rtw rookie: planning new zealand

RTWrookieWell hello, my Lazy Traveling friends. After enjoying two versions of paradise on the first two legs of my trip, Hawaii and Fiji, my next stop is New Zealand.


Photo Credit: I Live to Travel

If I’m not sufficiently relaxed and sunburned at this point, then I have serious problems… During these first stops, I will be sure to provide you with frequent updates on my favorite local beverages, as well as my current position on the sunburn spectrum (Ripe tomato —> Roasted Beet).

New Zealand is not known for it’s fast-paced way of life, but our itinerary will become a little more hectic here. We’ll be canvassing the country, and we have allotted two weeks for the North Island and two weeks for the South Island. Initially we considered touring the whole country via campervan–a highly popular tactic.  However, due to my travel partner’s concern over one full month living in a van, we decided to break it up.  We’re going to hostel/hotel-hop with a rental car on the North Island, and we’ve elected to rock-out in one of the sexy and stylish Spaceship campervans for our tour of the South Island.

We’re still confirming the lodging details, but most of this leg is mapped out. Some highlights that we wanted to make sure to include are:
  • Main cities: Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch
  • Crazy scenery and natural phenomenons: Bay of Islands, Rotorua, Waitomo Caves, Taupo, Glaciers, and Fiordland
  • Vineyards: Hawkes Bay, Marlborough, Napier, and everywhere in between

Without further ado, here’s the plan, Stan:

Days 1-2: We arrive in Auckland, and will spend about two days exploring the city.  We’ve gotten mixed reviews on Auckland, but after three weeks of beaches, we thought we’d be ready for some city life. We’ve been specifically told to check out Sky City Casino (not really our style) and Kelly Tarlton’s Sealife Aquarium, and

 could use some restaurant and museum recommendations.

Day 3: Next, we’ll pick up our rental car and head north to Russell. We have been advised to make a few stops along the way–Paihia, the Waiwera Hot Pools, the Dutch-influenced town of Puhoi, and the wineries near Leigh and Matakana are all potential detours.

Days 4-5: After arriving in Russell, we’ll explore the Bay of Islands for a day, and then take a day trip to the northernmost points of the country to see Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach. Do a quick google image search… you’ll see why these made the list.

Days 6-7: Next up: back through Auckland toward the center of the country. These days will be dedicated to Rotorua and Waitomo, with one night spent in each.  Rotorua is famous for its geysers, mud pools, and thermal springs… which we’re a little on the fence about, to be honest.  What I’m SUPER psyched for, however, is the Black Labyrinth Tour

 that I’ve lined up in Waitomo. Tubing through underground caves that are pitch black except for some hanging glow worms?  Sure, why not!

Days 8-9: After this unique (and potentially disturbing) underground tubing adventure, we’ll head to Taupo, which is smack dab in the center of the North Island. Lake Taupo anchors the region, and adventure activities from hiking to skydiving are the popular pastimes here… we’ll see where I end up on the adventure scale. If there’s a time and place to push my limits, Taupo may be it.


Raupehu Volcano in Tongariro
Photo Credit: Leah Travels

Day 10: We’ll leave Taupo early, and devote the majority of the day to Tongariro National Park. Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a World Heritage Site, so the scenery is unbelievable, but I hear the trek is pretty hardcore. To be honest, this day may get replaced, but as of now, we’re planning to make our way toward Tongariro and see if we’re up for it. After our (potential) hike, we’ll head toward the laziest part of our North Island tour: the vineyards in Napier. It’s all part of the plan.

Days 11-12: We’re planning to spend a solid two days in the wine regions of Napier and Martinborough. After all of that outdoorsy business in Waitomo, Taupo, and Tongariro National Park, I will be more than ready for a few glasses of vino.

Days 13-14: Our North Island tour ends in Wellington, where we’ll drop off our rental car, settle into the city for a day or two, and prepare for our ferry to Christchurch on the South Island.

nz south island

Lake Matheson on the South Island
Photo Credit: Leah Travels

Days 14-28: Yeah, yeah… that’s a long 14-day stretch. And it’s basically all that I know about my full tour of the South Island. What I DO know is that I will be riding in style, and plugging in my Spaceship campervan at various caravan parks and national parks along the way. I don’t want to miss the wine country in Marlborough, the Fiordland in the southwest, and the glaciers on the west coast, but I’m excited for the built-in flexibility of a campervan! However, I’m always up for some reader-guidance.

By now you folks know the drill. New Zealanders and experienced travelers–provide your tried and true suggestions.  Dreamers and fellow planners–what are your ideal itineraries?  What can’t I miss on the South Island?

Thanks in advance, and I’ll be back next time with my Australian itinerary!

RTW Rookie

Editor’s note – if you want more help on NZ, check out past posts from Leah Travels, I Live to Travel, and GQ Trippin. We love them and they are helpful.



  1. Lisa
    February 8, 2013 / 15:03

    Oh my gosh you haven’t planned anything for the south island! Its a big island.

    You get off the Ferry in Picton which is about 5 hours drive from Christchurch. In between; Marlborough wine region, Kaikoura headland, Canterbury plains.

