island

Jet lag will likely have you up early this morning, so you may as well take advantage of it! There are plenty more things to do in Auckland, but my top pick is to take a day trip out to Waiheke Island. This island is located just a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, and ferries start running fairly early in the morning.

Waiheke Island is known for its wineries and beaches, and makes for a perfect day trip from Auckland.

Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Catch the ferry over, and then either use the bus or rent a bike to get around the island (though note that parts of it are pretty hilly!). You can visit white-sand beaches at Oneroa, Palm Beach, and Onetangi, or visit wineries like Cable Bay, Mudbrick, and Stonyridge.

If you'd rather not explore the island on your own, sign up for a food and wine tour of Waiheke from Auckland (this is a pretty good deal!).

Cable Bay winery on Waiheke Island
Cable Bay vineyards

Back in Auckland, have a leisurely evening in preparation to hit the road on Day 3!

Total driving time today: 0 hours

Costs: Ferry to Waiheke – starting at $38 NZD roundtrip

Where to stay in Auckland: I still recommend the Grand Millennium Auckland tonight!

Day 3 – Matamata and Rotorua

Picking up your car or campervan today means you can pick up from an Auckland city location as opposed to the airport, which should save you a bit of money. Allow up to an hour for pick-up, as some of the more popular rental companies can be very busy, especially during high season.

Once you're all set with your vehicle, it's time to start you New Zealand road trip and head south to the farming community of Matamata. You may not be familiar with this town's name, but you probably ARE familiar with its top attraction: Hobbiton!

Bag End in Hobbiton at dusk
Bag End in Hobbiton

Nearly 20 years ago, a family sheep farm in Matamata was used as the film set for Hobbiton in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lord of the Rings tourism took off in New Zealand after the success of the movies, and so when they decided to re-build the same Hobbiton set for the Hobbit trilogy, they built it to last.

Today, you can tour the set of Hobbiton – and it's magical even if you aren't a Lord of the Rings fan.

Amanda and Elliot in Hobbiton

It takes about 2 hours to get to Hobbiton from Auckland, so plan for an afternoon tour of the Hobbiton movie set. Tours leave from the Shire's Rest roughly every half hour, but you DO want to book in advance since tours often sell out. (Book your tour here.)

You'll spend the next 2 hours being guided around the 12-acre movie set, taking in all the hobbit-y details and hearing stories about filming. The tour will end with a drink in the Green Dragon Inn.

Hobbiton in Matamata, New Zealand

From here, it's an hour to go to the city of Rotorua, where you'll be spending the next couple of nights.

You'll likely arrive before dinner time, so if you want to do something relaxing this evening, I recommend booking a time slot at the Polynesian Spa. The pools at this spa overlook Lake Rotorua, and are filled with geothermal mineral water sourced from two nearby natural springs. Definitely go for the Deluxe Lake Spa for ultimate relaxation.

Polynesian Spa Deluxe Lake Spa in Rotorua
Polynesian Spa Deluxe Lake Spa

Total driving time today: 3 hours

Costs: Hobbiton tour – $84 NZD; Polynesian Spa – $50 NZD for the Deluxe Lake Spa

Where to stay in Rotorua:

  • If you're traveling in a campervan, I recommend staying at Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park. This holiday park has nice common areas, thermal pools you can use, and even a resident cat to make friends with. It's not within walking distance to downtown, however.
  • If you're renting a car, I recommend Aura Accommodation (one of the highest-rated options on TripAdvisor), or Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel if you're looking for a little luxury.

Day 4 – Rotorua

Today, spend the day exploring Rotorua. This is one of the most geothermally-active areas in New Zealand – and you can tell by the whiffs of sulphur you'll get all throughout the city.

Start your morning off with a visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland just outside of the city, where you can see everything from geysers to boiling mud to neon-green lakes. There are other thermal parks in Rotorua, but this one is my favorite!

Devil's Bath at Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland
Devil's Bath at Wai-O-Tapu

The Champagne Pool and Devil's Bath are definitely must-sees. Allow at least 2 hours to walk all the park's trails.

Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu
Champagne Pool

After getting your fill of geothermal oddities, head to the Redwoods Treewalk, where you can spend an hour traversing a series of suspension bridges high up in a grove of redwood trees (because yes, redwoods totally grow in Rotorua!). This is a very unique spot – definitely worth a stop!

Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua

This afternoon, you can explore a bit of downtown Rotorua. Grab lunch on Eat Streat (a cool collection of restaurants), visit the Government Gardens, and stroll along Lake Rotorua. You'll see a Skyline Gondola here above the lake, but I actually would save your gondola experience for later in the trip!

Tonight, I recommend splurging on a visit to one of Rotorua's Maori villages. While you can experience New Zealand's native Maori culture all over the country, Rotorua has some of the best cultural shows.

Places like Tamaki Village and Mitai Village offer nightly dinner-concert packages, which include a traditional hangi dinner (food cooked in an earthen oven) along with a concert/show that includes traditional Maori songs and dances. These aren't particularly cheap, but it's a must-have experience if it's your first trip to New Zealand.

Maori marae at Te Puia
Maori culture in Rotorua

Total driving time today: Less than 2 hours (it takes about 30 minutes to drive to Wai-O-Tapu from Rotorua)

Costs: Wai-O-Tapu – $32.50 NZD per adult; Redwoods Treewalk – $25 NZD; Maori dinner show – starting around $115 NZD per adult (which includes dinner, concert, and transport from your accommodation)

Where to stay in Rotorua: Again, I recommend staying at Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park if you're in a campervan, and Aura Accommodation or Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel if you have a regular car.

Day 5 – To Wellington

Day 5 will have you heading to my favorite city in New Zealand: Wellington! It's a bit of a long driving day, but there are some cool things you can see along the way.

You can stop to see Lake Taupo (the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand), and definitely drive south down Highway 1, which has a section called the “Desert Road,” where you can get some great views of the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park if the weather is clear.

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo

You should make it to Wellington by dinnertime even with some stops, so I recommend checking in to your hotel and then heading into the city for dinner. Cuba Street especially has some great food and entertainment options.

Total driving time today: 6 hours

Costs: No attraction costs today

Where to stay in Wellington:

  • If you have a campervan, the best campsite closest to Wellington is probably the Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park, though it's still 15 km from central Wellington. You might want to consider staying at a downtown hotel for the next 2 nights even if you have a campervan, simply because it's easier to park and explore Wellington on foot than to drive into the city every day.
  • If you have a car (or just decide to stay downtown), my top hotel picks are Rydges Wellington and the Copthorne Hotel Wellington Oriental Bay (I've personally stayed at both!).

Day 6 – Wellington

You really need multiple days to fully explore Wellington, but you can still cover most of the city's highlights in just one day.

If you're staying at the Copthorne, I recommend starting out with a walk along Wellington's waterfront since you'll be staying right at Oriental Bay, Wellington's only city beach. You can walk all the way from the beach past the harbor, and then cross the quirky City to Sea Bridge to reach the city center.

Oriental Bay in Wellington, New Zealand
Oriental Bay
Wellington Civic Square
Wellington Civic Square at one end of the City to Sea Bridge

Along the way, you may want to pop into Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum of New Zealand. It's located on the waterfront and is free to visit. It's an especially great place to spend time if you hit bad weather in Wellington. (Though even if you don't, I still recommend visiting as it's an excellent museum!)

Next, it's up the hill with the Wellington Cable Car, which takes you from Lambton Quay (the city's main shopping street) to Kelburn Station at the Wellington Botanic Garden. From the upper station, you get the best views out over Wellington.

Wellington Cable Car

In the afternoon, you have a couple of options. Either you can continue wandering around the downtown area (Cuba Street is also great for people watching, and Courtenay Place is also lively), or you can make a trip out to the Weta Cave in Miramar.

The Weta Cave is the tourist-facing arm of Weta Workshop and Studios, the place where movie art, effects, and props have been created ever since the Lord of the Rings trilogy put New Zealand on the movie-making map. The behind-the-scenes Weta tour is super interesting even if your aren't a big fan of hobbits and orcs. (Book your ticket here.)

Troll at Weta Cave in Wellington
Caught by a troll at the Weta Cave

If you're up for one more epic view of the city, you can make your way by car or bus up to the viewpoint atop Mount Victoria around sunset. It's almost always super windy at the top, but the views out over Wellington are stunning.

