How to Make the Most of One Week in New Zealand
We’ll just say it: you’ve got to be 10 kinds of crazy to try and see New Zealand in one week. Nevertheless, if one of your crazy streaks is your love of driving, then this is the road trip itinerary for you. If you want to see New Zealand in one week, then we suggest spending time on just one of the islands, the North Island or the South Island. We have itineraries for both of those – for the North Island in One Week here and the South Island in One Week here. Nevertheless, if you are adamant on seeing both islands in New Zealand in one week then check out the itinerary below for a sample on what you could be doing!
The itinerary below allows you to see New Zealand’s cultural side, volcanic side, rugged coastal landscapes, glaciers, mountains and adventure activities. We’ll also give you some advice on how to get around New Zealand in one week also.
Renting a Car or Campervan for One Week in New Zealand
Travelling for one week in New Zealand and looking for the perfect road trip itinerary? Renting a car or campervan is going to be the best way to squeeze everything you want into one week in New Zealand. This means no waiting around for buses and gives you the freedom to hit all the incredible New Zealand destinations listed below.
For a one-week car or campervan rental, consider the following:
- Choose a rental company with a low or no one-way fees. The itinerary below means you will pick up a rental vehicle in Auckland and drop it off in Queenstown. Most car rental companies will charge a one-way fee for this.
- Consider car relocation. See if there are any car relocation deals at your time of travel between Auckland and Queenstown for as little as NZ$1 a day! Power Tip: you are more likely to find a car relocation deal if you do this itinerary in reverse, from Queenstown to Auckland. Find out more in Car Relocation in New Zealand.
- Use a car rental company based at the Auckland Airport. And make sure the premium location fee is fair (less than NZ$30) and whether the rental company offers a free shuttle to their depot.
For a complete comparison of car rental companies, check out The Best Car Rental Companies in Auckland.
Bus Tours for One Week in New Zealand
For travellers who would rather let someone else sort out the logistics, escorted bus tours are available to take you around New Zealand with like-minded people. Some of the tour companies that offer 7-day tours include Wild Kiwi, Haka Tours, Topdeck, Kiwi Experience, Sweet As Travel, Contiki, G Adventures, Acanela, New Way Horizon Travel and more. Note that 7-day bus tours only feature the North Island or the South Island – not both.
Day 1 – Auckland to Rotorua
Drive Time: 2h48min
Welcome to New Zealand and the start of an action-packed road trip through New Zealand! After picking up your rental vehicle, hit State Highway 2 toward Rotorua. On the way, Lord of the Rings nerds have the opportunity to stop in Matamata for a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. Then, you’ll reach New Zealand’s cultural heart and a hotbed for geothermal activity, Rotorua!
Things to Do in Rotorua
- Relax in a natural geothermal hot pool. There are paid options, such as the Polynesian Spa, or go find some of the5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua.
- See an evening cultural performance at one of the Maori attractions. We list most of the options in 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.
- Visit a geothermal park. Geysers, steaming lakes, bubbling mud, silica terraces and so much more can be seen in one of the many geothermal parks of Rotorua.
- Do some adrenaline activities. Zorb your way in a giant hamster ball down a hill, go luging from the top of the gondola, 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 Rainbow Springs.
Accommodation in Rotorua
Day 2 – Rotorua to Taupo
Drive Time: 1 Hour
Not too far from Rotorua is Taupo on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake! Again, there really is a lot to do here! If you want to skydive and/or bungy jump on the North Island than Taupo is a great place to do it. Plus, there are plenty of options to get out on the lake, relax in hot pools, see raging waterfalls and more!
Things to Do in Taupo
- Take a trip out on New Zealand’s largest lake, whether it’s fishing, kayaking, sailing, cruising or parasailing.
- Bungy jump over the Waikato River.
- Do a skydive.
- Go on a white water rafting trip on the Tongariro River. (Pick up available from Taupo).
- Walk along the Waikato River to a natural hot pool at Spa Park, then onto Huka Falls.
- Get more inspiration from Taupo – Guide for Backpackers.
Accommodation in Taupo
Day 3 – Taupo to Wellington
Drive Time: 4h45min
You have a long drive ahead of you today so that you still have a substantial amount of time to enjoy the South Island. (We told you this one-week itinerary for New Zealand would be tough). Nevertheless, the drive Taupo to Wellington allows you to marvel at the views of the North Island volcanoes as you travel down the Desert Road. Then you will start passing through some of New Zealand’s quirkiest towns like Taihape, the Gumboot Capital of New Zealand, and Bulls, famous for its puns! Both locations are great places for a coffee break. You’ll then drive down the Kapiti Coast with lots of beaches dotted along the way until you reach the capital city of New Zealand, Wellington. You should have some time to do one of the following activities this evening.
