New Zealand Itinerary: 19 Days North & South Island Road Trip


Our New Zealand itinerary covers three weeks. Being a remote country far from all continents, it takes a few days for us to get there and be back in Europe. That is to say, that our New Zealand itinerary included four days of flying and eighteen overnight stays in New Zealand.

I always wanted to see this dreamy, island country. Finally, I made my way there. The country is blessed with natural beauty and spectacular scenery, with gorgeous mountains and lakes. Our family did some research and couldn’t decide where to go. We got excited even during our planning.

Our trip took place between December and January the following year. Because it was in the summer season in New Zealand, we had difficulty to keep our budget low, while exploring the country as much as we could.

The summary of our road trip includes following contents:

  • Flights between New Zealand and Germany
  • Rent a Car
  • New Zealand Itinerary
  • Detail of New Zealand Itinerary – North Island
  • Detail of New Zealand Itinerary – South Island
  • Expense of our New Zealand Itinerary

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsular

Flights between New Zealand and Germany

The shortest flying time from Frankfurt to New Zealand is around 26 hours. To plan our trip, we had to consider the different time zones. Between the two islands, instead of ferry-crossing, we took a domestic flight from Auckland to Christchurch using our frequent flyer miles. Thus, we had saved one to two days from driving.

Our flight schedules were:

  • Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Hongkong
  • Hongkong Airline from Hongkong to Auckland
  • Air New Zealand From Auckland to Christchurch
  • Air New Zealand from Christchurch to Auckland
  • Hongkong Airline from Auckland to Hongkong
  • Lufthansa from Hongkong to Frankfurt

Rent a Car

Since we had limited time to explore the country, we decided to rent a car to maximize flexibility and mobility. In the North Island, we rented a car at Auckland Airport and also dropped at the same place. In the South Island, we rented a car at the Christchurch Airport and also returned our car at the Airport.

Related post: Rent a Car in New Zealand: Things You Should Expect

New Zealand Itinerary

Because of having our focus on the South Island, we only planned 5 nights for the north island but 13 nights on the south island. The main activities of the New Zealand itinerary are as follows.

New Zealand Itinerary – North Island

New Zealand Itinerary – South Island

Detail of New Zealand Itinerary – North Island

Day 1:Arrived at Auckland, drove to Paihia

Since we were in Hongkong the night before, the tropical climate of humid and heavy air made us very much uncomfortable. Auckland had a completely different climate upon our arrival. It was a sunny and windless day.  When I walked out of the arrival hall, a great dazzle of sunlight shined at us.  I fell in love with this country at first sight.

Having picked up our rental car, we drove out of the Airport and followed SH1 toward Paihia. Nearly after 4 hours of driving, we arrived at our first hotel in Paihia.

Day 2: Dolphins Discovery cruise tour at Bay of Islands

In the morning, we joined the Dolphins Discovery cruise tour at Bay of Islands. The cruise Harbour is a few minutes driving from our hotel in Paihia. We also spent two hours in Russel and had a nice lunch before taking the ferry back to Paihia. The Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise starts in either Paihia or Russel.

In the afternoon, we drove toward Tauranga, but due to an accident, we stopped at the rental company near Auckland Airport.

Bay of Islands; New Zealand Itinerary

Day 3: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove

We got up early enough to be at Hot Water Beach on time. After one hour of digging, we had our hot spring pool!

The foot access of Cathedral Cove (Coromandel Cove) starts at the top of Grange Road in the town of Hahei, a seaside village with a beautiful beach of its own. The Cathedral Cove looks like a frame of the iconic rock beneath. It is an impressive rock archway. We did swim near the cove, but the water was too cold.

By the way, the Coromandel Peninsula tour from Auckland also including the summit climb of Mount Paku.

Natural Pools on Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsular, New Zealand

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland; New Zealand Itinerary

Day 4: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

The Colours of Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland are the geological wonder. The stunningly colored water contains different minerals, but the main element is sulfur. Right at the entrance of the park, the sulfurous vapours like rotten eggs rose my nostrils.

We didn’t enter the place on time, therefore missed the erupting of the Lady Knox Geyser. You could buy Thermal Park and Lady Knox Geyser entry tickets online.

Day 5: Auckland

In the morning, we headed back to Auckland and had a nice walk around the modern harbour front, from Orincess Wharf, passed Queens Wharf, to Viaduct Harbour. Many yachts were parked at harbour. High-standard apartments and office buildings have a modern design style with contemporary architects. Among these buildings, this buzzing area has lots of restaurants offering fresh seafood.

