The ultimate New Zealand itinerary for outdoor fans

Welcome to the first part of our Ultimate New Zealand Itinerary for Outdoor Fans! A couple of years ago we were in the lucky position to spend six weeks traveling in New Zealand and since we are 100% outdoor lovers, we spent them the active way. Most of our time we went hiking, but we also added some (mountain) biking, kayaking and other outdoor cool activities to our itinerary. Ever since, we received many questions from readers about the trails we hiked, which are the must-do’s in each place and so on. So I figured I’d combine all tips and tricks into one series of posts which makes planning your ultimate New Zealand trip even easier!


Even though we traveled for six weeks, we realize not everybody will have that amount of time available. There for, we will give you suggestions on what to skip if you have less time but also what to add if you have some extra time at the end of this blog. Apart from our six week trip, we also went backpacking through all of New Zealand back in 2002, so don’t worry, all suggestions are carefully chosen by us from our own experiences and not randomly picked from a guidebook.


Day 1-3 Auckland

Although you probably don’t want to spend too much time in the big city, you may still want to hang out in Auckland for a little bit. We only arrived in the evening of day two and spent all of day three exploring and stocking up on gear that we didn’t bring from home, such as white gas for our stove. In the morning we hiked around downtown and in the afternoon we did the SkyWalk on the SkyTower, which was quite an adventure to start our trip with. In the early evening, we took a class at the one and only Les Mills gym, where the programs that are taught worldwide, are made. While preparing for this trip and getting in shape, I spent hours at my local gym doing various Les Mills Classes and my instructor was so kind to arrange that I could participate in a BodyAttack class when I was in Auckland. Needless to say that I was pretty exhausted in the evening…


Where we stayed:
As we wanted to be pretty comfortable because of the long flight for these first nights, we stayed at the Kiwi International Hotel. Their prices are good and the location is fine, so if you are looking for a budget minded hotel, this is an excellent pick! As for the transfer to the hotel, we used Super Shuttle – normally we’d not have spent such an amount of money but after flying for 24 hours, all you really want is to go to bed as soon as possible…


Day 4-5 National Park

The first thing we did on the morning of day four, was pick up our rental car. Although we would be leaving it behind for quite some time during our multi-day treks, we still decided to go for a rental since we wanted to go to places the regular buses don’t go to. We rented a Travella from Jucy which seemed the best option as we didn’t feel like spending too much, but we still wanted some decent leg space and the possibility to put all our luggage out of sight when hiking. Upon arrival at their downtown rental station, it turned out that our car wasn’t there yet, however they borrowed us another one so we could at least go and do some groceries. In addition they waived our fee for the second driver so we didn’t really mind waiting for a bit.


After two hours, we headed off down south. The first stop of the day was Matamata for a visit to Hobbiton. We are (somewhat) LOTR fans so we couldn’t resist this, also because they just finished filming the last bit of The Hobbit. Everything was still pretty much in place which made it very cool. If you are a fan of the Tolkien stories and/or movies, make this a must-do. If not, then skip it! The rest of the afternoon was spent driving down to National Park, one of the villages nearby Tongariro National Park. Although there is not a whole lot to do in the town itself, we really enjoyed staying there because of the stunning views on snowcapped volcanoes in the distance. Since driving here took a little longer than expected, we arrived in the pitch dark, but since we went camping, that wasn’t much of a problem anyway…


On day five we planned to go mountainbiking the 42 Traverse but the weather wasn’t very good and the guy who would take us up to the trailhead, advised us to do some other trail instead. So while I decided to stay at the campsite catching up on sleep (hello jetlag!), Martijn biked a part of the Fishers Track instead. In addition, we did some short hikes near Whakapapa Village to various waterfalls.


Where we stayed
Our pick for National Park Village was to stay at National Park Backpackers. They have a large variety of rooms however we camped on their small campsite. We were still allowed to use all their indoor facilities as well as their indoor climbing wall. The views from the campsite are simply stunning, if it’s a clear day, you will be in a million dollar position!


For further reading about Tongariro National Park and our suggestions – check out our Park Post with lots of tips for additional planning on what to do and where to go!


Day 6-8 Tongariro Northern Circuit

Here comes an important piece of advice, maybe even one of the most important we’re going to give you throughout our series:


“If you plan on hiking the Tongariro Crossing dayhike – plan extra time, one free day may not be enough!”


We met many travelers who had been looking forward to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing forever (which is justified, it’s one of the most amazing trails in New Zealand) but even though the skies were clear, it turned out that there was too much wind and it would be too dangerous. We saw quite a bit of disappointed people who hoped they could do the trek on their day off but were unable to stay for another day as they had further arrangements.


The weather made it necessary for us to reverse our trek on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. Luckily it was still pretty early in the season so there was plenty of availability at the huts and it could easily be arranged at the DOC Center in Whakapapa Village. Until now, the Tongariro Northern Circuit is still one of our favorite multi-day treks ever. The famous Tongariro Crossing is a part of it, but the other parts of the trek are well worth your time as well. Some other highlights of the trail included the Lower Tama Lakes and waking up in the Ketetahi Hut with a fresh layer of snow all around us. Another good thing about being on the multi-day track is that you can be on the trail much earlier than the crowds on the dayhike, which actually makes it possible to take pictures without other people in it. For more inspiration, check out our blog about hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit including a full day-to-day description about this magnificent hike!


