2 Week New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

Thursday, October 03, 2019

This itinerary is perfect for those who like to see a lot in a short amount of time and love nature and hiking.  Keep reading if you also like to budget and keep costs down since New Zealand can be pretty expensive.  Technically, I spent 10 days in New Zealand due to travel time and a 2 day layover in Fiji but I wanted to share what I think would a perfect full 2 week itinerary of North and South New Zealand.  People would argue that you need months to see NZ, or to visit just one island if you only had 2 weeks, but realistically we don't have the time for that and who knows if we would ever come back (there's just to many places to visit in this world!).  I broke everything down by days and cost of food, tickets, and accomodations for two people.

Day 1 - 3 - Travel Days

Since we booked with Air Fiji we had a lot of connections.  We flew on from EWR at 6 pm to LAX to NAN to AKL.  We arrived in Aukland, North New Zealand nearly 2 days later in the afternoon.  We drove from the airport to downtown Auckland and spent our first day exploring the city.  We were fine with spending just a few hours exploring the city because we just wanted to check it out.  Not really interested in the city life.  We tried the popular ice cream shop at Giapo and walked along the waterfront.  We decided not to book our accommodations in Auckland but in Matamata so we could make it to the first tour at Hobbiton the next morning.

Food: Giapo ice-cream ($10.26); Dinner: Chips N' Curry -shared a curry entree and samosas ($9.91)

Driving: 2.5 hours Auckland to Matamata

Accommodations: Private room Airbnb, $43 for 1 night
Thoughts: It was our first time staying in a private room in someone's home.  We knew we would arrive late at night and literally just needed a bed to sleep in and leave early the next morning so we wouldn't have to interact much with the owners.  They even wake up early with you and provide some basic breakfast.  While the elderly couple was extremely nice and helpful, it's probably not something we would do again because we are introverts.  We don't like to socialize haha.  But it's great for a cheap stay and get helpful recommendations if you enjoy company while you travel.


Day 4 - Hobbiton + Taupo

One of the highlights of our trip was visiting the Hobbiton movie set.  We bought our tickets online in advance for the first guided tour at 9 am.  We walked from our Airbnb to the Matamata I-Site visitor center for the shuttle bus pick-up at 8:45 am.  You are required to join a tour and follow the group as there are many other groups that follow.  The tour takes about 2 hours and you get to see The Shire, Bag End, and end the tour at the Green Dragon Inn for a special beer or cider (included with tour).  Being there early you can beat the crowd but it was also pretty sunny.  I think late afternoon tours around sunset would also be very nice for photos without the crowds.  After relaxing at the Inn and looking through the gift shop we met our tour group at 11:45 am for the shuttle back.

Since we got an early start on our day, we then left Matamata and drove to check out Huka Falls on the way to Taupo.  Downtown Taupo was a nice area to walk around and shop.  We even went into a fun looking McDonald's and tried the Kiwi burger and a Hokey Pokey Shake which is unique to New Zealand.  Taupo would be the more exciting place to stay the night but we decided to stay in the next town called Turangi.  It is closer to our activity the next day, Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike.  Turangi is quite small with nothing to do.  We walked to the supermarket to buy groceries and prepared ourselves for our hike the next day.

Food: Lunch - McDonalds meal and happy meal ($13.07); groceries for instant dinner, breakfast, and sandwich ingredients for hike ($26)

