Dramatic fjords, glacier peaks, geothermal geysers, golden sand beaches, charming farmlands, vibrant cities—New Zealand has a bit of something for everyone.
To help you plan your visit to New Zealand, I will comment briefly on each destinations I visited and assign them a rating of 1-3 hearts (the more hearts, the more I love them).
A note of warning: I consider my 14-day itinerary really hectic, even by my standard. I will share a more “sane” alternative itinerary at the bottom.
My Actual 14-Day Itinerary in New Zealand
Day 1: Christchurch
My point of entry was Christchurch (♥), a city shaken from several earthquakes. I spent the afternoon walking through Avon River towards Canterbury Museum (I’m not huge in museum but I genuinely love this one) and ended the day on both the still-recovering Christchurch Cathedral and the triangular Christchurch Transitional Cathedral. I also like the fact that street arts are splashed across the cities!
Day 2: Christchurch – Mount Cook – Queenstown
The day began with a visit to Lake Tekapo (♥) and the lone star of Church of Good Shepherd before continuing through the shores of Lake Pukaki towards Aoraki/Mount Cook (♥♥) region. I especially love the Hooker Valley area of Mount Cook.
From there, I continued with a stop at Omarama (♥), which is kinda meh, and Lindis Pass (♥♥♥), which is the most picturesque sight along the route.
I spent the evening walking along Lake Wakatipu and be impressed with the clear sky full of stars.
Day 3: Queenstown – Milford Sound – Queenstown
The journey towards Te Anau (♥) is lovely, but even better from Te Anau towards the fjord area, passing through true gems such as Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat, Hollyford Valley, Monkey Creek and Clinton Valley. Milford Sound (♥♥♥) itself is nothing short of spectacular.
Day 4: Queenstown – Franz Josef
Yet another day of scenic ride, stopping at the tranquil Lake Wanaka (♥♥) and passing through the even-better Lake Hawea (♥♥♥), onwards to Haast and Mount Aspiring National Park area (so-so) and a lunch stop at Paringa.
Upon arrival at Franz Josef, I took a night Terrace Walk and self-discovered my first sights of the glowworms.
Day 5: Franz Josef
This was supposed to be the day I took an amazing Air Safaris for a full an hour followed by a few trekking, but the weather was uncooperative that day and everything had to be cancelled. Instead, I watched the nocturnal kiwi indoor at West Coast Wildlife Centre.
However, in late afternoon when the weather got slightly better, I hiked towards Callery Gorge (♥) and Tatare Tunnel (which I can’t rate fairly; I hated it but then again I know nuts about caving).
I also attempted the Canavans Knob Walk for a view of the glacier, but had to return halfway because there wasn’t enough time before the showers and the nighttime fell.
Day 6: Franz Josef – Hokitika – Punakaiki – Nelson
I managed to squeeze in a helicopter ride up to the Franz Josef Glacier (♥♥♥), which is seriously worth every penny before leaving.
Hokitika (♥) is a curious little town with arts and crafts. I visited the Hokitika Museum, Hokitika Glass Blowing Studio, and Wilderness Gallery—all of which are low-key interesting.
Punakaiki (♥♥) is lovely with its pancake rocks by the coast and I love the wild rugged coastline leading up to it, even if the weather started to get gloomy again.
Day 7: Nelson – Abel Tasman National Park – Nelson
Nelson was mainly a base for me to explore Abel Tasman so I honestly don’t have much impression of it. But Abel Tasman (♥♥) is a truly overlooked beauty with its golden sand beaches.
I cruised from Kaiteriteri to Anchorage, and then hiked towards Marahau. But personally I found the bush tramping a bit mediocre and wished I had just cruised throughout instead.
The best part of the hiking was the parts towards the end (between Porters Beach and Marahau), as well as Te Pukatea Bay which was so secluded I was the only one in the bay at one point!
Day 8: Nelson – Picton – Wellington – Taupo
Picton (♥♥) was a surprisingly charming harbour town. But I made the mistake of attempting the hike towards Bob’s Bay (♥) and ended up missing my ferry!
I had the ferry rescheduled to evening and ended up not having the chance to see a damn thing in Wellington as I had to catch my late night bus to Taupo.
Day 9: Taupo – Wairakei – Huka Falls – Rotorua
To be honest, I find Lake Taupo (♥) really boring and had wished I had budgeted less time there. Wairakei (♥) drew my interest because it reminds me of Turkey‘s Pammukale which I unfortunately had to skip back in 2011, but it turned out to be mediocre.
