The Ultimate 10-Day New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
You know how it is, you only have 10 days holiday from work but a burning desire to explore New Zealand! What if we told you it can be done? You can see a great deal of Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) in just 10 days! Let’s see how you can travel New Zealand in 10 days.
This itinerary is definitely for those who want to tick the boxes. Do you want a variety of scenery, from beaches to snowy mountains, that New Zealand is famous for? Check! Do you want to experience adrenaline-pumping thrills with world-leading operators? Check! Do you want a taste of Kiwi city life, from the quaint towns to the artistic big cities? Check! Do you want to walk on glaciers and cruise into majestic fiords? Check and check!
So throw on your backpack and get ready for an action-packed trip in New Zealand that you’ll never forget with this New Zealand road trip itinerary, including both islands, for 10 days! What’s more, we show you how to plan this itinerary the EASY way with First Light Travel – more on that at the bottom of the itinerary.
New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary for 10 Days: Overview
- Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Hahei (Coromandel)
- Day 2 – Hahei to Rotorua (via Hobbiton)
- Day 3 – Explore Rotorua
- Day 4 – Rotorua to Christchurch
- Day 5 – Christchurch to Mt Cook
- Day 6 – Explore Mt Cook
- Day 7 – Mt Cook to Wanaka
- Day 8 – Wanaka to Queenstown
- Day 9 – Explore Queenstown or Milford Sound Day Trip
- Day 10 – Departure Day
How to Get Around New Zealand in 10 Days (Both Islands)
We’re not going to beat around the bush there is going to be a lot of driving – A LOT. If you can handle it, then get yourself a rental vehicle and continue down to the itinerary below. Otherwise, if driving almost every day for an entire month does not quite sound like the trip you were imagining, then consider travelling New Zealand by bus.
Whatever you choose, note that you’ll need to take a flight between the North Island and the South Island in order to have the time to hit both islands within 10 days.
Car or Campervan Rental
The North Island portion of this itinerary begins in Auckland and ends in Rotorua meaning that you will have to choose a rental company that has depots in both cities – there are more options for car rentals than campervan, which is why we recommend car rental over campervan rental at least for this route.
For the South Island portion, you will need to pick up a rental vehicle from Christchurch and drop it off in Queenstown. There are more options for both car and campervan hire between these two destinations. Get started with planning your vehicle rental in New Zealand with The Guide to Renting a Car and The Guide to Renting a Campervan in New Zealand.
By far the cheapest option for getting around New Zealand is by coach. Get one of the InterCity bus passes to hit all of the destinations listed below. For more information, see How to Travel by Bus in New Zealand.
Escorted Bus Tours
All the logistics are sorted out for you, so all you need to do is enjoy. There are limited bus tour companies offering 10-day tours around both islands of New Zealand, but you’ll have more options if you visit just one of the main islands. Escorted bus tours include all accommodations, some meals and some activities. Check them out in The 10 Best 10-12-Day Tours of New Zealand.
This 10-day New Zealand itinerary requires you to travel between Rotorua on the North Island and Christchurch on the South Island via domestic flight. Flights between these two destinations operate daily. For more details, check out The Complete Guide to Domestic Flights in New Zealand.
For more ways to explore New Zealand, take a look at the 10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand.
Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Hahei (Coromandel)
Drive time: 2 hrs 15 mins
You’ve arrived in Auckland, New Zealand! As you only have 10 days to explore both islands of New Zealand, there are much better destinations to hit than this urban jungle. Therefore, head south toward the Coromandel and start your 10-day New Zealand adventure! Coromandel is the home of beautiful beaches, most famously, Cathedral Cove.
Things to Do in Hahei
These are pretty relaxing and accessible activities/sights to see for your first day in New Zealand:
- Hike to the famous Cathedral Cove and its beach with white cliffs and a giant coastal arch
- Take a boat tour with Hahei Explorer to Cathedral Cove
- Explore beaches and islands with Cathedral Cove Kayaks
- Go to Hot Water Beach at low tide to dig yourself a hot pool in the sand.
For more ideas, head to the 22 Best Things to Do in The Coromandel.
Accommodation in Hahei
See more like this in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in the Coromandel.
For more mid-range stays, take a look at the 15 Best Hotels & Resorts in the Coromandel.
Day 2 – Hahei to Rotorua (Via Hobbiton)
Drive time: 3 hours
Your final destination today is Rotorua, famous for its geothermal activity and for being the cultural heart of New Zealand. Before you get there, don’t miss the Karangahake Gorge, halfway through the drive. There are a number of walking tracks in the area between 45 minutes to 4 hours going through a historic mining area taken back by the forest and the river. Walk through mining tunnels, through native forest, alongside mining relics and to magnificent waterfalls.
