Two weeks — or two months, for that matter — is not nearly enough time to explore all of the wonders of New Zealand. The country is made up of two islands, four major cities, 14 national parks and 4 million people.
But if two weeks is all you have, you better make the most of it.
I spent two weeks on a solo backpacking trip in New Zealand and divided my time between the two islands — one week in the north and one week in the south. I recommend starting on the North Island because sights and the landscape only get better the farther south you travel.
Day 1: Auckland, the country’s largest and most populated city, is a great place to start. Take a tour of the Auckland Art Gallery. With free entry and the largest collections of both national and international art in New Zealand, this spot is a must-see. The exhibitions range from traditional Maori pieces to abstract sculptures to modern art galleries. Even the building itself, with its high glass windows and illuminated wooden overhangs, is an architectural wonder.
Walk along Queen Street — the main drag, lined with shops, restaurants, cafes and galleries — and stop for a coffee at Remedy Coffee. The cafe is an unassuming, hole-in-the-wall kind of a place with an assortment of funky furniture and art scattered around the small, square room. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee and free wifi on a rainy afternoon.
Day 2: Get outside of the crowded downtown area and take a walk around Ponsonby — a funky, little neighborhood hailed as “the hippest street in Auckland.” Check out the restaurants, boutiques and some great used book stores.
Take a break from the city, traffic and bustling crowds with a trip to The Domain — Auckland’s oldest park — which is made up of 185 acres and countless walking paths. This was one of my favorite places on the north island. It’s full of giant, old trees with virtually no trunks, and huge branches that seems to sprout straight out of the ground. Take the “Lover’s Walk” — with, or without a lover — and stroll along streams, over bridges and past waterfalls.
Day 3: For Lord of the Rings fans, a trip to Hobbiton, near Matamata, north of Auckland, is an absolute must. A bus will take you across the green, rolling hills of New Zealand’s countryside to the scenic home of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. A tour guide will bring you around the movie set, sharing information about the filming of the trilogy, the creation of specific scenes and the upkeep of the Shire. You can take a look inside one of the hobbit holes and get a photo standing in the circular door frame.
After about an hour and a half, the tour ends at the Green Dragon — an exact replica of the pub from the movies. Enjoy the last of your tour from the comfort a big arm chair in front of a fire place with a complimentary ginger beer. If the weather’s nice, sit outside and enjoy the view of the bridge and watermill from outside of the pub.
Day 4: After a few days exploring Auckland, head south with a bus ride to Wellington — New Zealand’s capital — which is located near the southernmost point of the North Island. Wellington is a beautiful harbour town and is home to New Zealand’s national museum and art gallery, Te Papa Tongarewa.
You could spend days getting lost in this huge museum that has as much floor space as three rugby fields, and includes collections on art, history, Pacific, Maori, and natural environment. Best part is entry is free so you won’t feel pressured to see everything in one go.
Day 5: Wellington is also home to a huge, beautiful botanic garden that you can get to with a ride in a bright, red cable car. The high vantage point of the park offers sweeping views of the city below. The park was established in 1868 and includes protected native forest land, specialized plant collections and colorful floral displays. It’s another free attraction you can’t go wrong with.
Day 6: Spend your last day on the North Island taking in incredible views of the harbor from the top of Mount Victoria. The peak is 196 meters above the city and provides sweeping panoramas of the city and countryside below. You can drive to the top or stroll along the walkway through the Town Belt.
Day 7: Kick off the second half of your trip with a flight from Wellington to Christchurch – a northern city on the South Island. In 2011, an earthquake with a 6.3 magnitude destroyed much of Christchurch, and left behind fallen stone churches and buildings. Spend your first day in this historic city wandering around and photographing the ruins.
Day 8: Try your hand at blackjack or poker at New Zealand’s first casino, the Christchurch Casino. With 500 gaming machines, 36 table games, three different bars, a variety of restaurants, events and live music, this casino isn’t just for poker nuts. Avoid gambling away all of your travel money by going in with a certain amount of cash and enjoying the night until it’s gone.
Day 9: Rent a car and start driving south towards Queenstown, my favorite city in New Zealand. Enjoy the views of bright purple flowers lining the two-lane highway and fields of sheep along the countryside. Stop along the way to take pictures of sky blue lakes and snow topped mountains.
Day 10: Spend your first day in Queenstown roaming around and taking in all of the sights – of which there are many. Walk down by the waterfront of Lake Wakatipu for views of the Remarkables — a mountain range that puts the Tetons to shame — and the four other mountains that surround the city. Queenstown has some of the most incredible views and sunsets I’ve ever seen, making it a wonderful place to work on landscape and long exposure photography.
Days 11 & 12: Take a car and spend a few nights camping along the beautiful, sky blue waters south of Queenstown or near the dramatic peaks in Milford Sound. Get off your phone and away from the people. Go for a hike. Be happy.
Day 13: Return to Queenstown for your last night in the beautiful city. Get a drink, or two, or three at one of the ice bars in town. Sip on a cocktail from the comfort of hand-carved ice furniture in below freezing temperatures. The huge winter coats you get when you enter and the warmth of the liquor will keep you nice and toasty.
Day 14: Enjoy a picnic breakfast by the waterfront for your last morning in Queenstown. You won’t want to leave, but you can always come back.