Looking to spend two weeks in New Zealand? Hang onto your hat: You’re in for one wild ride…
New Zealand is truly one of the world’s truly must-visit destinations. With some of the most pristine & interesting natural scenes on the planet—from the deep fjords of Milford Sound on South Island to the geothermal pools of Rotorua on North Island—there’s just one problem: How can you pinpoint exactly what to do in New Zealand in two weeks with all the choice available to you?
Well, my friends, let’s get all your New Zealand road trip answers sorted out with this complete 2-week New Zealand itinerary for first-time visitors…
Where to go in New Zealand in 2 weeks
Let’s not sugar-coat it: Carving out just 2 weeks in New Zealand won’t be easy.
While the country may not take up much space on a world map, it’s filled with inordinate number of stunning places to visit, far greater than its small stature would predict.
In this two-week New Zealand road trip itinerary, we’ve aimed for breadth & diversity over depth.
We’ve included a sweeping array of destinations on both North Island and South Island along with quick ideas on what to do in each. It’s perhaps a little more ambitious than most of our other country itineraries, but, with all the amazing things you’re about to see, you’ll thank us later!
Undoubtedly, the most convenient way to tackle this trip to New Zealand is by rental car. (Or, if you really want to get adventurous why not travel around New Zealand in a campervan?)
Although public transportation in New Zealand is efficient and is a great way of getting around, to see the most you possibly can on a time-crunch, you’d be much better off having your own wheels to scoot around.
If you’ve got a little bit more time on your hands to visit New Zealand, you might want to consider spending two weeks on each island.
Let’s get your perfect New Zealand itinerary started…
As the largest city & cultural hub of New Zealand, spending time in Auckland is a must for any New Zealand trip plan. It’s one of the most liveable & likeable cities in the world, a fact you’ll immediately notice as you roam through the city streets.
While many NZ itineraries will recommend just one day in Auckland, we’d prefer at least two. It’ll give you an extra day to either take in the best things to see & do in Auckland at a more relaxed pace or to tackle one of the best day trips from Auckland.
What to do in Auckland
- Sky Tower: For the best panoramas of Auckland CBD, scoot up to the observation deck on this 328-metre-high tower. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, take your visit to the next level by walking along the observation deck’s glass-bottomed SkyWalk.
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki: Featuring over 15,000 works of art from both local & international artists, this popular art museum in Auckland is a must-visit even if you only have a passing interest in art.
- Viaduct Harbour: There’s no better place to unwind after a day of sightseeing than at the Auckland waterfront. The restaurant & bar selection at Viaduct Harbour is as fantastic as are the views onto the Auckland skyline.
- Waiheke Island: Adding an extra day to your Auckland visit allow you to tack on this unforgettable day trip, located just 40-minutes from the city centre by ferry. The island is famous for beaches and wineries. Beach-goers would do well to start with Oneroa Beach while oenophiles will love the offers of Mudbrick, one of the most popular wineries on Waiheke Island.
Where to stay in Auckland
For most travellers spending only a couple days in Auckland, the areas in & around Auckland CBD are the best place to start your accommodations search. The best places to stay in Auckland include:
- Best Nest Apartments in Viaduct: For ones the better budget choices in central Auckland check out these fully self-catering Viaduct Harbour studio apartments.
- CityLife Auckland: Located on buzzy Queen Street, this top-notch aparthotel offers a little of everything from doubles to 3-bedroom apartment. You’ll also find extras like a fitness centre, indoor pool, restaurant, and a bar here.
- Four Points by Sheraton Auckland: Offering modern rooms and a host of great amenities like an on-site restaurant and a terrace, this mid-range hotel is an excellent choice for travellers.
- Hotel Grand Windsor MGallery by Sofitel: One of the top luxury picks in Auckland, this awesome 5-star hotel blends early-20th century Art Deco decor& stately elegance with a fantastic central location.
If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you simply can’t miss breaking up the 3-hour trip between Auckland and Rotorua in Matamata.
It’s unlikely that the small farming town of Matamata would crack a spot in any New Zealand itinerary without its star attraction: Hobbiton, a reconstruction of the original film set from Lord of the Rings.
Even if you didn’t love the films, visiting Hobbiton is bound to be a fantastical experience you’ll never forget!
Tours of Hobbiton last about two hours. Since they’re super popular, it’s a good idea to book a Hobbiton Movie Set Guided Tour before you embark. Tours include a walk through The Shire, the Hobbit Holes, and a complimentary drink at the Green Dragon Inn.
Getting to Matamata
From Auckland, it’s about 2 hours by car to Matamata via Hwy 1 & Hwy 27.
