13 Day New Zealand Itinerary

This post details my 13 day New Zealand itinerary and is part of my Travel Itineraries series which details my trip summaries, reflections, and tips to help you plan your trip.Some of the things you can expect to find in these posts include:

  • Quick Overview of the Trip: Purpose, Transportation, Time of Year, etc.
  • Daily Breakdown: Sightseeing, Food highlights, etc.
  • Succinct Trip Reflections: What I would leave out, adjust, and keep
  • Links to More Information: Blog Posts, Pinterest Planning Board, Useful Websites, etc.

Overview

Purpose

We decided to go to New Zealand for our honeymoon! It was a place I wanted to see since I was a kid. The nature was a huge draw (and the lack of snakes). Also,  we had more vacation time for our honeymoon so it was possible to budget the longer international travel times without sacrificing time in the country.

Time of Year

November (spring)

Duration

13 days (about 2 days extra for international air travel.)

Getting There and Around

We flew to New Zealand from Frankfurt, Germany. Within New Zealand, we flew between the North and South Islands and rented a car in the South Island.

You Should Know That…

Our itinerary is a bit South Island heavy. We also used the assistance of a travel planner/travel agent with this trip because we were getting a bit overwhelmed with balancing honeymoon planning and coordinating an international wedding. If an activity was pre-arranged by our travel planner, I will mention that. Also, for each city/town I will summarize any food highlights before discussing the next location.

Daily Breakdown

Day 1: Dunedin

We arrived in Dunedin in the afternoon and picked up our rental car from the airport. We took a pre-arranged tour of the Speight’s Alehouse to help us fight jet lag. The tour was well-paced and included a tasting at the end.

Around Dunedin in the evening.
Day 2: Dunedin

We had a relaxed morning and early afternoon. The main pre-arranged activities were afternoon tours of the Royal Albatross Center and Penguin Place. Both places seem to really care about conservation and the tours were informative and fun. Penguin Place was especially memorable and we still talk about that tour.

A penguin at The Penguin Place
Dunedin Food Highlights

Capers Café: Nice place to have breakfast, brunch, or a coffee.

Pak’n Save: Large grocery store that is useful if you need to stock on supplies

A Coffee from Capers Café.
Day 3: Catlins

We left Dunedin and decided to drive a good portion of the Southern Scenic Route on our way to Queenstown. I really wanted to check out the Catlins and it did not disappoint.

Check out the post: Planning a Day Trip to the Catlins, New Zealand

Nugget Point Lighthouse in the Catlins.
Day 4: Queenstown

We hiked the Ben Lomond track. It was AWESOME!

Check out the post: Hiking the Ben Lomond Track in New Zealand

A view from Ben Lomond.
Queenstown Food Highlights

Ferburger: A classic in Queenstown and  the burger hit the spot after hiking the Ben Lomond track

The Cow Restaurant: I’m a sucker for pizza and ragu and I liked how this restaurant combines them

Smith’s Craft Beer House: Big venue with a huge selection of craft beer

Atlas Beer Café: Cozy, waterside venue with a good selection of beer

Inside Atlas Cafe
Day 5: Arrowtown + Te Anau

We left Queenstown and took a detour to Arrowtown before heading to Te Anau. In Arrowtown, we trekked the Sawpit Gully Loop. In Te Anau, we had a pre-arranged Glowworm tour in the late afternoon.

Around Sawpit Gully.
Day 6: Te Anau – Routeburn Track

We had a pre-arranged hiking tour that took us through parts of the Routeburn Track, including Key Summit. Our guide also included some other spots on the tour. We also hit a bit of traffic on the way back because a fallen tree had to be removed. The tour took the full day.

Key Summit
Te Anau Food Highlights

La Toscana Pizzeria:  The pizza was decent, especially if you get the early bird special. They had a surprisingly varied collection of craft beer.

Beer at La Toscana Pizzeria
Day 7:  Milford Sound

We had a relaxed morning and made our way to Milford Sound for a pre-arranged overnight boat tour. There are many spots to check out on the drive to and from Milford Sound. We checked out the Chasm and Mirror Lakes. These sites are also popular for tour buses so there are definitely ebbs and flows of massive crowds.

