With miles of jaw-dropping landscapes and experiences, it can be hard to decide how to plan for a trip to New Zealand. We’re walking you through how to put together the perfect New Zealand itinerary based on our travels.
New Zealand is truly one of our favorite countries to explore. And if you know me, you know how hard it is for me to choose favorites.
The relatively small island nation is home to an astounding variety of scenery: lush forests, snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, ancient glaciers, stunning coastlines, rugged fjords, and rolling farmland.
There are tons of activities to get your adrenaline pumping in the “Adventure Capital of the World”. You can go caving, hiking, skydiving, skiing, climbing, bungee jumping, jet boating, swimming with dolphins, camping… just to name a few.
But there are also plenty of opportunities to slow down. On our trip, we soaked in hot springs, sipped wine, sampled the local cuisine, slept in mountain huts, and relaxed on the beach.
We spent 5 weeks traveling around New Zealand in a campervan, and we’ve been lucky enough to explore a lot of what this country has to offer!
In this article, we’ll walk you through exactly how to plan the perfect New Zealand itinerary, from how much time you’ll need to where to go and how to spend your days.
New Zealand itinerary contents
- Where to go
- When to go
- Type of travel
- Where to start/end
- How many days
- Typical Budget
- Perfect New Zealand itinerary
- Booking your trip
- Itinerary planning resources
Want to save time and energy on planning?
If you want to save yourself the hours of research and planning, we’ve got you covered with our ultimate done-for-you New Zealand Itinerary. This itinerary includes a lot of what you’ll find in this article, plus so much more!
We took our 5-week travels and condensed it down to 30 days (because so many people wanted a 1-month route) that hits the top destinations on both the North and South Islands in one epic road trip.
We’ll send you our complete 1 month itinerary, filled with tips and advice. Just click below to get your 30-day New Zealand road trip itinerary today!
Where to go on your New Zealand itinerary
From the vibrant cities and geothermal wonders of the North Island to the wild fjords and towering mountains of the South Island, below is a list of places to consider visiting on your New Zealand itinerary. We’ve included the country’s main highlights as well as some underrated gems not to be missed.
(Are you skipping the North Island all together? Jump down to the South Island.)
With thermal hot springs, white sand beaches and enough volcanoes to make your head spin, New Zealand’s North Island is not to be overlooked. Though it is often outshined by its more mountainous neighbor to the south, we found the North Island to be quite enjoyable.
If you’re looking for a shortcut, we created a perfect New Zealand North Island itinerary that brings you to all the major highlights, as well as hidden gems off the typical tourist path.
We’re even sharing where to stay and what to eat in the North Island, so you have all the information you need right at your fingertips!
Below we’ve listed all of the top places to consider visiting on the North Island of New Zealand.
Due to its large international airport, Auckland is the entry point for most visitors to New Zealand. It’s also the country’s largest city, with more than a third of the national population residing here.
This “City of Sails” is a dynamic, multicultural metropolis with a buzzing waterfront, lots of green space, and a diverse dining scene. In addition to all the fun things to do in Auckland, it also makes a great base for some of the North Island’s best day trips.
Just a short ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke Island is a captivating gem known for its world-class wines, which visitors can sip while taking in the picturesque vineyards and olive groves that dot the landscape.
Nature lovers can explore pristine beaches, lush forests, and rugged coastal cliffs, while cultural connoisseurs browse art galleries, boutique shops, and fine dining establishments.
This geothermal wonderland of Rotorua boasts bubbling mud pools, steaming geysers, and colorful mineral-rich hot springs alongside lush forests and serene lakes. It is also home to the Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village and offers cultural experiences, including traditional Maori performances and cuisine.
A coastal region with a laid-back vibe, the Coromandel Peninsula is home to some seriously bucket list-worthy experiences. Trek or kayak to the marine reserve at Cathedral Cove, dig your own personal hot tub at Hot Water Beach, or kick back in the charming seaside towns of Whitianga and Coromandel Town.
Located in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, Mount Maunganui is a dreamy destination for hikers, surfers, and beach bums alike. Summit the iconic Mauao, an extinct volcanic cone, for panoramic views of the surrounding land and seascapes.
Bay of Islands
The 144 islands that make up this subtropical region are full of cute seaside towns and marine wildlife. The Bay of Islands is also historically significant, as this is where the Treaty of Waitangi (New Zealand’s founding document) was signed in 1840.
The Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean at the northern tip of the North Island. The mesmerizing collision of currents makes it easy to see why Cape Reinga is a site of deep spiritual significance in the Maori tradition.
