A Fantastical Journey of New Zealand
Land in Auckland, pick up your rental car and make your way to Waitomo - the drive takes about two and a half hours. Millions of years in the making, the caves in the Waitomo region are an underground wonderland of stalactites, stalagmites, glow worms, sinkholes and subterranean waterways. After exploring Waitomo, continue driving to Rotorua, which takes just over two hours.
Things to see and do in Waitomo
- Explore the Waitomo Caves the easy way, on a walking or boat tour
- If you're feeling more adventurous, try black-water rafting - you'll crawl, swim, and float through the caves on a rubber tube
- For an authentic caving experience, you can explore vast caverns the way spelunkers do it - by abseiling, climbing and ziplining
After exploring Waitomo, continue driving to Rotorua, which takes just over two hours. Stay the night in Rotorua.
Day 2: Rotorua
Rotorua is legendary for its hot thermal springs, geothermal wonders, world class mountain bike trails, spectacular lakes and lush forests that can be explored on walkways, mountain bikes or ziplines. Home to our unique Māori culture, this is the place where the traditional and contemporary aspects of Māoridom are celebrated for all to share.
Things to see and do in Rotorua
- Take a scenic ride to the top of Mount Ngongotaha on the Skyline Gondola and enjoy panoramic views over the lake and surrounding mountains
- While you're up Mount Ngongotaha, ride the luge, Skyswing and zipline before refuelling at the fully licensed restaurant
- Explore Rotorua's native and exotic forests at your own pace through a network of trails, tree platforms and swing bridges, or fly through trees on a zipline for a more surprising point of view
- Hire a mountain bike and explore the Whakarewarewa Redwood forest. The 130km trail network has something for every skill level
- Visit one of Rotorua's many geothermal attractions, where you can feel the spirit of the earth as it rumbles beneath your feet and escapes, hissing, through fumaroles and geysers
- Relax in naturally heated thermal pools, mud baths and spa facilities, it's a glorious way to unwind
- Experience an evening cultural show in the heartland of Māori culture. Manaakitanga (hospitality) is something the Te Arawa Māori have been providing visitors for more than 150 years
- Get a contemporary take on Māori culture through Rotorua's food, arts, crafts, fashion and technology
When you've explored Rotorua, drive east to the Bay of Plenty - it takes just over an hour. Stay the night in Tauranga, Mount Maunganui or Whakatāne.
Day 3: Bay of Plenty
The Bay of Plenty is home to incredible beaches, juicy kiwifruit and New Zealand's only active marine volcano. Kiwis treasure this part of the world, where white sand beaches coexist with ancient volcanoes. Mount Maunganui (aka 'The Mount') is a surfing mecca with great beach breaks, saltwater hot pools and nature walks. An hour from the Mount is Whakatāne, where Whakaari - New Zealand's only active marine volcano - is just off the coast.
Things to see and do in the Bay of Plenty
- Kayak through the enchanting glow worm canyon on Lake McLaren near Tauranga
- Learn to surf on the main beach at Mount Maunganui
- Go blokarting at Papamoa - the ultimate land sailing experience
- Walk around or up Mauao, the impressive extinct volcanic cone at the end of the Mount Maunganui peninsula
- Visit Whakaari (White Island) by helicopter or boat. The island's moody volcanic ash scenery is brightened by yellow sulphur crystals growing around the edges of hissing fumaroles. You'll walk right through the main crater - amazing! To do this tour, we recommend you book ahead
- Feed your soul at Mataatua Marae, New Zealand's most-travelled Māori meeting house. Your visit will provide an intimate engagement with the people of Ngāti Awa, an iwi (tribe) centred in the eastern Bay of Plenty region
Stay tonight in Whakatāne, so you can start the drive around East Cape in the morning.
Days 4 & 5: Tairāwhiti Gisborne
The half-day journey around East Cape to Gisborne is one of New Zealand's most spectacular road trips. The rugged mountain and oceanic scenery is beyond beautiful, and you'll come across remote coastal and inland villages that are a world away from mainstream life. As you approach Gisborne, towns and beach settlements become more frequent. Gisborne itself is a sunny, easy-going city that's known for excellent surf and remarkable wines, especially chardonnay, gewürztraminer, pinot gris, and chenin blanc. Food culture is also something to get excited about here.
