Ultimate New Zealand itinerary in 7 days

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.

new zealand in a week

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.

auckland city

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.

If you have more time on Waiheke Island, check out this post and this one too for more things to do!

Waiheke Island

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.

waiheke island auckland

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.

tongariro alpine crossing

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.

Aoraki/Mt Cook

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.

Aoraki/ Mt Cook scenic flight

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.

South Island road trip

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!

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.

If you have more time in New Zealand, check out our other itineraries and posts on things to do in our country. We’ve also written a number of ‘36 hours in…‘ posts about different places in NZ.

Do you like our itinerary? Would you suggest any changes? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Lisa

    Hey guys!
    Thank you for posting the ultimate 7 days NZ! It’s really helpful (as well as so many others of your posts).
    We are planning a 2 weeks tour in NZ in September and want to hire a campervan basically for the entire time to see as much as we can. I read already that many of the Great Walks only open at the end of October, but we would like to get a feeling for the temperature there. Can we do some daily hikes by ourselfs or would we need guides for that? How much clothing is necessary? Although being from Germany, we now live in Queensland, Australia and are not really prepared for Winter. Is it alright to sleep in a campervan in Winter or would we need much more additional bedding etc?
    Thanks for some hints on that! 🙂

    • Petra

      Hey Lisa, thanks for your comment! We’re excited to hear your plans for your trip to NZ. Hiring a campervan in September will be great! You may need some extra bedding, but it’s easy to buy sleeping bags or blankets at places like The Warehouse. Otherwise the rental company might provide more bedding. You won’t need a guide to do day walks (or overnight walks), unless you’re going into snowy places (places like Tongariro Alpine Crossing would be best with a guide if it’s still snowy there). There are heaps of great day walks that don’t go into snow though! Depending where you are, you’ll need a good raincoat and thermal underwear for hiking – mornings and nights can be cold. Good footwear is also a must! Let us know if you have any more questions 🙂

  2. Wow! Ok, so when I finally make it to NZ, i will definitely stay longer than a week. Promise. But good on you for trying to cram it all in. And you even fit in two pretty big treks which is impressive in just a week! Maybe you should do this itinerary and then let us know how exhausting it is in real life!

    • Petra

      It’s a pretty full on itinerary, Julie – we recommend stretching it over more than a week if possible! But it can be done in a week which is the main thing 🙂 We’d love to do it at some point – got to save some dollars first!

  3. You really rose to the challenge but oh my, this would be a very fast-paced holiday! I spent three weeks in New Zealand and it was already WAY too short, I really struggled to build my itinerary. I have some friends who like to travel super-fast though so this would be perfect for them!

  4. Charlotte

    Hi, I just found your website I’m loving it! We are planning a trip to NZ next December. I have read so many good things about Milford Sound, I don’t want to miss it! For the boat, what company did you use? Would you recommend it? Also, where would you advice to visit Milford Sound from? Is Queenstown handy or better staying closer?

    • Petra

      Hi Charlotte! Glad you found our site 🙂 Awesome to hear you’re coming to NZ! Milford Sound is incredible – definitely a must-see. We used Real Journeys when we visited for our boat trip, and we would recommend them – they were great. We drove ourselves there from Te Anau. I’d recommend staying in Te Anau (the closest town to Milford Sound, but still 2 hours drive away!) and having your own rental car, because then you can take your time to drive to Milford and back. The drive is spectacular and you’ll want to stop along the way! From Queenstown it’s about a 4-5 hour trip each way so pretty exhausting. Hope that helps, let us know if you have any more questions!

  5. Katie

    My husband and I just found out we won an 8 day 7 night trip to New Zealand. I am glad I came across this!! I live next to a lake called Milford Lake and going to Milford Sound is number one on my list of things to do. Thank you so much for this list!!