If you haven’t heard of Hobbiton, you may be living under a rock (or a hill!)… The Lord of the Rings film set is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, complete with life-sized hobbit holes, magical gardens, and the iconic Green Dragon Inn.
Nestled in the heart of the North Island’s volcanic plateau, the deep blue waters of New Zealand’s largest lake provide a scenic backdrop for swimming and boating. On the north shore of the lake, the town of Taupo serves as a gateway for Tongariro National Park, home to New Zealand’s best day hike.
Hugging the North Island’s east coast, the region of Hawke’s Bay is known as “New Zealand’s Food and Wine Country” for good reason. With 200+ vineyards and 70+ wineries, Hawke’s Bay is one of the Great Wine Capitals of the World.
Not a fan of vino? You won’t be left wanting for other choices – craft beer, distilleries, fresh juices, cafes, and some of the country’s best restaurants – you’ll find it all in Hawke’s Bay.
New Zealand’s capital is a compact but thriving harbor city at the southern tip of the North Island. Caffeine fiends (like us!) will enjoy the city’s famous coffee culture, while foodies (also us!) can indulge in an eclectic dining scene.
There are plenty of opportunities for cultural immersion in the urban hub with museums, galleries, theaters, and live music venues, as well as chances to explore the city’s natural surroundings.
Read more in our Wellington Travel Guide.
With picturesque fjords, snow-capped mountains, temperate rainforests, and black sand beaches, New Zealand’s South Island is a nature-lover’s paradise.
We’ve created an action-packed 2-week South Island New Zealand itinerary that hits the major highlights and gets off the beaten path.
We even included tips for altering it to fit a shorter trip, and recommendations for what to see if you have more than two weeks to explore!
Below are some of the places we’d recommend including in your travels on New Zealand’s South Island.
Known as the “Garden City” for its parks, green spaces, and famous Botanic Gardens, Christchurch is a lively city with a buzzy vibe.
Rebuilding efforts following the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 focused heavily on environmental initiatives and Christchurch has since become a shining example of innovative urban planning and sustainability.
Situated in a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve and surrounded by the rugged Southern Alps, Lake Tekapo offers a tranquil escape on the South Island. With turquoise glacial waters by day and dazzling star-filled skies by night, the scenery at Lake Tekapo is nothing short of breathtaking.
Another stunning alpine lake, the vivid turquoise color of Lake Pukaki is caused by “rock flour” suspended in the meltwater from the Tasman and Hooker glaciers. Its postcard-worthy surroundings and proximity to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park make Lake Pukaki a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
At 3,724 meters (12,218 feet), Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest peak and the crown jewel of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. It’s a haven for hiking and mountaineering; in fact, the majestic peak famously aided Sir Edmund Hillary in preparing to summit Everest. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a legendary mountain climber (or even a hiker) to enjoy the park’s breathtaking glacial vistas and alpine scenery.
Not only is Queenstown credited as the birthplace of bungee jumping, it also offers a plethora of other heart-pumping activities, earning itself a reputation as the “Adventure Capital of the World”. Not an adrenaline junkie? No problem! From cultural activities to culinary adventures, there are plenty of things to do in Queenstown for all ages and interests.
Nestled on the shore of its namesake lake, Wanaka is a charming resort town with a proud craft beer culture. In the evenings, you can find outdoor enthusiasts enjoying a pint in one of the local breweries after a day of hiking, mountain biking, skiing (winter), or water sports (summer).
This idyllic lakeside town is the perfect base for exploring some of New Zealand’s most iconic natural attractions, such as Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound, and 3 of the country’s 10 Great Walks. Meanwhile, Te Anau itself offers both relaxing and adventurous activities, including lake cruises, glowworm caves, and a bird sanctuary.
Milford Sound & Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Area known for its untamed wilderness and biodiversity, and Milford Sound is the star of the show. With towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and verdant rainforests, Milford Sound is one of the most breathtaking natural attractions in the world.
Read more in our Milford Sound series:
First thing’s first: “West Coast New Zealand” is a specific region, stretching from Haast to Kahurangi National Park on the South Island’s – well – west coast.
Okay, now that that’s cleared up…
The West Coast was one of our favorite regions in the country, a wild and untamed wilderness ranging from glaciers and snow-capped alps in the south to palm trees and white sand beaches in the north.
Read more in our West Coast Travel Guide.
Enveloped by soaring mountain peaks and thick beech forests, Lake Rotoroa offers a remote escape 40 minutes from the nearest village of St. Arnaud. The surrounding Nelson Lakes National Park is threaded with trails ranging from leisurely walks to strenuous hikes. Bring your binoculars for birdwatching!