Things to see and do in Tairāwhiti Gisborne
- Stop for photos at little coastal settlements, including Te Kaha, Whanarua Bay and Waihau Bay
- Take a look at St Mary's Church in Tikitiki, which artfully blends Māori and European design
- Detour from Te Araroa to see historic East Cape Lighthouse
- Call into Tokomaru Bay to see the historic wharf and woolsheds
- Walk the longest pier in New Zealand at Tolaga Bay, which at 660 metres is quite a stretch. Recently restored, this concrete pier is a great spot for surf photography. There's also a walk nearby to Cook's Cove, where Captain Cook topped up the Endeavour's water supplies
- Discover the joy of barrel-fermented chardonnay and find out why Gisborne is called 'the chardonnay capital of New Zealand'. A stimulating wine trail will lead you to local wineries and winemakers
- Soak up the sun at gorgeous Wainui Beach, one of New Zealand's best surf beaches
- In the warmer months, venture 50km north-west of Gisborne and visit Rere Falls. There's also New Zealand's longest natural rockslide here, for 60 metres of slip-sliding water fun
Stay in Gisborne for two nights, then head to the airport for an Air New Zealand flight to Wellington.
Days 6 & 7: Wellington
Return your rental car and fly from Gisborne to Wellington. Flight time is just over one hour. You'll land in the world's coolest little capital, a compact city full of culture and character. Built around a stunning harbour and surrounded by hills lined with colourful timber houses, Wellington is known for its vibrant café and restaurant scene. It's said to have more bars and restaurants per capita than New York City! Downtown Wellington is ideal for exploring by foot because accommodation, transport, cafes, restaurants, shopping and major attractions are concentrated into a relatively small area.
Things to see and do in Wellington
- Discover the treasures and stories of New Zealand at Te Papa, the country's extraordinary and interactive national museum
- Browse colourful Cuba Street to find one-of-a-kind stores and great places to eat. Get splashed by the Bucket Fountain!
- Enjoy a stroll around Zealandia, the world's first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary. Meet some of New Zealand's rarest birds, reptiles and insects
- Catch the historic cable car from Lambton Quay up to the Botanic Gardens
- Immerse yourself in 20 years of creativity at Weta Studios. Get up close to the authentic props, costumes and concept designs created by Weta Workshop for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit motion picture trilogies, as well as Avatar, District 9, and more
- Wellington's compact CBD makes for an easy shopping experience. Spend the afternoon finding the perfect New Zealand gift or shop for yourself in the many fashionable stores
- Wander along the beautiful waterfront promenade to Oriental Bay. Along the way you'll find cafes, bars, ice cream vendors, parks and sculptures
- Walk up to the Mount Victoria lookout for blockbuster views of the harbour and city
- Visit Wellington Zoo, the 'best little zoo in the world', which works closely with the Department of Conservation to care for native animals that have been injured
Stay in Wellington for two nights, then head to the airport for an Air New Zealand flight to Dunedin.
Fly non-stop from Wellington, then collect your rental car. Dunedin is a heritage city that oozes charm and character. It has New Zealand's finest examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, including magnificent stone and brick buildings with wrought iron detailing. It also has a reputation for fine arts, colourful student life and quirky events. If you like cities with a creative edge, you're going to love Dunedin.
Close to the city is Otago Peninsula, where you can see rare and wonderful native animals in their natural habitat. Royal albatross (toroa), yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho), fur seals (kekeno) and sea lions (whakahao) live on the peninsula. Dunedin is also handy to Moeraki and Oamaru, places of interest just up the coast.
Things to see and do in Dunedin
- Visit Larnach Castle, built in 1871 by Scottish merchant William Larnach. The castle and its splendid gardens have been carefully restored. You'll learn about Victorian culture and the castle's scandalous and tragic history
- Venture along the Otago Peninsula for encounters with little blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, albatross, fur seals and sea lions
- Drive one hour north to see the miraculous Moeraki Boulders, a group of huge spherical stones that are about 65 million years old
- At Moeraki you can lunch at Fleur's Place, arguably New Zealand's most famous seafood restaurant
- Drive another 30 minutes north to Oamaru to explore the town's beautifully preserved Victorian precinct. Within the elegant buildings, crafted from local whitestone, you'll find quirky little shops, tasty eateries, museums and pubs
- Oamaru also has a blue penguin colony - every evening at dusk these enchanting little birds waddle up the beach to their homes after a day at sea
Stay in Dunedin for two nights, then drive to Wanaka. The journey takes about three and half hours.