Wellington from Mount Victoria
Wellington from Mount Victoria

Total driving time today: 0 hours

Costs: Cable car – $9 NZD for a roundtrip ticket; Weta Cave tour – $28 NZD for a 45-minute tour

Where to stay in Wellington: Again, I recommend Rydges Wellington and the Copthorne Hotel Wellington Oriental Bay for staying downtown, or the Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park if you're looking for a good campsite.

Day 7 – Ferry to South Island / Nelson

After nearly a week on the North Island, it's time to wave goodbye to the hills and prepare to say hello to the mountains! Take a late morning car ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait to Picton.

You have two ferry options: the Interislander and Bluebridge. Both ferries are similar in price and amenities, so you might just decide who to sail with based on their timetables.

This ferry ride usually takes at least 3.5 hours, but the ferries that run this route are large with comfortable lounge chairs, large windows, and usually at least one cafe. Make sure to go out on deck once you reach the Queens Charlotte Sound, as the scenery is pretty spectacular!

Queen Charlotte Sound
Sailing through the Queen Charlotte Sound

Once you disembark in Picton, it's a 2-hour drive to the city of Nelson.

Nelson is known for its artsy vibe and location on Tasman Bay. If you arrive early enough, I recommend visiting the WOW Museum (which displays pieces from the annual World of Wearable Art event) and the Nelson Classic Car Collection.

Total driving time today: 2 hours

Cost: A one-way ferry ride with a car + 2 people starts around $225 NZD (and you do want to book ahead!)

Where to stay in Nelson:

Day 8 – West Coast

I won't sugarcoat it: today is going to be a very long day of driving; there's just no way around it. But no New Zealand road trip would be complete without driving down the wild West Coast, so hopefully you're up for the adventure!

West Coast
Welcome to the wild West Coast!

Get an early start today so you can make a few stops along the way. From Nelson, take Highway 6 south. And then just stay on 6 basically the whole day!

Your first major stop will be in Punakaiki on the edge of Paparoa National Park. This is one of the most stunning parts of the West Coast, and in Punakaiki you'll find the famous Pancake Rocks.

These aren't just a couple of flat rocks, though – the area is full of stacks of the things, along with natural blowholes and some very Jurassic Park-esque scenery.

Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki
The Pancake Rocks
West Coast, New Zealand South Island
Seriously, where are the dinosaurs?

After you spend some time on the loop trail here, Punakaiki is a good spot to stop for lunch.

From Punakaiki, continue south to the city of Greymouth, the largest city on the West Coast. Greymouth is home to Monteith's Brewery, one of the top craft breweries in New Zealand. If you time it right, you can take a brewery tour here (shoot for the 3 p.m. tour). If not, you can still stop in for a tasting.

From there, it's a couple more hours to the small town of Franz Josef Glacier.

Total driving time today: 7 hours

Cost: Monteith's Brewery tour: $25 NZD

Where to stay in Franz Josef:

  • If traveling with a campervan, check out the Rainforest Retreat, which offers everything from campervan sites to luxury treehouses.
  • If traveling with a car, Aspen Court is the top-rated motel in Franz Josef with large rooms within walking distance to everything in town. If you're looking for a more luxurious spot to spend a couple nights, go for the Glenfern Villas, which are little further outside the town center.

Day 9 – Franz Josef

This part of the West Coast is even more wild and unique than what you saw yesterday, thanks mostly to the glaciers that snake down from the mountains into the temperate rainforest of the coast. There are two glaciers in the area: Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier.

Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

Sadly, both glaciers have retreated a lot in recent years, and because their terminal faces are unstable, the only way to hike on either glacier now is by doing a heli-hike. A glacier heli-hike is an EPIC experience: you get into a helicopter and fly high up onto the blue-white glacier, and then you get out, don ice crampons, and hike around on the ice for a couple hours before flying back down again.

If you can afford a heli-hike, definitely book one; this is the best glacier experience to have in New Zealand, and I don't think you'll regret it.

Hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier
Hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier

HOWEVER, it's worth noting that both Franz Josef and Fox glaciers exist within a rainforest. And when it's too rainy/cloudy, the helicopters won't fly. So, even if you do book a heli-hike, there's really only about a 50/50 chance that you'll get up on a glacier. I recommend booking one for Day 9, with the morning of Day 10 as your back-up.

If you can't do a glacier hike today, some other short walks you can do in the area include:

  • The loop around Lake Matheson, the Mirror Lake (1.5 hours)
  • Hike into the Franz Josef Valley and up the riverbed to the face of the glacier (but NOT onto it) (1.5 hours)
  • Do a short walk through the forest to Peter's Pool (30 minutes)
  • See glowworms after dark on the Minnehaha Walk in Fox Glacier town (20 minutes)
Lake Matheson in New Zealand
Lake Matheson
Walking through the New Zealand Forest
Walking in the West Coast rainforest

No matter what you end up doing today, I recommend going for an evening soak in the Glacier Hot Pools. If you do a heli-hike, entry will be included with your ticket and you'll welcome the soothing water after hours on the ice. And if you don't hike a glacier but do some other walks instead, you'll still probably enjoy a good soak, especially if it's been a wet day.

Total driving time today: Maybe an hour or so if you end up driving to do some of these short hikes

Cost: Heli-hikes can be as much as $450 NZD; Glacier Hot Pools – $28 NZD for the main pools

Where to stay in Franz Josef: Again, the Rainforest Retreat, is a good option for campervans (or other types of rooms), and Aspen Court is the top-rated motel in Franz Josef.

Day 10 – To Queenstown via Wanaka

If your glacier heli-hike got canceled on Day 9, see if you can reschedule it early on Day 10. If so, go and get on that ice this morning! If you went hiking yesterday or the glacier hikes get canceled again today (which does happen!), it's time to move on from the West Coast.

From Franz Josef, you'll continue south on Highway 6 along the coast until you get to Haast. From there, you'll head inland and go over the Haast Pass, which is pretty stunning!

If you have time, I recommend stopping in Makarora to do the Blue Pools walk. This short walk includes traversing through a mature beech and podocarp forest, and then crossing two suspension bridges to see the beautiful clear blue pools.

Blue Pools bridge
Blue Pools walk

(And I can say from experience that even if it's raining and even if the pools aren't blue because there's been flooding in the area recently, this hour-long hike is still very pretty!)

From the Blue Pools, you'll soon be driving along the northern end of Lake Wanaka, followed by the west side of Lake Hawea. These lakes are absolutely beautiful, and you'll definitely want to pull over at at least a few of the viewpoints for some photos.

Driving on the South Island
Viewpoint along Lake Hawea

Whether you're coming straight from Franz Josef or have spent your morning and afternoon stopping for hikes and viewpoints, I recommend stopping in the lakeside town of Wanaka for some sightseeing and dinner.

Wanaka has become Instagram-famous in recent years for both its Roy's Peak hike, and for That Wanaka Tree, which grows out of the lake. You won't be able to hike to Roy's Peak in just a couple of hours, but at the very least you should have time to stroll along the lakeshore and see the Wanaka Tree, and then head back to the city center for dinner (there are lots of good restaurants to choose from).

That Wanaka Tree in New Zealand
That Wanaka Tree

From Wanaka, it's a little over an hour to Queenstown.

If you're traveling in the late spring, summer, or early autumn, I recommend taking the Crown Range Road to Queenstown. The road takes you over a twisty mountain pass, but gives you incredible views as you head down into Queenstown. (I don't recommend taking this road in the winter, though, if you're not comfortable driving on potentially snowy/icy roads.)

Crown Range Road
View from the Crown Range Road

Total driving time today: 5 hours

Cost: None, unless you're doing your heli-hike today

Where to stay in Queenstown: 

  • If you're campervanning it, my pick is the Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park, which is located just outside of Queenstown in Arthurs Point. This holiday park has very nice facilities, and best of all has a shuttle to/from downtown Queenstown. It can be very tricky to find parking in Queenstown, so I recommend taking advantage of this service!
  • If you're renting a car, I recommend staying right in downtown Queenstown – but know you're likely going to have to pay extra for parking. My top picks are the Ramada Hotel & Suites Queenstown Remarkables Park for a more budget-friendly option, or the Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa if you're looking to splurge.

