New Zealand map & highlights

New Zealand is reminiscent of an unmade single bed, covered in folds and peaks. South Island is divided lengthways by the snow-covered Southern Alps and contains a succession of glaciers the longest of which stretches for almost 30km. Although North Island is a little less undulating its geothermal nature provides a prime example of NZ's inclusion within the Pacific Ring of Fire with active volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu providing a breathtaking panorama. Making the three-hour crossing over Cook Strait allows travellers to skip between both islands with remote rivers, vast farmsteads and stunning coastal scenery adding to an exciting and varied itinerary.
Abel Tasman National Park

1. Abel Tasman National Park

Although the smallest of New Zealand’s national parks, Abel Tasman, doesn’t pack any less of a punch with forest covered hillsides and the Takaka and Riwaka rivers leading to the sublime shallows of Golden Bay. The Coast Track, which can be walked and partially kayaked, is considered one of the world’s best with beaches, such as Onetahuti, Kaiteriteri and Bark, totally deserve the leg and paddle work.
Bay of Islands

2. Bay of Islands

Head north of Auckland, about three hours, and you’ll reach the historic towns of Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri all of which provide an ideal base from where to explore the Bay of Islands. Thanks to sub-tropical sea temperatures this area is heaven for divers with groupers, rays, kingfish and shipwrecks, including the Rainbow Warrior, providing some of New Zealand’s best underwater experiences.

3. Christchurch

Browsing at the Re-Start, strolling through Hagley Park or punting on the River Avon, Christchurch will kind of remind you of England but then kind of not. Maybe it’s due to the memories of the 2011 earthquake or just the distant backdrop of the Southern Alps, but whatever it is, forget about the old country - this is Christchurch so get out there and enjoy Garden City.
Coromandel peninsula

4. Coromandel peninsula

There’s a semi-mysterious phenomenon happening on the Coromandel Peninsula so grab some Scooby snacks and head on over to Hot Water Beach in Mercury Bay for a day you’ll never forget. Underground hot springs at low tide present a great chance to dig your own geothermal hot pool; however, be advised that the rip currents here are severe so stay beachside to stay safe.
Fiordland National Park

5. Fiordland National Park

New Zealand’s largest national park is the result of some glorious glacial grinding with fjords, such as Milford Sound, providing perfect panoramas to accompany hiking tracks, like Routeburn and Milford. The carving process has created offshore islands, glacial lakes and waterfalls – the tallest of which are Sutherland and Browne – and the chance to view via helicopter is just out of this world.
Franz Josef Glacier

6. Franz Josef Glacier

Steeper than nearby Fox Glacier, the Franz Josef Glacier also has more dramatic ice formations and deeper crevasses and caves where you can see the bright blue ice. Both glaciers are in a serious state of retreat, although you can still hike on them or try ice climbing. But you sure won’t be alone – it can take up to 30 minutes just to park in peak season.

7. Kaikoura

Flipping its history of whaling on its head, Kaikoura is now New Zealand’s premier whale watching destination. You can also see (and swim) with dolphins off the coast here, and there is a thriving colony of fur seals. It’s possible to stay in a treehouse lodge and help out with your hosts’ tree-planting initiative, which will also encourage native birds to nest.
Milford Sound

8. Milford Sound

The most popular way to explore this 15km waterway in Fiordland National Park is by cruise. But the best way to see Milford Sound is definitely either by kayak or by trekking – the three-day Milford Track is the most famous of New Zealand’s Great Walks but there are many shorter, less busy routes. If you do prefer to take things easier, opt for a cruise with an onboard naturalist or geologist.
Mount Cook National Park

9. Mount Cook National Park

As New Zealand’s longest glacier (the Tasman, 27km), and practically all of its tallest peaks (Aoraki/Cook, Hicks and Tasman - all well over 3,000m), are situated in Mount Cook National Park, this is South Island’s mountaineering and hiking hot spot. Boat trips and scenic drives are ideal ways to get closer to the scenery with Hooker Valley providing a popular trekking trail to add to an infinite list.
Paparoa National Park

10. Paparoa National Park

A vast South Island expanse of limestone cliffs, river canyons, native rainforest, mountains and wilderness, Paparoa National Park is a superb location for walking and overnight camping. Kiwi guides will ensure you pick up the right firewood along the way, and also show you around the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki – eroded limestone stacks pocked with blowholes that seawater spurts through.

