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New Zealand in Three Weeks

So you have booked three weeks holiday and you’re planning your trip to New Zealand. Don’t worry 3 weeks is a good amount of time and with our guide you will experience the best of New Zealand whilst maximizing everyday. Trust us, we traveled this awesome country for 8 months in our very own camper van (Colin), so it goes without saying we know all thing or two about this subject. Oh and by the way, yes New Zealand is as good as they say it is and some!

To start, we would advise spending 1 week in the North Island and 2 weeks in the South Island and that you most definitely need to hire a camper van! To maximize your time we also advise to fly into Auckland and out of Christchurch. Even though the less touristy North Island is just as beautiful as the South, it goes without saying, the South Island has many more attractions to enjoy, especially when on a 3 week time frame.

New Zealand 3 week guide                                                                                                   Courtesy of Google Maps

Week one overview:

Auckland – Hobbiton – Rotorua – Tongariro Crossing – Wellington

Week two overview:

Picton  Abel Tasman – St Arnaud and Nelson Lakes – Pancake Rocks – Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph

Week three overview:

Wanaka – Queenstown – Milford Sounds – Mount Cook – Christchurch

Week 1: The North Island

Day one: Auckland

Morning and Afternoon: A great way to explore Auckland’s’ harbour is to ride the ferry over to Rangitoto Volcanic Island. There are 3 ferries which depart during the morning with the last leaving around 12:15. So be sure to make it an early start to make the most of the day. The journey takes around 30 minutes ,with the last ferry from Rangitoto leaving at 3:30pm. The ferry ride itself is worth the money and the island itself is an absolute gem. Most people visit Waiheke island making Rangitoto a much quieter place away from the tourists. There are various walks you can enjoy on the Island, check them out here.

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Evening:  Visit the Sky Tower. Located in the heart of Auckland’s vibrant city center, the Sky Tower gives you the perfect opportunity to enjoy the sun setting over the amazing sky line. Tickets are often hard to purchase on the day so it may be a good idea to book before arriving. Click here to check latest deals.

Day 2: Hobbiton as the sun goes down

A long drive from early morning to early afternoon down will see you arrive in MataMata south of Auckland and the home of Bilbo, Frodo! If you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit and let’s be honest, who isn’t? Then while in New Zealand this is a must do! I didn’t know what to expect when arriving here but what a magical place this is. When deciding on buying tickets to Hobbiton, we would suggest buying tickets for the evening. Paying the extra is worth it as you get to have a feast Green Dragon Pub (the Hobbits local watering hole) and a night tour of the set. It will certainly be a highlight of your trip. Check out Hobbiton prices here.

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Day 3 and 4 – Rotorua’s Geothermal Wonderland and the Tamaki Mouri Village

Another early start to arrive in Rotorua. The reason Rotorua is famous, is of course for its natural hot springs due to its high geothermal activity. This brings a high amount of visitors in the summer months but during the off-peak season, its nice a quiet. The best place to experience the geothermal activity is without a doubt the Wai-O-tapu Thermal Wonderland. Here you will find active geysers,  natural coloured hot springs, bubbling mud pits (weirdly mesmerizing), massive volcanic craters and more! Great day out and really interesting. Check out the prices here.

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For the evening we would recommend the Tamaki Mouri village. To start, you arrive by coach to the village, here your instantly taken back in time to when the native Mouri people lived. You are greeted with a traditional Mauri welcome (once again terrifying) and then taken through to the village where you’re shown how the Mauri’s used to live, with the chance to learn the Hakka (although my attempt looked more like Macarena). After a really enjoyable tour of the village, you’re then asked to take a seat in the restaurant to fill you belly’s with a special prepared traditional Mouri feast. To finish the awesome evening, the Mouri chief and his family display an impressive performance including the Hakka, so get your cameras at the ready! Check out Tamaki Mouri Village here.

