Tailor-Made Holiday

Ultimate New Zealand Self-Drive

From Auckland to Queenstown with all the highlights in between

21 days

from $4,895pp (excluding flights)

This 21-day self-drive itinerary offers a fantastic introduction to the great outdoors of New Zealand and covers highlights of both the North and the South Island. Wildlife tours, scenic flights, glacier adventures, overnight cruises and more. Relax at boutique lodges, where charming hosts will make you feel at home.

  • A close encounter with the giant sperm whales off the coast of Kaikoura
  • Cruise the remote Doubtful Sound onboard the Fiordland Navigator
  • Experience an exhilarating landing on the face of Franz Josef glacier by helicopter
  • Journey from Greymouth to Christchurch onboard the Tranz Alpine train

North Island

This holiday to New Zealand starts in the countries largest city, Auckland, with time to explore the vibrant harbour and the shopping area of Ponsonby.

Pick up your hire car and begin your self-drive adventure with a stop in Hobbiton, the charming setting for the Lord of the Rings films. Continue to Rotorua, in the centre of the North Island this region is full of volcanic landscapes and Maori history.

New Zealand's capital city Wellington signals the southern end of the North Island with time to explore some wonderful wine regions and the art deco city of Napier. Take a winery tour or explore the architecture of Napier by 1930's vintage vehicle before cruising through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds to New Zealand's South Island.

South Island

The South Island has an abundance of great walks and outdoor pursuits on the doorstep. The top of the island is renowned for its wine growing regions, producing some of the finest wine in the world. After arriving into Picton, drive around the coast to Blenheim maybe stopping enroute for some wine tasting and lunch.

Continue south along the coastline to Kaikoura to take to the water in search of whales and other marine life. Sperm whales can be seen in Kaikoura year-round while depending on the season it is also possible to see migrating humpback, pilot, blue and southern right whales, as well as dolphin and orca.

Next stop Christchurch, before driving through the heart of the South Island to Mount Cook National Park. This region of mountains and rivers is home to 19 peaks including New Zealand's highest; Aoraki or Mount Cook. Take a scenic flight over the glacial landscape plus the chance to view 500-year-old icebergs up close, by boat from Mount Cook Terminal Lake.

Drive south-east to the Victorian city of Dunedin, home to historical architecture and a rugged coastline. Spend a day in search of penguin, sea lion and albatross before following the spectacular South Island coastline round to Te Anau and the Fiordland National Parks. Spend a night onboard the Fiordland Navigator on the stunning Doubtful Sound discovering hidden tributaries where fur seals and bottlenose dolphins are often seen. Take time to kayak around the shoreline or go exploring in the tender craft with a nature guide.

Spend a day amidst the buzz of Queenstown before following the west coast northwards to take to the skies and fly over all three of Franz Josef glaciers by helicopter. Land high on the face of the glacier where the brilliant blue ice is magical.

Finally, cross the South Island from Greymouth to Christchurch on board the Tranz Alpine scenic train; considered one of the world's most scenic train journeys. 

Tailor-made New Zealand

This holiday idea can be completely personalised to suit you perfectly. We can add more days, remove days, change accommodations and add specific activities to suit your interests or simply design something completely from scratch. Call our New Zealand Travel Experts to start planning your trip of a lifetime.

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Price Excluding Flights $Flight cost from 
$ 6608.25 $ 1350
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • Accommodation as detailed on a bed and breakfast basis
  • All excursions and sightseeing as detailed
  • Interislander ferry tickets
  • Overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound on a full board basis
  • Private transfers as detailed
  • Rental car as detailed
  • Tranz Alpine train tickets

what is excluded

  • Any visa requirements
  • Gratuities
  • International flights


Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

Day at leisure in Auckland

You will be staying at M Social Hotel, bed and breakfast

Day 2

Your hire car will be delivered to your hotel this morning.

