Planning a trip to New Zealand: Info, tips + the ultimate travel itinerary

Some people consider New Zealand to be the most beautiful country in the world. I won’t comment on whether or not that’s true, but I can’t help but admit that it is indeed an absolute gem.
During my 25-day trip I explored both the North and the South Islands of New Zealand. I discovered its breath-taking, varied landscapes and found myself slowly, but steadily falling in love with this country on the other side of the world.
Do you want to know how to plan a trip to New Zealand? Or are you just looking for some inspiration to figure out your travel itinerary for New Zealand all by yourself? Don’t worry, all of your questions will be answered in this article.

Package trips to New Zealand

Is planning a trip to New Zealand not really up your sleeve? No worries! You can always book a package trip. These tours aren’t cheap, however. Luckily you get a fantastic experience in return! You can always have a look at these deals to find some inspiration:

Preparing and planning your trip through New Zealand

Planning a travel itinerary for New Zealand is easier said than done. It takes an awful lot of time and preparation. To make things a little easier on your behalf, I’ll tell you all about how I planned my trip to New Zealand.

Flights

Flights from Europe (or the United States) to New Zealand are everything but cheap. This makes perfectly sense, since the total travel time quickly adds up to 48 hours.

I flew with Cathay Pacific in Premium Economy Class to Hong Kong and from there, I continued my journey to Auckland. If you’d like to take a good nap or enjoy a little bit more luxury, Premium Economy Class is definitely worth the extra money. You’ll find a more in-depth review of the entire experience in this article.

I flew back to Europe from Christchurch.

You’ll pay at least flight to New Zealand) for your flight, or even more. To book the cheapest plane tickets, I advise you to use SkyScanner.
If you’re interested in learning how to look for the guaranteed cheapest flights, you should definitely check out this article.

new zealand flights

Make yourself comfortable, because flights to New Zealand take more than 24 hours!

Accommodation

When it comes to accommodations, I usually use Booking.com, but in New Zealand I found myself choosing (and using) Agoda more often.
Booking offers a great range of accommodations in New Zealand, yet I found slightly more interesting deals or better accommodation options through Agoda. Plus, I noticed that you can always freely cancel your booking through Agoda a lot more in advance. Which is definitely a huge advantage!
During your New Zealand road trip there will always be changes to the itinerary. You’ll find yourself wanting to stay longer in certain places, or leave earlier than planned, and then it’s always nice to get a refund without any hassle.

Tongariro National Park Waterfalls

No matter where you’ll stay, you’re always close to jaw-dropping nature!

Finding a (dirt) cheap rental car for your road trip in New Zealand

I feel that a self-drive in New Zealand is by far the best way to travel around the country. Whether you pick a regular economy car or a camper (van); a car truly only offers advantages.
Renting a car in New Zealand offers you so much more freedom and the ability to wander around at your own pace. Unfortunately, package trips or excursions do not offer that luxury.

Some spots in this country are so breathtakingly beautiful that you just want to enjoy them a little bit longer. And if you have your own rental car in this scenario, you’ll totally understand what I mean!

It might sound too good to be true, but for my road trip through New Zealand in 25 days I only paid €600 ($670) with all-in insurance included! That amounts to barely €24 ($26) for a self-drive in New Zealand!

If you’ve been keeping an eye on this blog, you’ll know that I always book my rental cars through RentCars or Sunny Cars. Of course, this time was no different.

RentCars offered me the possibility to book a simple car for €12,50 ($14) per day and in addition I paid €11,50 ($13) per day for all-in insurance. Things can always go wrong during a long trip, so it’s best to be properly insured!

It’s a good thing I paid for insurance, by the way. Because on the 23rd day of my self-drive in New Zealand I damaged the bottom of my car. Price tag: €650 ($725).
After this amount was automatically taken from my deposit, I submitted all necessary forms and the bank statement to RentCars, and within three days I was given a full refund. Speaking of excellent service!

Sunny Cars also often has some really great deals, which come with the extra advantage that you’re automatically fully insured. Whatever happens: you never have to sort things out yourself, because they immediately pay and solve everything.

self drive new zealand

If you’re self-driving in New Zealand, you constantly get to enjoy its magnificent surroundings.

Good to know when renting a car in New Zealand

Are you renting a car in New Zealand? Excellent idea! That way you get to see and enjoy a whole lot more! Here are some tips and facts to help you prepare for a road trip in this vast country:

