Not sure where to go? Try one of these common itineraries to take on your own, or mix and match destinations to plan your own independent trip.
1. South Island Itinerary
Approximate Time: 2 Weeks to 1 Month
Christchurch - Kaikoura - Nelson - Franz Josef - Wanaka - Queenstown - Milford Sound - Te Anau - Invercargill - Dunedin - Christchurch
We have a full article describing a suggested 3-week itinerary of New Zealand here.
The South Island is famous for its dramatic landscapes and spectacular scenery. The Island is home to the Southern Alps, snow capped mountains, impressive fiords, beech forests, and wide beaches. This itinerary takes you on a large loop through the island. Depending on how much hiking and exploration you do, it can be done in anywhere from two weeks up to one month.
You begin in the city of Christchurch, which is the second largest city in New Zealand. It is a great starting point for a trip through the island. From there head north to Nelson, stopping off in Kaikoura, a small coastal town with excellent seafood. Nelson is set among some spectacular scenery. It is a compact city and worth some exploration.
From there make your way south to Franz Josef Glacier. The town of Franz Josef is very touristy. Most of the visitors in the area are there to see the Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier is found in Westland National Park at the foot of the western slopes of Mount Cook. After taking time to see the glacier and the national park, continue on to Wanaka.
The town of Wanaka sits on the edge of Lake Wanaka. It is also the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. After exploring the town and nearby attractions continue on to Queenstown.
Queenstown is surrounded by stunning scenery and sits on the banks of Lake Wakatipu. The Southern Alps surround it and the most impressive sight nearby is the Remarkables, which is a saw-toothed mountain range across the lake from the town.
From there head to Milford Sound. This is actually a fiord that has been carved by a glacier. It rains a lot, but don't be concerned if you visit on a rainy day, this simply means the waterfalls will be at their fullest.
From Milford Sound head down to Te Anau. Te Anau is a small town located on the edge of Lake Te Anau. It serves as the gateway to Fiordland National Park. After giving yourself enough time to explore the park, go over to Invercargill.
Invercargill has wide streets and old buildings with an old fashioned atmosphere. From there head north to Dunedin, a pleasant college town that is often compared to Edinburgh. Finally, make your way back to Christchurch to complete your trip.
2. North Island Itinerary
Approximate Time: 2 Weeks
Auckland - Paihia - Tauranga - Rotorua - Waitomo Caves - Taupo - Wellington
The North Island of New Zealand has a variety of different landscapes including rolling farmland and active volcanic peaks. It is smaller than the South Island but it does have more people. Most visitors arrive via Auckland, which has the largest airport. This itinerary can be done in two weeks and takes you through the highlights of the island.
Begin your trip by heading out of Auckland north to the Bay of Islands. This area in the far north is where the missionaries originally settled in the 19th century. There are a good number of towns throughout the Bay of Islands. Paihia, or the "jewel" of the area, is a great place to base yourself and offers wonderful beaches. Russell is just a short boat ride from Paihia. Waitangi is a historic site in New Zealand because it is where the Maori and Europeans signed the Treaty of Waitangi.
After taking some time to explore the Bay of Islands, head south to Tauranga. The beaches near Tauranga, in addition to being beautiful, are great for surfing and fishing. Then continue on to Rotorua. It has many hot springs and geysers and is considered the thermal wonderland of New Zealand. It's a popular destination for tourists. There are also several lakes nearby, many water activities, and plenty to see and do.
From Rotorua head over to the Waitomo Caves. These caves are quite unique in that you can see the glow worm there. These tiny creatures radiate luminescent light giving the caves an impressive glow.
From there continue on to Taupo. Taupo sits on the edge of Lake Taupo and is the perfect destination for adrenaline junkies. Whether you're interested in bungy jumping, skydiving, or jet boating, there is something for you.
Finally, head down to Wellington to take in the country's impressive art and cultural scenes. Eat at some excellent restaurants and explore the city's interesting neighborhoods.