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.

I've been to New Zealand half a dozen times (and have even lived there!) and am here to share my version of a perfect 2-week New Zealand road trip taking in the highlights on both the North and South Islands.

Driving in New Zealand
Road tripping 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 all 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.

Highlights of this 2-week New Zealand itinerary include:

  • Exploring Auckland
  • Wine tasting on Waiheke Island
  • A visit to Hobbiton
  • Geothermal wonders in Rotorua
  • The capital city of Wellington
  • The cool and quirky Nelson
  • Driving down the West Coast of the South Island
  • Glacier hiking in Franz Josef
  • Beautiful scenery in Wanaka
  • Adventure sports in Queenstown
  • Day trip to Milford Sound
  • Seeing Aoraki/Mount Cook
  • Visiting Christchurch
  • Plus much more!

First things first: Car vs. campervan

We've already established that road tripping is the best way to see New Zealand. But when planning a NZ 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.

A small campervan in New Zealand
A small campervan in New Zealand

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 best time of year for a New Zealand road trip

You can road trip New Zealand year-round; I personally have visited the country in just about every season! The weather can of course vary from region to region depending on the season, but you can usually access all the main stops at all times of year.

Having said that, though, you'll likely find the most favorable weather and largest amount of tours/attractions open during the summer months (which are generally December-February in New Zealand). The shoulder seasons on either side (esp. November and March) are pretty good options, too.

My favorite month to visit has probably been November (late spring), for decent weather, blooming lupins, and less crowds than during full summer.

The perfect 2-week New Zealand road trip itinerary

This itinerary is based 100% on my own personal experience – I've been to New Zealand 5 separate times, have done multiple road trips there, and even lived in Wellington for a while in 2008!

Spending 2 weeks in New Zealand will never feel like long enough, but I've done my best to distill all the highlights down into one itinerary.

New Zealand road trip itinerary
Get a printable version of this itinerary here!

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 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.

Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland skyline

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

Sample costs: Sky Tower admission – $41 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 (this is a pretty good deal!), or a day trip to Waiheke that includes transport from Auckland.

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

First up in your New Zealand itinerary today: pick up your rental car or van!*

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.

*Note for 2023: I would normally recommend booking a single one-way rental from Auckland to Christchurch, taking the ferry between the North and South islands with the vehicle. HOWEVER, there have been ferry disruptions this year especially for those wanting to transport vehicles, so it might be worth it to book two separate car rental reservations: one from Auckland to Wellington, and a second from Picton to Christchurch, and just ride the ferry as a walk-on passenger.

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 a guided 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 – $89 NZD; Polynesian Spa – $50 NZD for the Deluxe Lake Spa (book here)

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! (Book a ticket here)

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.

Note: If for whatever reason Wai-O-Tapu is closed or tickets are sold out, the Hells Gate Geothermal Reserve is a good alternative.

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, and it's a more affordable option that the one in Queenstown in case you want to try out the luging!

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 Te Pā Tū (formerly 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.

(And while these experiences are definitely touristy, they are very culturally traditional and presented/performed by Indigenous peoples.)

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 – $37 NZD; Maori dinner show – starting around $125 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 (or you can pay a small amount for a guided museum tour). 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.

(You can even pre-book your cable car tickets if you want, though you don't have to.)

Wellington Cable Car
Wellington Cable Car views

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

Weta Workshop is 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 an entry ticket here, or a ticket with transfers 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

RELATED: 15 Essential Things to Do in Wellington, New Zealand

Total driving time today: 0 hours

Costs: Cable car – $9 NZD for a roundtrip ticket; Weta tour – $90 NZD for a tour with transfers

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 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. (Definitely book ahead, though, since you'll be taking a vehicle!)

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. or 4 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 on 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 can 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 – normally the water is much more blue than this!

(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 1980s).

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. (Book in advance here.)

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

(And if bungee jumping and jet boating are a little *too* adventurous for you? Another great option in Queenstown is to sail on the historic TSS Earnslaw ship across Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Station for lunch. Book that tour here.)

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. (Or, order online for pickup and avoid having to wait in line.)

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 – $46 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.

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 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
The beautiful 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 – $165 NZD for 2 adults in the evening (you MUST book this one far in advance, as it's super popular!)

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 Aoraki / 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: Aoraki / 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 Aoraki. Lake Pukaki is a glacially-fed lake, and the color of it is almost always a milky-blue.

Mount Cook in New Zealand
Aoraki / 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 nearby. 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 Aoraki / Mount Cook almost the whole way.

