New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries on earth, and there is a vast amount to see. This country has a huge variety of landscapes, and the north of the North Island is very different from the south of the South Island.
I lived in New Zealand for a year and have visited a few times since then, so here is my ultimate 14 day itinerary for New Zealand.
This 14 day New Zealand itinerary is a self-drive tour. Pick up your rental car in Auckland city centre on Day 3 instead of at the airport when you arrive to save money on parking and rental days.
I’ve included approximate driving times throughout the post, however these will vary according to traffic.
If you can’t drive it is still possible to get to most of these locations using domestic flights, coaches and day tours, but you may not be able to fit in quite as much. A New Zealand road trip following this route is the best way to see the best of the North and South Islands of New Zealand in 14 days.
Is 14 Days In New Zealand Enough?
Trying to see an entire country in 2 weeks is tough, even if the country isn’t that big. You won’t be able to see everything in 2 weeks but with this 14 day itinerary, you can see the highlights of New Zealand. You can also find some ideas at the end to extend your trip in case you have more time available.
This New Zealand itinerary will include the top hits such as Milford Sound, a Maori feast, jetboating, glow worm caves and wine tasting. It’s possible to pack a lot into 14 days in New Zealand, and this is how to do it.
14 Day New Zealand Itinerary Overview
- Day 1 – Arrive in Auckland
- Day 2 – Auckland
- Day 3 – Drive to Rotorua via Waitomo
- Day 4 – Rotorua
- Day 5 – Rotorua to Wellington
- Day 6 – Wellington
- Day 7 – Fly from Wellington to Christchurch
- Day 8 – Christchurch
- Day 9 – Drive to Lake Tekapo
- Day 10 – Drive to Queenstown via Aoraki Mt Cook
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Drive to Te Anau
- Day 13 – Milford Sound
- Day 14 – Return to Queenstown Airport
The Complete 14 Day New Zealand Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Auckland
Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city, although not the capital, and has New Zealand’s primary international airport. It’s a great place to recover from jetlag, so I recommend 2 nights in Auckland to give you time to adjust to your new time zone.
To get your first look at New Zealand, head to the Sky Tower. The tower dominates the Auckland skyline and is right in the city centre. If you are feeling adventurous you could do the SkyJump or SkyWalk at the top. Otherwise, head up to the viewing deck, and perhaps have dinner at Orbit 360 – the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower.
Tip: New Zealand has very strict rules about bringing in any form of food or plant life. Declare all food, wood products, herbal medicines and other items listed on the arrival card you will receive on your flight. There can be heavy penalties for failing to declare anything that requires inspection.
Where To Stay
📍The Grand by SkyCity is part of the same complex as the SkyTower.
📍LyLo Auckland is a great budget option with both dorm and private rooms.
Day 2: Auckland
Load up on caffeine at Ground Coffee or Lieutenant Coffee Bar, both on Queen Street. Head down to the waterfront and get on a ferry to Waiheke Island. The ferry takes about 40 minutes and leaves frequently, but do make sure you check the schedule. You’ll get great views of Auckland and Waiheke during the journey.
Once you arrive on Waiheke Island, try a zipline and forest walk to get moving, or perhaps taste some wine at one of the many wineries on the island. The island also has several lovely beaches, great for a gentle stroll to help you overcome any remaining jetlag.
Return to the Auckland CBD (Central Business District) and have dinner at one of the many restaurants on the water in Viaduct Harbour.
Auckland has one of the highest per capita rates of boat ownership, and watching the harbour while you eat a fantastic dinner is a great way to spend your final evening in Auckland.
Day 3: Drive to Rotorua via Waitomo
Pick up your car from one of the rental companies in Auckland city centre and head south to Waitomo.
✅ Book your rental car through Discover Cars for great deals.
A tour of the glow worm caves in Waitomo is a classic New Zealand experience. Follow your guide through the caves to experience what feels like an underground galaxy. Thousands and thousands of glow worms light up the caves and create extraordinary constellations above you.