Tickets: Hobbiton $117

Driving: 2.25 hours Matamata to Taupo to Turangi

Accomodations: Extreme Backpackers for $53.23 for 2 nights
Thoughts: While this is our cheapest stay, we would not stay again.  We've usually had good experiences at well rated hostels but there were not many hotel or hostel options in Turangi.  This hostel is fine if you need a quick basic stay but since the rooms are kind of out in the open it can get noisy and we saw spiders in our room.  We at least booked a private room, ensuite.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Day 5 - Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Our first hike in New Zealand, and toughest.  This hike is 19.4 km (12 miles) and tooks us 8 hours one way to finish (We are not fit).  We made breakfast in the kitchen, and packed sandwiches, snacks and plenty of water for the hike.  We had to book a shuttle service that brings us to the start of the hike and picks us up at the other end at the end of the hike.  We were picked up at our hostel at 6:45 am and started our hike at 7:25 am.  We finished around 3:30 pm with just a few minutes to spare when the last shuttle arrived.  We were especially interested in this hike because it is also a Lord of the Rings filming location.  During the hike you will pass by Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mt. Doom.  Honestly, I did not find this hike rewarding and would not do it again but I'm glad we did it.  There is one section when you descend down to the emerald pools that is so steep that you feel like you could slip and slide all the way down.  Having some hiking sticks would have made it easier.  My body was aching all over for two days.  After we got back to our hostel we made ramen for dinner and passed out.

Food: $0

Tickets: Tongariro Crossing shuttle with Adventure HQ ($37.23)

Driving: None

Accomodations: Extreme Backpackers

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Day 6 - Rotorua

We left Turangi and drove towards Rotorua, stopping for a visit at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.  It's a geothermal park with high geothermal activity ratings.  We planned to arrive by 10:15am to watch the daily Lady Geyser eruption.  After the show we strolled through the park.  We arrived at Rotorua for lunch and then checked into our hostel.  Since we had a lot of free time in Rotorua we prebooked discount tickets to the Redwood Treewalk which was only a few minutes drive away.  We walked along suspended bridges and platforms through the redwood forest.  For dinner, we luckily arrived on a Thursday for their weekly Rotorua Night Market.  The entire street was filled with local food and drink vendors.  We got to try a lot of yummy inexpensive food.

Food: Lunch - Ali Baba's Tunisian Cuisine (2 entrees for $17), Thursday Rotorua Night Market ($21)

Tickets: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland ($44); Redwood Treewalk ($ )

Driving: 1 hour 40 minutes from Turangi to Rotorua

Accommodations: Rock Solid Hostel $45.06 for 1 night
Thoughts:  We had a private room, ensuite.  The room was a great value, very clean and spacious.  It was also right in the center of town so we were able to explore the town easily.

Church of the Good Shepard

Lake Pukaki

Day 7 - Travel North Island to South Island

There are many ways to get from the North to South Island.  Since we are tight on time we decided to fly from Rotorua to Christchurch.  We booked a domestic flight with Air New Zealand.  We had an 11am flight so we enjoyed a breakfast at Capers Epicurean before our flight.  Once we arrived in Christchurch we picked up our new rental car and walked around town for a bit.  We had a yummy lunch at a family owned sushi and dumpling place called Zen Sushi & Dumpling.  We didn't stay long because we had a long drive ahead of us to Lake Tekapo.  We made it just in time to enjoy the last few minutes of sunset by the lake.  After checking in and having dinner we were able to walk to the Church of the Good Shepard and the lake again to admire the night sky.  Tekapo is a dark sky reserve.  I have never been able to see so many stars in the night sky, even the Milky Way!  Truly breathtaking and worth a one night stop.

Food: Breakfast - Capers Epicurean (2 coffees, 1 shared entree for $22.35); Lunch - Zen Sushi & Dumpling ($32); Dinner - Kohan (2 entrees for $34.41)

Driving: 3 hours Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Accomodations: Peppers Bluewater Resort, $146 for 1 night
Thoughts: The prices are usually very high for their typical suites with a lake view, but they offer some small budget rooms.  We decided to book this resort hotel because it is one of the few hotels right on the main strip by the lake.  We initally booked an Airbnb (it would have been around the same price but a much large apartment space about 15 minute walk away and we would have to contact the owner for the keys - we were not sure if we would have phone data).  We just needed a place for the night so a view or extra space were not worth paying more for, especially when it's an expensive area.

