Female Travel blogger walking down suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track near glaciers at Mount Cook in South Island, New Zealand.

The Ultimate 2 to 3 Week Itineraries Across New Zealand

Over the course of 200 days we traveled to every district of New Zealand. It was an epic road trip to say the least.

Where else in the world can you hike through a rainforest to a glacier? Or explore caves naturally illuminated by bright blue glowworms? Or visit film locations from The Lord of the Rings? Or see rare penguins in a coastal city? Or meet an animal that has been around since before the dinosaurs? Or visit volcanoes covered in snow? Or feel safe enough to venture out into the wilderness alone, without the threat of any dangerous animals?

New Zealand has everything to offer from jaw-dropping natural beauty, welcoming locals, exotic wildlife, and a handful of awesome cities.

With stunning scenery around every turn, it may feel impossible to narrow down where you want to go. 

I’m here to help! Using our experience from our 7-month adventure, an intense amount of research, and asking the opinions of every local I could find, I put together an epic list of the best 2-3 week New Zealand itineraries.

From North to South…
Walking down from St Paul's Rock Hike in Whangaroa, Northland within the North Island of New Zealand.


The Winterless North…

Destination: Northland Region, North Island

Vibe: Serenity

Drive the remote roads through a sea of rolling green hills to search for the hidden gems scattered across the landscape. With so few people, you may feel like the last person on Earth.

My Score: 8

What You Can See: Kauri Tree Forests Over 90 Miles of Beaches Sand Dune Sledding The Iconic View of the Lighthouse at the Northernmost Point of New Zealand Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the Birthplace of the Nation Limestone Caves Hikes with Spectacular Views Diverse Beaches • Maori Sacred Grounds Historical Towns and Sites A lot of Farmland & Sheep White Sand Lakes Central Auckland

The Journey: Around 3 Weeks

Road Trip: 16+ Hours of Driving | Over 1,100 Kilometers or 680 Miles

Route: Auckland West Coast Beaches Dargaville Kai Iwi Lakes Waipoua Kauri Forest  Hokianga Delta Kaikohe Ahipara 90 Mile Beach Cape Reinga Mangonui Whangaroa Matauri Bay Keri Keri Waitangi Treaty Grounds Paihia Russell KawaKawa Whangarei Waipu Langs Beach Mangawhai Heads Goat Island Omaha Beach Hibiscus Coast North Shore → Auckland

Options to Extend Your Trip: The Kari Kari Peninsula Rangihoua Heritage Park The Tutukaka Coast Waiheke Tiri Tiri Matangi Other Islands Near Auckland

Map of a travel itinerary around Northland, New Zealand
The Cape Reinga Lighthouse at the end of New Zealand.

Cape Reinga lighthouse is at the northernmost tip of New Zealand. This is a sacred place in Maori culture, where the souls of the dead leave to the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki.

The perfect view of the Whangarei Waterfall in Northland, North Island, New Zealand.

The beautiful grotto of Whangarei Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in New Zealand.

Female travel blogger looking out to green rolling hills covered with sheep in Northland, New Zealand.

A classic Northland landscape, where the sheep far outnumber the people. 

My husband Kevin looking up at the blue glow worms in a cave in Waipu, Whangarei in Northland, North Island.

Trying to capture the brilliance of the thousands of bright blue lights from the glow worms in Waipu Cave, but only half of them showed up in this photo I took of Kevin.

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The view of the Auckland skyline and the ocean with sailboats, from Mount Victoria in Devonport in New Zealand.

All About Auckland…

Destination: Auckland Region, North Island

Vibe: Islands, the City, & Forgotten Beaches.

Skip the road trip and use New Zealand’s biggest city as a base to explore its surrounding natural beauty and history. The soul of Auckland lies outside of the city amongst the many islands, beaches, and volcanoes.

My Score: 9

What You Can See: Downtown Auckland Volcanic Islands Native Bird Sanctuary The Many Districts of Auckland Craters Historic Buildings & Monuments Museums Viewpoints Diverse Beaches Gannet Colony Bush Walks Lighthouses Botanical Garden Hibiscus Coast Waterfalls

The Journey: 1 to 20 Days

The only itinerary on this list where you can base yourself in one place and sleep in the same bed for weeks at a time.

I’d recommend spending two weeks to see the Auckland Region’s top sites, but it’s completely up to you. There is more than enough to explore for a month but most people just breeze through the city center for a day without knowing how much beauty they missed.

