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.
But 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.
With black sand beaches, snow-topped mountains and (who could forget?!) the Shire, New Zealand has something for everyone. But a month is still cutting it fine!
This one month New Zealand itinerary is loosely based on my own route as I travelled the country for four months in a campervan. I have tried to include the “best bits” – the things I couldn’t bear to think about leaving this country without doing or seeing.
This itinerary is therefore best for you if you will be travelling the country with your own wheels. But it’s great inspiration for you if you are looking to travel New Zealand by bus, as most of these places will be accessible and you can book day tours to most remote places.
Please note that 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 you plan your trip to New Zealand!
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.
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.
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 wine-tasting.
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.
Related: Walking tracks in Auckland
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!
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.
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 DOC campsites in the area.
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
To be honest, 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.
Set off early and visit the Hunua Falls before having an early lunch in Thames.
In the early afternoon, begin the 4-5 hour long Kauaeranga Kauri Trail. This is one of my favourite hikes in New Zealand.
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.
Stay the night in the Pinnacles hut; you’ll have the opportunity to watch the sunset and/or sunrise from the summit.
The descent from the Pinnacles takes about 3 hours.
In the afternoon, relax 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.
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.
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
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.
If there is only one hike you should do while you’re in New Zealand, it’s 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.
MUST READ: Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
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. In the afternoon, 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.
Related: Walking tracks in Wellington
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 beg to differ. I really don’t recommend skipping the North Island unless you are very tight for time, but shorter itineraries are advised at the end of this post.
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, at the time of writing, costs just $6pp per night.
Related: Cruising Marlborough Sounds
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.
Related: Hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track
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, where you can stay in a number of DOC Campsites for free.
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. Grab a leaflet from the Visitor Centre and choose which hikes you want to do.
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!).
An absolute must is the climb up to the beautiful Devil’s Punchbowl Falls; it isn’t very strenuous and the waterfall is beautiful.
Camp at one of the many free DOC campsites in the park, or check into one of the hostels/motels in Arthurs Pass village.
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 which are a short walk from their respective car parks. I wouldn’t stick 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 personally 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.
Another early start from the West Coast means you should reach 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 its viewpoint – and you can actually hear the ice from the avalanches crashing to the floor!
Stay overnight in or around Wanaka. The town livens up in the evening.
Spend the next day climbing Mount Roy, for one of the most iconic views in all of New Zealand. This hike takes around 6 hours return, so take a packed lunch with you.
If you’re super keen, climb up in the dark and get there for sunrise; you will not regret it!
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. Here you can 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 by the way!)
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.
There are loads of free DOC campsites along the highway with minimal facilities, so it really is just you and Mother Nature.
Related: The Road to Milford 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 which offers the stunning view of Mitre Peak pictured below. Take a cruise of Milford Sound to really experience the true beauty of the landscape. Book in advance 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.
Related: Kayaking in Doubtful Sound
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!
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.
The next day requires a long drive. Stop by the Moeraki Boulders to see New Zealand’s famous rocks that resemble dinosaur eggs. These are best enjoyed at low-tide, so aim to arrive accordingly.
Continue onto Oamaru and stop to see the Victorian style buildings. These are heritage buildings constructed by the British when they arrived in New Zealand in the 1800s.
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.
I recommend 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. There are lots of hikes to do here.
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 Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View walk is very worthwhile: 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 evening, watch the sun set over the face of Aoraki/ Mount Cook from the lookout on the Glencoe Walk. Stay in the DOC campsite again.
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.
Spend the morning of your second day enjoying the National Park. 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.
Continue driving towards Christchurch, but take highway 72 which is inland, and stop at Rakaia Gorge or Lake Coleridge. Both offer short walks which are beautiful in good weather. Stay at one of the many accommodation options in the city.
On your last day, spend some time exploring Christchurch, known as 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, or fly back to Auckland and onward home.
Travelling to New Zealand for less than a month is still very worthwhile. Here are some options for how to spend your time in the country, focusing on a few main areas rather than trying to cram too much in.
If you’ve got three weeks, I would advise you to fly into Auckland, spending one week on the North Island and two weeks on the South. Fly out from Christchurch airport, returning to Auckland or straight home.
If you’ve got two weeks, I would choose just one island to explore, or a couple of cities and fly between them to save time.
Option 1: North Island – Auckland Loop:
Option 3: South Island – Christchurch loop:
Option 2: North and South Islands – Auckland Loop:
South Island – Christchurch loop 2:
If you’ve only got a week, you’ll have to keep your trip to just a few places – so make sure you do your research in advance!
Option 1: Auckland & Around
Option 3: Wellington to Auckland
Option 2: Christchurch & Around
Option 4: Queenstown & Around
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!)
InterCity and ManaBus/ Naked Bus are the main operators for bus journeys between the bigger cities in New Zealand. Shuttles run to and from major attractions in some areas; check at local iSites (tourism centres) to double check on these.
As well as these buses, you can also arrange entire tours on a coach to see the country. The most popular operators for this are Stray and the Kiwi Experience, the latter of which is aimed at a younger crowd.
Trains aren’t really a thing in New Zealand – I mean, they exist, but the network is so miniscule that it’s not worth planning your entire trip around train journeys. That said, you can get from Auckland all the way to Christchurch by train (apart from the ferry crossing of course). See the New Zealand Rail website for more.
The best way to see the country is by car or campervan. There are heaps of rental companies in New Zealand. If you would prefer to buy a vehicle, see my guide to buying a campervan in New Zealand here.
If you’d prefer not to drive but still want to visit some remote places, be sure to book a tour with Get Your Guide.
Your go-to if you’re going to be camping in New Zealand! Campsites range in price from being completely free (with no amenities or only a long-drop toilet), to luxurious holiday parks complete with fully equipped kitchens and hot showers – take your pick! Make sure that the vehicle you are driving is suitable for the campsite you wish to stay at. Non-self-contained vehicles have less choice than vehicles with a toilet on board.
I stayed in a number of AirBnBs whilst in New Zealand, varying from very cheap and basic rooms to absolutely lovely apartments. The standard of AirBnBs are really improving! Book now and get £25 GBP off your first trip (that’s about $50 NZD off!)
Hostelworld and Booking.com are great places to search for hostels, but don’t expect super-cheap prices. You tend to get a discount if you stay for a week or longer, but that’s not ideal when you want to travel!
Motels are more common than hotels in NZ, possibly because parts of the country may well still be in the 1980s, but that’s a different story. These are more expensive than hostels but offer more in the way of comfort and amenties.
Thanks for reading & happy travels!
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