Drive from Auckland to Matamata

Head southbound on State Highway 1 through the farmland and dairy pastures of the Waikato region. The Bombay Hills mark the outer boundary of the greater Auckland area and it's here you turn inland towards Matamata. This is the real Middle Earth, and you'll see many locations used in the filming of The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit as well as visiting the actual set of Hobbiton.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 160 km / 99 miles : Two hours

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Discover the real Middle-earth on the most picturesque private farmland, where you can visit the Hobbiton film set from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films in a fascinating two hour guided tour. Start with a drive through the picturesque 1,250 acre sheep farm with spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges. The guide will escort you through the twelve acre site recounting fascinating details of how the Hobbiton film set was created. The Hobbit holes, Green Dragon Inn, Mill and other structures created for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films can be viewed and you will see how this beautiful piece of Waikato farmland was transformed into The Shire from Middle-Earth.

Drive from Matamata to Rotorua

Just south of Matamata is the township of Tirau, home to two huge tin buildings in the shape of a sheep and sheepdog which are home to a visitor centre and craft shop.

Arriving into the city of Rotorua the regions geothermal activity becomes evident as you see steam rising from the roadside and surrounding hills.

The driving distance is approximately 70 kilometres with a journey time of around one hour.

Located in the centre of New Zealand's North Island, Rotorua sits within the Pacific Rim of Fire, one of the world's most volcanically active regions. It is home to a wealth of natural wonders including hot springs, bubbling mud pools and erupting geysers. It is also the heartland of Maori culture as well as being an excellent centre for activities such as fishing, hiking, cycling and rafting.

You will be staying at Regent of Rotorua Boutique Hotel & Spa, bed and breakfast

Day 3

Te Puia Daytime Experience
A visit to Rotorua would not be complete without visiting Te Puia the premier Maori Arts and Cultural centre. Many of the guides you meet are third and fourth generation Rotorua guides and the stories they share have been handed down through their families. You will get to visit the Kiwi House to see and learn about New Zealand's national flightless bird, there is a kiwi specialist on hand to answer all you questions. You then explore Te Whakarewarewa thermal valley, this unique geothermal reserve is home to the Pohutu geyser which erupts up to 20 times a day. The highlight of the day is experiencing the fascinating Maori culture first hand. Te Puia is charged with keeping Maori traditions, crafts and art alive - to achieve this it is home to the New Zealand National Carving and Weaving Schools (Te Wananga Whakairo Rakau and Te Rito the weaving school. You can watch these unique crafts-people as they share their skills with the next generation. Te Puia Daytime Experience tours run hourly from 9am-5pm in summer (9am-4pm in winter)

You will be staying at Regent of Rotorua Boutique Hotel & Spa, bed and breakfast

Day 4

Drive from Rotorua to Napier

This drive will take you through the thermal region just south of Rotorua. Home to a plethora of unique geothermal attractions including boiling mud pits, natural hot springs and steaming geysers, this area is a must do before you move on to Napier. Notable attractions are Wai-O-Tapu, Waimangu and Craters of the Moon.

Continue on to Taupo and marvel at the lake; a giant crater formed following a volcanic eruption in the year 180 CE. As you approach the city, be sure to stop at Huka Falls to view the spectacular sight of 222,000 litres of water spilling down the narrow 11 metre drop.

Leaving Taupo, follow the road as it climbs the rugged Ahimanawa Range before descending back down the Pacific Coast to Art Deco Napier.

The driving distance is approximately 210 kilometres with a journey time of around two and a half hours.

Hawkes Bay has a Mediterranean climate and Art Deco style, as well as being the nation's first winemaking region.

You will be staying at Breckenridge Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 5

Drive from Napier to Wellington

The rolling countryside of the Hawke's Bay leads you into some of New Zealand’s richest farmland, located around the Manawatu region. Passing along the Manawatu Gorge the Wairarapa welcomes you. Masterton is home to the golden shears sheep shearing competition while just further south Greytown boasts the largest concentration of historic wooden buildings in the country.

Nearby Martinborough is home to dozens of boutique wineries. The route takes you over the Rimutaka Range and along the magnificent natural harbour that the capital city of Wellington sits upon.

The driving distance is approximately 322 kilometres with a journey time of around four hours.

Wellington, home to New Zealand’s centre of government has a largely cosmopolitan feel. Often referred to as ‘mini-Melbourne’, this windy city is a melting pot of art, culture, food and fashion. Quirky laneway bars, underground art shows, and hipster eateries make up its inner city vibe, while a host of sandy beaches outside the urban bustle bring a cheerful holiday feel.

