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

We spent three weeks traveling in New Zealand. It’s a faraway country that takes several days to get there and back to Europe. That’s why our New Zealand Itinerary included four days of flying and eighteen nights in New Zealand.

I always wanted to visit this beautiful island country, and finally, I did. It’s blessed with natural beauty, including stunning mountains and lakes. My family and I did research to plan our trip, but it was hard to decide where to go and how our New Zealand Itinerary . We were excited during the planning process.

Our trip was during December and January, which is the summer season in New Zealand. This made it difficult to stick to our budget while exploring as much of the country as possible. But, we still had a great time seeing many the beautiful sights.

Here’s a summary of our road trip, which includes following sections:

  • Flights between New Zealand and Germany
  • Rent two cars
  • New Zealand Itinerary
  • Our North Island Adventure: A Detailed Itinerary
  • Our South Island Adventure: A Detailed Itinerary
  • Summary of Our New Zealand Trip Expenses

Flights between New Zealand and Germany

Our journey to New Zealand was long and tiring, with a flight time of around 26 hours from Frankfurt. However, the stunning natural beauty of New Zealand made the journey worth it. We had to consider the different time zones when planning our itinerary, but we were determined to make the most of our time on both the North and South Islands.

Instead of a lengthy ferry crossing between the two islands, we opted to use our frequent flyer miles for a domestic flight from Auckland to Christchurch. This decision saved us one to two days of driving and allowed us to focus on exploring the breathtaking scenery of New Zealand.

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 two Cars

Since we had limited time to explore the country, we decided to rent two cars to maximize flexibility and mobility. If you’re considering renting a car in New Zealand, you might find my article about car rental in New Zealand helpful. 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.

New Zealand Itinerary

The main activities of the New Zealand itinerary are as follows. Because our focus was on the South Island, we only planned for 5 nights on the North Island and 13 nights on the South Island.

New Zealand Itinerary – North Island

New Zealand Itinerary – South Island

Our North Island Adventure: A Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrived in Auckland and picked up our rental car

After spending a humid and uncomfortable night in Hong Kong, the sunny and windless weather in Auckland was a welcome relief. As soon as we walked out of the arrival hall, we were greeted by a dazzling sunlight that made me fall in love with the country at first sight.

Once we picked up our rental car, a brand new silver Toyota, we hit the road and followed SH1 towards Paihia. After a scenic 4-hour drive, we finally arrived at our first hotel in Paihia.

Day 2: Exploring Bay of Islands: Dolphin Discovery Cruise

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, as we drove towards Tauranga, we noticed that the bottom of the new car was hitting the ground due to poor attachment. We used a shoestring to temporarily fix the issue, but had to keep re-attaching it. Fearing further damage, we decided to stop at the rental company near Auckland Airport. After an hour of questioning, the rental company agreed to replace the car with a brand new blue Toyota, so we could still be on time and catch our New Zealand itinerary.

Dolphin Discovery Cruise; New Zealand Itinerary
Dolphin Discovery Cruise; New Zealand Itinerary
Day 3: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove

We woke up early in the morning. Filled with exhilaration, we made our way to the beach, eagerly anticipating the chance to witness and experience this extraordinary phenomenon. We managed to create our own hot spring pool after digging for an hour. It was a unique KiWi experience!

The foot access to Cathedral Cove starts at the top of Grange Road in Hahei, a seaside village with a beautiful beach. The Cove itself is an impressive rock archway that looks like a frame of the iconic rock beneath. We did swim near the cove but found the water too cold.

Hot Water Beach; New Zealand Itinerary
Cathedral Cove; New Zealand Itinerary
Day 4: Discover Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a fascinating geological wonder, known for its stunningly colored water that contains different minerals, mainly sulfur. As soon as we arrived at the park entrance, we were hit by the sulfurous vapors that smelled like rotten eggs. Unfortunately, we missed the eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser because we didn’t enter the park on time. However, you can purchase entry tickets to both the Thermal Park and Lady Knox Geyser online to avoid missing out on the experience.

Day 5: Auckland Sightseeing

In the morning, we took a leisurely stroll along the modern waterfront of Auckland, from Princess Wharf to Queens Wharf and onwards to Viaduct Harbour. The harbor was filled with luxurious yachts, and the high-standard apartments and office buildings had a contemporary design style created by renowned architects. This bustling area is also known for its numerous restaurants that serve fresh seafood.

Later in the day, we ascended the iconic Sky Tower, which is a prominent feature of Auckland’s skyline. Although we had to wait in line for the entrance tickets, we found the experience worthwhile. The Sky Cafe offered comfortable seating areas where families can relax while taking in the stunning views.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland; New Zealand Itinerary
the modern waterfront of Auckland; New Zealand Itinerary

Our South Island Adventure: A Detailed Itinerary

Day 6: Exploring Christchurch and Akaroa: A French Settlement

At the rental office near Christchurch Airport, we were given an aged white Nissan with almost 300,000 kilometers on it and a number of noticeable defects, including broken rubber parts and worn-out seat covers. Despite this, we had no other options, so we checked the brakes and tires and set off on our journey through the rural areas of the South Island. Though we couldn’t document all the broken parts, we hoped for the best as we started our adventure.