New Zealand’s smallest national park packs a big punch with golden sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, and lush native forests. This coastal paradise holds secluded coves and hiking trails that are perfect for kayaking and spotting wildlife, such as dolphins and fur seals.
Situated on the shores of the South Island’s Tasman Bay, New Zealand’s sunniest city is a hub for artists and craftspeople of traditional, Maori, and contemporary persuasion. Visit the weekend markets for a chance to taste artisanal products and find a handcrafted souvenir to take home.
As New Zealand’s largest wine region, Marlborough is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc and fresh seafood (a match made in heaven!), as well as its diverse and stunning scenery. Rolling vineyards give way to the Marlborough Sounds, an intricate network of sheltered waterways and island sanctuaries that are home to dolphins, whales, seals, and the iconic kiwi bird.
The coastal town of Kaikoura is renowned as one of the best places in the world for marine wildlife encounters, including whale watching and swimming with dolphins (ethically!). The abundant marine life coupled with its striking position between the dramatic Kaikoura Ranges and the Pacific Ocean make this a truly one-of-a-kind destination.
Dunedin and Otago Peninsula
Dunedin rests at the head of a sheltered harbor, cradled by the Otago Peninsula on the South Island’s eastern shore. The city is steeped in Scottish heritage and historic architecture, including New Zealand’s only castle.
On the Otago Peninsula, scenic drives and hikes offer opportunities to view penguins, seals, sea lions, and albatross in their natural habitats.
Located 30 kilometers south of New Zealand’s South Island, Stewart Island is a perfect place to get away from civilization. This remote island is known for excellent bird spotting, hiking, stargazing, and the peace that comes with being on an island with just 400 permanent residents.
Great Barrier Island
For picture-perfect beaches, untouched forests, and secluded bays, Great Barrier Island is a place to get away from it all. This tropical-feeling island is completely off-grid and has a population of 1,000 people. Getting here requires a 4.5-hour ferry ride from Auckland or a 30-minute flight.
When to go to New Zealand
Spring (December – February) in New Zealand means temperatures are warming up and the days are getting longer. This is also lupin season, which is a big draw for photographers.
Summer (January – March) brings long and sunny days with warmer temperatures — great for hiking and long days at the beach.
Fall (March – May) is a great time to avoid high season crowds (and prices!) while still having enough daylight and comfortable temps to enjoy an array of outdoor activities.
Winter (June – August) in New Zealand is great for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. Or if you are on a tight budget, this season brings the most discounted rates and the fewest crowds of the year.
Our personal pick would be to plan your New Zealand itinerary during the shoulder season between spring and summer (November/December).
For an in-depth guide on the regional seasons, weather patterns, and other factors, check out our complete guide to the best time to visit New Zealand.
Car vs. Campervan: How to get around on your New Zealand itinerary
Though public transportation in New Zealand is pretty good, having your own set of wheels is hands-down the best way to explore the country for a few reasons:
- You can see hidden gems and get off the beaten path.
- You’ll be able to travel on your own schedule, and getting from point A to point B is faster.
- Driving in New Zealand is easy and parking is plentiful.
Now that we’ve established you’re renting a vehicle, you might be wondering, car or campervan?
Renting a car in New Zealand is fairly straightforward, but it has a few little quirks that might surprise you, even if you’re a pro at car rentals. We put together a huge guide to New Zealand car rentals to share all our insider information with you, including things we wish we’d known before our trip.
The main advantage of renting a car (as opposed to a campervan) is that a smaller vehicle is generally easier to drive and park. And unless you’re really into campervans (like us!), you’re probably more used to driving a car and might be more comfortable with this option.
Be sure to book your rental car and any rental gear before your trip begins. And don’t forget travel insurance! Picking a policy that covers your rental car is often cheaper than buying a separate policy through the rental company.
We personally traveled by campervan for 5 weeks in New Zealand and loved every minute of it! We think it’s the best way to explore this glorious country. Here are a few reasons why we love it:
- It’s easy. There are few countries in the world as well set up to accommodate campervans as New Zealand, and there are tons of places to camp (some of which are free!).
- You can save money. When you see the price tag attached to a campervan rental, you’ll probably think “Whaaat?! That ain’t cheap!” But what you have to remember is that this is your rental vehicle and your accommodations all in one!
- You can save money (again). Is there an echo in here? You can also save money in a campervan by cooking your own meals, so I think it’s worth repeating!
- It’s the adventure of a lifetime! Campervan travel adds a level of freedom even beyond driving a car, as well as experiences you won’t get at a hotel. It’s magic. Trust me.
