Grand Tour of New Zealand: How to Plan for a 4-Week Epic Trip

Mount Cook Road Trip Lake Pukaki New Zealand

New Zealand is not a country you visit just to soak up the sun from the comfort of a lounger by the pool.
While there may be days when hitting the beach sounds like a great idea, this is a location that screams adventure. Touring New Zealand opens up an array of experiences with so much to see and do. Visitors who are planning to embark upon an epic voyage here won’t be disappointed when they touch down on the tarmac surrounded by imposing mountain ranges and verdant forests. From the airport, adventure awaits around every corner, and which is why planning is so important.

If a holiday in New Zealand is on the horizon, here are some tips to plan an astounding trip.

Getting around in New Zealand

New Zealand may not be the biggest country in the world, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sheer beauty and character. But getting around is a must: It’s virtually impossible to stay in one place with the lure of spectacular scenery and unique experiences too tempting to ignore. This a country where it really pays to travel, see the sights, and explore different parts of the islands. The good news is that it’s very easy to get around. Driving is a popular option, and there are also organised tours, which take care of transport and accommodation.

Self-drive

Self-drive New Zealand holidays are incredibly popular. The roads are quiet, well-maintained, and it’s possible to cross both islands and venture from the north to the south with minimal hassle.

Car hire is affordable, the roads are easy to navigate and there isn’t a huge amount of driving involved due to the diminutive size of the islands. Many people choose to fly into either Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, pick up a car at the airport and hit the open roads straight away. With self-drive options available there is much greater flexibility to roam at leisure, enjoy your own privacy and take control of the itinerary.

Camping is a popular option for travellers, too, and renting a campervan is an inexpensive way to sort out accommodation while travelling from A to B. The best thing to do when planning a road trip in New Zealand is to grab a map, do some reading and draw up a rough itinerary.

Panoramic view nature landscape in south island New Zealand

Escorted tours

Escorted tours are a fantastic way to see New Zealand without having to drive. With organised tours, visitors can benefit from itineraries that are designed to tick off all the highlights in one go, and they can also take advantage of expert insight and the opportunity to spend time with like-minded travellers. There’s a diverse range of day tours and escorted trips available in New Zealand, offering excellent ways to see the best that this magical country has to offer in a relatively short space of time. See the sights, make new friends, and enjoy some downtime in between.

Rail, cruising and ferries

New Zealand is known as a brilliant road trip destination, but it also boasts an excellent public transport system with incredible rail journeys and cruises. If driving isn’t an option, it’s possible to explore every corner of these enchanting islands. There are local and long-distance bus and coach services, regular train services and the opportunity to enjoy scenic boat trips in spectacular locations.

Planning an itinerary

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when planning a New Zealand travel itinerary is how to get from A to B. Once this has been established, it’s much easier to put tours and trips together, and come up with a plan that is packed with highlights and days to remember.

When driving around New Zealand, it’s wise to work out when and where to stop off, note down driving distances, and book hotels or hostels along the way. Hiring a campervan is a great option for those who would rather save money on accommodation. Many people choose to combine driving with internal flights, for example, when moving from South Island to North Island and travelling from Christchurch to Wellington.

If driving isn’t an option, design an itinerary that covers travel from one place to the next. Escorted tours take care of many attractions and must-see destinations, but it’s also possible to combine New Zealand tours with independent travel by making use of train and bus services.

When putting plans together, focus on the timeframe and draw up a list of priorities. For a 4-week trip, it should be possible to get around both islands, but it’s wise to ensure that priorities are catered for to avoid disappointment. Most people don’t want to leave South Island without paying Milford Sound a visit or scaling Fox Glacier, for example.

Where to stay in New Zealand

New Zealand holidays are often centred on action and adventure, so finding somewhere comfortable to lay your head is a must. There are multiple options available for tourists, from hostels and campsites to guest houses, B&Bs and hotels. When driving, it shouldn’t be difficult to stumble across a place to rest for the night, but bear in mind that it can get busy during peak periods, so it’s best to book in advance. If campervan hire is an option under consideration, there’s an abundance of facilities on offer on both islands.

Highlights: what to see on a Grand Tour of New Zealand

New Zealand is such a unique country, and there’s absolutely no risk of ever getting bored or running out of ideas for a day out. Comprising of two islands, New Zealand offers a veritable feast of excursions and some truly breathtaking natural wonders, in addition to cosmopolitan cities, charming seaside towns and incredible national parks. There’s a seemingly never-ending list of highlights, including:

North Island

Champagne Pool at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua
A city like no other. Bursting with bubbling mud pools, explosive geysers and soothing natural thermal pools, this is an area of intense geothermal activity, which attracts tourists from all over the globe.

The thermal pools provide a welcoming respite after a day of hiking, mountain biking or climbing, and they are often flanked by stunning scenery. What could be better than relaxing in the hot baths staring out over crystal clear lakes and rugged mountain ranges?

Lake Taupo

A hive of activity is centred around the stunning tranquil waters of this lake. The charming town is a popular stop-off for backpackers, as well as those embarking on a more luxurious voyage of discovery. The town offers a raft of activities, including skydiving, and bungee jumping. A visit to nearby Huka Falls also comes highly recommended.

Auckland

Auckland is a thriving, trendy metropolis, which is an idyllic base for enjoying the high life and exploring the more remote beauty spots on North Island. From the bustling streets, it’s easy to enjoy a change of pace with a day trip to Waitomo Caves, the Coromandel Peninsula or Waiheke Island.

Tongariro Crossing

Hikers won’t want to miss the opportunity to take on the famous Tongariro Crossing. Located in Tongariro National Park, this is one of the most iconic hiking trails in the world. The route treats intrepid explorers to stunning views of alpine forests, masterful mountain ranges and snow-covered meadows. Spanning 19.4 kilometres, this hike isn’t for the faint-hearted, but those who do reach the end will be rewarded handsomely with incredible vistas and an overriding sense of achievement. The weather conditions can be unpredictable, so it’s wise to check conditions before setting off.

South Island

Christchurch

Christchurch is a picturesque city, which is ideally located to explore both the North and South Islands. Many people choose to spend a day looking around before catching a flight or starting a road trip. Highlights include the Botanic Gardens, Hagley Park and the Canterbury Museum.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a waterside gem, which plays host to animal lovers from all over the world. This is a spot renowned for its incredible whale watching opportunities, with tours available on a daily basis. Most commonly, visitors are able to catch a glimpse of sperm whales in the water, but it’s also possible to see orcas, humpback whales and blue whales depending on the time of year.

The Milford Sound fiord. Fiordland national park, New Zealand with milky way

Milford Sound and Fiordland

Fiordland National Park is a gem in New Zealand’s crown. This watery paradise oozes serenity, and it’s a location that holds great value and symbolism for Kiwis. Most flock here to see Milford Sound, a fiord that is dominated by carved out cliff walls and Mitre Peak. You can hear the water and see the summit piercing the sky long before it’s possible to see the impossibly calm surface of this giant pool. The best way to explore is by boat, and the views are best on a clear day.

Glaciers

New Zealand boasts a dazzling collection of glaciers, but the most high-profile are the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. These glaciers are located just a short drive from Queenstown, the vibrant hub of the west of the island, and it’ possible to join guided hiking tours and enjoy panoramic views from the sparkling ice sheets above. For an extra special treat, why not book a helicopter tour?

New Zealand tourism is thriving and it’s not hard to see why! When planning an epic voyage, there’s a scintillating selection of sights, attractions, natural wonders, cities and towns to enjoy, and a four-week adventure is guaranteed to produce memories that will last a lifetime.