Hooker Valley

Day 8 - Aoraki National Park/Mount Cook 

We bought groceries in the morning in Tekapo before we left town, since our next destination, Mount Cook Village, does not have a supermarket or any good restaurants.  The drive was breathtaking.  You past Lake Pukaki on the way and you will be tempted to constantly stop and enjoy the view of the lake and the mountains.  Without wasting any time we went straight to our first hike in the region, Hooker Valley trail.  The parking lot is quite full by late morning.  This three hour hike has the most amazing views for the entire three hours of the hike.  You also cross three long suspension bridges and end at a glacier lake where you can enjoy a packed lunch with a view.  After the hike we checked in our hostel and did our laundry.  Before it got dark, we headed back out to do the Kea Point trail which is a short and easy one hour hikie.  Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in so the view was not very vibrant and mountains were not very visible.  I'm so glad we did the Hooker Valley earlier when it was sunny with clear skies.  For dinner we used the communal kitchen along with other backpackers staying at the hostel.

Food: Alpine Salmon Shop ($6.81); Groceries for dinner, breakfast, and hiking ($40)

Driving: 1.5 hours Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook

Accomodations: YHA Mt. Cook hostel, 8 bed shared dormitory for $58.33 for 2 people
Thoughts:  We booked our flights to New Zealand a little over a month in advance.  Since Mount Cook does not have a lot of options, hotels are very expensive, starting around $250 a night.  With our busy schedule we just need a place to sleep at night and I didn't think it was worth staying at those hotels.  There is a hostel but the private rooms were sold out.  It was a tough decision but we decided to suck it up and try a shared room.  There were 4 bunk beds and private lockers for your suitcase and belongings.  The shared shower stalls and bathroom were down the hall  It was like being in a college dorm room.  It wasn't that bad, except for having to be considerate with having the lights on and trying to walk in and out in the dark and not make too much noise.  Other than that I'm glad we saved the money for this quick one night stay.

Lake Wanaka

Roy's Peak

Day 9 - 10 - Wanaka

We did one more short hike in the morning before leaving Mount Cook Village.  There are several short hikes at the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier walks.  We then drove to Wanaka.  We walked from our hostel to Lake Wanaka and took pictures of the famous wanaka tree.  We caved and finally bought some hiking sticks so we can be prepared for our big hike the next day.  In the afternoon we drove to the nearby Mount Iron trail.  It was a short 1.5 hour uphill hike with a pretty view of Wanaka town and the lake.  The next day we woke up early to hike Roy's Peak.  This was a really tough hike as it is mostly just 4 hours hiking uphill zipping around a mountain.  But the view on the top is the best I've ever seen.  Definitely worth the hike and would be even better if you can make it up for sunrise.  After the hike we left Wanaka and decided to drive to check out Glenorchy before staying the night in Queenstown.  Our itinerary was already very busy but I wanted to squeeze this in if we had the energy.  While I would say Glenorchy is worth a visit, the sun was setting behind the mountains when we went so the sky and the views weren't as vibrant as it could be.  It also made it difficult to take any nice photos.  We took in the view for a moment and started heading to Queenstown before it got dark.

Food: Groceries for breakfast and hiking ($37); Dinner - Burrito Craft food truck (2 entrees for $23); Dinner - Erik's Fish & Chip ($10 fish and chips and fried kiwi for 2)

Driving: 1.5 hours Mount Cook to Wanaka  2 hour Wanaka to Glenorchy, 45 minutes Glenorchy to Queenstown

Accomodations: YHA Wanaka, private twin ensuite $111.11 for 1 night
Thoughts:  The hostel was in a great location that was walking distance into downtown and the lake.  Our room faced the lake view and was spacious and clean.