Walking the Hooker Valley Track in New Zealand
Hooker Valley Track
Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook
Seriously, this hike is amazing!

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.

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! One New Zealand trip is never enough.

Driving in New Zealand
New Zealand road trip itinerary

Don't forget you can get a printable version of this itinerary (with a packing checklist) here!

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.

1. 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, or take a boat cruise here.

*Note: As of late 2023, Cathedral Cove remains closed due to an ongoing rockfall; check for updates before you plan to visit.

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.

2. 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.

3. 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. (Scenic cruises are also available.)

Tandem kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park
Kayaking in Abel Tasman

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.

4. 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.

RELATED: 4 Reasons You Should Visit Kaikoura, New Zealand

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.

Other amazing spots I've been to 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.

There are simply too many amazing places to see in New Zealand! I've visited the country many times and still haven't seen/done everything I've wanted to!

But hopefully this helps you get a good start on planning your own perfect New Zealand road trip itinerary, even if you only have 2 weeks in New Zealand.

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

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?

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2-week New Zealand road trip itinerary

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

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  1. Hi Amanda,

    How are you? I am contacting you again after 2 years since my earlier plan was cancelled due to the pandemic. Could please advice, is things are back to normal there now? Will it be fine if I come there early September 2022 with my family from Malaysia? Please advice.

      Hey Nav. I don’t live in New Zealand, so your guess is as good as mine! The country is planning to re-open to all tourism in July, but you’ll need to keep an eye on their entry requirements if you’re going to plan a trip there this year. I don’t have any special access to that info, so Google will be your friend to follow how their re-opening goes.

    Thank you for this excellent article. It’s the best I’ve come across so far!

    Hi Amanda,

    I enjoyed reading about your 2-week NZ road trip. Now that travelling is opening up again, I am planning 3 weeks trip from Singapore to NZ this coming December 2022. I like your itinerary and would visit most of the places you have suggested. I have a full 19 days (not counting the 1st and last day for flying in and out of NZ). However as I am flying into and out of Auckland (same airport), how would you suggest I head back to Auckland airport from Christchurch (the last stop on your 2 week itinerary). Are there one or two overnight stops which you can recommend that I can make while driving back from Christchurch to Auckland, without back-tracking? I would love to drop off my rental car at Christchurch and take a train back to Auckland on the last day but I am not sure if this is a good option. Would love to hear your thoughts, thanks.


      Hey Jerry! There are really endless options when it comes to New Zealand. I did include a “if you have more time” section towards this end of this blog post, with suggestions on other destinations you might enjoy adding on if you have more than two weeks. Some of them could be added on during your road trip (like the Coromandel Peninsula or Abel Tasman National Park or Kaikoura) so you could still use your rental car. As for getting from Christchurch back to Auckland, the quickest and easiest option would be to fly. They are on different islands, so there’s not a train connecting the two cities.

        Hi Amanda,
        This is an awesome itinerary, thank you!
        My wife and I are planning a trip over the last 2 weeks in December from Sydney. On top of your head, is there anything particular interesting to do over NYE?

          Good question! Most large cities do fireworks on NYE. I always thought it would be cool to be in the town of Gisborne for the New Year – because of where it’s located, it’s the first place in the world to see the sunrise (and therefore I guess the first to actually ring in the new year?). They usually do a music festival there, though I’m not sure whether that will happen this year or not.

    Hi Amanda,

    We are looking to head over to NZ from Perth,WA at the end of the year…pending travel bubble being open at the time.

    We are family of 5 with the 3 kids aged 7,10,12. With a view to doing your 2 week itinerary in a motorhome, would you change the itinerary in away to make it more kiddy friendly ?

    Thanks in adavance



      Good question, Amar! I think most of the things on this itinerary are kid-friendly, with the exception of some of the more adventurous activities. (For example, heli-hiking and bungee jumping probably aren’t suitable for the whole family.) Milford Sound might also be a long (and potentially expensive) day for everyone. But otherwise I think you could easily tweak this to work for everyone!

    I loved all of your recommendations! We toured NZ for 3 weeks with our adult son in a campervan in October, 2019, and actually did most of what you suggest! However, we drove down the East side of the South island, after hiking/kayaking Able Tasman, so missed the ruggedness of the West side. Favorite day: hiking the Hooker trail to Mt. Cook! All in all, NZ is a wonderful country to visit!

      There really aren’t bad options when it comes to road tripping in New Zealand! And isn’t the Hooker Valley Track great? It’s so epic, yet also such an accessible hike.

    great post! And a really good itinerary too. There sure is a lot to see in beautiful Aotearoa.