You will be staying at Bolton Hotel Wellington, bed and breakfast

Day 6

Drop your hire car at the ferry terminal this morning.

Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton

The 92-kilometre journey between Wellington and Picton takes around three hours and has been described as 'one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world'. Leaving Wellington Harbour, pass Pencarrow Head on top of which is New Zealand's oldest lighthouse (1859). Red Rocks is home to a seal colony and Oterangi Bay is the site which recorded the country's highest ever wind speed of 268 kilometres per hour.

From the Cook Strait spectacular views of the Kaikoura Ranges on the South Island can be seen as well as dolphins and many sea birds. Journey through the Marlborough Sounds, a region of bush covered mountains, small islands, crystal clear waters and secluded bays. The final leg of the cruise travels through Queen Charlotte Sound before coming to an end in the picturesque town of Picton.

Pick up your hire car on arrival in Picton.

Drive from Picton to Blenheim

Follow the valley south to arrive in Blenheim, located in the heart of Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine producing region. Continue through acres of leafy green vines with the magnificent 'dry hills' of Marlborough in the distance.

The driving distance is approximately 25 kilometres with a journey time of around 30 minutes.

You will be staying at Marlborough Bed & Breakfast, bed and breakfast

Day 7

Drive from Blenheim to Kaikoura

Cross the 'dry hills' of Marlborough and head towards one of the most spectacular coastlines of the South Island, the Kaikoura Coast. The road hugs the shore for around 50 kilometres and offers many chances to view native wildlife. To the east is the South Pacific Ocean and to the west the towering Kaikoura Ranges. Kaikoura Township is a bustling little place with many cafes, restaurants and shops however the main reason for visiting here is the wildlife. Kaikoura is one of the only places in New Zealand where you can see whales all year round. Sperm whales can be seen here all year and depending on the season you may also see migrating humpback whales, pilot whales, blue whales and southern right whales.

The driving distance is approximately 110 kilometres with a journey time of around two hours.

You will be staying at Manakau Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 8

Whale Watching Trip
Kaikoura is New Zealand's world famous whale watching destination. Sperm Whales can be seen here year-round while seven other whale species visit regularly. Encounter New Zealand Fur Seals, pods of Dusky Dolphins and the endangered Wandering Albatross. See migrating Humpback, Blue Whales and Southern Right Whales, although this will depend on the time of year. Whale Watch is New Zealand's only marine-based whale watching company offering visitors an exciting up-close encounter with the Giant Sperm Whale at all times of the year.

You will be staying at Manakau Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 9

Drive from Kaikoura to Christchurch

Today continue down the coast before heading inland through the North Canterbury wine region, the Waipara Valley. As you drive through this area you will be greeted by one of New Zealand's most notorious animals, the sheep. We recommend taking a detour to Hanmer Springs for relaxing dip in its thermal pools. Arriving into Christchurch see a new and improved city, steadily rising from the ruins of the 2011 earthquake.

The driving distance is approximately 170 kilometres with a journey time of around two hours.

You will be staying at The George Hotel, bed and breakfast

Day 10

Drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook Village

Drive through the heart of the South Island, crossing the vast Canterbury plains. Catch your breath in Geraldine before continuing through Fairlie. Ascending Burkes pass you come to the picturesque lakeside town of Tekapo.

Follow the road and take in the view of Aoraki Mt Cook (New Zealand's tallest mountain) from the shores of Lake Pukaki, known for its glacier fed turquoise blue colour. Continue along the lake to your final destination Mt Cook Village.

Choose to view the Mt Cook National Park by ski plane, or land on one of the glaciers in a helicopter. Find your sense of adventure and kayak on a glacial lake or test your legs on one of the many walking tracks in and around the village. Before leaving, a visit to the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre is a must do.

The driving distance is approximately 350 kilometres with a journey time of around four hours.

Scenic Flight including Glacier Landing
Make your way to the Mount Cook airfield and board your ski plane for a flight over the Southern Alps, offering spectacular views over the glacial landscape. Fly beneath the face of Mount Cook and along the length of the Tasman glacier before landing on the glacier itself. The flight is approximately 40 minutes in length and includes a 10-minute glacier landing.

