New Zealand, the land of the long white cloud and commonly known as Aotearoa. Let’s get things straight, you will never, ever be short of something to do in this magical faraway land. Expect road trips, adventurous vibes and plenty of activities to fill your days. I’m talking about throwing yourself from planes, bungy jumping from bridges and hiking epic mountains. Get your Frodo & Sam-Wise on in Middle Earth filming locations or bubble away in a geothermal hot pool. This New Zealand itinerary will keep your excitement levels high until your feet touch down.
The good news for any backpacker planning a trip to NZ is that it is a relatively straight-forward country to navigate. With loads of bus tours, airports in most towns and a competitive rental car market, New Zealand has got you covered. I’ve compiled the ultimate New Zealand travel itinerary for you, so read on and get your bags packed, we’re going on an adventure!
Jump straight to:
- Where to start a 2 week New Zealand itinerary
- How much money do you need for 2 weeks in New Zealand?
- What to pack for 2 weeks in New Zealand
- What’s the best way of travelling around New Zealand
- New Zealand itinerary: 2 weeks
- Days 1-2: Auckland
- Day 3: Rotorua
- Days 3-5: Taupo
- Days 5-7: Wellington
- Days 8-9: Christchurch
- Days 10-11: Mount Cook
- Days 12-14: Queenstown and Milford Sound
- New Zealand itinerary: 3 weeks
Where to start a two-week New Zealand itinerary
You have three options here. New Zealand has three major airports: Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington, with Auckland being the most popular. The cheapest international flights land in these and all are great locations to start your two-week New Zealand adventure.
How much money do you need for two weeks in New Zealand?
$200 NZD a day would be perfect for the basics, but be sure to save a little extra for those epic activities. The average price for a night in a dorm room is around NZD $30 (£15), daily food budget is around $50 (£25) and you should allow at least $100 (£50) per day for a rental car and petrol – join forces with your hostel mates to save money.
What to pack for two weeks in New Zealand
Pack for all weather. Even in the height of summer, you may experience all four seasons in one day. Comfortable walking shoes or boots, a rain jacket, and warm layers are important in New Zealand.
What’s the best way of travelling around New Zealand?
A rental car will give you the most flexibility, meaning you can stop off whenever you like and travel at your own pace. The Kiwi Experience and Stray NZ bus tours are popular if you’re travelling alone and want to meet an awesome crew. You can sometimes grab an internal flight deal and travel via the Intercity Bus too, but the setback is that your timetable will decide how much time you can spend in each location.
New Zealand itinerary: 2 weeks
Days 1-2: Auckland
The country’s most popular international airport is Auckland, making the city the perfect place to start your New Zealand North Island itinerary. With SO many things to do here from hipster cafes, mini golf pubs and boujie wineries on an island, you’ll need to start early to pack it in. Check out the viaduct area for some ultra-modern container style eateries, walk the Auckland harbour bridge and visit the top of the Sky Tower for 360 panoramic views of the city below.
If you’ve already picked up your rental car then head out to the West Coast, or hop on a bus from the city centre. Piha Beach and the Waitakere ranges are excellent escapes from the urban jungle. Jump on a ferry right from Auckland’s CBD to Waiheke island if sipping on wine, surrounded by the ocean overlooking one of New Zealand’s biggest cities is your thing. Or, take the ferry in the opposite direction and hike volcanic Rangitoto island.
Getting there: Auckland airport to the city is a 40-minute drive
Best time to visit: Between Jan – March, as these are the hottest, driest months
Best for: City vibes and urban exploring
Where to stay in Auckland:
- TMACS Backpackers for Instagrammable interiors and backpacker luxury
- The Attic Backpackers for a central location and a social atmosphere
- Waiheke Backpackers Hostel for a city escape and beach BBQs
The Attic Backpackers
Day 3: Rotorua
Rotorua is the cultural heart of New Zealand, a town set on the beautiful lake of the same name. It’s surrounded by geothermal pools, and you can walk among bubbling springs and mud pools while you watch the spouting geysers. If you’re in a ‘treat yourself’ kinda mood, then a Rotorua mud spa wouldn’t go amiss.