✅ Book your ticket for a boat tour of the Waitomo glow worm caves here.
Once your tour is over, get back into your car and head east to Rotorua where you’ll be spending 2 nights.
Don’t be alarmed by the strange smell in Rotorua. Every so often you’ll encounter a strong odour of rotten eggs. This is from the hydrogen sulphide naturally produced by the local geothermic activity. It may not be pleasant, but Rotorua activities are worth putting up with the smell.
Alternative – on this itinerary I would recommend Waitomo, however, if you are a fan of Lord of the Rings you might want to stop at Matamata rather than Waitomo on the way to Rotorua to visit the Hobbiton set.
Driving Time – 4 1/2 hours
Where To Stay
📍Aura is close to the Rotorua Lakefront and near lots of restaurants.
📍Asure is slightly outside of Rotorua but great value.
Day 4: Rotorua
Today is all about the Maori culture and geothermal activity.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a 30 minute drive south of Rotorua. The park is open 5 days a week from Fridays to Tuesdays and showcases mud pools and hot springs.
The Maori are New Zealand’s indigenous people who first arrived in New Zealand about 750 years ago.
New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled by humans, and Maori culture and language are an integral part of New Zealand’s national identity. Several Maori phrases are used daily by New Zealanders, such as the commonly used greeting ‘kia ora’.
Rotorua is a centre for Maori activities and tours, and I would highly recommend an evening cultural experience for performances and a traditional Maori feast. You’ll observe Maori songs, dances and a haka, and eat a hāngi. A hāngi is a traditional Maori meal cooked slowly in an underground oven, giving the food a smoky flavour.
✅ Buy your tickets for the Mitai Village Cultural Experience here.
Day 5: Drive to Wellington
Today will be a longer drive – around 6 hours. Stop about an hour south of Rotorua in Taupo. Lake Taupo was formed by the world’s most recent volcanic super-eruption, over 25,000 years ago. Grab a coffee and sit by the lake, or perhaps stop for lunch.
A quick fun activity is the Hole in One Challenge. Try your best to hit a golf ball onto a floating target on the lake to win a prize.
Get back on the road to Wellington where you’ll be spending 2 nights. You’ll drive past Tongariro National Park, hopefully on a cloudless day with views of Mount Ruapehu. Mount Ruapehu is New Zealand’s largest active volcano and was also used for some shots of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.
For dinner in Wellington, check out Oak & Vine on Courtenay Place or Floriditas on Cuba Street.
Where To Stay
📍QT Wellington is a quirky hotel next to Te Papa Museum and has a great restaurant on site (Hippopotamus – if you’re feeling fancy, it has great food and eclectic decor).
📍Ramada is also a great central option, and will save you some money over the beautiful but pricier QT.
Day 6: Wellington
Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city, and a great place for coffee, food and culture. Start the day with a coffee at Pour and Twist – an unusual cafe that hand brews coffee rather than using an espresso machine.
For your morning activity, I highly recommend a visit to Te Papa Museum. It’s on the water in the centre of the city and entrance to the main collections is free.
Te Papa has a wide range of exhibits, but the focus is on the history of New Zealand. See how the country has changed from an untouched paradise to a modern multicultural society. Learn about the history and culture of the Maori people, the contribution of New Zealanders in World War I, and the unique animals that only live in this part of the world.
After Te Papa, take a walk through the city over to the Wellington Cable Car. The cable car will take you up to the top of the Wellington Botanic Gardens – enjoy the walk back down to the city centre, exploring native plant life and a beautiful rose garden on the way down.
Another option, if you are a film fan, is to drive over to the Miramar peninsula and visit the Weta Cave. The cave is a small museum and a shop dedicated to the work of Weta FX – a visual effects company owned by director Peter Jackson. For a more in-depth experience pre-book on to a Weta Workshop tour or creative workshop to learn more about movie special effects, props and costumes.