    As a kiwi I would like to add a little advice. Please everyone coming, do a little research. We are in the southern hemisphere so the seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere ie winter is June/July/August. Even in summer we can get a lot of rain (although many places will be warm and sunny). I had Aussie mates who went to NZ in the winter and complained that it rained nearly their whole trip; well yeah, there’s a reason NZ is so green :). They also did not realize that our national rugby team were touring NZ so lots of accommodation places were already booked out by rugby fans. Google is your friend 🙂

    The bush is fabulous and a lot of people do not understand how dangerous it can be, due to terrain and sudden weather changes. DO NOT go off the trail. Always include light rain gear, and some warm clothing and a chocolate bar in your daypack when hiking (or as we call it, tramping), even just on short hikes. The weather can change from glorious sunshine to cold pelting rain in a half hour. Almost every year some tourists die of exposure (hypothermia) because they have no idea of hiking safety. But if you follow the rules and use common sense, you will have a fantastic time.

    Hi Amanda.
    My wife and I head home to Aus tomorrow after 2 and a bit weeks following your itinerary so very closely. Thank you thank you so much. As we had a few extra days than just 2 weeks we took extra time in Waiheke ( 2 nights) 1 in Greymouth to split the drive, 3 nights in Queenstown and an overnight cruise in Milford Sound. 2 nights in Christchurch and day trip to Akaroa. But Wow, your itinerary was fabulous and it made our planning so easy. I think we did 99% of your recommended stops offs, visits, activities, etc. we are in our 50’s so jet boat yes, and bungee jumping No ?. Seriously your plan, our hire car AirBnb and a few hotels through, many of your recommendations again, our trip was special. Thank you Michael & Kath.

      That’s amazing to hear, Michael! Thank you for letting me know; I love hearing from people who have tried out my itineraries!

    Which items in your itinerary should I cross off when I’m travelling during winter time. We will be renting a car and I am not sure which way is safe for driving during this season.

      It’s totally going to depend on the weather when you’re there. The only roads that might get bad if there’s snow are the Crown Range Road between Wanaka and Queenstown, and the Milford Road. But obviously if there’s no snow when you’re there, then you won’t have to worry about it. The only thing you might have to cancel is the Milford Sound trip; everything else should still be fine even in winter!

    Thank you for such a detailed and wonderful itinerary. My husband and I are planning our honeymoon for October and will end up using most of your recommendation. Two quick questions – if we want to fly from North to South island to save time which destinations would you recommend? And if I definitely want to include the Whale watching, what can I skip?

    Thanks again, this was one of the best itineraries I found.

      If you want to fly north to south, you can fly from Wellington to Christchurch and cut out Nelson and potentially the glaciers on the West Coast. You can go to Kaikoura for whale watching (it’s the best place to watch whales in NZ anyway!) from Christchurch, and then basically reverse the latter half of this itinerary so you go from Christchurch through Central Otago to Queenstown. From Queenstown, you can do a day trip to Wanaka, and still obviously fit in Milford Sound if you want to. Just note that if you’re renting a car or van, you’ll need two separate reservations, one on each island!

        Thanks Amanda, my draft itinerary is as below. Do you see any red flags on the following route that I’m not thinking about?

        Day 1: Auckland
        Day 2: Coromandel Peninsula
        Day 3: Matamata, Rotorua
        Day 4: Waitomo
        Day 5: Fly to Nelson (still deciding if I should fly to Wellington instead)
        Day 6: Nelson
        Day 7: Kaikoro
        Day 8, 9: Christchurch
        Day 10, 11: Franz Josef
        Day 12, 13, 14: Queenstown/milford sound
        Day 15: Fly back to Auckland

          Wellington is my favorite city in NZ, so I personally wouldn’t skip it! If you’re going to skip a city on this list, I would probably miss Nelson. Also, I don’t think you really need a full day in Waitomo unless you are really dedicated to seeing the glow worm caves; I would probably spend the extra time in Rotorua. Also, be aware that the drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef is best done in the summer months (I’m not sure when you’re planning to visit); that mountain pass sometimes closes in the winter, so just keep that in mind! You’ll have some long driving days, but technically you should be able to fit this all in in 2 weeks!

    Hi, We would like to do 2 weeks camper-van trip . Starting from Christchurch round island then north till Auckland.
    Can you please advice on the itinerary?

      I’m not able to create custom itineraries, I’m afraid. But you can certainly use this one to get ideas – basically just reverse it for a Christchurch to Auckland itinerary!