Where we stayed
Well … in the huts on the circuit. The first night, we were at Waihohonu Hut, the second night at Ketetahi Hut and third night at Mangatepopo Hut, however this is reversed from the most regular way. You can book your stays at the DOC website, reservations for the huts are required if you are hiking between mid October – end of April.


Day 9 -10  Otaki and Picton 

After finishing the Tongariro Northern Circuit we make our way down to the southern part of the Northern Island. Instead of driving the regular route down to Wellington, we take a small detour over the Desert Road, which is super awesome, however it can be closed in severe conditions. We planned to stay in Otaki to visit the Icebreaker outlets which we heard great stories about, but we find them quite disappointing. Although they have a big selection, it’s not much cheaper than outlet prices back home. I’m sure Otaki is really nice when the weather is good, we got chilly weather and fierce winds instead. It was the same the next day when driving down to Wellington and taking the ferry to the Southern Island. However, upon arrival “down south” it seemed that we were back in the game: blue skies and sunshine! We spent the night in Picton before embarking on our next adventure: a three-day active tour on the Queen Charlotte Track.


Where we stayed:
In Otaki we camped at Bryon’s Resort. Not typically our first choice because it’s pretty large, but we were in desperate need of a hot shower and they offered good laundry facilities. In Picton we booked a room at the Sequoia Lodge, a great facility for backpackers and active travelers. Their free chocolate pudding and ice cream nights are a definite bonus!


Day 12-14: Queen Charlotte Track

Instead of hiking the Queen Charlotte Track for three days, we decided it would be fun to book a hike-bike-kayak combo. We searched online for packages and eventually booked with the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Co, as they offered us a full package at a good price. On day one we boarded a watertaxi from Picton to Punga Cove, from where we hiked to Cowshed Bay. It was quite a sturdy hike, no less than 24.5 kms, but our camping gear was being dropped off at the campsite near Cowshed Bay for us so that helped. The hike was simply stunning and fairly easy compared to Tongariro so in case you want to try a relatively easy multi-day trek, this is the one for you!


The next day we were supposed to go seakayaking but … the weather was just horrible. The wind was blowing like crazy and our guide told us that we would end up in the water all the time. So we decided there would not be much fun in it and canceled the kayaking and went mountainbiking instead. However, because of the severe winds, the trail was blocked by lots of trees that had come down. After an hour I had enough and decided to head back to the campsite on the paved road while Martijn pushed onwards a bit further (it’s obvious who’s the real mountainbiker here by now I guess). On the morning of day three we caught an early watertaxi back to Picton, where we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing back at Sequoia Lodge.


Where we stayed:
While on the Queen Charlotte Track we stayed at Cowshed Bay Campsite. This campsite can also be reached by road which was a little disappointing as we expected to be a bit more remote, however the location was just gorgeous.


Unfortunately up until now we haven’t done any additional writing about our time at the Queen Charlottes, however most information you will need to plan your trip can be found at the DOC website of the Queen Charlotte Track.


This concludes our first two weeks in New Zealand. As promised, if you have less or more time than those two weeks, here are some suggestions for you:


More time:
– Add Taupo which is a great place for skydiving. We’ve also been to Rotorua but we found that a little disappointing, maybe also because we’ve seen so many geysers in other parts of the world, too. If you’ve never thermal activities before, consider going though!
– Visit Waitomo and their amazing glowworm caves. You can do some pretty cool black water rafting there and the caves are a must-do.
– If you are more of a city person, definitely make Wellington a priority, it turned out to be one of our favorite cities in New Zealand. The Te Papa Museum is simply stunning and keeps you busy for at least a couple of hours.
– The Bay of Plenty is gorgeous and a great place to stay for a couple of days on your way down south. Unfortunately we only got to see this for a couple of hours but we could definitely have imagined staying here for a longer period of time.


Less time:
– Skip the free day in Tongariro we used for mountainbiking or do the Tongariro Crossing instead of the Northern Circuit. You can still take a dayhike to Lower Tama Lakes for example, if you have two days off in Tongariro National Park.
– Take just a one day trip on the Queen Charlotte Track, either kayaking, hiking or mountainbiking.


We hope you enjoyed the first part of our ultimate New Zealand Itinerary for Outdoor Fans. From here, we’ll slowly continue our way down south along the spectacular west coast. Stay tuned!


Did you ever visit New Zealand and did you any of the treks we mentioned above?


[Disclaimer: as this trip happened before we started blogging, we did not receive any sponsorships nor financial compensation for mentioning and linking to the suppliers. Also please note that our trip has been a while ago and things may have changed. Although we did our best to carefully check all details, it may be that some information is out-dated]

 Still want to read more about New Zealand? You may enjoy these:
The best hikes in New Zealand (spoiler alert!)
The ultimate guide to New Zealand for outdoor fans – part 2
Things to do in New Zealand that don’t involve hiking
All you want to know about hiking in New Zealand

 Thank you for sharing!


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