Whilst I would recommend to anyone who is asking for my personal opinion to just stick to the South Island if you’ve got 2 weeks or less, some of you might still insist on seeing both islands.
Whilst ambitious it can still be done. I’ve taken a lot of time to design a two week itinerary around the North and South Islands that will maximize your experience without leaving you feeling stressed.
Two Week New Zealand North and South Islands Itinerary Overview
This itinerary starts in Auckland and then takes you through some of the most photogenic spots of the North Island. After 6 days you will need to catch another flight from Auckland to Christchurch on the south island and pick up your second rental car.
You will then spend 8 days traveling through the best spots on the South Island. The itinerary finishes in Queenstown, from where you can fly back to Auckland or, if you came from Australia, then book your return flight directly out of Queenstown.
Check out my other New Zealand road trip itineraries here
Do you only have one week or are interested in only seeing the South Island? Browse through my other itineraries! I am sure you will find something just for you!
- A four to eight-week route on both of New Zealand’s Islands
- A 10-day route through South Island’s diverse landscapes
- A two-week route on the South Island designed for hikers – Reader’s favorite!
- A whistle-stop one-week tour of the South Island
How to get around New Zealand on your road trip
Option 1: hire a rental car
The best way is to simply hire a car in Auckland for the first leg of the trip and then the second car in Christchurch with a drop-off in Queenstown for the second part.
Don’t worry about dropping the car off at a different location. Companies in New Zealand are really well accustomed to it and it won’t cost a lot more. In fact, it will probably save you some money. Check for the best car rental deals with Discover Cars. It will give you a drop-off option at a different airport than pick-up, plus their customer service is excellent!
This is more economical and faster than crossing over by ferry. Not only it will save you at least a day of driving, but also the money spent on gas if you had to add all those kilometers to your trip.
One-way flights from Auckland to Christchurch can be purchased for as low as 50 bucks. The ferry costs 250 dollars for a car, that’s 5 times more expensive!
Option 2: hire a motorhome
Another great option for road trips around New Zealand, chosen by many travelers every year is renting a motorhome. A great search engine that compiles many camper van rental companies in New Zealand is the Motorhome Republic. It’s way easier than checking each and every one separately.
Companies like Britz, Mighty, Jucy, Apollo, and Maui are the leaders when it comes to motorhomes and can all be found on this website.
If you decided on the latter read my guide to motorhome travel in New Zealand.
TIP: Your total driving distance along this itinerary is ca. 1730 kilometers or 1070 miles. This excludes the flight between the islands.
New Zealand two-week road trip itinerary part 1: North Island
As I mentioned earlier starting your trip in Auckland will not only be the most economical way to do it, but Auckland is also very well connected to the places you will visit on the first part of this trip
Day 1 Auckland
Auckland is the biggest New Zealand city, but I don’t want to waste your time on cities when there is so much amazing nature to experience!
If you fly in the afternoon or evening I would recommend staying overnight and setting off on your road trip early the next day. In the meantime, you can visit some cool photo spots in Auckland with Mount Eden being my favorite.
Take it easy on your first day, you have quite a lot ahead of you in the next two weeks! I am sure the time difference will wreak havoc on your body, so getting some proper sleep is essential.
Accommodation options in Auckland on night 1
Day 2-4 Taupo
- Distance from Auckland to Taupo: 270 km / 168 miles
- Duration: 3,5 hours
On your second day head towards Taupo, a little town nestled on the shore of New Zealand’s biggest lake of the same name. You can choose the direct route from Auckland to Taupo (275 km/4 hours) or a slightly longer route past Waitomo and visit the world-famous glowworm caves.
New Zealand Glowworms are an endemic species found only in New Zealand and as the name indicates they are worms that glow in the dark and by doing so attract their prey.
I have visited a few glow worm caves in New Zealand and have to say, they are fascinating. The best way I can describe them is by saying that they look like little stars glued onto a ceiling.
My friends Jordan and Jenna have captured this beautiful timelapse video of the glowworms. See it for yourself!
There are a few companies that operate tours within these caves with Legendary Black Water rafting being the leader.
Best things to do around Taupo
Tongariro Crossing day hike (day 3)
When you find yourself touring around New Zealand’s North Island there is one place you absolutely can’t miss and that’s The Tongariro Crossing.
It’s the most famous of the day hikes on New Zealand’s North Island. It takes you through spectacular scenery amongst 3 active volcanoes: Ngauruhoe (also known as Mount Doom from Lord Of The Rings), Tongariro, and Ruapehu.
The Tongariro crossing can also be done as a whole circuit, called Tongariro Northern Circuit. It takes 3-4 days to complete and will require staying in alpine huts or camping. However, most people settle for a 19.4 km long, day journey.