Milford Sound

Queenstown Hill

Day 11 - 12 - Queenstown

For our first full day in Queenstown we booked a Coach Bus and Cruise tour to Milford Sound.  We got discounted tickets with Go Orange on Bookme.co.nz website.  I had high expectations since this is a must visit in New Zealand.  Unfortunately it was drizzling a bit as we got closer to the Fiordland National Park and very foggy.  It rains an average of 182 days in a year in Milford Sound.  It is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand, and one of the wettest places in the world.  Regardless of the weather, the day went smoothly and we enjoyed a nice day out.  On our second and last day we took our time in the morning and drove to our 11 am time slot for Onsen Hot Pools.  I absolutely love a good hot spring with a view.  Definitely recommend coming to unwind and enjoy the hot spring.  I should have booked my slot for later in the day because we ended up hiking Queenstown Hill afterwards (we knew we couldn't wake up early to hike before the hot spring).  It actually started to rain during the hike so maybe we lucked out.  The rain was passing on and off.  When we reached the summit of the hike it was pretty cloudy and drizzling.

Food: Breakfast & Lunch - Fergbaker ($14.20); Dinner - Fergburger (2 burgers for $23.30); Groceries ($23.30); Lunch - Fergbakery again ($7.83); Mrs. Ferg Gelateria ($4.43), Dinner - Pedro's Lamb (one tray for $34.34)

Ticket: Milford Sound Cruise ($88.53); Onsen Hot Pools ($70)

Driving: None

Accomodations: YHA Queenstown double private, ensuite $281.24 for 3 nights
Thoughts:  Nice room with a partial view of the lake.  This hostel is on the expensive side but all accommodations in Queenstown are very expensive.

Onsen Hot Pools

Day 13 - Travel Day

We took a domestic flight with Air New Zealand from Queenstown to Auckland.  We had 5 hours until our next flight so we relaxed at the Strata Lounge, part of our Priority Pass.  This lounge was very nice with a good selection of food and desserts.

Alternative Activities

Since my itinerary is only 10 days, I want to suggest other routes and activities you could add to complete your 2 weeks in New Zealand that I was not able to.

Option 1: If you had the extra days, instead of flying out of Roturua, I would recommend continue driving from Rotorua to Wellington.  Enjoy some time exploring Wellington for day and then take a ferry the next day to the South Island.  Spend some time in the Nelson Tasman region before driving to Christchurch or Lake Tekapo.

Option 2: Spend an extra day or two in Mt. Cook or Wanaka.  There are so many hikes to choose from you can easily find something to do.

Option 3: This requires a lot more driving but if you have the time and energy I would recommend exploring the West side of South Island.  You can visit the pancake rocks at Punakaiki and the glaciers, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier.

Budget breakdown for 10 days in New Zealand for 2 people

Flights (EWR to LAX United basic economy $261.60 LAX > AUK Air Fiji $639; ROT > CHC Air New Zealand $105.90 per person; QZN > AUK Air New Zealand $112.64): $2238.28

Hotels (10 nights): $737.96

Rental Car: $288.17

Gas + Parking: $151.66

Tickets and Tours: $387

Food, Souvenirs, Misc: $643.48

Total: 4446.55

Tips on how to save money
  • Stay at hostels
New Zealand is a backpackers paradise.  Hostels are much cheaper than traditional hotels and can help you save in other ways too.  There's usually a communal kitchen and fridge so you can cook and store groceries.  You can also do your laundry.  If you're really on a budget you can do dorms and shared bath and if you prefer privacy you can pay a little more for a private room and bathroom.
  • Go to supermarket
In every town you can easily walk a few blocks and find a grocery store.  While groceries may cost a little more than where your from it is still a cheaper alternative to eating out.  I didn't find New Zealand food special so eating out would have felt like eating out anywhere in New York.  Whenever we could we bought some groceries such as water, fruit, pasta, bread, deli, eggs, snacks etc.  Things that are quick and easy to make and convenient for our hikes.
I stumbled upon this site when I was researching New Zealand.  It's like their version of Groupon.  There are a ton of highly discounted tickets for major attractions and tours around New Zealand.  I bought my Tongariro hike shuttle, Milford Sound coach and cruise, and Redwood Treewalk tickets at a deep discount.

Thanks for reading and I hope this itinerary was helpful.  Leave a comment below if you want to see more blog posts like this and if you have any questions!

xo Reeni

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