In the afternoon, we climbed up the icon of Auckland’s skyline, The Sky Tower. It took us a while to queue for the entrance tickets. If you want to save time, you can book the ticket online. The sky cafe has cozy corners for the families to relax.

Auckland Harbour Front

Detail of New Zealand Itinerary – South Island

Day 6: Christchurch and the French settlement Akaroa

Upon arrival at Christchurch, we picked up our rental car with nearly 300,000 km. Then we made a short excursion to Akaroa Bank Peninsular, the only French settlement in New Zealand.

In the late afternoon, we boarded on a beautifully restored heritage tram and enjoyed a journey in style through the changing face of Christchurch’s town centre.

If your budget allows, you can also book the tour with a fine dining experience aboard a vintage tram as you drive through the center of Christchurch.

Related post: Things to Do in the French Village Akaroa, New Zealand

Christchurch Tram Tour

Day 7: Drove to Hanmer Springs

From Christchurch to the next stop Hanmer Springs is only around 133 km. It was a leisurely drive. Tired of driving for several days, we decided to relax for the whole afternoon and then had a nice Indian dinner in the town.

Day 8: Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools

The SPA consists of a range of pools, including relaxing rock pools, soothing sulfur pools, an array of water jets at various temperatures. It was a luxury experience to spend a day in this natural spa area.

Hanmer Springs is a resort area. For the outdoor lovers, the Hanmer Springs 2-Hour Quad Bike Safari tour might be your choice.

Day 9: Pancake Rocks, sunset at Hokitika beach, and Glow Worm dell

The highlight of the day was to drive along the west coast of South Island, from Greymouth to Hokitika and  visited the Pancake Rocks.

Next, at dawn, we caught the stunning sunset at Hokitika beach.

Lastly, suggested by our talkative landlord, we went to the marvelous Glow Worm Dell just at the edge of town after dinner.

We missed several viewpoints along the coastal road. If you are in Greymouth, you can join the Punakaiki Blowholes & Pancake Rocks Tour. The journey is on a scenic coastal drive to Punakaiki to discover fascinating stacked limestone Pancake rocks. Along the way, you will stop at several viewpoints that are great for the perfect photo.

Pancake Rocks, West Coast of South Island, New Zealand

Day 10: Hokitika Gorge

Before heading to Haast,  we made a short trip through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge. From the swing bridge above the gorge, we had excellent views of the unbelievably turquoise waters of the Hokitika River. The river makes its way through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge.

Hokitika Gorge and Tree Top Walkway is a half-day trip from Greymouth, including the Hokitika Tower climbing.

We continued driving along the West Coast road. The pacific coast is rugged, and the beaches are stony. At the beach on Bruce Bay, we did a short walk and enjoyed the vast ocean views.

The rock sided Hokitika Gorge, West Coast of South Island, New Zealand

Day 11: Haast River Bridge, Thunder Creek Falls, Fantail Falls, the Blue Pools

We first passed Haast River Bridge, a one-lane bridge at 737 metres long. It is also part of State Highway 6 and is the longest one-lane bridge in New Zealand at the time of writing.

Then, continued driving inland along SH6, we had the next stop at Thunder Falls. Thunder Creek Falls is in Mt Aspiring National Park, along Haast Highway.

The Fantail Falls, crashing down from a forested hill into a small pool, is just a few minutes of driving further down the road.

The last stop before we reached the Wanaka was the Blue Pools. Follow the boardwalk to a viewing platform over the Blue Pools then cross the Blue Pools swing bridge for great views up the river gorge. From the swing bridge, many jumping actions took place.

Related post: Top Free Things to Do on the West Coast of South Island

Haast River Bridge; New Zealand Itinerary

Day 12: The lonely tree in Wanaka lake, Puzzling World, and Mount Iron hiking trail

As a symbol of New Zealand tourism, the lonely Wanaka Tree is a popular place for many photographers and Instagrammers to capture their unique pictures of the Wanaka Tree. We just had a walk at the shore of Lake Wanaka in the early morning and visited that lonely willow tree.

If you have more time, you can take a water taxi tour to discover Wanaka’s hidden lake, which contains its island and native birds. Or, take a happy hour cruise tour in the evening.

The Mount Iron Hiking Trail starts opposite Puzzling World.  In the afternoon, we started our Mount Iron hiking after exploring the Puzzling World.