  • New Zealand consists of two islands. To explore both islands, you can use the ferry from Wellington to Picton. Two companies offer this service: Interislander and Bluebridge.
    Interislander is situated a little bit outside the center of Wellington, but you’ll also find rental car companies in this area. If you’re booking through Bluebridge, you’ll have to drop off your car here first, and then grab a taxi/Uber to get to your ferry.
  • Are you using the ferry from the North Island to the South Island? Bear in mind that some car rental companies won’t allow this ferry crossing. They demand that you leave behind your rental car, and rent a new one once you’ve made the crossing by ferry. Often this proves to be more advantageous, because if you want to bring your car on the boat, you have to pay (a lot) for it. If you’re renting a car in New Zealand through RentCars, they contact you automatically if you’re not allowed to bring your car to the other island. They also arrange a second car for you without any extra costs.
  • You will almost always get an automatic rental car. Therefore, I don’t recommend paying extra for it.
  • You definitely don’t need to rent a 4×4 during your road trip through New Zealand. Everything that I’ve visited was accessible by a regular (budget) car. Of course I won’t stop you if you prefer having some more comfort 😉
  • Keep in mind that the roads in New Zealand are really curvy, which make you drive a lot more slowly than back home. Add the freight traffic to the mix (or the really laid-back local drivers) and a 2-hour drive on Google Maps quickly becomes three hours in real life.
  • Don’t forget that you also need to pay for gas. It’s cheaper than in Europe, but not that much. In 2018-2019 I paid about €1,20 ($1,34) for a liter of gas. So that’s about five bucks for a gallon, making it more expensive than gas in the States.
  • Have you decided to rent a car through RentCars? Then be sure to add the insurance while you’re booking online. On site you pay up to 200% more per day and you’re therefore not necessarily better insured.
    Renting a car through Sunny Cars? In that case you are automatically fully insured.
    Many car rental companies will try to sell you insurance on top of the insurance that you already have through RentCars or Sunny Cars, but just don’t take up on their offer. The deposit they will take from your credit card will be large, but that’s just scaremongering. If an accident were to happen that is included in your insurance policy (almost anything), then they will reimburse the costs without any hassle.
  • Stick to the speed limit. Sometimes it can be very tempting to put the pedal to the metal, however, don’t forget that speed checks are ubiquitous in New Zealand. Luckily, fines are far cheaper than in Europe, but often the car rental company will charge you an additional cost to send the fine to you back home.
car hire new zealand tongariro

If only all roads were that beautiful!

Excursions or tours

Though I do recommend planning as much as possible beforehand, sometimes it’s necessary to buy an excursion, tour or ticket.

Are you visiting Hobbiton? Then I recommend booking your tickets far in advance. Guided tours through the magical Hobbit village often sell out months in advance, and this is one of the best places to go to in New Zealand. Therefore, you definitely don’t want to miss out on this gem.

The same goes for the Waitomo glowworm caves.

Sometimes it’s actually necessary to book a tour, since they can be the only way to visit certain sights. Think for example of the impressive White Island (a volcano in the middle of the sea). Or a swim with wild dolphins or seals that you’ll never forget or an impressive helicopter tour where you land on the biggest and most impressive glacier in New Zealand.

To find inspiration or if you wish to book your tickets and tours beforehand, I advise you to have a look at the offer on GetYourGuide. They use competitive prices and besides, you can always cancel for free up to 24 hours in advance. If the weather forecast doesn’t look that good, that is certainly an advantage.

excursions new zealand tours

Tours to White Island sell out really fast. It is thus advised to plan (a little bit) in advance!

Food in New Zealand

Food in New Zealand definitely isn’t cheap. Restaurants aren’t that bad in my opinion, because often they’re not that much more expensive than in Western Europe. Drinks, on the other hand, are in many cases a lot pricier.

If you’re eating out in New Zealand, you’ll quickly pay between $20 and $40 per person. Converted to euros, that is about €12 to €25 (or 13 tot 26 American dollars).

If you cook yourself, you’d think that you’d save money, but weirdly enough that’s not always the case! Supermarkets are really expensive here. A readymade pasta sauce and pasta will easily set you back about €10 ($11), which will buy you take-away pasta in other parts of the world.
Here are a couple more examples of their (crazy) prices: you’ll pay about €4 to €5 for half a kilo chicken (which is about the same as you’d pay in Europe), but 12 eggs will knock you back almost €5 ($5,50).

Mc Donalds and Burger King are also well represented here, and often these fast food chains aren’t that expensive. Yet, I do advise you to check out the ‘local’ fast food chains. I found them so much more enjoyable and often not that pricier. You should definitely try Burgerfuel. They have delicious burgers with vegan and vegetarian options as well.

new zealand food fergburger

You should definitely try out the world famous Fergburger. If you’re prepared to brave huge queues.

Travel itinerary of my road trip through New Zealand (25 days)

After my adventures through Vietnam, the Philippines and Australia, I continued my journey towards mythical New Zealand.
Here, I’ve had the pleasure to travel around for 25 days in my little rental car.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand and looking for some inspiration? Below you will find my personal travel itinerary.
Would you like to see more pictures or have an overview of all sights that I saw during my road trip through New Zealand? Then you should definitely read this article as well.

Day 1 & 2: Auckland

After an exhausting flight to New Zealand, you immediately arrive in the biggest city in the country. More than half of all of its inhabitants live here, and it’s also the only city with more than one million residents.
I suggest that you cast aside your tiredness and only go to bed when night time has arrived. This way, you avoid being too jetlagged and can start your road trip through New Zealand on the right foot.

There are quite a few fun things to do in Auckland, but I wouldn’t stay here longer than two days. The country’s amazing nature awaits you!

Auckland New Zealand

Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand.

Day 3: Hobbiton and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

From Auckland, I booked my car through RentCars (€600 or $670 for 25 days!) and immediately ventured further inland.
Hobbiton is one of the most fun sights on the North Island of New Zealand; the infamous movie set of director Peter Jackson.

Bear in mind that coming from Auckland, it easily takes a three-hour drive (!) before arriving on the scene.
I mapped out my route so that I could make some nice stops on my way. If you also do this, make sure you leave early enough in Auckland. The distances are large and both the glowworm caves and Hobbiton can only be visited at fixed times.

Definitely try to visit the amazing Bridal Veil Falls today as well, and from there venture on to the magical Waitomo Glowworm Caves. During a tour here, you set foot in a pitch-dark cave complex which serves as the home of a million glowworms.
You won’t believe your eyes! When you marvel at the light-blue lights that flicker all around you, you can’t help but be impressed with their indescribable splendor. Personally, I consider them to be one of the most impressive sights in this wonderful country. Enjoy them to the fullest, because they are a rare sight to behold.

