Updated: Jan 9
A few years ago, my husband and I traveled to New Zealand to visit my best friend Emily who has been living in Wellington for a few years. I poured weeks into planning the ultimate trip for us and am excited to share the itinerary with you. Our style of travel is to see as much as humanly possible, while reserving big spends for extra special occasions. So if you prefer to travel on a budget, my itineraries are for you!
Flight Overview: SFO --> Wellington --> Queenstown --> Auckland
Departure Day: departed from SFO at 7:45 PM
I always prefer to take a redeye out whenever I am traveling long distances. You aren't going to sleep much regardless of how you travel and personally, I enjoy beating the jet lag with a little boost of new adventure adrenaline and a full day ahead of me when I land.
Day 1 (2 days later):
When we arrived to Wellington, we hired a taxi to get us from the airport to my friend Emily's house. She was still at work, so we settled in and put ourselves together before heading down into town. Wellington is super walkable, but hilly, so make sure you're wearing good shoes! Our first stop was the waterfront. The waterfront in Wellington is STUNNING and everyone was out enjoying the water and taking dives off of Taranaki Wharf. It was a little chilly and incredibly windy (Wellington has a reputation as the world's windiest city!), so we preferred to watch as people lined up and took a jump.
We met up with Emily at a bar after work, had a few drinks and headed back to her house where she cooked us dinner. Coming from the US, frozen burgers aren't much to cheer about but in New Zealand, even a frozen patty can make some of our best burgers seem pretty pathetic.
Emily was working again, so Matt and I stopped into her work during lunch to say hello and spent a few hours exploring Te Papa Museum.
One thing I was shocked to learn, but was SO excited about was that Wellington has BYO restaurants. That means you bring your OWN wine, pay a very minimal corkage fee and drink as much as you want during your meal. We were young 20's at the time and absolutely took advantage by bringing in our own 3L box of wine to enjoy during dinner at Masala Cafe & Bar.
Slightly hungover, but eager to enjoy our last full day in Wellington, we jumped in the car and made our way to a ferry that would take us to Kapiti Island, one of New Zealand's oldest and most important nature reserves. We spent the entire day hiking around the island. It was a bit chilly & foggy so the views weren't fantastic, but we enjoyed it none-the-less.
That evening, we enjoyed dinner with Emily's in-laws at their home just outside of Wellington.
Day 4: depart from Wellington at 11:35 AM; arrived in Queenstown at 12:55 PM
My parents happened to be on a trip of their own, so we were lucky to stay with them for the duration of our time in Queenstown. Once we got to the hotel, we unloaded our bags and all headed into town, about a 15 minute walk. Our first stop was Queenstown Gardens - a beautiful garden right on the water with endless rows of roses, exotic and native plants and trees, and lots of recreational activities.
Next, we visited Fergburger and enjoyed a few of their amazing burger; I tried the Little Lamby. Probably an unwise choice after downing some of the largest hamburgers we've ever had, but our next destination was a hike up the Tiki Trail and on to Bob's Peak. Luckily, there was plenty to see on the way up; we made frequent stops and there is a gondola at the top that we took back down.
Tip: call ahead to order your Fergburger and avoid the line!)
This was hands-down one of my favorite days in Queenstown. My husband and I walked into Queenstown Gardens and spent the morning playing disc golf. The course takes you along the water and we practically had the place to ourselves! Midday, we met up with my parents and rented a boat on Lake Wakatipu for the rest of the afternoon. We took the boat out towards Pig Island, making stops along the way and even taking a polar plunge into the glacier lake - it was FREEZING, but definitely a bucket list item.
We started our day bright and early by catching a bus to take us out to Milford Sound. I can't say enough good things about this trip. The bus ride was long, but the guide broke it up by stopping along the way allowing us to take photos and explore. Once on the boat, we found a spot with a great view and enjoyed the endless snow-capped cliffs, waterfalls, and the few dolphins that swam by.
That evening, we had probably one of the best meals I've ever had Public Kitchen & Bar. We chose the "Trust the Chef" option where they brought us out appetizers, mains and dessert all chosen by the chef. The food was fantastic and we had the opportunity to try a ton of different items that we normally wouldn't likely choose like flounder, venison, and rabbit.
Day 7: depart Queenstown at 11:10AM; arrive in Auckland at 1:00PM
We chose a budget lodging option at The City Lodge; I highly recommend it based on its proximity to everything and cleanliness. Once we dropped our bags, we headed out to explore the city. Our first stop was happy hour at a rooftop bar with amazing views of the water and a great spot to plan the rest of our day. Our next stop was to the SkyTower where we enjoyed a cocktail and some ice cream
Rise and shine! We had to get up early for our tour so that we could hit both the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Hobbiton in one day. First stop, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, known for its extensive underground cave systems and the thousands of glow-worms that light up the caves.
Our second stop was the highly anticipated Hobbiton to explore the movie set for The Lord of The Rings trilogy and The Hobbit films. We had such a good time exploring all of the hobbit homes and enjoyed lunch on the grounds.
Once we got back to our Hostel, we were pretty wiped but wanted to enjoy our last evening in New Zealand. While wandering around, we stumbled upon Silo Park - a huge park with food carts and they happened to be playing [a movie] that evening. We enjoyed a beer and watched the rest of the movie before heading in for the night.
Tip: book your combo Waitomo Caves & Hobbiton Tour through Viator!
Day 9: depart Auckland at 7:45PM; arrive in San Francisco at 11:05AM
With only a few hours left in our trip, we took advantage and jumped on an early ferry to Waiheke Island. We enjoyed oysters at The Oyster Inn and then stopped by the local market to pick up a bottle of wine and head down to the beach. We spent the rest of our day lounging on the beach, drinking wine and swimming before heading back to Auckland and to the airport.
I hope you enjoyed this itinerary! We're heading back to New Zealand in a month, so stayed tuned for a new itinerary with a 6 month in tow - we will be heading to Waiheke, Taupo, Napier, Wellington, Arrowtown/Queenstown, and Wanaka.
We book all of our day tours through Viator, I highly recommend!
Interested in having me plan an itinerary for you? Drop me a line to learn more!