When : 23 Sept – 11 Oct 2016 (21 nights, 19 days of exploring)
How : By plane from Australia with Qantas 3h30
How much we spent : AU$3160 for two
After our Ultimate guide, here is our complete itinerary to kiwi’s land! New Zealand is not a big country but distances can be very long between locations. There are not a lot of roads so we basically all do the same itinerary and it is very easy to plan it. You just have to choose what you want to see or not. Just keep in mind that the weather can change in no time and that is raining quite a lot. At least it was when we were there (end of September to middle of October).
We planned it using the official website of New Zealand that offers recommended trips here and we read guides at the library. We also browse on Pinterest and travel blogs. 19 days is a little short to see everything in New Zealand and especially if you would like to do some hiking.
We stayed 9 days in the North Island and 10 in the South and it was pretty much a good balanced but if I were you, I would stay 7 or 8 days in the North and 11 or 12 in the South which is in our opinion the most beautiful one. In the North it is very easy and mostly short to drive from one location to another unlike the South where we can drive for hours and hours.
Check out our ultimate guide HERE.
The highlight of our trip to the North island was Rotorua and Wellington. Unfortunately we missed one of the most beautiful hike in the world the Tangariro Alpine Crossing which I am sure would have been on top of our list.
Just so you know that on our first day we were really tired so we didn’t do much except food shopping, eating at the beach, watching series and driving a bit before our car broke down. We had to wait until 5pm the day after to have the roadside assistance coming. So our first and second day were literally wasted but they turned out with a funny story to tell. The itinerary bellow is what we originally planned and what you should definitely do.
DAY 1 – 2 : AUCKLAND
As I said above we had some issues on day 1 and 2 and made it to Auckland only at the end of the second day. We just spent a few hours there to have dinner on a Saturday night so we haven’t seen much and we do have any pictures. You can either spend 1 or 2 days there depending on what you want to visit. We read online that are plenty of things to do in the city and day trips around such as Waiheke Island.
There is a free camp spot located 20min from Auckland. Check it out on the wikicamp app.
DAY 3 : COROMANDEL PENINSULA
From Auckland: 2h36, 190km
Same here we unfortunately couldn’t make it there and it is such a shame as it looks awesome! The main attractions of this coastal area are Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach which is very busy in summertime but that you shouldn’t miss under any circonstances.
DAY 4 : WAIOTOMO / HOBBITON MOVIE SET
Tips: visit the Waitomo Caves in the morning (start at 9a.m) and then drive to Hobbiton Movie Set and visit it in the afternoon (last tour 5:30).
WAITOMO CAVES (website)
From Corromandel: 3h10, 218km
This area is very famous for its caves and there are three you can visit. We picked the GLOWWORM CAVES which are first, visited by foot and then with a little bark. The glowworm, Arachnocampa luminosa, is unique to New Zealand. Thousands of these tiny creatures radiate their luminescent light as you take a ride with your guide. It was very interesting to see it but I have to be honest and tell you that we were quite disappointed from what we seen in pictures. As we were quite on the budget we would have pass if we would have knew.
NZ$50 per adult ticket
HOBBITON MOVIE SET (website)
From Waitomo: 1h20, 100km
This is the most visited attraction of New Zealand and we were quite skeptical before going as we were afraid it would be a tourist scam but it turned out we had so much fun and felt like kids all tour long. It is quite expensive so if you are not a huge fan and visiting NZ for a short period I would advice to pass on that are they are way better things to see in kiwi’s land. But if you have the time and the money it would be a shame not to see this fairy land and even if you are not a huge fan of Lord Of the Ring or/and The Hobbits you will have a great time!
NZ$80 per adult ticket
Book online and pick your tour time prior coming otherwise you will have to wait.
If you do not want any groups before you then do the first tour of the day.
Free camp sites are available around both of these two location you can find it on the WikiCamp App.
DAY 5 : ROTORUA
From Hobbiton Movie Set: 54min, 70km
Rotorua was definitely the highlight of our trip to the North Island, we loved everything about this city except the smell of rotten egg which is caused by the thermal activity! This area is known worldwide for its bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, as well as the fascinating Maori culture. It attracts many tourists everyday that come to enjoy the many spa and therapeutic pools.
There is a free camp located 20min from the city near the lake. You can find it on the wiki camp app.
POLYNESIAN SPA (website)
This amazing spa was ranked one of world’s top 10 and we had the best of time! We enjoy the Rotorua thermal water in a deluxe private pool with a view over the lake. It was so relaxing, peaceful and we didn’t want to leave!
30min, NZ$54 for two
WAI-O-TAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND (website)
This is the most surreal place I have ever seen in my life! The walk is very pleasant and offers a beautiful show at every corner. The champagne pool (picture above) was spectacular and by far our favorite and the devil’s bath with its astonishing yellow was a good way to end this great walk. We did the short walk in 1h30 but we stopped every 5 minutes to take some pictures.
NZ$32.50 per adult ticket
If you visit this park in the afternoon you can come back the day after with the same ticket to watch the Lady Knox Geyser irrupt at 10:15.
