3 Weeks In New Zealand Itinerary

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To many people, New Zealand seems like a faraway land to get to. If you are coming from North or South America, Europe, and Africa, it can be a long trip to New Zealand.

But I assure you, it’s all worth it. The distance of travel is something to consider for sure, this is why 3 weeks in New Zealand is perfect.w

New Zealand is a great choice if you are looking for an annual holiday destination. There are so many places that can only be found in this country. Are you a LOTR or Hobbit fan? Well, you can visit the filming location of Bag End. Do you know that you can pay with Hobbit money in New Zealand?

Have you been dreaming of seeing the famous Kiwi animal? Perhaps you have been looking forward to seeing Dunedin, the town with the world’s steepest road (slope of 19 degrees). How about exploring the country that was the last place humans inhabited?

There are many more reasons to visit New Zealand and spend your vacation here. In this article, I will show you my 3 weeks in New Zealand itinerary from the North Island to the South Island. If you are unfamiliar with those terms, they cover the entire country.

BASIC TRAVEL TIPS FOR NEW ZEALAND

southern lights, auckland, hobbiton - 3 weeks in new zealand

Not only should you remember that New Zealand is south of the hemisphere (which means summer in Europe is winter here), but you should also know these basic things about New Zealand.

These things will help you plan your travel itinerary and determine which places you want to see the most and which can be on the “maybe or plan B” list.

If you don’t know much about New Zealand or travelling with someone else, perhaps you can discuss this destination better with these interesting facts about New Zealand, which are also suitable if you’re travelling with young children. Learning about these things will also help you plan or write your itinerary.

Time difference

New Zealand is on GMT+13 or UTC+12. That’s 20 hours ahead of Los Angeles, 12 hours ahead of Paris, and 5 hours ahead of Singapore. Not to mention the additional or an hour fewer during daylight saving time.

If you are coming from the West, going to New Zealand means you are losing hours and going home means you are gaining hours or maybe even a day. This is why I only made this itinerary for 18-20 days. This will give you plenty of free time to prepare before you leave or time to relax once you get home from New Zealand.

Rent a car or not

Just like the UK, New Zealanders drive on the left. If you don’t mind this and are up for adventure in a car, I recommend you rent a car for the duration of your trip. Having your own transportation also gives you the freedom to go and leave whenever. This will also save you so much more time.

Around $30 a day is the cost of a rental car in New Zealand. You can even do a one-way car rental. For example, pick up the car in Auckland, and drive it all the way to Christchurch, where you can take your flight out of the country.

Don’t worry. There is a ferry that takes cars when crossing the Cook Straight, also known as Wellington, to Picton. If, for some reason, you started with a car and want to give it up in the middle of your trip or want to get one, just head to major cities like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queensland. Even the small town of Picton has an Avis car rental centre.

If you plan to drive or rent a car in New Zealand, make sure you have a valid international driver’s license if your license from home is not 100% in English. Other than that, you are good to go.

Other ways to get around New Zealand

You can also take public transportation if you don’t want that idea. There is a decent train system in New Zealand, and they are usually on time, and they are also affordable. In cities, there are intercity and other buses go from city to city. Ride-hailing apps are called Uber, zoomy, and Ola NZ.

Of course, another mode of transportation is by plane. There are plenty of domestic flights throughout the country, usually at a reasonable price.

However, if you want to rent a car in some parts of the country and then take flights sometimes, you can do that. But it requires you to take a look at your options in advance so you don’t waste your money and overbook.

You want to make sure there are direct flights between the cities or else, you might as well drive than waste time during flight connections.

For example, you can pick up a rental car in Auckland and bring take it to Rotorua. From Rotorua, you can drop off the car and fly to Wellington. Then pick up another vehicle in Wellington to take to South Island or you can fly from Wellington to Christchurch and get another car there to travel around the south.