    Check out Christchurch; its beautiful and so sad after the earthquake.

    Go south to Queenstown. All through that country is just magnificent. Stop at huge lakes so crystal clear they reflect the whole world. When you get to Queenstown go up the mountain on the gondola and come back down on the luge.

    Go to the west coast and check out the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers.

    Go south to the southernmost tip of New Zealand in Invercargill. Come back through the Scottish inspired Dunedin.

    The south island is wild and untamed and well worth a look.

    • RTW_Rookie
      February 11, 2013 / 16:42

      I know, I’m so irresponsible! Thanks for pointing me in the right direction, and I’ll be sure to fit in your recommendations. The gondola/luge adventure sounds like a must!

  2. February 9, 2013 / 14:24

    I LOVE New Zealand! I only explored the North, but fell in love with it. Taupo is beautiful and you must drive the Desert Road – the views of the volcanoes are amazing. Stop in Bulls if you get a chance, it’s a cute little town on the way down to Wellington, which is just so wonderful! Another cute winery area is Martinborough. It’s on the North Island, so stop by for a glass of two on your drive. So excited for you!
    The World Wanderer recently posted..Cocktails Around the World.My Profile

    • RTW_Rookie
      February 11, 2013 / 16:43

      Martinborough is definitely on the list. Thanks!

  3. February 9, 2013 / 14:37

    Great stuff! And thanks for the kind words. Waitomo and Rotorua on the North Island are great. I personally would cap my visit to the NI to 1 week but you are spot on spending 2 wks on the South Island (I would use the extra week to go to Tasmania – it is super gorgeous!). One tip: in the South Island, I stayed at a couple of motels/car-motels. It may seem odd to us from the U.S. where motels seem cheap and dirty. I stayed at some very nice ones (yet still motels), especially the Anchorage Motel in Te Anau in the South Island. The town and area of Wanaka is just beautiful. My best memory of the view was when the inter-city bus rounded a curve and there was the lake and the mountains. By the way, inter-city buses in the South Island are awesome. Though they are public buses, the drivers actually narrate as if you were taking a tour when you go from town to town. Also, the bus makes stops for lunch, and photo ops etc. It was a great, carefree way to go. However, if I return, I would drive to have even more freedom. The roads in the south are very well kept and they are easy to follow. Anyway, I will stop giving opinions here but if you have any questions, let me know! Enjoy New Zealand – it’s paradise on earth!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel in Twitter) recently posted..The Machame Route: Our Route to the Top of Mt. KilimanjaroMy Profile

    • RTW_Rookie
      February 11, 2013 / 16:45

      This sounds incredible–and I will keep an open mind re: motels. Your pictures rock!

  4. February 9, 2013 / 21:31

    I can’t believe Queenstown is not on your list! Super stunning…you have to find a way to fit it in! You won’t be disappointed. Marlborough is awesome and I am so jealous! What a great region to kick back in!
    If you are including Milford in your itinerary…..take your time driving down and do the overnight tour. I did the MV Friendship – only 12 people on board – and loved it. You get to see the different faces of Milford, possibly kayak with some of the locals and spend the night on the water. The drive down is amazing….I got out of my car a zillion times and explored, hiked and loved it.
    Have a great time! Sounds amazing.
    Anita Mac recently posted..Montreal Bucket List – unique winter experiences you have to tryMy Profile

    • RTW_Rookie
      February 11, 2013 / 16:50

      I’ll absolutely make it to Queenstown, I just haven’t mapped out when. I’ll have to look up that kayak tour!

    • RTW_Rookie
      February 11, 2013 / 16:51

      The campervan will be interesting, as I’ve never traveled that way before… but I’m looking forward to it!

    • RTW_Rookie
      February 11, 2013 / 16:52

      Check and check. You can expect a full report and frequent updates along the way!

  5. February 10, 2013 / 23:57

    In Auckland you MUST go to Giapo’s gelato on Queens street downtown! It’s the best!

    The South Island is amazing. For sure spend time in Queenstown as others have mentioned. Drive to Milford Sound from there, and be sure to take the boat out into the fjord. I recommend staying at the only hotel there for a night, it’s one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been.
    (Don’t believe me? Check out some photos here:
    http://missjessrose.com/blog/wonder-nature-in-new-zealand )

    I loved Curio bay, the remote southernmost tip where you can spot rare penguins in their natural habitat. Also the cathedral caves down south are stunning.

    • RTW_Rookie
      February 11, 2013 / 16:53

      Wow, I love your pictures. I’m sold.

  6. RTW_Rookie
    February 11, 2013 / 16:55

    I’m ready to tackle the drive and the wine country, however the DD situation may have to get figured out ahead of time…

  7. February 11, 2013 / 21:56

    Six months isn’t long enough for New Zealand. You’re trying to do the North and South Islands in about the same amount of time I did. Just get ready. You’re not going to want to leave. I’m with you on the campervan. There was NO way I was doing that. Good choice on my part.
    Leah Travels recently posted..My @GoWithOh Euro Apartments ReviewMy Profile

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