Doing the hike will require some planning ahead. Tongariro National Park is a very remote area and the day hike itself is a one-way journey.
A lot of visitors organize transport from Taupo to the start of the hike, which then picks you up at the finish line and brings you back to Taupo. The shuttle journey will take around 1 hour and if your time is limited that’s your best option.
TIP: Between October and April there is a 4-hour time restriction for private vehicles at the Mangatepopo Road end – the starting point for the crossing. People wanting to do the entire hike, which takes an average of 7-8 hours, will need to use shuttle transport.
Best Places To Stay In Taupo on Nights 2 & 3
Day 4-5 Rotorua
- Distance from Taupo to Rotorua: 82 km / 50 miles
- Duration: 1 hour
Renowned for its geothermal activity and intense egg-like sulfur smell Rotorua is a must-see for any visitor to the North Island. This place is also known to be the best spot for experiencing the native Maori culture.
Best things to do around Rotorua
Take a stroll through the Whakarewarewa Redwood forest
I hope your tongue is still ok after pronouncing it. Though the giant Californian Redwoods are not native to New Zealand and the forest was planted here in 1901.
Since then it became a big part of the natural landscape of Rotorua and a walk through this beautiful forest definitely won’t disappoint. The hikes are only a few minutes away from the town center and are easily accessible by car.
White water rafting
Rotorua was the first place where I tried rafting and I was hooked. I could hardly contain my excitement when we were about to raft down the world-renowned 7-meter Tutea Falls, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the World!
I am not going to lie, it was a bit scary, but my team all managed to stay in the boat. Check availabilities below.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland near Rotorua is a great place to learn about New Zealand’s high geothermal activity.
There are lots of interesting pools, cauldrons, and the famous erupting Lady Knox Geyser. At 32.50$ it’s a bargain.
Tamaki Maori Village
Learn about the Maori culture and listen to the beautiful folk songs followed by a traditional dinner fest. See the recap of my personal experience here and check the availability below.
White Island – A Stratovolcano
Rotorua is only an hour’s drive from Whakatane. This little coastal town is the gateway to White Island – New Zealand’s most active volcano, which you can visit and walk on! Tours operate from Rotorua with a shuttle service provided daily. *
Important! Please note that due to the 2019 tragic eruption, currently, the only way to see White Island is from the air.
Best places to stay in Rotorua on night 4
Day 5-6 Hobbiton & Coromandel
- Distance from Rotorua to Hahei: 215 km / 134 miles
- Duration: 3 hours
It’s time to escape the smell of Sulphur and experience New Zealand’s coast for the first time!
From Rotorua drive towards Hahei – a little town on the Coromandel Peninsula. Take the route through Matamata and stop at the most famous movie set in the world – Hobbiton.
I still think, that at 80 dollars it is the most overpriced tourist attraction in the whole of New Zealand, but personally, I don’t regret spending it. I found the tour very interesting and as a massive Lord Of The Rings fan, I am glad I didn’t miss out.
Best things to do around Coromandel
If you are not interested in visiting Hobbiton just drive straight to Hahei, the gateway to discovering the Coromandel Peninsula. There are a fair few things you can do around here without breaking your wallet.
Hot Water Beach
This natural phenomenon was only discovered recently, but it is certainly a very popular spot amongst tourists and can get ridiculously busy. What’s the big deal you may wonder?
Because of New Zealand’s geothermal activity, hot water beach is one of the few places in New Zealand, where you can dig out your own hot spring and sit in it enjoying the views of the sea.
Make sure to check out the tides first. The nearby hotels and campsites will have them enlisted at reception.
It’s only possible to dig at low tide. Once the tide comes in it washes everything away. You can rent shovels at nearby cafes for just a few bucks. Few bucks well spent if you ask me.
One of the most photogenic spots on the North Island is Cathedral Cove – a marine reserve located on the peninsula. The place is named after the cave accessible by a short hike or kayak.
The start of the trail is only minutes away from Hahei. This place gets really busy so to maximize your experience hike to the Cove early in the morning or late in the afternoon after the crowds subside.
It takes around 1 hour (one way) to complete the whole walk, not including the time you will spend exploring.
From Hahei, it’s about a 2-hour drive back to Auckland. Drop off your rental car and catch a domestic flight to the South Island.
Best Places to stay around Hahei in Coromandel on night 5
New Zealand Two-week road trip part 2: South Island
I hope you’ve liked what you’ve seen thus far. It’s time for the South Island now, and let me tell you, if you liked the North you will absolutely love the South.
From Auckland, you can catch a flight to Christchurch, and then follow my favorite route through Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook NP, Wanaka, Queenstown, and Fiordland NP.