When is the best time to go to New Zealand

If you are looking for a sunny and warm holiday, planning to go snorkelling, swimming on the lakes, hiking, and outdoor activities, December to March is the best time to go to New Zealand.

However, you should also remember that school is on break during this time, so the crowd is bigger in popular places. A price hike in accommodation and other holiday or tourism businesses is possible.

On the other hand, if you want to go skiing, hiking in the snow, and other winter activities, June to September is the wintertime in New Zealand. While for the locals, it could still be a holiday break. There are not as many tourists.

For those who want to see the famous aurora borealis, don’t worry. It’s all year round. However, the best time to see the sky lit green is from March until September.

TOP TIP: How to pack for a 3-week vacation

Are 3 weeks enough for New Zealand

Depending on your transportation of choice and the number of places to see, New Zealand can be done in 20 days. You can plan to spend 10 days on the north island and 10 days on the south island. This can be done in 3 weeks if you rent a car and have the freedom to go and leave.

It can be slower if you plan to use another land-based transportation, such as a bus. But if you mix it with taking domestic flights, it can be done. You can also save time by booking tour packages, allowing you to take a break from all the driving as well.

So basically, you can probably add 4-5 cities in your 3 weeks in New Zealand itinerary. If you want to travel slower, you can fit 3-4 cities or if you want a jampacked plan 5-6 is possible too.

Average cost of 20 days in New Zealand

On average, a single person will spend $2,500. It can be brought down to $1,900 if you are OK with sleeping in bunk beds in hostel dorms. Suppose you prefer luxury, $6,500 to $10,000 and up for this 3-week trip is ideal. This budget excludes flights to and from New Zealand.

You can also spend a little less if you plan the trip during the low season, between June and October, unless you plan to ski. If you’re staying longer and unsure how to budget, this guide on what a trip to New Zealand costs might be helpful.

Language and currency

The main language in New Zealand is English. All the road signs are in English and you should have an easy time communicating with the locals.

There’s also Te Reo Māori, which is the native language of the indigenous Māori people, and New Zealand Sign Language. Both are official languages too, but English is the one you’ll hear most often.

The main currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). Tourists usually need to pay NZD when buying things or paying for services. It’s easy to pay with a bank card (cashless) anywhere in New Zealand, although you should carry cash just for emergencies.

While some places might accept major currencies like US dollars, it’s not common, and the exchange rates may not be favourable. It’s best to use local currency or pay with a credit card that can handle currency conversion.

Visa

New Zealand provides free visas to travellers with passports from Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, North America, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Australian visitors have free movement for an indefinite time.

All visitors must have NZeTA, which must be obtained before boarding your flight to New Zealand. You can get it online, which can take up to 72 hours.

Package tours

For those who want to make their 3 weeks in New Zealand more comfortable, you can book a package tour. This is when the travel company arranges everything for you. From hotels, transport, food, and activities – all you have to do is show up.

Other travel tips

Planning a trip can be time-consuming and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. When planning a trip, I make sure to use travel sites with flexible cancellations and offer a wide selection in terms of price, location, and comfortability.

Here’s a list of my favourite travel tools and services where I book my travel arrangements. From the hotel, flights, tours, cruises, = and even travel insurance and airport pickup to ensure my trip is hassle-free and with little to zero issues.

TOP PLACES TO SEE IN NEW ZEALAND (pinned map)

Click the expand icon on the top right to have a larger view of the map. Credit: Map data: Google

3 WEEKS-IN IN NEW ZEALAND ITINERARY

Unlike Australia’s very close neighbour, New Zealand can be explored in 3 weeks. In 21 days, you can visit the southernmost capital city – Wellington. Visit Auckland, Nelson, Christchurch, and Queenstown.

Along the way, you will see not only beautiful glacier lakes, reserved natural parks, do fun water activities, do lots of hiking, and learning about New Zealand’s biggest ethnic group – Maori.

