Starting from Auckland, we take our time making our way down the beautiful and volcanic North Island to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, before catching a ferry to cross the Cook Strait to get up close and personal with the best of the South Island.
(Note that this tour can also be done from south to north – Christchurch to Auckland – if you prefer.)
If you are arriving in Auckland with a few days to spare, we have a great three day tour taking in the Bay of Islands which showcases the Northland region of New Zealand. Our Amplified tour comes complete with some very special inclusions: experiencing a Māori cultural night traditional hāngī meal, learning haka and poi dance, and carving your very own pounamu (greenstone/jade) pendant in Franz Josef.
Activities can also be purchased on the road – just let your tour guide know. We can’t always guarantee availability when booking on the road, so we suggest pre-booking any activities you especially want to do.
As the tour starts early in the morning, you can opt to book accommodation in Auckland with us the night before the tour – only having to walk downstairs on the day the tour starts makes for a stress-free morning. Accommodation is included on the last night of your tour, but we can also book a few extra nights for you if you would like to extend your stay. The tour price includes dorm share accommodation but if you would prefer your own space you have the option to upgrade to a private room for the duration of your
In this itinerary, you’ll find descriptions of the places you’ll be visiting and the inclusions that you’ll experience. We’ve also provided an example timetable for each day to help give you a sense of what your days on tour may look like. Keep in mind though, that every tour is unique, with each guide bringing their own special flavour to the trip.
Each day also has a list of our favourite Haka Highlights, and the add-on activities and experiences that are available in that location.
- Passionate Kiwi guides
- 15 nights in high-end hostel accommodation, 1 night shared cultural experience* – dorm share, upgrades available
- Small groups, maximum 16
- Orientation tour of every location
- Comfortable bus transport
- Cross Cook Strait on the Interislander ferry
- Traverse the Southern Alps on the TranzAlpine train
- Continental breakfast every day
- Traditional Māori hāngī dinner cooked in an underground oven
- Experience a Māori cultural performance in Rotorua
- Carve your own pounamu/jade pendant in Franz Josef
- Discover NZ’s most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas
- Journey through multiple National Parks
- Plus many surprise stops on the way
- Swim with the world’s most playful dolphins, the Dusky Dolphins, where pods can be as big as 500
- Explore subterranean rivers and see the famous “glow-worms” on an under-ground cave tubing trip in Waitomo
- Raft the world’s highest commercial waterfall drop, the 7m Tutea Falls in Rotorua
- Walk NZ’s most famous day hike around an active volcano, the 19.4km Tongariro Crossing
- Gaze up at the stars at the largest dark sky reserve in the world
- Get your adrenalin kick with a skydive, bungy, canyon swing or jetboat in Queenstown
- Kayak on a glacial lake past ancient rainforests, 900 year-old Kahikatea trees and the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary
Day 1: Auckland to Coromandel
The Coromandel Peninsula is a paradise of beautiful beaches and misty rainforests. The drive here is epic – the road twists and turns dramatically round the coastline and the ocean gets clearer and more pristine before your eyes. Cameras ready – the views are magnificent!
The Coromandel is home to the famous Hot Water Beach – thousands visit each year to dig their own personal hot tub. If the tide times allow, we’ll definitely grab our buckets and spades and get busy!
We arrive in Whitianga with plenty of time for your guide to show you around. Sample the sandy beaches, take a surf lesson with the locals, or simply enjoy the vibes.
Day 2: Coromandel to Waitomo
This morning we’ll walk out together along the cliffs and down to Cathedral Cove (which you might recognize from the Chronicles of Narnia). With perfect beaches and massive rock arches and columns, it’s one of the most popular spots in the Coromandel.
Alternatively, take an optional guided Cathedral Cove kayak trip and check out this stunning coastline from a different angle, accompanied by a local dolphin or two if you’re lucky!