  6. Arfah

    Hi guys,

    I came across your website and it helps me to plan for my trip to NZ in Feb next year from Malaysia. I would like to ask for some suggestions on the itinerary. I’ll be travelling to NZ with my parents, so most likely I’ll be skipping the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Milford Sound. I’ll probably consider doing the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park by getting up in the air on a scenic flight. I am planning to go Taupo, Ratorua, Christchurch and Queenstown. I would love to do the adventurous sports in Taupo.

    I will be in NZ for about a week arriving on the 6th morning (12am) in Auckland and planning to follow your itinerary on the 1st and 2nd day itself.

    I need some suggestions on where to go on the 8th,9th,10th,11th,12th. I need to be back in Auckland on the 12th latest by evening as I need to be at the airport by 10pm. Since I am planning to go Taupo, Ratorua, Christchurch and Queenstown which one would be the best to go first and next. What places should I visit when I am at those places? And how many days should I stay in those places?

    What is the best transportation mode to travel in NZ? Is it best for me to rent a car or travel by bus and which company would you recommend? On a side note we will be carrying our baggages around too.

    If you have other suggestions, do let me know 🙂

    Hope to hear from you guys. Keep posting those awesome posts!

    • Petra

      Thanks for your message! We’d recommend heading to Northland – the Bay of Islands. The beaches are awesome and February is mid summer so it’s beach weather! Hiring a car is the best way to get around – Jucy or Go Rentals are good. You could also drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, more amazing beaches there. Check out our Northland road trip post for ideas of places to visit in Northland! Hope this helps 🙂

  7. Hi Guys,

    Thank you so much for this post and I am happy I came across your site!

    We are planning a week long trip to NZ in September 2016 and are confused between choosing between the North and the South Island. We want to focus on only one part so that we can explore it in a much better manner.

    We would have our 2.5 years old son with us too.

    Can you please advise? Thanks a ton for your help!


    • Petra

      Hi Nishant, thanks for your kind comment. I’d recommend seeing the South Island – in a week you could rent a car and drive from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass, down the west coast and see Queenstown and Milford Sound. There will be plenty of varied scenery to see. Hope that helps! Petra

  8. Shangeetha

    Hi guys,

    Thank you so much for this post! I am planning on a short backpacking trip to NZ in September for 7 days. Some friends were suggesting to cover the North island. What say you?

    Thank you,

    • Petra

      Hey Shangeetha, thanks! If you only have 7 days, I’d recommend concentrating on the South Island – the scenery is much more grand and there’s so much to see there! Hope that helps 🙂

  9. Fie

    New Zealand looks colourful and exciting! Such beautiful mountains but I can imagine in these areas it must be quite cold? Working for an events promotion company in London where travel events are a popular category I have spent the last year attending events to gain inspiration and to find different ways to travel instead of just traveling to the standard charter locations. This really lifts my spirit, thinking that New Zealand could be a great opportunity for the next vacation.

    • Petra

      New Zealand is a stunning country – I hope you get the opportunity to visit! Yes it can be really cold in the mountains, especially in the winter. In the summer it’s not too bad, although the weather can change quickly.

  10. fista

    Thank you for your great post. I’m planning to visit New Zealand with my friends this November, sadly, we’ve got only 1 week. I hope the weather is good in November. We plan to drive ourself. Since our time is limited, we may focus on South Island and we’ll definitely visit Milford Sound and Hobbitton.

    • Petra

      The weather can be quite mixed in November, I would definitely pack some warm clothes and a rain coat! The South Island is a good place to focus on if you’ve only got a week in NZ. You can do day trips to Hobbiton by bus from Auckland and then fly to the South Island. Enjoy your trip!

  11. Amy

    So glad I found your site! I’ll be “down under” for a little over 3 weeks in Sept/Oct and am planning to spend two weeks in Australia and one in New Zealand. I’m not as much of a hiker as you two 😉 but I like the things you’ve suggested. Makes sense for my trip, too, to fly into Christchurch and out of Queensland! I wonder if you could tell me if I could do this trip without renting a car–buses, etc. instead. If I did rent a car, are the prices reasonable? (I’m traveling from the USA.) Thank you! Amy

    • Petra

      Hi Amy, glad you found us too! You can definitely do the trip without renting a car, there is a good tourist bus network. We haven’t used any of them (we always rent cars) but check out Kiwi Experience, Stray, and Mana Bus. Renting cars is pretty cheap in NZ – we have rented cars for less than $30/day (NZD). We’ve used both Go Rentals and Jucy and would recommend both companies. Enjoy!

