New Zealand Itineraries

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.

If you are planning your travel to New Zealand yourself, use these itineraries created by our travel writers as a starting point for inspiration.


Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

New Zealand Itinerary 1 - The Grand Tour

New Zealand may be small but it really packs in the sights, so allow at least 3 weeks to see it all.

1. Northland

Drive sweeping beaches, slide down vast sand dunes and visit the quaint harbours of the winterless north.

2. Rotorua

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.

3. Napier

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.

4. Wellington

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.

8. Queenstown

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.

9. Fiordland

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.

New Zealand Itinerary 2 - Natural New Zealand

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.

New Zealand Itinerary 3 - Adventure New Zealand

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.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 05.05.2021

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