DAY 6 : TAUPO
From Rotorua: 1h, 82km
Taupo is such a lovely location with a beautiful lake not to mention the stunning view of Tongariro National Park (picture above). There are a few things to visit and do around such as the Taupo Museum and Art Gallery, skydiving, the Huka Falls…
There is a free camp spot at the marina in the center. Make sure you get there early as it is full of people! There is another spot located 3km away from the town that you can find on he Wiki camp app it call Reid’s farm.
DAY 7 : TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING
From Taupo: 1h10, 86km
This 20km hike has been labeled as one of top 10 world’s greatest single day trek and it is estimated to take between six and eight hours to complete. Volcanoes, Lord of the Rings trilogy Unfortunately we were not able to do it as it was raining the day we were there and we didn’t have time to stay. But from the pictures we saw, it looks surreal and astonishing. I do not have any advices to give except that you should definitely stay near the park so you can start early in the morning.
Check out the official website for more informations here
NZ$30 for the shuttle to take you down after the hike.
There are a few accommodation available at the Village. Check everything out here
DAY 8-9 : WELLINGTON/FERRY TO PICTON
From Tongariro National Park: 4h11, 325km
The Windy City as they call it, is such a lovely, quirky, colorful yet peaceful capital and we absolutely loved it! It is so easy to explore this city by foot and it is so pleasant to wander down the streets and along the bays. Eva street and Cuba street is definitely where you will want to go to eat/drink as it is full of nice restaurants, cafes and bars. The mount victoria will offer you a stunning 360° view over the city and Oriental Bay will make you want to buy a house there.
Freedom camping is permitted in Evans Bay Marina, you can find it on wikicamp.
WHAT TO DO/SEE
Kaitoke Regional Park, Te Papa Museum, Mount Victoria, Oriental Bay, Waterfront, Lambton Quay, Cable Car, Botanic Garden
Fidel’s Cafe / Hugly Bagels / Loretta / The Friday Night Market / Moustache / Milk & Cookie Bar
Six Barrel Soda / Goldings
Check out my full guide to Wellington HERE
FERRY TO PICTON
It is said to be one of the world’s most beautiful boat trip and we can confirm that even though we did not see it properly as the weather was not great that day. If you are travelling to New Zealand in summertime we really advice you to book the 4pm boat as you might get a beautiful sunset.
NZ$233 for two people + a camper van (website)
There is a free camp site available just 7km away from the Picton station but you have to get there very quickly as there are only a dozen of spot available. Otherwise you can go to the Top 10 Caravan Park in Blenheim that offers both non-power and power sites.
The South Island is absolutely stunning with its breathtaking landscapes and was the one we preferred by far. The highlights for us were Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Wanaka and Queenstown. As we experienced some rain we missed a few locations such as Abel Tasman National Park and the Mount Aspiring National Park. Be aware that distances are way more long than on the North Island and will require more driving to get from one location to another.
DAY 10 : NELSON LAKES NATIONAL PARK
From Picton: 1h30, 130km
This was the first stop we make on the South Island and it was just what we expected New Zealand to be. Walking and hiking are the main reasons to visit this national park and in summer you will enjoy to swim in the lakes. The most photographed spot of Nelson is the wharf on the lake Rotoiti (picture above) and is easy to access via St Arnaud.
We drove all the way to Franz Josef Glacier but you can stop at Greymouth in the middle there are two free camp sites or caravan parks available.
DAY 11 : FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER / FOX GLACIER / THE BLUE POOLS
FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER
From Nelson Lakes National Park: 5h, 382km
Those two glaciers are the most convenient to visit in the world as they flow almost to sea level which gives them a temperate climate at this low altitude. You can either walk to the foot of the glaciers or take a guided ice walk or a heli-hike.
Info: the hike to Franz Josef Glacier is very easy and will take 1h30 return.
There is no free camp spot so we stayed at the CARAVAN TOP 10.
THE BLUE POOLS
From Fox Glacier: 2h38, 216km
It is the third largest park of New Zealand and we only saw a tiny tiny bit of it. We were so sad to miss the best part but to be able to see it we would have had to do long walks of 4-5hours up to 5 days and we didn’t have time to do so. We went to the Blue Pools Walk which is a very easy track that leads to a very clear and surreal blue river (picture above) and will offers stunning views over the mountains.
We drove to Wanaka and stay at a free camp spot located 20min from the city (see info bellow).
DAY 12 : WANAKA LAKE
From the Blue Pools: 1h, 73km
The Wanaka lake is long of 45km and it from the town of Wanaka which is so a lovely. The Wanaka region offers activities from winter to summer from skiing to fishing, hiking to kayaking. The road from Fox Glacier is absolutely stunning and will make you want to stop every 10 minutes to take pictures. We arrived there at dawn and enjoyed a beautiful sunset with a view over the lake and the snowy mountains, the perfect spot to have a picnic. Make sure you make your way to the Wanaka tree, the most photographed tree in the world and hike to the Roys Peak track.
There is no free campsite there, the nearest is located 20min away and has toilets. The name is Bendigo and you can find it on the wiki camp app.
