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21 Day New Zealand Itinerary: What to See & Do from a Local (2024)

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Have you been looking for the best 21 day New Zealand itinerary? I’ve got you covered!

As a local New Zealander who has lived here for 27 years and made countless road trips around the country, I’m the perfect person to talk to if you’re planning a New Zealand road trip!

With so much to choose from, it can be hard to figure out the best spots to visit and how to make the most of your time in this beautiful part of the world. That’s why I’m here to share my 21 day New Zealand itinerary.

This plan is designed to take you to some of the best spots in the country, from the North Island to the South, all from a local who loves to explore their own country. So if you’re looking for an adventure of a lifetime, then follow my lead and get ready for the road trip of a lifetime!

🤩 Handy tip: Buy an e-sim before you arrive in New Zealand so you’re all good to go when you land and don’t have to worry about roaming charges or sorting out a sim card at the airport

21 Day Itinerary for New Zealand

North Island:

Day 1-3: Auckland

  • Explore the city, visit the Sky Tower, and take a stroll around Viaduct Harbour
  • Day trip to Waiheke Island for wine tasting and scenic beaches.
  • Visit Piha Beach

Day 4-5: Coromandel Peninsula

  • Hot Water Beach: Dig your own hot pool in the sand
  • Cathedral Cove: A stunning coastal beach

Day 6-7: Rotorua

  • Explore geothermal areas like Te Puia and Waimangu
  • Relax in the Polynesian Spa
  • Explore the Redwoods Treewalk

Day 8-9: Taupo

  • Visit Huka Falls and explore Lake Taupo

Day 10-11: Tongariro National Park

  • Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for breathtaking views
  • Visit Taranaki Falls and explore the park’s diverse landscapes

Day 12-13: Wellington

  • Explore the capital city, visit Te Papa Museum
  • Ride the Wellington Cable Car

South Island:

Day 14-15: Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park

  • Explore Nelson’s food and art scene
  • Take a water taxi or hike in Abel Tasman National Park

Day 16-19: Queenstown

  • Fly to Queenstown
  • Explore the adventure capital of New Zealand
  • Take a scenic cruise on Milford Sound
  • Enjoy outdoor activities like bungee jumping or hiking

Day 20-21: Christchurch

  • Visit the Botanic Gardens and Canterbury Museum
  • Take a day trip to Akaroa for a harbour cruise and wildlife

Day 1-3 New Zealand Itinerary: Arrive in Auckland, Take a Day Trip to Waiheke, Visit Piha Beach

21 Day New Zealand Itinerary, Auckland city

Arrive in Auckland and explore the city

For first-time travellers, there are a few must-see sights in Auckland. The Sky Tower is a great place to start, offering stunning views of the city from the observation deck.

Strolling through the Auckland Viaduct Harbour is also a must-do, taking in the beautiful architecture and vibrant atmosphere. To top it off, there are plenty of restaurants to enjoy a delicious bite to eat. Some of my favourites include Hello Beasty, White & Wongs and Saint Alice.

Growing up in Auckland, I’ve experienced the beauty of this city first-hand. The waterfront is a sight to behold, especially in the evening when the sun is setting and the city skyline is lit up. The surrounding islands, including Waiheke and Rangitoto, create a stunning backdrop.

You can easily spend the first day strolling around, eating good food and getting your bearings while waiting for the jetlag to wear off.

🤩 Book your Sky Tower admission ticket here

Take a day trip to Waiheke

waiheke-island-auckland-new-zealand

A day trip to Waiheke is the perfect outing and a great way to spend day 2 of your holiday. With amazing vineyards to explore, you can sample some of the finest wines in the world. I love to visit Man O’ War, Stonyridge and Mudbrick.

Order a glass (or a bottle) and sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. If the sun is out, take a walk along one of the gorgeous beaches and soak up the stunning views.

When you’re in need of some food, grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants. With a variety of options to choose from in the town of Oneroa, you can enjoy some delicious food in a casual atmosphere.

Whether you want to indulge in the incredible wines or explore the breathtaking scenery, Waiheke is the perfect escape for the day and you’ll probably find yourself wanting to stay here a lot longer than just a day!

