So you’ve got a month and you’ve decided to visit New Zealand.
Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
I’ll start with the bad news. One month is not nearly enough time to see everything New Zealand has to offer, and you’re going to fall head over heels for this incredible country and not want to leave. For that reason, this has been possibly the hardest post I have ever written; I want to give readers the best advice possible but I am not sure if I can this time around – because there is just simply too much to cram in!
However, fear not. The good news is that one month is long enough to see pretty much all of the main sights and get a feel for the culture of this country; you can get a good taste of what New Zealand has to offer.
Before you leave for New Zealand…
Before I dive into the details of this one month itinerary for New Zealand, I’d like to give you a top tip: do your research beforehand! You don’t have to plan every day out to a T, or even know where you are going to sleep each night, but it definitely helps to have an idea of what you want to see and do while you’re here. Think about why you are visiting the country so you can make the most of your time here and leave having great memories that you can treasure until you (inevitably) return!
If you’re into hiking and want to walk some of New Zealand’s tracks, the South Island might be more suited to you. Queenstown should be on every adrenaline junkie’s list. Wine-lovers will enjoy Waiheke Island, Hawkes Bay and Blenheim. If it’s the beaches you’re after, try the Northland and Abel Tasman National Park. For history geeks, the North Island has some great spots to learn about New Zealand’s heritage. And for any LOTR fans, there are so many film locations to see, including the incredible Mount Doom!
Depending on how long you have to explore the country, you’ll need to think about how to split your time between the two islands, and if you have less than a month to explore, it might be worth thinking about only exploring one island – I’ll go into this more at the end of this post.
One month in New Zealand: a complete itinerary
This 30 day itinerary is loosely based on mine & James’ route as we travelled the country for four months in our campervan – I have tried to include New Zealand’s “best bits”; the things I couldn’t bear to think about leaving this country without doing or seeing. I chose to write an itinerary for a month because, from what I gather, most travellers tend to be visiting the country for around 30 days. This itinerary is best suited to those who are travelling in their own vehicle, though it’s good inspiration for those using New Zealand’s great network of buses. This is a full-on itinerary, with lots of early morning starts and action packed days, plus a few days where driving will take up a long time, but I have tried to include as much as possible. It’s up to you to chop and change this guide as you like. I hope it helps in your planning!
So, without further ado, here is a complete itinerary to one month of travel in New Zealand!
The North Island (12 days)
Auckland (2 days)
Most international flights from the US and Europe land in Auckland, and this is a great place to stop and rest for a day before starting your trip. Pick up your rental car or buy your bus pass here.
Day 1: Spend a day adjusting to jet-lag and seeing the city’s sights: visit Mount Eden, the War Memorial Museum and go up the Sky Tower for a stunning view of the city by night before heading to Ponsonby Road for dinner and drinks.
Day 2: Take a trip to one of the Hauraki Gulf’s islands: the hike to the summit of Rangitoto, a dormant volcano, offers spectacular views of Auckland’s skyline on a clear day; Waiheke is the place to visit if you like winetasting. Or explore the Waitakere, Auckland’s best-kept secret: head out to the black sand beaches of Piha and Karekare, see the Fairy Falls and walk the muddy walking tracks.
Northland (3 days)
When you’re refreshed and ready to start your road trip, you’ll have a long day of driving ahead of you – but it’ll be worth it!
Day 3: Whangarei
Head north; stop at Whangarei to see the stunning Whangarei Falls – take a picnic and have lunch. Then hike the pleasant walking track from the falls to the town basin. Continue driving to Paihia and spend the night here.
Day 4: Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga
Spend the next day sailing or kayaking in the Bay of Islands before visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the important Treaty of Waitangi was signed by the Māori chiefs and the British Crown back in 1840. Continue north to the “top of NZ”, Cape Reinga, which is a very important place in Maori culture and offers panoramic views of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean as they meet. Stay in one of the $10/night DOC campsites in the area.
Day 5: 90 Mile Beach & Waipoua Forest
Returning South, stop off at 90 Mile Beach; if you have a 4×4 you can drive along the sand (though be sure to check with your insurance/rental vehicle provider first!). Drive through the Waipoua Forest, where you can see New Zealand’s tallest Kauri tree, Tane Mahuta, and the impressive Four Sisters. Drive back to Auckland for the night.
Related: Whangarei for the day
Coromandel (2 days)
Honestly, I could have spent a week in the Coromandel so it’s really hard to whittle this down to just a few days! In reality, we had limited time and a limited budget, so we ended up spending only 3 days there.