Later today we say goodbye to the east coast and hello to the west as we head for the tiny town of Waitomo. If you can’t wait until tomorrow to meet the resident glow worms, tonight’s optional cave-walking tour is a must. Or kick back with a beer and admire the stars – they put on a great show here when the skies are clear.
Day 3: Waitomo to Murupara
Have you been caving in a place with twinkling glow worms on the ceiling? Now’s your chance!
Daredevils can abseil 100 metres into the caverns on an epic 4-hour caving adventure. Or float along on an underground river on an optional Cave Tubing trip as the glow worms light your way. There are also excellent guided walking tours of the caves available if heights or wet feet aren’t your thing.
This evening is a major tour highlight – we are welcomed to a Māori community for an unmissable cultural performance featuring combat demonstrations, beautiful poi performance, and – of course – the breathtaking haka.
You will also have the privilege of learning a haka or poi dance from local Māori. A traditional hāngī meal, cooked in an earth oven, will fill your puku (belly) right up. Please note, on this night private room upgrades are not available.
Day 4: Murupara to Rotorua
While the majority of the North Island is volcanic in some way, Rotorua is exceptional for its geothermal activity. With neon blue and red lakes, steaming rivers, active volcanoes and geysers galore, there are more unique natural wonders to be found in Rotorua than many other places in the world.
On the way to Rotorua, we stop at what really makes the town famous, along with giving it its unique smell: one of several extraordinary geyserlands and thermal parks.
There’s heaps of time to get amongst Rotorua’s diverse attractions while you’re here. We’ll get you started with an orientation tour, including a stroll through the flower-filled Government Gardens by the lakefront.
Lord of the Rings fans, channel your inner hobbit with an optional visit to picturesque Hobbiton – have a ginger beer at the Green Dragon pub for us!
If adrenalin’s your thing, the highest commercial waterfall drop in the world, on the Kaituna River, is begging to be conquered on an exhilarating rafting trip. Or let your guide coax you into thundering down grassy hills in a giant air-cushioned inflatable ball (or OGO) – you won’t regret it!
Day 5: Rotorua to Taupō
This morning there’s time to explore Rotorua or squeeze in any last-minute add-on activities. It’s only a short drive to our next destination, Taupō, and there’s plenty to discover along the way. From mesmerising mud pools to the thundering rapids of the Huka Falls and Aratiatia Dam, your trusty Haka Guide will make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Taupō is a beautiful lakeside town with a stunning mountain backdrop. Lake Taupō is New Zealand’s largest lake – believe it or not, it’s roughly the same size as Singapore!
This place is all about the thrills and spills, and there are plenty of options in store this afternoon. Get your hair wet with a water touch bungy jump, take an unforgettable skydive or a sunset lake cruise for amazing lake and mountain views.
Psst – bring your swimwear today, one of our favourite secret stops is on the cards!
Day 6: Taupo
A full day in Taupō… are you in the mood for peaceful lakeside tranquility or unlimited adrenalin and adventure? Either way, Taupō’s got you covered.
For many, the ultimate adventure on offer here is the hiking (or tramping, as we Kiwis know it). The Tongariro Crossing is among the top 10 full-day walks in the world. This 19.4-kilometre mountain trek boasts emerald green lakes, venting steam, lava flows and craters. You’ll come back grinning from ear to ear before falling into bed and sleeping like a baby.
If you’d prefer to relax, jump on a boat for a sailing trip to view Māori rock carvings. Or head to Spa Park and soak until your fingers are wrinkly. However you choose to spend today we guarantee you won’t forget it.
Day 7: Taupō to Wellington
It’s a big drive from Taupō to Wellington, but there’s some unmissable scenery on offer. Lord of the Rings junkies, you’re in for a treat!
Our journey takes us through Tongariro National Park via the Rangipo Desert (bet you didn’t know New Zealand had one of those!). Some of your favourite Lord of the Rings battle scenes were filmed right here.