You will be staying at The Hermitage, bed and breakfast

Day 11

Glacier Explorers Mount Cook
Experience 500 year old icebergs up-close on the Mount Cook terminal lake. The Glacier Explorers tour is the only one of its kind in New Zealand - and one of only three in the world. Very few glaciers terminate into lakes and even fewer of them are accessible. See towering ice cliffs and floating icebergs from the safety of a specially designed boat. These boats provide a safe way to view unseen and inaccessible areas of New Zealand's largest glacier - The Tasman.

You will be staying at The Hermitage, bed and breakfast

Day 12

Drive from Mount Cook Village to Dunedin

Depart Mount Cook National Park and travel past Twizel, one of the locations for the Lord of the Rings films. Drive through Omarama, gliding capital of New Zealand. Be sure to stop at The Wrinkly Ram, a great local cafe also offering sheep shearing demonstrations. Driving through the Waitaki Valley follow the hydro power generating system towards the east coast.

Stretch your legs in Oamaru, known for its white stone buildings constructed with the local Oamaru Stone. If you were a little late off the mark this morning you may get the chance to see the blue penguins come ashore at dusk.

Continue south down the coast to Moeraki, and take a detour towards the beach to see the Moeraki Boulders, a unique geological feature well worth a look. As you arrive in Dunedin, take in the city’s Edwardian and Scottish heritage reflected in the buildings around the city centre, The Octagon.

The driving distance is approximately 318 kilometres with a journey time of around four hours.

You will be staying at Fletcher Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 13

Monarch Wildlife Cruises Half day tour and Yellow Eyed Penguin Reserve
A half day tour of the Otago Peninsula and its unique wildlife including a cruise through Dunedin Harbour. Visit Penguin Place to view the rare yellow eyed penguin. The tour also includes a scenic bus tour and the wading bird wetlands.

You will be staying at Fletcher Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 14

Drive from Dunedin to Te Anau

The drive to Te-Anau takes you through classic Southland farming scenery. Head off-the-beaten-track today and follow the coastline instead of the inland route. Go through The Catlins area and be sure to take a detour to Kaka Point to view its majestic cliffs and pounding surf. Continue through Invercargill to Riverton and Colac Bay, and then head north to Manapouri. From here you can embark on a day or overnight cruise to the remote Doubtful Sound, renowned for its natural beauty. Just a short way further will bring you to your lakeside destination of Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound.

The driving distance is approximately 387 kilometres with a journey time of around five hours.

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves
Take a scenic cruise across lake Te Anau on board the luxury catamaran, Luminosa. On arrival enter the caves through Cavern House, where informative displays detail the history of this 12,000-year-old underground network. Explore by limestone pathway spotting whirlpools, sculpted rock formations and a rushing underground waterfall. See a magical display of thousands of glow-worms as you glide through the darkness in a small boat.

You will be staying at Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas, bed and breakfast

Day 15

Drive from Te Anau to Manapouri

This short drive takes you along the lake edge of Te Anau and across lush southern farmlands to the small township of Lake Manapouri, gateway to Doubtful Sound.

The driving distance is approximately 18 kilometres with a journey time of around thirty minutes.

Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise
The Doubtful Sound cruise departs the Real Journey Visitors Centre (Pearl Harbour, Manapouri) at 12:30, please check-in at least 20 minutes prior to this time. Meals included in your cruise are dinner and breakfast.

A Doubtful Sound overnight cruise on board the Fiordland Navigator offers a very special dinner, bed and breakfast wilderness experience. The Fiordland Navigator, is designed along the lines of a traditional New Zealand coastal trading scow to reflect Fiordland's heritage. The vessel has spacious deck areas for viewing the wilderness scenery and wildlife of Doubtful Sound. Of particular interest, if sighted, are fur seals, dolphins, and in season, rare penguins. Activities include kayaking and excursions in the tender vessels (stabi craft) to explore the coastline.

Departing Manapouri at 12:30 enjoy a short cruise across beautiful Lake Manapouri and after a coach trip over Wilmot Pass, to board the Fiordland Navigator at Deep Cove, Doubtful Sound.