To make this day even more magical, I advise you to end it in Hobbiton. This is the world famous home village of Frodo and Bilgo Baggins from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies and books.

This movie set truly is amazing! From the moment you cross the threshold of this imposing domain, you will get carried away. A guide will take you along and guide you through the most beautiful places, while narrating the funniest stories. You end your memorable tour in the mythical Green Dragon Inn. That’s right, the one from the movies!
You can read more about this fantastic place in this blog post.

Continue straight to Whakatane or Tauranga in the evening, the perfect starting point for your tour of tomorrow.

bridal veil falls planning a trip to new zealand

This waterfall (Bridal Veil Falls) is only a ten-minute walk from the road.

planning a trip to New Zealand Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

This magical spectacle is waiting for you, once you enter the Waitomo Caves!

Hobbiton New Zealand

Hobbiton is awesome!

Day 4: White island / Whakaari

Whakaari is a splendid sight that strangely enough, is skipped by many people.

From the mainland in New Zealand, you have to travel for about one hour by boat before you reach White Island or Whakaari. There’s only one company that organizes this tour (White Island Tours).
It’s a pretty pricey tour, but oh boy, it is well worth the money!

This little island is actually nothing but an active volcano. The landscapes here will surely take your breath away. The black ashes are in stark contrast with the white-yellow sulfur that makes this place smell really bad. But don’t worry, during your excursion you always get a mask to keep away the odor (and the stinging sensation in your throat).
At the very back of this island, you will find a most impressive location. In fact, this is where you’ll see a gigantic cooking pot. Here you will find peculiar, turquoise water bubbling softly, slowly turning into enchanting clouds of steam.

It seems like you’ve ended up on a different planet here! What fantastic and varied landscapes you see in this place.

During your way back, it’s also very likely that a couple of dolphins will swim along the boat. Which makes it the perfect way to end this day, doesn’t it?

After your visit to this active volcano, you should definitely hang around for a bit. There are a couple of small and quaint villages and cities which you can explore.
Tomorrow promises to be a day where you’ll spend quite some time in your car, but fortunately, there are a couple of fun sights to be discovered en route.

Whakaari self drive New Zealand

Set foot in Whakaari and you think you’ve arrived on an inhabited planet!

white island new zealand itinerary

You wouldn’t think so, but this actually is planet Earth!

Day 5: Continue driving to Tongariro with a couple of fun stops

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered by some people to be the most beautiful day hike in the world. You immediately understand why this epic yet hellish climb can’t be skipped during your New Zealand road trip.

However, before you get there, I urge you to make a few more stops. In any case, it is better to start the Tongariro trek early in the morning, because the entire hike takes between 6 and 9 hours.

If you’re curious about all the volcanic activity on the island, then the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland may be of interest to you. Here you will find a great number of steaming, smelly wells that bubble continuously due to the presence of underground volcanoes. I found this large lake to be incredibly mesmerizing, thanks to a chemical reaction that makes it glimmer in almost every color of the rainbow.

After your visit to Waiotapu, it’s not a bad idea to admire the destructive power of the Huka Falls. This might not be a really high waterfall, but it’s definitely one of the most powerful waterfalls that I’ve ever seen!
The clear blue water here changes into a white swirling mass and takes everything in its path down with it. Are you an adrenaline junkie? Then you should definitely book a ride on the Jet Boat. These super-fast boats will try to bring you as close as possible to this waterfall. Don’t forget to put on your raincoat, because you’re guaranteed to be soaked!!

Tongarino is not that far of a drive from here. Once you’ve arrived in the general area, you luckily get to enjoy the wonderful views in the Tongariro National Park. If you have some time left, then I advise you to take your car to explore this area of the park. After all, there’s so much more to do and see than just the famous Alpine Crossing.
You’ll also find numerous waterfalls here, as well as astonishing viewpoints and even a castle functioning as a luxurious hotel (Chateau Tongariro, starting from €76/$85 per night).

waiotapu thermal wonderland new zealand

Vivid colors and not the most egg-citing scents in Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland.

huka falls planning a trip to new zealand

It might not look that impressive on the photo, but just wait until you see the Huka Falls from up close!

tongariro national park new zealand

This magnificent crater is yours to climb tomorrow!

Day 6: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Finally, the time has arrived…Today you will conquer the phenomenal Mount Tongariro.

I recommend arranging transportation that will pick you up at your accommodation and take you to the starting point of the hiking route, as well as picking you up at the other side of the hike to bring you back to your hotel.

You can of course take your own car, but then you have to find a way to get to the starting point after you’ve completed your hike. Besides, you can only park your car for four hours, while the average person easily needs seven hours to bring this trek to a successful conclusion.

Throughout this gnarly hike, the landscape is constantly changing. The black-gray ash colored ground makes way for coffee-like gravel. Just a little bit further, you’ll find nothing but grasses which in turn change into a tropical rainforest. You get the most beautiful views during this trek between the Red Crater and the Blue Lake. It seems like you’re wandering around on another planet here! 

If you’re planning on going on this exhausting yet epic hike, make sure you are well prepared. Bring comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing (the weather can be treacherous here!!!), plenty of food and drinks and of course the right attitude. Seven hours of climbing, walking and scrambling is not exactly a walk in the park!

