How to Make the Most of Two Weeks in New Zealand
You’ve probably heard enough times that two weeks is not enough time to see New Zealand but we’ll spare you the lecture. Two weeks is the time you have in New Zealand so let’s make the most of it! While seeing a lot of New Zealand in two weeks is doable, it does involve a lot of driving. Consider looking at how to spend two weeks in the North Island or two weeks in the South Island as alternatives. Nevertheless, if you want to hit both islands and see some major highlights then continue on down to the “New Zealand in two weeks” itinerary below.
Our two-week New Zealand itinerary incorporates a bit of everything you’d dream of for a New Zealand trip: volcanic landscapes, mountains, beach, rugged coastal areas, wildlife and cultural experiences. We’ll also throw in a few tips on how to get around New Zealand in two weeks.
How to Get Around New Zealand in Two Weeks
Were 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 two weeks does not quite sound like the trip you were imagining, then consider travelling New Zealand by bus. Here are your options when it comes to travelling New Zealand in two weeks.
- Rent a car or campervan the itinerary below begins in Auckland and ends in Queenstown meaning that you should look for car rental companies with small or no “one-way” fees. Get started with planning your vehicle rental in New Zealand with Guide to Renting a Car/Campervan in New Zealand.
- National Coach by far the cheapest option for getting around New Zealand is by coach. Get one of these bus travel passes to hit all of the destinations listed below.
- Take a bus tour There are plenty of 14-day bus tours which are guaranteed to get you to the hot spots and leave you plenty of time for activities on both islands.
- Take an escorted bus tour – All the logistics are sorted out for you, so all you need to do is relax and enjoy. The following tour companies offer 12-14-day tours around New Zealand following a similar itinerary to what is featured below: Contiki, Wild Kiwi, Flying Kiwi, Sweet As Travel, Kiwi Experience, Globus, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, APT, Active Adventures, PhotoFly Travel Club and more!
Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Hahei
Drive Time: 2h15mins
Landed in Auckland Airport, check! Rental vehicle picked up, check! Now it’s time to hit the road to Hahei in the Coromandel. We are guessing you are in New Zealand to see the natural landscapes rather than the cities, so leave Auckland behind and head to some of the most stunning beaches on the North Island.
Things to Do in Hahei
Depending on what time your flight came in, you have the option to do one or both of the following in Hahei:
- Cathedral Cove. Take the easy coastal walk (1h30min walking track) to a beach with white cliffs and giant archway to walk through. There are also options to visit the beach with activity operators by kayak or boat.
- Hot Water Beach. Go to Hot Water Beach at low tide to dig yourself a hot pool in the sand.
Accommodation in Hahei
Day 2 – Hahei to Waitomo (via Karangahake Gorge)
Drive Time: 3 hours
Your final destination today is Waitomo, famous for its glowworms and caving activities. 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 Waitomo
After the drive and walking at Karangahake Gorge, you will have time to do one of the short activities in Waitomo. For example:
- Do a walking tour of the Ruakuri Cave or the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
- Do the Ruakuri Bush Walk (45 minutes) at night to see glowworms
- For more inspiration, take a look at Waitomo – Guide for Backpackers
Accommodation in Waitomo
Day 3 – Waitomo to Rotorua (via Hobbiton)
Drive Time: 1h50min
If you want to do one the caving activities in Waitomo or didn’t get to do one of the Waitomo activities yesterday, this morning would be a great time to do so! Join one of the caving operators in Waitomo, throw on a sexy wetsuit and tube/abseil/climb your way through the Waitomo Caves! Once the adventure is over, its time to hit the road to Rotorua! Depending on what you prefer, there are things to do along the way to Rotorua, such as Hobbiton in Matamata, or save some time for more things to do in Rotorua this evening.
Things to Do on the Road to Rotorua
- Stop by Otorohanga to see a kiwi bird in the kiwi house or quickly learn a bit of New Zealand history down the Ed Hillary Walkway situated in the centre of Otorohanga.
- See the Arapuni Swing Bridge, a huge suspension bridge crossing New Zealand’s longest river.
- Do the Te Waihou Walkway (1h30min or 3 hours walk) to the Putaruru Blue Spring to see some of the purest and clearest water flowing in a stream.