I love heading over to Waiheke on a day trip, accommodation here can be expensive so a day trip is a good affordable way to see the island. Summer is the best time to visit and usually I find myself here at least once or twice every year.

🤩 This top-rated guided tour is a great way to experience the best of Waiheke, it includes tastings at 4 vineyards!

Visit Piha Beach

Piha Beach at sunset, 21 Day New Zealand Itinerary

Visiting Piha Beach is a must for any first-time travellers to New Zealand out there! This stunning black sand beach is an easy drive from Auckland city and offers beautiful views of the Tasman Sea, perfect for those looking for a laid-back beach day.

You can even take a walk up to the Lion Rock, a prominent landmark of Piha Beach, for some of the best views around. Whether you’re looking to relax in the sun or take a walk along the shore, Piha Beach is the ideal spot to spend your day.

Due to its west coast location, the sunsets here are pretty incredible! I would recommend taking a picnic with you and spending the evening watching the sun go down.

🤩 Would you rather sit back and relax while someone else does the driving? You can book a guided tour with transport from Auckland here


Day 4-5 New Zealand Itinerary: Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove

Hot water beach, 21 Day New Zealand Itinerary

Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach is a truly unique experience and an excellent free activity in the Coromandel Peninsula that you won’t want to miss! Sitting on the beach at low tide, you can dig a hole to access the natural hot spring water. Each time I’ve been here there’s always been other people digging so you won’t have any trouble finding the right spot.

It’s the perfect way to relax and unwind, so make sure you bring a spade with you or rent one from the local shop. Soak up some of New Zealand’s best scenery and take a dip in the hot water to warm up – it’ll be an experience you won’t forget!

🤩 I would highly recommend booking a night at the Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park, this is where I usually stay when I visit Hot Water Beach and it never disappoints!

Cathedral Cove

If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, don’t forget to add Cathedral Cove to your list of must-see places. With its stunning rock formations and crystal blue waters, it’s pretty special.

The best way to get to Cathedral Cove is either by boat or by kayak. You used to be able to access Cathedral Cove via a walking tracking from Hahei but this has been closed recently due to slips from the bad weather last summer.

Don’t forget to pack your togs (aka swimwear for my non-Kiwi readers!) for a dip in the cove when you get there. If you’re visiting during the summer, it’s best to go in the morning and beat the crowds.

Hahei Beach is also perfect for a swim so make sure you take some time to relax here too. It’s one of my favourite beach towns in New Zealand.

Cathedral Cove, 21 Day New Zealand Itinerary

🤩 Visit Cathedral Cove on this 2 hour boat cruise and learn some of the local history


Day 6-7 New Zealand Itinerary: Explore Rotorua, Relax at Polynesian Spa, do the Redwoods Treewalk

rotorua geyser 21 day new zealand itinerary

Explore Rotorua

Rotorua is a must-visit destination for any overseas traveller. The geothermal areas like Te Puia and Waimangu are perfect for exploring and soaking up the scenery. You’ll soon learn where the phrase “smells like Rotorua” comes from!

You can also experience Maori culture with guided tours, learn about their rich heritage, and even take part in traditional cultural activities.

🤩 Book a guided tour and tickets to Te Puia Geothermal Valley here

Relax at Polynesian Spa

Visiting the Polynesian Spa is a great way to relax and unwind after a long day of exploring the sights and sounds of Rootorua. Their world-famous geothermal hot pools are the perfect remedy to relax those sore muscles and revive tired feet.

Enjoy the naturally heated outdoor pools, or indulge in some of their spa services and experience total relaxation. No matter your preference, a visit to the Polynesian Spa is sure to leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

Do the Redwoods Treewalk

Redwoods trees, New Zealand itinerary

If you’re looking for an amazing outdoor experience, look no further than the Redwoods Treewalk. This unique treewalk is the perfect way to explore the forest canopy of the native Redwood trees, giving you breathtaking views of the environment.

You’ll wander along a series of elevated suspension bridges, each crafted with native wood and offering a different perspective of the surrounding woodlands. It should take you between 30 – 40 minutes to complete the treetop walk.

