New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (2023)


  • Take part in a Māori buffet dinner and cultural performance in Rotorua
  • Kayak across Tasman Glacier Lake and soak in hot pools at Lake Tekapo
  • Choose your own hiking adventure on New Zealand's highest peak
  • Finish the trip by taking a lunch cruise in Queenstown with live entertainment

Brief Itinerary

Day 1Arrive in Auckland, ExploreAuckland
Day 2Whale Watching Cruise, Free TimeAuckland
Day 3Drive to Coromandel, Glass Bottom Boat TourCoromandel
Day 4Drive to Rotorua, Canopy Tours, Redwoods Treewalk By NightRotorua
Day 5Explore Wai-O-Tapu & Hell's Gate, Pō Māori Evening ExperienceRotorua
Day 6Drive to Tongariro National Park, Whitewater Rafting, Sunset WalkTongariro
Day 7Hike the Tongariro Alpine CrossingTongariro
Day 8Drive to Wellington, Fly to Christchurch, Tramway Dinner ExperienceChristchurch
Day 9Drive to Lake Tekapo, Tekapo Springs StargazingLake Tekapo
Day 10Hiking on Aoraki / Mount Cook, Kayaking on Tasman Glacier LakeLake Tekapo
Day 11Drive to Wānaka, Explore Mou Waho IslandWānaka
Day 12Drive to Te Anau, Explore the Glow Worm CavesTe Anau
Day 13Milford Sound / Piopiotahi CruiseTe Anau
Day 14Drive to Queenstown, Onsen Evening SessionQueenstown
Day 15Shotover River Boat Tour, TSS Earnslaw Cruise to Walter PeakQueenstown
Day 16Depart Queenstown

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Explore

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (1)

Kia ora! Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at Auckland's airport, a private driver will transfer you to your accommodation in the city. Auckland is a vibrant and diverse city with an iconic skyline, picturesque harbor, and numerous volcanic cones dotting the stunning landscape. Home to a multicultural population and rich Māori heritage, the so-called "City of Sails" seamlessly merges tradition with modernity.

Spend the rest of your day relaxing at your hotel while adjusting to the time change, or shake off jet lag by bungee jumping off the Sky Tower. Adrenaline junkie or not, the Sky Tower, with its panoramic views, is an excellent place to begin exploring New Zealand's metropolis. You can also take a relaxing stroll around Waitemata Harbour and admire more than 500,000 sailboats and yachts as the sun begins to lower on the horizon.

Day 2: Whale Watching Cruise, Free Time

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (2)

Venture down to the harbor this morning and embark on a scenic journey across the glistening waters of the Hauraki Gulf, renowned for its abundant marine life. This is a dolphin and whale watching cruise, so prepare to witness these majestic marine creatures in their natural habitat. As you sail, hear fascinating insights into the behavior and conservation efforts surrounding dolphins, including the resident population of bottlenose dolphins and the endangered Bryde's whales. With luck, you may also see orcas, humpback whales, and common dolphins.

The rest of the day is yours to explore. Continue enjoying nature at the city's numerous parks and reserves, including the lush Auckland Domain and the stunning Waitakere Ranges, where you can hike through native forests and encounter mesmerizing waterfalls.

Day 3: Drive to Coromandel, Glass Bottom Boat Tour

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (3)

Pick up a rental car this morning and say farewell to Auckland. You'll travel south along the Seabird Coast, taking around three hours to reach the Coromandel Peninsula. You'll have the rest of the day to explore some of the region's most specular coastline, including Cathedral Cove. Get close to the stunning volcanic rock formations, pinnacles, and sea caves in a glass-bottom boat and spot many different species of fish, plus crayfish, stingrays, octopus, and more. You can either watch the marine life through the glass or get in the water for some swimming and snorkeling.

Day 4: Drive to Rotorua, Canopy Tours, Redwoods Treewalk By Night

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (4)

Jump back behind the wheel this morning and cruise south for three hours until you reach Rotorua. Set within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Rotorua is a wonderland of geothermal activity, complete with boiling mud pools, steaming geysers, and natural hot springs perfect for soaking and relaxing. Rotorua is also a great spot to experience New Zealand's fascinating Māori culture, hospitality, and food. Plus, it's fast becoming a haven for adventure-seekers and mountain biking.

This afternoon you'll join a half-day adventure exploring native New Zealand forest via an incredible network of trails, tree platforms, ziplines, and swing bridges. Take in breathtaking views of woodland valleys and hills before you take the leap and fly through small openings between trees. In the evening, the forest fun continues. At the appointed time, you'll explore Rotorua's majestic Redwood forest after sundown. Experience a captivating setting with dozens of lanterns and feature lights illuminating the 115-year-old redwood trees, forest ferns, and pungas.