On the flip side, Huka Falls (♥♥) which I thought would be just a tick-that-bucket-list-off routine turned out to be really captivating and redeeming.
Day 10: Rotorua – Waiotapu – Waimangu – Rotorua
The geyser area of Waiotapu (♥♥) is nice especially around the world-famous Champagne Pool area. But Waimangu (♥♥♥) is infinitely better, more authentic and eye-opening.
Rotorua (♥♥) also turned out to be really lovely, especially around the Maori village of Ohinemutu, Lake Rotorua and the Government Gardens area.
Day 11: Rotorua – Waitomo – Ruakuri – Matamata – Auckland
Waitomo (♥♥♥) is touristy as hell, but I LOVE it. There’s just something magical about seeing all those glowworms like a sea of stars shining above you.
Ruakuri (♥♥♥) is even better. The glowworms in Waitomo is more magnificent, but the stalagtites and stalagmites of Ruakuri are nothing short of breathtaking.
Matamata (♥♥), known as the filming location of Hobbiton, is quite a bae. It’s designed to be postcard-perfect from every single angle, after all!
Day 12: Auckland – Waiheke Island – Auckland
I took a day trip out to Waiheke Island (♥♥), which has really pretty coastlines and vineyards. But I find the hiking quite intermediate and should only be attempted by the more experienced trampers.
Day 13: Auckland – Paihia – Russell – Paihia
Paihia (♥, though I think it could’ve been ♥♥ if the weather was better)‘s ocean is so magical it still glows in a tinge of green despite the cloudy weather.
This was supposed to be the day I did a cruise around the Bay of Islands with a “guaranteed” dolphin sighting (with a chance of whales), but alas, the weather got uncooperative again and I saw nothing.
I made an afternoon stop at Russell (♥), which I didn’t love despite all its historical significance. I tried exploring the town and hoped to find gems, but after an hour I just wanted to return to Paihia earlier.
Day 14: Paihia – Auckland – Christchurch
I’m not a huge fan of big cities, but I find Auckland (♥♥) really pleasant! The Viaduct/Silo Marina area didn’t exactly thrill me, but the Sky Tower/CBD area and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki are lovely.
Afterwards, I fly back to Christchurch at night and then onwards to Singapore the next day.
Tips on Planning New Zealand Itinerary
(or How I Would Have Planned It Differently)
1. Allow maximum of 4-5 hours per day on the road. This is the first time I find that I have overestimated my capacity to cover as much grounds as possible (this means a lot coming from someone whom had successfully pulled 43 cities and 11 countries within 31 days in Europe without complaining before). Some journeys, such as the days I covered Franz Josef-Nelson and Nelson-Taupo really shouldn’t be attempted by anybody else.
2. Take advantage of flying. Some flights in New Zealand are quite affordable. For instance, a flight from Nelson to Wellington could cost as low as $60-80. By road and ferry, it cost me $56 which is not a significant difference. I had seriously considered flying but decided against it simply because I wanted to experience the scenic ferry ride from South Island to North Island, which ended up becoming quite a stressful experience.
3. Have a more flexible itinerary. Weather in New Zealand is very unpredictable. Seeing that most of its attractions are outdoors and activities-based, they are very weather-dependent. Instead of constantly moving, I wished I had just pick a few base cities and decide my daily side trips on the day itself.
4. Travel between October-March. It may cost more, but rain precipitation will be lower. Weather can truly make or break your New Zealand holiday. For instance, I had to waste an entire day doing nothing in Franz Josef ’cause it was ruthlessly raining. I also chose not to attempt Tongariro Crossing ’cause it was winter, which I already regretted before even the trip started.
The Ideal New Zealand Itinerary for 9 Days
I may have usually championed overlooked gems, but it turns out that my best times in New Zealand are actually along the most popular tourist routes in Queenstown and Rotorua.
