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U.S.FTC GUIDELINES PLEASE NOTE: we act as an affiliate for several companies that feature on our website. In some cases we may earn a commission from referrals to those companies. For further information please refer to our Privacy and Disclaimer policies which can be found in the "US" tab.

Is 7 days in New Zealand long enough?

Is 7 days in New Zealand long enough? That's a question that we are often asked.

If you read on, hopefully we can give you all the information you need to make an informed decision about the duration of your New Zealand holiday.

We specialise in self drive itineraries, and over several decades, we've driven the length and breadth of New Zealand.

So, we've put together some tips and advice for you, based on our own experiences.

We would love to help you make your New Zealand self-drive holiday dreams come true, so if you have any questions at all, just contact us.

Looks can be deceptive.

First time visitors to New Zealand are often surprised at how big New Zealand actually is.

From top to bottom is around 2,000 kilometres, and our two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, are separated by water, so you will need to fly between them, or catch the Interisland ferry or a Bluebridge ferry.

Our mountainous terrain, and winter driving conditions can add to your driving times. This means that journeys from point A to point B can often take longer than you would think.

As an example, the distance from Queenstown to Milford Sound is only about 70 kilometres in a direct line. That's not far if you choose to take a scenic flight. However the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is around 290 kilometres, and will normally take almost 4.5 hours, one way. That means travelling at an average speed of around 65 kilometres per hour!

Map New Zealand Major Towns 360 x 400

It's worth mentioning that that particular journey is often referred to as one of the most scenic in the world.

So carefully planning your New Zealand holiday is crucial

After all, you want to see as much as you can in the time that you have, right?

There's no point rushing. You won't get to see the best bits. And perhaps even more importantly, you won't have time to relax and experience the real New Zealand.

So here are our recommendations.

7 days - what's doable and what's not

1) Can you see both Islands in 7 days? "No" (but see point 6 below for a possible solution)

If your focus is to see both islands, then 7 days is definitely not long enough, particularly if days 1 and 7 are the days you fly in and out of New Zealand . That would then allow you only 5 days to explore.

We recommend a minimum of two to three weeks (but preferably longer), to see both islands.

Ideally, if time and budget allow, we recommend devoting about two weeks to each island.

Here's an example of an itinerary for each island to show you what we mean:

15 Day North Island Highlights

15 Day South Island Highlights

2) Can you see one island (North or South) in 7 days? We recommend "No", and here's why

It's also difficult to do either island justice in just 7 days. You will be constantly driving from point a to b, without any time to relax and see the highlights.

To show you what we mean here's an example of what not to do (9 days with 7 touring):

Day 1 Fly into Auckland

Day 2 Drive Auckland to Thames 2 hours

Day 3 Drive Thames to Rotorua 2 hours

Day 4 Drive Rotorua to Gisborne 4 hours

Day 5 Drive Gisborne to Taupo 4.5 hours

Day 6 Drive Taupo to Wellington 4.5 hours

Day 7 Drive Wellington to New Plymouth 4.5 hours

Day 8 Drive New Plymouth to Auckland 4.5 hours

Day 9 Fly home from Auckland

Total driving distance 1,932 kilometres

Total driving time approx. 26 hours

Nine Day North Island route map

In this example, we've chosen a route that covers a loop of the North Island.

But as you can see, there's a significant amount of driving each day. This means that you won't have enough time to really explore a particular location. And there are no multi-day stopovers.

You could safely devote several days to either Auckland, Wellington, or Rotorua/Taupo alone.

And in this example we haven't even included the legendary Bay of Islands, North of Auckland.

Not our idea of a holiday, and if we were using this itinerary we would stretch it from 7 days to 10, or add the Bay of Islands and stretch it to 12-14 days.

Lake Pukaki image courtesy Casey Horner and Unsplash

3) Should you just focus on a major portion of either island - a definite "Yes"

It's possible to focus on a section of one island and see lots in just 7 days.

Using the South Island as an example, we have several 7 day itineraries, like our "Canterbury Introduction", "Queenstown and Aoraki/Mt Cook" and "Queenstown and Glaciers".

If your holiday time is limited, then this is the type of itinerary that we highly recommend. Less driving, fewer destinations so more free time to explore. And importantly, they focus on some of the "must see" locations and attractions.

4) How about refining your trip to a specific destination on one island - a definite "Yes"

Another option is to just focus on a specific location, like Queenstown, Auckland, Fiordland, or the Coromandel Peninsula.

Doing this minimises your driving, but still allows time to truly experience your chosen locations best bits.

Queenstown is a great example. It's a perfect base from which to explore the Southern Lakes region (Queenstown, Wanaka, Otago) and adjoining Fiordland (Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound).

Lets say that you flew into Queenstown on day 1 and out on day 7, that would allow you plenty of time to set up a base (we recommend self-contained apartments) and explore this fabulous part of our country. Apart from Fiordland (which is a day trip best done by coach), most of the sights are within 1 hours drive of central Queenstown.

Queenstown Gondola Courtesy Skyline Queenstown

5) Themed itineraries - another "Yes"

If you have a particular special interest like food and wine, skiing, fishing, biking, adrenalin charged activities, Lord of the Rings etc, a seven day trip is a great idea.

This would allow you to focus on a particular region. Unpack your bags once, then have fun!

6) A sneaky way to experience both islands in 7 days

As you've read already, our opinion on "is 7 days in New Zealand long enough" is a "no".

But here's an insiders tip that will allow you to experience at least some of both islands in just 7 days.

And best of all, it highlights some of the unique differences between the two islands.

Our suggestion involves using Queenstown (South Island) and Auckland (North Island) as bases for a few days.

So again, lets assume that you have 9 days, with 7 days free:

Day 1 Fly into Auckland

Day 2 Fly Auckland to Queenstown (you may even be able to get a connecting flight on Day 1)

Days 3 to 4 Explore Queenstown, Fiordland and the Southern Lakes

Day 5 Fly Queenstown to Auckland

Days 6 to 8 Explore Auckland/Coromandel/Bay of Islands/Rotorua /Waitomo Caves

Day 9 Fly home


Driving times and distances from Auckland to:

Coromandel (Thames) 1.25 hours 115 kilometres

Bay of Islands (Waitangi) 3 hours drive 210 kilometres

Rotorua 2.5 hours 225 kilometres

Waitomo Caves 2.25 hours 190 kilometres

There are also lots of organised tours from both Auckland and Queenstown to surrounding areas. Here's a couple of examples:

* Day tour Queenstown to Milford Sound

* Rotorua day tour from Auckland

* Rotorua and Waitomo Caves day tour from Auckland

Viator Lord of The Rings Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

We can help

If we've answered the "is 7 days in New Zealand long enough?" question for you, but you are still unsure where to go and what to see, just contact us, and we can help put together a New Zealand self-drive itinerary to suit your specific needs.

We don't charge you a fee

We will help you prepare a self drive itinerary designed to meet your needs. We don't charge you a fee. We don't ask you for any money and we don't ask you for your credit card or bank details.

We are paid a commission by our partners like (accommodation), DriveNow (vehicle hire) and Viator (activities) for any completed bookings, but only where these are booked through the links on our website. And our commission is not paid until after the service is complete. So let's say you book a jetboat ride in Queenstown. You decide to cancel the ride, in which case no commission is paid to us.

Generally this commission is between 5-10% of the amount of the service, and in our experience the cost of the service is not inflated to cover our commission. The easiest way to check this is to compare a service (e.g. a vehicle hire) using our site, with the price on the hire company website.

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