Even though this definitely isn’t a trek for softies, I truly recommend everyone to include this in their travel itinerary of New Zealand. For me it was one of the most beautiful things to do in New Zealand.
Do you still need a bit of encouragement? Well then, just know that in the middle of this hike, I was talking to a 75-year old woman! If she can do it, surely you can do it too!?

starting point Tongariro Alpine Crossing

This is just the beginning of this trek, and it’s already that unworldly!

travel itinerary new zealand tongariro alpine crossing

The journey there is deadly exhausting, but this view is so incredibly beautiful that you quickly forget all of that!

Day 7: Forgotten world Highway, Whangamomona and Mount Taranaki

After such an enormous physical effort, you have to give your muscles a little rest of course.

That’s why I didn’t think it was a bad idea to spend almost this entire day in the car. Make sure you have enough gas in your tank, because you hardly find gas stations for the rest of the day!

From the Tongariro National Park you quickly get to the Forgotten World Highway. This route was once frequented by trucks, but because better roads have now been built, it’s become a bit of a ‘ghost way’. I don’t know why, because the landscapes you get to see along the way are truly breath-taking!

During this brilliant road trip in New Zealand, you get your worth out of your rental car! You descend and climb along green valleys (with fantastic views!!!), but you also pass a couple of roads which take you through rain forests, swinging suspension bridges and dark tunnels.

During your drive along the Forgotten World Highway, you definitely can’t forget to also visit Whangamomona. This tiny township has proclaimed itself a republic (as a joke). You might see the ex-president standing somewhere in the meadow, because he was none other than ‘Billy the Kid’ (a goat). Later, a poodle and a tortoise succeeded him as leader of this small nation. Their current president is a human again (Vicki Pratt), but she was actually elected against her will.
There’s really not that much to see here, but you have to drop by city hall (which at the same time also serves as a tavern and the only hotel in the republic). You can also have your passport stamped here ($2). Let’s be honest…Who doesn’t want to have a stamp from such an exotic-sounding republic?

From this strange place, it certainly takes an hour and a half to get to Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont, one of the most beautiful mountains in New Zealand. This volcano seems to be almost perfectly symmetrical and is therefore every photographer’s dream.
If you want to stretch your legs for a bit, you can go on a couple of splendid hikes in this national park. And of course you can also climb Mount Taranaki, though I only advise doing so in good weather.

My muscles were aching because of yesterday’s trek, and so I decided just to walk around this mastodon. The Puakai-Circuit-Tarns, the Mangorei Track and the view from Lake Mangamohoe are in any case fantastic!

If you’d like to enjoy this peaceful environment a little bit longer, you can definitely stay here for the night. Especially in the morning this really seems a magical place to me.
Have you had enough of nature for a while? Then you can already head down to Wellington.

forgotten world highway new zealand self drive

The Forgotten World Highway. Wow!

Whangamomona new zealand

Once you’ve passed this sign, you’re in the republic of Whangamomona. Don’t forget to have your passport stamped!

Mount Egmont Taranaki New Zealand

Mount Egmont!

Day 8: Wellington

All the way in the south of the North Island lies Wellington, New Zealand’s capital.
Compared to Auckland this is actually just a small city, but yet, you can browse around here for one or two days. Even if it’s just to recover for a bit from your walking and climbing escapades!

If the weather’s nice, I definitely recommend strolling along the quay. After all, here you are treated to a pretty view of the high-rise and surrounding nature. For an even better view of the capital, you can go for a (brisk) walk towards the Mount Victoria Lookout. Are you still too tired from all the hikes you’ve been going on in the past days? Book a ride on the Wellington Cable Car.
Personally, I’m not that fond of museums, but still I found a visit to the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum to be really interesting. In this waterfront building, you will learn everything you need to know about New Zealand. There are various exhibitions on the Maori (the original inhabitants of NZ), the colonization of the two islands, information about the unique fauna and flora of this country and of course, much more. Schedule at least one or two hours for your visit, because it really is pretty interesting! Definitely make your way to the highest floor as well, because from there you also have a phenomenal sight of Wellington.

In the vicinity of the capital, you will also find all kinds of activities and sights, but I skipped all of them.

By the way, I have another tip for foodies! Be sure to drop by Chippery (thechippery.co.nz). They have various locations in Wellington and these have got to be the most delicious fish and chips I have ever eaten. You should definitely try the Kumara fries (sweet potato). This truly is heavenly food!

wellington capital new zealand

Wellington’s quay. In good weather, all kinds of boats sail around here!

Day 9: Ferry from Wellington to Picton

From Wellington you can take the ferry to Picton (the South Island). There are two companies that make this ferry crossing: Bluebridge and Interislander.

Remember that many car rental companies don’t just allow this ferry crossing. Very often you have to drop off your car in Wellington and then pick up a new one in Picton.

I booked my rental car through RentCars and they made sure I had a new car ready in Picton without any problems. Also all-in rental company Sunny Cars takes care of this for you without any additional costs.

Finally, it is important to know that Bluebridge departs from the center and Interislander is a couple of kilometres from Wellington.
At the place where the Interislander ferries depart, you’ll also find the car rental companies where you have to drop off your car.
Are you traveling with Bluebridge? Then you’ll have to grab a taxi or Uber after you’ve dropped off your car.

Since this ferry crossing takes about four hours, and you’ll also have to wait a while before boarding, I’d advise keeping your itinerary pretty clear for that day. There’s really not that much to see in Picton.

ferry new zealand picton wellington

When taking the ferry from Wellington to Picton you cross the Cook Strait. Make sure you pop outside once in a while, because the landscapes are pretty impressive!

