A few notes to start: to follow this itinerary, summer is your best bet. I chose to travel mid January until the end of February and the conditions were perfect. Book in advance! Summer is peak season in New Zealand and I know of many travellers who missed out on experiences, and occasionally entire cities, by not booking activities and hostels before hand, especially in top tourist spots like Queenstown. I would recommend bussing, and to do so with InterCity using their FlexiPass. It's cheap, and saves you the hassle of buying and selling a vehicle. Without further ado, the ultimate six week itinerary for New Zealand:
Spend your first day exploring the attractions of Auckland. View the harbour, visit the Sky Tower, eat haute couture ice cream at Giapo’s.
Day two will take you on an early bus to Matamata, home of the Shire. Spend the afternoon on the Hobbiton tour*, ending with a pint at the Green Dragon, then hopping on a late afternoon bus to Rotorua. Don’t worry about missing much of Matamata, as Hobbiton is the main attraction of the small town. The short bus ride will bring you to Rotorua with enough time to explore the sulphuric smelling city.
*we booked the Middle Earth Trilogy Supercharged which included Hobbiton, black water rafting, and Te Puia
The next morning visit Te Puia for a cultural experience and to view large geothermal geysers for which the city can attribute the rotten egg smell. There you will get a traditional hangi lunch if you so choose, where your food will be steamed underground over a geyser. For those who appreciate spa days, check out the Polynesian Spa and spend the rest of your day wading through natural hot pools of varying temperatures and treat yourself to a short massage for ultimate pampering. If you'd prefer some activity, go zorbing!
Depart Rotorua for Waitomo on the fourth day. The small town has a local population somewhere around 50, but tourists account for thousands of visitors who travel to see the beautiful glowworm caverns. Choose between black water rafting (going through the dark caverns on an individual tube), or experiencing the glowworm caves by boat.
You’ll have half the fifth day to spend doing short tramping (hiking for us non-Kiwis) loops and exploring the natural landscape on well-maintained trails through farmers fields and bushes. Departing in the early evening back to Rotorua for one final night, I would recommend taking the gondola up to the top of the city and luging down. Honestly, it feels like real life Mario Kart.
Head on down to Taupo for perfect summer lake life. There are so many activities to do here, though some can get fairly pricey. I would opt for some free or cheap options such as walking down to the beautiful Huka Falls, and visiting the Craters of the Moon. There are also Maori rock carvings that can only be accessed via water, so spend an afternoon kayaking to visit them.
Bright and early day seven, you will hop on a shuttle to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Your entire day will be spent hiking this beautiful trek, but if you can add in the extra three hour trek up Mt. Ngarahoe, do it! Who doesn’t want to be able to say they climbed the legendary Mt. Doom? Make it to your shuttle just in time to head back to Taupo to spend the night.
Week two begins by heading to Taihape and catching a short, nausea inducing, winding shuttle to the River Valley. Prepare to do some technical white water rafting here, and celebrate with some drinks in the evening.
The ninth day will take you down to Wellington, and you can spend your evening exploring the windy city. You’ll spend day ten and eleven there as well. There are tons of great places for food and drink on Cuba Street, the interactive and free museum Te Papa, and you can visit Mt. Victoria Lookout for a great view of the city (extra points for sunrise or sunset viewings!). I wouldn’t recommend the Ultimate Movie Tour, but if you’re dead set on driving around to LoTR set locations you can book a tour for a day.
On the twelfth day get on the ferry to Nelson (the ferry is included in InterCity's pass). Spend the evening relaxing, because the next day you will shuttle to Marahau and begin the Abel Tasman Great Walk. I’d recommend spending the first half day kayaking for stunning views of the coastline from the water, then continuing the trek on foot. Abel Tasman Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites must be booked in advance on their website.
Where you stay will depend on your level of fitness and your intensity, but a good goal would be kayak from Marahau to Anchorage (the kayak company will take your kayak from here) and hike from Anchorage to Bark Bay on the first day. Day fourteen will take you from Bark Bay to Awaroa and, because Awaroa is a tidal track (only able to cross during low tide at certain hours of the day), spend the night here and leave during low tide the following morning.
From Awaroa, you will head to Whariwharangi and spend night fifteen there. Early the next morning hike to Wanui for transport back to Nelson and spend the sixteenth day recuperating there.
*Most hostels, such as YHA, in Nelson will allow you to leave a bag of stuff for your return so you don’t carry everything on your Great Walk*
Day seventeen will involve the long bus ride from Nelson to the rainforest and glacier area of Franz Josef. Hike down to the glacier for a nice view from the base, but if you’re looking to get up close then book ahead a Helihike tour on the glacier, and plan for an extra day due to fluctuating weather.
