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Explore the hidden gems in western New Zealand with this self-drive itinerary for 3 weeks. In addition to must-see destinations such as Rotorua and Queenstown, visit:
This New Zealand itinerary for 3 weeks is perfect for first-time visitors who want to make the most of their stay. Couples, families, groups, and solo travellers will enjoy the diverse range of landscapes and activities.
Read on for more details on this New Zealand itinerary for 3 weeks.
Arrive in Auckland. The “City of Sails” and New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland is bordered by two stunning harbours. Collect your rental car from the airport and make your way to your accommodation.
Relax in Auckland. Your options include visiting the Auckland Zoo, or Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World; venturing to one of Auckland’s stunning beaches or West Auckland
Auckland is a shopaholic’s paradise, with everything from top-end designers to open-air street markets. Discover the diverse range of cafés and restaurants offering cuisine from around the globe and check out the buzzing nightlife of the central city. Favourite spots include Wynyard Quarter, the Viaduct Harbour, the Britomart precinct and City Works Depot.
Stay 1 night in Auckland City.
Driving time Auckland to Bay of Islands 219 km / 136 miles, 4 hours
Drive to the Bay of Islands, renowned for its 144 islands and surreal maritime park, which is filled with an abundance of marine life including whales, penguins and dolphins.
Paihia is the perfect base if you would like to discover the coves and beaches of the Bay of Islands! Paihia is also of historic importance to New Zealand, as this is where the historic Treaty House on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is located, which marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation. Just west of Paihia is Haruru, where you’ll find an impressive waterfall and a boardwalk.
Stay 2 nights in Paihia, Bay of Islands.
Today, board the premium Discover the Bay Cruise and see the best of the Bay of Islands.
Journey to the Hole in the Rock and if weather permits, sail through it. See marine wildlife including dolphins and stop off at Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island to have a swim, go for a walk and relax.
Relax in the Bay of Islands for the rest of the day.
Driving time Bay of Islands to Auckland 219 km / 136 miles, 4 hours
Journey back to Auckland and relax in the city for the afternoon. You might like to join the crew and enjoy an America’s Cup sailing trip, a must-do experience where you get a chance to spend 2 hours out on the harbour on an actual America’s Cup yacht!
This evening, if you would like to dine with a spectacular view, you might like to visit the Sky Tower. You are spoilt for choice with three restaurants and cafés up the Sky Tower, including the Orbit 360 degree dining revolving restaurant; The Sugar Club, which is superbly chic and elegant; or the Sky Café, where you can relax with a coffee, cheese board or ice cream. You will have the opportunity to view the city from 328 metres high above street level and take in the beautiful views, up to 80 kilometres in every direction. Spot the key landmarks, including a number of volcanoes and historical locations within the greater Auckland area.
Stay 1 night in Auckland City.
Driving time Auckland to Coromandel Peninsula 178 km / 110 miles, 3 hours
Renowned worldwide as a holiday destination, with white-sand beaches, misty rainforest and wilderness aplenty, the Coromandel is the ideal place to unwind.
Whitianga is the main settlement of Mercury Bay, an attractive township with a deep-water harbour. Now a vibrant coastal town, Whitianga is evolving into a delightful place to visit. Whitianga has an excellent selection of restaurants and cafés, and the thriving retail community provides an interesting collection of outlets.
Stay 2 nights in Whitianga, Coromandel Peninsula.
Relax in the Coromandel. You may wish to visit Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own hot pool, add on a sea kayak tour to explore the world
You could also make a day trip to one of the nearby towns, such as Coromandel Town, known for its charming mix of Victorian architecture, beaches and forests. While in the area, you could ride the Driving Creek Railway, New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway journey, which climbs through regenerating native Kauri forest. Unique pottery sculptures and tile murals line the track, with spectacular views over the Hauraki Gulf from the ‘Eyefull Tower’.
Driving time Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua 252 km / 157 miles, 3.5 hours
Enjoy the scenic journey to Rotorua, distinguished by Maori culture and geothermal activity. This diverse city will put on a display as you encounter geysers, mud pools, steaming craters and 16 beautiful lakes.
The Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park is Rotorua’s most active geothermal area featuring a walkway lined with unique geothermal wonders and interactive opportunities. Experience the geothermal features with a self-guided map to show you around or join a guided tour of the reserve to learn more about the history, features and uniqueness of the geothermal area.
See bubbling mud pools, steaming craters, mineral pools, learn about New Zealand’s history and culture, and even try Maori weaving and wood carving! After this, the geothermal waters of the Hell’s Gate Sulphur Spa will rejuvenate and refresh you, as you relax and take in the surreal surroundings of the wondrous geothermal landscape.
Stay 2 nights in Rotorua.
Explore Rotorua, with the option to add on a New Zealand RiverJet ride for a fantastic geothermal jet boat safari.
