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5 of the Best NZ Itineraries for a 2-Week Vacation

Are you trying to fit all your must-do NZ destinations into two precious weeks of annual leave? We're passionate about itinerary planning at First Light Travel, but even we know how time-consuming and frustrating it can be.

That's why we're sharing five of our favourite 2-week New Zealand self-drive itineraries with you. Each one is based on one of the best-loved driving itineraries dreamt up by our experienced New-Zealand-based Travel Team. Whether you're a culture vulture, an outdoor enthusiast, a honeymooner or a road-trip junkie, we have a solution for you

Scroll through the itineraries or click one in the contents to read more about the one that interests you the most.

itineraries

Immerse yourself in NZ's history and culture

So you know about New Zealand's knockout scenery and its relaxed, friendly vibe. But what makes New Zealand so... New Zealandy? 

To get a real feel for what gives New Zealand so much heart, go a bit deeper and discover some special places that tell a story. 

Itinerary 1: New Zealand's Culture and Heritage Self Drive Itinerary

North and South Islands 

Duration: 14 days 

Start Location: Auckland 

Finish Location: Queenstown

 

New Zealand’s Culture and Heritage Self Drive Itinerary Overview

Where will you go?

Auckland > Bay of Islands > Rotorua > Napier > Wellington > Akaroa > Oamaru > Dunedin > Queenstown

What's great about this itinerary?

Where do we start? You'll visit:

  • The Waitangi Treaty Grounds where New Zealand's historic treaty between Maori and Europeans was signed (Bay of Islands)

  • Russell, a charming old harbourside village once dubbed "the Hellhole of the Pacific"

  • A Marae (Maori village) in Rotorua

  • Napier, a unique Art Deco city built from the ruins of a 1931 earthquake 

  • Wellington: New Zealand's culture (and actual) capital

  • Arrowtown, an old mountain mining town where you can still pan for gold.

  • Centuries-old Maori rock carvings created by moa-hunters. (South Canterbury)

  • Larnach Castle, New Zealand's one and only castle (Dunedin)

  • A vintage steamship cruise across Lake Wakatipu, with stunning mountain views (Queenstown)

The best part? You won't miss out on any of New Zealand's gorgeous scenery while you’re checking out its history and culture. Gems like the Bay of Islands,  the geothermal wonders of Rotorua, picturesque Hawkes Bay, and the lakes & mountain peaks of Queenstown are all part of this journey.

Tweak this itinerary...

For adrenalin junkies: instead of a steamship cruise on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, why not skydive over the lake instead? 

For wildlife lovers: trade some historical activities for wildlife excursions: swim with dolphins while in Akaroa instead of sightseeing, or visit the world's largest mainland gannet colony in Hawkes Bay.

For golfers: this itinerary takes you close to at least three of New Zealand's most scenic courses: Kauri Cliffs (Bay of Islands), Cape Kidnappers (Napier), and Queenstown Golf Club. Simply swap whichever activity suits you best.

Read the full New Zealand’s Culture & Heritage itinerary for in-depth descriptions, plus driving times & distances, and other practical information.

Travel In The Lap of Luxury

Of course, New Zealand's famously top-class scenery is on display to everyone who travels here. But if you want something secluded, exclusive and more than a little special, splash out on a New Zealand luxury lodge holiday. 

Itinerary 2: Luxury Lodges of New Zealand's North Island: A Self Drive Tour

North Island 

Duration: 14 days 

Start Location: Wellington 

Finish Location: Auckland

 

Read the Luxury Lodges of New Zealand’s North Island Itinerary Overview

Where will you go?

Wellington > Palliser Bay > Hawkes Bay > Rotorua > Bay of Islands > Waiheke Island > Auckland

What's great about this itinerary?

Away from the big city, this itinerary offers an access-all-areas pass to breathtaking private estates that few get to see:

  • Embrace country life while you stay on a 5,000-acre Wairapapa sheep station overlooking the spectacular Palliser Bay.

  • Stay in a historic Hawkes Bay mansion which has hosted British royalty. 

  • Sleep on a secluded Rotorua eco-reserve with seven trout streams, four lakes and over 70 km of forested hiking and biking trails. 

  • Enjoy a Bay of Islands hideaway perched on a clifftop with 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean.

  • Tempt your tastebuds with the fine wines of Waiheke Island, Auckland's equivalent of The Hamptons. 

By the end of your trip, you will have travelled the North Island from end to end, visited the North Island's premier wine regions, and witnessed breathtaking scenery with barely another soul in sight. 

By focusing on one island, you can stay 2-3 nights at each sumptuous destination, so you're never rushed and can get to know each place at your own pace.