You’ll be taking a morning bus to Wanaka and spend the nineteenth and twentieth day in the adventurous city. Often compared to Queenstown, Wanaka offers a variety of activities, but I would suggest sticking to the Roy's Peak and/or Mt. Iron hikes which offer free and spectacular views of the lake encircled by mountains. Don’t miss the Puzzling World for a short fun time filled with illusions.
Day twenty one you will depart Wanaka for the short road to Queenstown. Queenstown is a budget blower, if you are in a hostel* it will be hard to say no to a night out on the town with your roommates in this party city.
Keep aspirin and lots of water handy for the morning, because the morning of your twenty second day, you’ll be doing your first bungy at the home of the original commercial bungy: the Kawarau Bridge Bungy. Reward yourself with the famous Fergburger after. If you still aren’t thrilled enough, up the ante by doing your second bungy the following morning from the much higher Nevis. Otherwise, spend day twenty three visiting wineries in the region.
You’ll leave the next day to head to Te Anau. Take a day hike on the Kepler track for stunning views. You’ll spend the entire twenty fifth day on a tour (we did Mitre Peak) to the famous Milford Sound, considered by many to be an eighth wonder of the world. If you are able, consider working in the Milford Track (another Great Walk), as we regretted not fitting it into our itinerary. *see suggested option below* You’ll spend another night at Te Anau and then you’ll bus to Invercargill.
Put on your walking shoes, because this five day portion will involve hitchhiking. *substitute the Milford Track if you’d like to skip hitchhiking!* The stretch isn’t long, and Kiwis are great for picking up strays, so don’t worry too much about catching a ride. Stop at Curio Bay and spend night twenty six at the Curio Bay Holiday Park- the area has dolphins and penguins regularly! The next day head to McLean Falls and stay at the hospitable Whistling Frog (the owner was one of the kind Kiwis who gave us a lift!). Make the short detour to Cathedral Cave at low tide for some cave exploration. Stay at the Puraknanui DOC campsite the following night and make sure to see the Purakanui Falls.
The last night of the hitchhiking stage should be spent in Kaka Point (stay at Kaka Point Camp Ground), but take a quick trip to Nugget Point Lighthouse. Day thirty you will be in Balclutha and back to standard bus routes.
*One option is to skip this Catlin Coast hitchhiking portion of the trip if you’re not up for hitchhiking, and add in the Milford Track!*
Take the next bus to Dunedin and spend your time there grabbing a cup of coffee, doing the Speights Brewery Tour (great bang for your buck), and going to see some live music at night. You’ll leave midday on day thirty three and spend the night in Cromwell, a necessary stop to get to Mt. Cook the following day. Day thirty four should involve hiking the famous Hooker Valley Track. Spend the night getting some well deserved rest and leave the next day to head to Lake Tekapo. Here you will want to enjoy the landscape, but by night is when you’ll be ready for some activity: take a tour with the Earth and Sky Observatory and see the Dark Sky Reserve in full force. You’ll get hot chocolate and an incredible view of the Southern Hemisphere constellations by telescope.
The next day you will head to Christchurch and explore the after effects of major earthquakes. You will spend day thirty six, thirty seven, and most of thirty eight here, so visit the Re:START mall and the Quake City museum.
The afternoon of your thirty eighth day you will be on your way to Kaikoura. An amazing marine city, splurge on crayfish at The Green Dolphin. The thirty ninth day you can either walk on the Peninsula Walkway, whale watch, or dolphin swim. We whale watched and were pretty underwhelmed. The next day, Seal Swim Kaikoura is a must. It is absolutely incredible how up close you get with the playful seals- they bonked someone on the head!
Day forty one and your trip is coming to it’s end too soon. Bus and ferry to Wellington, spend the night, then bus to Auckland, and end your trip exploring New Zealand’s biggest city. Catch a rugby game, visit Waiheke Island for great wine tasting (I’d recommend Mudbrick Winery, it has great setting and great wine), visit Devonport for used bookshops, or hike on the unpopulated Rangitoto Island. When you’ve had enough it is time to say a hard goodbye to an amazing country.
Click the map below to view my itinerary in google maps!
Total Days: 42+
Total Cities: 26+
Total Hours Bussed: 69 with InterCity FlexiPass*
*all the travel will work with InterCity routes, excluding the hitchhiking, the Great Walks, and some tours requiring a shuttle (usually included in the cost when booking the activity)