Let’s say this from the start: if you only give New Zealand seven days, we think you’re a wee bit crazy. There is so much to see and do here that a few months, let alone a lifetime, wouldn’t be enough to see all that this country has to offer.
Nevertheless, we’ve been asked to compile the ultimate itinerary for a visitor to New Zealand who is only here for a week. Not people to shy away from a challenge, we have given it our best shot.
You may think it’s too expensive, or that we have covered too much distance and tried to cram too much in, but we feel that if you only had a week here and you wanted to see as much as possible, this would be our pick of the crop in terms of destinations and things to do.
So. Here we go.
Ultimate New Zealand itinerary: see the best of our country in a week
Day 1: Auckland
Note: most international flights land in Auckland, so we have set our start point here. Also, it’s our hometown, and we think all visitors should spend time here!
Land in Auckland and make your way into the city. Dump your gear and head out and explore. There are lots of things to do – you can hire a bike and cycle along the waterfront, go up the Sky Tower, head up Mt Eden for some amazing views, and of course our world-class dining scene has heaps to offer – you won’t be disappointed.
Check out this post for more ideas.
Day 2: Auckland, Waiheke Island, Hauraki Gulf
Head out of Auckland city to one of the jewels in the Hauraki Gulf’s crown: Waiheke Island. Catch a morning ferry from downtown Auckland to Waiheke (~$35 return) and hire a scooter upon arrival. There are many beautiful beaches, yummy wineries, and cafes to check out. It’s well worth spending the day there, then heading back to the city in the afternoon.
Other options include a dolphin and whale cruise on the Hauraki Gulf or an America’s Cup sailing experience (these tours leave from downtown Auckland). Both are excellent ways to spend a morning or afternoon and get you out on the harbour – Auckland’s greatest asset.
In the evening, pick up a rental car and drive or catch a bus to Taupo (Naked Bus runs a few times per day). Taupo is in the central North Island, about 3.5 hours south of Auckland. Sleep well, your next day will be a big one!
Day 3: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Wake up early. You’ll need to catch a shuttle at 6 am to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, arguably one of New Zealand’s best one day walks. If you decided on the rental car option, you can drive to the start of the track and organise a shuttle to take you to your car at the end of the day.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an 18 km, 8 hour hike that takes in a vast array of scenery. From wetlands to volcanoes to bush, this track has it all. Be prepared for the elements as the weather can change very quickly, and you are in an alpine environment, after all! You can do the track in any season, but if doing it in winter we recommend you do it with a guide.
At the end of the walk, catch the shuttle (or drive) back to Taupo and enjoy a soak in one of the local hot springs (we found a free one on the edge of the Waikato River!).
Day 4: Auckland – Christchurch – Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
Day 4 is going to be a busy one. Catch an early bus (or drive yourself) back to Auckland so that you can catch a flight to Christchurch mid-late morning.
Upon arrival in Christchurch, pick up a rental car and drive four hours into the Southern Alps until you reach Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Do a short hike, a scenic flight, or just sit and embrace the crisp mountain air and immense mountains around you.
Day 5: Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park – Queenstown
Today will be another big driving day. Watch the sun land on Aoraki/Mt Cook from your hotel room (The Hermitage has amazing views) and after a short hike (the 45 minute easy walk to Kea Point Lookout is a good one) hop in your car and head south towards Queenstown.
Take it slow – you’ll want to stop often and take photos as the scenery is gorgeous! If you’re travelling in spring (September-November), you’ll see beautiful wildflowers across the countryside. The Lindis Pass is a barren, beautiful landscape with tussock grass that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Upon arrival in the Queenstown area, you may want to call into a winery or two – we recommend Chard Farm or Amisfield.
Day 6: Milford Sound
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most photographed places, and you can understand the reason why – it’s absolutely beautiful. I don’t say that lightly, it is a truly stunning place to visit. Any visitor to New Zealand should try their best to get there!
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Milford Sound. It really is this amazing. Southern Alps Air flew us there from Wanaka and Mitre Peak Cruises took us through the fiord by boat! Did you know that Milford Sound is actually a fiord? That's because the valleys were carved out by glaciers not rivers, and then flooded by the sea. #nzmustdo
If you’re sick of being in a vehicle on the ground, consider spending a bit more money to get up in the air on a scenic flight from Queenstown or Wanaka to Milford Sound. It’s pricey, but we have no doubt that you will be in awe with the spectacular scenery! You can land at Milford Sound and do a boat cruise – you may see seals, dolphins and of course more amazing scenery.
If you’re on a stricter budget, consider going on a day trip to Milford Sound by road. You can catch a bus from Queenstown via Te Anau, and then a boat cruise out through the Sound. This is a lengthy option, with door to door being about 12 hours (10 hours of driving). The drive (especially from Te Anau to Milford) is pretty spectacular though, and you get lots of stops for photos along the way.
Day 7: Queenstown
Sadly it’s your last day in New Zealand today. To celebrate your whirlwind trip, do what Queenstown is well known for – some kind of adrenaline activity. There’s bungy jumping, sky diving, jet boating and more to choose from.
We’ve done the Kawarau Bridge bungy and the Shotover Jet and had a blast on both!
Later in the day, say “see ya later” to New Zealand as you fly out of Queenstown. Queenstown has international connections to Australia, otherwise you can fly back to Auckland and get your international flight from there.
We hope you enjoyed your crazy busy week in New Zealand! Come back for longer next time – there is so much more to see.
Do you like our itinerary? Would you suggest any changes? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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