From its mysterious forests to its natural hot springs & geothermal mud pools, Rotorua isn’t just one of the most interesting destinations in New Zealand but one of the world’s most distinctive travel destinations.
Whether you’re a nature lover or are just looking to add a dash of relaxation to your New Zealand, there’s a ton of interesting things to see & do in Rotorua
To get the most out of your visit to NZ’s geothermal wonderland, spend at least two days in Rotorua.
What to do in Rotorua
- Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland: Located just outside of the city, this thermal park is one interesting slice of nature. As you explore Rotorua’s most colourful geothermal area, you’ll see everything from the Lady Knox Geyser erupting 20 metres in the air every morning like clockwork to the bright hues of the bubbling Champagne Pool and Devil’s Bath.
- Redwoods Treewalk: Spanning across 27 century-old redwood trees over a series of 28 suspension bridges, this 700-metre-long wooden walkway offers a bird’s-eye perspective of the primordial forest. Visit at night for the extra mysterious and captivating Redwoods Nightlights experience.
- Tamaki Māori Village: The Rotorua area is a hub for Maori culture in New Zealand. See it action & learn more about Maori traditions at this Maori cultural village. You can even learn the haka dance, made famous by NZ’s world-renowned All Blacks rugby team.
- Waikite Valley Thermal Pools: If relaxation is order during your time in Rotorua, have a soak at the geothermal hot pools at this hot spring park. They’re fed by the Te Manaroa Spring, the source of the purest geothermal mineral water in New Zealand.
Where to stay in Rotorua
Thanks to the city’s compact size, figuring out where to stay in Rotorua isn’t too challenging. There’s a good selection of accommodations in the centre of town. Staying anywhere in this area will put you close to many of the top Rotorua attractions at your fingertips. Here are a few recommendations…
- Silver Fern Rotorua Accommodation & Spa: Relax in your own spa tub in one of these well-equipped apartment-style suites located in the heart of town.
- Quest Rotorua Central Apartment Hotel: Another great choice in central Rotorua featuring clean & spacious self-catering apartments just 1 kilometre from the shore of Lake Rotorua. Upgrade to an executive suite for your own private balcony and spa pool.
- Arista of Rotorua: A fantastic choice for families, most of the fully-serviced apartments here offer a hot tub and private patio for the ultimate in relaxation during your stay in Rotorua.
- Regal Palms Resort: If you want star treatment book yourself into one of the suites or apartments at this incredible urban resort. Amenities here include a BBQ area, heated outdoor pool, mini-gold course, and day spa.
Getting to Rotorua
Via Hwy 5, it’s a short 1 hour drive to Rotorua from Matamata. If you choose not to stop in Matamata en route, Rotorua is 228 kilometres from Auckland. The journey along Hwy 1 & Hwy 5 takes just under 3 hours.
Nestled on the northeastern shores of Lake Taupo about an hour south of Rotorua, Taupo is yet another additional to Kiwi towns with a penchant for natural beauty and adrenaline-pumping activities.
While two weeks in New Zealand won’t give you the leisure to explore all the top things to see & do in Taupo, the town offers a great place for a stretch during your ride to Wellington.
The highlight of any trip to Taupo is, undoubtedly, Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand.
As you crawl along its eastern shore on route to the next destination, there are plenty of opportunities to stop for some breathtaking views of the area.
On a clear day, you can even catch glimpses of the volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park in the distance.
Getting to Taupo
From Rotorua, it’s a short one-hour drive south on Hwy 1 to Taupo.
If you’re like many travellers, don’t be surprised when you instantly fall in love with Wellington, the pint-sized capital of New Zealand.
Wellington might well be the coolest world city you’ve never thought of visiting. Jam packed with hip restaurants & cafés, radical street art, museums, and a blissful natural setting, there an endless array of interesting things to see & do in Wellington.
Aim to spend at least 2 days in Wellington to take in the Kiwi capital at a more leisurely pace.
What to do in Wellington
- Te Papa Tongarewa: One of the best museums in New Zealand, this six-storey cultural institution showcases the cultural history of the country including a large collection of Maori art.
- Wellington Cable Car: Built in the late-19th century, this funicular climbs from Lambton Quay to the Kelburn. The upper terminus is located alongside the Wellington Botanic Gardens, a worthwhile destination in its own right.
- Cuba Street: A famous street in Wellington that’s as lively & spirited as the country whose name it sports. There’s a whole host of things to check out here including art galleries, the bucket fountain, restaurants & bars, and, on Fridays and Saturdays, the popular Wellington Street Market
- Weta Cave: Movie buffs will love visiting this studio that brought the NZ film industry to worldwide acclaim and gave Wellington the fitting nickname “Wellywood.”
