The ultimate New Zealand itinerary – how to make the most of 2 weeks in New Zealand

New Zealand is a country that promises to awaken the senses, where you can gaze from rugged peaks at sunrise and soak in natural hot pools come sundown. Alive with geothermal activity and active volcanos that occasionally bubble over, New Zealand’s verdant landscapes are diverse as they come, catering to livestock, vineyards and the odd hobbit. Trekkers and nature lovers will fall in love with New Zealand’s fjords and valleys which nurture both crashing waterfalls and tranquil lakes. More heart-lurching moments can be had jumping from absurd heights or climbing sheer cliffs, while beach bums will also leave highly satisfied, thanks to clean coastal air and untouched shores. To experience the best holidays in New Zealand, read Mr Hudson’s ultimate New Zealand itinerary.

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Photo: Tobias Keller

Best time to visit

Though the North and South Islands are generally mild, both are unpredictable and prone to rapid weather changes. Auckland ranges from around 4-10°C in winter (which falls from June to August) up to 20-25°C in summer (from December to February), but across the country things vary. The North Island’s Hawke’s Bay is reputed for year round sunshine while Queenstown on the South Island experiences both its fair share of balmy summers and nipple-biting winters. New Zealand isn’t said to have a rainy season but rain is common nationwide, particularly on the South Island’s west coast where waterproofs are a good idea.

Photo: Lachlan Dempsey

Photo: Ben Guerin

Getting around in New Zealand

We can’t force you to get behind the wheel, but travellers who enjoy the freedom of stopping wherever they like will be happiest with a rental car. Cars are the cheapest option and can be picked up and dropped off in different locations meaning you never have to travel back on yourself. Campervans are also popular and the extra expense is justified by zero accommodation costs if you don’t mind sleeping on the roadside.

New Zealand itinerary 14 days 

Kicking off in Auckland and splitting our time between some of the best spots on the North and South islands, our New Zealand 2 week itinerary is a doozy. The trip includes a flight from Auckland to Christchurch, a much cheaper option than taking a ferry with a car. Instead, do the more economical thing and return your car before picking up another at the next location. Let us break down the best bits…

Auckland | Photo: Dan Freeman

Day 1 - Auckland

Many New Zealand vacations start out in Auckland for good reason. Not only New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland is also ranked as one of the gayest cities in the world for its progressive LGBTQ population and ‘K’ Road pride celebrations throughout February. Rid yourself of jetlag with a laidback weekend enjoying the city’s fusion of urbanity and Polynesian culture, in proximity to fine wineries and wild black sand beaches. Learn more about what to do in Auckland with our full Auckland travel guide.

Days 2 to 4 - Taupo

Our second day takes us out on the road towards the little town of Taupo, named after the vast lake which it overlooks. Driving direct from Auckland to Taupo takes 4 hours but we prefer the slow route through Waitomo to discover the area’s famed glow-worm caves.

After taking advantage of a leisurely boat trip or kayaking adventure on Lake Taupo, we awake early on a mission to reach Tongariro Crossing on foot. This day hike is one of the North Island’s best, taking trekkers across the rugged terrain of three active volcanos, one better known as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. A section of the crossing can be done in a day (19.4 kilometres in total) with a shuttle back to Taupo available, or take on the entire Northern Circuit braving 3-4 days of hiking, with alpine hut or tent lodgings.

If travelling between October and April, be aware of the 4-hour time restriction for private vehicles at the starting point to the crossing. Consider using shuttle transport instead and staying one more night in Taupo.

Tongariro National Park | Photo: Laura Smetsers

Photo: Mikail Mcverry

Days 4 and 5 - Rotorua

Follow the intense smell of sulphur to Rotorua, a must-see North Island stop-off where native Māori culture meets geothermal phenomenon. The natural surroundings of Rotorua comprise Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest for hiking and Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland for pool-, cauldron- and geyser- gazing. About an hour’s drive further out you can also discover Whakatane, a coastal town serving as the gateway to White Island. Know the risks before venturing here; New Zealand’s most active volcano slumbers here and deadly eruptions have been known to occur.