Regarded as one of the best treetop walks in New Zealand this certainly isn’t an activity to be missed!


Day 8-9 New Zealand Itinerary: Visit Huka Falls, Relax by Lake Taupo

Huka Falls, 21 Day New Zealand Itinerary

Visit Huka Falls

Visiting Huka Falls is a must-see for any traveller to New Zealand. Located near Taupo, it’s the most-visited natural attraction in the country with astounding natural hydropower.

With more than 220,000 litres of water per second cascading over the 11-metre drop, this is a sight you won’t forget. The blue waters and rugged terrain make a beautiful and memorable backdrop for any holiday.

I highly recommend that you don’t miss out on this incredible natural wonder!

Relax by Lake Taupo

Visiting Lake Taupo in New Zealand is a must for travellers looking for a unique experience. There’s plenty to do here, with great cafes and restaurants to visit as well as markets on the weekends right by the lake. There are plenty of beautiful lakeside accommodation options too.

It’s also nice to walk around the lake and take in the views. If it’s warm enough there are different beaches around the lake where you can stop for a swim. Otherwise, if you’re looking for other ways to explore the lake, why not go on a boat tour?

I love Lake Taupo, I’ve spent a bit of time here over the years as my boyfriend’s mum lives here. It’s a great place so it definitely deserved a spot on this 21 day New Zealand itinerary. The lake itself is beautiful, with its clear blue waters and lush green hills as a backdrop.

The summertime is especially magical, it’s the best time to visit Taupo in my opinion!

Another great activity I’ve done here is renting out kayaks and paddling out to the famous Maori carvings. It was so cool to see them up close. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a memorable trip.

Lake Taupo, Maori Carvings

🤩 If kayaking isn’t your thing, you can also visit the Maori carvings by booking a 2.5 hour sailing trip. If you book an afternoon tour, drinks and pizza is included!


Day 10-11 New Zealand Itinerary: Tongariro National Park, Taranaki Falls

Tongariro Crossing 21 Day New Zealand Itinerary

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park is an iconic destination for any traveller visiting New Zealand. Home to three active volcanic mountains, it became New Zealand’s first National Park in 1887, and is now a popular place for outdoor adventurers.

The Tongariro Crossing, one of the most popular treks in New Zealand, is an incredible 19.4km journey that takes you around the base of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro, as well as some of the beautiful mountain lakes and alpine meadows.

The trek is a full-day event, but the rewarding views of the volcanic landscape are well worth the effort. Whether you’re a first-time hiker or an experienced trekker, the Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s best outdoor adventures.

🤩 Book a convenient roundtrip shuttle ticket so you don’t have to worry about driving

Taranaki Falls

Taranaki Falls Walk is an excellent choice for your 21 day New Zealand itinerary. It’s located a short drive from Tongariro National Park so it’s easy to tick off this walk the following day if you’re feeling up for it.

The 6km loop takes just two hours to complete, making it perfect for those who are short on time. Spanning across the mountain, this walk provides stunning views and is suitable for all ages and fitness levels.

The path is easy to follow and relatively easy to complete, so you can enjoy the stunning views without too much effort. The sights along the way are truly spectacular, from the lush green hills to the glistening waterfalls and clear streams.


Day 12-13 New Zealand Itinerary: Wellington

Wellington Cable Car, New Zealand itinerary

Enjoy Wellington’s art and food scene

Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, is one of the most exciting destinations for overseas travellers. The city is home to a vibrant culture, with a great art and food scene to explore.

Visit the Museum of Te Papa to learn about the country’s history and art, and be sure to taste the local flavours in Wellington’s restaurants and markets. You can also ride the Wellington cable car for some of the best views in Wellington.

Taking a ferry across Cook Strait is the best way to get to the south island on the second day of your trip – with stunning ocean views, you can sit back and take in the beauty of the landscape. You’ll arrive in the town of Picton which is a lovely harbour town. Spend a night here or make your way over to the next stop, Nelson.


Day 14-15 New Zealand Itinerary: Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand Itinerary, Nelson coastline

Explore the Nelson Region

Nelson, New Zealand is a true gem! It’s a picturesque location with wineries, stunning natural landscapes, golden beaches, and plenty of outdoor activities.

