New Zealand in 15 days or how to get the best of New Zealand in two weeks.
To discover New Zealand in 15 days is short (well, nothing can be long enough for this country if you want my unbiased opinion), but most people can’t really take more break from work and really want to visit the country.
A very dear friend of mine made me notice that I didn’t had an itinerary made for a two weeks road trip around New Zealand. Well, that is not exactly true (I am very disappointed in him!) because I made a special web site with a map and all the trip we took for 10 days. As it was our discovery of New Zealand, it is not the “perfect” New Zealand road trip.
Well, I am currently in a very bored state so I decided to take the challenge and write this perfect 15 days road trip to discover the best of New Zealand. There are only day hikes at his request. I might do an alternative route later but first, let’s get started with this one.
I call the following itinerary The Ro(senst)ad Trip.
The Ro(senst)ad Trip Itinerary.
Ok so here is the big map of what the trip will cover. As you can see, most of the time is spent in the South, but it is only because there are so many beautiful hikes over there. If you would rather be on a beach, there are more of them in the North (I will cover that in an alternative route).
As I said, this is what I would do if I had to go back two weeks and I had never seen anything of New Zealand before.
This itinerary stops only in one city (Wellington) and it is because of the boat to Picton. The time spent there will be relative to when you get to the city and at what time is the ferry.
There will be lots of hikes and some suggestions of activities (even for the Lord of the Rings lovers).
All the data are taken the day I am writing this article (as of the 16th of January 2018).
The trip will start in Auckland and end up in Christchurch. You can find afterwards flights from Christchurch to Auckland (via JetStar for example) or decide to drive all the way up from Wanaka to Auckland (without stopping in Christchurch).
What to expect in a road trip around New Zealand
It’s one of a lifetime trip!
- Stunning landscapes
- Lots of rain forests in the South around Fiordland
- Beautiful water colors
- Lots of French and German backpackers
- Lots of camper vans
- Lots of photographers
- The most amazing star gazing (especially for those from the North Hemisphere where the sky is TOTALLY different)
- Driving on the other side of the road (for some)
- Sleep in your car
- Take longer than what Google Maps says (limited to 100km/h there)
- Be on a gravel road (more than once)
- Drive through a river (more than once)
- Waking up way too early everyday
- LOTS of sandflies, take some repellent with deet with you… (don’t say I didn’t warn you)
- Weird weather conditions, you might need to adapt your trip accordingly
Driving / Getting around New Zealand
I won’t write long about this because I already made a very complete article here that I advise you to go read. There is a list of all the rental companies we saw during our trip as well as a range of price for the rentals.
Basically you can go around by car (+ tents or youth hostels or hostels or AirBnB), campervan, camper, even by bike, or by bus (there are tour buses as well as trip buses who just drop you off anywhere and you can take another one to anywhere again after).
PS: Don’t forget to make your playlist! Here is what was on the radio when we travelled around New Zealand.
Day 1 to 4: The North Island From Auckland to Wellington.
Day 1: Arrival & drive to Hobbiton
Arriving in Auckland and getting the rental
Road to Hobbiton (2h10, you should count 2h30)
I won’t say a lot about Auckland because I made an article there of our week end into the city.
If you have some time before the night and don’t want to visit Auckland I would recommend the Coromandel area. Here are some of the things you can do there:
(Overnight walk or day walk)
Check with the DOC if the roads are open, often subjected to floods. We wanted to go but when we went, there was a big flood that cut the access to the hike.
Hot Water Beach
Where you dig up a pool in the sand and you can see the water boil as it is very hot from the geothermal activity. At low tide only!
One Hour walk to get to the beach and to Cathedral Cove. You can walk under the arch at low tide. For better light: Go at Sunrise
Day 2: Visit of Hobbiton and Wai-o-Tapu & drive to Taupo
Visit of Hobbiton (3h without the wait)
Wai-O-Tapu (2h walking in the center)
Sleep at Huka Falls (Free camp for campervans and tents)
On the road if you want to stop at Rotorua, there is also a really nice Redwoods forest you can visit.
There are different walks to do (more or less long). There is also a walk in the trees (but it is not free) and you can also do it during the night (what we did).