When you look at the map of New Zealand, it’s pretty easy to say that there are two major islands: North Island and South Island. There’s a big chance that your flight will land in Auckland, located on the North Island. If you are arriving in Christchurch, then that will be South Island.

Don’t worry, though, this itinerary can easily be rearranged to fit your arrival destination. This travel itinerary for 3 weeks in New Zealand is here to help you visualise and plan your own.

You don’t have to follow everything I write. But read through as I will highly how many days to spend in each location, attractions to see, how to get around, and food to eat during your visit.

This itinerary is perfect for those travelling to New Zealand for the first time; whether you plan to rent a car, by bus, book domestic flights – or a mixture of all.

RECOMMENDED READ: 3 weeks in Australia itinerary

Day-to-day overview:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, get transferred from the airport to your hotel or pick up your car rental
  • Day 2 to 3: Explore Auckland
  • Day 4: Travel from Auckland to Taupo or Rotorua, choose where is your base
  • Day 4 to 6: Explore Taupo and Rotorua
  • Day 7: Travel from Taupo/Rotorua to Wellington
  • Day 7 to 9: Explore Wellington, either do a day trip to Nelson or make your way to South Island
  • Day 10: Travel from Welling to South Island (Christchurch)
  • Day 11 to 13: Explore Christchurch and the surrounding areas
  • Day 14: Travel to Queenstown
  • Day 15 to 19: Explore Queenstown and the surrounding area
  • Day 20: Travel to the city where you’ll be catching your flight back home or the next destination

North Island for 8-10 days

North Island is the home of Auckland, the most famous city in New Zealand. It is also where you can find many villages and towns that are home to ethnic groups.

You can do so many things in this region, perhaps about 10-12 days here. With that, you will have plenty of time to explore the entire island.

kiwi animal, sky tower, great barrier island - 3 weeks in new zealand

Auckland and surrounding: 4 days

Auckland is a coastal city and most likely the city where your flight will arrive. It has a major harbour that connects the Acukland to many islands, such as Great Barrier Island, Little Barrier Island, Waiheke, Rangitoto, and Ponui Island.

The price ranges from NZ$20 to $100 for one way, and you can even bring your vehicle (for an extra fee).

In the city itself, spending around 2-3 days is enough. If you want to visit the islands and the northernest point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga and Rainbow Waterfalls, add an extra 3-4 days.

Best places to see and things to do in Auckland and around:
Accommodations in Auckland:

Taupo/Rotorua: 4-5 days

After enjoying Auckland, I recommend you decide between Taupo and Rotorua. Both these places are home to rich Maori culture. These two small towns have so much to offer that is so different from the rest of the countries. To be honest, it won’t matter which.

Choose between Rotorua and Taupo as your base for accommodation while exploring this region. There are over 10 must-see attractions here (including the Hobbiton Village), and coming from Auckland is a long way.

Auckland to Taupo is a 3-hour drive, but you can also take the bus, which is around 5 hours. However, if you plan to go to Rotorua from Auckland, that’s a 5-hour bus or a 2 hr and 30 min drive.

Here is a list of places to see around Taupo or Rotorua:
  • Hobbiton Village – sign up for a popular guided tour
  • Hell’s Gate Geothermal Reserve and Mud Spa
  • Huka Falls – check tour options
  • Rainbow Springs Nature Park
  • Redwoods – Whakarewarewa Forest
  • Lake Taupo – book a cruise to see the rock carvings
  • Waimangu Volcanic Valley
  • Taupo Skydive – check the price
  • Craters of the Moon
  • Tongariro National Park
  • Orakei Korako Geothermal – book a self-guided tour
  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing Trail – Ketetahi side
  • Pouakai Circuit – Henry Peak Lookout – optional as it’s really out of the way, located on the west side of the island)
  • Tukino SkifieldCape Kidnappers – take a stopover here on your way to Wellington

Accommodations in Taupo and Rotorua:

Wellington/Nelson: 3-4 days

3 weeks in New Zealand is not complete without a visit to Wellington. A harbour in the south of the North Island. It also has an international airport where flights go directly to Australia and many countries in Southeast Asia. While Nelson is a quiet little town in the north of the South Island.