Day 1: Arrival in New Zealand and explore Auckland for half a day
Day 2: En route to Waitomo, Ruakuri, Matamata before arriving in Rotorua
Day 3: Make a side trip to Waiotapu and Waimangu before returning to explore the highlights of Rotorua itself
Day 3: Free morning in Rotorua and drive back towards Auckland to catch a late afternoon flight to Queenstown
Day 4: Full day to explore Queenstown and get your adrenaline pumped with skydiving, bungee jumping or whatever tickles your interest most
Day 5: Scenic drive towards Milford Sound and overnight there
Day 6: Take a morning fjord cruise when the softer sunlight is ideal before returning to Queenstown
Day 7: Drive towards Aoraki/Mount Cook via Lindis Pass and spend the afternoon to hike the Hooker Valley (allow about 4 hours for return journey) before ending the night with stargazing
Day 8: Take a morning 1-hour helicopter ride from the nearby Lake Tekapo towards the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, including both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, then free afternoon at the lake before arriving at Christchurch in the evening
Day 9: Half-day to explore Christchurch and fly home
Having experienced through the entirety of New Zealand, I think I would thoroughly LOVE the above itinerary. It covers the key highlights within a relatively short time, but never too rushed.
Alternative New Zealand Itinerary for 11 Days
If you have a minimum of 3 extra days to spare, I think it’ll be lovely to do the Tongariro Crossing, which is often touted as the best day walk in New Zealand.
Day 1-3: Same as the nine-day itinerary above
Day 4: Drive from Rotorua to either Taupo or Turangi, making a stop at Huka Falls
Day 5: Do the epic Tongariro Crossing
Day 6: Return to Rotorua
Day 7-11: Same as Day 4-9 as per the above nine-day itinerary
What If You Have Even More Days?
Some possibilities will be to continue from Taupo/Turangi to Wellington, then onwards to the coastal track of Abel Tasman National Park. From there, you can do some whale-watching at Kaikoura before arriving at Christchurch to take the TranzAlpine scenic train to Greymouth.
From Greymouth, you can then drive towards either Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, followed by another night at either Lake Wanaka or Lake Hawea, before reaching Queenstown. Then follow the rest of the nine-day itinerary to end at Christchurch.
You can consider adding one day in Mount Cook and/or Lake Tekapo for a more relaxed pacing. Or add one day each in Queenstown and Rotorua to properly explore the city. With even more time, doing multi-day treks such as the ever-popular Milford Track, Routeburn Track, or Kepler Track can be options.
In total, I spent about S$2.7K for 14 days including return airfares from Singapore!
Most people think that New Zealand is expensive (in the S$3.5-5K range at minimum), but it can be affordable if you know where to cut your expenses. I’ll be sharing tips to do New Zealand on a budget in my next post, so make sure you like my Facebook page to receive future updates!
Recommended Activities in New Zealand
Activities in New Zealand are usually more expensive, but they are almost always worth the price tag!
- Waitomo: Waitomo Glowworm Caves Tour
- Waitomo: Ruakuri Cave Tour
- Waitomo: Ruakuri Black Water Rafting – Black Labyrinth
- Matamata: Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
- Rotorua: Agrodome Farm Tour
- Rotorua: Te Puia Geothermal Wonders Day Pass
- Rotorua: Mitai Maori Village Evening Tour
- Taupo: Huka Falls Jet Ride
- Abel Tasman: Abel Tasman National Park Scenic Cruise
- Abel Tasman: Kayaking Abel Tasman’s Beaches
- Franz Josef: Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools
- Fox Glacier: Fox Glacier Heli Hike
- Mount Cook: Hooker Valley Guided Walk
- Lake Tekapo: Earth & Sky Mt John Observatory Tour
- Queenstown: Queenstown Skyline Gondola
- Queenstown: The Lord of the Rings Tour
- Queenstown: NZOne Skydive Queenstown
- Queenstown: Kawarau Bridge Bungy
- Queenstown: Queenstown Paragliding
- Queenstown: Helicopter Flight to Milford Sound
- Milford Sound: Milford Sound Scenic Cruise
- Akaroa: Swimming with Dolphins
Where I Stayed
- Christchurch: New City Hotel – SGD29.40/night
- Queenstown: Absoloot Value Accommodation – SGD30.87/night
- Franz Josef: Chateau Backpackers & Motels – SGD21.56
- Nelson: Downtown Backpackers & Accommodation – SGD24.50/night
- Rotorua: Rotorua Downtown Backpackers – SGD22.54/night
- Auckland: Nomads Auckland Backpackers – SGD24.01/night
- Paihia: YHA Bay of Islands Paihia – SGD22.54/night
Which places in New Zealand would you like to visit the most?