The Desert Road boasts incredible views of three active volcanic peaks – Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu. You may know Mount Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom, so be sure to snap a Mordor selfie!
We pass through two of the North Island’s quirkier towns – as ever, your Haka Guide has a couple of surprises up their sleeve…
We pull into Wellington in the afternoon, with just enough time for film buffs make a trip to Weta Workshop, where the special effects of Lord of the Rings and Avatar were produced.
New Zealand’s capital is famous for its bars and eateries, and is a paradise for lovers of craft beer – you’ll be spoilt for choice tonight!
Day 8: Wellington to Kaikōura
Packed with quirky cafes and beautiful street art, and famous for its wind, Wellington will blow you away in more ways than one! Your guide will introduce you to some of our favourite spots this morning. We take a trip up Mount Victoria for the best views in town.
This afternoon we say farewell to the North Island with a scenic ferry journey across the Cook Strait. The South Island has a stunning welcome in store for us – gliding through the Marlborough Sounds as we approach Picton Harbour, you’ll feel like you’re in another world.
Our next destination, Kaikōura literally means “to eat crayfish”, and the area is teeming with them. The nutrient-rich waters of this area attract a wide variety of marine wildlife including the stars of the show – whales and dolphins.
Day 9: Kaikōura to Christchurch
The chance to swim with dolphins in the wild is a massive New Zealand highlight for many travellers, and Kaikōura is one of the best places to find them, with pods of up to 300 of these playful creatures hanging out here at any one time.
If you want to get up close to the giants of the ocean, a whale watching tour here is the way to do it. Humpbacks, sperm whales and orca all stop by at various times of year, so this is a great chance to meet some of them.
After visiting the local seals on our way out of town, our road trip continues to our home for the night – Christchurch, known as the “Garden City” for its peaceful parklands and lazy rivers.
Day 10: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
This morning we’ll explore iconic downtown Christchurch and your guide will show you the cool and creative ways the city is being rebuilt after the life-changing 2011 earthquake here. Christchurch folk are an innovative and creative bunch – the Transitional Cathedral, created from cardboard, is totally inspirational.
After lunch we leave the city behind and head for Lake Tekapo. The lake’s breathtaking turquoise colour and mountain backdrop is a photographer’s dream come true. The tiny Church of the Good Shepherd stands right at the water’s edge, proving that small is definitely beautiful. Grab some confetti and congratulate any passing brides – couples travel from all over the world for wedding shots in front of the chapel!
Tekapo has been declared an International Dark Sky Reserve and the super clear skies make it the best place in New Zealand to see the stars and galaxies on a clear night. Sit back, relax and enjoy.
Day 11: Lake Tekapo to Queenstown
This morning if you’re feeling energetic, hike up to the summit of Mt John. With awesome views of the Southern Alps, you’ll feel on top of the world. Speaking of views, today’s scenic drive to Queenstown is a show-stopper. From the golden tussocklands of Mackenzie country – where epic battles of Return of the King were filmed – to the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps, it’s like you’re driving into a postcard.
We’ll pause for lots of photo stops en route to give your camera a workout, including a stop at the spectacular Kawarau Gorge. This also happens to be the World Home of Bungy, give it a go or enjoy watching the jumpers scream their way through the gorge!
Whether you’re an adrenalin junkie, an avid hiker, wine taster or scenery lover, Queenstown has something for absolutely everyone. With two nights and plenty of daylight hours here, get ready – this town certainly knows how to live life to the max!
Day 12: Queenstown
With a full day in Queenstown, let’s work on that bucket list! There are heaps of options to choose from: paragliding over the lake, mountain bike parks and trails to die for, bungy jumping while your Haka friends cheer you on, horse riding through Lord of the Rings scenery, and swinging through a canyon are just a few of our favourites.
Hikers: the Ben Lomond day walk (not for the faint- hearted) will be right up your alley. This is a firm tour guide favourite, and they can recommend great shorter walks too.