Huka falls were my favorite falls of New Zealand. We have done them at sunrise and sunset and it was simply sunning. The flow of water is so powerful. It made me think of small niagara falls.
The parking is right next to the falls but it opens a bit late for sunrise and it closes a bit early for sunset so you will have to park right before the gates.
Nice views over the Tongariro National Park from here (on the other side of the lake). Kayak and boat tours are available to go see a carved Maori rock. The thing to know is that this carving is only from the 70’s. Yes, New Zealand is a young country.
Day 3: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (in one day)
The hike (at least 7h + 3h for the side walk up Mount Doom)
Sleep on the way to Wellington (or the Taranaki if the weather is good)
Wake up very early. You should aim to be at the start of the hike by 7AM if you can.
There is 1h road to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Taupo.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand and can be done in three days or it can be done in a day. It is not a round trip though so be careful. You would want to arrive at the finish before the buses stop or you should do one way half and then back the same way. I would recommend going until you can see the lakes.
Day 4: Road/Boat to the South Island
It will depend where you stopped to sleep after the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. But the goal is to take the boat to Picton on that day and start the road to Abel Tasman National Park.
I would recommend stopping in Wellington for a visit while waiting for the boat if you can. Here is an idea of itinerary if you want to see a bit of the Welly area. Otherwise, I put some activities to do on the map but here is my top 4 for half a day in this beautiful city.
Te Papa Museum
Very good free museum to visit. Check out what are the current exhibitions before going! We saw the WWI exhibition in partnership with Weta and it was the most amazing exhibition I had ever seen.
Short or long walk, you can go around the bay of Wellington by foot, going from a park, to the boats to a beach. There are many restaurants around and places to stop to enjoy the view. Look out in the transparent turquoise water for rays, orcas or dolphins.
On Sundays there is the market with lots of food trucks!
Either the lookout by car, mountain biking, or wandering in the woods looking for Lord of the Rings spots, Mount Vic is a to do in Welly.
We don’t hear much about Zeelandia but it is a bird reserve accessible by bus or by car. It is like a big forest where birds are free to fly in and out but that protects them from the devil possums. There are many different walks and you can spend 30 minutes as well as 3 hours.
Day 5 to 10: The South Island Part 1: From Picton to Queenstown.
Day 5: Abel Tasman National Park
Do the Abel Tasman Track by foot or rent a Kayak (I would recommend Kayaking (and take snorkling masks! You can see seals, pingouins, dolphins…)
(You can drive the car to go on the other side of Abel Tasman to Totaranoui Campground in order to see the orange sand > 1h30 from Marahau the start of the track/Kayak)
Sleep on the way to Arthur’s Pass (Nelson Lakes)
We spent ten days around the Abel Tasman area so we had some time to chill and explore more. Here are some of my recommendations if you have some spare time.
The very north of the south island of New Zealand. It is a huge sand bar where you can go up until some point where after it is a bird reserve so no one is allowed. We decided to go for a walk there and cross to the other side to come back. It was supposed to be an hour trip… It ended up as a four or five hours trip across sand dunes, fighting against the wind that was sending sand in our faces. Even if it was tough, it is a very good memory of mine.
Not too far from Farwell Spit, this beach has strange rock formations on the beach. It looks a bit like an elephant to me! You will walk across very typical sheep hills to get there.
Te Pupu Spring
It takes an hour to do the tour in the forest and get to the spring. It is surprising because the water is so clear that you can see up to 60m deep in some places of the spring (terrific for a drone flight but be careful of the birds). It is a wonder that is doomed to disappear over the next years.
This cave is a well kept secret. You will have to walk half an hour to an hour to get to the cave. You cannot actually walk inside the cave because of preservation but there is a path made so you can see the immensity of it. Stalactites are everywhere. They are made with the water going down but also with grass that grows on it. It gives the stalactite a weird look because the plants try to get the more light they can, changing the path the stalactite is going.
Day 6: Arthur’s Pass
Arthur’s Pass Hikes
Sleep (or not sleep) at Lake Tekapo to see the stars (Observatory)
Arthur’s Pass has a few hikes all along the pass as well as just point of views. It is a really nice drive even if you don’t do the hikes.
