New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (2023)


  • Take a boat ride through an underground grotto lit by thousands of tiny glowworms
  • Stargaze in a Dark Sky Reserve in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
  • Get your thrills on a high-speed jet boat ride through Queenstown's canyons
  • Taste your way around some of New Zealand's most picturesque vineyards

Brief Itinerary

Day 1Arrive in AucklandAuckland
Day 2Transfer to Rotorua via the Waitomo Caves & Glowworm GrottoRotorua
Day 3Explore Geothermal Rotorua's Hot Springs & GeysersRotorua
Day 4Fly to Historic Christchurch & Stroll the Botanical GardensChristchurch
Day 5Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Cruise Tasman Glacier LakeAoraki / Mount Cook
Day 6Drive to New Zealand's Adventure Capital of QueenstownQueenstown
Day 7Take a Scenic Boat & Plane Trip Across Milford Sound / PiopiotahiQueenstown
Day 8Sip Your Way Around Central Otago's Best Boutique VineyardsQueenstown
Day 9Depart QueenstownQueenstown

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (1)

Welcome to New Zealand! Your driver will be waiting at Auckland's airport to transfer you to your hotel. Take some time to relax before heading out to explore New Zealand's largest city, which sits on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With two bustling harbors, it's not hard to see why Auckland is nicknamed the "City of Sails." Stroll around the flower-filled Wintergardens and learn about the city's Polynesian and European roots at the Auckland Museum.

To see the city from the water, cruise Auckland's Waitemata Harbour, and learn about the most well-known city landmarks. You'll sail under the Harbour Bridge and take in views of the city skyline, Rangitoto Island, North Head, and the Bean Rock Lighthouse.

For supreme views of Auckland from a different vantage point, scale the 1,075-foot-tall (328 m) Sky Tower with its dizzying observation deck. Travel in a glass-fronted elevator to one of three spectacular viewing platforms to experience 360-degree views. For more excitement, do a Sky Walk, an outside loop around the pergola just over 600 feet (192 m) above ground, or "sky jump" off the tower for a controlled free-fall to the base. For dinner, the Sky Tower's iconic Orbit Restaurant has a revolving dining experience. Alternatively, you can head back to the ground to delve into Auckland's world-class dining scene.

Day 2: Transfer to Rotorua via the Waitomo Caves & Glowworm Grotto

New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (2)

In the morning, you'll leave Auckland on a guided bus tour and drive through the lush farmland of the Waikato and King Country regions to Waitomo. Here you'll enjoy a tour through the world-famous Waitomo Caves, then take a silent boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto—a subterranean cave illuminated by thousands of tiny glowworms. A delicious picnic-style lunch will sate your appetite on your way to Rotorua.

Your next stop will be the Agrodome, an organic working farm where you can learn about farming in New Zealand. Take a tour of the Agrodome farm in an all-terrain vehicle, see how sheep are shorn, and watch a live sheepdog trial. From here, it's on to Te Puia, one of New Zealand's best cultural venues. At Te Puia's marae, you'll receive a traditional welcome and experience a Māori cultural performance, where ancient and modern stories will be told through song, dance, poi, and stick games.

Later you'll take a guided tour of Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley's active geysers and boiling mud pools, where you can see the world-famous Pohutu Geyser unleash vapor jets up to 98 feet (30 m) high. It's then back to your accommodation for the night for a well-deserved rest.

Day 3: Explore Geothermal Rotorua's Hot Springs and Steaming Geysers

New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (3)

Today you'll have free time to explore Rotorua at your own pace. The geothermal area is peppered with natural hot springs, mud pools, and geysers, thanks to its location within one of the world's most active volcanic regions. In addition, Rotorua is home to several prominent Māori tribes. The surrounding area also boasts redwood forests with accessible trails suitable for all abilities of hikers and mountain bikers. For thrill-seekers, head to Velocity Valley Adventure Park for stomach-dropping attractions, like static skydiving or a giant swing reaching a speed of 80 miles (130 km) per hour.

Alternatively, take a ride on the Rotorua Gondola for soaring lake views and a nighttime sled ride. You'll also find luge tracks, a high-adrenaline swing, a zipline, and panoramic dining options. Nature nuts can take an optional three-hour canopy tour accompanied by a guide through Rotorua's native forest and soak up sweeping views of the surrounding hills along the way. If relaxation is on your agenda, today is your chance to relax at the Polynesian Spa on the shore of Lake Rotorua. It's got four alkaline rock pools, each with different temperatures ranging from 96.8 to 107.6˚F (36 to 42˚C).

This evening you'll enjoy an authentic cultural experience at the Mitai Māori Village and learn how Tamatekapua of the Te Arawa people migrated to the area through a dance display. Watch warriors in traditional dress paddle a waka (canoe) down the Wai-o-Whiro stream and visit the Fairy Spring, where you might spot glowworms. The tour includes a Polynesian hāngī meal, with meat and taro slow-cooked in an earth oven set in the ground on hot stones.

Day 4: Fly to Historic Christchurch & Stroll the Botanical Gardens

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New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (4)

Today, you'll take one last breakfast in New Zealand's North Island before your driver collects you from your accommodation and transfers you to Rotorua Airport. Here you'll board a flight to the South Island and New Zealand's second-largest metropolis of Christchurch.