If this got your attention, we have a guide to the best campervan rentals in New Zealand that walks you through your rental options and what to look out for. We’ve even included an exclusive discount for our readers!
We also put together a HUGE guide to planning your New Zealand campervan trip with tons of insider tips and advice. Make sure to give it a read before booking your trip!
Where to start and end your New Zealand itinerary
Deciding where to start and end your travels is another factor you’ll want to consider when planning the perfect New Zealand itinerary.
New Zealand has quite a few international airports – there’s one in just about every major city. So you’ll have a lot of options to choose from.
We’ve done the research, and we personally recommend starting your itinerary in Auckland.
For starters, you’ll likely fly into Auckland, since it has the biggest international airport. And as New Zealand’s largest city, you’ll find a wide selection of rental cars and campervans you can pick up in Auckland.
However, if you want to start your road trip somewhere else, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown also have plenty of options for campervan pickups.
We’ve designed our 1-month New Zealand itinerary to begin in Auckland and end in Christchurch. Some rental companies will allow you to pick up and return your vehicle in different locations (sometimes for a fee). If not, you can always hightail it back to Auckland to return your rental.
How many days is enough for New Zealand?
This is a tough one to answer because even a lifetime wouldn’t be enough. Seriously.
We spent 5 weeks traveling around New Zealand in a campervan, and we’ve been lucky enough to experience a lot of what this country has to offer. Even so, we still left with a loooong list of things to do “next time”.
That said, we do have some suggestions based on the amount of time you have to explore New Zealand:
1 Week New Zealand
2 Weeks New Zealand
1 Month New Zealand
We think a month is ideal for your first trip to New Zealand. With our 30-day New Zealand road trip itinerary, you’ll experience a good chunk of the country’s must-sees and hidden gems (we have lots!).
5+ Weeks New Zealand
Extra time? Even better! Our 1-month New Zealand itinerary is packed with insider tips to customize your trip, including what to add if you have more time.
What is a typical travel budget for New Zealand?
I’ll give it to you straight: New Zealand ain’t cheap. But don’t let that stop you – it is still totally possible to explore New Zealand on a budget.
If you are on a tight budget and watch your spending closely, you could get by with a daily budget of $60 – $90 per person.
If you want a few splurges and to stay in nicer accommodation, plan to budget $100 – $150.
On the other hand, you could easily blow through upwards of $200 per person per day if you book luxury hotels, eat out, and pack your itinerary with tours like bungee jumping and scenic helicopter flights.
For a more detailed breakdown, see our New Zealand travel guide.
Where to stay around New Zealand
New Zealand is a developed country with lots of accommodation options. As with any destination, lodging will be more plentiful (but generally more expensive) in the city centers, and prices will be higher during peak tourist season (December to February in NZ).
Our New Zealand itinerary has options for hotel/Airbnb stays as well as campsites, so you can tailor it for your personal travel style.
From chains like Holiday Inn to boutique hotels and resorts, you can find it all in New Zealand. Hotels are usually concentrated around metropolitan centers and may not be available in some remote areas. We recommend using Booking.com to search for hotels and compare prices.
Insider Tip: Traveling on a tight budget? Use Booking.com to search and compare prices for hostels. With the exception of certain campsites, hostel dorms are usually the cheapest accommodations out there.
Renting an Airbnb is one of our favorite ways to get to know a place. Plus, they offer experiences you won’t get in a hotel:
- Get off the typical tourist track and experience the country from a local’s point of view.
- Stay in the suburbs or the countryside, outside of the major hotel areas.
- Enjoy perks like having your own kitchen and laundry – especially for a long-term stay.
- Get the whole family together under one roof, or share with a group of friends.
- Psst! Read about why we prefer Airbnbs over hotels when traveling with a baby.
- Save money!
- Find unique stays, like this rainforest retreat near Auckland.
Never booked an Airbnb before, or worried about getting a dud? No sweat – we have Airbnb basically down to a science. We even created a whole guide to booking Airbnbs where we share all our tried and true secrets to ensure a great experience.
There are all types of campgrounds in New Zealand, from totally free to pretty pricey (like $70 NZD per night), from unmaintained sites to holiday parks with hot showers, BBQs, and all the frills. And then there’s everything in between.
New Zealand campsites are also quite different from those in North America. Most of the camping in New Zealand is more or less a field where campervans have space to park.
We know how overwhelming it can be to sift through tons of campsites while trying to decipher unfamiliar jargon (what exactly is a “holiday park?!”). So we created a New Zealand camping guide, complete with a rundown of the rules and a map of the best campsites in the country.