Day 5: Tongariro National Park

A couple of hours drive from Rotorua you will arrive at the Tongariro National Park. The most obvious trek to do is the Tongariro Cross Great Walk, and this is exactly what we would advise. This walk is simple awesome and there is no wonder why this is voted the best one day walk in New Zealand! The 7-8 hour hike takes in views of three volcanoes: Tongariro, Ruapehu (Mount Doom) and Ngauruhoe. If you have enough time and you can opt to climb Ruapehu as part of the walk. The view from the top across the Tongariro is superb and you can even see Mount Tarnaki on the North Island. This adds at least 3 hours onto the overall time but worth the effort. If you’re an inexperienced climber please note that most of the mountain is made of scree making it difficult to hold a footing. So please be careful when coming down and watch out for loose rocks rolling past. For up to date information on the crossings accessability please always check the official DOC website here when planning.

Day 6: Windy Wellington

After an early (3.5 hour) drive from Tongariro, you will arrive in Wellington for lunch time. Wellington has a range of things to do and see but given you only have a day, we would suggest to head straight to the Te Papa Museum. Here you can spend 2 hours or a full day and whats more it’s completely free. A superb museum encompassing everything about New Zealand. Personally we visited the museum for 5 hours and found this to be enough.

Parking at the Te Papa Museum is perfect for our camper van as you can stay for 24 hours for a reasonable price. Meaning you can sleep right in the center of Wellington very cheaply, with everything at your feet.

For the evening, take a walk in the city center. Wellington is a very cool place to be, with its hipster coffee culture, bars and restaurants you will be spoilt for choice on where to spend the evening.

Day 7: Ferry to Picton

In the morning, take the car ferry over to Wellington to Picton. Believe me when I say that this ferry ride is like non other and has been voted the best  in the world. As you leave Wellington Harbor you take in the incredible Cook Straight, then onto the famous Marlborough Sounds where you will find amazing turquoise waters with green hills and a dolphin or two if you’re lucky.

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For the ferry crossing you have a choice of two main providers, these are Blue Bridge and Interislander. These companies are pretty similar and do the same job but the prices are usually different depending on what offers are available and what type of size your camper is. Check out the Interislander websites here and the Blue Bridge here.

Week Two: The South Island

Day 8: Abel Tasman

As you will aware the Abel Tasman is one of the many gems in the South Island and is the home of the Tasman Great Walk. This walk is technically a “two-day hike” but ignore this and save yourself time and money by doing this in one day. The walk itself is easy “there and back” with no hard sections, hugging the coastline. The terrain is cliff top, forestry and board walks and takes around 10 hours (we took it easy). The views are beautiful, so have your camera at the ready.

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If your not feeling a hike, we would recommend taking a kayaking trip down the coast for the day. Check out for more.

Day 9: St Arnaud and Nelson Lakes

One of New Zealand’s hidden gems in our books. While a lot of people use this road as a means to get to the coast, make sure you stop off for a day in St Arnaud. This is a place with views worthy of any postcard. For information on our day hike click here.

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Day 10: Pancake Rocks and Hokitika

Today is a relaxing drive through the country side of nelson lakes to the coast where you will find the awesome Pancake Rocks. A popular tourist spot, but its worth putting up the hive of people. The coastal attraction is free with a nice path taking you around the rocks that are stacked literally like pancakes. Pretty cool place to enjoy for a couple of hours.

Hokitika itself is a small township on the coast with a nice beach and the now famous HOKITIKA sign made from drift wood. The best attraction in here is most definitely Hokitika gorge which is around 20 min’s inland. The gorge itself is popular with photo loving tourists taking snaps of the turquoise river.

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Day 11 and 12: Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph

Early drive today to arrive at Franz Josef. Famous for the Glacier, Franz Josef will not disappoint. Most people will take the popular (easy) route to see the glacier. But if you like us, you like to be work a bit harder for a better view then take the longer route off the beaten path. This is clearly marked once you arrive and is about 3 hours round trip. After your visit Franz Josef, drive to the Fox Glacier area to set up camp for the night. Parking is limited here and accommodation is few and far between, personally we managed to freedom camp on some public land but were lucky, so plan in advance.

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In the morning, rise early to beat the crowd. The Glacier itself is probably the lease impressive of the two but still pretty cool. Over the past two decades the glacier has receded massively, all the more reason to appreciate the view right?

Early afternoon its time to make a detour towards the Lake Matherson, around 20 min’s away off the main highway.  For us this was the best part of the Glacier region, a 2 hour walk around the lake gives you incredible views of Fox Glaciers in all its splendor. You will want to take your time getting the perfect shot as this lake is so dark it gives the perfect mirror reflection of the mountain. After the Lakes we suggest you drive to Wanaka 3 hours south to arrive early evening.