Things to Do in Rotorua
If you get to Rotorua with time to spare, here are a few suggestions.
- Relax in a natural geothermal hot pool. There are paid options, such as the Polynesian Spa (more info on Klook or KKday), or go find some of the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua
- See an evening cultural performance at one of the Maori attractions
- Go for a bite to eat on Eat Streat and beyond
- See the forest decorated on the Redwoods Treewalk
- Have a race on the night Luge at Skyline Gondola.
For more recommendations, check out the 25 Best Things to Do in Rotorua.
Accommodation in Rotorua
For more options, check out the 20 Best Budget Accommodations in Rotorua.
See more stays in The 50 Best Accommodations in Rotorua.
More lavish finds are available in the 20 Best Luxury Accommodations in Rotorua.
Day 3 – Explore Rotorua
There is so much to do in Rotorua that it is the perfect place to have a break from driving. There’s a huge range of activities from adrenaline fixes, wildlife, Maori cultural shows, geothermal parks and so much more!
Things to Do in Rotorua
- Geysers, steaming lakes, bubbling mud, silica terraces and so much more can be seen in one of the many geothermal parks of Rotorua
- Catch a Maori cultural performance (if you missed doing so yesterday)
- Do some adrenaline activities
Zorb your way in a giant hamster ball down a hill, go luging from the top of the Skyline Gondola, hike or mountain bike in the Redwood Forest, jet boat or do a freefall experience at the Velocity Valley, and so much more!
- See native New Zealand wildlife at Wingspan or National Kiwi Hatchery (more info on Viator and Klook).
For more inspiration, get stuck into The Complete Guide to Rotorua.
Day 4 – Rotorua to Christchurch
Flight time: 1 h 55 mins
Make a beeline for the South Island today by taking one of the daily direct flights between Rotorua Airport and Christchurch Airport. Drop your rental vehicle off in Rotorua before you depart.
Once in Christchurch, pick up your rental car or campervan, then head into the city to explore the South Island’s biggest hub!
Things to Do in Christchurch
- Wander around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
- Visit the Canterbury Museum
- Take to the skies in a unique way with Adventure Balloons NZ
- Take a hop-on hop-off tram tour of the city (more info on Viator and Klook)
- Feel the freeze at the International Antarctic Centre
- Try some Kiwi cuisine in Christchurch.
Get more details in the 15 Best Things to Do in Christchurch.
Accommodation in Christchurch
See more reasonably-priced stays in the 12 Best Budget Accommodations in Christchurch.
All the top recommendations can be found in 20 Best Hotels in Christchurch.
For the cream of the crop, check out the 15 Best Luxury Accommodations in Christchurch.
Day 5 – Christchurch to Mt Cook (via Lake Tekapo)
Drive time: 4 hours
Leave the city behind today as you make your way to the majestic Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, but not without an obligatory stop by the vibrant blue waters of Lake Tekapo. Get your snaps of The Church of the Good Shepherd and take your pick of experiences from the 10 Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo.
Things to Do in Lake Tekapo
- Hike the Mt John Summit Circuit
- Soak in soothing hot pools at Tekapo Springs
- Take a scenic flight over the Southern Alps with Air Safaris
- Get an obligatory photo with the Church of the Good Shepherd
- Explore the mesmerising backcountry of Lake Tekapo on a 4WD tour with Tekapo Adventures.
Once at Mt Cook, you have a lot of options to explore the heart of the Southern Alps with its glaciers, but we’ll get onto that more tomorrow.
Accommodation in Mt Cook
You know the drill; check out 5 Best Budget Accommodations in Mt Cook.
See the 10 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Mt Cook for your top options.
Go high-end with the 5 Best Luxury Accommodations in Mt Cook.
Day 6 – Explore Mt Cook
There are many ways to enjoy the impressive landscape of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, from glaciers to lakes to mountains, so you’ll want to spend a whole day doing some or all of the following activities!
Things to Do in Mt Cook
- Walk the Hooker Valley Track
- Land on the Tasman Glacier in a ski plane (more details on Viator or Klook)
- Do a heli-hike on New Zealand’s longest glacier with Mt Cook Glacier Guiding
- Go boating on the Tasman Lake with Glacier Explorers
- Stargaze in the Aoraki Mt Cook International Dark Sky Reserve.
That’s right, you can learn more about these experiences, as well as many others in the 20 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook.
Day 7 – Mt Cook to Wanaka
Drive time: 2 hrs 30 mins
The drive today is a thrill in itself as you travel through lands of snow-peaked mountains and brilliant blue lakes. As you leave Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki, pick up some road trip snacks or take the river walk in Twizel.
