The following itineraries pick out New Zealand’s best, from a quick overview combining beaches, Maori culture, cool cities and majestic scenery, to something more specific – either the strange birdlife, soaking in hot pools and stargazing, or going for the giant adventure playground experience. Complete one list or mix and match to gain a wonderful insight into Aotearoa’s stunning diversity.
New Zealand may be small but it really packs in the sights, so allow at least 3 weeks to see it all.
Drive sweeping beaches, slide down vast sand dunes and visit the quaint harbours of the winterless north.
Don’t let the bad-egg smell put you off this geothermal wonderland of geysers and boiling mud pools where haka, dance and an earth-steamed hangi dinner showcase Maori culture.
The small-scale Art Deco architecture provides the backdrop to Hawke’s Bay’s fine food and some of New Zealand’s best red wines.
The capital is New Zealand’s most beguiling city, with a walkable heart of museums, cafés and lively bars elegantly strung around a picturesque harbour.
5 Nelson and Golden Bay
Golden beaches, hippy markets and the coastal pleasures of the Abel Tasman National Park make this the most blissed-out corner of the country.
6 The West Coast
Native bush and precipitous glacier plunge steeply to the crashing surf along this wild and fabulously scenic coast.
7 Aoraki/Mount Cook
New Zealand’s highest peak stands as snowy sentinel over the impossibly blue lakes and golden grasses of the Mackenzie Country.
Don’t miss the fabulous mountain scenery, incredible concentration of adventure activities, great hikes and some of the South Island’s best restaurants and bars.
Cruise, kayak or even dive the waters of Milford and Doubtful Sounds in between multi-day tramps along the Kepler Track or the exalted Milford Track.
Geysers, fiords, alpine parrots, cute penguins, whales and several species of dolphin supplement New Zealand’s clear skies and stunning scenery.
1 Kiwi spotting in the kauri forest
Move quietly among the kauri forest night as kiwi call plaintively and maybe – just maybe – show themselves.
2 Hot Water Beach
Dig a hole in the beach and ease into a shallow pool of hot water occasionally cooled by the surf.
3 Birds on Kapiti Island
Explore this island sanctuary full of intriguing birds – bush parrots, parakeets, fantails, little spotted kiwis and even a few of the 250 takahe left in the world.
4 Swimming with seals
Give the dolphins a break: seals are often more playful, particularly in the clear waters of Abel Tasman National Park.
5 Night sky viewing
The wonderful stargazing is helping Tekapo get itself declared as the country’s first Starlight Reserve.
6 Otago Peninsula wildlife
Dunedin’s doorstep harbours a fabulous concentration of wildlife with two species of penguin, seals and an accessible colony of albatrosses.
7 Stewart Island
After being welcomed by flocks of parrots, visit saddlebacks, red-crowned parakeets and bellbirds on Ulva Island then spot kiwi at Mason Bay.
Nowhere in the world has as many adrenaline-fuelled and low-key adventures as New Zealand.
1 Raft the Kaituna
Short and sweet, the Kaituna packs in a gorgeous verdant gorge, plunging rapids and a massive 7m waterfall.
2 Lost World caving
The ground below Waitomo is riddled with limestone caverns, best explored by a massive abseil followed by several hours of squeezes, scrambles and floating.
3 Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Take on New Zealand’s finest one-day tramp across the barren volcanic wastes of the Tongariro National Park.
4 Kayaking Abel Tasman National Park
Opt for an overnight paddle on the sheltered, warm waters then camp beside a golden beach.
5 Glacier hike Franz Josef
Get choppered up onto the glacier and left for a couple of hours of guided hiking across snowfields and through ice caves.
6 Canyon the Niger Stream
Jump into deep pools and abseil down waterfalls in Wanaka’s beautiful canyons.
7 Bungy the Nevis
Go for the big one, a 134m monster from a gondola eight freefall seconds above a tiny stream.
8 Bike the Wakatipu Basin
Easy lakeside jaunts, great cross-country rides, and the country’s only cable-car-assisted downhill mountain bike tracks make Queenstown the perfect biking destination.
Travel offers; book through Rough Guides
Planning your trip to New Zealand
Everything you need to plan where to go and what to do.
New Zealand features
The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.
24 breaks for bookworms
1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …
Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone
Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding ways to explore the world. Whether you'd rather spend it on a desert island or in a frenetic new city, here are th…
How to find the right New Zealand for you
While it may not loom large on the world map, New Zealand feels incredibly vast and imposing on the ground, especially to those who try to visit the North and S…