Day 13 and 14: Wanaka

Roys Peak hike is one of the most rewarding hikes you will ever do. The views of half way up this steep walk are incredible. As this walk is so popular, it’s a good idea to get up before sunrise and drive around 20 mins out of Wanaka and find a parking space as these go pretty fast. The walk itself is around 5-6 hours in total but this is well worth the effort. Check out my top ten alternative hikes in New Zealand for more information on Roys Peak.

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In the evening you need to visit the boutique cinema. This is most definitely the coolest cinema you will ever visit. Take your pick of all the different kind of seats, sofas and hairdressing chairs to enjoy the movie on. Mid film intervals gives you the chance to try out the home-made giant cookies (freshly made during the first half of the movie) and hot chocolate. The perfect treat after a good days hike.

The next day in Wanaka you will drive 1 hour 15 min’s to the Rob Roy glacier walk. This walk is around 2 – 3 hours long and is pretty easy. Spectacular views of the valley and at the end a nice spot to sit and have lunch while enjoying the glacier view. Please note the road is generally gravel and bumpy. We saw a lot of people in small rental cars missing bumpers on the way so just make sure you have proper insurance in New Zealand just in case. On the way back be sure to stop off at Lake Wanaka to take a pic of the Wanaka Tree and enjoy the beach.

Week Three: The South Island

Day 15 and 16:  Queenstown

A little over 1 hours drive south is Queenstown. For the morning  we recommend the Frisbee course in the park, this is heaps of fun. To do so, walk into town and rent out a couple of Frisbee’s for around $10-15 and play the full 18 holes.

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In the afternoon its time for you to let go of your fears and treat yourselves to something you have never experienced before! Queenstown is home of the worlds best extreme activities and you are spoilt for choice. We personally opted for paragliding which was an incredible experience. Definitely book your activity here.

The next day is a hiking day and trust me its a good one! The Ben Lomond track is an 8 hour hike with a steed incline taking in amazing views across the mountainous region and for us one of best views we ever had! If you are lucky you may even come across a Kia or two at the top of the peak. For more information on the track click here.

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After your long days hike, it’s now time to treat yourselves to the famous Fergburger joint. The portions are pretty big even for our huge appetites.

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Day 17 and 18: Milford Sound

Today you have 3.5 hour drive to the incredible Milford Sound and its certainly worth it. The famous fiords of the sounds is home to Hector Dolphins, Bottle Nose Dolphins, Seals and Penguins. There are a number of tour providers and personally we opted for the Juicy cruise. Check out discounted deals here.

 

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The next day be sure to visit the Key Summit track. This a pretty easy 3 hour hike with breath taking views to enjoy. Take your time and relax, remember this is what New Zealand is all about.

After your hike, take the scenic drive back to Queenstown and set up camp for the night.

Day 19 & 20: Mount Cook

3 Hours north of Queenstown is Mount Cook national park. Today is a full day of trail walking to explore the magnificent area of natural beauty. The first hike is the Hooker Valley track which takes around 3 hours. After the easy walk head over to the DOC center where you will find the museum showing the history of the area. We spent around two hours in here.

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For the second day we recommend the Sealy Tarns walk. This walk takes around 3 hours and a word of warning, this is pretty tiring. The walk is mainly steps (2000 plus), but the reward you get once you reach the view point is spectacular. We spent around an hour at the top enjoying the view whilst having lunch. In the afternoon its now time to visit the Tasman Glacier. Situated around 15 mins drive from the Mount Cook village, this is an easy 1 hour return walk taking in the glacier and the blue lakes.

Day 21: Christchurch

If you have time on the day of your flight, you have two options. One, venture into the city and shop or Two, visit the Banks Peninsula / Akaroa. Personally we visited the city center as like many tourists, we were interested in how the city has come along since the devastating earthquakes in 2011.  Well worth a visit.

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Thank you for reading our blog. We hope you enjoy New Zealand as much as we did. Please follow our Instagram feed for more inspiration on your next trip. Safe travels and if you have any questions please just ask. P.s: remember to check hikes we have recommended with the DoC sitefor more infomation and safety advice.

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