If you're short on time, you can JUST manage to visit New Zealand in one week. You'll get to encounter a huge range of scenery and experiences in a very short time, and will likely leave New Zealand already planning your next longer adventure.
A one week trip to New Zealand will require meticulous advance planning, and we'd suggest you have your tours, internal flight and train journey, car hire and accommodation pre-booked to save you time once you're here. We can do this as a free service for you, so contact us if you're planning a New Zealand trip.
Your one week itinerary will see you flying into Auckland. If you're coming from North America, odds favor you having an early morning arrival - so you can hit the ground running and fight off your jet lag by getting out and experiencing the City of Sails.
After checking into your Auckland accommodation, and having a quick look around the CBD, it's time to get out of the city. Let's face it, you didn't come to New Zealand for city visits, and the native bush and vineyards of Waiheke Island are calling.
Waiheke Island sits about 20 kms from Auckland in the picturesque Hauraki Gulf. The island offers an excellent mix of rolling farmland, native forest, beaches and vineyards. It's only a 35-minute ferry away from Auckland's downtown, and is the perfect chance to escape the city with limited time.
Keep going for as long as you can, and then head back to the city to grab some kai (Maori for food) and catch some sleep. You have an early start tomorrow.
Day Two: Auckland to Rotorua
You're up first thing today to collect your rental car and start the drive to Rotorua - New Zealand's geothermal capital. You'll pass through New Zealand's heartland - the Waikato district - on the way to Rotorua. The drive will take about three hours.
Rotorua was settled by the Maori in the 14th century, and still today the region has one of the highest populations of Maori in New Zealand - about 35%. Rotorua is perhaps best known for its smell - the sulphur-rich air greets you far outside of town. It's one of New Zealand's most dynamic thermal areas, and is home to bubbling mud pools, spurting geysers and hot springs.
The Maori named one of the most incredible springs in the area Wai o Tapu - which translates to Sacred Waters. Be sure to arrive in town by 1pm to grab the shuttle to Wai o Tapu. You'll arrive back to Rotorua late afternoon with time to check into your accommodation (check out Wotif for the best deals) and get ready for an evening Maori cultural experience - complete with dinner cooked for you by your hosts.
Day Three: Rotorua to Christchurch
Today, you'll return your rental car and catch a flight to Te Waipounamu - the South Island. Depending on what time your flight is for, you might just have time to squeeze in an adventure activity; or perhaps you'll just opt for a relaxing morning with breakfast at a local cafe looking out across Lake Rotorua.
Spend tonight in Christchurch - a city very much on the rebuild after the devastating earthquakes of 2011. You might just choose to walk around and explore the city; be sure to check out the Re: Start Mall - an excellent example of the city pulling together to make use of vacant space after the earthquakes. Alternatively, visit the Antarctic Centre to learn about this incredible continent (which isn't TOO far away from NZ!).
Day Four: Tranz Alpine to Greymouth to Franz Josef
Today you're up early to catch the incredibly scenic TranzAlpine train journey across New Zealand's Southern Alps to Greymouth. You'll first pass the farmland of the Canterbury Plains, travelling along the glacial-fed Waimakariri River. As you pass over the Southern Alps you'll encounter native beech forest and snow-capped mountain peaks.
It's an incredible train journey and one that drops you alongside the mighty Tasman Sea at Greymouth in the early afternoon.
Unfortunately there's not much time to look around Greymouth with your limited one week itinerary, so grab your new rental car and head south down the West Coast. New Zealand's West Coast (its largest Region) is an area where the Tasman Sea meets dense native bush which meets the snow-capped Southern Alps. It's a magical spot, with rugged and wind swept beaches and also an area that sees annual rain measured in metres!
The drive from Franz Josef to Queenstown is about four hours. Like so many drives in New Zealand, it's insanely beautiful. Don't rush the trip, and realize you'll be arriving to Queenstown late afternoon or early evening. Stop in Wanaka to stretch the legs before finishing the drive over the Crown Range.
After checking into your accommodation, head out for a night on the town and check out one of the dozens of excellent restaurants on offer.
Day Six: Milford Sound
A visit to New Zealand wouldn't be complete without a trip to Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park. Today, you're up first thing for a bus trip through Te Anau and onto Milford Sound. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound (The Milford Road) is often ranked one of the top 10 most beautiful drives in the world - and after your morning drive, we think you'll agree.
You'll pass towering peaks and glacier carved valleys on the four hour drive from Queenstown. Once you arrive to Milford, you'll catch a cruise for a trip through the sound - if you're lucky, you'll get to see dolphins or seals, but at the very least you'll experience the grandeur of cliffs rising hundreds of metres out of the deep waters of Milford Sound.
If you can stretch your budget, we suggest ditching the bus on the return trip and catching a flight back to Queenstown. Rather than spending four hours in the bus, you'll spend 45 minutes high above the mountains and lakes of the South Island. It's the perfect option for this express 7 day New Zealand itinerary.
As you'll be back early, you'll have time to fit an adventure activity into your afternoon - we suggest boarding another airplane, heading 15,000 feet above Queenstown and jumping out with NZONE Skydive. The perfect end to an incredible day.
Day Seven: Morning activity in Queenstown
Today is your last day in New Zealand. You can catch a flight from Queenstown's international airport - either direct to Australia, or via Auckland to your final destination. If you have a morning flight, you'll have to head straight to the airport; if you have an afternoon flight, you'll have time to grab breakfast at a local cafe, or even squeeze in another activity around Queenstown as it's only a 15 minute drive to the airport.
There you have it. They said it couldn't be done but we showed them - New Zealand in a week featuring glaciers, beaches, vineyards, snow-capped mountains, stunning drives and scenic flights.
If you're interested in booking this one week itinerary as a Self Drive Tour, drop us a line via the Contact page.