Day 10: Continue driving to Abel Tasman National Park

You’ve probably noticed by now that during this road trip through New Zealand, you’ll be spending many hours in your rental car. This makes sense of course, since the distances in New Zealand are quite large! From Picton you’ll need at least three hours to drive to the incredibly beautiful Abdel Tasman National Park.

Depending on the time of your departure, you can already start exploring this national park for a bit. A day at the beach is also fun!

beach abel tasman national park

This beach awaits you at the beginning of the Abel Tasman National Park.

Day 11: Walking around and enjoying the Abel Tasman National Park

The Abel Tasman National park is one of the most beloved national parks in New Zealand. You can easily understand why when you see the tropical beaches and untouched jungles peeking out from the distance.

This park isn’t accessible by car, so if you want to explore all of it (67 km), you have to rely on your good old legs or a boat.

If you choose the latter option, you have to book your taxi boat in advance. This will pick you up or drop you off at a certain point alongside the route. Many people consider the walk from Anchorage or Torrent Bay to Bark Bay to be the most beautiful one. But to get here, it easily takes a couple of hours of walking from the entrance. That’s why a short boat ride is quite convenient. Besides, you also get a different view of the Abel Tasman National Park.

Do you also want to cruise around the entire park and at the same time also have plenty of time to explore a few viewpoints and beaches? Then you can also book a one-day cruise.

abel tasman national park new zealand itinerary

During your hikes through the national park, you often walk through jungle.

abel tasman national park beach

After all that walking, a bit of beach time isn’t bad either.

Day 12: Continue driving to Kaikoura

One full day in the Abel Tasman National Park was enough for me, but if you’d like to walk around some more: be my guest!

From here, it’s once more quite a long drive to your next destination: Kaikoura. Schedule a break now and then, because you’ll be spending at least five hours on the road. About half way, you drive the entire road along the east coast of New Zealand. So you will also be presented with a great number of beautiful sights along the way!

Kaikoura would just be an ordinary town in New Zealand, if it weren’t for the fantastic and abundant wildlife that can be spotted here. Whales, dolphins, seals, birds, and so on. This is the absolute paradise for animal lovers! If you don’t get there too late, then I advise you to already check out the seal colony which can be found right next to this town.
On the rocky beaches, there are hundreds –sometimes even thousands! – of seals resting and warming up after their exhausting hunting adventures in the open sea.
You can get pretty close to them, but make sure you respect the animals. After all, they’re exhausted from swimming (sometimes they stay awake for several days in a row to look for food!), and therefore they really need their rest.
In the vicinity of this colony, you’ll also find a plethora of breeding grounds of seabirds. They’re a wonderful sight to behold, but cover your ears because these animals can screech extremely loudly!

On a clear day, you have to go to the Kaikoura Lookout as well. From here, you’ll get the best sight of the city and the adjacent sea.

seal colony Kaikoura

You can see these seals in Kaikoura from really up close.

Kaikoura lookout point road trip new zealand

During your road trip through New Zealand you cannot miss out on this view.

Day 13: Swimming with dolphins and/or swimming with seals

You can book a great number of excursions in Kaikoura that involve spotting wild animals. For example, you can opt for a whale safari, but even more fun is meeting Kaikoura’s dolphins or seals up close.
If you’re planning on going on one of these field trips, I do recommend planning sufficiently in advance. The spots are really limited and also the weather plays a major part when it comes to availabilities. Fortunately, there are multiple moments per day during which you can swim with dolphins and/or seals.

If you’ll do both, I advise you to schedule one in the morning and the other one in the afternoon. After all, each tour takes multiple hours and besides, it’s pretty tiring to swim and splash around.
After my endeavors in the morning, I was also really light-headed. In the end it appeared I’d become a little bit seasick.
I’ve already had my share of boat rides, but that had never happened to me before. Because I was spinning around the entire time to get a good look at the dolphins, I became dizzy. Add the ice-cold water and the rocking boat to the mix and well, you can understand why I needed a break before heading for open waters again.

I myself went for a swim with dolphins alone, but I can recommend it to anyone! The water is freezing here, but once your body has adapted, there’s nothing left but enjoy the experience.
Tens to hundreds (!) curious dolphins will come swim around you. Sometimes they are fast as lightning, other times they’ll stick around for a while. When you’re in the company of dolphins, you can act as goofy as you want, because it seems they’re attracted to strange noises and movements.
Seals on the other hand, are a totally different story. With them, you should remain quietly in the water. Only then they’ll become curious and get closer. If you get too loud near these animals, they will consider you to be a predator and will quickly swim away.

Afterwards you get to enjoy these magnificent marine animals from the boat for a while. If you see that many of them flocked together, you can’t help but be happy!

new zealand swimming with dolphins

Your friends and family will surely envy you when they see the pictures of you and the New Zealand Flipper!

new zealand dolphins kaikoura

By the way, these dolphins are super playful and will happily show their tricks to you and everyone on the boat!

Day 14: Castle Hill and the Great Alpine Highway

Today will be another day during which you’ll spend a good amount of time cozied up in your car. Fortunately, the landscapes you get to admire along the way are jaw-droppingly beautiful, making the car ride over before you know it.

While you cruise through the endless valleys, you suddenly end up at somewhat of an odd sight named Castle Hill.
All of a sudden, you will find yourself marveling at the hundreds of castle-like rock formations, peculiarly placed throughout a vast green landscape.
This environment was used for the filming of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Stretch your legs for a sec and go check out this natural splendor from up close. There’s still a long drive ahead of you, so it’s definitely not a bad idea to take a short break.