No visit to Rotorua would be complete without experiencing the Maori cultural evening at Tamaki Maori Village. Here you’ll learn all about the Maori culture and people. You’ll get to experience a real-life Haka dance ceremony followed by a traditional Hangi feast. Trust me, this is worth it.
Getting there: Drive time from Auckland city is around 3 hours. Buses run from Auckland Central bus terminal
Best time to visit: Any time of the year, cultural experiences run year-round
Best for: Immersing yourself in Maori culture
Where to stay in Rotorua:
- Funky Green Voyager for a sustainable stay
- Rotorua Downtown Backpackers for movie nights, garden BBQs and family dinners
Days 3-5: Taupo
Taupo is the epic home of the largest lake in New Zealand. The lakeside town is quaint but full of character and opportunities for adventure. If you’re after an adrenaline rush then you’ll be glad to know Taupo is the perfect place throw yourself out of a plane, strapped to a beautiful stranger of course. If hiking is your main jam then strap up your boots, because the Tongariro Crossing is an incredible day hike and one of New Zealand’s most famous great walks. This full-day hike takes determination but offers the highest rewards. Big Lord of the Rings fan? You’ll be hiking into the heart of Middle Earth, as the powerful Mount Ngauruhoe features as Mount Doom in the films.
Getting there: Just over an hour’s drive or bus ride from Rotorua
Best time to visit: Summer (December-February) for perfect hiking weather
Best for: Epic views from the sky and the mountains
Where to stay in Taupo:
- Haka Lodge Taupo for lake views and outdoor activities
- Taupo Urban Retreat for social vibes and nearby nightlife
Days 5-7: Wellington
Wellington is full to the brim of things to do, experience, see and eat. The café culture is tip top and you could quite easily fill half a day wandering the markets and urban hangouts downtown looking for your next feed or caffeine fix. The Botanist is your go-to spot for veggie and vegan brunching, while hipster heaven LBQ is a must-visit for craft beer geeks.
A couple of days here is enough to squeeze in the following. Take a ride on the Wellington cable car for views across the city, or hike up Mount Victoria for equally epic vistas. For some indoor fun, the Te Papa Museum is world-renowned and holds some must-see artefacts relating to the vast, fascinating history of New Zealand. And for all your die-hard Hobbit fans, the Weta Workshops is the place to go for some serious LOTR vibes. They created the special effects for the films, as well as heaps of other sci-fi classics!
Getting there: Daily buses from Taupo take around 6 hours, or you can drive it in 5.
Best time to visit: Anytime, but hang on to your hat, she’s a windy city
Best for: Chilled urban vibes
Where to stay in Wellington:
- The Marion for beers and views from the rooftop terrace
- Base Wellington for a party hostel with bar crawls, beer pong and karaoke nights
Days 8-9: Christchurch
Drive times in New Zealand can sometimes add days to your itinerary, so take a short flight to Christchurch. Jetstar New Zealand and Air New Zealand are your go-to airline providers here, and both have awesome last-minute deals. Time to start your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
Christchurch is a city very much on the mend after the 2011 earthquake, with pop up businesses and cafes all over the city. Little High is a marketplace eatery where you can sample different cuisines, making for an awesome hangout spot for you and your hostel friends. C1 Espresso is THE café to visit – bold menu, impeccable coffee and a futuristic tube system that delivers your food from the kitchen to your table. You have to see it for yourself! The Christchurch Botanical Gardens are worth a stroll around – you can even hire a rowboat and punt down the river. If you’re keen for a sunset mission then drive up to Godley Heads for those enviable Instagram shots. Don’t miss exploring the rebuilds around the city that are covered in awesome street art!
Getting there: Fly from Wellington
Best time to visit: April -March for cooler temps
Best for: Café hopping
Where to stay in Christchurch:
- Jailhouse Accommodation Christchurch for a quirky stay in an old jail!
