The Ultimate Two Week New Zealand Itinerary
Do you want to make the most of your next trip to New Zealand but don’t have unlimited time to see everything? Spending two weeks in New Zealand will allow you to see a huge variety of landscapes, from beaches and volcanoes in the north to the snow-capped mountains and crisp lakes of the south. Check out my two week New Zealand itinerary — you might want to make some adjustments but hopefully it’ll help you plan your next trip!
Auckland (1 night)
Most tourists to New Zealand land in Auckland, by far the country’s biggest city. There is heaps to do, including hikes, beaches and nightlife. It kind of depends what you want out of a trip to New Zealand, but if you’re anything like me you’ll want to skip through the cities and out into the world-class landscapes nearby. So, if you only have two weeks in New Zealand I’d recommend spending one night in Auckland — have a look around the city, get your New Zealand bearings and then move on. If Auckland doesn’t appeal or if you’ve already been there, you should drive straight to the Coromandel (depending what time your flight arrives of course).
Coromandel Peninsula (1 – 2 nights)
From Auckland I’d next head to the Coromandel Peninsula, where you’ll find some of New Zealand’s top beaches. Cathedral Cove is the most famous, but Hot Water Beach (where you can dig a hole and bathe in hot water right on the beach) and New Chums Beach (where there’s an awesome viewpoint) are also highlights. There’s also a waterfall, some hikes and some nice small towns. If you leave Auckland early you should be able to see a lot in one day, meaning the next day you could head down to Rotorua (via Tauranga if you want to check out Mount Manganui, one of New Zealand’s top beaches / coastal viewpoints (I went there when I was a kid so no photos!).
Rotorua (1-2 nights)
For surreal geothermal landscapes look no further than Rotorua. You’ll see bubbling hot pools and psychedelic lakes (some are free, some you’ll have to pay for) and there are lots of adventure activities if you’re into that kind of thing. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan you’ll also want to visit Hobbiton, which is in the nearby town of Matamata. If not, you could head down to hike the Tongariro Crossing (also a Lord of the Rings filming location) — it’s known as one of New Zealand’s (and the world’s) best day hikes.
Waitomo (1 night)
The last spot on the North Island, Waitomo is home to caves full of glow worms. There are also some cool waterfalls in the area and it’s only a couple of hours from Auckland, meaning you can drive back the next day before your flight to the South Island.
Christchurch (1 night)
I’ve travelled around the South Island far more than the North Island — but the consensus is that you should spend more time in the south. The best option is to fly into Christchurch and then head for the Southern Alps as soon as you can. Christchurch is a nice enough city, but one night is enough if you’re short on time. You could explore the historic city centre, take the gondola above Banks Peninsula or do a coastal hike.
Canterbury High Country / Mount Cook (2 nights)
From Christchurch drive inland and you’ll soon reach the stunning landscapes of the Southern Alps. The first night I’d consider sleeping in Fairlie or Lake Tekapo — on the way you can check out the Rakaia Gorge Track (3-4 hours, or you can just hike the first section which will take around an hour) and then on towards the Hakatere Conservation Park. The road through this area is beautiful and the Mount Sunday hike, another Lord of the Rings location, is easy and has some great views. When in Fairlie make sure to check out nearby Lake Opuha and try a pie from Fairlie Bakehouse — you’ll struggle to find nicer pies!.
From Fairlie you’ll soon reach Lake Tekapo — there’s an old stone church by the lake as well as a nice hike (Tekapo Peninsula Walkway). If you spend the night in Lake Tekapo consider doing the star gazing tour at Mount John Observatory — it’s one of the best places in the world to do it. You can also drive up to Mount John during the day for some great views (and a coffee).
From there you’ll want to head to Mount Cook National Park. The road to Mount Cook Village is one of the best mountain roads in New Zealand and there are some awesome short hikes in the area. If you’re fit you could do 3-4 of them — I’d try and do the Hooker Valley (3 hours), Kea Point (45 minutes), Tasman Glacier (1-2 hours) and the Red Tarns (2 hours). That’d be a tiring day, so maybe skip Kea Point and the Red Tarns if you have to. There are some accommodation options in Mount Cook Village (which are quite expensive) or you can camp at the Whitehorse Hill DOC (Department of Conservation) camp. Otherwise drive back the way you came and then take the detour to Twizel, Omarama or Otematata.
