New Zealand Oceania Travel

8 Day New Zealand Itinerary: The Best of the North and South Islands

New Zealand is like no place you’ll ever go! Although the generous nature of the locals, plethora of gluten free food options, ubiquitous sheep and vast green rolling hills might all remind you a lot of Ireland.

Other then those similarities, the country is a truly diverse backpacker’s mecca. You can fly in with not much booked and get by easily with hostels, a rental car, and/or a 25 hour bus/ferry flexi-pass through Intercity, which is truly flexible and incredibly cost effective! Seriously, we booked and canceled our busses countless times with zero change fees!

Day 1

I began my short but eventful journey in Christchurch, located in the middle of the South Island. We spent the day exploring the quaint but ghost like city, which was devastated in an earthquake a few years ago.

We stayed in the YMCA, which was conveniently located across the street from the botanical gardens. After a delicious Gluten-free breakfast we headed over to the gardens where we sat under a willow tree admiring the wildlife and the people punting by. Punting is basically like sitting on a gondola in Venice, except the comically dressed man is pushing the boat with a giant stick instead of rowing it. There are also row boats and kayaks rentals available.

Then we headed to Cashel mall, which is literally made entirely of shipping containers. The mall was meant to be a temporary fixture while the city was rebuilt after the earthquake, but the area is actually quite unique and has become a bit of a trademark.

In the evening we caught a bus to Kaikoura where we were greeted by some of the most stunning views I have ever seen! Words cannot do justice to the black sand beaches, snow capped mountains, lush green forest, and the different shades of blue in the oceans waves that connect it all.

Day 2 

We spent our day in Kaikoura like most days, casually waking up at the crack of dawn to play and snorkel with dusky dolphins in the wild. We sufficiently embarrassed ourselves impersonating them by swimming around making dolphin noises trying to get their attention. It was more than worth it to be circled by dozens of dolphins at arms reach.

We then spent the afternoon on the Peninsula Walk in pursuit of a seal colony. After passing several sheep, geese, ducklings, and a run in with an angry flock of nesting seagulls, we found hundreds of fur seals resting on rocks.

The day really couldn’t have been more perfect! Somewhere in between swimming with dolphins and lounging around with seals surrounded by views that can only be captured by the most skilled photographers in postcards, I fell in love with New Zealand and the way I felt at home there in a way I never have anywhere else.

Day 3 

We boarded a bus to Picton where we went on a few nice walks to Bob’s Bay and the Picton harbour lookout. We watched the sunset over the majestic cliffs on the ferry to Wellington through the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds.  We spent the evening at a hostel bar called Blend where it is the norm to dance on tables on a Monday night.  After a sufficiently good night we successfully snuck back into our dorm room at the YHA without waking anyone up (we are now pros at this skilled task).

Day 4 

Our lovely new friends from the ferry showed us around Wellington. We explored the Te Papa museum where we saw the world’s biggest giant dead squid and discovered that whales are really big after standing next to the remains of a baby blue pygmy whale which was a hundred times bigger then me. We also made stops at the Mt. Victoria lookout, the Weta cave and red rocks. I was slightly disappointed to discover that Weta cave is not really a cave and in reality is just a museum for props from movies like Lord of The Rings. We ended the day with a long but surprisingly entertaining 5 hour road trip to Taupo.

Day 5

We spent exploring Tongariro National Park with breathtaking views of snow capped Mt Ruapehu and Mt. Tongariro. We climbed Mead’s wall, which is in Lord of the Rings but was cool regardless of its movie “fame.” We also did two small hikes to Taranaki and Tawhai Falls. Taranaki is a 20 meter waterfall pouring over a large lava formed ring of rocks and Tawhai is a gorgeous sight also formed by lava and used in the Lord of the Rings films. We ended the day with a spontaneous moonlit swim in the free hot springs near Huka Falls in Taupo. We got quite lost in our endeavor to find the hot springs without a light or any real sense of direction and came across several creatures in the dark, which I can only hope were just possums. So if you do venture off to find the free hot springs make sure you bring a flashlight and a local.

Day 6 

We spent roaming around Taupo. After a peaceful solo morning parasail with 360 views of Taupo 800 ft high,  I met back up with my friends for a sail boat ride on Lake Taupo. We sailed (literally they let me sail), to some Mauri rock carvings where we went for a refreshing (freezing) swim and climbed on the rocks for some cool photos. We also got a complimentary glass of wine! On our drive to Rotorua we stopped at the Wai-o-tapu natural hot springs for a free mud bath and clay facials and rushed over to Kerosene Creek so I could check it off my bucket list. We spent the night in an interesting and quirky hostel called Cactus Jack’s which made me feel right at home with murals of Monument valley and other Arizona landscapes. We ended the night  dancing at a place called Pig and Whistle where we sipped on our $1 glass of wine and I convinced the band to play “Don’t Stop Believing” (which believe me is a miracle for somewhere outside of America).

Day 7

This day’s big adventure in Rotorua was white water rafting down the Kaituna River where I rafted down a 7 meter waterfall and made some nice German friends. Unfortunately I missed out on zorbing with my friends (rolling around in a human sized hamster ball) but rafting was great, and the Jurassic park scenery made for an epic day. We spent the evening playing German king’s cup with Bavarian playing cards and I learned to cheers in German “prost.”

Day 8 

We ended our journey in Auckland. On the way we stopped at the Waitoma glow worm caves, where we took an under ground boat ride with cave ceilings above us covered in hundreds of bright blue lights that looked like the night sky. After arriving in Auckland, we spent the day walking around the city and hanging out at Mission Bay. Then enjoyed the extensive nightlife Auckland has to offer.

We jam packed 8 towns into 8 days and I wouldn’t have changed much about the experience. We saw amazing scenery, met some great people, and made some crazy memories. My only regret is not staying longer and seeing the rest of the country (specifically Queenstown)! I definitely recommend anyone planning a trip to dedicate at least two weeks to get the most out of your experience. I have a tendency to fall in love with most places I travel to, but New Zealand will always have a special place in my heart.


Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van or hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake.

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