We have done a few of them and you can read about it on this article. I can recommend the Otira Valley (if you don’t have much time) and the Devils Punchballs Falls. If you have some time, the most famous hike of Arthur’s Pass is Avalanche Peak!
I won’t go long about Lake Tekapo because I already talked about it in this article but what you need to know is that Lake Tekapo is known to be a dark sky reserve (where there is very few light pollution so you can see the stars like nowhere else). There is an observatory where you can go but you can also see the stars for free.
If you go in Tekapo city, there are some city lights so I would recommend to find a side road and get a bit away from Tekapo it self.
If you want to take the “classic” Tekapo picture, don’t search: The church.
Day 7: Lake Pukaki & Aoraki / Mount Cook Area
Lake Pukaki & Aoraki / Mount Cook area and Hikes
Sleep at Tekapo or on the way to Wanaka
Though, now that this is said, This was truly the highlight of my trip. WAO. That view. If I had to see one thing of New Zealand again, that would totally be it. Everything is nice about this. The lake, the road to Aoraki / Mount Cook, the hikes. I wished we had done more there but… it’s a good reason to go back isn’t it?
There are shorter hikes and longer hikes in Aoraki / Mount Cook and you can find all about it on the DOC website here. Amongst those, for the short ones I would recommend the Tasman Glacier one and the Hooker Valley. There are some huts to do multi days trips (or longer day hikes) like the Mueller Hut.
Day 8: Wanaka
That Wanaka Tree (Most photographed tree in the history of the world…)
Short hikes around Wanaka
The only true reason why I wanted to stop in Wanaka in the first place was THAT Wanaka Tree. What the hell you will say. Well, this is one very famous tree because it stands alone in the water with a very scenic background of mountains. There are many other trees like this everywhere but this one is like one foot away from the shore of the lake and in that way, very accessible, a bit too much.
There is other stuff to see in Wanaka too. Like some hikes that are pretty. Diamond Lakes is very famous and accessible. Rob Roy Glacier is a bit further and you will have to take a 20km gravel road with fords (holes) filled with water to get there but I guess the hike is more interesting and the Glacier much more impressive than the lakes.
To know more about other hikes around Wanaka, check out the DOC website here.
Day 9: Roy’s Peak & Queenstown
Roy’s Peak (START EARLY to be there at sunrise! 3H walk VERY steep)
Way to Queenstown
Sleep in Queenstown (BOOK before…) or around…
For Roy’s Peak I will be short again because if you want to read more, there is everything you need to know here.
Just know that it is a very famous walk so there will be tons of people. Take enough water. Start early (like at 3 in the morning) to be there by sunrise. You can park at the car park and sleep (if you can call it sleep) there before hiking up.
Queenstown, oh Queenstown. This is the place to go to if you are an adrenaline seeker. Buggy jumps, fast boats, paragliding, mountain biking… You can almost do anything here, and they will always tell you it is the “best”, “higher”, “faster” thing you will do. That is also where you can book your boat tours to the Milford Sound or the Doubtful Sound.
If you have time during the day (and the will to do it after Roy’s Peak in the morning), I recommend Ben Lomond’s Hike but I put it in the next day to consider your physical safety!
If you want to sleep IN Queenstown, I advise you to book VERY early and not wait for the week before. In facts, this is a very touristy place and youth hostels and hostels fill up pretty fast.
Day 10: Ben Lomond’s Hike & Road to the Fjords
Ben Lomond Hike (take the gondola up it removes 2h from the hike. Total of 6 to 8h otherwise)
Sleep in Lumsden (free camp and free wifi) or Te Anau
Ben Lomond will offer you a pretty nice view over Queenstown and the Remarkables. You can shorten the hike by taking the Gondola and starting the hike at the Gondola. It will remove 1h30 at the start and 1h at the finish (plus it is not a really interesting part of the hike… You are in the woods walking up big stairs…). You can also decide to stop at the saddle and not do the whole hike so basically you can make the hike as long as you want. It is not a round trip, it is a way and back.
If you are into free camp for a night, I recommend this spot: Lumsden. It is between Te Anau and Queenstown and it has free real toilets and you can get the library free wifi! Otherwise you can sleep in Te Anau.