Days 10 to 12: Wanaka
Wanaka is an all-year-round lakeside resort town and the gateway to spectacular Mount Aspiring National Park. This special place has been a place of inspiration for Māori and Europeans, with both cultures valuing its alpine beauty, natural resources and recreational opportunities. Here you can pursue adventure at your own pace, in your own time and in your own way. Even if you're not an outdoor enthusiast, there's plenty to do in Wanaka. You can explore stylish shops and galleries, then enjoy local flavours at a great selection of cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Things to see and do in Wanaka
- Get a birds-eye view of Wanaka from the top of Mount Iron. This 90-minute hike offers a 360 degree panorama of the whole region
- In the warmer months, explore the wilderness, mountains, river valleys and alpine lakes of Mount Aspiring National Park, which has a network of beautiful hikes that cater for all levels of fitness. The park is also accessible by jet-boat, plane and helicopter - you can even land on a glacier high in the mountains
- In the colder months, Wanaka offers a choice of three fantastic snow sport areas - Cardrona, Treble Cone and Snow Farm. All are within a 40-minute drive of the town
- Kea, the world's only alpine parrot, live in the Wanaka region. Their outer plumage is olive green and brown; beneath their wings the feathers are bright reddish-orange. You might encounter them on ski fields or you can walk to Rob Roy Glacier, a popular kea hangout
- Baffle your brain and challenge your perceptions of reality at Puzzling World. Discover bizarre buildings, rooms of illusion and multi-level maze
- Drive to Lake Hawea for magnificent scenery and seclusion
- Take a guided tour of Mou Waho Island, one of five islands within Lake Wanaka. It's a sanctuary for native species
- Hike up Roy's Peak - it's a full-day alpine wilderness experience that delivers massive views of lake, mountains and sky
- Show for handmade food, arts and crafts at the Wanaka Artisan Market, which is held every Thursday afternoon
Stay in Wanaka for two nights, then drive to Christchurch via Tekapo. The journey takes between five and six hours.
Day 13: Christchurch
The road trip to Christchurch is packed with epic scenery and places of interest. You'll drive over the Lindis Pass, and then through the Mackenzie region, which was named after a famous Scottish sheep rustler. Highlights of the journey include views of Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, bright turquoise alpine lakes and the Church of the Good Shepherd. As you head towards the east coast, the scenery gradually changes until you're surrounded by the verdant productiveness of the Canterbury Plains.
Christchurch is an elegant hub of urban creativity, natural beauty and unexpected adventures. Set against a majestic ocean-to-alps backdrop, the city's glorious gardens and parks, vibrant street art and serene river scenery set it apart. Following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Christchurch embarked on some of the most innovative revitalisation projects in the world.
Things to see and do in Christchurch
- Glide along the Avon River/Ōtākaro on a relaxing, eco-friendly punting tour. An experienced punter dressed in traditional Edwardian attire will propel you gently along the river while you admire the city from the tranquillity of your own boat
- Discover the city's centre on beautiful historic trams, then get off on Rolleston Ave to visit the Botanic Gardens
- Head to the International Antarctic Centre for a genuine snow and ice experience. You'll survive an Antarctic storm, take an exciting ride on the all-terrain, amphibious Hagglund, experience a magical simulated 4D Antarctic cruise and hang out with little blue penguins
- Soar above the suburbs on the Christchurch Gondola as it takes you to the Crater Rim at the top of the Port Hills. You'll enjoy the stunning views 500 meters above sea level and experience a time tunnel journey through the history of the Port Hills and Christchurch
- Visit the Christchurch Arts Centre, a collection of Gothic Revival buildings packed with opportunities to shop for arts, crafts and delicious food
- Shop at The Tannery in Woolston for gorgeous things to wear and take home
Stay in Christchurch for one night, then head to the airport for an Air New Zealand flight to New Plymouth.
Days 14 & 15: Taranaki
Return your rental car and fly from Christchurch to New Plymouth airport, where you'll collect another rental car. New Plymouth is the main centre of Taranaki, a region that's loved for outdoor adventures, gorgeous gardens and off-beat art experiences. The landscape is absolutely remarkable, from the picture-perfect peak of Mount Taranaki to the black sand surf beaches that decorate the coast.
Things to see and do in Taranaki
- Visit the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Zealand's leading contemporary art museum and home to the Len Lye Centre, which is dedicated to pioneering filmmaker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye
- Walk, bike or skate along New Plymouth's seafront promenade
- Take a drive around Taranaki's Surf Highway 45, where you'll find brilliant beaches, shipwrecks, Māori pā sites, and more
- Visit Pukekura Park to explore the Fernery, display houses and Brooklands Zoo. Every year this park hosts the TSB Festival of Lights
- Explore short walks in Egmont National Park, which has Mount Taranaki at its centre - New Zealand's most perfectly formed volcano
- Hike the Pouakai Crossing, New Zealand's newest guided walking trail. It's a fascinating one-day hike through a volcanic and alpine landscape with significant cultural history
Stay in Taranaki for two nights, then return your rental car and fly back to Auckland in time for your international flight home.