Where to stay in Wellington
Although it’s the capital of New Zealand, choosing where to stay in Wellington is hardly difficult. For most travellers, the areas in & around the Wellington CBD and Wellington Harbour offer the most convenient base for exploring the city. Here are a few hotels to start your search…
- QT Wellington: This popular art hotel, located at the harbourfront, is a fantastic choice for travellers looking to add a dash of hip style to their stay in Wellington. There’s some great amenities here, too, including a fitness centre and an indoor swimming pool.
- Double Tree by Hilton Wellington: Located less than a half a kilometre from the waterfront, this stylish & modern mid-range pick is an excellent choice for both solo travellers & families visiting Wellington.
- Ohtel: Situated harbourside in Oriental Bay, this luxurious hotel fuses award-winning service with its chic boutique-style rooms.
- Softitel Wellington: One of the top luxury hotels in Wellington, this hotel features stylish contemporary rooms with incredible views over some of the city’s most luscious greenspaces.
Getting to Wellington
If you decide to stop in Taupo, it’ll be about 4 hours and 45 minutes via Hwy to get to Wellington. From Rotorua, add an extra hour to the journey.
The first city of substance on your road trip between North Island and South Island, Nelson is a great stop, not just to break up the long journey between Wellington and Franz Josef, but thanks to its handsome location on Tasman Bay, culinary scene, and penchant for the arts.
Nelson is most well-known as the gateway to the spellbinding Abel Tasman National Park and the vineyards of the Marlborough wine region.
Unfortunately, with just 2 weeks in New Zealand, you won’t have much extra time to explore the Nelson Tasman area.
Aim to spend at least one day in Nelson to recharge for the long travel day ahead.
If you’ve got time to spend an extra day or two in Nelson Tasman, go for it. You’ll love an opportunity to experience the wilderness of Abel Tasman National Park or do a quick wine tour in nearby Marlborough.
What to do in Nelson
- Nelson Market: If you’re in Nelson on a Saturday, you’ll find just about anything you’re craving at this popular market in Montgomery Square from fresh produce to artisan products.
- Miyazu Gardens: For a break from the city bustle, pop into this lovely Japanese garden to frolic among its ponds, bridges, cherry trees, and picture-perfect greenery including a 30-year-old bonsai tree.
- Tahunanui Beach Reserve: Located just a 10-minute drive from the centre of town, this beautiful beach is a famous escape for locals to get their water-sport fix. Even if you’re not interested in taking a dip in the sea (or if you’re visiting out of swimming season), Tanunanui is a great place to hang out to incredible sea views thanks to its wide array of restaurants, cafés, and bars.
Where to stay in Nelson
Thanks to its compact centre, figuring out where to stay in Nelson is a cinch. Narrow your accommodations search to the centre of town, starting with these few top hotels…
- Delorenzo Studio Apartments: Located just 250 metres from the city centre of Nelson, these self-catering studios & suites are the perfect choice for finding a home-away-from-home in Nelson.
- Palazzo Motor Lodge: For road-trippers, the self-catering suites & apartments at this popular motel, situated 350 metres from the CBD, are a fantastic option.
- Harbourside Lodge: Perched beside the Port Nelson Marina, these lodgings offer both studios & apartments. The higher-end suites feature private balconies with sea views.
- The Sails Nelson: Steps away from the harbour, this modern luxury accommodation features studios & suites floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies less than half a kilometre from the city centre.
Getting to Nelson
Although the distance between Wellington and Nelson is just 237 kilometres, nearly half of the journey will be spent on the almost 4-hour ferry ride to Picton, the South Island ferry terminus. From Picton, it’s approximately another 2 hours to Nelson for a total of approximately 6 hours of driving time.
From Nelson, it’s about a 6-hour drive along New Zealand’s stunning West Coast to the next stop on your NZ itinerary: Franz Josef.
This small town—oddly enough, named after an Austrian emperor—is famous for its namesake Franz Josef Glacier, located just 5 kilometres away.
Considering the long drive, spend at least two days in Franz Josef. It’ll allow you one full day to experience some of the top things to see & do in Franz Josef including a hike to the glacier itself.
What to do in Franz Josef
- Franz Josef Glacier: If you’ve made the trip all the way here, don’t skip out on checking out its main attraction. Although a regular hike will get within 750 metres from the glacier, you’ll need to book yourself a heli-hike or guided ice walk to get on the glacier itself.