RELATED: Travel Guide: Top Things to See and Do in Queenstown

Day 11 – Queenstown

We're dedicating today to Queenstown, New Zealand's “adventure capital.” How much adventure you're up for totally depends on your budget and preferred amount of adrenaline, but I'll lay out a few options that I consider to be must-dos for you.

If you're going to brave a bungee jump in New Zealand, this is where you want to do it. Commercial bungee jumping was “invented” right here in Queenstown, and I recommend the Kawarau Bridge as the ideal first-bungee spot (this is actually where the first commercial jump took place in the 1908s).

Tandem bungee jumping at the Kawarau Bridge
The Kawarau Bridge is the only place to do a tandem jump!

You can either drive out to the bungee site yourself, or get a free ride from The Station in downtown Queenstown (I recommend booking ahead and taking the free shuttle from town).

After your jump, why not keep the adrenaline flowing? The other must-do in Queenstown is jet boating, which was also invented here. Jet boats use technology similar to jet skis/seadoos to skim over the top of water, meaning they can operate in the shallow rivers found in the south of New Zealand.

The best introduction to jet boating comes from the Shotover Jet, which operates on the Shotover River and travels through the narrow Shotover Canyon. This is a super fast and super fun ride.

Shotover River in Queenstown
Can you spot the Shotover Jet on the river?

After this, I recommend taking some time to explore downtown Queenstown. This resort town on the shore of Lake Wakatipu is super cute no matter what time of year you're visiting. You may want to take the Skyline Gondola up the mountain for the best views out over the city.

Queenstown, New Zealand
The view of Queenstown from the Skyline Gondola

This evening, brave the crowds to try a gigantic burger from the famous Fergburger.

Total driving time today: Potentially 0 if you take advantage of free shuttles

Cost: Kawarau Bridge bungee – $205 NZD per adult; Shotover Jet – $149 per person; Skyline Gondola – $39 NZD for just the gondola

Where to stay in Queenstown: The Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park for campervans, and the Ramada Hotel & Suites Queenstown Remarkables Park or the Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa if you've got a regular car.

Queenstown budget tip

As you will have realized by now, New Zealand is not a very cheap place to travel, especially if you want to participate in all these adventure activities. One way you can potentially save money (other than just skipping the pricey stuff) is to start scouting bookeme.co.nz before your trip to see if you can score highly discounted tickets to some of the more expensive activities.

Day 12 – Milford Sound

Today you should head out to New Zealand's #1 tourist attraction: Milford Sound. This mis-named fjord is gorgeous in any weather, and is an absolute must-do for your first trip to New Zealand.

Mitre Peak at Milford Sound

You have several options when it comes to visiting Milford Sound in just one day.

  1. You can self-drive to save some money.
  2. You can book a round-trip bus tour from Queenstown.
  3. You can fly to/from Milford Sound from Queenstown.

I actually recommend a mix of these options.

While self-driving is the cheapest, the drive is long (roughly 5 hours each way), and the roads can be tricky if the weather is bad. Also, if you're driving, you won't be able to properly enjoy the epic scenery along the Milford Road through Fiordland National Park!

I recommend taking the bus one way and flying the other. This way you get to see the Milford Road AND the Southern Alps from the air, and it means you won't spend up to 12 hours on a bus in one day. (Book a tour like this here.)

Milford Sound from the air
You'll see views like this if you fly.

Once you get to Milford Sound, you'll cruise on the famous fjord on a medium-sized boat for up to 2 hours, taking in the towering cliffs and soaring waterfalls.

You may also be able to spot wildlife like New Zealand fur seals, dolphins, and maybe even little blue penguins.

Milford Sound, New Zealand
How many seals do you see?

If you manage to hit a clear day, flying back from Milford Sound over the snowy Southern Alps is nothing short of magical. (Though note that Milford Sound sees far more rainy days per year than sunny ones!)

Southern Alps in New Zealand
Flying over the Southern Alps

RELATED: New Zealand Fjord Smackdown: Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound

If you do the coach-cruise-fly option and get back before dinnertime, it also means that you can fit in one more special thing in Queenstown. Consider booking a private hot tub at the Onsen Hot Pools out at Arthurs Point tonight. This was one of the more romantic things my husband and I did on our New Zealand honeymoon!

Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown
Onsen Hot Pools

Total driving time today: 10 hours if you drive to Milford Sound yourself

Cost: Milford bus trip with cruise and included lunch – anywhere from $165-$245 NZD; Onsen Hot Pools – $144 NZD for 2 adults in the evening (you MUST book this one far in advance, as it's super popular right now!)

Where to stay in Queenstown: Again, the Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park is good for campervans, and the Ramada Hotel & Suites Queenstown Remarkables Park or the Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa are good if you've got a regular car.

Day 13 – Central Otago and Mount Cook

Many people choose to end their New Zealand road trips in Queenstown, but I think you'd be missing out on one of the best parts of the South Island if you were to stop now. Today you're going to drive through the small towns of Central Otago, eventually ending up at New Zealand's tallest mountain: Mount Cook.

From Queenstown, you'll head back out towards the Kawarau Gorge (where you may have gone bungee jumping on Day 11) and then continue on Highway 8. Some places you might want to stop along the way include Cromwell to see the town's giant fruit, and at the viewpoints at the Lindis Pass.

Giant fruit in Cromwell, New Zealand
Giant fruit in Cromwell

Eventually you'll reach Twizel and Lake Pukaki, which is where you might get an awesome glimpse of Mount Cook. Lake Pukaki is a glacially-fed lake, and the color of it is almost always a milky-blue.

Mount Cook in New Zealand
Mount Cook looming over Lake Pukaki

You'll drive along Lake Pukaki until you reach Aoraki/Mount Cook Village.

This drive doesn't actually take that long, so this afternoon I recommend going on a short hike near Mount Cook. My pick is the Hooker Valley Track, which is a relatively flat and easy trail that takes you to the iceberg-filled Hooker Lake. On a clear day, you'll have views of Mount Cook almost the whole way.

Walking the Hooker Valley Track in New Zealand
Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

The hike takes 3-4 hours, making it a perfect afternoon walk.

Total driving time today: 3.5 hours

Cost: None

Where to stay in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village: There aren't a ton of options in this tiny village. If you want to camp, there's a Department of Conservation site with good views and basic facilities called the White Horse Hill campsite. If you're looking for a hotel here, the most iconic one is The Hermitage Hotel. It's currently undergoing renovations (in mid-2018), but still has rooms to rent – some with incredible mountain views.

Day 14 – To Christchurch

Today you'll be heading to Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand's South Island. Get an early start this morning so you can make some stops along the way.

The main must-see stop is Lake Tekapo, another mountain-fed lake that is often a milky-blue color. From mid-November until the New Year, you can find thousands of lupins blooming on the shores here.

Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo
Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo
Lupins at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo during lupin season

Once you get to Christchurch, there's plenty to explore. Even though the city center is still showing the effects of the destruction of two major earthquakes back in 2010 and 2011, business goes on as usual in most parts of the city.

If the weather is nice, definitely take a stroll through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens (or even go punting down the Avon River!). If it's not so nice, the Christchurch Art Gallery is great, or you can pretend you're going much further south by visiting the International Antarctic Centre.

You can also just stroll the streets to shop and spot some cool street art.

Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Street art in Christchurch, New Zealand
Christchurch has great street art!

Total driving time today: 4.5 hours

Cost: International Antarctic Centre – $59 NZD for adults

Where to stay in Christchurch: 

Day 15 – Time to head home

It's the end of your 2-week New Zealand road trip, and time to head home. Since Christchurch is one of the larger cities in New Zealand and has an international airport, it's easy to drop off your rental car or campervan here and then catch a flight. You'll probably fly back to Auckland before connecting out of the country.

Be prepared, though, that you'll already be adding things to your “next time” list before your plane even takes off!

Driving in New Zealand

If you have more time…

Like I mentioned already, two weeks isn't nearly enough time to fully explore New Zealand. Putting this itinerary together was extremely difficult, because I had to cut out some amazing places in order to make room for even more amazing places.

BUT, if you have more than 2 weeks to road trip around New Zealand, here are some additional places I also highly recommend visiting.