Waitaki Valley / Oamaru
Most people recommend driving from Mount Cook straight to Queenstown, but then you’d miss out on Dunedin, New Zealand’s coolest city. The drive from Mount Cook (or Twizel etc) to Dunedin takes you through the Waitaki Valley. It’s a scenic drive and there are some nice places to stop, including the easy Benmore Peninsula Track and the Elephant Rocks.
Soon enough you’ll be back on the East Coast. Oamaru, with its unrivalled (in New Zealand at least) Victorian architecture is must-see spot, as are the Moeraki Boulders just down the road. From there it’s a short drive to Dunedin.
Dunedin (2 nights)
I’m assuming you’ll get into Dunedin in the late afternoon, so you could explore the centre city (have a drink at the Octagon and check out the train station etc) on the first day and then explore the city’s stunning surrounds on the second day.
The Otago Peninsula is a real highlight in Dunedin — there are heaps of viewpoints, beaches and hikes to explore. If you’re lucky you might spot some wildlife, including sea lions, albatross and penguins. The other side of the harbour is also nice (Heyward Point is one of my favourite “hidden” spots) and the suburban beaches of Saint Clair and Brighton are also cool to see. Dunedin also features a couple of waterfalls, interesting rock formations, the world’s steepest street and lots of cool cafes and bars to relax in if you’re feeling a bit lazy. If you want to get out of town and don’t feel like driving also consider the Taieri Gorge Railway.
The Catlins (1 night or stay in Te Anau instead)
The Catlins, a beautiful stretch of coastline featuring waterfalls, beaches and viewpoints, is a short drive south of Dunedin. You could easily spend a few days in the Catlins, but you could see the highlights in a day. Check out a couple of waterfalls (Matai and Purakaunui are probably the best), Nugget Point Lighthouse, Cannibal / Surat Bay, Curio Bay and the amazing viewpoint above Tautuku Bay and then either spend the night in the Catlins (there are a few camping grounds and small hotels) or head to Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound.
Milford Sound (1 night or head to Queenstown at the end of the day)
A day trip to Milford Sound should be on everyone’s two week New Zealand itinerary. There is heaps to see along the way, including the Mirror Lakes, waterfalls, Lake Marian and lots of other little scenic spots. Once you get to Milford Sound you can admire the scenery from the shore or take a cruise out to the edge of the ocean. If you want to do some of the hikes in the area (Key Summit, Lake Marian) it’s worth spending a night somewhere along the way. There are some camping grounds close to Milford Sound or you can stay in the lodge there.
Queenstown and Wanaka (2-3 nights)
The last stop on this two week New Zealand itinerary is Queenstown, probably the most popular destination in the country. There are countless ways to fill your days in Queenstown, including hikes, scenic drives, adventure activities or just chilling out in town. The drive to Glenorchy and Paradise is a personal highlight — do the Glenorchy Walkway as well as it’s a great short walk.
Wanaka is close to Queenstown — you can visit as a day trip from Queenstown or stay the night there. The obvious drawcard in Wanaka is Roys Peak, one of New Zealand’s most renowned day hikes. Time your hike so you get to the top when the sun is rising — it’s a special experience! From Queenstown you can fly back to Auckland and catch your flight home. Depending on what time your flight is it might be best to be back in Auckland the day before your flight.
Getting Around New Zealand
I highly recommend renting or buying a car in New Zealand — it means you’ll have the freedom to see exactly what you want. You can go for a campervan (which means you’ll save money on accommodation) or a car which are a lot cheaper. You can also take a tour or travel by bus.
Two Weeks in New Zealand
This two weeks in New Zealand itinerary hits some of the country’s top tourist spots, but there are so many other places to see. Explore my New Zealand posts and pencil in the places you’d like to visit — you can always skip other places or pass through them quickly. Most two week itineraries include the West Coast (South Island) and skip Dunedin and the Catlins — everyone has an opinion I guess and there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you want some help crafting your own New Zealand travel itinerary send me an email — you can also hire me as a private tour guide / driver from April next year!
Are you planning on spending two weeks in New Zealand? Which places are you most excited to visit? Let me know in the comments below!