Two Weeks in New Zealand: A (Mostly) Complete Itinerary

Two weeks in New Zealand_A Mostly Complete New Zealand Itinerary
Two weeks in New Zealand_A Mostly Complete New Zealand Itinerary

Two Weeks in New Zealand

Looking to spend two weeks in New Zealand? I’ve got a fantastic itinerary for you that will cover the North Island and the South Island – but, don’t expect to sit around doing nothing. You’ll have to work for it!

I get it – the US is very limited on their vacation time, especially compared to, well, the rest of the developed world. And if you’re flying across the world to spend two weeks in New Zealand, you want to get your money’s worth. I like to jam my vacations with as much as I can, which always leaves me needing a week of sleep after, but it’s well worth it!

Planning your New Zealand Itinerary

When you’re planning your New Zealand itinerary for your two-week adventure, there are some important things to consider.

Both the North and South Islands of New Zealand are around 1000km (621 miles), give or take, from top to bottom. Driving 60mph, that means that each would take around 10 hours to drive the full distance, but that doesn’t take into account smaller roads and towns with slower speed limits. And it definitely doesn’t take into account time to stop and take in all the magnificent views! Trust me, the magnificent views are non-stop. There are small towns everywhere, each with their own charm, their own sites, delicious food, wonderful wine, and incredible adventures.

For me, unfortunately, I was relatively limited on time, as I am most of the time when I travel. In planning my New Zealand itinerary, I would have 15 full days to explore as much as possible – with a group of 10 other people, mind you. How to plan a trip that covers as much as possible for 2 very different age groups, over 2 islands, with only 15 days?

Well, here’s what we landed on for our two weeks in New Zealand. It involved a LOT of driving (pretty much every day) and a lot of checking in and out of hotels. For our group, it didn’t make sense to do camper vans because it was cheaper for us to share suites. We also had people in the group join and leave at different times, so not everyone shared exactly the same itinerary – especially when American Airlines screwed us all individually at different points in our trip – but that’s beside the point. There are, of course, many things we missed out on, but we had to make choices with only two weeks to see as much as possible.

Hopefully, my New Zealand itinerary is helpful as you plan your two weeks in New Zealand!

Itinerary for Two Weeks in New Zealand

Day 1: Auckland and Waitomo

Land in Auckland, explore a bit locally and then drive to Waitomo for the evening (2.5-hour drive). I personally didn’t have much that I wanted to see in the city of Auckland, but there are some fun things in and around the city.

I personally didn’t have much that I wanted to see in the city of Auckland with only two weeks in New Zealand. There are some fun things in and around the city if you’re interested. Part of our group took the ferry to Rangitoto Island and hiked around for a bit, and they said it was beautiful!

We spent the night at the Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park, and it was lovely. We had originally planned to fit 9 of us in one cabin, but 4 didn’t make their flight. It would have been quite packed in the small cabin had they made it. We loaded up on groceries en route to Waitomo and then cooked up a lovely fish and veggie dinner at the Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park facilities. They have a full kitchen with oven, stove top, and outside grill.

Day 2: Waitomo and Rotorua

Spend the morning adventuring through the black water caves with tubes and glowworms lighting the way (Black Labyrinth tour), then drive to Rotorua for the evening (2.5-hour drive).

If you won’t have your own transportation for your two weeks in New Zealand, there are very reasonably priced tours that will bring you from Auckland and Rotorua to the Waitomo Caves. We got up early and had signed up for the Black Labyrinth tour ahead of time expecting it to take about 3 hours. It was such a fun experience, and the glow worms are pretty incredible!

On our drive to Rotorua, we stopped by Over the Moon in Putaruru for some cheese tasting. If you like cheese as much as I do, don’t pass this up! We were just looking for coffee, and they had both here, and it was one of my favorite stops of our trip. Their cheese is all freshly made and delicious, and the cheese maker was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly.

Once in Rotorua, we stayed at the Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park and absolutely loved it. The cabins are charming, the shared bathrooms were sufficient, and it’s only a short drive or cab ride to town. We did the lazy walk along Lake Rotorua and then enjoyed a casual dinner in town, but skipped most of the other geothermal stuff. Seen one, seen ’em all.

Day 3: Lake Taupo and Wellington

Drive from Rotorua through Lake Taupo and on to Wellington. Enjoy views of Lake Taupo, Mount Doom and other beautiful stops along the way, then spend the evening in Wellington (7 hours).