Coromandel Peninsula

Cathedral Cove in New Zealand
Cathedral Cove

The Coromandel Peninsula lies to the southeast of Auckland on the North Island, and is known for its great beaches and native forests. Here you can dig your own hot tub at low tide at Hot Water Beach, do a morning hike to the famous Cathedral Cove, walk along an old mining railway trail in Karangaheke Gorge, plus much more.

If the weather cooperates, one of the more popular things to do is to kayak to Cathedral Cove from Hahei.

How long to spend: 1 or 2 nights

Where to add it in: It's a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland, so I would make this your Day 3/4, and continue on to Hobbiton and Rotorua afterwards.

Where to stay: For camping, I liked the Hot Water Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park, which is within walking distance to Hot Water Beach. If you want a hotel, check out the Beachfront Resort, the top-rated hotel in the town of Whitianga that is indeed right on the beach.

Tongariro National Park

Mount Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park
Mount Ngauruhoe in the morning

Tongariro National Park is New Zealand's oldest national park and also a dual World Heritage site. Here you'll find three of the country's most famous volcanoes: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu, along with the most popular day hike in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

If you're a hiker at all, then doing the Tongariro Crossing should definitely be on your to-do list. This 19.4-kilometer trek is fairly challenging, but offers up amazing scenery of the Red Crater, Emerald Lakes, and Mount Ngauruhoe (which was Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies).

I recommend allowing two days to try this hike, as bad weather often makes the track dangerous and/or not worth doing (in my opinion) since you can't see anything.

Where to add it in: Between Rotorua and Wellington

How many days: 2 or 3 nights

Where to stay: Elliot and I spent two nights camping at the Plateau Lodge (which offers a shuttle for the Tongariro Crossing). When our planned hiking day got rained out, we went and had afternoon tea at Chateau Tongariro, which is one of the nicer hotels in the area.

Abel Tasman National Park

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Another national park worth visiting if you have the extra time is Abel Tasman National Park at the top of the South Island. This national park may be New Zealand's smallest, but it's definitely one of the most memorable.

Abel Tasman is known for its beautiful beaches and hiking trails – a popular activity is to combine hiking and kayaking along the coast if you have at least one full day to spend here. (Book a tour here.)

Tandem kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Where to add it in: The day after you take the ferry from Wellington

How many days: 1 or 2 nights

Where to stay: We loved the Motueka TOP 10 Holiday Park not far from Abel Tasman for our campervan. For those looking for hotels, check out the Split Apple Lodge.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura, New Zealand

Further up the east coast of the South Island lies Kaikoura, a small seaside town that really packs a punch when it comes to marine wildlife. Because there's a deep sea trench not far off the coast from Kaikoura, you can see marine life like whales, dolphins, and seals pretty much year-round here. (Along with whale watching, you can also swim with wild dolphins and get up close with fur seals.)

I also love Kaikoura because it's a spot where the mountains meet the sea, which I always find really beautiful.

Where to add it in: After Christchurch, since it's about 2 hours up the coast to the north

How many days: 2 nights

Where to stay: For camping, go for the Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park. For other lodging, check out the Kaikoura Boutique Hotel or the Bendamere House Bed and Breakfast.

RELATED: 4 Reasons You Should Visit Kaikoura, New Zealand

Other amazing spots that didn't make it into this itinerary include: Northland and the Bay of Islands; Mount Taranaki; the Southern Scenic Route; Mount Aspiring National Park, Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula; and Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula.

Yellow-eyed penguin at Katiki Point
Yellow-eyed penguin at Katiki Point

There are simply too many amazing places to see in New Zealand! I've visited the country 5 times and still haven't seen/done everything I've wanted to! But hopefully this itinerary helps you get a good start on planning your own perfect New Zealand road trip.

READ NEXT: The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Campervan Road Trip in New Zealand

More essential info

Have you ever done a road trip in New Zealand? If not, are you ready to plan one now?