Day 6: The Pinnacles
The next morning, set off early and visit the Hunua Falls, before having an early lunch in Thames. One of my favourite hikes in New Zealand is the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail. The track follows a historic packhorse route before climbing (literally) a rock-face to the summit of the Pinnacles, where there are panoramic views of the Coromandel Peninsular. The climb takes around 4-5 hours, so set off in the early afternoon and stay the night in the Pinnacles hut (book in advance); you’ll have the opportunity to watch the sunset or sunrise from the summit.
Day 7: Hot Water Beach & Cathedral Cove
The descent from the Pinnacles takes about 3 hours, so relax in the afternoon on Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own bubbly hot pool in the sand, before watching the sunset at Cathedral Cove, which is the iconic snapshot of New Zealand and a perfect spot.
Central & South of the North Island (4 days)
Day 8: Hobbiton & Rotorua
Hobbiton is a dream for any Tolkien fan, and even if (like me) you aren’t a fan, you’ll probably still enjoy this informative guided tour of the film set. Be sure to take an early tour to avoid crowds. Then continue to Rotorua – the drive takes under an hour. Stop off at the Hamurana Springs (the North Island’s deepest natural spring) or Okere Falls, where you can white water raft down the waterfall! Then explore the city: Kuirau Park offers some free to view geothermal activity, with steamy springs and bubbling mud pools, and Ohinemutu is a free to view Maori village. If you arrive on a Thursday, check out Rotorua’s Night Market on Tutenakai Street for some dinner.
Related: How we spent a day in Rotorua
Day 9: Rotorua & Taupo
Get up early and visit Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland, one of Rotorua’s best attractions. This huge park is home to bubbling mud pools, spurting geysers and neon-coloured lakes – but be prepared for the smell! Lady Gnox Geyser explodes at 10:15am every day. In the afternoon, drive down to Lake Taupo and explore the town. Spend the night watching the sun set over the water.
Day 10: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
If there is only one hike you should do while you’re in New Zealand, it’s probably this. Hike through craters of volcanoes and along ridge tops. The views will leave you speechless, the walk will physically challenge you, and you can even do a side-trip to hike to the top of Mount Doom. Afterwards, camp at one of the free DOC campsites in the area.
Day 11 & 12: Wellington
Welly is known as the “coolest little capital” and for a good reason: there is always something going on. I love living in Wellington; I think it’s the close proximity of everything that really appeals to me.
After the drive from Tongariro, you’ll be pretty shattered, so rest up and have lunch at one of the many cafés on Cuba Street. Take the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens for a leisurely stroll in the afternoon. Welly has a fantastic food culture, with a huge choice of restaurants serving cuisine from around the globe; you’ll be spoilt for choice! Be sure to head out for a drink or two, and sample some craft beer, brewed locally in the city. Spend your evening at the theatre or visit the Space Place for some stargazing.
The next day, spend the morning in New Zealand’s best museum, Te Papa. Visit Zealandia, an eco-sanctuary where you can see many species of birds including the endangered Takahē. After dinner, hike up Mount Victoria for views across the city; it’s especially beautiful at sunset.
The South Island (18 days)
Having left Windy Welly behind after your cruise across the Cook Strait, (keep an eye out for dolphins!), you may be surprised to find that the breeze is warmer on the South Island; Marlborough is home to great weather and Nelson is the town that gets the most sunlight in the whole of NZ! Some may say this is where the trip really starts… I don’t recommend skipping the North Island completely unless you are really tight for time (and you can read more about that in this post.) However, it’s true that the North and South Islands are completely different to one another. The North Island is green, with lots of farmland and a lot more people; the South Island is mountainous and much more remote. I’ll leave it to you to decide which you like more.
Marlborough & Tasman (2 days)
Day 13: The Sounds & Nelson
Take the early morning ferry from Wellington to Picton. From here you can take a cruise of Marlborough Sounds, or from Havelock you can cruise the Pelorus Sounds. Continue on to Nelson, stop for lunch and a wander before sleeping near Marahau, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. There is a great campsite on the coast called McKee Memorial Domain, which costs just $6pp per night.
Related: Cruising Marlborough Sounds
Day 14: Abel Tasman National Park
Hike part of one of New Zealand’s most popular tracks: The Abel Tasman Coastal Track. This is a 4-5 day hike along golden sand beaches, through palm trees and across inlets (be prepared to get your feet wet!) If you can’t do the full walk, at least spend a few hours experiencing the beauty this park has to offer: hike from Marahau to Coquille Bay or go kayaking around the bays.
The West Coast & Arthurs Pass (3 days)
Day 15: Westport to Arthurs Pass
Your first stop will be Cape Foulwind in Westport, named as such by Captain James Cook because one can only assume the winds weren’t the most pleasant. Here, you can watch a huge New Zealand fur seal colony from afar; there are up to two hundred seals in this colony. Further south, stop off at Punakaiki to see the impressive Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, before continuing to Arthurs Pass National Park.