In the evening, enjoy a traditional Maori Cultural Experience including a Hangi Dinner. Hear stories and learn how Maori traditions live on today. Experience an authentic Maori welcome. Watch a challenge by the Maori warriors, a karanga (call) from the Maori women welcoming you onto the marae, and a whaikorero (welcome speech). Relax and enjoy the beautiful waiata (songs), the world renowned haka (challenge), and the elegant poi dance. Learn Maori customs including Maori musical instruments, haka and poi. The dining experience is a culinary opportunity like no other. Following dessert, you will be transported down into the valley to conclude your evening beside the awe-inspiring Pohutu geyser.
Driving time Rotorua to New Plymouth 298 km / 185 miles, 3.5 hours
As a popular tourist destination, New Plymouth is well-known for its black sand surf beaches which offer some of the best surfing in the country. Other attributes include Mount Taranaki and the Egmont National Park, a Mecca for trampers. In contrast with the outdoors lifestyle, New Plymouth also has an artistic side, as it is home to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Zealand’s only contemporary art museum with a permanent collection.
Explore New Plymouth’s beaches, famous walkways and unique city. Being right on the coast New Plymouth is well-known for its beaches. These black sand beaches are great for surfing, swimming or just relaxing on a hot summer’s day.
Stay 1 night in New Plymouth.
Driving time New Plymouth to Wellington 351 km / 218 miles, 4.5 hours
Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, has so much to offer. Set on the edge of a stunning harbour, surrounded by rolling hills, it’s a city rich in culture waiting to be explored. From shopping and picturesque walks to exhibitions, festivals, Te Papa Tongarewa: the Museum of New Zealand, and more – Wellington has something for everyone.
Wellington’s top attractions include Te Papa, Weta Workshop, Wellington Cable Car, Mt Victoria Lookout and Wellington Zoo.
Stay 1 night in Wellington.
Sailing time Wellington to Picton 70 km / 43 miles, 3 hours
Driving time Picton to Abel Tasman 181 km / 112 miles, 2.5 hours
It’s all about the journey today as you board the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry, which will transport you on a scenic cruise to Picton. Back on dry land, drive through Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest wine region, to reach the Abel Tasman.
Abel Tasman is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, rich unmodified estuaries, long sunshine hours and the world-famous Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Stay 2 nights in Abel Tasman.
Today, enjoy a boat cruise into Abel Tasman National Park, where you can relax on the hot golden sand or enjoy a day walk. Take in the natural beauty and enjoy!
Relax in style with the best view of the Abel Tasman National Park from comfortable seats around tables on upper and lower decks with an Abel Tasman cruise. Featuring a café and bar on board. Let the friendly hosts introduce you to the stories of the landscape.
Driving time Abel Tasman to Hokitika 377 km / 243 miles, 5 hours
Discover the rugged West Coast as you travel to Hokitika, famous for its arts and crafts. Watch a masterpiece being crafted from gold, silver, molten glass, bone, silk or greywacke or carve your own creation from wood or jade (pounamu). Take in Hokitika’s natural beauty, enjoy its expansive beach, or venture down one of the many walking and mountain biking tracks.
While in Hokitika, you may wish to make the scenic drive to Hokitika Gorge, where an impressive turquoise river flows through a narrow canyon, or Lake Kaniere, a beautiful lake nestled beneath the mountains.
You could also visit the National Kiwi Centre, where you will be able to see a rare kiwi; view New Zealand’s living dinosaur, the Tuatara; and participate in feeding the giant eels. Or make a drive north to Shantytown, where you can explore the heritage village, ride the steam train, try your hand at panning for gold, and take old-time styled photos.
Stay 1 night in Hokitika.
Driving time Hokitika to Franz Josef 136 km / 85 miles, 2.5 hours
Continue south through dense rainforest towards New Zealand’s most famous glaciers. Stay at Franz Josef Glacier township.
While in Franz Josef you may wish to soak in the Glacier Hot Pools, nestled in lush rainforest in a haven of natural tranquility. You can walk to the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier to take a look at the ice, or enjoy one of the local walks. In Franz Josef township you have the chance to see New Zealand’s rarest kiwi at the West Coast Wildlife Centre, a unique and interactive experience that brings together nature, conservation, and wildlife all under one roof.
In the afternoon, take a 20 minute scenic helicopter flight sweeping above Westland National Park. Explore Franz Josef Glacier before landing in the snow to enjoy exceptional views of the majestic Southern Alps.
Stay 1 night in Franz Josef.
Driving time Franz Josef to Wanaka 285 km / 177 miles, 4 hours
The change in landscape will amaze you as you travel down the West Coast, with glimpses of the Tasman Sea showing beneath rugged cliffs. Take the Haast Pass Highway inland and admire waterfalls and many viewing points and short walks along the way before reaching Wanaka, an alpine paradise with views so good it’s hard to put down your camera.