Day 5: Explore Wai-O-Tapu & Hell's Gate, Pō Māori Evening Experience

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (5)

Start your day exploring Rotorua's famous geysers, bubbling mud holes, steaming vents, and sulfurous pools at Wai-O-Tapu. Choose various short walks that showcase the distinctive landscapes and volcanic activity, including the famous Mud Pool. Learn about the Lady Knox Geyser with a guide, then watch it erupt to huge heights. From here, venture to the otherworldly Hell's Gate to soak in geothermal mud and acidic sulfur waters. Experience the healing properties that local Māori have used for over 800 years as warm mud opens and clears your pores.

This evening, immerse yourself in Māori culture, starting with a guided tour of the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute. Enjoy Te Puia's world-famous hāngī buffet dinner, cooked underground using thermal heat. Then a cultural performance will take place in the beautifully carved meeting house, Te Aronui a Rua. It will include a pōhiri (traditional welcome), waiata (song), and mōteatea (traditional chant). The evening culminates with hot chocolate and steamed pudding surrounded by steam and the geyser terrace bathed in colored light.

Day 6: Drive to Tongariro National Park, Whitewater Rafting, Sunset Guided Walk

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (6)

This morning you'll make the two-hour drive from Rotorua to Tongariro National Park, a stunning landscape with active and extinct volcanoes and a diverse range of ecosystems. Upon arrival, you'll join a half-day whitewater rafting expedition down the Tongariro River. This is of the best rafting adventures in New Zealand, ideal for both experts and first-time rafters. With an expert guide at the helm, you'll navigate through several roller coaster rapids in the unspoiled wilderness.

Return to nature this evening for a relaxing guided walk through Tongariro National Park. As you walk, your guide will tell you all about the local area, including its geography, geology, and cultural history. Eventually, pause for a glass of New Zealand sparkling wine as you watch the sunset.

Day 7: Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (7)

Lace up your hiking boots this morning for a full-day guided hike on the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which spans the length of Mount Tongariro at 12 miles (19.4 km). The crossing takes you through a stunning and diverse alpine landscape, showcasing dramatic volcanic features. Start in the Mangatepopo Valley at 3,640 feet (1,100 m), passing towering volcanic peaks and stunning crater lakes. You'll encounter vibrant emerald lakes, ancient lava flows, and steam vents that create a surreal and otherworldly atmosphere.

The highlight of the hike is the challenging but rewarding climb up to the Red Crater at 6,187 feet (1,886 m), where you can soak in panoramic vistas of the surrounding volcanic terrain. Be sure to bring water, a hat, sunscreen, and proper hiking boots for this trek.

Day 8: Drive to Wellington, Fly to Christchurch, Tramway Dinner Experience

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (8)

Rise early to stretch ahead of today's 3.5-hour scenic drive to Wellington, which is North Island's southernmost city and the nation's capital. Upon arrival, drop off your rental car and board a flight for Christchurch on the South Island. Here you'll pick up another rental car, check into your hotel, and spend the rest of the day exploring the country's second-largest metropolis, nicknamed "Garden City" due to its beautiful green spaces.

This evening you'll board the country's only restaurant tram for a scenic tour of the inner city while you enjoy a four-course meal. This historic, colonial-style dining tram showcases the best of New Zealand cuisine while making the rounds of central Christchurch's top attractions. Enjoy the Botanic Gardens, the Canterbury Museum, and the Avon River / Ōtākaro from your window-side table as you dine on local gourmet fare.

Day 9: Drive to Lake Tekapo, Tekapo Springs Stargazing

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (9)

Today you head into the heart of the South Island, crossing the vast Canterbury Plains along the inland scenic route before heading into Mackenzie Country. You'll pass through Beautiful Valleyand ascend Burkes Pass up to the high country plateau. The turquoise Lake Tekapo is New Zealand's highest large lake, and its color comes from fine rock particles suspended in the glacier-fed waters. Take a picture of the Church of the Good Shepherd, a stone building dedicated in 1935, and then continue exploring at your own pace.

This evening combines stargazing and relaxation at Tekapo Springs. Learn about the constellations in the stunning Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve as your guide combines astronomy and storytelling, then enjoy exclusive use of the 99°F (37.5°C) hot pool. Lie on a floating hammock and feel like you're soaking in the stars!

Day 10: Hiking on Aoraki / Mount Cook, Kayaking on Tasman Glacier Lake

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (10)

Located at an impressive 12,300 feet (3,754 m), Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand. This is where Sir Edmund Hillary made many expeditions, and this morning you'll embark on your own hiking adventure. Take it easy with the one-hour Tasman Glacier Lake trail, where the lake freezes in winter and you'll see icebergs in summer. Meanwhile, the Governor's Bush loop track takes a similar amount of time, or you can embark on the two-hour Kea Point or Red Tarns tracks.

