If you’ve only got a month in New Zealand, planning ahead is crucial to making sure you hit up all the best places. New Zealand is split into the North Island and the South Island, each with more than a few spots you just cannot leave without seeing.

So here are New Zealand’s greatest hits, the must dos, and the ideal itineraries to help you make the most out of what’s going to be a super exciting month in New Zealand.

North Island

New Zealand Auckland view

Auckland

Stay: 3-4 nights

Your adventure will probably begin in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, at the top of North Island. Take some time here to get over that initial jetlag. We recommend a hostel like Nomads Auckland Backpackers or Haka Lodge Auckland.

When you have the energy, spend your days wandering the harbour and through the city’s pretty parks, before trying out top Kiwi meals at Greenwood’s Fresh Catch, The Lumsden Freehouse and Little Easy.

Waitomo

Stay: 2 nights

Next, it’s time to get stuck into the real New Zealand adventure and travel just two and a half hours from Auckland to the west coast’s Waitomo. It’s a pretty town with lots of lush green hills, but there’s really only one reason people visit Waitomo, and that’s to venture inside the labyrinth of underground tunnels and caves that lies beneath the hills. Lit by the light of glow-worms, you can raft, tube and canyon your way through these mystical caverns.

Two nights in Waitomo ensures a full day at the caves. Stay at the Junohall YHA Hostel Waitomo and make the most of the pool in the beautiful surroundings.

Matamata

Stay: 2 nights

From one phenomenon to another, Matamata is a short drive from Waitomo and another important pit stop on the way to Rotorua.

This rural spot, just below the Kaimai Range Mountains, may look quiet, but really it’s harbouring hobbits. It’s here that you can tour the famous Lord of the Rings movie set, get your fill of movie magic, and find out everything concerning hobbits.

You can stay at the Matamata Backpackers – just a 15-minute drive from the set.

Rotorua

Rotorua New Zealand

Stay: 3 nights

So far it’s been about quick stop-offs at New Zealand attractions, but when you reach Rotorua you can kick back and stay for a few days. This city is known for its lakeside location and the geothermal waters that give way to mud pools and geysers.

Pohutu (‘big splash’) geyser is one of the biggest attractions, shooting fountains of bubbling water up to 30 metres high. Other things to do in the area include getting your fill of Maori culture in Mitai Maori village, completing an authentic Maori canoe ride across Lake Rotorua and exploring the native bush. This adventure playground full of natural beauty and culture will keep you entertained for days.

You’ll find plenty to do here. The Central Backpackers is one of the most highly regarded hostels, mostly thanks to the fact you get a bed each rather than bunks. Woohoo!

Wellington

Stay: 3 nights

If it’s culture you’re after, New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, should be your next stop. Located on the southern tip of North Island, it’ll take about 5 hours to reach from Rotorua, but once you’re there you can hit the beaches of Princess Bay and Scorching Bay for some relaxation time.

For a capital city it’s surprisingly compact, and the red Victorian buildings, old-fashioned museums – like the City Gallery and Nairn Street Cottage – and cute cable car give it an enchanted feel. Wellington is well into its craft beer scene - just stop by Fork & Brewer or the Little Beer Quarter to try out some local brews. There are plenty of kooky coffee shops to explore here, including the Flight Coffee Hangar and Caffe Astoria.

Stay three nights for a good look around – the Dwellington Hostel is lush. They say it’s the most luxurious property in New Zealand, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

South Island

Lake Matheson New Zealand

Franz Josef

Stay: 3 nights

From swimsuits to scarves, it’s time to make the trip to South Island and visit the Franz Josef glacier. With its small buildings and dusty mountain backdrop, Franz Josef itself is totally Insta-worthy, but it’s the impressive glacier, a World Heritage Site, that really puts this town on the map.

You can ice-climb, hike or helicopter your way around the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and the Franz Josef Glacier itself, depending on your budget and energy levels. It’s a spectacular experience, however you tackle it.

We’d recommend staying 3 nights, just so you can take as many photos as possible. There are quite a few good hostels in Franz Josef, but we’d recommend the YHA. You know all the profits go right back in to making them better, right?

Queenstown

Queenstown New Zealand Sunset

Stay: 4 nights

Once you’ve crossed glacier climbing off your list, head further south to Queenstown where you can continue your icy love affair by skiing in the Southern Alps. The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona are among the most popular resorts.

If you just want to stay warm then look outside the city to Milford Sound, the Routeburn Track and Lake Wanaka. These three spots are some of the most beautiful and are ideal for hiking, fishing and skydiving.

In fact, Queenstown is well known as the home of extreme sports. Try the world famous Nevis Bungy Jump, the Nevis swing (biggest in the world!), or something a little tamer like zip lining or Zorbing.

So much to do in Queenstown! Stay four nights, and consider staying at Bumbles Backpackers for incredible views from the comfort of the bar.

Lake Tekapo

Stay: 3-4 nights

By this point New Zealand will have won you over with its natural beauty, but Lake Tekapo will definitely take it one step further. Around three hours north of Queenstown, this small lakeside town boasts some of the world’s most beautiful sky.

In fact, it’s so precious that it’s a part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve. Just head to the Mount John Observatory at nightfall to check out the starriest sky you’ve ever seen.

Make the most of the sky gazing possibilities and stay at The Lakefront Backpackers. It's the perfect location to see the stars.

Christchurch

Stay: 3-4 nights

End your whirlwind New Zealand adventure on the South Island’s east coast in the city of Christchurch. As one of the spots that got hit the hardest by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, they’ve had to use as much creativity as possible to get the city back on its feet so expect to see and storage containers as buildings, in the most creative of ways.  

Other impressive things to catch include the city’s gondola, the Botanic Gardens and Orana Wildlife Park. Even just a walk around this city though will have you revelling in its urban style with art, architecture and mini gardens giving you plenty to photograph.

Stay somewhere a bit different in Christchurch and check out Jailhouse Accommodation. It’s set in a former jail, but while the inmates have long since moved out it’s now actually a really cool building in a great location. Stay at least three nights to get a good look around the city. 

And after all of that you’ve still got three or four days to play with, in case you love a place so much you want to stay longer (or in case something goes wrong). Have fun!