For scenery lovers, Milford Sound is a must-see. Whether you fly or drive, the scenery en route is as awesome as the destination. Once on the Sound, sailing beneath thundering waterfalls and towering cliff faces, you’ll understand why some call it the “8th Wonder of the World”.
Tonight you have around 40 bars to choose from – your guide will fill you in on their favourites – to share your adventures with your travel buddies, and party the night away.
Day 13: Queenstown to Wanaka
After the excitement of Queenstown, today is a chance to chill. Wanaka is Queenstown’s slightly quieter little sister, a mere one hour drive away. On the way we’ll stop in at charming Arrowtown, a historic gold rush village with heaps of old world character.
Blessed with towering peaks and a glacial blue lake, you’ll soon see why Wanaka’s considered to be one of New Zealand’s most beautiful mountain towns. There are stunning hikes and bike rides all around for a welcome chance to chill.
One of the best ways to admire Wanaka is from the air. Treat yourself to a skydive or a scenic flight in a vintage plane – you can even take a flying lesson, or if you prefer to keep your feet closer to the ground, stroll or bike around the lake and check out the famous Wanaka Tree, standing all alone in the water. As always, it’s your trip and your choice: you do you.
Day 14: Wanaka to Franz Josef
After a relaxing morning in Wanaka, the journey to Franz is an another stunner – many of our Haka Guides rate it as their favourite drive in New Zealand.
As we hit the road, we’ll stop at one of our favourite lakeside lookout points at Lake Hawea or Lake Wanaka. Your guide will keep an eye on the weather and pick the best option.
From the cascading waterfalls of Haast Pass to classic Kiwi coastal views, you won’t want to nap on the bus in case you miss anything. Your guide will have some epic surprise photo stops and short walks along the way.
Between September and December it’s whitebait season (a small fish that’s a delicacy in New Zealand). Fried up with eggs and served on toast, it’s a local treat and shouldn’t be missed. We’ll stop at one of the local spots for a taste during the season.
We roll into Franz Josef around late afternoon/early evening. This UNESCO World Heritage area is famous for its spectacular glacier, just 5 kilometres from town, which is begging to be explored tomorrow.
Day 15: Franz Josef
With Aoraki/Mount Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain) twinkling behind the glaciers, Franz Josef is about as beautiful a setting as you can find in New Zealand.
Te Wahi Pounamu (which means ‘the place of greenstone’ in Māori) is the name given to the this part of the West Coast because of the abundance of pounamu (greenstone/jade) to be found here. Included in your tour today is a special opportunity to carve your very own pounamu pendant at a local gallery.
There are heaps of ways to enjoy Franz Josef Glacier; weather permitting, to get up onto the bluest ice you can take a scenic helicopter flight and hike onto the glaciers. Maybe you’d prefer to kayak on a glacial lake; or just relax in the steamy hot springs down below.
As well as the awesome glacier activities you could also try out quad biking, horseback riding and even a bit of group karaoke tonight in Franz Josef!
Day 16: Franz Josef to Christchurch
Before you know it, it’s your last day! After breakfast we head further along the beautiful west coast on another of the most spectacular drives in the country (and, some would say, the world): a rugged, primeval landscape of luxuriant rainforest juxtaposed against breathtaking beach and ocean waves.
We stop at Hokitika and visit a greenstone factory, a great place to stock up on souvenirs for your friends and family back home. Time permitting, we may also visit the National Kiwi Centre where there is guaranteed viewing of rare kiwi birds in their nocturnal house.
On the way back to Christchurch, you’ll traverse the South Island on the stunning TranzAlpine Train Crossing. Travelling across the Southern Alps through Arthur’s Pass, you’ll arrive in Christchurch around 6.30pm before transferring to your accommodation.
Your tour officially ends in Christchurch, so feel free to party on with your new travel buddies for as long as you like – your accommodation tonight is included so you can treat yourself to a lie-in in the morning!