- Tartare Tunnels: Located 45 minutes by foot from town, visit these tunnels to dazzle at the large population of glowworms shining on the ceilings and walls.
- Glacier Hot Pools: For the ultimate in relaxation (or when the weather’s amiss), go for a a soak at this popular spa. Splurge on a private pool for incredible views of the Franz Josef rainforest.
Where to stay in Franz Josef
Considering the town’s size, there’s a wide array of choices for where to stay in Franz Josef.
- Punga Grove: Set in a green oasis at the heart of the village, these delightful apartments charm with amenities from luxury spa baths & terraces to gas log fireplaces & in-floor heating.
- Aspen Court Franz Josef: Nestled in the rainforest, this popular motel offers guests spacious quiet contemporary rooms with kitchenettes. The Glacier Hot Pools are a one-minute walk away.
- Franz Josef Oasis: Located just 10 minutes by car from the glacier, this motel boasts spacious rooms and impressive views of Westland National Park.
Getting to Franz Josef
From Nelson, the drive to Franz Josef, along beautiful Hwy 6, is just shy six hours. Along the way, you may want to stop for a break to check out some of the top tourist attractions in Greymouth, one of the coolest towns along NZ’s West Coast.
If you’re looking to break up the drive between Franz Josef and Queenstown, consider stopping in Wanaka. Located on the southern tip of Lake Wanaka, the lakeside town is a must-visit New Zealand South Island destination.
Although you won’t have much time in outdoor-adventure-obsessed Wanaka, you’ll appreciate spending a hour or two stretching your legs and getting in a little sightseeing and a bite to eat at one of Wanaka’s tasty local restaurants.
Among the the top things to see & do in Wanaka are the Roy’s Peak hiking trail and That Wanaka Tree, a tree growing out of Lake Wanaka that’s one of the most Instagrammed sights on South Island.
Getting to Wanaka
By car, Wanaka is about 3 hours and 45 minutes from Franz Josef via ultra-scenic Hwy 6.
Situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is royalty in New Zealand South Island travel plans.
With just shy of 16,000 people, the town punches well above its weight in what it offers for visitors. Its enviable geographic location—surrounded by crystalline lakes, rivers, and mountains in every direction—leaves Queenstown with a justifiable reputation as an outdoor activity powerhouse.
Spend at least 3 days in Queenstown. There are a ton of amazing things to see & do in Queenstown along with plenty of great day-tripping opportunities a little further afoot from town.
What to do in Queenstown
- Lake Wakapitu: Even if you’ve only got one day in Queenstown, be sure to spend much of it in awe of its famous lakeside. The snaking Lake Wakapitu is a favourite recreation spot for tourists & locals alike, featuring plenty to do on- and off-shore including hiking & cycling trails.
- Ben Lomond Track: For visitors with limited time in Queenstown, this hike is one of the most-accessible in the area. It starts at the upper Skyline Gondola station, climbing about a kilometre up to the summit of the 1,748-metre-high Ben Lomond. As you’d imagine, the views from the top are nothing short of epic.
- Queenstown Hill Walk: Ascending 500 metres to the summit of Te Tapu-nui, this 3-hour-return walk will treat you to breathtaking views over the town, the lake, and The Remarkables mountain range.
- Shotover Jet Boat Ride: Getting your adrenaline pumping while visiting Queenstown doesn’t have to involve strapping yourself to a bungy cord. Carve out some time for this speedy boat ride, propelling you through the Shotover River Canyons at breakneck speed.
Where to stay in Queenstown
Since it’s one of the most popular New Zealand travel destinations, the most difficult part of nailing down where to stay in Queenstown is availability & the sometimes ski-high accommodations prices, especially in the downtown area. Here are a few places to start your search…
- Copthorne Hotel & Resort Lakefront: Located near centre of town, this 4-star resort overlooks Lake Wakapitu and The Remarkables mountain range. You’ll love the chance to chill out to lake & mountain views with an evening nightcap at the on-site Impressions Cocktail Bar & Impressions Restaurant.
- Queenstown House Boutique Bed & Breakfast and Apartments: Offering cozy & homy accommodations, this B&B delights with modern rooms & suites with extras like a in-room continental breakfast, books, movies, and board games available to guests.
- Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa: A dash of European sophistication in NZ’s adventure capital, this luxury hotel throws together elegant rooms with a fantastic host of amenities including the hip 1789 Wine & Jazz Lounge, Left Bank Café, and the relaxing So Spa.
- Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel: Surrounded by greenery and mountain views, this charming luxury boutique hotel offers the perfect urban escape, just five minutes from the centre of town.