    I just got back from my 2 week trip from NZ and it was AMAZING. I almost stuck to all of your itinerary so wanted to thank you for your thoughtful and well planned out list of things that helped me to plan a trip of a lifetime!

      That is amazing to hear, Sabrina! It’s hard to have a bad trip to New Zealand in my opinion, but I’m glad I could help you plan one you really loved!

    Thanks for the itinerary! Planning on doing something like this for our honeymoon, we have around 2 weeks; which I believe is the same as you. The only difference is that we would be going end of July until mid August. Would the itinerary still work?

    If you have any other suggestions for us that would be amazing!

      Hey David! Yes, in theory you should still be able to use this itinerary in July/August – though note that that’s winter in NZ, so you’ll definitely run into snow in the mountains on the South Island. You may not be able to swing the glacier hiking, the Crown Range Road to Queenstown might be closed, and getting to Milford Sound by road might not be possible – it all depends on road conditions. This was based on the honeymoon trip my husband and I took; you can read more about that here:

        Thank you for the quick reply! Yes, I did wonder what it may be like in winter (and whether it would be sensible to be travelling in a camper van in Winter in NZ?). So would that be on Highway 6, where we may (or will) have a problem? Is that Day 8 – Day 10 and Day 12 on your suggested itinerary? With Milford sound, it would be far more sensible to do the coach (and maybe fly) option rather than drive then. If the coach company cancel it then we know it isn’t possible. OR Would you suggest avoiding this area completely due to the time of year? It looks like you had a fabulous honeymoon, hence why we were looking to replicate as best as possible at this time of year (unfortunately as we are from the UK and teachers this is the only time of year we can go for the period of time we would need to go).

        Thank you for your help.

          You can certainly still campervan in winter; I would just be aware that it might sometimes mean driving in snow! And yes, Days 8-10 and 12 on this itinerary could be affected by snow. I suppose Day 13 could be, too, though plenty of people visit Mount Cook in the winter. It all depends on how much snow there is when you go. I would say plan for the things you want to do, but always have a backup plan just in case.

            Excellent! Was a little worried, but I’ll take your word for it ? Yes, will have to ensure snow chains are supplied with camper van I assume?
            Yes hopefully we get lucky and there is limited snow. May be better to book a coach-fly trip for Milford Sound. I think the beat option is follow your itinerary until we have a problem (hopefully we don’t) and then divert if we have to, just move on to the next phase of the itinerary, if anything. Thank you very much for all of your help.

              Flying over the snowy Southern Alps to or from Milford Sound is magical! I don’t think you’ll regret doing that if you can. And New Zealand is amazing no matter where you go or what kind of weather you encounter. I’m happy to have been able to help!

    Thanks for this get itiniery. If we just did the South Island for 9-12 days could we fit in Stewart Island? We are going in June.

      It all depends on what else you want to see on the South Island! Technically you can do a day trip to Stewart Island, but I’d say you probably want to spend a night or two there to really see it. So then it just depends what the other things are on your to-do list! But yes, I’d say in 12 days you should be able to see the highlights on the South Island and pop over to Stewart Island for a night or two.

    Hi again, still in planning mode! we arent really into the whole lord of the rings thing…. if we were gonna skip that part do you recommend just continuing on the journey as is? where would you add this time in if you were us?

      Totally understandable! If you wanted to skip Hobbiton, you could either spend another morning in Auckland, or head straight to Rotorua. There’s plenty to do in and around Rotorua to fill up 2 full days! Another option would be to add an extra night (or two) and head over to the Coromandel Peninsula between Auckland and Rotorua. It’s another beautiful part of the country. (At the end of this post, I suggest some of the things you can do there.)

    Thank you for answering all of our questions. I have one more! My hubby is an architect so I think we want to fly into Auckland, hang for a couple of days and head to the south island from there. Do you recommend flying to Nelson and starting our road trip there? Trying to figure out the best place to fly into from Auckland. As I said, I don’t want to miss that flight over Milford Sound- gosh this is hard and the hubs is SO not a planner. 🙂 THANKS SO much!

      I know it can be so tough, especially when you have limited time! It seems like New Zealand is so small, but in reality there’s SO much to see! You can definitely fly from Auckland to Nelson pretty easily (I think the flight is only a little over an hour), BUT if you’re planning to rent a campervan, you won’t find many with pickup in Nelson. The campervan hubs are generally Auckland and Christchurch. If you’re planning to just rent a car, though, I think you should be fine starting in Nelson – I would just check on rental availability first!

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