Just before reaching Lindis Pass, soak the road trip pains at the Omarama Hot Tubs or make a quick detour to the otherworldly landscape of the Clay Cliffs – both are outlined in the 5 Best Things to Do in Omarama.
Then, revel in the beauty of Lindis Pass; one of the 10 Most Beautiful Roads in New Zealand.
Finally, you will have the time to relax by the beautiful Lake Wanaka.
Things to Do in Wanaka
- Hike up Roy’s Peak
- Climb a waterfall with Wild Wire Wanaka
- Visit Puzzling World and get lost in their giant maze
- Skydive over beautiful Lake Wanaka with Skydive Wanaka
- Cruise to a sanctuary island on Lake Wanka with Eco Wanaka Adventures.
Head to the 25 Best Things to Do in Wanaka for more ideas.
Accommodation in Wanaka
More cheap stays can be found in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Wanaka.
- Club Wyndham Wanaka, Trademark Collection by Wyndham
- Archway Motels & Chalets
- The Moorings Motel and Apartments
Check out the 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Wanaka for more ideas.
More recommendations can be found in the 10 Best Luxury Accommodations in Wanaka.
Day 8 – Wanaka to Queenstown
Drive time: 1 hour
After you’re done exploring the beautiful scenery of Wanaka, it’s time to hit the “Adrenaline Capital of the World”! Take the Crown Range to be the best views on the way to Queenstown. Once there, you have so much to do! Take a look at The Complete Guide to Queenstown or the list below.
Things to Do in Queenstown
- Do a bungy jump; you have three to choose from in Queenstown
- Do a giant swing with Nevis Swing or Shotover Canyon Swing
- Experience the thrills of a jet boat ride
- Go skiing or snowboarding at The Remarkables in winter
- Hike Ben Lomond.
The possibilities are endless, as described in the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.
Accommodation in Queenstown
Choose from more affordable stays in the 15 Best Budget Accommodations in Queenstown.
Browse all of the top stays in The 50 Best Accommodations in Queenstown.
Day 9 – Explore Queenstown (or Milford Sound Day Trip)
With towering mountains, untouched rainforest and unbelievable scenery, Milford Sound is an unforgettable journey.
To have a break from driving, we recommend taking one of the many bus tours to Milford Sound and then boarding a cruise of the fiord. Bus trips give you plenty of opportunities to hop off the bus and do multiple short walks on the way. For more information, get your head in the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau.
If a 13-hour bus and cruise trip doesn’t appeal, see the 6 Best Scenic Flights to Milford Sound from Queenstown instead.
However, if you want a break from the road, you have plenty more options for things to do in Queenstown listed above as well as some more inspiration in the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.
Day 10 – Departure Day
Wrap up any unfinished business you have with Queenstown. Then, it’s time to head to Queenstown Airport for the next step of life’s adventure. You can return your vehicle at your vehicle rental company’s Queenstown Airport depot and then the company will likely provide a free shuttle to your requested terminal.
If you’re taking an international flight, remember to arrive at the airport two hours before departure. For domestic flights, such as those to Auckland Airport, get advice from The Guide to Domestic Flights in New Zealand.
Then it’s haere rā from New Zealand!
Plan This Itinerary with First Light Travel
If you like this New Zealand road trip itinerary for 10 days but don’t like the hassle of planning everything yourself, then there’s a way to lighten the load. First Light Travel is an online travel agent specialising in road trip itineraries in New Zealand. Plus, using their service is super simple:
- First, send First Light Travel an enquiry by completing their online form
- Then, you’ll receive your customised self-drive itinerary
- Review your itinerary and work with your First Light Travel agent on perfecting it
- Finally, First Light Travel will organise the rest including the bookings.
First Light Travel has access to more than 20,000 travel products, including almost all the tours and accommodations featured on this list (and more). With that and their local expertise here in New Zealand, they will create a well-catered itinerary to meet your needs while also suggesting some dream travel experiences that you may have never heard of. They only work with companies where their past clients have had positive experiences, so you know you’re in good hands.
What’s more, all of the bookings are arranged by First Light Travel, so instead of having to contact each individual accommodation and operator should your travel plans change, any amendments can be done through your FLT agent – easy! Did we mention the service is at no extra cost to you?!
For more information on planning your own New Zealand itinerary, see How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary. Or better yet, jump on firstlighttravel.com and start making your own itinerary there.
Alternative New Zealand Itineraries for 10 Days
That’s it for our New Zealand 10-day itinerary but by no means the end of our road trip advice. We thought you might like to be aware of our other itineraries for New Zealand in 10 days so that you are able to compare:
- South Island Campervan Itinerary: 10 Days
- The 10 Best 10-12-Day Tours of New Zealand
- The 6 Best 10-12-Day Tours of the North Island
- The 6 Best 10-12-Day Tours of the South Island