Days 5 and 6 - Hobbiton, Coromandel, Auckland

From Rotorua we head on to Hahei town on the Coromandel Peninsula (a 3-hour drive), but not before making a pit stop at Hobbiton, in Matamata, where Bilbo Baggins’ famed circular oak door awaits your knock, worthwhile for any Lord of the Rings super-fan despite the steep $80 (USD) price tag. A cheaper option is to spend the day exploring the peninsula by car, stopping at photogenic gems such as Cathedral Cove, a marine reserve with a central cave accessible via a short hiking trail or by kayak.

Hobbiton | Photo: Andres Iga

Days 6 and 7 - Christchurch and Tekapo

We now take flight to the South Island, landing in Christchurch. Due to the lasting effects of the 2010 earthquake, Christchurch is not as happening as it once was, and so we move straight on to explore the island’s outlying natural wonders. To discover some of the best stargazing spots in the world, head to Tekapo town which sits beside Tekapo Lake, completely unspoiled by light pollution.

Days 7 and 8 - Mount Cook National Park

Next, gather your fancy cameras and walking boots for a foray into Mount Cook National Park, home to epic hiking trails and picturesque vistas across the entire South Island. After a full day huffing and puffing, opt to stay the night in Mount Cook Village or park your campervan over on White Horse Hill campground.

Mount Cook | Photo: Daniel Price

Days 8 to 10 - Wanaka

Life is not the destination but the journey, and never is this truer said than when making the south from Mount Cook to Wanaka. The journey can be done in just 2.5 hours but take it slow along some of the best roads in New Zealand, including the infamous Lindis Pass, before winding up in Wanaka, Queenstown’s little sister. Wanaka recently rose to insta-fame for the photogenic beauty of Roy’s Peak and its lakeside willow tree. If scrambling for a photo op isn’t your thing, however, Wanaka also offers impressive ski fields and rugged scenery surrounding Mount Aspiring National Park.

Days 10 to 12 - Fiordland; Te Anau / Milford Sound

As our New Zealand itinerary, 2 weeks nears an end, we move through to Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. With a base in the city, it’s very possible to enjoy hikes, scenic drives and adventure activities even if time is limited. While the most convenient overnight trip to the fjords is to Milford Sound, travellers with energy in reserve and time to spare should venture deeper into Fiordland National Park, through the gateway known as Te Anau. Drive the full stretch of road known as the Devil’s Staircase on the beautiful (yet bendy) Crown Range Road, before arriving in Te Anau (3 hours from Wanaka) to rest up, taking a stroll along Te Anau Lake in the evening. Road conditions can be iffy in winter so ensure your car rental has snow chains before setting off from Wanaka.

Trekking and view finding is a very worthy way to spend a few days among the fjords, but another option is to take a scenic cruise along the stunning coastline. One more epic drive will circle you back to Milford Sound, where you can take to the sky for a scenic flight of coast and mountain panoramas before heading back to Queenstown.

Milford Sound | Photo: Casey Horner

Besides the fjords, an alternative excursion on the South Island is to Abel Tasman National Park, the nation’s sunniest beach spot. Enjoy white sand beaches and ultra-blue waters while communing with nature and staying overnight in the forest at the eco-friendly Awaroa Lodge. The transport here is a little different than usual, with water taxis linking key destinations within the park, or private boat services offering scenic tours and trail drop-offs. As well as sun-drenched beach days, try hiking or ‘freedom’ kayaking to explore further.

Days 12 to 14 - Queenstown

Queenstown’s surroundings can keep you busy enough, but the city proper is a great place to rest after an action-packed 2 weeks in New Zealand. Journey around the city by car, taking in down-to-earth vibes and South Island culture. One of Queenstown’s top draws is its proximity to Roy’s Peak in Wanaka and various fjords, but it is also home to the international airport, where we must eventually say our goodbyes.

Queenstown | Photo: Michelle Maria

Make us your very own New Zealand trip planner

Planning a trip to New Zealand takes time and effort unless you outsource the work to Mr Hudson’s team of expert trip designers who work around your dates, needs and interests to create the trip of a lifetime or your money back. Learn more about our Trip Design service and how you can save yourself from unnecessary travel stress.

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