Tweak this itinerary:

Luxury for less: if these lavish five-star lodges are out of your price range, you can travel the same route and stay at slightly less expensive lodgings: you can still enjoy wine touring, island-hopping, trout fishing or country walks without breaking the bank! Get in touch with our Travel Specialists with your budget and they'll give you some suggestions.

Head South: If you'd like a NZ luxury vacation in the South Island instead, our Luxury Lodges of the South Island itinerary is a similar style of holiday.

Check out the full Luxury Lodges of the North Island itinerary for in-depth descriptions, plus driving times & distances, and other practical information.

New Zealand's most scenic drives… all in one road trip.

With dramatic mountain passes, windswept coastlines mesmerizing scenery and hairpin bends, New Zealand is the perfect place for those who love a road trip. Embrace your inner Kerouac and get on the road...

Itinerary 3: Naturally New Zealand Self Drive tour

North and South Islands 

Duration: 13 days 

Start Location: Queenstown 

Finish Location: Auckland

 

Naturally New Zealand itinerary overview

 

Where will you go?

Queenstown > Franz Josef > Punakaiki > Wellington > Taupo > Rotorua > Auckland

What's great about this itinerary?

We love this itinerary because the journey is just as incredible as the destinations are. Just check out some of the highlights:

The famous Milford Road: Mirror Lakes, waterfalls and misty peaks line your route through Fiordland National Park the incomparably beautiful Milford Sound.

The Crown Range Road from Queenstown to Wanaka: admire the snowy peaks along New Zealand's highest main road.

The Haast Pass: cross the Southern Alps to Glacier Country via crystal clear waterfalls and silver beech forests of Mt Aspiring National Park.

Stunning ocean and rainforest views along the rugged West Coast road to Punakaiki.

Follow State highway 25 as it hugs the Coromandel coastline, twisting and turning and offering views to die for.

Drive the North Island's desolate Desert Road, stopping en route for photos of "Mt Doom".

Each of these classic Kiwi driving routes offers umpteen places to stop for a spontaneous picnic or photo stop along the route: there are hidden gems waiting to be discovered, from gorgeous blue pools to West Coast seal colonies. You never know what's around the next bend. 

Of course, you're not driving the whole time! And you will be enjoying the major attractions of Queenstown, Franz Josef, Wellington, Rotorua, The Coromandel and Auckland.

Read the full Naturally New Zealand self-drive itinerary for in-depth descriptions, plus driving times & distances, and other practical information.

Tweak this itinerary

For the ultimate road trip, why not campervan it! Take your creature comforts with you and never have to unpack. Chat to our travel specialists if you'd like them to price a campervan version of this itinerary for you.

Fancy a few more mountains? Switch up the South Island part of the itinerary by swapping coasts. Driving from Queenstown towards the East Coast, you'll snake over the Lindis Pass with gorgeous Mt Cook and Southern Alps views. Later, the drive from Kaikoura to Blenheim along State Highway 1 will take your breath away: with the mountains to your left and the rugged coastline to the right, it doesn't get much better. Drive this leg at sunset for maximum wow factor.

A South Island walking & wildlife itinerary

Both Kiwis and international visitors love to make the most of New Zealand's vast, well-maintained network of hiking trails. And who wouldn't?

Outdoor-lovers, this is the one for you. 

Itinerary 4: The Routeburn Track and Other Iconic Walks

South Island 

Duration: 13 days 

Start Location: Christchurch 

Finish Location: Queenstown

Where will you go?

Christchurch > Mt Cook > Oamaru > Dunedin > Central Otago > Te Anau > Routeburn Track > Queenstown

Read the full itinerary

What's great about this itinerary?

The incredible walking trails on this South Island itinerary will have you weaving through ancient forests, crossing swing bridges, walking alongside glaciers and through alpine meadows, including:

  • Four days walking the entire length of the Routeburn Track, with a knowledgeable guide by your side.

  • A guided walk on the Milford Track, New Zealand's most famous Great Walks trail.

  • Walk the Hooker Valley Track to the terminal face of the Tasman Glacier

  • But wait, there's more: 

  • Drive to Oamaru to watch the world's smallest penguins waddle from sea to shore.

  • Spot NZ fur seals and majestic Royal Albatross from the wildlife hotspot of Dunedin.

  • Keep an eye out for playful dolphins on a Milford Sound nature cruise.

A clever mix of self-drive segments and guided walks deftly avoids the problem of your car being stuck at the wrong end of the track!

Worried about snakes, predators or poisonous plants? You won't find them when hiking in New Zealand. So if you're prepared for the weather, and you stick to the well-marked major trails, it's less dangerous - and more accessible to novices - than many other countries. There are even huts on all the major trails, with kitchens and showers and bunks to sleep in. Not bad, hey? 