The region is known for its lovely climate and relaxed vibe. Visitors can spend days exploring the great outdoors, tasting exquisite wines, and relaxing on the golden beaches.

Kaiteriteri Beach is a personal favourite of mine, it is such a gorgeous spot and you can tick off Split Apple Rock nearby as well! It’s about a 50-minute drive outside of Nelson but you’ll head this way to reach Abel Tasman National Park anyway.

With its breathtaking beauty and laid-back atmosphere, Nelson is the perfect place for visitors from all over the world to come and enjoy a slice of New Zealand life.

Take a day hike in Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is a must-see for any traveller in New Zealand. The park is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and world-famous coast track.

The full track can take anywhere from three to five days, so if that’s high on your list of things to do in New Zealand be sure to plan in a few extra days. For those travelling on a tighter schedule, a day hike is still a great way to experience the park.

You can hike one way and then get the water taxi services back. This is how I experienced Abel Tasman National Park when I travelled here and it was a great way to still get a taste of the park without having to commit to the full track. The park is an amazing place to explore and well worth the effort.

Abel Tasman national park

🤩 Book the Abel Tasman National Park Cruise and Walking Tour Combo to experience the best of what Abel Tasman has to offer in just one day


Day 16-19 New Zealand Itinerary: Experience Queenstown, Take a trip to Milford Sound

Queenstown, 21 Day New Zealand Itinerary

Experience Queenstown

Queenstown, nestled in the breathtaking landscapes of New Zealand, is an absolute must-visit destination for first-time travellers. With its breathtaking views, amazing food, and endless activities, it’s the perfect place to spend a vacation.

There’s plenty to do in this adventure capital of New Zealand hence why I’ve allowed 4 days in this 21 day New Zealand itinerary so you can make the most of your time here. To get to Queenstown from Nelson I would recommend flying as it will make the journey soo much quicker however if you’d prefer to drive then you might want to allow an extra day or two for the 11-hour trip.

Once you arrive, Queenstown has something for everyone, no matter whether you’re seeking adrenaline-pumping activities like bungee jumping and skydiving or simply want to immerse yourself in the serene beauty of nature. If it’s the later, don’t miss Onsen hot pools!

For an unforgettable experience, start your day by jet boating around Lake Wakatipu and taking in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Afterwards, hop on the Skyline Gondola to take in the views from the top of Bob’s Peak.

When you’re done, head to an ice bar for a unique and refreshing drink. You could also spend one of your days on a wine tour exploring the Central Otago region. There are plenty of free activities in Queenstown too. With so much to do, Queenstown is definitely one of my favourite holiday destinations in New Zealand!

🤩 Book to tour to cruise Lake Wakatipu on the historic TSS Earnslaw and enjoy a BBQ gourmet lunch here

Queenstown gondola viewing platform

Take a trip to Milford Sound

Okay so I know there are already so many must-do destinations on this 21 day New Zealand itinerary but if there’s one place you cannot miss, it’s Milford Sound. A day trip to Milford Sound is the perfect way to get away from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown and experience some of the country’s most breathtaking natural beauty.

Deep within Fiordland National Park lies Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most stunning natural attraction, offering a pristine and scenic destination that you won’t soon forget.

Take an unforgettable journey and witness the towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and crystal-clear waters of one of the most magical places in the world. No matter how much time you have to explore, you’ll be sure to take away memories that will last a lifetime.

🤩 The best day trip from Queenstown is the coach bus and cruise to Milford Sound (It’s the 8th wonder of the world and not to be missed, so book ahead of time to avoid disappointment!)

Milford Sound, 21 Day New Zealand Itinerary


Day 20-21 New Zealand Itinerary: Head to Christchurch, Visit the Botanic Gardens

street in christchurch, 21 day New Zealand itinerary

Head to Christchurch

Now that we’re getting towards the end of this 21 day itinerary in New Zealand, it’s time to make your way back up the South Island to the city of Christchurch. This is where you’re nearest international airport will be.

If you’ve rented a car, it’s common for them to be able to be dropped off here and the same with campervans.