You can reach Wellington from Rotorua in around 5 hr and 30 mins by car. If you take the bus, that would be a long journey, nearly 10 hours. You can also opt to take a non-stop flight from Rotorua to Wellington or a direct flight from Taupo, it’s a short 1-hour trip and costs somewhere between $50 and up per person.

Once you get to Wellington, you can rent another vehicle to explore the area and even take it to the South Island and discover Nelson.

Personally, I didn’t find many exciting things to do in Nelson, however, from here, it’s only an hour’s drive to Split Apple Rock and Abel Tasman National Park.

Nelson is also an awesome place to simply chill and probably process the places you have seen so far. You can get from Wellington to Nelson by taking the 3.5-hour ferry to cross the Cook Strait.

You will arrive in Picton which is an hour from Nelson. You can take your car on the ferry too. The ticket cost from Wellington to Picton without a vehicle is between NZ$60 to $75. With a car, the price starts at NZ$200 up to $300 (depending on how long the car is, which includes motorhomes).

With a motorbike, the ticket costs from NZ$120 to $175. The price is also different if you are travelling with a pet. Check the ferry prices.

When you arrive in Picton, you can rent a car there if you come to South Island without a car. It’s a tiny harbour town though, and I don’t recommend you stay there since there’s not much to do.

split apple rock, wellington cable car - 3 weeks in new zealand

Here is a list of must-see places in Wellington:

Here is a list of must-see places near Nelson:

  • Pic’s Peanut Butter World
  • Split Apple Rock
  • Abel Tasman National Park – check tour prices

Accommodations in Wellington:

Accommodations in Nelson:

South Island for 8-10 days

South Island offers a very different experience compared to the North Island. From unique landscapes to beautiful animals – South Island is a great destination.

Now, you can base yourself in Christchurch and explore the West Coast, which is about a 3.5-hour drive. Then you can head to Queenstown to enjoy the Fjords of New Zealand.

3 images - on top is the Akaroa viewpoint. on the bottom left is the Wanaka Tree. On the right is the Wanaka Hiking

Christchurch: 2 -3 days

Being in Christchurch will remind you of Europe, England specifically. It has deep roots in English heritage and historic buildings.

In 2010 and 2011, a massive earthquake destroyed many historical places in Christchurch, however, there are still many areas you can visit. From here, you can also visit the famous Franz Josef, which has beautiful glaciers.

From Nelson, it will take 5 hours to drive down to Christchurch. You might be able to take the bus, but that’s a 12-hour long trip. You can also leave the hired car in Nelson and take a flight to Christchurch directly which is under an hour and costs around $100.

Here is a list of must-see places in Christchurch and around the area:

  • International Antarctic Centre
  • Akaroa
  • Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
  • Aoraki/Mount Cook – check tour price
  • Kea Point
  • Glacier Explorers
  • Book a combo tour for TranzAlpine Train, Arthur’s Pass, and Castle Hill
  • Orana Wildlife Park
  • Quake City
  • Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools

Accommodations in Christchurch:

Queenstown: 6 days

Queenstown is a “shore city”, it’s located right on the lade of Wakatipu. It is a popular destination for dozens of outdoor activities which is very famous during the summer (Christmas) season.

Queenstown is a small town but depends highly on tourism, so don’t worry, there are plenty of accommodations to choose from.

It’s about a 6-hour drive from Christchurch to Queenstown. To save some time, you can head to Aoraki on the way to Queenstown. Remember to leave Christchurch early so you won’t come to Queenstown too late. This place works best if you are driving since you have to keep your belongings in your car while exploring some attractions.