- Take a detour to Matamata to visit The Hobbiton Movie Set. This will add an extra 30 minutes to your drive time
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 the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua.
- See an evening cultural performance at one of the Maori attractions. We list most of the options in the 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.
Accommodation in Rotorua
- All Seasons Holiday Park
- Rotorua Top 10 Holiday Park
- Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park
- Crash Palace
- Funky Green Voyager
- Hot Rocks (Base)
Day 4 – Rotorua to Taupo/Tongariro National Park
Drive Time: 1 hour to Taupo or 2h15min to National Park Village
Today, spend some time doing awesome stuff in Rotorua before hitting the road. But why the crazy drive time? Well, if you are into hiking and landscapes, then we suggest that you pass through the town of Taupo and base yourself in the Tongariro National Park so that tomorrow morning, you can tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or another hike in the national park. However, we know long hikes are not for everyone, so another option is to stay in Taupo which has a huge variety of activities on offer. Find out more about what there is to do in either Taupo or Tongariro National Park in tomorrows section. Before then, you have a day in Rotorua to enjoy before hitting the road!
Things to Do in Rotorua
- 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.
- 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 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 Taupo
- Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort
- Lake Taupo Top 10 Holiday Park
- All Seasons Kiwi Holiday Park
- Quality Suites Huka Falls
Accommodation in National Park Village
Day 5 – Taupo/Tongariro National Park
Drive Time: 0
Spend the whole day in Taupo or Tongariro National Park doing awesome activities. There’s no driving to do today other than to your chosen activity. Plus, you can stay in the same accommodation as last night.
Things to Do in Tongariro National Park
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is New Zealand’s most popular day hike taking you over the volcanoes of the central North Island. The 8-hour hike is one-way and requires some planning in terms of transport and keeping safe. Take a look at our Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to work out a plan.
- Ski or snowboard at Whakapapa Ski Field in winter.
- Choose from other hikes in Tongariro National Park by looking at the 13 Walks Around National Park Village & Whakapapa Village.
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.
Day 6 – Tongariro National Park to Wellington
Drive Time: 4 hours from National Park, 5 hours from Taupo
Your final destination today is the capital city of New Zealand! However, there’s plenty to do along the way to break up the 4-5-hour drive.
Things to Do on the Road to Wellington
- Stop by Ohakune for its walking and biking trails. Hire a bike and do the 2-hour Old Coach Road or hike in the Mangawhero Forest (1 hour).
- Visit the National Army Museum in Waiouru.
- Check out the quirky town of Bulls and spot all the bull-related puns of the town.
- Along the Kapiti Coast, stop by one of the beaches like Peka Peka Beach or Queen Elizabeth Park. Or take a tour to Kapiti Island to check out the native bird sanctuary.
Accommodation in Wellington
Day 7 – Wellington to Picton
Drive Time: 0 Hours (Ferry Crossing)
Today you have the treat of taking the ferry from the North Island to the South Island! We recommend a sunrise or sunset sailing for the best prices and the best light for a stunning journey across the Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds. Depending on what time your sailing is, you will either have time to do something in Wellington or Picton. Here are some ideas.
Things to Do in Wellington
- Visit the Te Papa Museum to learn everything there is to know about New Zealand.
- Go to Zealandia to see native New Zealand wildlife.
- Do a Lord of the Rings tour.
- 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.
Things to Do in Picton
- Take a mail boat cruise out onto the waters of the Marlborough Sounds
- Go dolphin swimming
- Mountain bike the Link Pathway
- Visit one of the Marlborough Sound resorts like Lochmara, for walks, wildlife and relaxation
- Kayak around the harbour
- Take a tour of the wine region and do some wine-tasting
Accommodation in Picton
If everything goes to plan and you do not miss your ferry then these are the budget accommodation options in Picton.
- Picton Campervan Park
- Tombstone Backpackers
- Jugglers Rest
- Alexanders Holiday Park
- Picton’s Waikawa Bay Holiday Park
Day 8 – Picton to Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)
Drive Time: 1h50min
Do one of the activities that you missed in Picton yesterday or hit the road to Nelson. Stop by Havelock to take a boat cruise out into the Marlborough Sounds or join a kayaking tour down the Pelorus River one of The Hobbit filming locations. Then you will reach New Zealand’s sunniest city, Nelson, where you will have more opportunity to do some of the following activities.