Once you’ve reached Christchurch, spend some time in the city exploring the Botanic Gardens and Canterbury Museum, both of which offer unique experiences. From there, you can head to the Port Hills for some scenic hikes or take a drive out to one of the nearby picturesque beaches.

Whether it’s an adventure-filled day in nature or discovering the city’s culture and history, Christchurch is sure to provide something special that will end your holiday on a high note.


Best Time to Visit New Zealand

Visiting New Zealand during the summer months is the best time of year for overseas travellers and it’s also my favourite time of year in New Zealand. From December to February, temperatures are warm and the days are long and sunny.

During this part of the year, it is the perfect time for outdoor activities, such as exploring the Coromandel Peninsula and Abel Tasman National Park, where you can enjoy stunning scenery and a range of outdoor activities.

The Coromandel Peninsula is known for its pristine beaches, and Abel Tasman National Park is ideal for hiking and kayaking. With so much to do, summer is the best time of year to enjoy the beauty of New Zealand and it’s certainly my favourite time of year for a road trip!

cathedral-cove-best-places-to-visit-in-north-island-new-zealand

Where to Stay in New Zealand

Auckland

As New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland provides a wide range of accommodation options, offering abundant choices to suit every preference and need.

With plenty of big hotels to choose from, tourists can choose from the Grand Millennium, Crowne Plaza and the Cordis. Each of these hotels offers luxury accommodation, great views and on-site services and facilities.

Queenstown

Queenstown is another great destination for lots of choices when it comes to accommodation.

The Rees Hotel & Luxury Apartments, Kamana Lakehouse and the Copthorne Hotel & Resort are all excellent options, offering a range of facilities and services such as restaurants, swimming pools, spas and gyms.

Full list of the best places to stay in Queenstown for different budgets

Wellington

Wellington, being the capital, is another popular city for international travellers, offering plenty of activities and attractions.

The James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor, the InterContinental Wellington and the QT Museum Wellington are all great options for accommodation, offering luxury and comfort.

Smaller Towns

As you head into some of the smaller towns, big hotels are less common due to remote locations. Instead, I would recommend staying in holiday homes or holiday parks which is how I usually choose to travel in New Zealand.

The accommodation is generally self-contained, with some parks offering a range of facilities and amenities such as swimming pools, playgrounds and general stores.

Then another option is to rent a campervan, this way you have your accommodation and mode of transport all in one. Travelling around in a campervan is a very popular way to explore New Zealand and one I would certainly recommend.

Camping in New Zealand summer is one of my all-time favourite things to do! And I have a feeling you’ll feel the same after you’ve experienced it for yourself.

Camping in New Zealand

Getting Around New Zealand

New Zealand is an incredible country to explore and thanks to some fairly remote destinations, I would highly recommend getting around by car. Our public transport network isn’t that expansive so you will be a bit limited when choosing what places you can visit.

Renting a car gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore some of the most beautiful locations the country has to offer.

With a car, you can explore the winding roads of the South Island and cruise the coastal highways of the North Island. You can take your time to visit the stunning national parks and hidden gems of New Zealand and enjoy the unspoiled nature of the country.

Whether you are interested in a road trip among the mountains or a long drive along the coastline, with a car, you can make the most of your visit and see some of the best places that the country has to offer.

🤩 Looking to hire a car for your trip, I recommend checking out Discover Cars to easily compare different companies and their prices!

Final Thoughts: 21 day itinerary in New Zealand

Well that’s a wrap on this 21 day New Zealand itinerary, I hope I’ve inspired you to come visit! From the soaring mountains of Queenstown to the picturesque vineyards of Nelson, road-tripping around New Zealand is an unforgettable adventure.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief glimpse into what New Zealand has to offer – from its breathtaking landscapes and lush greenery to its vibrant culture and delicious cuisine.

There are so many more possibilities when it comes to spending 21 days in New Zealand, I’ve tried to include all the best bits without making the trip too rushed but it’s still a lot to squeeze in so feel free to make some adjustments based on your preferences.

Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a long-time fan of New Zealand, my 21 day itinerary will give you a comprehensive and unforgettable overview of this incredible area. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your New Zealand adventure of a lifetime today!


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