Day 16: Arthurs Pass National Park
Arthurs Pass was a highlight of our trip; even the drive through it is one of a kind! This is one of the five Passes that cross the Southern Alps mountain range from East to West, and it’s possibly the most spectacular. In the winter, the Temple Basin ski area is a fantastic place for snow sports; in the summer you can hike up to the ski lifts (the views are incredible!). Another must-do is the climb up to the beautiful Devil’s Punchbowl Falls. Camp at one of the many free DOC campsites in the park, or check into one of the hostels/motels in Arthurs Pass village.
Day 17: The West Coast
The next morning, stop by the small town of Hokitika where you can amble along the beach. A visit isn’t complete without a trip to Hokitika Gorge, where the water is a perfect blue (unless it’s been raining; then it’s a murky green!) Take your togs and go for a swim! Continue down the West Coast to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. These are two very small towns with not much going on aside from their proximity to the glaciers. Both glaciers are just about viewable from viewing platforms just a short walk from their respective car parks, however, I wouldn’t plan on sticking around unless you are planning to take a helicopter ride over the glaciers or go glacier gliding (walking on the glaciers). There are two other glaciers that we thought were much more worth a visit – stay tuned to find out where! Camp for the night in Haast or stop in one of the hotels in Fox; the drive to Wanaka is long!
Wanaka and Queenstown (3 days)
Day 18 & 19: Wanaka
Another early start means you should be in Wanaka by lunchtime, where you can see the iconic #ThatWanakaTree. Climb Mount Iron for panoramic views over the town, or head out to Rob Roy Glacier, which is much more visible that those on the West Coast from the viewpoint – and you can actually hear the ice crashing to the floor! Stay overnight in Wanaka and spend the next day climbing Mount Roy, for one of the most iconic views in all of New Zealand. Or, if you’re super keen, climb up in the dark and get there for sunrise; you will not regret it!
Day 20: Queenstown
A trip to New Zealand wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Queenstown! This is the adrenaline capital of the world and the best place to tick off your bucket list! Jump out of a plane, jet-boat down the Shotover river, or try New Zealand’s highest bungy jump! For those looking for something a little quieter, take the skyline gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak – offering stunning views of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. For lunch, head to the famous Fergburger; for dinner try its competitor, Devil Burger (which does REALLY good veggie burgers btw!)
Fiordland (2 days)
Day 21: Te Anau
Te Anau is located in Fiordland – the gateway to the sounds! It’s a small town right beside the gorgeous Lake Te Anau and is the perfect place to base yourself while you explore the area. Take a walk along the waterfront and visit the famous Miles Better Pies shop for some lunch! From Te Anau you can hike part of the Kepler Track, or continue along the Te Anau Milford Highway and stop off at one of the many lakes, hikes or waterfalls. There are loads of free DOC campsites along the highway with minimal facilities, so it really is just you and Mother Nature.
Day 22: Milford/Doubtful Sound
Spend a day exploring the Sounds; you have got to! Known as the eighth Wonder of the World, Milford Sound is easily accessible; you can park close by and walk right up to the water offering a stunning view of Mitre Peak. Take a cruise of Milford Sound to really experience the true beauty of the landscape. Book early as this sight gets extremely busy with tourists. Doubtful Sound is harder to access, and is therefore less busy; you have to take a boat across Lake Manapouri, then take a coach over Wilmot Pass. I recommend Fiordland Adventure for a full day kayaking.
Related: Kayaking in Doubtful Sound
Southland & Otago: 4 days
Day 23 & 24: The Catlins
The Catlins is an area of New Zealand that isn’t overly populated with tourists. It’s remote; there is no mobile phone signal, and the roads are mostly windy and unsealed. However, the forest here is magical, the beaches are stunning, and the landscapes are spectacular. Spend a couple of days exploring, you won’t want to rush this!
The Waipohatu Walk is good for an afternoon climb, and the short walks to Jack’s Blowhole and Lake Wilkie are rewarding. Don’t miss McLean Falls, or Purakaunui Falls – they are both stunning! You can visit the most southern point of the South Island at Slope Point, and you’ll probably spot a seal or a sea lion or a dolphin or a penguin (or all of them) somewhere along the coastline!
Day 25: Dunedin
After a couple of days off the beaten path, get back to reality in Dunedin, the South Island’s second largest city. Spend the morning exploring the sights. Baldwin Street is the steepest residential street in the world, and the railway station is New Zealand’s most photographed building (easy to see why!) Have a picnic in the Botanic Gardens for lunch, and in the afternoon head out to the Otago Peninsular. This picturesque area is famous for its wildlife and is home to the Royal Albatross Centre, as well as Australasia’s only castle: Larnach Castle. Dunedin is home to the University of Otago and its many students, so understandably there are lots of bars and pubs – head out for some food and a drink or five in the evening.