11. Queenstown

3, 2, 1... Queenstown! Boasting well over 200 adventure activities, including white water rafting, mountain biking and paragliding, Queenstown is New Zealand’s undeniable extreme sports capital. Aside from jet-boating on the Dart River or bungee jumping off Kawarau Bridge, Lake Wakatipu and Bob’s Peak also make perfect settings to take your breath away.

12. Rotorua

The eggy pong that pervades Rotorua is a result of all the geothermal activity under the surface. As well as being the beating heart of Maori culture, this lakeside town is also famed for its hot springs and thermal mud baths. Adventurous travellers might know it as home to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, on the Grade V Katuna River.

13. Taupo

The Queenstown of the North Island, Taupo offers everything from bungee jumping to skydiving, kayaking on the beautiful lake to see Maori rock carvings, and jet boating out to the thundering Huka Falls. More sedate is the famous Craters of the Moon walking trail through lunar-like geothermal terrain of steaming, bubbling craters.
Tongariro National Park

14. Tongariro National Park

This is New Zealand’s oldest national park and recognised by UNESCO for its unique mix of cultural and natural sites. Volcanoes Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro are of great significance to Maoris and Tongariro National Park was created, in part, to keep them safe. The park is also a haven for hikers with the 20km Tongariro Alpine Crossing considered one of the best in the business.
Waitomo caves

15. Waitomo caves

The glow worms of Waitomo can be found within a limestone cave system about two hours south of Auckland and are certainly worth investigating even if you’re just heading down for the acoustics. Along with having your way lit by glowing bugs, the caves are also accessible for extreme sports enthusiasts and open up narrow crawl ways and cavernous holes to further invigorate the descent.
Travel Team
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new Zealand sample itineraries

New Zealand highlights (18 days):
Auckland > Coromandel Peninsula > Bay of Plenty > Rotorua > Wellington > Kaikoura >Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park > Lake Tekapo > Queenstown > Lake Wakatipu and Remarkables > Milford Sound > Franz Josef > Okarito Lagoon > Punakaiki > Arthur's Pass > Christchurch
South Island highlights (10 days):
Christchurch Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park > Queenstown > Milford Sound > Cardrona Valley > Lake Wanaka > Franz Josef > Punakaiki > Arthur's Pass > Christchurch
North Island highlights (10 days):
Auckland > Coromandel Peninsula > Bay of Plenty > Rotorua > Hawke Bay > Napier > Tongariro National Park > Lake Taupo > Waitomo Glowworm Caves > Auckland

travel times in new zealand

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in New Zealand.

Napier to Wellington: 5-7hrs by train Wellington to Picton: 3hrs 30mins by public ferry Wellington to Nelson: 6hrs 30 mins by ferry and bus, or 2hrs by plane Nelson to Arthur’s Pass: 5hrs 15 mins by car Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch: 2hrs by train Christchurch to Dunedin – 6hrs by bus Dunedin to Queenstown – 3hrs 30 mins by car Queenstown to Milford Sound – 6hrs by bus
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Curioso] [Abel Tasman: Brewbooks] [Bay of Islands: Graeme Churchard] [Christchurch: Joceyln Kinghorn] [Coromandel peninsula: macronix] [Fiordland: tommy chheng] [Franz Josef Glacier: Gopal Vijayaraghavan] [Kaikoura: Marc Veraart] [Milford Sound: eyeintim] [Mount Cook : Flying Kiwi Tours] [Paparoa National Park: macronix] [Queenstown: Tomas Sobek] [Rotorua: amanderson2] [Taupo: Larry Koester] [Tongariro: Tristan Schmurr] [Waitomo Caves: Ian Armstrong] [Distances: John Fowler]