Tweak this itinerary

A little less walking, a little more driving: If a multi-day walk sounds a bit much, take a day walk on the Routeburn track from Queenstown instead. It's an easy (and spectacular) drive from Queenstown to the start of the forested Routeburn Track via beautiful Glenorchy. You can spend a couple of extra nights in Queenstown mixing fabulous shorter hikes (or no hikes at all if you want!) with jet-boating, skydiving, bungee jumping, and every adrenalin activity under the sun.

Treat yourself to luxury accommodation: After a few days on the trail, spend some extra money on a nice hotel for at least one night: somewhere you can soak those aching muscles in a hot bath and sink into a heavenly mattress for the best night's sleep you ever had. 

Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of the Routeburn & Other Iconic Walks itinerary

Slow down and savour the small things

Strolling on white-sand beaches, crunching freshly-picked apples at a roadside stall, soaking in steamy thermal spas... is this what your New Zealand dream holiday looks like? Unhurried, footloose and fancy-free?

Here's a sample New Zealand itinerary so relaxing that you'll forget what day it is.

Itinerary 5: A Relaxing New Zealand Itinerary

North and South Islands 

Duration: 14 days 

Start Location: Auckland 

Finish Location: Queenstown

See an itinerary overview for the Relaxing New Zealand driving holiday

Where will you go?

Auckland > Bay of Islands > Matakana > Rotorua > Nelson > Queenstown

What's great about this itinerary?

  • 3 nights in the enchanting Bay of Islands for sailing, sea-kayaking, and feasting on fish and chips on the tree-fringed beaches.

  • 3 nights in other-worldly Rotorua for steamy geothermal landscapes and rainbow-coloured terraces - don't forget to soak your cares away in the local Polynesian spa! 

  • The bohemian town of Nelson at the top of the South Island is your base for the next 3 nights while you wander the golden beaches and pristine forests of Abel Tasman National Park

  • Finally, hop on a flight from Nelson to Queenstown, where there are endless ways to chill out: Try a scenic Lake Wakatipu steamship cruise, a Gibbston valley wine tour, a breathtaking day trip to Milford Sound, or artisan ice-creams and a glass of bubbly on the waterfront.

Maybe spending a huge amount of time on the road just doesn't appeal to you. This may be especially true if you're travelling with young kids.

The solution? Choose two or three major regions, and fly from one to the next instead of driving. Simple!

Why travel this way? Instead of driving hundreds of kilometres between destinations, you're taking shorter drives and day trips to the places you really want to see. The car becomes a convenience instead of a curse.

Hire a car in each section and drop it off at the airport, board a flight to your next "hub", pick up another hire car at your next destination. 

It will cost a little more to travel this way, but not as much as you would think: if you book a few weeks or months in advance, New Zealand domestic flights are much cheaper, and you're getting great value when you think of all the time you will save.

Tweak this itinerary

Family-friendly beaches: Switch Abel Tasman for the safe, sheltered beaches and chilled-out hippy vibes of Golden Bay, one of the favourite holiday destinations for New Zealand families.

 

Honeymoon hideaways: This is the perfect itinerary for a blissfully laid-back honeymoon. Simply pair this itinerary with some out-of-town, out-of-the-ordinary accommodation options if you’d like to take it up a notch. We love this private cave apartment carved into a Bay of Islands hillside, and this Rotorua woodland wilderness escape, get in touch with us for more great ideas!

Here’s a day-by-day itinerary breakdown to inspire you further

Did our top five 2-week New Zealand Itineraries Inspire You?

We hope you found elements of your own NZ dream vacation among the options above. If your tastes are a little more specialised, don’t worry - we have some more 2-week itinerary suggestions for you below!

Lord of the Rings

14 Day Lord of the Rings (Hobbit) film locations self-drive itinerary

Foodies

13 Day Wine, Food, Art and Sculpture self-drive itinerary


Family Fun

15 Day Kiwi Adventure Itinerary for families with kids aged 8-14

Golf

15 Day Golfers Dream Tour of New Zealand

Fly Fishing

13 Day South Island New Zealand Fly Fishing Itinerary

Skiing and Snowboarding

13 Day South Island Winter Adventure Circuit

First Light Travel

As New Zealanders specializing in self-­drive holidays, First Light Travel are the experts when it comes to producing a boutique itinerary just for you. If you are inspired to experience New Zealand’s top tourist attractions, give us a call so we can help to make your New Zealand bucket list vacation a reality.

To receive a free, no-obligation, personalised itinerary - just follow the link and answer a few brief questions.

Tags
Self Drive Tours
Maz
Submitted by
Marianne Davies
: 2 Apr 2020 (Last updated: 2 Sep 2020)

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