There’s also an airport in Queenstown. So, you can simply take the 1-hour flight from Christchurch instead of driving if you’re short on time, but that means you might miss some attractions that you could have seen if you had driven.

There’s also a bus that connects these two cities, the drive will be around 8 hours and 30 minutes.

Here is a list of must-see places in the Queenstown area:

Accommodations in Queenstown:

If you have time, I recommend seeing Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, east of Queenstown and, of course, Stewart Island or Dunedin, two popular spots for the Southern Lights.

EXTRA TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP TO NEW ZEALAND

Here are more tips when writing your own travel itinerary. It will include places you can skip and destinations that you definitely want to visit:

To skip:

I’m not saying these are not worthy places to see. Depending on the things you want to do or the place you are very eager to see, perhaps, you can free up time in your itinerary by skipping these areas.

  • Unless you really want to see the city, I recommend you skip Christchurch
  • You can skip the north part of Northern Island
  • Ski locations unless you are doing any winter activities
  • Skip island or water activities tours unless it’s summer

Spend more time in/Must-sees:

  • Spend more time in Taupo and/or Rotorua – there is just so much to do and see, if you like hiking, take your time doing Tongariro Trail
  • Spend more time in New Zealand Fjords – it’s a massive area and simply stunning
  • Visit the Kiwi birds
  • Definitely don’t skip Hobbiton Village
  • See Aurora Borealis
  • Visit the penguins at Oamaru, Dunedin, or Stewart Island – these penguins are so different from African Penguins

DISHES AND DRINKS FROM NEW ZEALAND TO TRY

3 images of food from New Zealand - on the left is a plate of hangi, in the middle are three anzac biscuits. on the right is a plate of whitebait fritters - 3 WEEKS IN NEW ZEALAND ITINERARY

Food in New Zealand has a very diverse influence from many countries in the world. From Europe and North America to East Asia, and of course – Maori (Pacific Islanders and Polynesians) – you will find something to try here during your 3 weeks in New Zealand visit:

  • Hangi – A traditional Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven.
  • Lamb – Considered to be of the highest quality, often roasted or grilled.
  • Fish and Chips – A popular take-away food, with fresh local seafood.
  • Pavlova – A meringue-based dessert with a crisp crust and soft, light inside, usually topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Often a subject of friendly debate between Aussies and Kiwis about its origin.
  • Meat Pies – A common snack or meal, filled with minced meat and gravy.
  • Kumara – Sweet potatoes that are often roasted, used in salads, or made into chips.
  • Whitebait Fritters – A seasonal delicacy made from tiny, tender fish cooked into an egg-based batter.
  • L&P (as a unique local drink, but let’s keep it in foods for its iconic status) – A soft drink but let’s mention it here for its cultural significance.
  • Mānuka Honey – Unique to New Zealand, known for its health properties and distinct flavour.
  • Anzac Biscuits – Oat-based biscuits, historically made by wives to send to their husbands during World War I.
  • Hokey Pokey Ice Cream – Vanilla ice cream with small, solid lumps of honeycomb toffee.
  • Feijoa Desserts – Anything made from feijoa, a fruit with a unique taste, commonly used in pies or eaten as is.
  • Whittaker’s Chocolate – A popular New Zealand chocolate brand, available in various flavours.
  • Flat White – A coffee drink similar to a latte but with a higher proportion of coffee to milk.
  • New Zealand Wine – Especially the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, which are internationally acclaimed.
  • Craft Beer – The local craft beer scene is vibrant, with many breweries offering unique local flavours.
  • L&P – Lemon & Paeroa, a sweet soft drink originally created in New Zealand.

SUMMARY OF 3 WEEKS IN NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand is a perfect destination for seasonal travellers to spend their 3-week holiday. It offers stunning glaciers, must-do hiking trails, excellent and diverse culture, and very unique experiences.

I hope this 3 weeks in New Zealand itinerary helped you plan your own itinerary to make sure you make the most out of your holiday.

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