Day 26: Moeraki, Oamaru & Mount Cook
The next day requires a long drive. Stop by the Moeraki Boulders to see New Zealand’s famous rocks that resemble dinosaur eggs. Continue onto Oamaru and stop to see the Victorian style buildings. When you reach Pukaki, I guarantee you’ll marvel at the colour of the lake. Stay at the DOC campsite in Mount Cook village, or at at one of the accommodation options in Mount Cook Village.
Canterbury (4 days)
Day 27 & 28: Mount Cook & Tekapo
I recommend at least two days at Mount Cook; firstly because there is so much to explore, and secondly because the weather is very interchangeable here; if it’s dreadful on your first day, the next morning might be better.
An absolute must is the Hooker Valley track, an easy walk that leads to a glacial lake at the foot of Aoraki / Mount Cook. This walk is mostly flat and the views at the end of the track are spectacular. The Governors Bush Walk is an easy loop track through the trees. In the evening, watch the sun set over the face of Aoraki/ Mount Cook from the lookout on the Glencoe Walk.
Alternatively, spend your first day climbing to the The Mueller Hut, a 3-5 hour long, steep, ungraded track which offers panoramic views, and stay overnight in the hut so you can catch the sunrise on the snow.
The Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View walk is another must do: a steady climb is rewarded with views of the lakes and the enormous Tasman Glacier, the longest glacier in New Zealand, which opens out into a picturesque glacial lake.
In the afternoon on your second day exploring, start the drive to Tekapo to arrive in the late afternoon. Catch the light as the sun begins to set over the Church of the Good Shepherd, and stick around until the stars come out for a view of the Milky Way.
Day 29: En route to Christchurch
Continue on towards Christchurch, but take highway 72 which is inland, and stop at Rakaia Gorge or Lake Coleridge. Stay at one of the many accommodation options in the city.
Day 30: Christchurch
On your last day, explore New Zealand’s Garden City; visit the Botanic Gardens, ride the tram, or visit the museum. Christchurch was hit badly by the earthquakes in 2011 and is still very much in a state of re-construction. Visit the site of the Cathedral for a look at the scale of the damage. The Re:Start Mall is a great example of the positivity of this city; a shopping centre has been created from old shipping containers, which were originally put up temporarily when the earthquake first hit. It has an international airport, so you can return your rental car and fly out from here.
If you don’t have a month…
Travelling to New Zealand for less than a month is still doable; some people don’t have the time or money to spend a whole month in NZ (which isn’t the cheapest country to travel anyway!). BUT if this is the case, be aware that you will need to make an extended itinerary for your next visit – because you’ll miss out on so much and you will want to come back!
New Zealand in 3 weeks
If you’ve got three weeks, I would advise you to fly into Auckland, spend one week on the North Island and two weeks on the South. Fly out from Christchurch airport.
- Auckland – Hobbiton – Rotorua – Tongariro – Wellington – Kaikoura – Arthurs Pass – West Coast – Wanaka – Queenstown – Mount Cook – Tekapo – Christchurch
- Christchurch – Dunedin – Catlins – Queenstown – Wanaka – West Coast – Hamner Springs – Kaikoura – Wellington – Napier – Taupo – Rotorua – Auckland
- Auckland – Northland – Auckland – Coromandel – Mount Maunganui – fly from Auckland to Christchurch – Tekapo – Mount Cook – Wanaka – Queenstown – West Coast – Arthur’s Pass – Christchurch
New Zealand in 2 weeks (or less)
If you’ve got two weeks or less, I would choose just one island to explore, or a couple of cities and fly between them to save time.
- Auckland – Northland – Rotorua – Bay of Plenty – Taupo – Tongariro – Wellington
- Auckland – Northland – Auckland – Christchurch – Tekapo – Mount Cook – Queenstown & Wanaka
- Christchurch – Arthurs Pass – West Coast – Wanaka – Queenstown – Te Anau/ Milford Sound
- Christchurch – Dunedin – Catlins – Te Anau – Milford Sound – Queenstown – Wanaka – Mount Cook – Tekapo
If you’ve only got a week, you’ll have to keep your trip to just a couple of places – so make sure you do your research in advance!
Also worth a mention…
Also worth considering in your itinerary are the below places; I didn’t want to completely leave them off this itinerary but couldn’t fit them all in! (see, I told you there is just too much to squeeze into one month!)
- North Island: Taranaki and New Plymouth, Te Urewera, Mount Maunganui, Whakatāne, Napier
- South Island: Nelson Lakes National Park, Kaikoura, Hamner Springs, Kahurangi National Park, Golden Bay
Have you been to New Zealand? Where would you recommend is a “must-see”? Are there any places I have missed?
Thanks for reading & happy travels!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which help to run this site.