While most travelers choose to spend more time in Christchurch, we decided to venture off the beaten path and set our sights on the picturesque French village of Akaroa, nestled amidst the tranquil beauty of the serene Banks Peninsula, just a short distance from Christchurch.

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.

view of the picturesque French village of Akaroa; New Zealand Itinerary
French village of Akaroa; New Zealand Itinerary
Day 7: Scenic drive to the charming town of Hanmer Springs

The journey from Christchurch to our next destination, Hanmer Springs, was a relatively short 133 km drive, allowing us to take a leisurely pace. After several days of driving, we were longing for a retreat and took the opportunity to relax for the entire afternoon before enjoying a delightful Indian dinner in the town.

Day 8: Relaxing in Hanmer Springs Themal Pools

The spa complex consists of a variety of pools, including tranquil rock pools, therapeutic sulfur pools, and an assortment of water jets at varying temperatures. Spending a day in this natural spa area was a truly luxurious experience. It was a good idea to add this activity to our New Zealand Itinerary.

Day 9: Hokitika Adventures: Pancake Rocks, Sunset Views, and Glow Worms Dell

The highlight of the day was to drive along the stunning West Coast of South Island, starting from Greymouth and heading towards Hokitika to visit the Pancake Rocks. This renowned drive stretches over 600 km from Westport to Haast, including majestic mountains, untouched wilderness, glaciers, and geological marvels. There are more free things to do on the west coast.

Our first stop was the Pancake Rocks, a natural wonder on South Island’s West Coast. The softer limestone has eroded over millions of years, leaving behind stacks resembling pancakes. The vertical blowholes create a spectacle of water splashes, and the easy loop walkway takes less than an hour.

We arrived at Hokitika after 6 pm and the motel owner suggested watching the sunset. So, we rushed to Hokitika beach and witnessed a stunning sunset with fiery red and warm orange colors.

After our dinner, at the Glow Worm Grotto outside Hokitika, we witnessed the soft glow of tiny insects called glow worms. Flash photography was prohibited, but a disruptive outburst from a woman caused a tumult among the crowd, making it difficult to capture any pictures.

Hokitika beach sunset; New Zealand Itinerary
Pancake Rocks; New Zealand Itinerary
Day 10: Haast Road Trip: Hokitika Gorge and Bruce Bay

Before continuing our journey towards Haast, we made a brief detour to the picturesque Hokitika Gorge. From the suspended swing bridge above the gorge, we had the breathtaking views of the remarkably turquoise waters of the Hokitika River as it flowed through the rocky gorge. Originally, Hokitika Gorge was not on our New Zealand itinerary, it was a tip from the owner of our rental house.

As we continued our drive along the rugged West Coast road, we encountered a series of stony beaches. We took a short walk along the beach at Bruce Bay, reveling in the expansive views of the vast ocean before us.

Hokitika Gorge; New Zealand Itinerary
Hokitika Gorge; New Zealand Itinerary
Hokitika Gorge; New Zealand Itinerary
Day 11: Haast River Bridge, Thunder Creek Falls, Fantail Falls, the Blue Pools

On our journey, we encountered the Haast River Bridge, an impressive one-lane bridge that stretches 737 meters and is part of State Highway 6. At the time of writing, it is the longest one-lane bridge in New Zealand.

Continuing our drive inland along SH6, we made stops at Thunder Creek Falls, which is nestled in Mt Aspiring National Park along the Haast Highway, and the picturesque Fantail Falls, where the waterfall cascades down from a forested hill into a serene pool.

Our final stop before reaching Wanaka was the Blue Pools, where visitors can follow the boardwalk to a viewing platform and then cross the Blue Pools swing bridge for an excellent view of the river gorge. It’s worth noting that the bridge is also a popular spot for adrenaline junkies looking to take the leap and jump into the crystal-clear waters below.

Haast River Bridge
Blue Pools
Day 12: Wanaka Getaway: the Wanaka Tree, Puzzles, and Hiking Trails

We strolled along the shores of Lake Wanaka in the early morning to take a glimpse of the iconic and solitary Wanaka Tree, a symbol of New Zealand tourism that draws numerous photographers and Instagram users seeking to capture its unique charm. However, to be honest, if you are not a photographer, the Wanaka Tree may not be the most interesting attraction. Nonetheless, it is still worth taking a stroll along the shore of Lake Wanaka in the early morning to appreciate the serene beauty of the surroundings.

For those with more time, a water taxi tour can uncover Wanaka’s hidden lake, its native birds and a captivating island. Alternatively, an evening happy hour cruise tour may be a good choice for the day.

After our visit to the Puzzling World, we embarked on the Mount Iron Hiking Trail, conveniently located opposite the attraction, in the afternoon.

shores of Lake Wanaka
Mount Iron Hiking Trail
Day 13: Queenstown Sightseeing

On our way to Te Anau, we drove through Queenstown and noticed that it was a bustling day due to the weekly street market. We also observed that there were many tourists in the town, and we happened to catch sight of a steamboat filled with groups of tourists sailing away. The sight of the vintage boat against the picturesque backdrop of the lake was incredibly beautiful.