  12. mary

    Just beginning to plan a one week trip to NZ in early May to celebrate our daughter’s college graduation. My internet research indicates the average daily temps will be around 10 degrees C. Does that sound right? Will it be much cooler at Milford Sound? What type of wildlife would we see there? Our daughter really wants to see penguins!

    • Petra

      Hi, it depends where you are but yes, it is likely to be cool, especially in the South Island. Auckland and much of the North Island will be warmer than that, around 14C. It also depends where you go in terms of wildlife you’ll see, but our birds are great – go hiking and you’ll likely see some. There are also dolphins and whales in places like Kaikoura and Akaroa, and penguins around Oamaru. There are lots of tours which will take you to the best places to see animals so I recommend doing a google search! Hope you have a great trip 🙂

  13. Hi, I have a group of four traveling to New Zealand from Australia for a week in either late or early August. We are originally from the US and do not know what to expect weather wise. We would like to hike and camp as much as possible. Are these mountains/parks open during that time? I understand it will be winter there and I am not sure how bad snow/road conditionals would be. I would appreciate it if you would kindly reply to me at rizalhem@gmail.com

  14. Nikos

    Quick question: On day 5, does it make more sense to spend the night at Wanaka and the next 2 in QNST? Is it a nice place to spend an evening? It seems closer to the airport for the scenic flight next morning. Thanks!

  15. Dawsen Harbison

    Hi there! I am seriously considering planning, saving, and finding a way to take a trip to New Zealand. I want to go Bungee jumping! I would like to know in you opinion, what are some of the best places to see there and IF you could live anywhere in New Zealand where would it be and why? I have wanted to move there since I was a little girl, its a life long dream! Thanks!

    • Petra

      Hi Dawsen, the best places to see are in this blog post 🙂 I love Auckland, it’s my home town and it gets better all the time. But the Queenstown/Wanaka area would be my second choice, the landscape is stunning and there is so much to do!

  16. Lana king

    Hi there! We are planning travel in July and are a little worried about weather. Do you think this itinerary would be doable and enjoyable in early July?

    • Petra

      Hi, there will be snow in the mountains in July, so the Tongariro Crossing will be snowy but there are companies that can guide you through the track in winter. Driving in the South Island can be snowy if there has been a storm but otherwise you should be fine. The mountains are beautiful in the snow!

  17. victoria

    hi!! would love to hear your recommendations for 3 weeks in new zealand!
    we’re headed there for our honeymoon in june, flying into Auckland & leaving Christchurch.
    We’re thinking of a week maximum in north island & 2 weeks in south island.
    Milford is a must go for us too & we’re wondering how to travel there.
    Also if we should drive or take a ferry from North to South Island?
    Would it be possible to combine a road trip & other transportation – do not wish to be tired out by driving (since only 1 driver)?
    Also would it be advisable to rent a campervan instead of a car ?

    • Petra

      Hi, your trip sounds great! Best to drive to Milford as you can stop on the way – there are great short walks and sights along the road. You have to catch the ferry from Wellington to Picton, probably best to take your car as you’ll need one in Picton. There is a bus network (Mana bus is best and cheap) and some trains, but driving is by far the best. I’d recommend a campervan but in June it might be quite cold in the South Island!

  18. Anonymous

    Hi- thanks so much for your blog, which is amazing. I’ll be in NZ for about a week with 4 children, ages 5-13. We want to do some hiking, but they are not super outdoorsy. Any suggestions for outdoor activities for kids and also other fun things for them?
    -Family from Chicago

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