Once you’ve reached Castle Hill, you’re actually already cruising on the Alpine Highway. An astonishing road which will guide you along marvelous landscapes. The surroundings are constantly changing, forcing you to pause your road trip through New Zealand for a while to take some pictures. Wow!

Depending on your pace –note that in New Zealand there are many speed checks– you’ll arrive in the (early) evening in Franz Josef. Keep your fingers crossed for some good weather for the next day! After all, you’re about to visit the most beautiful glacier in New Zealand!

planning a trip to new zealand castle hill

When you’re planning your trip in New Zealand, you should skip Castle Hill. Impressive, right?

great alphine highway new zealand road trip

Of course you can’t skip the Great Alpine Highway during your (road) trip through New Zealand!

Dag 15: Franz Josef Glacier

Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse, and so I wasn’t able to visit the Franz Josef Glacier myself. I would still highly recommend doing it –if the weather conditions favor you, of course– friends of mine told me that it’s really worth your while.

A helicopter will offer you unforgettable sights, while circling above the glacier. That’s where you’ll safely land and next, you are given a guided tour of this icy landscape. It is on the pricier side, but it looks bloody amazing!

Did you also get unlucky with the weather? Then either you can go for a walk that brings you to a viewpoint, or you can explore Lake Matheson (though truth be told, I think this isn’t really worth it in bad weather).

Today, or tomorrow morning, you can immediately continue your journey towards Wanaka.

franz josef glacier new zealand itinerary

This white wasteland looks really breath-taking!

Day 17 and 18: Wanaka and the Roys Peak track

Wanaka actually is just a small town, but if the sun is shining there, you’ll never want to leave!
Take your time to relax on the pebble beach of Wanaka and take a dip in the (ice-cold) lake. Offering sensational sights of the Southern Alps, it really is a wonderful place to be.

Remember to visit #ThatWanakaTree. This lonely tree quietly grows on its own little island and attracts a great number of Instagram fans. Especially during sunset, it can get pretty crowded here. Which makes sense of course, since it’s the perfect moment to snap some pictures!

The ultimate reason to visit Wanaka however, is the Roys Peak Track. The views during this tiresome yet deadly climb aren’t that spectacular, but once you’ve reached the top, this bad boy will truly take your breath away!
I recommend that you don’t leave too late. On the one hand, since it’s won’t be too crowded but on the other hand, you won’t overheat as quickly in the summer.

Contrary to many other hikes in New Zealand, this 5 to 7-hour route (back and forth) is pretty monotonous. After a good two-hour climb, you finally arrive at the first viewpoint and there you luckily get to enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramas in New Zealand. A mountain landscape which is crossed by gorgeous lakes stretches out before you. Mother Nature clearly loves this country!

Many people are knackered after this first part of the hike, still I advise you to climb up a little bit further. It will take you about one hour, but the views here are far superior. No pain, no gain!

That Wanaka tree

#ThatWanakaTree.

roys peak track hikes new zealand

The Roy’s Peak Track is one of the best hikes in New Zealand.

Day 18: Rob Boy Glacier hike and Queenstown

After the Roys Peak Track it’s possible (and likely) that you never want to walk or climb again. Still I advise you to include the Rob Roy Glacier hike in your travel itinerary of New Zealand. This hike isn’t as spectacular as the previous one, but yet, you are rewarded with heavenly views in the end. After you’ve made your way on a winding path through the jungle, you arrive at an open plain from where you can see a gigantic glacier. This clear blue ice seems to stick to the mountainside and during the summer it makes hundreds of tiny waterfalls crash down. Not bad, if you ask me!

From the parking lot, you’re left with a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Queenstown. I think this is the prettiest city in New Zealand, but it’s clearly also the most touristy. Actually, there is not that much to do here, but sometimes it’s nice to catch a break. Right?

Here you’ll also find the infamous ‘Fergburger’; which is considered by some people to serve the best hamburgers in the world. Of course, many foodies are lining up for a taste of these famous burgers, so expect long waiting lines! However, I can tell you that these burgers are just as delicious in the morning!
I myself went there at around 10 AM and was barely in line for fifteen minutes. I don’t know that I’d wait two hours for them, but truth be told, those exquisite patties are really supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

rob boy glacier new zealand

You walk through a jungle for the entire time and all of a sudden, you’re rewarded with this view. Fantastic!

Day 19 and 20: Fiordland National Park

All the way in the south of the South Island, you’ll find the Fiorland National Park, which is mostly known for the Milford Sound (and the Doubtful Sound).

If you thought that fjords were only to be found in Norway, then think again! Here they are at least as impressive as in the Scandinavian countries.

I advise you to book accommodation either in Te Anau or Te Anau Downs. From here, it’s still a one-hour drive to Milford Sound, but it is the closest place where you can spend the night. Book your hotel in advance, because accommodations quickly sell out here.

If you’re coming from Queenstown and still have some time to spare, you should definitely already check out the national park for a bit. The landscapes are really varied and on your way there are plenty of places where you can take a break. Fairylike flower fields that smell heavenly, wild rivers, majestic mountain landscapes, breath-taking jungle walks; this is without a doubt one of the most beautiful areas in New Zealand.

Be sure to also book a cruise along the Milford Sound. From a boat, the fjords are –I’m not kidding you! – even more beautiful!
Besides, you will sail right under a gigantic waterfall and you may see a lot of seals, dolphins and even penguins along the way!
Make sure to wear appropriate clothing, because it can get really windy here.