 

Pin it for later:

2-week New Zealand road trip itinerary
2-week New Zealand road trip itinerary

 

2-week New Zealand road trip itinerary #NewZealand #travel #roadtrip

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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22 Comments on “New Zealand Road Trip: The Perfect Itinerary if You Only Have 2 Weeks

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  1. This looks like an amazing itinerary! I traveled around New Zealand by cruise ship last year and made it to a couple of your suggested places (WETA and Rotorua) and they were both awesome. We agreed that next time we visit we would rent a car. I’ll save this for whenever that will be! (I also just shared these on a couple of Flipboard magazines – hopefully you’ll get some more views there!

      Thanks, Stacy! You can still see a lot without renting a car, but road tripping is definitely the ideal way to travel in New Zealand!

    It’s pricey and would have you back in Rotorua later in the evening, but if you can swing it I would **highly** recommend the evening banquet tour at Hobbiton. My now-husband and I were traveling through NZ on a budget but did this as our splurge item, and it was absolutely worth it (this was ~3 years ago). Seeing Hobbition at dusk and then feasting and truly feeling like a Hobbit was amazing and one of the highlights of a six month backpacking trip. It was really immersive and if you just wish you were a Hobbit, this is as good as it gets.

      We did it on our most recent trip, too, and loved it! But it’s definitely more for the hard-core LOTR fans, I think, and is quite pricey. And since I recommend going to a Maori cultural dinner/show the following night in Rotorua, I decided to leave it out of the itinerary here. But I agree that it’s great!

    Lovely photos and fantastic post! New Zealand was already at the top of my travel wishlist, but you’re post was very inspiring! Pinning for later so I can use as reference!

      Awesome to hear – hopefully it’ll help you plan your own trip!

    Dude! I loved driving in New Zealand! Although the scenery is so beautiful that it’s often distracting!
    I only had 5 days in NZ, and with my hubby being a huge LOTR fan, we were mostly based in MataMata, though we did do a few trips to Waitomo and an afternoon in Rotorua. We’d love to go back and road trip through the South Island though. I can’t believe you can see so much in just two weeks!

      It’s certainly not what I’d call a relaxing two weeks if you follow an itinerary like this… but who wants to relax when you’re in a place as epic as New Zealand??

    Oh my gosh I really hope to do this one day! New Zealand has been on my bucket list for years, and I just want to see all of it!

      And there’s SO MUCH to see in New Zealand! It’s crazy because it’s not a huge country; but there sure is a ton to do and see! I love NZ because there’s so much variety; you can see completely different landscapes and cities by just driving a couple hours.

    I cannot get over the scenery! Absolutely stunning – you covered a LOT of ground, and outlined a great 2-week itinerary. I really can’t wait to visit NZ. Just beautiful. Ahh, and you’re so brave to do bungee jumping… omg!

      This definitely makes for a busy two weeks, yes! But personally I wouldn’t have it any other way in New Zealand since I’m always so greedy and want to see more, more, more!

    Well, I’m hoping to make it to New Zealand and will certainly turn to your extensive guide when I do!

    Love your post! This is very informative indeed. Christchurch is beautiful!

      Thanks! And yes, Christchurch is a beautiful city – it’s a shame that a lot of the historic buildings are still damaged from the earthquakes!

    This is a perfect itinerary! I didn’t know it would be doable to combine the north & south island in two weeks! I also like the fact that you included stops! I’ll definitely keep this itinerary in mind for future planning!

      You can definitely see both islands in two weeks – but it makes for a very packed itinerary! But, the way I look at it, there are plenty of people who go to New Zealand for two weeks and will never go back. So I’d rather show them how to see a little bit of everything rather than say “stick to one island”!

    I am heading to New Zealand in a few months and am planning on doing a three week roadtrip. This is so helpful so happy I found your blog today !!

    Thanks for all this great info. I’m planning my trip now, and I have a couple of questions. Can you access these places taking a bus? What are your thoughts regarding bus travel vs. renting a car? Did you travel with a backpack? I usually travel with a suitcase. What are your thoughts? Thanks and sorry about the novice questions.

      Hey Elizabeth! No need to apologize! So, for this itinerary specifically, renting a car is definitely your best bet. You can get to some of these places by bus, but having a vehicle gives you a lot more freedom and means you don’t have to be limited by bus schedules. And especially if you go by car, a suitcase is fine. I travel these days with a rolling bag; I left my backpacking days behind years ago!

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