New Zealand is a spectacularly breathtaking country with an immense, scenically diverse landscape. Despite being a relatively small country, its scenery is remarkably distributed over every inch of its islands. Thus, there are a plethora of scenic natural wonders to explore throughout this stunning nation. When travelling across New Zealand, it is recommended to explore both its North Island and South Island. The North Island boasts a lush landscape of green rolling hills, sprawling farmlands and a plentitude of wonderful national parks. The South Island has a more dramatic landscape of stark mountain peaks, staggering cliffs and expansive bodies of water. This blog will detail the ideal, budget-friendly, eight-day itinerary that will cover the greatest highlights and best natural wonders of New Zealand.
Day 1- Auckland-Rotorua
Upon arrival in the beautiful city of Auckland, your New Zealand adventure begins. Venture into the heart of the city for your taste of New Zealand food, culture and famous landmarks. Visitors can explore the various cosmopolitan sights such as the famous SkyTower and bustling city streets. Alternatively, there are many natural attractions to see in Auckland, such as Mount Eden, a stunning volcanic crater with panoramic city views.
After you have got your fill of the city experience, travel south along Highway 1 towards Rotorua. Along this route, there are various areas of interest for roadside stops. Especially significant for Lord of the Rings fans, is the Hobbiton movie sets, which is just a quick detour from the main route. Once in Rotorua, there are several hostels, such as Rotorua Downtown Backpackers, and Air BnBs to choose from for inexpensive, easily accessible accommodation. This city is a great end destination for the first day; with supermarkets close by to stock up on food, as well as stunning views of the classic rolling hills that are abundant in the North Island.
Total travel time- Approximately 3 hours
Day 2- Rotorua-Taupo
Get your first full day in New Zealand started with a leisurely drive along the stunning shores of Lake Rotorua. Along the northern shore of Lake Rotorua is an excellent stop with scenic lake views and adjacent crystal clear waters of natural springs. The Hamurana Springs offers self guided walks and guided tours of its beautiful hot springs, which are of great cultural significance to the local tribe of Ngāti Rangiwewehi. Next, continue along the shores of Lake Rotorua with a quick drive over to Rotorua’s surrounding forested area. The famous Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest is home to 5600 hectares of protected forested area with some ancient natural wonders. Visitors can hike along a vast network of trails that offer views of exotic plant life, natural springs and lakes and the towering Redwood trees, which are likened to the Redwoods of California.
Continuing south away from Rotorua, you will find a must-visit destination at the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. This unique geothermal system is the youngest in the world, and is an active testament to the formation of the land. Here, you will discover the brilliant turquoise geothermal springs, stark volcanic craters and one of the world’s largest hot water springs at Frying Pan Lake. To fully experience the region’s abundant hot springs, continue further south towards Waiotapu at the Hot n’ Cold stream under Waiotapu Bridge. At this point, a cold freshwater stream and a hot geothermal stream meet, making its waters suitable for swimming. Please note- the waters in this stream contain amebic meningoencephalitis, which can be fatal. This is only suitable for those who have been vaccinated for Meningitis.
To end the day, continue towards your final destination of Taupo, where there are many accommodation options that can suit all needs.
Total travel time- Approximately 2 hours
Day 3- Taupo-Te Aroha
This day is all about seeing the breathtaking variety of the North Island’s bountiful bodies of water. Begin the day by exploring the momentous Lake Taupo, the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. There is a plentitude of incredible scenery to take in around this lake, which can be explored via paddleboard, kayak, boat or by foot on trails surrounding the lake. Additionally, for a unique fusion of nature and New Zealand culture, see the Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings, which are intricate rock carvings etched in the 14-meter rock walls along the shore.
Continue exploring the North Island by beginning your trip towards the northwest side of the island. This will take you along the sprawling farm fields and lush rolling hills that are integral to the North Island landscape. Take a travel break at the picturesque Waitanguru Falls. This picturesque waterfall is a short 15-minute loop from the road, and includes various viewing points along the lush trail. A short drive continuing north will bring you to the next scenic stop: the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. You can explore the Glowworm Caves by boat along a quiet river to see the distinct brilliance of the worms lighting up the cave walls. Alternatively, tours are available of other caves (Ruakuri and Aranui Cave) that display the expansive limestone formations and stunning stalactites.
