Destination Guide #9: 16-Day Itinerary for New Zealand North and South Islands

Kia Ora! Admittedly, this post came a tad late after my previous post on 10 things to do in New Zealand! However, I guess it’s better late than never.

If you are intending to visit New Zealand, do allocate at least 2 weeks to cover both North and South Islands. In fact, I would suggest at least 10 days for South Islands if you are a nature lover and can’t wait to check out the major sights in the South!

“Lovers’ Lookout” at Queenstown

Day 1 & 2: Auckland

  • Auckland Sky Tower
  • Auckland Central Area – Queen Street, Britomart, Vulcan Lane
  • Newmarket
  • Omaha Beach area

Our trip started at Auckland and we decided to move from North to South. We allocated about a day and a half to rest and catch up with friends. If you are running short of time for your road trip, do allocate less time in this city.

For brunch and dinner, as well as shopping, you could check out the City Centre and Newmarket areas. While you are in the city centre, you could also visit the Auckland Sky Tower for a view of the city’s skyline.

Day 3: Auckland to Tauranga (2hr 50 mins drive)

  • Karangahake Gorge (Old Mining Town)
  • Hiking Mount Maunganui
  • Admire Tauranga’s street art
Mount Maunganui Summit Viewpoint

Tauranga is a 2hr 50min drive from Auckland via SH2. Along the drive, you could stop by Karangahake Gorge (about 1.5 hr drive from Auckland) and do a short walk around this old mining town.

Mount Maunganui at Tauranga is an easy hike and a regular jogging route for locals. Enjoy the view of sheep grazing the green pastures and the shoreline at the summit.

Day 4: Tauranga to Rotorua (1 hr drive)

  • Okere Falls
  • Rainbow Springs/ The National Kiwi Hatchery (Can skip this)
  • Whakarewarewa Forest (Redwood Forest)
  • Lake Rotorua
  • Kuirau Park
  • Hannahs Bay Jetty for sunset
  • Rotorua Night Market
Sunset at Hannahs Bay Jetty

There are many attractions at Rotorua, and we definitely would recommend a walk inside Whakarewarewa Forest (Redwood Forest) and also a drive to Hannahs Bay Jetty for a beautiful and tranquil sunset. We skipped the Maori geothermal attractions and opted to visit free geothermal parks such as Kuirau Park instead.

Day 5: Rotorua to Taupo (1 hr drive)

  • Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi (Blue and Green Lake)
  • Waiotapu Mud Pool
  • Lake Taupo
  • Huka Falls
  • MacDonalds at Taupo – World’s Coolest MacDonalds
  • Craters of the Moon (Can skip this)
Lake Rotokakahi
Lake Rotokakahi

We enjoyed our hike at Lake Rotokakahi immensely and by chance discovered the free Waiotapu Mud Pool that was just a short drive away. Do not forget to visit the MacDonalds at Taupo, which is inside an airplane and was regarded as the “World’s Coolest MacDonalds”.

Fancy having your Fillet O’Fish Meal in an airplane!

Day 6: Taupo to Napier (2 hr drive)

  • Waipunga Falls
  • Stroll around the Art Deco town of Napier
  • Bluff Hill Lookout
  • Visit a vineyard at Hawke’s Bay for dinner
The Daily Telegraph Building at Napier

Napier was a good break from all the geological and natural sites. We had a nice stroll around the Art Deco town. You could also drive to Hawke’s Bay to visit a vineyard (or two).

Day 7: Flight from Napier to Christchurch (1hr 40min flight)

  • Take a walk around Christchurch Central district :
    • Riverside Market
    • Christchurch Cathedral
    • 185 White Chairs
    • Earthquake Memorial by Avon River
    • Cardboard Cathedral
185 White Chairs Memorial
185 White Chairs – Earthquake Memorial at Christchurch

It was a relaxing day at Christchurch as most of the sites were at The Central district. The city is still reeling from the destruction from the earthquake in 2011. Many buildings in the CBD are newly constructed, or some are abandoned and designated for rebuilding.

Day 8: Christchurch to Franz Josef Glacier (5hr drive)

  • Castle Hill
  • Arthur’s Pass
  • Hokitika – Lunch at The Hokitika Sandwich Company
  • Lake Wahapo
  • Lake Mapourika
  • Arrive at Franz Josef Glacier in the evening
The Hokitika Sandwich Company
The Hokitika Sandwich Company

The drive to Franz Josef Glacier is 5 hours and could be gruelling for some. You could break this road trip into 2 days and have stop near Hokitika for the night. We were lucky to be able to grab a sandwich during lunchtime at The Hokitika Sandwich Company, which is crowned as the country’s best “toasties” in a nationwide competition. Sandwiches were almost all sold-out by mid-day.