If you need to catch an international flight out of New Zealand at the end of your road trip, then consider doing this route by starting in Queenstown and finishing in Christchurch.
Christchurch does have an International Airport, whereas Queenstown has only connecting flights within New Zealand and Australia.
Day 6-7 Christchurch and Tekapo
- Distance from Christchurch to Tekapo: 220 km / 136 miles
- Duration: 3 hours
I hope your flight was relatively early in the day. Pick up your second rental in Christchurch and head straight over to Tekapo. I personally don’t recommend staying in Christchurch longer than necessary.
The effects of the terrible earthquake that destroyed it in 2010 can still be seen to this date.
Besides, I always tell people, who ask for my advice, that they didn’t come to New Zealand to visit cities but to see its spectacular nature, and this itinerary is designed just for that.
Tekapo is a small town located on the shore of a beautiful turquoise lake of the same name. Due to its isolation from the light pollution of big cities, in 2012 it was named the World’s largest Dark Sky Reserve.
What to do in Tekapo?
Star gazing is generally incredible in all of New Zealand as long as you are in a dark spot away from city lights, but due to Lake Tekapo being the first International Dark Sky Reserve in the Southern Hemisphere.
It offers unparalleled views of the stars and planets. The Milky Way is easily viewable with your bare eyes!!
The Church of the Good Shepherd
Within walking distance of the town center, The Church of the Good Shepherd is a very photogenic beautiful little chapel situated close to the shore of the lake.
Be warned though, it’s very popular. If you want to get a good spot arrive early and be prepared to wait for your perfect shot.
Mount John Observatory
15 minutes uphill drive further along State Highway 8 out of town leads you toward Mount John Observatory.
Complete with night sky tours, an awesome Astro cafe, and the opportunity to look through really really big telescopes at night. The views of Lake Tekapo from up there are breathtaking, but the windy road that leads to the top is not for the fainthearted.
Lupin Flowers (seasonal)
Unfortunately, this isn’t a year-round phenomenon, they are only in bloom for around 6 weeks from mid-November until the start of the new year.
Technically Lupin flowers are just weeds that had spread around the island like a disease creating danger to native species of plants.
With that said no one can deny that Lupin flowers in bloom create fantastic scenery where everything goes into a beautiful shade of pink and purple.
They can be found all over the place from the shoreline of Lake Tekapo, along the roadside to Mount Cook, and all around the surrounding meadows.
Where to stay in Tekapo on night 6
Day 7-8 Mount Cook National Park
- Distance from Tekapo to Mount Cook Village: 105 km / 65 miles
- Driving time: 90 mins
The next stop on your epic journey will be my favorite place in New Zealand – Mount Cook National Park. The home to the country’s highest mountain, it’s a hiker’s and photographer’s paradise.
Stay the night at the Mount Cook village or White Horse Hill campground located around 5 minutes from the town. There are no supermarkets in this area, so make sure to buy whatever you may need before you leave Tekapo.
What to do in Mount Cook National Park?
Since Mount Cook National Park is one of the most sought-after destinations in New Zealand I have decided to write a whole guide about the best hikes, activities, and places to stay here.
I think visiting for a day is an absolute minimum. If you have an extra day to spare on your holiday and don’t know where to spend it, this is the place!
Head over to my first-timer’s and hiker’s guide to Mount Cook National Park for more information.
Where to stay in Mount Cook National Park on night 7
TIP: Accommodation in Mount Cook village is scarce and tends to be booked out in the high season. Make sure to make your reservation as far in advance as you can to avoid disappointment. If you can’t find anything in Mount Cook, the little town of Twizel will be your next best option.
Day 8-10 Wanaka
- Distance between Mount Cook village and Wanaka: 200 km / 124 miles
- Duration: 2 hours 15 min
On the way south from Mount Cook and after 2.5 hours of some of the best roads in the country, including the famous Lindis Pass, you’ll eventually arrive in Wanaka.
The little sister of Queenstown has become more popular but for different reasons.
Although it has some of the best ski fields in the southern hemisphere, it’s not really that famous for adventure sports. What Wanaka is known for, thanks to Instagram I may add, are the two locations pictured above and below: Mount Roy and the lone willow tree.
Best things to do in Wanaka
If you came to New Zealand to admire its nature, hiking is the best way to do it. Not only it is free, but getting to the top of a mountain will give you a chance to see New Zealand from above.
Wanaka has plenty of hikes to choose from and I enlisted some of my favorite hikes around Wanaka in a separate post.
Capture the beauty of ‘That Wanaka Tree‘
Though a bit infamous amongst some of the locals due to the crowds that it attracts, this lone willow tree standing on the shore of the lake is definitely the photographer’s favorite.