We enjoyed a delicious breakfast in Rotorua at the Picnic Cafe and it was one of the best eggs benedicts I’ve ever had. From there, we drove south by Lake Taupo which has some spectacular views. Make sure to have NZ coins on hand for use of the public restrooms along the way. We stopped for lunch at a scenic lookout in Tongariro National Park where we enjoyed the view from Lake Taupo from above.

From there we continued south along the west coast of Tongariro National Park where we were able to stop for photos of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings (the real name is Mount Ngauruhoe). If you have extra time, you can do a hike here that looks pretty awesome!

We spent the night at the Apollo Lodge in Wellington which was very comfortable. Sadly, we didn’t get to explore much of Wellington with only two weeks in New Zealand besides the delicious Thai place down the street since we got in so late and had to be up early the next morning.

Day 4: Picton and Ruby Bay

Take the ferry from Wellington to Picton first thing in the morning (4 hours ferry ride), then drive to Ruby Bay for two nights (2.5-hour drive).

The ferry ride was comfortable, and the views of the fjords are beautiful. They have a coffee bar and food service as well as plenty of room to hang out, including a movie room.

Depending on where you rent your car, if you plan to see both the north and south islands in your two weeks in New Zealand, many require that you turn your car in at the rental station in Wellington and pick up a new car in Picton. From there, we drove to Ruby Bay which is right across the bay from Nelson and is an absolutely breathtaking area. Our Airbnb was beautiful with spectacular views, and a short drive to coffee shops and bars. We stopped in Nelson to load up on groceries so that we could save on eating out since we had a full kitchen at the Airbnb.

Since it was late in the day by the time we got settled in, we made dinner and enjoyed a beautiful sunset before setting off to bed early to prepare for the next day.

Day 5: Abel Tasman National Park

Drive North into Abel Tasman National Park (45 minutes) and spend the day kayaking on the Tasman Bay with R&R Kayaks. Ask for Rohan. Drive back to Ruby Bay, make dinner with your group, and enjoy drinks at the local wine bar/restaurant. If you have time, hit up a few of the wineries in the area.

I had researched kayak companies before our trip and after a great response from Rohan with R&R Kayaks, we decided to book there. Since we had such a large group, they offered us the option to add a few strangers to our group or have a private tour with 2 guides for a few dollars more per person. We obviously chose the latter, and it worked out great!

We arrived early, as instructed, and our guides geared us up with waterproof bags and jackets. We packed our day bags of towels and whatever else we would need (which wasn’t much) and piled into the back of a boat that would be towed to the bay. From here, it was about a 15-minute boat ride to the starting point for our kayak trip.

We set off from the launch with beautiful teal water and clear skies. We kayaked north to our first stop where we had snacks and coffee, and then a bit further to mosquito bay where we rested for lunch. R&R Kayaks provided us with sandwiches, coffee or tea, and delicious treats at the end. From here, we kayaked further north until coming into the beach for pickup. By 3 pm the winds were picking up and the waves were getting bigger so getting into the beach was tough – a few people tipped over, but the kayak guides were there to help!

The boat ride back to where we started was incredibly bumpy – 10 foot swells the whole way. Once back at R&R Kayaks, we were able to shower off and change before making the 45-minute drive back to Ruby Bay.

Since we did a full day of kayaking, we were ready for dinner and bed when we got home. But, if you have the time, there are a ton of wineries nearby to check out. Make sure you plan accordingly because most close between 4-6pm.

Day 6: Punakaiki

Drive south to Punakaiki and hang out by the beach for the night (4 hours).

The drive from Ruby Bay to Punakaiki is incredible as you get towards the beach. It reminded me a lot of the coastal drive of Big Sur in California. We stayed at the Punakaiki Beach Camp and it was very comfortable, and right on the beach. Our room was about a 3-minute walk to the beach and had 2 bunk beds with 4 twin beds, and then one full sized bed on the other side of a partition. There was a small fridge and shared bathrooms and showers. There was also a kitchen area but we decided to eat down the street instead.

The Punakaiki Beach Camp is a 5-minute drive to the pancake rocks which were interesting enough, but nothing super spectacular. We went for sunset and walked around taking in the views before heading back to camp to relax.

Day 7: Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

Drive south through Franz Josef to Fox Glacier for the evening (4 hours). If you’d like, you can hike to the glaciers (although they have been receding enough that you can’t see much from the hike) or take a helicopter tour for a better view. The Lake Matheson hike is a short stroll in the Fox Glacier area if you’re looking for something low key.

We spent the night at the Sunset Motel in Fox Glacier, and the views were some of the best we had. The actual facilities were very nice as well, and it’s walking distance (although a relatively long walk) to the center of town for restaurants and bars.