Visit: Central Auckland, Tiritiri Matangi Island, Waiheke Island, Rangitoto Island, Motutapu Island, Northshore, Waitakere Beaches, Hibiscus Coast, South Auckland, Howick

Options to Extend Your Trip: Waitomo Hobbiton  Hamilton   Great Barrier Island • Kawau

Map of Auckland Region, New Zealand
A wild native Kakariki bird of New Zealand on Tiritiri Matangi Island, near Auckland.

The Kakariki bird is unique to New Zealand. You can find rare birds wherever you go in the country, but one of the best places to find them is at the wildlife sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi Island.

Suburbs of the Northshore in Auckland city from above in Mount Victoria New Zealand.

The view of one of Auckland’s many beautiful beaches in the Northshore from the volcanic peak of North Head.

A view from our ship of Auckland city with a boat sailing in front, in the North Island of New Zealand.

With plenty of harbors along two coastlines, one on the Pacific Ocean and one on the Tasman Sea, it’s no wonder that Auckland is known as The City of Sails.

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Exploring the wonders of Waimangu Geothermal site near Rotorua in New Zealand's North Island.

Land of The Hot Springs

Destination: Waikato & Bay of Plenty Regions, North Island

Vibe: Volcanic Hot Spots.

Shockingly beautiful coastlines, lively cities, quaint townships, and beautiful yet deadly geothermal wonders. Find a cross-section of the incredible features that make New Zealand so unique on this journey.

My Score: 9.5

What You Can See: Dig Your Own Hot Pools Gold Mining Tunnels and Mines World Renowned Waterfalls Maori Cultural Shows Some of the Clearest Blue Springs in the World Rustic Public & Private Geothermal Hot Springs Spas Archaeological Sites Museums Hikes to Hidden Beaches Kauri Forests Redwood Forest Small Coastal Towns Hobbiton Arguably The Most Beautiful Public Gardens in the World Volcanic Craters Gondola & Luge Rides Hikes with Varying Degrees of Difficulty Epic River Gorge Central Auckland

Journey: 2 to 3 Weeks  

Road Trip: 12+ Hours of Driving | Over 916 Kilometers or 569 Miles

Route: Auckland Thames Coromandel Town New Chums Beach 309 Road Whitianga Whangamata Waihi Beach Karangahake Tauranga Mt. Maunganui Hamurana Springs Rotorua Waimangu Volcanic Valley Wai-o-Tapu Hobbiton Hamilton Auckland

Options to Extend Your Trip: Taupo The Northern Coromandel Kuaotunu Peninsula Raglan and Bridal Veil Falls Waitomo Caves Hunua Falls Day Trips to the Islands Near Auckland

Map of a travel itinerary around the Waikato in New Zealand
At the geothermal "Champagne Pool" in the North Island of New Zealand.

The volcanic activity beneath the surface creates a myriad of unique geothermic features in this part of New Zealand, like soaring geysers and steaming rivers. This enormous hot spring is Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu.

Female travel blogger soaks her feet in hot spring water at Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, New Zealand

Hot Water Beach has become one of Coromandel’s top attractions, where you can dig your own hot pool in the sand! Enjoy the hot spring, the cool waves and the beach party vibe every day at low tide.

At Mount Maunganui Summit with a beautiful view of Tauranga below, in the North Island of New Zealand.

View from the top of Mt. Maunganui, a volcanic peak rising up right out of the beach in Tauranga.

A photo of several hobbit homes in Hobbiton from the film location of Lord of the Rings, Matamata, New Zealand.

The beautiful, rolling green hills of the Waikato region perfectly match the idyllic land of the Shire from the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

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Wellington Cable Car

Wellington, the Capital City…

Destination: Wellington, then it’s up to you J

Vibe: The City Life.

This vibrant capital city exudes an energy of possibility with countless things to do whether you’re looking for art & culture or adventure & nature.

What You Can See in Wellington: Beaches Lord of The Rings Film Locations Movie Production Studio Wild Life Sanctuaries Museums Cable Car Bush Walks Great Coffee Historic Buildings & Monuments Lighthouses Botanical Gardens Choose what path you’ll take from Wellington

Routes to Venture Out from Wellington:

Score: 7  Wellington Napier Taupo Rotorua

Score: 7  Wellington Taupo Tongariro Forgotten Highway New Plymouth

Score: 8.5  Wellington Ferry to Picton Blenheim Nelson Abel Tasman Golden Bay Nelson or Blenheim

Things to Note: Though the city is well worth the visit, it is not in an ideal location to start a road trip. If you have your heart set on Wellington, hopefully one of my 3 routes listed above will help guide your journey.