- JUCY Snooze Christchurch for funky pod beds and modern facilities
Days 10-11: Mount Cook
The drive from Christchurch through to Mount Cook is an excellent adventure. Lake Tekapo is worth a stop off, especially to witness that alpine blue up close. You can stargaze at the Mount John Observatory, or soak off in the Tekapo hot springs for a lazy afternoon in a mountain paradise.
Some of New Zealand’s best-loved hiking trails are in Mount Cook National Park. The Hooker Valley is the most popular day hike and should take around 3 hours – you’re going to want to clear your memory cards for those iconic boardwalk and swing bridge ‘Gram shots. Don’t miss the Tasman Glacier, one of nature’s finest. Call into the Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre to discover the history of the region, or simply grab a cup of tea and soak in those mountain views. If you have time and budget spare, then a scenic flight with the crew from Mount Cook Ski Planes is an insane bucket list tick.
Getting there: The route from Christchurch to Mount Cook is around 5 hours by bus, or drive yourself if you want to make stop offs to enjoy the scenery
Best time to visit: February for summer hiking
Best for: Unbeatable NZ nature
Where to stay in Mount Cook:
- YHA Mt. Cook for an alpine lodge with incredible surroundings.
Days 12-14: Queenstown and Milford Sound
The last leg of your New Zealand itinerary includes more epic drives and a destination high on everyone’s list – Queenstown, the home of adventure and the adrenaline capital of the world. Bungy jumping, white water rafting and jet boating are just a few activities to get your heart racing here. Visiting in winter? You’re in luck, with four epic ski fields all within driving distance of Queenstown CBD. There’s piste, off-piste and plenty of backcountry pow to explore. The best day hikes from Queenstown include Ben Lomond and Queenstown Hill.
You should also dabble in a few of Queenstown’s best-loved eateries and bars. For buzzing backpacker vibes, head straight to The World Bar for their famous cocktail teapots, brunch at the ever-popular hangout Yonder and do NOT leave Queenstown without getting your hands on a Ferg Burger, I promise the queue is worth it.
A day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown is another unmissable moment. Jump on a coach to New Zealand’s most dramatic natural attraction, a fjord surrounded by mountain peaks, waterfalls and unique wildlife. The drive there is the ultimate road trip, and you might spot a cheeky kea bird, New Zealand’s native alpine parrot. Cruise under the iconic Mitre Peak and receive a glacial shower under the mighty Stirling Falls.
Queenstown’s nightlife is pumping – I highly recommend getting a waterfront seat on Perky’s Floating Bar to see out your New Zealand itinerary.
Depart Queenstown from the international airport and be sure to get a window seat to conclude your two week New Zealand itinerary. You’re going to want to exit in style with an everlasting memory of those mountains
Getting there: Drive time from Mount Cook to Queenstown is four hours, daily buses are available. Visit the iconic Milford Sound on a day trip
Best time to visit: All year – Queenstown does not sleep
Best for: Adrenaline junkies
Where to stay in Queenstown:
- Adventure Q2 Hostel for adrenaline-fuelled tours and free Go-Pro rental!
- Nomads Queenstown for chilled vibes, lake and mountain views and an on-site sauna
New Zealand itinerary 3 weeks
Got an extra week in Aoteroa? Then the West Coast is your next destination. From Queenstown you can be in true glacier country, Franz Josef, in less than six hours.
Helicopter flights are popular here and the Franz Josef hot pools are well worth a visit. Carry on up the coast and you’ll find yourself at the famous pancake rocks, where you can indulge in a plate of pancakes with a view.
Your final West Coast destination is the tropical paradise of Abel Tasman National Park, perfect for kayaking, hiking and home to two of New Zealand’s great walks. Think pristine white beaches, tropical-looking water and an abundance of wildlife. After three weeks travelling around New Zealand, this would be the most epic destination to complete your New Zealand 3 week itinerary.
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