Our group split up to explore – a few did the glacier helicopter tour, some hiked Franz Josef glacier, and I hiked Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, the glaciers have receded enough that you can’t get close unless you do the helicopter tour, but it’s still a beautiful area. Afterwards, we did the short walk to Lake Matheson and then went into town for dinner.

Day 8: Mount Aspiring National Park, Lake Hawea, and Wanaka

Wake up before sunrise to drive to Haast Pass for a morning of canyoneering in Mount Aspiring National Park (3 hours), then on to Lake Hawea and Wanaka for the evening (1 hour).

For those of you looking for adventure in your two weeks in New Zealand, this was one of my favorites.

It was raining when we left Fox Glacier before the crack of dawn, but we were incredibly lucky with the weather and it cleared up by the time we reached Robinson Canyon in Mount Aspiring National Park. We met with our guide (booked before our trip), Alain from South Canyons in a small parking lot on the side of the road. Because of the direction we were coming from, this was easier than driving to the office and coming back the same way.

We geared up in the parking lot into full wetsuits and helmets provided by South Canyons and then set off on a short 15-minute hike uphill to the start of the canyons. We spent the next few hours rappelling down beautiful (and freezing) waterfalls before exiting back at the parking lot where were changed into dry clothes and drove on to Lake Hawea.

We stayed the night at the Lake Hawea hotel which is about a 15/20 minute drive from Wanaka, but we got a great rate with a lake view. You’re not technically on the lake – it’s across the street – but you’re pretty darn close! We enjoyed a filling and delicious lunch at our hotel and went into Wanaka for dinner and drinks.

Day 9: Queenstown

Enjoy breakfast in Wanaka, and then drive on to Queenstown to prepare for the Milford Sound Trek (1 hour).

Since Wanaka is on the way to Queenstown from Lake Hawea, we packed up and stopped there for breakfast. It was rainy, and the breakfast spot was packed, but we managed to find a table for the 5 of us (our group had split into two at this point).

On the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown, there are a ton of wineries if you’re thirsty! We stopped at one and enjoyed a quick tasting before continuing on to Queenstown. If you have extra time in your two weeks in New Zealand, it’s definitely worthwhile spending some time enjoying the wineries outside of Queenstown – it’s beautiful!

We stayed at the Pinewood Lodge which was probably the only disappointing accommodation on our trip, but it was sufficient. Close to town, close to grocery stores, and comfortable enough accommodations. We spent the night preparing snacks and food for the Milford Sound Trek and went to bed early since we had to be at the bus stop at 6 am the following day.

Day 10: Milford Sound Trek

Wake up early for the 6 am bus to Te Anau and Te Anau Downs, catch the boat to Glade Wharf, and hike the Milford track for 3 miles to Clinton Hut (9 hours total). Have your bug spray ready once you get off the boat.

If you’re going to spend two weeks in New Zealand, one of the Great Walks should definitely be on your list!

Important note: If you have hopes of doing one of the Great Walks, you’ll need to plan well ahead because they book out pretty early on. We booked the day the reservations opened and had no issues. There is also the option to do a guided trek with nicer accommodations and meals cooked for you, for a substantial price difference, but they tend to have more availability.

We started the day at the bus stop in the center of Queenstown which took us to Te Anau where we got our permits. From there, we got on another bus to go an additional 30 minutes to Te Anau Downs where we met with our boat. The boat then took us on to Glade Wharf where we began the trek.

The first day of the hike is misleading. It’s short, it’s flat, it’s easy. The rest of the trek leaves you with ~10 miles a day, climbing up and down. It’s not terrible, but it’s not a stroll in the park! Clinton Hut has 2 buildings that accommodate 20 people in each and one main room for cooking and socializing.

Clinton Hut, where you sleep on the first night, has 2 buildings that accommodate 20 people in each and one main room for cooking and socializing. Also, bring ear plugs because people snore. Loudly.

Day 11: Milford Sound Trek

Hike day 2 of the Milford Sound Trek on to Mintaro Hut (6 hours).

Most of day 2 hiking the Milford Sound Trek is flat or a gradual incline – until about the last few miles which, by the end of the day, felt pretty brutal. There is a stream near the hut if you want to go for a dip, but bring your bug spray because the sandflies are brutal.

Mintaro Hut has two small rooms downstairs with about 8 beds in each, and then one large room upstairs for everyone else. Groups of 4 beds (bunks) have wooden separators for privacy which is nice. The main room is on the first floor with the small rooms. The views are incredible.