There is plenty of time on this cruise to enjoy the stunning views and to discover the hidden arms of Doubtful Sound. Fur seals and bottlenose dolphins are often seen and at times, rare penguins can be observed. There is also time to kayak around the shoreline or go exploring in the tender craft with a nature guide. As the shadows lengthen the anchor will drop at a favourite mooring for the night. After the days activities, enjoy a delicious evening buffet meal in the spacious dining saloon. After enjoying sunrise in the sound a hearty breakfast awaits before the journey back to Manapouri to disembark at around midday.

You will be staying at Fiordland Navigator, Doubtful Sound, full board

Day 16

Disembark your cruise at midday.

Drive from Manapouri to Queenstown

Crossing rolling tussock lands, pass through Mossburn, the deer capital of New Zealand. Continue north through Southland countryside towards Lake Wakatipu. The road now hugs the lake edge and the Remarkable mountain range towers above as you approach Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand.

The driving distance is approximately 166 kilometres with a journey time of around two hours.

You will be staying at The Rees, bed and breakfast

Day 17

Dart River Wilderness Safaris
Considered some of the most scenic jet boating in New Zealand, this one and half hour safari is set among the towering mountains and remote wilderness of Mt Aspiring National Park. You'll follow your boat journey with a walk through ancient forests, left unchanged for 80 million years. Hear an informative and entertaining commentary on the area and its history - including the quest by early Maori for highly prized pounamu (greenstone). Visit the small hamlet of Paradise and beyond, an opportunity to explore a region that's not just spectacular in itself - but home to many inconic scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogies.

You will be staying at The Rees, bed and breakfast

Day 18

Drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier

Today drive north via Lakes Hawea and Wanaka and through the Haast Pass to the West Coast of the South Island. Drive in the Westland National Park to the township of Franz Josef.

The driving distance is approximately 350 kilometres with a journey time of around five hours.

You will be staying at Westwood Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 19

Explore Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef is small but lively town in the heart of the West Coast, known for its 12-kilometre long glacier. Surrounded by lush rainforest-clad mountains the township has a vibrant and bustling atmosphere.

Franz Josef Heli Hike
Take an exciting scenic flight over all three icefalls of the Franz Josef Glacier. Landing high up on the glacier, take a two hour guided trip amongst some of the most beautiful terrain available. The experienced guide chooses the route, with an eye for the most spectacular ice formations to walk through. The panoramic views of the glacier and surrounding mountains are breathtaking. There will be plenty of opportunities to take the perfect photograph and the chance to learn more about glaciers. For many this is one of the most memorable experiences in New Zealand.

You will be staying at Westwood Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 20

Drive from Franz Josef Glacier to Greymouth

Today head north through the historic gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its Greenstone (Pounamu) this seaside town has a rich history dating back to the 1860s. Head to the coast and take in the endless sea-views or pick up a souvenir at one of the many craft shops. Continue on to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast and the starting point for the next leg of your journey, the Tranz Alpine Scenic Train. Drop your rental car at the Greymouth Train Station depot located inside the train station building before boarding your train to Christchurch.

The driving distance is approximately 170 kilometres with a journey time of around two hours.

Tranz Alpine Scenic train Greymouth to Christchurch
Considered one of the worlds great train journeys, the Tranz Alpine scenic train takes you from Greymouth to Christchurch. You'll travel from the Tasman Sea through Arthurs Pass National Park to the Pacific Ocean.

From your carriage you will rise up from the lush rain forest of the West coast to the spectacular mountains of the Southern Alps. Traveling through gorges and the river valley of the Waimakariri River you'll descend onto the farmland of the Canterbury plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch.

You will be staying at The George Hotel, bed and breakfast

Day 21

Day at leisure in Christchurch


Below you can see some of the wonderful places we recommend you stay on your journey.

The George Hotel

The George Hotel

Overlooking Hagley Park and the River Avon in central Christchurch, The George Hotel has 53 elegant rooms, most of which make the most of the verdant views from either a balcony or floor to ceiling picture windows....

View Accommodation

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

Ringed by the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, the Hermitage has been welcoming visitors to Mount Cook National Park since 1884....

View Accommodation

Breckenridge Lodge

Breckenridge Lodge

Breckenridge Lodge is nestled in the picturesque valley of Omarunui, a short drive from the Art Deco city of Napier....

View Accommodation

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of New Zealand

Amy Waters, Travel Expert

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Deborah Brock-Doyle, Travel Expert

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For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

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