Wanaka Tree; New Zealand Itinerary

Wanaka Lake; New Zealand Itinerary

Day 13: Queenstown

On the way to Te Anau, we passed Queenstown. It was a busy day because of the weekly street market.

Many tourists were also in the town. We just saw a steamboat full of tourist groups onboard sailing away. The combination of the nostalgic boat and the lake scene makes an incredible view.

Day 14: Cruise at Milford Sound, scenic sites along the road 94

Travelers in Queenstown can join the Milford Sound Lunch Cruise and Coach tour from Queenstown. Since we stayed in Te Anau, we drive to Milford Sound and joined the Milford Sound Cruise Tour in the morning.

Between Te Anau and Milford Sound, we stopped at Mirror Lakes, The Chasm, Homer Tunnel, and Lake Marian. The local professional guides offer the Milford Sound Coach, Cruise, and Walk tour from Te Anau. They can carry you to special places and get off the beaten track.

Related post: From Te Anau to Milford Sound, a Day trip to one of the World’s Wettest Places

Queenstown Lake View

Day 15: Dunedin’s Penguin Place, Larnach Castle, and Castle gardens

The highlights of the day trip to Otago Peninsula are:

  • Driving along the two scenic roads
  • Join an organized tour at the Penguin Palace
  • Watch Wildlife and enjoy ocean views at the headland of Otago Peninsula
  • Visit the Scottish Larnach Castle
  • Enjoy the beautiful Castle Gardens

The Otago Penisula is beautiful, but to drive around was stressful. The Larnach Castle Sightseeing Tour with Brewery Visit is an amazing shore excursion. You will not only discover Larnach Castle and the famous Speights Brewery but also explore Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula.

Related post: A Day Out on Otago Peninsula: Top Attractions and Things to Do

Scottish Larnach Castle, Dunedin

Observation point of Penguin Place, Otago Peninsular, New Zealand

Day 16: Dunedin’s Tunnel Beach and St. Clair Beach

South of Dunedin, the Tunnel Beach offers breathtaking views of rugged sandstone cliffs and rock arches of the pacific coast along the hiking route. On the cliffside, we walked through a tunnel down to the beach.

Our lunch was in a restaurant next to the well-known St. Clair Beach. The white sandy beach was flat as a mirror in the pale daylight. This part of the Pacific Ocean is a playground of surfers.

Tunnel Beach, Dunedin; New Zealand Road TRip

St. Clair Beach, Dunedin, New Zealand Road Trip

Day 17: Lake Tekapo

It took us less than four hours to reach Twizel. We would have relaxed in the famous Tekapo Springs, let our stress fade away, enjoyed the breathtaking view of Lake Tekapo, and marveled at the dazzling stars of a dark sky.

But the weather wasn’t so pleasant. Instead, we went to Lake Tekapo and just took some pictures.

Day 18: Aoraki/Mount Cook visitor centre, Tasman Glacier, and Blue Lakes

It was heavily raining on that day. We made our first stop at the  spectacular Aoraki/Mount Cook visitor centre. The centre displayed pictures of how people climbed Mount Cook in the past. There is also a window from which you can look out to the mountain Aoraki.

When the rain stopped, we went the track to the shrinking Tasman Glacier. Below the glacier, there are several Blue Lakes fed by melted glacial water. Because the rainwater supports green algae, the Blue lakes look green.

Day 19: Drove to Christchurch, took a flight to to Auckland, and then to Hongkong

In the early morning, we returned our car to Christchurch’s Airport. Then, we took Air New Zealand to Auckland. At midnight, we boarded on Hong Kong Airlines to Hong Kong. Good-Bye, New Zealand!

Expense of our New Zealand Itinerary

The total cost of making this New Zealand itinerary is around 7,500 Euros. We were not really on a low budget. To eat in a middle-level restaurant was quite expensive. Several accommodations were also too expensive because we did not book early enough to get good deals.

The total costs of our road trip mainly include four parts, flight, accommodation, rental car, and miscellaneous expense.

Flight

The total flight for three of us was 2800 Euro. We didn’t pay anything for the Air New Zealand flights since we redeemed the Miles&More miles to get the flight tickets.

Accommodations

The total cost of accommodation was  average 120 Euro/day. Some of the accommodations are quite luxurious and have premier locations.

Rental car

The car rental for both islands cost around five hundred Euro.

Miscellaneous

Food, entry tickets, tours, gasoline, etc. these activities cost us (two adults and one kid) roughly around 100 Euros per day.

 

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