Day 12: Milford Sound Trek

Hike day 3 of the Milford Sound Trek on to Dumpling Hut (6-7 hours without Sutherland Falls).

You’d think starting day 3 of the Milford Sound Trek straight uphill on the switchbacks would be the brutal part, but that’s nothing compared to all the downhill that follows. The downhill portion is rocky, and with big steps, so by the time we made it to the fork with Sutherland Falls, our legs were shaking with exhaustion. After that, it flattens out nicely and there’s a lovely stream near the hut for a quick, cold bath! But, don’t forget that bug spray…

You have the option to drop your pack and enjoy some tea by Quintin Lodge, a lodge specifically for those doing the guided trek. Don’t go into Quintin Lodge for tea – they won’t be very friendly, but there is a separate building for self-guiders. From there, it’s about a 45-minute trek to Sutherland Falls where you can jump in the water and get some beautiful shots. Once back at Quintin Lodge, it’s about another hour to Dumpling Hut.

Day 13: Milford Sound Trek to Queenstown

Hike day 4 of the Milford Sound Trek on to Sandfly Point. Catch the boat to Milford Sound, and the bus back to Queenstown (10 hours).

Day 4 of the Milford Sound Trek is pretty flat the whole way so we moved pretty quickly and made it to the dock for the 1:00 boat. There are often day-hikers who come in from the sound, and they get first priority on the 1:00 boat but as the first of the through-hikers to get to Sandfly Point (we were really motivated to get to Milford Sound and drink a beer), all 5 of us were lucky to make it on the first boat. Don’t worry, there’s also a 1:30 and a 2:00.

The bus ride back to Queenstown is long, and you’ll be pretty tired when you get to your hotel. We stayed at the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park which was fine, but from the photos, I thought we’d have a better view than that of the parking lot. We enjoyed dinner at Fergburger to make up for the last 4 days of backpacking meals, and enjoy sleeping back in bed with no snoroundsound (so many snorers!).

Day 14: Queenstown

Chill the eff out in Queenstown.

We attempted to go skydiving, but weather can be tricky in Queenstown. We tried to go twice in our two weeks in New Zealand, and the weather canceled our plans both times. Instead, we hung around in Cardrona and Queenstown and partied. You can walk around with open containers in Queenstown until 10 pm, which is perfect for sitting on the beach for a beautiful evening. The bars are pretty cool, too, and it’s not hard to find yummy food!

Day 15: Glenorchy and Queenstown

Go horseback riding in Glenorchy by the Misty Mountains and marvel at all things Lord of the Rings. Head back to Queenstown for some souvenir shopping, grab takeout, and head to the hotel.

We splurged on day 15 of our two weeks in New Zealand and spent our last night at the Oaks Club Resort. Beautiful resort right on the lake, and they upgraded us to a marvelous suite! We arranged for a day of horseback riding with pickup at the same central bus stop in Queenstown and it was spectacular. Our last night in Queenstown, with a beautiful suite to enjoy, we decided to forego hanging out in town and bring home some takeout to enjoy the sunset from our patio.

Day 16: Goodbye, New Zealand

After two weeks in New Zealand, fly back to Auckland, attempt to fly back to Los Angeles / San Diego but get shut down at the check-in counter by a very rude American Airlines agent. End up spending the night in nowhere-Auckland before flying out on day 17. Make a mental note to never fly with American Airlines again.

We had a flight from Queenstown to Auckland, and then Auckland to San Diego. We landed in Auckland, ran like we were in Home Alone to the International terminal, and after standing line for 15 minutes, were told that we were now too late to check our bags and would not be allowed on the flight (nor were the 10 people in front of us who had been standing there even before us).

We spent an hour on the phone with American trying to argue the point since nobody at the counter would help us, and it ended with us on the same flight the following day. We booked a hotel nearby, had some dinner and drinks, and that was it for the night. We were too far from the center of Auckland to enjoy the city, but we found a restaurant down the street and made the best of it!

What a view! Goodbye, beautiful Queenstown. It was a wonderful two weeks in New Zealand!
What a view! Goodbye, beautiful Queenstown. It was a wonderful two weeks in New Zealand!

Note: There are certainly things that we missed with only two weeks in New Zealand that I would have loved to see given more time – Mount Cook, Arthur’s Pass, and pretty much everything on the East Coast. That being said, I was incredibly happy with the decisions I made because everything we saw was spectacular and nothing I would have wanted to give up! So, go book your ticket, and start planning – happy travels!


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