Queenstown  water front
vintage boat against the picturesque backdrop of the lake
Day 14: Scenic sites along the road 94, Cruise at Milford Sound

On the way to Milford Sound from Te Anau, we visited some incredible locations along the road 94. Mirror Lakes offered exceptional reflective views of the Earl Mountains in calm weather, the Chasm showed dramatic views of waterfalls carving through thick rocks, and we were welcomed by rare bird species Kea at the exit of the Homer Tunnel.

Before the cruise departed, we took a stroll on the Milford Foreshore Walk, which offered uninterrupted views of Mitre Peak and informative panels posted on the walking track. Our cruise set-off on time, and we were lucky to have good weather during our visit. During the cruise, we observed a variety of natural wonders, including playful seals and a massive waterfall.

playful seals at Milford Sound
playful seals at Milford Sound
playful seal at Milford Sound
Day 15: Discovering Dunedin: Penguin Place, Castle, and Otago Peninsula Headland

On the way to the Penguin Palace we drove the Portobello Road along the coast with stunning ocean vistas and on the way back we went on the Highcliff Road through rolling hills with breathtaking panoramas.

We visited the Penguin observation point with many nests of the rare yellow-eyed penguins but unfortunately did not see any penguins. However, we were lucky to glimpse three penguins at the rehabilitation center who were rescued and recovering from injuries before being released back into the wild. Although you didn’t get to see many penguins in their natural habitat, you were impressed by the dedication of those working to preserve their population.

After having a quick snack in the Royal Albatross Centre, we strolled along a well-crafted walkway to the cliff’s edge where we had a clear view of Taiaroa Head and the peninsula’s lighthouse. The Pacific Ocean stretched out before us, shallow turquoise and seemingly boundless. I had never witnessed such a vast and unspoiled expanse of ocean – it was like paradise!

Finally, you visited Larnach Castle, built in the 19th century with top-quality materials from around the world, and were particularly impressed by the beautiful castle gardens with their various themes and stunning panoramic views.

We had a busy and fulfilling day exploring the Otago Peninsula full of memorable experiences and breathtaking scenery.

Headland of the Otago Peninsula
Dunedin Castle
Day 16: Scenic Beaches and Tunnels: Dunedin’s St. Clair and Tunnel Beach

As we traveled south of Dunedin, we were captivated by the stunning sights of Tunnel Beach, featuring the rugged sandstone cliffs and rock arches of the Pacific coast along the hiking route. Descending the cliffside, we passed through a tunnel leading us to the beach.

After our refreshing hike, we stopped at a nearby restaurant to enjoy a delicious lunch overlooking the world-famous St. Clair Beach. The white sandy shores glistened in the pale daylight, reflecting the brilliant blue of the Pacific Ocean. It was no surprise to see surfers taking advantage of the perfect waves, making this spot a true paradise for water sports enthusiasts.

Dunedin's Tunnel Beach
Dunedin's St. Clair beach
Day 17: Embarked on a scenic drive to reach Twizel

After driving for less than four hours, we arrived in Twizel. Our plan to relax at Tekapo Springs and bask in the stunning scenery of Lake Tekapo was discouraged by the unfavorable weather conditions. Instead, we made a brief stop at Lake Tekapo to capture some pictures and appreciate the views from afar. Despite the change of plans, we still cherished the natural beauty of the area and made the most of our time in Twizel.

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

It was pouring rain on the day we planned to visit Aoraki/Mount Cook. Nevertheless, we decided to make our first stop at the stunning visitor centre. We appreciated at the historic pictures of people who had climbed Mount Cook in the past, and gazed out of the window at the majestic mountain Aoraki.

Luckily, the rain stopped and we venture out to the Tasman Glacier track. We walked alongside several Blue Lakes, which get their vibrant green hue from the algae that grows in the melted glacial water. Despite the dampness, we couldn’t help but feel grateful for the chance to witness such natural beauty up close.

Tasman Glacier; New Zealand Itinerary
Blue Lakes along the Tasman Glacier track; New Zealand Itinerary
Day 19: Drove to Christchurch, took a flight to to Auckland, and then to Hongkong

Our New Zealand Itinerary came to the end. 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!

Summary of Our New Zealand Trip Expenses

The overall cost of the New Zealand itinerary is made up of four sections and is estimated at approximately 7,500 Euros. Although budgetary constraints were not a primary concern, we found dining at mid-level restaurants to be relatively expensive. Additionally, certain accommodations proved to be costly due to the late booking of our trip, resulting in a limited selection of affordable options.

  • Flight: We redeemed Miles&More miles for the Air New Zealand flight tickets, so we didn’t pay anything for the flights. Our total flight cost for three of us was 2800 Euro.
  • Accommodation: We spent an average of 120 Euro per day on accommodations.
  • Rental car: The car rental for both islands cost around five hundred Euro.
  • Miscellaneous: Our daily expenses, including food, entry tickets, tours, gasoline, and other activities, cost roughly 100 Euros per day for two adults and one kid.

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