If you love taking photos just as I do you should add this spot to your list, but don’t worry. If scrambling for a spot isn’t your thing, there are plenty of alternative spots in Wanaka where you can capture stunning photographs.
Take a drive along the Mount Aspiring Road
If you are not so much into hiking, there are loads of other spots that are easily accessible by car and don’t require much effort. One of them is the scenic drive through Mount Aspiring National Park.
Bear in mind though, that halfway along the route, there will be few fords to cross, therefore it’s only recommended if you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Wanaka Self-Guide MTB Tour
Biking from Lake Hawea back to Wanaka is the ultimate bike route in this region After renting your bike in Wanaka you will be transported to the nearby town of Hawea where you will start your ride on the serene Hawea River Track, surrounded by mountains.
This biking experience promises an unbeatable blend of scenic beauty and enjoyable moments and it was one of my favorite experiences in Wanaka. Make sure to grab an ice cream cone from Patagonia ice cream shop once you finish the ride.
Where to stay in Wanaka on nights 8 & 9
Day 10-12 Te Anau & Fiordland National Park
- Distance between Wanaka and Te Anau: 230km / 143 miles
- Duration: 3 hours
Next on the itinerary is the journey to Milford Sound via Te Anau. Don’t worry we aren’t missing out on Queenstown, which you will pass on the way to Te Anau.
We’re just breaking up the journey. It makes more sense to visit Milford Sound first and then come back to Queenstown.
This road trip is well-designed, so don’t worry I am not wasting your time. If you have less than 2 weeks to see New Zealand you can shorten your journey and just stay in Queenstown.
From here you can book yourself onto a flight or a day-long bus journey to Milford Sound and let someone else take you there! I covered this option in a separate post dedicated to Milford Sound.
When driving from Wanaka to Te Anau via Queenstown I suggest going over the more scenic Crown Range Road.
If you are traveling in the winter season, check the weather conditions first. You might also have to carry snow chains, so make sure your rental is equipped with them.
Once you pass Queenstown you will drive towards Te Anau through a beautiful stretch of road called the Devil’s Staircase along the Remarkables Mountain Range. Make sure to keep your eyes on the road though! This is a very bendy part of the journey.
When you get to Te Anau check into your accommodation and take a break. You can go on a stroll around the lake in the evening and recharge your batteries before the big day tomorrow!
TIP: If you are not keen on driving that much or you want to shave a couple of days off the itinerary, head straight to Queenstown and just go on a day trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Best things to do in Fiordland National Park
- Distance between Te Anau and Milford Sound: 120km /75 miles
- Duration: 1,5 hours – 3 hours
Scenic cruise around the Fjords
A must-do whilst you’re here is a cruise around the Fjords. There are few companies running the cruises offering a similar service at a similar price.
Remember to pack a raincoat with you even if it’s perfectly sunny outside as all of the drivers like to get up close and personal with the waterfalls! With that said don’t expect it to be sunny. Fiordland National Park is the rainiest part of New Zealand.
Milford Sound is undeniably one of the best places for a scenic flight in New Zealand. There are a few different options for scenic flights around Milford Sound. Whether you want to go over the coastline or around the mountains or do a bit of both which I really recommend.
IMPORTANT: The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound does close some days during the winter due to snowfall. Always check the weather conditions with DOC first before you set off. Sometimes snow chains are also required. Make sure your rental vehicle is equipped with them before you hit the road!
Where to stay in Te Anau on nights 10 & 11
Day 12-14 Queenstown
- Distance from Te Anau to Queenstown: 172 km / 107 miles
- Duration: 2 hours
Best things to do in Queenstown
Now, where do I start with Queenstown? I hope you planned enough money for your budget because whether it’s Bungy Jumping, skydiving, or a leisurely cruise on Lake Wakatipu on board TSS Earnslaw, you are going to be doing stuff here.
I spent a total of 7 months living and working in Queenstown and wrote separate posts on the best photography spots, must-do activities, and awesome hiking in Queenstown, that should help you plan your stay in this beautiful mountain town
Where to stay in Queenstown on nights 12 & 13
Important tips for your New Zealand road trip
- Within the peak season December through March, I highly recommend booking your accommodation and car/camper as far in advance as you can. New Zealand receives a lot of visitors in the peak season and the last thing you want to do is stress about where you are going to sleep on your holiday of a lifetime!
- If you are traveling in the winter months end of June – September then make sure your accommodation in Queenstown and Wanaka is booked in advance. Those are ski season months and both of those places are famous and busy ski towns.
- To check roads and hiking trails conditions, especially in the winter months, go to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation website
- Every town on this itinerary has an I-site – tourist information center, where you can pick up maps and information about the areas and hikes
- Download the Camper Mate travel app for finding the cheapest campsites on the island
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