Day 7: Fly to Christchurch
Don’t forget to grab breakfast and a final coffee from one of Wellington’s many independent coffee shops. Drop off your rental car at Wellington Airport and take a domestic flight to Christchurch to start your South Island adventure.
Pick up your second rental car at Christchurch airport and head towards the city. Once checked in to your accommodation, go for a stroll around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and walk along the Avon River before you head out for dinner.
Where To Stay
📍Christchurch City Hotel is in a great location for a reasonable price.
📍Jailhouse Accommodation is a hostel with dorm and private room options in a former prison. It’s further from the CBD, but a great choice for those on a budget.
Day 8: Christchurch
Today is for exploring the city of Christchurch and surrounding areas. Christchurch is a city that has seen a few tragedies in the last 15 years. The city was struck by an earthquake in 2011 which destroyed several significant buildings, including the city’s landmark cathedral in Cathedral Square, and required thousands of homes to be demolished.
Visit the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral – a beautiful building using cardboard as one of its major building materials. Other temporary structures built after the earthquake have been removed, such as a shopping mall operating out of shipping containers, but the cathedral remains.
Check out Quake City to discover more about earthquakes, the impact of the 2011 event and see some of the treasures recovered in the aftermath.
In the afternoon, drive over to the Christchurch Gondola to get some spectacular views over the surrounding areas. There are several walking paths from the top of the gondola to help you get the best panoramic views from the harbour across to the Southern Alps.
Alternative: if you want to increase the amount of time you have for adventure activities, skip this day and add an additional day in Queenstown.
Day 9: Drive to Lake Tekapo
Make a stop at the International Antarctic Centre on your way out of Christchurch. The city is one of the main access points to Antarctica, with many scientists and researchers passing through the airport each year to reach the frozen continent. The International Antarctic Centre showcases the history of Antarctic explorations, as well as some of the equipment used when visiting Antarctica.
Go for a ride on a Hägglund vehicle over a course designed to demonstrate some of the geological features of Antarctica. Meet the small colony of little blue penguins under the care of specialist veterinarians, and experience an Antarctic ice storm.
Drive over to Lake Tekapo to experience the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky, in an International Dark Sky Reserve. The Dark Sky Project will take you up to the summit of Mt John, with guides to help you use telescopes to get the best views of the stars.
Most Dark Sky Reserves are in the northern hemisphere, so this is a chance to see the constellations of the southern hemisphere including the Southern Cross which features on the flags of both New Zealand and Australia.
Driving Time – 3 hours
Where To Stay
📍Tekapo Heights is a mid-range option. Tekapo is a small town with limited accommodation options so book early.
📍YHA Lake Tekapo is a great hostel option to save money.
Day 10: Drive to Queenstown
Today you will be heading down to Queenstown, but with a detour along the shores of Lake Pukaki to see Aoraki/Mount Cook (the official name now incorporating both the Maori and English names for the mountain). This mountain is New Zealand’s highest peak and is part of the Southern Alps.
Lake Pukaki is an extraordinary shade of blue. The minerals deposited in the lake from the glaciers around Aoraki Mount Cook can make It a bright turquoise blue. Enjoy the drive alongside the lake shore with direct views of Aoraki Mount Cook in front of you.
Stop off at the Aoraki Mount Cook Visitor Centre to enjoy the views and learn about the area before heading off to Queenstown. The New Zealand South Island is full of beautiful roads, and you’ll get some get scenic views as your drive down to Queenstown.
Driving Time – 4 1/2 hours.
Where To Stay
Queenstown is a hugely popular destination, and in the summer months tourists can outnumber the residents. Book accommodation early to avoid disappointment and very high prices.
📍Novotel Queenstown is just a few minutes from the town centre, the lake, and pick up points for many activities.
📍Jucy Snooze is one of several hostel options in Queenstown, but you will need to find separate parking.
Day 11: Queenstown
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, with a wide range of activities on offer. Whatever you are looking for, Queenstown is a town that must be included on any 14 day itinerary in New Zealand.