Once you near your destination, you can opt to continue straight to your accommodation in Te Aroha, or head further north to catch the sunset reflecting off the water in Thames. For accommodation in Te Aroha, there are endless options of reasonably priced Air BnB’s to choose from. For instance, The Udder House is one that is incredibly unique. Situated on a farm under the stunning Te Aroha mountains, the friendly owners can give you the full New Zealand farm experience by introducing you to their sheep, cows and other adorable farm animals.
Total travel time- Approximately 5 hours
Day 4- Te Aroha- Auckland
While making your way back to Auckland, there are several scenic natural attractions to take in. First, take a short drive to Kaimai-Mamakū Forest Park. This expansive conservation park has an extensive network of trails that connect visitors to a wide array of views. Notably, the Karangahake Gorge, located within the park, has dramatic rushing rapids alongside a rustic gold mining site. Here, you can explore the spectacular waterways, take a tour in an abandoned gold mining tunnel and take a swim in the water pools alongside the picturesque Owharoa Falls.
Next, continuing along towards Auckland, take the scenic route along the Firth of Thames for some impressive views of the bay. Good places to stop and take in the inherent beauty are at Seabird Coast Lookout and Orere Point. These stops overlook the rocky coast with the rolling mountains as a picturesque backdrop on the opposite coastline. Upon arrival in Auckland, you can continue taking in the sprawling coastal region, explore more ends of the city (including the robust nightlife), or head to your nightly accommodation and prepare for your morning flight to the South Island!
Total travel time- Approximately 2.5 hours
Day 5- Auckland-Greymouth (South Island)
Say goodbye to the rolling hills, farmlands and volcanic valleys of the North Island as you take an early flight to Christchurch, South Island. Upon arrival in the beautiful city of Christchurch, you can start your South Island journey by experiencing this beautiful coastal city. Drive to the picturesque coastal suburb of Sumner to see its gorgeous seaside beach nestled between towering volcanic hills and cliffs. Here, you can take in the lavish hillside homes and quaint cafes that line the main street. After, take a seaside cliff walk along the Taylors Mistake Track, which has expansive views of the bay and the staggering cliffs.
Next, take the highway out of the city, driving inland. Along this stretch of road, known as Arthurs Pass Drive, you will begin to see the towering South Island mountain range (the Southern Alps) looming in the distance. This scenic route takes visitors through the mountains along high, twisting roads, with panoramic views of the valleys below. The first stop along this mountainous road is Castle Hill (Kura Tawhiti). This unique site is known for its unique limestone rock formations lining the starkly beautiful hillside. You can hike along Castle Hill’s well-maintained trails or explore the rock formations freely. Continuing further into the mountain range, you will pass Arthurs Pass National Park, the center of the Alps. Here, you can explore the breathtaking mountain range with various hikes that have stunning views of the valleys, gorges, rivers and steep mountainous slopes.
Once you have exited the mountain range, drive north along the eastern coast towards the quaint seaside town of Greymouth. You can end your busy travel day at the famous Karoro Beach, relaxing as you take in the vibrant sunset.
Total travel time- Approximately 1.5 hours (flight), 3.5 hours (drive)- total 5 hours
Day 6- Greymouth-Wānaka
Begin this travel-heavy day as early as possible to be able to properly enjoy all attractions. First, start your journey south with a drive towards the breathtaking Hokitika Gorge. This short, 2 kilometer walk, surrounded by lush greenery, will take you along towering granite walls and scenic suspension bridge. The walk culminates with impressive views of the tranquil, turquoise waters of the Hokitika River. Next, continue south towards your next stop: the iconic Franz Josef Glacier. This World Heritage site is a true demonstration of the stark beauty of New Zealand’s glaciers. You can hike towards the stunning glacier face on the free, easily accessible trails.
