If you’re wondering how long you should spend in New Zealand purely to travel, I believe six weeks is a decent amount of time to see it relatively thoroughly, seven if you want to cover the ‘deep south’ and around eight weeks if you have the time and want to see and do everything you possibly can at a relatively leisurely pace.
Many travelers decide to travel New Zealand for around a month which is possible if being done camper-van/self-drive style, and you are only planing to visit some sections/highlights of the country.
If you are time restricted and only have a few weeks to spend (one-three weeks), I would recommend you pick only one island and do that one thoroughly, rather than trying to squeeze in both islands.
In my opinion, the ideal New Zealand itinerary would look something like this (after having just traveled NZ on the Kiwi Experience bus myself):
North Island: 18 nts (2.5 weeks)
Auckland – 2 nts (add longer if you wish to visit the wineries on the islands nearby)
Hot water beach – 1 nts
Northland and Bay of Islands – 3 nts (including Cape Reinga – 4 nts)
Waitomo – 1 nts
Rotorua – 2/3 nts
Taupo – 3 nts
Wellington – 4/5 nts
South Island: 20-30 nts (3-4 weeks)
Nelson – 2/3 nts (do some hiking/visit the wineries)
Kaiteriteri (for the Abel Tasmin National Park) – 2/4 nts
Franz Joseph – 3/4 nts
Wanaka – 2/3 nts
Queenstown – 5 nts
Deep South – Invercargill/ Dunedin/ Milford sound – 3/6 nts
Lake Tekapo – 2/3 nts
Christchurch – 1 / 2 nts
Kaikoura – 3/4 nts
Total (roughly) = 7 weeks
If you are travelling via the Kiwi Experience, it includes 3 non-optional stop-overs at the following places which you will need to keep in mind:
North Island between Taupo and Wellington:
River Valley – 1 nts
South Island between Kaiteriteri and Franz Joseph:
Westport – 1 nts
Lake Mahinapua – 1 nts
I would not recommend an overnight stop at these sites if you do not need to; they were simply added by Kiwi Experience as useful stop-overs and a chance for passengers to socialise. It’s not that I did not enjoy them, I would just have preferred those nights to be spent elsewhere if I’d have had the choice.
This time-frame (as you can see above) will mean you have a sufficient amount of time in each place to fully experience the hiking and activities offered in the different towns for travelers/holiday makers. Of course you can easily spend longer in some places to take advantage of the incredible landscape and hiking trails available. I would always recommend spending an extra day in places you want to do a skydive or glacier hiking, such as Taupo and Franz Joseph, as activities are cancelled in last minute fashion consistently all year round, due to the notoriously temperamental weather. But staff will usually try to put you on the next available time-slot – hence why you need to allow the extra day and be a little flexible. New Zealand weather is particularly unreliable even in the summer.
Activities not to Miss!
This is not a full list of all activities you can do in New Zealand, but what I would highly recommend you do not miss! My top 10 picks are in bold.
Bay of Islands:
Hole In The Rock day Cruise with dolphin encounter
Cape Reinga Day Trip
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company – “Black Labyrinth”
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company – “Black Abyss”
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company – “Black Odyssey”
Waitomo Glow-worm Caves
Tamaki Maori Village feast and overnight stay
kiwi bird encounter
The Tongario crossing
Wellington – NZ cultural capital!
Te Papa museum – If you don’t visit any other museum in the whole country- just make sure to visit this one!
Weta Workshop – for lord of the rings fans!
Abel Tasman national park
Franz Josef Ice Explorer (incl. FREE hot pools)
Skydive Franz Joseph
AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy (the original),
AJ Hackett Queenstown Nevis Bungy Jump (the really high one)
AJ Hackett Queenstown The ledge bungy
AJ Hackett Queenstown The ledge swing
Milford sound day trip
Ben Lomond – take the Gondola and walk further up for amazing views. Full day trek.
Visit Glenorchy and Arrowtown
Spend a day walking the famous rob roy path.
Earth and Sky, Mt John Tour
Tekapo springs – Visit the spas!
Visit the famous little church
Mt Cook Connections – Summer only.
Walk Mt Cook
Swim with wild dolphins at sunrise
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway – day walk
The Kaikoura Coast track – 3 day hike
A very good breakdown of what activities are available across the country and what to do in each area can be found here.
I hope this has been informative for you and a helpful guide if you are planning to visit New Zealand 🙂