We would recommend spending 2 nights at Franz Josef Glacier if you intend to take a Heli hike, as the hike could be canceled at short notice due to weather.

Day 9: Franz Josef Glacier

  • Heli Hike
  • Franz Josef Glacier walk (to the foot of the Glacier)
Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier

The Heli hike at Franz Josef Glacier was one of the highlights of our trip and we highly recommend you to include this in your itinerary when in South Island.

Day 10: Franz Josef Glacier to Wanaka (3hr 50min drive)

  • Drive at Haast Pass and stop around scenic view points along Mount Aspiring National Park
    • Knights Point Lookout
    • Haast Pass – Makarora Road: Haast Pass Viewpoint
    • Boundary Creek – good view of Lake Wanaka
    • Lake Hawea Lookout
    • The Neck
  • Lake Wanaka
  • That Wanaka Tree
  • Wanaka Lavender Farm
Lake Wanaka

The drive to Wanaka was very scenic, crowded with several lookout points. Do take it slow and budget about half a day for the drive, including stops. I would highly recommend making a stop at Boundary Creek Picnic and Camping Area” which offered a peaceful and quiet view point of Lake Wanaka.

Day 11: Wanaka to Queenstown (1hr drive)

  • Drive via Cardrona Valley Road
    • Bradrona
    • Crown Range Road Scenic Lookout
    • Arrow Junction Lookout Point
  • Arrow Town
  • 17 Vancouver Drive – Queenstown Lookout Point
“Bradrona” – The Cardrona Bra Fence

The drive to Queenstown was quite leisurely, and we were greeted by the tongue-in-cheek Bradrona, an initiative to contribute to the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation.

Arrow Town was a good lunch stop and a quaint old mining town for lunch break and leisurely walk before heading to Queenstown. When in Queenstown, take a drive to 17 Vancouver Drive (Lover’s Lookout) for an amazing view of Queenstown. Kindly note that this is a private residential area which offers a panoramic view.

Day 12 & 13 : Queenstown

  • Lake Hayes
  • Kelvin Heights
  • Ben Lomond hike
  • Scenic drive to Glenorchy and Paradise
    • Closeburn Beach Lookout
    • Bennets Bluff Lookout
    • Lake Face Creek
    • Glenorchy Wharf
    • Paradise
  • Glamping at Moke Lake
Moke Lake Glamping
Moke Lake

We allocated three nights in Queenstown, including a night of clamping at Moke Lake. There are plenty of sites to visit and a few hiking trails to attempt if you have time. We attempted the Ben Lomond hike which took more than 3 hours and spent the following day with minimal walking – a leisurely drive to Glenorchy and Paradise.

Ben Lomond Hiking Trail
Ben Lomond Hiking Trail

Day 14: Queenstown to Lake Tekapo (3hr drive)

  • Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge
  • Lindis Pass Summit Lookout
  • Lake Pukaki
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Church of Good Shepherd
Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo are must-visit with their magnificent turquoise water. However, I would not recommend spending more than 1 night at Lake Tekapo as there are limited attractions in the area. You could consider factoring some time to the neighbouring Mount Cook National Park instead.

Day 15: Lake Tekapo

Alpacas in New Zealand
Visit an alpaca farm in New Zealand

We allocated the next day at Lake Tekapo on an enjoyable alpaca farm visit at Gem Alpaca Stud. We also stumbled upon a wild sheep and alpaca farm at Lake Tekapo area around 19 Darchiac Drive. There were a number of Merino sheep and a few alpacas at this farm.

Day 16: Lake Tekapo to Christchurch (3hr drive)

  • Drive via Burkes Pass
  • Geraldine
  • Raika Gorge
  • Riccarton Sunday Market
  • Walk around Christchurch central district

As this was a Sunday, we popped by Riccarton Sunday Market before heading back to the central Christchurch. It was quite an interesting experience to visit the local market in New Zealand and getting food from the food trucks there!

An amazing travel experience in New Zealand
An amazing travel experience in New Zealand

How we could have improved our itinerary:

  • Extend our stay at Wanaka by another night and explore Roy’s Peak
  • Shorten our stay at Lake Tekapo to 1 night
  • We gave Milford Sound a miss, but would have went there if we had more time

We consolidated the key sights and attractions in New Zealand on a map! Take a look, pick and choose to create your own itinerary! Have a good trip!

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