Day 11 to 15: The South Island Part 2: From Queenstown to Christchurch.
Day 11: Milford Sound
Milford Sound road
Boat in the Milford Sound & Lake Marian hike (In any order)
Sleep in Te Anau / Lumsden
There is only one road to the Milford Sound. You cannot get lost!
The road itself is a journey. There are many stops on the way where you can go around, enjoy the views. At some point you will cross another road that goes into a Fiord but not for long. The only reason why you would want to take it is to do a long hike up to join the Routeburn Track (and it is a hardcore side track) OR to do the Marian Lake hike. This one is more do-able and quite pretty! Be careful though not to get lost, the path is not really well indicated.
Before reaching the Milford Sound, you will have to go under a tunnel. Before the tunnel was built, people had to go there by boat, or cross the Mackinnon Pass by foot (what you do during the Milford Track). When you get to the tunnel, you might wait because of an alternate traffic. Be careful, Keas are there and might try to eat up your car’s rubber.
The Milford Sound is called the 8th wonder of the world in New Zealand. You can boat and kayak there. Know that there is no cell reception nor wifi. There is no shops except one tourist information with some things to eat but I would advise you to have some food with you. (And get gas before getting there too!).
If you want to do another Fjord, try the Doubtful Sound. We did the boat tour there and it was really nice. We even saw dolphins in the wild! And seals (but we are used to seals thanks to Welly ahah).
Day 12: Glenorchy
Lake Marian (if not done the day before)
Road to Glenorchy (Through Queenstown)
Sleep at the closest camp ground from the Routeburn Track start
The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is just amazing. We did it multiple times and the lake had different colors. First time it was kind of gray but the two times after it was turquoise. Enjoy the ride!
The goal of that day is to rest a bit, enjoy the views and get ready for the next day…!
Glenorchy is a cute little town that has just its location to offer, but what a location!
Here are my recommendations of what to do / see around Glenorchy
You can book rides to do horseback riding in the river, just like in Lord of the Rings. Actually, it is where they shot it!
Earnslow Glacier Hike
If you ask the lady in the Queenstown DOC center, she will tell you you are crazy to want to do this hike and it is very hard and you should try another one instead… Well, she managed to scare me alright but not Alexis. So he did it (in 6h instead of the 8 to 12 indicated). The Glacier is quite impressive with lots of waterfalls. They shot some scenes of LOTR there. The hike itself was quite boring because it is only in the forest and very demanding because the path is not well indicated and maintained. You have to follow the signs and not loose them.
Oh and in order to find the start you will have to follow the Road to Paradise (gravel). Then when you see a red postal box, you turn into that road (no, you are not entering someone’s place). Then before the road turns, you park on the left, next to the entrance of the sheep field. Go through the gate and walk towards the forest. You will see the sign of the starting point only when you reach the forest.
Yes, you read alright. Paradise is in New Zealand. They shot Isengard from Lord of the Rings there. Except that. At the end of the road, there is a parking lot with some hikes you can do.
Day 13: The Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track! Start EARLY! (10h)
Oh my dear Routeburn. The Routeburn track is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. This one, you can do it in one day if you are VERY fast. Otherwise, it is possible to do one side (way and back) in one day and the other side (way and back) in one day too.
If you have to choose, I would advise you to do the Glenorchy side. You will get the most magical view over the Darrans mountains and pretty much every where. You will be on top of the world! Do the side walk to the very top, you won’t be disappointed.
If you want to read more about the Routeburn Track, check out my article here.
Day 14 to 15: Getting back to Auckland
You can either go to Christchurch and drop off your rental and take a plane back up or drive back to Auckland (maybe more pricey because of the boat and longer for sure). It will take a bit more than 6h to drive from Glenorchy to Christchurch (without the stopping).
So on the way up, either you can do some things you haven’t had time to do, or just drive to Christchurch and visit the city (not worth it in my opinion).
This is it! Here you go for 15 days around the best of New Zealand.
If you do take some of my advices, please tell me what you thought of my itinerary. If you have some spots I missed in my maps, you can email, DM me and I will add it.
I hope you will enjoy New Zealand as much as I did. It is on the other side of the world for me but I will go back many times in the future for sure.