Our perfect New Zealand itinerary
Countless hours were spent researching our route for New Zealand. We pored over article after article. We talked to Kiwis and asked for their local advice. And we finally came up with a plan.
All our research paid off: We had an incredible road trip! So, we’ve taken our road trip route and made it even better for you.
We took our 5-week travels and condensed it down to 30 days (because so many people wanted a 1-month route) that hits the top destinations on both the North and South Islands. We added some things we wish we would have made it to and we altered a couple things here and there that we wish we would’ve done differently.
This New Zealand itinerary is set up to be done as a campervan road trip. However, you can also follow this route if you’re traveling with a rental car and staying at hotels or Airbnbs along the way.
Important Note: One thing to know about traveling in New Zealand is you’ll need to be flexible. The weather in this country can be highly unpredictable (especially on the South Island), and a day of heavy rain or a surprise snowfall might derail your plans of hiking or bungy jumping. We would highly recommend having some “flex days” so you can alter your plans if you encounter weather that is not ideal. Trust us on this one.
Highlights of our New Zealand itinerary
Below are some of the can’t-miss things to do in New Zealand that we’ve included in our epic one month itinerary.
- Discover Auckland and Waiheke Island
- Hike to Pinnacles Hut and witness the sunrise over the Pinnacles
- Explore the beaches on the Coromandel Peninsula
- Sea kayaking to Donut Island and camping on the beach
- Take the Hobbiton movie set tour
- Hiking in and around Rotorua and Lake Taupo
- Trek the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Eat and drink your way through Wellington
- Swim with dolphins (ethically!) in Kaikoura
- Wine tasting in Marlborough
- Explore Abel Tasman National Park
- Go rafting through a glowworm cave
- See Pancake Rocks
- Get up close and personal with Franz Josef Glacier
- Drive the beautiful Haast Pass
- Hiking around Wanaka
- Adventure activities in Queenstown
- Cruise Milford Sound
- Enjoy the laid back but incredibly scenic Key Summit hike
We’ve spent hours of research putting this all together, just for you!
In full transparency, this is a paid itinerary since it has taken an incredible amount of time for us to create.
However, we keep all of our paid itineraries affordable – just $15 for an entire 1-month itinerary. We think this is an extraordinary value considering almost all your planning will be done for you!
If you don’t have enough time to do both islands, we broke down our full itinerary into separate itineraries in the following articles:
Booking your New Zealand trip
We have a handful of go-to resources that we use when planning nearly all our trips. Here are the platforms we use to book our most basic travel needs:
- Flights: Skyscanner
- Campervan rentals: Motorhome Republic
- Rental cars: Discover Cars
- Hotels: Booking
- Unique accommodations: Airbnb
Don’t forget about travel insurance!
Hold up – don’t even think about getting on a plane without this! Travel insurance is just as important as your passport and, contrary to popular belief, it is not expensive.
We know a lot of people will forego this step simply because they get too overwhelmed by all the options.
Please don’t do that!
We made a comprehensive guide to travel insurance to help you out. We share which companies we use and what policy details to look for when you go over your travel insurance comparison.
Our personal pick for travel insurance is SafetyWing. Their policies are geared toward frequent travelers and digital nomads, and they’re one of the few providers who have coverage for Covid-19.
What sets SafetyWing apart is their emphasis on flexibility and adaptability. Unlike traditional insurance policies with fixed durations, SafetyWing’s coverage is designed to be subscription-based, allowing travelers to pay on a monthly basis and enjoy continuous protection while on the move.
New Zealand itinerary planning resources
We have TONS of resources for planning your trip in our New Zealand travel guide. Below are some of our top recommended articles for New Zealand itinerary planning…
- Things to Know Before Traveling in New Zealand
- Exciting Things to Do in New Zealand on Your First Visit
- New Zealand Travel on a Budget + Money-Saving Tips
- Best Time to Visit New Zealand: When to Go & When to Avoid!
- Ultimate Guide to Planning Your New Zealand Campervan Trip
- Best Campervan Rentals in New Zealand
- Best New Zealand Campsites: Ultimate Guide + Map
- Car Rental in New Zealand: Essential Guide + Tips
- Incredible New Zealand Hikes + Local Tips
- Best New Zealand Foods to Try (& what to skip!)
Be sure to download our complete packing list for New Zealand! It’s full of good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your campervan trip in New Zealand. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?
Want your itinerary planned for you?
- Perfect 1 Month New Zealand Itinerary
- South Island New Zealand Itinerary: Epic 2-Week Road Trip
- North Island New Zealand: 2-Week Road Trip Itinerary
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We want to hear from you!
Are you planning your own perfect New Zealand itinerary and still have questions? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get back to you!