DAY 13 : AORAKI MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK/LAKE PUKAKI
AORAKI MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK
From Wanaka: 2h15, 199km
There are no words to describe the beauty of this wonderful national park. It was by far the most breathtaking place we saw on our trip and even the road to get there is absolutely stunning. The Pukaki lake (see picture bellow) is the first thing you will see as you will drive along it to get to the national park, it has a surreal milky turquoise color that is insane, we couldn’t get our eyes of off it. And then when you will arrive closer to the park and see the snowy mountains it will leave you speechless. We only stayed one day and it is absolutely manageable to see all the majors lookout but we would have love to stay one more to sleep inside the park and take our times on the hikes. So I would advice you to stay two days if you have the time to do so.
OUR FAVORITES TRACKS AND LOOKOUTS
Kea point track, Hooker Valley track, Tasman Valley tracks.
There are no free camp inside the park but there is one located at the Lake Pukaki (see bellow). If you want to stay inside the national park, you can either book a room to one of the few hotels, camp inside the national park (cheaper and better) or stay at the GLENT ANNER CARAVAN PARK (website) that is located 20 minutes way from the entrance.
From Aoraki: 33min, 49km
The Lake Pukaki is the largest of three parallel Alpine lakes (Lake Tekapo and Ohau), it covers an area of 178.7 km². The surreal and distinctive turquoise color is created by the glacial flour which found its source in the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers located in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. As I said above it is very difficult to get your eyes off of it as it unbelievably wonderful. The best point of view is the Summit lookout on the way to Aoraki or the free camp site (see bellow).
There is a free camp site on the edge of a hill right after the visitor center. It is by far the best cam site we have ever stayed at. The view over the lake and the snowy mountains is absolutely stunning and it is hard to leave this place in the morning. You can find the location on the Wikicamp App.
DAY 14-15 : LAKE TEKAPO / QUEENSTOWN
From Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park: 1h5, 98km
The Lake Tekapo is the second largest of the three Alpine lakes. We don’t see it on the picture above but it has the same color as the Lake Pukaki. You can admire it from the Tekapo Church which offers a wonderful view or from the Mt John lookout but you will have to pay $8 to drive there but we heard it is worth it.
It is not worth driving there (1 hours return from Pukaki) if you are heading back South after you have visited the Aoraki National Park as the Lake Pukaki is more impressive. But if you are travelling to or from Christchurch then it will be a shame not to stop as it on the way.
From Tekapo: 3h, 257km
Queenstown is such a beautiful city with a stunning scenery! It is surrounded by mountains and lakes so wether you visit in summer or winter, you will always find something awesome to do. It is known to be the adventure capital of New Zealand and some would even say in the world!
There is no free camp spot there so we stayed at the CARAVAN TOP 10.
DAY 16 : MILFORD SOUND
From Queenstown: 3h47, 287km
It is said to be the eight wonder of the world and yes it is quite impressive but in my opinion I have been amazed by other places in New Zealand but it is just a matter of taste. We did enjoy a great 2 hours cruise though that was both relaxing and entertaining as we saw a few wild animals such as penguins, dolphins and sea lions.
With Mitre Peak NZ$70 per adult for a two hours cruise with complimentary coffee/tea. We picked this company because it was the best deal at the time we wanted to do it. Juicy was $11 cheaper per ticket but they run their cruise on big boat with a lot of people.
We stayed at one of the best free camp site of the South Island at the I-center of Lemsden located 194km away from Milford Sound. There are toilets, sink and even wi-fi from the library.
DAY 17 : NUGGET POINT LIGHTHOUSE / DUNEDIN
NUGGET POINT LIGHTHOUSE
From Milford Sound: 4h30, 353km
Nugget point is one of the most distinctive landform along the Otago coast. The best time to visit is either sunrise or sunset and it’s a five minute walk from the parking lot to go to the lighthouse and you’ll enjoy amazing views along the coastline in all directions. I don’t know what happened but we do not have any pictures from the lighthouse left and the picture above is from the free camp site we stayed at after we visited it.
We drove all the way to Dunedin after we visited the lighthouse (see infos bellow).
From nugget point lighthouse: 1h29, 110km
We arrived in Dunedin late in the evening and we were too tired to go back the day after so we did not see it but I bet there are some nice stuffs to do there.
There is a really nice free camp site located just a few km of the city. It has toilets, sinks, it has a lot of space and it is near the beach. The name is Warrington Domain and you can find it on the Wikicamp App.
DAY 18-19 : MOERAKI BOULDER / CHRISTCHURCH
From Dunedin 1h, 76km
We were really looking forward to see those mysterious boulders as we saw some breathtaking pictures online but we were quite disappointed when we arrived as it is kind of small. Maybe if you plan to visit for sunrise or sunset it will be a different story!
$2 donation per person
From Moeraki Boulders 3h39, 286km
We arrived in Christchurch on our last day in New Zealand and we were really tired as we got vaccinated in the morning and we just wanted to chill out so we did not visit this city.
If you want to sleep near the airport for a cheap price we advice you the HOLIDAY PARK located 3.5km from the airport. We stayed in a deluxe room for $68.