If you can’t get enough of this landscape, you can also plan a field trip to the Doubtful Sound. This fjord is not that accessible and that’s why it can only be reached by boat or by kayak. Therefore, excursions like these are way pricier, but they come with the advantage of far fewer tourists.

Fiordland national park new zealand

In the Fiordland National Park, you get to see one natural spectacle after the other.

travel itinerary new zealand fiordland

When planning your travel itinerary through New Zealand, you really can’t miss out on these landscapes.

cruise milford sound

A cruise on the Milford Sound will reward you with incredibly beautiful sights!

Day 21: Slope Point and Nugget Point

From Fiordland, it’s going to be another long drive to your next destination, but by now you’ve gotten used to it.
Actually, this definitely isn’t a must-do on your New Zealand travel itinerary, but still I found the south of New Zealand pretty fun to discover.

As a first stop, you can drive to Slope Point. This is the most southern point of the mainland of New Zealand. From this place, you are “barely” 4.803 kilometers away from the South Pole.

Afterwards you can drive further to Nugget Point. In my opinion, this was also quite the impressive spot. This rocky peninsula with a lighthouse on it has quite some phenomenal views to offer.

Next, you continue driving to Dunedin, one of the bigger student cities in New Zealand.
Are Slope Point and Nugget Point not that appealing to you? Then of course you can head directly to Dunedin from Fiordland.

nugget point new zealand

Nugget Point, all the way in the south of New Zealand.

Day 22: Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

Personally, I found Dunedin everything but appealing. There’s really not that much to see and it’s not that cozy either. Yet, I advise you to stay here for at least one day.

After all, from here you can easily explore the Otago Peninsula. This area is also sometimes called the Galapagos of New Zealand.

The landscapes here are out of this world beautiful, and also the local animals are remarkable. It’s the natural habitat of the yellow-eyed penguin and the New Zealand sea lion. Two endangered species that can only be found in this place.

I myself explored the Otago Peninsula both by rental car as through a guided tour. You can already see a lot with your rental car, but a wildlife excursion will take you to private places where you can spot these particularly rare animals. Which makes it totally worth the money, in my opinion!

dunedin new zealand

During a short walk in Dunedin you can see a few things, still I feel the city is not really that special.

otago peninsula new zealand travel itinerary

The Otago Peninsula is one of my favorite places in New Zealand.

hooker sea lion otago peninsula

The Hooker sea lion is one of the rarest species in the world and you can always see them here.

Day 23: Mount Cook and the Hooker Valley Track

Today, you’ll be once more spending a couple of hours in your car before you get to Mount Cook. If you still have to leave from Dunedin, I recommend doing it not too late. Along the way, you can make a stopover at the Moeraki Boulders, a couple of granite boulders that have become completely round due to erosion and which lie on the beach like giant marbles.
Personally, I didn’t really like them. Especially not when you compare them to the other natural beauty of this country!

Mount Cook National Park on the other hand, is one of the most beautiful things this country has to offer. For me, this was even the most gorgeous part of New Zealand.

Just the drive to the Hooker Valley Track will take your breath away. The highest mountain in New Zealand (Mount Cook) is covered with snow all year round and overshadows pretty much everything in this national park.

Because there is just the one road leading to this mastodon, you will find yourself surrounded by astonishing valleys and incredible landscapes. Along the way there are countless viewpoints where you can occasionally make a photo stop.

Once you’ve arrived at the Hooker Valley Track, your view will be unbelievable. The landscape here changes continuously and will never disappoint.
Envision slowly melting glaciers, transforming into swirling bodies of water, which in turn hollow out the entire valley while quenching the thirst of this landscape’s unique flora.

This magnificent hike is also almost completely flat, which isn’t often the case in New Zealand. The entire route (back and forth) is 10 kilometers, which will take you about three hours to complete. There’s just so much beauty to behold!

If you have a few days left, I would strongly urge you to stay here a little bit longer. There are many hikes to be discovered, and they all look spectacular.

If you really want a proper work out for your leg muscles, then you should go for the ‘Mueller Hut’ hike. It’s only 8,5 km back and forth, but it takes you at least 6 to 8 hours. Friends of mine who went on this hike told me they were completely knackered, but it was well worth it, since they thought it was one of the best hikes in New Zealand.

Moeraki boulders new zealand road trip

The Moeraki Boulders. Nice to see if it’s on your way, but otherwise not really worth your while.

road trip new zealand hooker valley track

For me, this was the best place to go to in New Zealand.

mount cook national park new zealand

At the end of this walk, you are rewarded with a view of this magnificent glacier lake.

Day 24: Christchurch

I wouldn’t recommend staying too long in Christchurch. It’s a metropolis and I didn’t like it that much. Half a day is more than enough to check out all of the main sights.

Day 25: Back home

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and so does this formidable trip. From Christchurch you’ll take the plane back home, wherever it may be.

Christchurch planning a trip to new zealand

Christchurch, the biggest city in the South Island.

My experience in New Zealand and what you can expect

New Zealand is unbelievably pretty, but to immediately dub it as the most beautiful country in the world? I don’t think so. The country strongly reminded me of parts of Scandinavia, Switzerland and Scotland, which have all transformed into one new creation: New Zealand.
These countries happen to also be my favorite places in Europe, so I’ve definitely left a piece of my heart here.