Check out Vudu Cafe for a flat white and Fergburger for their famous burgers while you’re in town. If you have a sweet tooth grab some ice cream from Patagonia Chocolates or sugary treats from The Remarkable Sweet Shop.
Today is about getting that adrenaline pumping. Queenstown is perhaps the best place in the world for this with everything from jet boating to skydiving. At the milder end of the scale, I would recommend a jet boat ride or paraglide. For the bigger fear factor try bungy jumping or skydiving.
Queenstown is home to the world’s first commercial bungy company, and New Zealand is where the jet boat was invented. If you want to do something that involves jumping from a height surrounded by spectacular views, this is the place to do it.
Most activities have pick-up points in the centre of Queenstown, or from your hotel. Book in advance to make sure you get a spot.
Queenstown is located in the Otago region of New Zealand which has some fantastic wineries, however, you don’t often see wine from this area outside of New Zealand. Book a small group wine tour which will take you around the surrounding areas to some of the local wineries. Make some new friends for the day as you try out a variety of wines with your group.
✅ Queenstown Sampler Wine tour is a great choice. Book tickets here.
Alternatively, stop by The Winery in the town centre. Machines dispense a variety of wines in three sizes – taste, half glass and full glass.
If wine and heights aren’t your thing, then try a cruise around the lake, a drive to Glenorchy, or Wanaka, or one of the many beautiful hikes in the area. There are so many things to do in Queenstown and any New Zealand travel around the South Island must include at least one full day here.
Tip: Check out my Queenstown post for more activity ideas.
Day 12: Drive to Te Anau
For a final look over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, head up to Skyline Queenstown. Ride up in one of the gondolas to get stunning views over the lake, Queenstown and the Remarkable Mountains. Enjoy the luge rides, steering an individual cart along the downhill track. Just make sure not to get too distracted by the views!
Once you’ve enjoyed a few luge rides, head back down on the gondola and stop in at the Kiwi Park to see these iconic New Zealand birds, as well as other native species.
Head back to your car and start the drive along the shore of the lake towards Te Anau. As always in New Zealand, enjoy the beautiful landscapes as you venture further into the South Island.
Although it is possible to visit Milford Sound directly from Queenstown, it would be a very long day and so I recommend staying in Te Anau for 2 nights so you can relax and enjoy the experience.
Driving Time – 2 hours
Where To Stay
📍Lakeside Motel is a short walk along the lakeside to a number of restaurants.
📍Te Anau Central Backpackers has free parking, dorm and private options and kitchen facilities.
Day 13: Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a fjord (typically spelled fiord in New Zealand), in the aptly named Fiordland region of New Zealand’s South Island. There are other fiords in the area such as Doubtful Sound, but Milford Sound is the most easily accessible for a 14 day itinerary in New Zealand.
Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand and a very popular destination. Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound, stopping at points to enjoy scenic views such as the mirror lakes.
Join one of the tour boats that cruise around the Sound. Whether it’s rain or shine, it’s always beautiful. Rainy days create waterfalls and mist, sunshine brings ideal conditions for spotting wildlife.
✅ Book your small group Milford Sound cruise here.
Penguins, seals and dolphins all make frequent appearances in Milford Sound, so keep your eyes open. Take photos of Mitre Peak – it may not be New Zealand’s tallest mountain but it is one of the most popular and stunning images of New Zealand.
Driving Time – 3 1/2 hours
Tip: Make sure you fill up your car with fuel before leaving Te Anau – there is a limited supply available at Milford Sound.
Day 14: Return to Queenstown Airport
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and today you will be heading back from Te Anau to Queenstown to head home.
If You Have More Than 14 Days
Most tourists head south from Auckland. Given how much there is to see it’s an understandable choice on a 14 day itinerary in New Zealand, but that does miss out on some gems in the Northland.
Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to learn more about Maori culture. Head up to the northern tip of the North Island and see Cape Reinga. See the country’s beach highway, 90 Mile Beach (although you will have to join a day tour as rental companies don’t allow their cars to go there).
