Travelling around New Zealand can be for some once in a lifetime experience. Do you want to visit New Zealand but you are not sure where to even begin your planning? This blog post shows you how to plan your epic trip, and gives practical tips to get the most out of your time in Aotearoa.
You can find my 3-week itinerary and cost breakdown at the end of this post.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I am not receiving any compensation for writing this. Any links included in this post are not affiliate links and I'm only including them for reader's convenience. I am writing this because I want to share my experience with you. Any referee links are clearly marked within the text.
First thing you have to consider when planning your trip is timing. How much time do you have? Are you on a working holiday visa (WHV) and you have a whole year to explore New Zealand? Are you in the country only for a few weeks? Establishing the amount of time you have is the first step of planning as it will affect all the other steps.
Personal experience: I spent a year in New Zealand on a WHV. I was located in Auckland and have taken a few trips out of the city. I have taken three weeks long trip at the end of my stay in late April / early May.
When are you travelling?
Are you travelling in the summer season (November - March), shoulder seasons, or in winter (June - August) season? If you are after chilling on the beach and hiking one of the famous New Zealand peaks, you will want to travel in summer season. If you are more about hitting the ski slopes in Queenstown, you will want to travel in the winter season.
Personal experience: My three weeks long travel was in a shoulder season starting in late April and ending mid-May. I had great weather with a few rainy days. Weather can change very quickly in New Zealand so be prepared for it.
How much money can you spend on the trip? This will affect everything - from what type of transportation, activities and accommodation are within your budget to how long you can afford to travel.
Personal experience: I have spent just under 3 500 NZD for all my travels around New Zealand - Including transport, accommodation, food, activities, and souvenirs.
3. WHERE TO GO
After you have established how long you can spend travelling, when you are travelling and how much money you have, then the fun part of planning begins! Where to go?
Places you already know about
Chances are that if you are planning your trip to New Zealand, you already have at least some idea where you want to go.
If you are staying in New Zealand on WHV you do not have to do everything at once.
If you are based in Auckland, there are multiple short trip options available to you. Visit Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves, explore Bay of Islands, or see what Auckland has to offer.
Once you have determined your main points of interest, do some research to see what else is out there.
Tip: Check tour providers' websites like Kiwi Experience, Stray Travel, and Haka Tours itineraries for inspiration. A lot of them will have maps with top destinations marked on them available. Download/print/pick up a map in-store and start marking your favourite spots to create your own travel list.
Check Pinterest for blog posts and follow New Zealand themed Instagram accounts for more inspiration. That's where I have discovered one of my favourite places I have visited in New Zealand - Huka Falls Mangroove Walk.
Personal experience: I have collected a few maps from different tour providers and had a look at their set itineraries. I have marked the ones I really wanted to see on the map and then also marked the ones it would be nice to see. I have done Instagram / Pinterest research on places I wanted to see to find other off the beaten track gems in the area.
My Favourites: Coromandel (North Island), Hobbiton (North Island), Bay of Islands (North Island), Hamilton Gardens (North Island), Christchurch (South Island), Taupo (South Island).
Travelling around New Zealand (as everywhere else) is the most convenient by car. However, it is not the only way.
If you are travelling around New Zealand but can't/don't want to drive and you can't be bothered with a hassle of finding a travel/driver buddy, there are a few other options available to you. You can hitchhike, join arranged tours, or decide for one of the many bus passes (you purchase a certain amount of hours that you can use for travelling on buses).
Personal experience: I have taken a 3 day Stray Pass (arranged tour) to Bay of Islands and I have also found a good day trip deal with a tourist company to Hobbiton and Waitomo glow worm caves.
My day trips around Auckland and Private Island Experience to Rotoroa Island were all done using public transport.
I have visited Coromandel as a weekend getaway trip with my friends who rented a car.
I have spent 3 weeks travelling around North and South island using InterCity FlexiPass and Air New Zealand flights (Wellington to Christchurch and Christchurch to Auckland). Alternatively, you can use the ferry for travelling between North and South Island.
Tip: Check GrabASeat for cheap last minute flight deals in New Zealand. You can get a discount on purchasing multiple activities from a travel agent so it is worth to ask around what packages are they offering.
A lot of arranged tours already include or offer accommodation at an extra cost. From a social point of view, staying at the same accommodation as people who are on the same trip as you is great for getting to know people more easily.
Alternatively, you can book your own accommodation. The type of accommodation you are going to book is going to depend on your budget as well. Hostels, hotels, and Airbnb (get a discount by using my referral link) are probably the most popular accommodation options.
Beware that most of the towns in New Zealand have limited capacity when it comes to accommodation. So if you are travelling in high season you will want to check in advance the availability and prices.
Personal experience: I used Booking.com (use this link for a 10% cashback on your booking) for all my hostel bookings except a few Haka lodges. I would stay in Haka Lodges when possible as they are all relatively new and very clean.
6. MY TRAVEL ITINERARY
Trips whilst being based in Auckland:
My 3 weeks New Zealand itinerary - 60-hour InterCity FlexiPAss
24/4 Auckland to Hamilton - check out Hamilton Gardens
25/4 Hamilton to Tirau - get off the bus to check cute metal buildings, you can leave your luggage at the info centre - catch the next bus from Tirau to Rotorua
26/4 Rotorua - check out Rainbow Springs to see a kiwi bird, Rotorua Skyline (Rotovegas sign), Hell's Gate, Mud Pools, Wai - O - Tapu
27/4 Rotorua to Taupo
28/4 Taupo - check my full blog post on 4 + 1 Thing To Do In Taupo including world's coolest Mcdonald's and New Zealand's most visited tourist attraction
29/4 Taupo to Napier
1/5 Napier to Wellington
3/5 Wellington flight to Christchurch
4/5 Christchurch - one of my favourite stops on my trip, read a full blog post on must-do things in a day in Christchurch
5/5 Christchurch to Kaikoura - check out whale watching, very weather dependant, I sadly missed out on it
6/5 Kaikoura to Picton - this is the place where the ferries arrive and depart between North and South island. Check out Alicante Backpackers - one of the most beautiful hostels I've ever stayed at
7/5 Picton to Nelson
8/5 Day trip from Nelson to Abel Tasman
9/5 Nelson via Greymouth to Franz Josef - InterCity bus makes a quick stop at Punakaiki so you can see the Pancake Rocks
10/5 Franz Josef - I was supposed to do heli hike which was cancelled due to the bad weather, I have instead opted out for a walk to the glacier lookout point
11/5 Franz Josef to Wanaka - check out the famous That Wanaka Tree
12/5 Wanaka to Queenstown
13/5 Day trip to Milford Sound
14/5 Queenstown - check out Fergburger - world's best burger
15/5 Queenstown to Christchurch including 1 stop at Lake Tekapo for a Church Of The Good Shepherd photo op
and another over one hour break at Mt Cook where you can take a short hike towards the mountain.
16/5 Evening flight from Christchurch to Auckland
InterCity 60 hr pass, flights, and activities* = 927.16 NZD
Accommodation (23 nights) = 679.38 NZD
Food and other expenses = 277.43 NZD (North Island) + 535.53 NZD (South Island)
TOTAL (Including trips whilst being based in Auckland)
= 3 445.74NZD
*If you want to do heli hike, budget around extra 450 NZD.
Feel free to drop me a message on Instagram if you have any further questions.