Map of Wellington Region, New Zealand
A photo of cuba street in wellington on the north island of new zealand.

                Cuba Street, the heart of downtown Wellington.

Sitting under a massive troll outside of Weta Cave Studios in Wellington, New Zealand

Much of the movie magic for the Lord of the Rings films was created here at Weta Studios.

Looking down from a view point at Wellington city and the beach.

Wellington is built into hilly terrain encircling a harbor with plenty of beautiful beaches.

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Goodbye North Island… On to the South Island Itineraries!
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Blonde female travel blogger looking out to picton sound along queen charlotte drive in South Island, NZ

The Sunniest Part of New Zealand…

Destination: Tasman & Marlborough Regions, South Island

Vibe: Postcard Paradise.

There’s a sense of untouched beauty in the unbelievable golden coastlines and turquoise waters of this remote corner of New Zealand. Discover 2 wine regions, 3 national parks, and countless hidden gems.

My Score: 10

What You Will See: Most Popular National Park, Abel Tasman Diverse Beaches Largest Clear Blue Spring in The World Caves Natural Labyrinth Northern Most Point of The South Island Bird Sanctuary Two Wine Regions Remote Lakes Waterfall Beautiful Bush Walks and Hikes My Favorite Sound in New Zealand Museums Historic Sites Tiny Cities Public Gardens The Center Point of New Zealand Boat Trips

The Journey: Close to 3 Weeks

Road Trip: 13+ Hours of Driving | Over 772 Kilometers or 480 Miles

Route: Nelson Picton Blenheim Lake Rotoiti Lake Rotoroa Abel Tasman National Park Takaka Wainui Totaranui Pupu Springs Collingwood Farewell Spit Wharariki Beach Nelson

Options to Extend Your Trip: Abel Tasman Coastal Track Queen Charlotte Track Walks in Nelson Lakes National Park Heaphy Track Delve Deeper into the Marlborough Sounds

Map of a travel itinerary around the Northern part of South Island, New Zealand
Female travel blogger walks through heavy bush on the Wainui Waterfall Hike in the north of the South Island of New Zealand.

The jungly bush walk to Wainui Waterfall at the edge of Abel Tasman National Park in Golden Bay.

The beautiful Picton Sound in Queen Charlotte Sound in the Marlborough Sounds, with a hidden secret beach with kayaks at the bottom in South Island, New Zealand.

Just one of the hundreds if not thousands of secluded beaches and bays of the Marlborough Sounds.

Golden sand beaches and crystal clear waters in Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand.

Golden Bay was named after gold was discovered here in the 1800’s, but it may as well have been named after the golden sand.

Looking out onto Rotoiti Lake watching a sail boat and a duck pass by the mountains in Nelson Lakes National Park in the South Island of New Zealand.

Nelson Lakes National Park has 2 massive twin lakes, big enough to sail away on. 

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At the end of the hooker valley track admiring the glaciers and icebergs in South Island, New Zealand.

The Land of The Glaciers…

Destination: Canterbury & West Coast & Otago Regions, South Island

Vibe: Off the Beaten Track Adventure.

Explore the South Island from coast to coast. Find the heartbreak and inspiration in what remains of the city of Christchurch after a devastating earthquake. Then cross the rugged transalpine roads winding through open and bare mountain scenery to reach the untamable beauty of the wild West Coast.

My Score: 8.5

What You Can See: Christchurch Gondola Cathedrals Unique Street Art Wild Penguins A Little French Town Museums Arthur’s Pass National Park Waterfalls Unique Rock Formations Hooker Valley Track Glaciers Icebergs Westland Tai Poutini National Park Blue Pools Glow Worm Dell Up to 7 Beautifully Unique Lakes Incredible Hikes Adventure Sports Wineries Lord of The Rings Film Location Tiny Towns The Tallest Mountain in New Zealand Glaciers Within a Rainforest Botanical Garden The Most Famous Church in New Zealand

The Journey: 2 Weeks or More

Road Trip: 20+ Hours of Driving | Over 1,472 Kilometers or 915 Miles

Route: Christchurch Arthur’s Pass National Park Hokitika Franz Josef Glacier Lake Matheson Fox Glacier Haast Wanaka Twizel Lake Pukaki Mt. Cook Lake Tekapo Timaru Akaroa Christchurch

Options to Extend Your Trip: Punakaiki Pancakes Rocks Westport Karamea Heaphy Track Paparoa Track (opening 2019) Cromwell Arrowtown Queenstown Oamaru

Map of travel itinerary of Centerbury and West Coast of South Island, New Zealand
A view of the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand.