The Coromandel Peninsula lies to the east of Auckland and is often overlooked because it is quite a detour if you only have two weeks in New Zealand. If you have a chance to go to Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, they are worth the trip, but the added distance means they aren’t included in my 14 day New Zealand highlights tour.
Napier is in another New Zealand wine region – Hawke’s Bay. It is also unusually full of Art Deco buildings. Following the destruction of much of the city in a 1931 earthquake, the resulting architecture is very different to other towns and cities in New Zealand.
Marlborough is the region at the northern tip of the South Island. It’s world-famous for its wine, especially Sauvignon Blancs. Most New Zealand wine you can buy outside of New Zealand is from Marlborough. You can also find amazing seafood and great hiking tracks in this area.
The best way to see this part of the country is to keep your rental car and take the ferry from Wellington to Picton. The ride can be quite choppy, but it’s a great way to see some more scenery and Queen Charlotte Sound.
Kaikoura is on the northeast coast of the South Island. Famous for whale and dolphin watching, it is a great place to go if you have more time. The underwater geography of the area around Kaikoura makes it rich in nutrients which leads to large amounts of small marine life which then attracts dolphins and whales.
There are resident sperm whales in the area, and seasonal visits by orcas (killer whales) and humpback whales. Dolphin sightings are also fairly frequent.
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
The Southern Alps create some spectacular scenery across the South Island of New Zealand, however they do create difficulties when it comes to transport. The glaciers may only be 20 miles or so from the Aoraki Mount Cook visitor centre, but driving to the glaciers requires a 280 mile trip to get to the other side of the mountains.
If you have additional days available then spend some of them exploring the west coast of the South Island, often missed out because it is the ‘wrong’ side of the mountains to explore other parts of the island in a short amount of time.
There are a number of glacier helicopter tours operating out of the town of Franz Josef to provide incredible views of the glaciers and the Southern Alps. Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier are great additions to your itinerary if possible.
Wanaka lies between Lake Tekapo and Queenstown. Given the limit of 14 days in New Zealand I don’t think it quite meets the cut, but if you have more time I would recommend it. Go and see the Wanaka tree, growing solo out of the lake. Visit Puzzling World to entertain kids and adults alike with optical illusions.
Queenstown is located in Central Otago, and if you have a few extra days there is a lot more to see. The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy along the lake shore is stunning. Arrowtown is a historic mining town where you can try gold panning and learn about the region’s history.
Best Time To Visit New Zealand
The months of December to February are the best for visiting New Zealand. It’s New Zealand’s summer so you’ll get great weather for outdoor activities, however as it is peak tourism season prices will be higher. For fewer crowds but still good weather try March and April.
FAQs For a 14 Day New Zealand Itinerary
Is New Zealand Safe to Visit Alone?
Absolutely! New Zealand is one of the safest countries for solo travellers and a great choice for women travelling alone. The people are friendly, hotels and hostels are safe and it’s very unlikely you’ll run into trouble.
Does New Zealand Have Dangerous Animals?
Unlike its closest neighbour Australia, New Zealand has very few dangerous animals. You won’t encounter the range of venomous spiders and snakes that can be found in Australia.
Do I Need A Visa To Enter New Zealand
If you are from a Visa Waiver country you will need to apply for a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) which takes around 72 hours to be processed and costs NZD17. From other countries, you will need to apply for a Visitor Visa which typically takes around 36 days and costs NZD211. Both of these options are for visitors only and do not allow you to work in New Zealand. You should only apply via the official government website.
Final Thoughts On A 14 Day New Zealand Itinerary
Distilling such an incredible country down into just 2 weeks isn’t easy. There are hundreds of stunning places and amazing adventures throughout New Zealand. This 14 day itinerary in New Zealand gives you as many of the highlights as possible, and I promise you’ll want to revisit and see more.
If you want to consider an itinerary focusing on the South Island, check out this Picton to Queenstown itinerary.
Enjoy every moment.