Traversing through Milford Sound
Day 8: Milford Sound + Wanaka

The boat tour returned to shore around 9am. The overnight boat tour was one of the best parts of our trip. We then drove to Wanaka.

The waterfalls of Milford Sound
Day 9: Wanaka

We had a pre-arranged guided hike of the Diamond Lake that lasted from the morning and into the afternoon.

Diamond Lake
Day 10: Wanaka

We hiked the Rob Roy Glacier Track. Since we didn’t have a guide or the gear, we didn’t go into the glacier, but we got some great views.

Rob Roy Glacier Track
Wanaka Food Highlights

Sasanoki Japanese Kitchen: Affordable, fresh, and tasty.

Red Star Burger: Filling and tasty.

Eel at Sasanoki
Day 10: Mount Sunday

We left Wanaka and en route to Christchurch, we decided to see Mount Sunday. This is Edoras in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Edoras
Day 11: Rotorua

We dropped off the car and took a very early flight from Christchurch to Rotorua. In the early afternoon, we had a pre-arranged bus tour of Hobbiton. Yes, it was touristy and a bit cheesy, but we really enjoyed ourselves. The Hobbiton Café has pretty delicious cookies.

The Shire!
Day 12: Rotorua

Today pre-arranged adventure activity day in areas around Rotorua. It took the whole day.

These were needed.
Day 13: Auckland

We took an early flight out of Rotorua to Auckland. We spent the day walking the city, eating, and trying a lot of beer before flying back to Germany that night.

The rooftop of Beer on Quay
Auckland Food Highlights

Depot: Small and large plates and all around delicious

Beer on Quay: Huge venue with tons of beer. We spent hours on the rooftop relaxing and drinking.

Woodpecker Hill: Super tasty Asian fusion food.

Woodpecker Hill

Closing Thoughts

New Zealand was absolutely memorable and I wish we had more time there. I think our itinerary hit a lot of the major sites for first-time visitors, while also featuring areas that are not as typical. Here are some quick reflections:

What I Would Leave Out
Rotorua

Rotorua was our least favorite location. The constant sulfuric smell was something we couldn’t get used to. Also, we got a bit unlucky when it came to food and accommodation. While we loved the Hobbiton tour, we would probably look into taking it from Auckland.

Te Anau

While Te Anau was a quaint and pleasant town, I think we would have been better off not staying there and adding another place to our itinerary that we were more keen on seeing.

What I Would Adjust
Guided Hiking Tours

Our guided hiking tours gave us the opportunity to get to know locals who were passionate about hiking and the nature of New Zealand. We learned a lot about New Zealand from them. The hikes we were booked on were ones that we easily could have done ourselves. Our self-guided hikes were more challenging. I would definitely book a guided hike for a more challenging trek or one that is not accessible without a guide.

Auckland

I wish we spent a little more time in Auckland and the North Island in general. The focus of our trip was nature, but we could have done with an extra night enjoying this city.

What I Would Definitely Keep
Milford Sound

This place definitely lives up to the hype and we loved that we could stay overnight on a boat. This was one of the most amazing parts of our trips.

Hikes

We loved hiking in New Zealand. Our self-guided hikes were my favorite ones.

Check out the post: Hiking the Ben Lomond Track in New Zealand

Wanaka

Wanaka was a really cool, chill place. Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains make for consistent, gorgeous views. I loved that we had some extra time here.

Catlins

I loved the Catlins and I was really happy with including it as a day trip in our itinerary.

Check out the post: Planning a Day Trip to the Catlins, New Zealand

Renting a Car

Having a car afforded us so much flexibility and allowed us to see so much. I definitely recommend renting a car to take in New Zealand.


I hope our 13 day New Zealand itinerary helps you as you plan your trip. If you want additional resources, check out my Pinterest Planning Board for New Zealand Travel.

Be sure to check out my other Travel Itineraries!

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? What are your must-sees? Let me know in the comments below!

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Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.

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