Getting to Queenstown
From Wanaka, it’s just over an hour to Queenstown by car. If you decide not to stop along the route from Franz Josef, the drive is about 4 hours and 45 minutes.
Milford Sound (Piopiotahi)
Experiencing Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) will truly be one of the highlights of your trip to New Zealand.
This stunning (quasi) fjord, flashing views of the 1,620-metre-height Mitre Peak (Rahotu), is one of NZ South Island’s finest slices of nature and numbers among the world’s most iconic natural destinations.
Milford Sound is best experienced on the multi-day Milford Track hike. Starting at Lake Te Anau, this New Zealand Great Walk roams through Fiordland National Park ending at Milford Sound itself.
If you’re tight for time, Milford Sound also one of the best day trips from Queenstown. You’ll need to get crafty with your plans though—and loosen up your travel budget a bit.
The easiest way to fit it all in is on an organized tour from Queenstown.
Aoraki/Mount Cook Village
As the highest mountain in New Zealand, getting a glimpse of Aoraki/Mount Cook is a must if you find yourself roaming about South Island.
While you won’t get to experience the breath of its majesty on such a time-crunch, spend at least one day in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village. It’s a great place to split the Queenstown to Christchurch drive and dazzle at some of the finest alpine scenery in New Zealand.
What to do in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village
- Hooker Valley Track: With limited time in the area, this short & easy day hike is one of the best ways to get your Aoraki scenery fix. The 5-kilometre track treks from the trailhead about 2.5 kilometres north of the village (10-minute drive) to the spectacular Hooker Lake nestled within the Southern Alps.
Where to stay in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village
Despite its stature in New Zealand’s geography (and among travellers), there’s a surprisingly limited choice of accommodations in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village. Some options to get your search started include…
- YHA Mount Cook: The top choice in the area for travellers on a budget, this guesthouse & hostel features both private rooms and dorms with shared facilities.
- Mount Cook Alpine Lodge: As the name implies, these lovely accommodations have a real alpine feel to them. The Hooker Valley Track is just 10-minutes from here by foot, making these lodgings a fantastic choice for this time-crunched itinerary.
- Aoraki Court Motel: Located in the national park, the units at this popular motel charm guests with incredible views of the surrounding mountains. The village is a short 3-minute walk away.
Getting to Aoraki/Mount Cook Village
From Queenstown, it’s about a 3-hour drive to Mount Cook Village on Hwy 8 and Hwy 80 along the shores of beautiful Lake Pukaki. On the drive, you’ll also pass by the gorgeous Kawarau Gorge.
The second-largest city in New Zealand and the biggest on South Island, Christchurch is as good a bookend to an epic journey as any.
While not as popular a travel destination as other cities & towns in New Zealand, there’s a handful of interesting things to see & do in Christchurch and in the Canterbury region around it.
Aim to spend at least one day in Christchurch to end off your itinerary.
What to do in Christchurch
- Christchurch Botanic Gardens: Founded in 1863 in celebration of Prince Albert’s wedding day, this lovely 21-hectare park blooms with a wide array of gardens and several conservatories with loads of native New Zealand flora species.
- Canterbury Museum[/make: In existence since 1867, this museum offers the world’s largest collection of artefacts from Antartica.
- Christchurch Art Gallery: Refurbished after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, this art gallery is home to a large collection of artwork. The rotating exhibitions span both New Zealand and international artists.
- Port Hills: Rolling between Christchurch and Lyttelton, these hills are chock-loaded with hiking & biking path and nature reserves that make for the perfect escape from the city.
Where to stay in Christchurch
Although its the second-largest city in New Zealand, you shouldn’t have much difficulty figuring out where to stay in Christchurch. For most travellers, the areas in & around the downtown the best base for exploring the city. Here a few places to stay to start your search…
- Focus Motel: For a budget stay in Christchurch, there’s hardly a better option than this tidy city centre option.
- White Suites Inner City Luxury Apartments: Bright & spacious, the units at this property are fully self-catering and include a kitchenette and laundry facilities.
- Sudima Christchurch: This brand-new 5-star boutique hotel is the top luxury accommodation pick in Christchurch. Besides the delightful modern rooms, the hotel has a luxurious day spa for your relaxation pleasure.
Getting to Christchurch
From Mount Cook to Christchurch, it’s an approximately 4-hour drive via Hwy 8 and Hwy 1.
Along the way, break up the journey with a stop at beautiful Lake Tekapo and its famous lakeside Church of the Good Shepherd, a Heritage New Zealand site.