Just make sure to finish in time for this afternoon's kayak adventure on Tasman Glacier Lake. This is your chance to come face-to-face with icebergs when you paddle across the terminal lake of New Zealand's longest glacier. The transition from glacier to lake produces impressive icebergs on a regular basis, so keep your eyes peeled.

Day 11: Drive to Wānaka, Explore Mou Waho Island

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (11)

Today's two-hour drive from Lake Tekapo to Wānaka takes in spectacular scenes. You'll pass Lake Pukaki, where you can often see New Zealand's highest mountain, the Aoraki / Mount Cook. Pause to explore hiking trails on foot, or keep driving toward Twizel, the location of many "The Lord of the Rings" movie scenes. Wind through beautiful Lindis Pass, one of New Zealand's highest roads with a summit of 3,185 feet (971 m), before reaching Wānaka, New Zealand's premier ski destination. This scenic resort town sits on the shores of beautiful Lake Wānaka.

This afternoon you'll join a short boat cruise to the remote and mystical Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve. Learn about the fascinating geology of the Alps and the glaciers that created the lake as you travel along its sparkling waters. This predator-free scientific reserve is home to the rare flightless buff weka, which has been extinct on the mainland since 1920. While here, visit the famous Arethusa Pool, a small lake on Mou Waho. You can also climb to the top of Tyrwhitt Peak for panoramic views of Lake Wānaka and the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Day 12: Drive to Te Anau, Explore the Glow Worm Caves

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (12)

This morning you'll hit the road for Te Anau, about three hours southwest, to experience the magic of glow worms. The scenic drive throws up stunning landscapes with towering mountains, lush green valleys, and crystal-clear lakes, including the famous Lake Wakatipu, Fiordland National Park, and the majestic Southern Alps.

Park your car and start your exploration with a cruise across the lake aboard a luxury catamaran, disembarking on the western side to enter the glowworm caves through Cavern House. Discover the story of this 12,000-year-old underground cave network, then follow your guide along a limestone path as they point out whirlpools, intricate rock formations, and a staggering underground waterfall. Then board a small boat to glide through darkness, surrounded by the blue-white pinpricks of thousands of glowworms on the cave walls.

Day 13: Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Cruise

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (13)

Today you'll make a day trip to the awe-inspiring Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, with its towering granite peaks, cascading waterfalls, pristine blue waters, and incredible wildlife. The dramatic fjord landscapes create a sense of grandeur and tranquility, and the road trip from Te Anau offers plenty of natural beauty to get you in the mood. Take your time and stop as often as you wish along Milford Road, the most iconic in New Zealand.

Finally, you'll reach Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, the most popular fjord in Fiordland National Park and the only one accessible by road. Board your cruise on the fiord, which includes countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of feet down sheer cliffs, mountains rising straight out of the sea, fur seals, and (usually) dolphins. After a magnificent and calming cruise, you could stop and walk the stunning Key Summit track on the return journey to Te Anau.

Day 14: Drive to Queenstown, Onsen Evening Session

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (14)

This morning, you'll make the 3.5-hour drive from Te Anau to Queenstown, passing through Mossburn and Southland countryside to where the Remarkables mountain range towers above. Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in the Southern Alps, Queenstown is the world capital of adrenaline and outdoor activities, so you can expect plenty of big thrills!

Once you get settled at your hotel, take an afternoon ride on the Skyline Gondola over 1,400 feet (450 m) to Bob's Peak for panoramic views of the Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and sparkling Lake Wakatipu. From here, you can ride the downhill luge track back to town. Then spend an evening relaxing under the stars with a session at the Onsen Hot Pools. Based on the Japanese bathing tradition, the onsen offers cedar-lined steaming pools on a cliffside overlooking the Shotover River. Enjoy an hour-long soak accompanied by a drink and snack as you take in the alpine scenery.

Day 15: Shotover River Boat Tour, TSS Earnslaw Cruise to Walter Peak

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (15)

Lean into the thrills of Queenstown and kick off your day with an exhilarating ride through the Shotover River Canyon in a high-speed jet boat that seems to defy gravity. Take a ride on "Big Red" through the spectacular canyon walls of the upper Shotover River. You'll gasp in amazement as your jet navigates 46 miles (75 km) of rapids and narrow twists and turns.

You'll then be rewarded with a leisurely lunch cruise across the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Wakatipu aboard "The Lady of the Lake." The historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship will take you to the lakeside gardens of Walter Peak High Country Farm for a gourmet lunch by the water. Soak up the alpine scenery at the homestead and watch as chefs prepare a seasonal bounty of succulent meats cooked on the outdoor rotisserie and a selection of delicious vegetables and salads. Enjoy desserts and New Zealand cheese before the return cruise, complete with a singalong from the ship's pianist.

Day 16: Depart Queenstown

New Zealand Culture & Nature Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 16 Days (16)

Sadly, it's time to say goodbye to New Zealand! At the appointed hour, drop your rental car off at Queenstown airport in time for your departing flight home. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.

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