                The popular Hooker Valley Track brings you past two glaciers at the base of Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak.  

The stunning glacier of Franz Josef on the Wild West Coast of South Island, New Zealand

Take a hike through a rainforest to encounter this icy giant, the Franz Josef Glacier.

A tram rolls trhough the busy New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand as the restaurants, bars, and shops begin to fill with people.

New Regents street in downtown Christchurch with the historic tram rumbling through. The quaint buildings are a mirror image of one another.

A female travel blogger walking over a suspension bridge above the clear blue pools near Wanaka and Haast in New Zealand.

On a cloudless day the water at the Blue Pools is shockingly clear and vibrantly blue. Some of the clearest water in the world comes from the glaciers within New Zealand.

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Blonde Female Traveler walking through a vineyard in Otago wine region on the South Island with a waterfall in the background.

A Touch of Europe…

Destination: Otago & Southland, South Island

Vibe: Treat Yourself

Old-world charm and breathtaking natural scenery make this one of the most popular routes in New Zealand. Perfect for an easy & relaxing vacation with a healthy dose of adventure in the raw, natural beauty of the South Island’s majestic coastline and enchanting mountains.

My Score: 10

What You Will See: Cities with European Influence The World’s Southern Most Wine Region World Renowned Spas Ski Town That’s Beautiful Year Round Arguably the Most Beautiful Coastal Cruise in the World in Milford Sound Penguins New Zealand’s Only Castle Steepest Street In The World Up to 8 Beautifully Unique Lakes Lord of the Rings Sites Stunning Hikes Gondola & Luge Rides Museums Street Art Beaches Tons of Historic Sites Unique Gardens Adventure Activities Lake Cruises Lighthouses

The Journey: 2 to 3 Weeks

Road Trip: 16+ Hours of Driving | Over 1,257 Kilometers or 781 Miles

Route: Dunedin Roxburgh Alexandra Cromwell Gibbston Valley Queenstown Te Anau Milford Sound Queenstown Arrowtown Wanaka Omarama Oamaru Dunedin

Options to Extend Your Trip: Southern Scenic Route Mount Aspiring National ParkMount Cook Timaru Routeburn Track Milford Track Kepler Track 

Map of a travel itinerary around Otago and Southland in New Zealand
Wine Glass of Otago Pinot Noir, NZ, Aotearoa

Otago is one of New Zealand’s best wine regions, famous for its Pinot Noir.  You can often taste several wines for about $5 at any winery’s cellar door.

Walking up to the Dunedin train station at dusk, looking forward to seeing the beautiful interior in South Island, NZ.

Dunedin was New Zealand’s first city and its railway station is the most photographed building in the country.

Boat coasting along Milford Sound in South Island, New Zealand - stunning beauty.

Boats cruise through Milford Sound all day long, visiting the many waterfalls and peaks, and if you’re lucky like us, you’ll have a pod of dolphins following your boat!

Looking out to downtown Queenstown waterfront, with boats and snow-capped mountains in the background in South Island, New Zealand.

Queenstown’s charming lakefront promenade, the heart of the downtown, where you take off on a lake cruise.

Enjoying a beautiful day in Wanaka in Fall. at the Wanaka Tree

The famous Wanaka Tree in its autumn colors.

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Which path would you take? Let me know in the comments below.

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Hi, I’m Brit!

I'm from California, but I don't live anywhere. I've lived out of a suitcase for 5 years among exactly 50 countries, and I don't ever plan to stop. Come travel with me around the world at CaliGirlTravelsWorld.com.

Hi, I’m Brit!

I'm from California, but I don't live anywhere. I've lived out of a suitcase for 5 years among exactly 50 countries, and I don't ever plan to stop. Come travel with me around the world at CaliGirlTravelsWorld.com.


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