Once you've touched down in Christchurch and checked into your hotel, the rest of the day is yours to explore. The historic city is known for its green spaces like Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens—it's nicknamed the Garden City, after all—so a stroll through one is always a good idea. For something more imbued with history, take a tour down the Avon River / Ōtākaroled by guides in Edwardian costume, or ride one of the city's 19th-century trams past Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Museum.

Day 5: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook & Cruise Tasman Glacier Lake

New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (5)

You'll need a hearty breakfast today to fuel up for the day's adventure. The road trip portion of your trip starts as you pick up your rental car and drive four hours west to Aoraki / Mount Cook Village, which sits at the base of its namesake mountain. New Zealand's highest peak measures 12,315 feet (3,754 m) andis one of over 20 peaks in the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The drive to reach it winds through the heart of the South Island, through the pastoral Canterbury Plains. Stop off in Geraldine and Fairlie as you make your way to Burkes Pass and the lakeside town of Tekapo.

You'll arrive in Aoraki / Mount Cook Village, your base for exploring the glacial wonders of the park. Trek, cruise on a nearby lake, or go heli-hiking for a remote adventure. To see Aoraki / Mount Cook's 500-year-old icebergs up close, you can take the option to cruise around Tasman Glacier Lake and see the country's largest glacier, the Tasman Glacier. Weave around floating icebergs in a specially-designed boat, and a guide will point out key landmarks as you glide across the water, surrounded by towering ice cliffs.

Spend your evening at an International Dark Sky Reserve. Renowned for their clear, star-studded skies, the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and nearby Mackenzie Basin will give you an astronomical night to remember. Book a tour, and you'll be taken to a designated viewing platform with state-of-the-art telescopes and binoculars. Your guide will help you spot constellations, planets, the Milky Way, and far-away galaxies. All is not lost if the weather is cloudy— daytime tours of an indoor digital planetarium are also available.

Day 6: Drive to New Zealand's Adventure Capital of Queenstown

New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (6)

Get ready for the next leg of your journey, as it's time to head 3.5 hours south from Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park toward Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. Pass through the lakeside town of Twizel, then, ascend the Lindis Pass into the Otago region. The route will take you through Cromwell, a town at the top of the Kawarau Gorge, and the Gibbston Valley wine-growing region. When you reach the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, consider bungee jumping or simply watching other people take the leap. The Remarkables mountain range heralds your approach to Queenstown.

Get your bearings with a scenic ride on the Skyline Gondola, one of the steepest cable car lifts in the Southern Hemisphere. You'll climb over 1,400 feet (450 m) to Bob's Peak for panoramic views of the Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and sparkling Lake Wakatipu. After admiring the views, ride the peak's two hilltop luge tracks. The gondola will take you back down the mountain, or you can hike or even mountain bike back down. The rest of the day will be yours to find a bite to eat and relax.

Day 7: Take a Scenic Boat & Plane Trip across Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (7)

Today get ready for a full-day tour of the gorgeous Milford Sound / Piopiotahiin Fiordland National Park. First, you'll take a private transfer in a premium Mercedes van equipped with complimentary water, wifi, videos, and panoramic windows so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the stunning scenery. This small-group tour avoids crowds and allows additional stop-offs at scenic locations that buses don't visit.

Next, take a boat tour across the fjord and enjoy views of rainforests, waterfalls, and Mitre Peak. At the end of the day, you'll fly 45 minutes back to Queenstown in a fixed-wing aircraft, enjoying a birds-eye view of the fjord and the surrounding peaks along the way. After touching down in Queenstown, you'll be dropped off at your hotel.

This evening, step aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship for a ride on Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. Here, enjoy a barbecue dinner featuring rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads, followed by dessert and New Zealand cheeses. You can also watch demonstrations about high country life on the farm. After the meal, step back on board the steamship and join a sing-along with the ship's pianist. Watch the lights of Queenstown come back into focus as you sail back to town.

Day 8: Sip Your Way Around Central Otago's Best Boutique Vineyards

New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (8)

Today is a free day to explore Queenstown at your own pace. This is the self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world, with many adrenaline-inducing activities available in the area, like paragliding and bungee jumping, to name a few. For more relaxing ways to spend the day, you can walk, jog, or bike ride around Lake Wakatipu. Then, check out nearby Arrowtown or brave the steep, winding trip to Macetown to learn more about New Zealand's 19th-century gold rush. The nearby resort town of Wānaka also makes for a popular day trip, and you can book a tour to re-live scenes from "The Lord of The Rings.''

For a bit of afternoon adventure, you can take an exhilarating ride through the Shotover River Canyons in a high-speed jet boat that seems to defy gravity. Be prepared to get wet as your jet navigates through 46 miles (75 km) of rapids and narrow twists and turns.

Oenophiles can consider taking a tasting tour of the region's best boutique vineyards. Take a self-guided excursion through Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Cromwell—three sub-regions known for their cool-climate wines, which are generally more acidic and lighter than other varieties. Pick your favorite wine to pair with lunch at a fourth vineyard, and take a walk through historic Old Cromwell to end your journey among some of the most picturesque vineyards in New Zealand.

Day 9: Depart Queenstown

New Zealand Discovery Tour: Auckland to Queenstown - 9 Days (9)

Depending on your schedule, your driver will pick you up from the hotel lobby and transfer you to the airport to start your journey home. Be sure to enjoy the mountain views as you depart and reflect on your memories of an adventure-filled nine-day trip in New Zealand.

More New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries , explore other ways to spend eight days in New Zealand, and discover the best time of year to visit New Zealand.

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