Things to Do in Nelson
- Walk to the Centre of New Zealand found in the Botanic Reserve
- Step back in time and also try some craft beer at Founders Park
- See where the One Ring was made at the Jens Hansen Ringmaker store
- Treat yourself to local Nelson cuisine
- Go on a winery crawl
- Or a craft beer crawl
Accommodation in Nelson
- The Prince Albert Backpackers & Bar
- Nelson City TOP 10 Holiday Park
- The Sails Nelson
- Paradiso Backpackers
- Bridge Backpackers
- Tahuna Beach Hostel
Day 9 – Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)
Drive Time: 0-1 hour
Nelson is the gateway to three national parks in the South Island. One of which is the Abel Tasman National Park, full of pristine golden sand beaches backed with lush forest. Tours operate from Nelson daily taking you into the Abel Tasman National Park via Kaiteriteri. Either drive to Kaiteriteri yourself (1 hour one way) for maximum flexibility or take one of the shuttle services. In Kaiteriteri, you have a great deal of Abel Tasman options from kayaking tours, water taxis to hikes, or boat tours.
Things to Do in Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)
- Take a water taxi to do a day hike of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track one of New Zealand’s Great Walks
- Kayak in the Abel Tasman National Park
- Take a boat tour to explore the bays and beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park
- Board a sailing trip into the national park
- Do some mountain biking in Kaiteriteri, Nelson or in the Abel Tasman National Park
- Take on some canyoning in Abel Tasman
Day 10 – Nelson to Punakaiki (Via Nelson lakes National Park)
Drive Time: 3h45min
There’s a fair bit of driving to do today but the beautiful views of the Buller Gorge help pass the time quickly. There are a few quaint towns to stop by for a coffee, such as Murchison. However, to really make the most of the drive we suggest taking a detour into the Nelson Lakes National Park to see the beautiful Lake Rotoroa or Lake Rotoiti. Both are very similar in terms of views and short walks available so take your pick! This will add on an extra 20 minutes onto your drive time, but they are simply too good to miss.
Once you arrive in Punakaiki, you have plenty of options, but don’t miss the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes for their impressive and bizarre rock formations.
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
- Sample the Paparoa Track, one of the New Zealand Great Walks
- Check out the stunning overhang and waterfall onto the beach on the Truman Track (15 minutes one way)
Accommodation in Punakaiki
Day 11 – Punakaiki to Franz Josef
Drive Time: 3 Hours
Head to the Glacier Country with one of the worlds most accessible glaciers! Franz Josef is your opportunity to walk on, crawl inside, fly over, skydive over or walk up to a glacier. Get some ideas on how you can take on the glacier here. Nevertheless, there’s actually more to do here than glacier gallivanting! Check it out in the list below.
Things to Do in Franz Josef
- Do a heli-hike on the Franz Josef Glacier
- Do New Zealand’s highest skydive over the glacier and Southern Alps
- Hike to the Franz Josef terminal face (1h30min one way)
- Relax in the Glacier Hot Pools
- Kayak on the reflective waters of Lake Mapourika
- Go horse trekking in the West Coast wilderness
Accommodation in Franz Josef
- Franz Josef TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Rainforest Retreat
- YHA Franz Josef
- Glow Worm Accommodation
- Chateau Backpackers & Motels
Day 12 – Franz Josef to Wanaka
Drive Time: 3h40min
You’ve got a long drive ahead today but plenty of reasons to stretch your legs. Youll be going through another super scenic rode on the Haast Pass where we recommend you stop at Thunder Creek Falls just a minutes walk from the road. Then don’t miss 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 kayak tour 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 13 – 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
- JUCY Snooze Queenstown
- Nomads Queenstown
- Adventure Queenstown
- Absoloot Value Accommodation
- The Flaming Kiwi Backpackers
- Sir Cedric Tahuna Pod Hostel
- Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park
- Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park
- Queenstown Holiday Park & Motel Creeksyde
Day 14 – 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 two-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!