Wanaka has the buzz of a genuine alpine town and is the ultimate hub for outdoor adventures, and with Mount Aspiring National Park located close by it’s the perfect destination for exploring the Southern Alps.
Stay 2 nights in Wanaka.
Relax and explore Wanaka – you may want to visit Puzzling World, Wanaka’s illusional attraction, or the National Toy and Transport Museum. Other options include strolling along one of Wanaka’s stunning walking tracks, relaxing on the lake’s edge or browsing through Wanaka’s boutique shops.
You could also visit Rippon Vineyard and Tasting Room to sample local wines, or catch a film at Cinema Paradiso, Wanaka’s quirky local theatre.
Driving time Wanaka to Te Anau 230 km / 143 miles, 3 hours
Travel to Te Anau this morning, Nestled on the edge of a lake, the picturesque township of Te Anau is the main visitor base for the glacier-carved wilderness that is Fiordland National Park.
In the afternoon, explore a mysterious underground world of rushing water before drifting in silent darkness beneath the luminous shimmer of thousands of glowworms. Your Te Anau Glowworm Cave adventure begins with a cruise across beautiful Lake Te Anau on board the catamaran Luminosa to the western side of the lake.
On arrival, there is time to view the interesting displays at Cavern House before your friendly guides accompany you underground in small groups. As you explore by path and small boat, your senses will be overwhelmed. In this mysterious underground world, discover fossils and rock formations, and view rushing waterfalls and whirlpools. Learn how the caves are still being carved out by the incredible and relentless power of nature before gliding through silent darkness to the glowworm grotto. The delicate incandescence of thousands of tiny glowworms is a magical sight!
Stay 2 nights in Te Anau.
Driving time Te Anau to Manapouri 21 km / 13 miles, 20 minutes
Sailing/Driving time Manapouri to Doubtful Sound (return trip) 8 hours
Located deep in the heart of a World Heritage Area, Doubtful Sound is an overwhelming place. You can feel the power of nature here – the remoteness, the wilderness and the peace. Enjoy a full day Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise including a boat cruise on Lake Manapouri, scenic coach over Wilmot Pass, and a full three hour Doubtful Sound Cruise. Keep a look out for bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins.
On your return to Te Anau this evening, you might like to enjoy a meal in one of the local restaurants. Te Anau has plenty of great places to eat and drink. Make sure you sample some local Fiordland fare – Venison and Seafood are the local specialties, especially the fresh-caught Lobster.
Driving time Te Anau to Queenstown 174 km / 108 miles, 2.5 hours
You have the option to visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park, the Underwater Observatory, or the Ivan Clarke Gallery; ride the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak for panoramic views over the Wakatipu Basin; or simply enjoy a lakefront stroll or a bit of boutique shopping.
Stay 3 nights in Queenstown.
Today, get ready for the world’s most exciting jet boat ride with Shotover Jet! It’s a thrilling ride as you twist and turn through the narrow canyons at breathtaking speeds.
You also have the option to make a trip to Arrowtown. You’ll be enchanted by historic Arrowtown, a New Zealand treasure located 20 minutes from Queenstown. Arrowtown is charming and quirky – a delightful gold rush village nestled below the beautiful peaks that surround the sparkling Arrow River. The heart of its history is Buckingham Street, a procession of heritage buildings that stretches into a tree-lined avenue of tiny miner’s cottages. The buildings in this lovely precinct house shops, galleries, bars, and restaurants – many classy, most individual, and not one from an international chain.
Explore Queenstown today, with the option to take a day trip to Glenorchy. At the Head of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is nestled between the Richardson (east) and Humboldt (west) Mountain Ranges and overlooked by the mighty snow-capped Mount Earnslaw in the north. From Glenorchy you can travel on to a number of fantastic valleys, including Rees Valley, Paradise Valley, Dart Valley, and Routeburn Valley. These valleys border both Mt Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park, and they are ringed by some of the most dramatic mountains in New Zealand
Drop off your rental car at Queenstown Airport and depart Queenstown.
When travelling for 3 weeks, it can be hard to plan a well-paced itinerary. This New Zealand itinerary for 3 weeks balances excitement with relaxation. In addition, long drives are broken up over multiple days and travel is comfortably paced throughout.
This New Zealand itinerary for 3 weeks is fully customisable. In other words, you can change the inclusions, schedule, or accommodation level to suit your preferences. Your personal travel consultant will work with you to tailor the itinerary to suit.
We offer a number of other 21 Day New Zealand Holiday Packages for further inspiration.
Contact New Zealand Travel Organiser today to begin planning your unforgettable itinerary for 3 weeks.