At the culmination of your days’ drive south, you will once again find yourself amongst the mountains. Your end destination is one of the most beautiful towns in all of New Zealand– Wānaka. Wānaka, with a quintessentially laidback New Zealand vibe, is nestled between the serene Lake Wānaka and the towering Alps. Take a relaxing stroll along the waterfront and familiarize yourself with the indescribable beauty of this alpine town.
Total travel time- Approximately 7 hours
Day 7- Wānaka-Queenstown
This day is all about taking in the spectacular scenery of two of New Zealand’s most scenic towns. First, start your morning by seeing That Wānaka Tree, a lone standing willow tree in the shallow depths of Lake Wānaka. This is an essential photograph location for anyone visiting the region. Additionally, you can further tour across the full expanse of the impressive Lake Wānaka with kayak and paddleboard rentals. After, for the ambitious adventurer, hike the iconic Roys Peak Track. This 5-6 hour hike is not for the faint of heart. However, it provides the best panoramic views of the area, including Lake Wānaka and the monumental Mount Aspiring.
Next, begin your short drive to Queenstown along Crown Range Road. This route is among the most scenic drives in New Zealand. You will have an ideal vantage point of the surrounding mountains, glacial lakes and expansive valleys throughout the entire drive. Stop at The Neck and Lake Hayes for further breathtaking views.
Once in Queenstown, the true excitement begins in the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’. Queenstown is shaped by the dramatic landscape of towering mountain peaks and stunning glacial lakes. Thus, many tourists here opt to see the town from a more extreme vantage point. Some options for any adventure seeker in Queenstown include skydiving, bungee jumping, skiing, canyon swinging and much more. Alternatively, for a more relaxing day, take a walk along the charming downtown streets. Here, you will find many lovely shops and restaurants, as well as a picturesque waterfront promenade. Additionally, for further exploration of this area’s natural wonders, many take the Skyline Gondola atop Bob’s Peak. Visitors here are treated to indescribable, panoramic views of The Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu and the beautiful Queenstown below. For the best Queenstown experience, end your day at a nearby hostel or hotel, and take in the fun nightlife scene that is inherent in any adventurous ski town.
Total travel time- Approximately 1 hour
Day 8- Queenstown-Milford Sound
On the final day of your New Zealand adventure, take the trip from Queenstown to the iconic Milford Sound. Despite being a longer round trip, it is definitely worth it for some of the most incredible views in New Zealand. Along the route, there are several areas of interest to stop and break up the trip. Starting in Te Anau, the stunning Milford Road trek begins. Stop at the largest southern glacial lake at Lake Te Anau, the expansive Eglinton Valley with striking mountains in the distance and the unique Mirror Lakes with the dramatic mountains reflected in the still waters.
Upon arrival at the magnificent Milford Sound, you will see why it is considered the ‘8th Wonder of the World’. Situated within the incredible Fiordland National Park, it can be noted as one of the most breathtaking natural wonders across a country where natural beauty is seen in abundance.
“With its magical combination of mountain peaks, ink-dark waters and superb dramatic forest-clad cliffs, it must be seen to be believed.”Milford Sound
You can explore this indescribable scene with a walk along the famous Milford Track or tour from above via helicopter. However, to best experience this natural wonder is by cruise. On the water, you can properly feel engulfed in the true beauty of this site. Additionally, you can understand the sheer size of the towering cliffs, see the various cascading waterfalls and thoroughly explore its tranquil waters. Truly, Milford Sound is saving the best for last for this New Zealand adventure.
Total travel time- Approximately 7 hours (round trip)
The best of New Zealand
This eight-day trip is the best introduction to the greatest picturesque wonders of New Zealand’s vast lands. From the rolling hills and volcanic valleys of the North Island, to the famous fjords and dramatic mountain ranges of the South Island, all incredible aspects of this scenic country are explored. New Zealand, truly, is one of the most incredible natural destinations that must be explored by all travel lovers.