Lovers of unspoiled nature, hikers and wildlife enthusiasts will obviously have a field day here, but New Zealand isn’t really the place if you’re looking for culture. Of course, there’s the Maori and their interesting stories, still I found myself missing the coziness of European or Asian cities.
Don’t forget that the country was only populated by Europeans in 1840, and from then on they’ve almost completely eradicated Maori culture.

When it comes to food, us Europeans are really spoiled. Luckily, you don’t need to be afraid that the food will be disappointing, because you’ll find dishes from all over the world here. You can actually compare it best with the food that you’ll also find in the United Kingdom.

Would I recommend New Zealand as a travel destination? Absolutely! If you don’t mind spending quite some time in your car, strenuous hikes and obviously the more than 24-hour flight, then this is a dream destination!

yellow eyes penguin new zealand

Animal lovers can spot the rarest penguin in the world here: the yellow-eyed penguin.

Which island do I recommend? The North Island or the South Island of New Zealand?

Before I was planning my trip to New Zealand, I often heard people say: “The South Island of New Zealand is far more beautiful than the North Island! You shouldn’t spend too much time up north, but should head down south as soon as possible.”

I have to be honest though and admit that indeed, there’s more (nature) to see in the south, still I definitely wouldn’t skip the North Island. Just for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, White Island and Hobbiton, I’d consider spending a couple of days on the North Island.
If you’re not sure about how much time to spend in each place, I would schedule it in such a way that allows you to spend the major part of your holiday in the south.

road trip new zealand

North Island or South Island; everywhere in New Zealand you’ll discover wonderful places!

The best time to visit New Zealand

I’ve planned my trip to New Zealand in the local summer time (the seasons are swapped here! Winter in Europe is summer in New Zealand and vice versa). Yet, it doesn’t necessarily imply that the weather here will automatically be nice then. In some places I was enjoying wonderful 28° temperatures, in other places it was barely 5°.
Besides, this is also a pretty big country. If you intend to cross it completely, then you will undoubtedly face a wide ranges of climates.

This is why I always recommend bringing plenty of different kinds of clothing, especially in the summer time. During winter, you can assume that temperatures can range from chilly to cold, while in spring or summer temperature will vary. You’ll find more tips about clothing below.

In any case, you shouldn’t expect New Zealand to be a tropical country. It actually reminds me quite a bit of the United Kingdom. In other words, it’s really unpredictable and you never know exactly what you’re going to get.

That’s why I also advise you to have a really flexible travel itinerary in New Zealand. Some places are far from interesting in bad weather. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is even dangerous when the weather takes a turn for the worse! And during a storm at sea you obviously can’t go for a swim with dolphins or seals.

Therefore, always ensure that you can cancel your tours and hotels for free, up to a few days in advance.
That’s why I recommend booking your hotels or accommodations through Agoda.com. Most of the time you can cancel your booking up to two or three days beforehand, free of charge.
When it comes to tours, I strongly recommend GetYourGuide. All trips that you book through this website can be cancelled for free up to 24 hours in advance.

new zealand weather

The weather in New Zealand can change in the blink of an eye.

Which clothes should you bring to New Zealand?

You should definitely bring a (thin) raincoat, comfortable hiking boots (with a high neck, so you won’t bruise your ankle!), breathable pants for hiking (Tongariro Alpine Crossing!) and a lot of layers of clothing. If you’re planning on taking a dip in the lovely lakes or oceans, it’s not a bad idea either to bring your swimsuit.

Furthermore, I recommend bringing a comfortable backpack, in which you can store your camera and plenty of food and drinks. A reusable water bottle or flask will also come in handy!

new zealand excursions

Breathable clothing and comfortable hiking boots will be your best friends during the long treks in New Zealand.

Just a few more tips to make your trip go smoothly

  • Be prepared for a strict check at the airports. Never in my life have I been checked so thoroughly and strictly as in New Zealand. To make sure you don’t bring any diseases, infections or foreign bacteria into the country, everyone is inspected thoroughly upon arriving. After your long flight this might lead to irritations, but in the end this only serves to preserve the beauty and diversity of the country. If you for example, are bringing hiking shoes or camping utensils, then you’re asked to show them. So just do so! They won’t confiscate your belongings. If they find traces of mud, they’ll clean your stuff. Speaking of excellent service!
  • Don’t spend too much time in the cities. Most of the time, one day is more than enough. It’s not like there’s nothing to do there, but New Zealand’s nature is far more impressive.
  • Plan according to the weather. Quite often I had to change my travel itinerary in New Zealand due to the weather conditions. Thick fog, heavy rain or thick clouds regularly threw a spanner in the works. Many times, the bad weather is pretty local and you can easily escape it by keeping a close watch on the weather forecast. The best app to do this is ‘MetService’ (androidiOS), a smartphone application which is managed by the New Zealand government.
  • Make sure you’ve set aside enough cash for your trip and budget accordingly. Field trips, going out for dinner or even groceries in the supermarket; everything costs a lot of money in New Zealand. Paradise comes with a price!
  • Book some tours/tickets already in advance. I know I’m repeating myself, but I’m only doing so to stress its importance. New Zealand is swarmed with tourists, which causes many tours or activities to sell out quickly. Think of Hobbiton, swimming with seals or dolphins, the Waitomo Glowworm caves, a helicopter ride to the Franz Josef glacier, a tour to White Island, etc. You can book most of these tours and tickets through GetYourGuide, which also allows you to cancel free of charge up to 24 hours in advance. This can be extremely handy in the case of bad weather or a change of plans!
kea new zealand

The Kea is the only alpine parrot in the world. You can only find them in New Zealand and they are pretty curious!

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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