Things to Do in Wellington
- Visit the Te Papa Museum to learn everything there is to know about New Zealand.
- Tour the city sights of Wellington from the Waterfront to Cuba Street to the Botanic Gardens to Mt Victoria. Find out more in our Wellington City – Guide for Backpackers.
- Grab some local cuisine. Check out this list of Cheap Eats in Wellington for ideas
- Hit the nightlife scene of Wellington.
Accommodation in Wellington
Day 4 – Wellington to Punakaiki
Drive Time: 5h40min (Plus, 3-hour ferry)
Take an early morning ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton, not only for the price but for the amazing sunrises seen as you sail into the Marlborough Sounds. Once you hit Picton, you have no time to lose. Head toward the wild West Coast of the South Island. On the way, stop by Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park for some wonderful picture opportunities. Stop by Murchison for a coffee break before driving through the breathtaking Buller Gorge then you will soon hit the Great Coast Road, a scenic journey on the West Coast. Tonight, you’ll have a well-deserved break in the quiet coastal village of Punakaiki.
Things to Do in Punakaiki
- Do the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes Walk (20-minute loop)
- Visit the Punakaiki Cavern (just off the side of the state highway)
- Horse trek into the Paparoa National Park
- Check out the stunning overhang and waterfall onto the beach on the Truman Track (15 minutes one way)
Accommodation in Punakaiki
Day 5 – Punakaiki to Wanaka (Via Franz Josef and Fox Glacier)
Drive Time: 5h20min
Set off early so that you get a chance to check out the glaciers in either Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, about 1h30min into the journey today. (Franz Josef and Fox Glacier are about 30 minutes apart from each other). You have a huge choice of things to do in both Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, so here are your options.
Things to Do in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier
- Do a heli-hike on either Fox or Franz Josef Glacier
- Skydive over the glaciers
- Hike to the glaciers’ terminal face
- Relax in the Glacier Hot Pools (Franz Josef)
- Kayak on the reflective waters of Lake Mapourika (Franz Josef)
- Walk to the reflective Lake Matheson (Fox Glacier)
- Go horse trekking in the West Coast wilderness
Now continue on your journey through the stunning Haast Pass toward Lake Wanaka. We recommend you stop at Thunder Creek Falls just a minutes walk from the road. Then, if you have time, walk to the Blue Pools of Haast. This is a 1-hour return walk through forest to some of the clearest and bluest rivers you will ever see.
This evening you will have the time to relax by the beautiful Lake Wanaka.
Things to Do in Wanaka
- Have a local craft beer or wine at one of the lakefront bars
- Do a stand-up paddleboard or kayaktour on Lake Wanaka
- Visit Puzzling World and get lost in their giant maze
- Do a skydive if you missed the chance in Franz Josef
Accommodation in Wanaka
Day 6 – Wanaka to Queenstown
Drive Time: 1 Hour
Time to hit the Adrenaline Capital of the World! Take the Cardrona Valley route to be the best views on the way to Queenstown. Once there you have so much to do! Take a look at Queenstown – Guide for Backpackers or the list below.
Things to Do in Queenstown
- Do a bungy jump you have three to choose from in Queenstown
- Do a skydive
- Go skiing or snowboarding in winter
- Do a jet boat tour
- Go white water rafting
- Visit the Lord of the Rings filming locations
- Go up the Gondola and do some luging/mountain biking/eating/sightseeing
- See native wildlife at the Kiwi Birdlife Park
- Party at the bars and clubs
- Do a wine-tasting tour
- Treat yourself to these Cheap Eats in Queenstown
Accommodation in Queenstown
- Black Sheep Backpackers
- Haka Lodge Queenstown
- Absoloot Value Accommodation
- YHA Queenstown Lakefront
- Alpine Lodge Backpackers
- The Flaming Kiwi Backpackers
- Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park
- Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park
- Sir Cedric Tahuna Pod Hostel
- Hippo Lodge Backpackers
- Queenstown Holiday Park & Motel Creeksyde
- Nomads Queenstown
- Base Queenstown
- Adventure Queenstown
Day 7 – Queenstown (or Milford Sound)
Drive Time: 0 Hours
Depending on what time your flight is, you can either squeeze in some short activities in Queenstown from the list above. However, if you have one more full day to spare then this is your chance to visit Milford Sound. We get it, Milford Sound is on almost everybody’s New Zealand bucket list, so this is a way to squeeze in the experience into a one-week itinerary for New Zealand. Although you can drive there (8 hours return), we recommend taking a break from driving and taking one of the bus trips to and from Milford Sound with a cruise included.
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 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 Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road.
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 10 Queenstown Must-Dos.
When your trip in New Zealand is all wrapped up, return your rental vehicle to the Queenstown depot then head onto your next adventure!