Visiting New Zealand wasn’t even my dream. The country was so far away, so exotic and so incredibly beautiful that I figured it’s beyond my abilities and didn’t even think I can travel there. Moreover everyone kept telling me you need to have a car to travel around New Zealand – as a person who enjoys solo travels and doesn’t even have a driver’s license I felt this is not the destination for me.
But then my dear friends moved to New Zealand and I promised I will visit them. Shortly after I found a really good deal on flights to Auckland and booked them right away.
I knew I need to visit my friends in Twizel but since I was about to travel to the other side of the world (literally!) I wanted to see as many New Zealand highlights as possible! I spent long hours researching and finally managed to prepare the best New Zealand itinerary without the car. I had only 10 days in the Kiwi land – not too much but I still managed to see the best of New Zealand!
Here is my 10 days in New Zealand itinerary. I don’t think I could do anything better – it was literally the best plan I could do in such a little time. I managed to see some of the best places NZ has to offer, I could witness how diverse the country is and I could fall in love with its incredible nature. Before I didn’t really believe that this is the most beautiful place on Earth, after my 10 days in New Zealand I’ve joined the crowd that thinks so!
I’m very well aware that 10 days in New Zealand is way too little. But that’s all I could afford with my days off from work. I’m more than grateful that I could go there even for such a short time, I don’t know when I will have a chance to travel to the other side of the world again (especially that there are still so many places to see!) So yes, it was crazy but definitely worth all the effort!
Table of contents
- 1 Day 0 Auckland -> Christchurch
- 2 New Zealand itinerary – Day 1 Christchurch -> Tekapo -> Twizel
- 3 Day 2 Twizel
- 4 Day 3 Twizel – Mt Cook – Twizel
- 5 Day 4 Twizel -> Queenstown
- 6 Day 5 Queenstown -> Milford Sound -> Queenstown
- 7 Day 6 Queenstown -> Wanaka
- 8 Day 7 Wanaka -> Fox Glacier
- 9 Day 8 Fox Glacier -> Greymouth -> TranzAlpine train -> Christchurch
- 10 Day 9 Christchurch -> Auckland
- 11 Day 10 Auckland
- 12 Is it worth to go to New Zealand for 10 day only?
- 13 How to travel around New Zealand without a car?
Day 0 Auckland -> Christchurch
I don’t really count that day as I arrived to Auckland in the early afternoon (around 2pm) and had a domestic flight further to Christchurch around 7pm. I didn’t even leave the airport, I spent these hours sitting at the bench outside the terminal and catching some sun.
I’ve thought I will be exhausted after the long journey (I left Zagreb, Croatia on Sunday morning and arrived to NZ on Tuesday afternoon) but I think the adrenaline was buzzing in my blood as I was pinching myself I really am in New Zealand.
Already there I could experience how extremely friendly and hospitable Kiwi people are. I seriously haven’t met that nice people anywhere, even in Iran that is known for the extreme hospitality! After a quick chat during the flight from Auckland to Christchurch I was already invited to a dinner by a fellow passenger! As I learnt over the next days this was no exception! People are really that nice there!
I arrived to my hostel in Christchurch late in the evening and I was hoping I will get some proper sleep. I did fall asleep right away only to wake 2 hours later at 1am… Jetlag is an evil thing and 11 hours difference is a lot!
Where I stayed: I’ve decided to stay at YMCA Christchurch mostly for its very central location, just few steps away from the Intercity Bus stop and near numerous attractions of Christchurch. The hostel has the rating of 8.2/10 on Booking. The private room I got was big and very comfortable, with the bathroom just outside the door. Everything was super clean and even if I stayed there only for few hours it was a perfect place to relax after the long journey. Click here to check the current deals and opinions about YMCA Christchurch!
New Zealand itinerary – Day 1 Christchurch -> Tekapo -> Twizel
That’s when I started properly my 10 days in New Zealand! At 8:30am I had the InterCity bus directly to Twizel. The weather was rather gloomy so I didn’t really mind sleeping for half of the journey.
Before going to NZ I was trying to find how I can visit Tekapo, even for a day from Twizel, but nothing really seemed to work out. And then, halfway through my journey on that day, I’ve learnt that we will have a 50 minutes stop in Tekapo, enough to see the lakeshore and the famous Church of the Good Shepherd. Of course I could have spent more time in the town, walking along the Lake Tekapo and enjoying the nature around but Tekapo itself seemed to be a bit touristy and these 50 minutes I had to see most important bits of it were enough for me.
40 minutes later I was already in Twizel, reunited with my friends. The weather was still pretty terrible so we just spent the rest of the day catching up and it was pretty awesome.
Where I stayed: at my friends’ obviously but if I had to recommend a place to stay in Twizel it would be 34 Mackenzie Apartments which is in the very center of Twizel, next to where my friends used to live and has rating of 9.0/10 on Booking. You can check the details and current deals here! Another good options are Mountain Chalets Motel, next to the main road and with 8.5/10 rating on Booking and Mahina Cottage close to Lake Ruataniwha and with rating 9.7/10 on Booking.
Day 2 Twizel
I was still pretty exhausted with the jetlag (evil thing!) so I took things easy and spent a day in Twizel: walking around, drinking coffee in a local cafe and enjoying long conversations with my friend.
Once my friend had to go to work I went for a walk to a nearby Lake Ruataniwha which turned out to be just stunning! Blue sky, green colors around and snow capped mountains are just the most beautiful combination! The lake is some 5kms away from Twizel’s center and I was ready to walk back to the town but after literally one minute a friendly man stopped and asked if I need a ride – I couldn’t say no to such an offer!
Twizel turned out to be such a charming place! Kind of reminded me of towns like Stars Hollow in “Gilmore Girls” with one main square and everything you need around it. I admit I fell in love with the town a bit and I really think it’s a perfect base to see some of the most stunning places in New Zealand. It’s so much less touristy that Tekapo!
Day 3 Twizel – Mt Cook – Twizel
Being based in Twizel I was just a short ride away from Mt Cook and Hooker Valley – the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done! I found one company that offers transfers from Twizel to Mt Cook village in the morning and back in the afternoon, giving you around 6 hours to enjoy the place – that’s enough to do a Mt Cook hike (it took me 4,5 hours but I was slow as I took so many pictures along the way).
The place was so beautiful it hurts, I felt like walking in the Photoshop for most of the day! It was the most rewarding hike ever, the difficulty vs. views ratio is pretty good here! I was tempted to squeeze in the Kia Point hike too but after returning from the Hooker Valley the jet lag kicked me big time and I was almost stand sleeping.
After returning to Twizel I did my best to stay up late-ish and enjoy the last evening with my friends but at 11pm my body gave up and I fall dead sleep (and after the proper night’s sleep I was done with the jet lag for the rest of my trip).
Day 4 Twizel -> Queenstown
After lazy morning and the last coffee in Twizel it was time for me to move on and see other amazing destinations in New Zealand. I could have easily spent the whole 10 days in New Zealand in Twizel and the area only, I liked it there so much, but let’s face it – that would be just plain stupid of me.
I border the Intercity bus with mixed feelings – I was so sad to leave Twizel and my friends behind but at the same time I was excited about the next destination – Queenstown!
The city is known as the New Zealand’s capital of adventure and adrenaline rush and attracts lots of tourists every single day. I’m usually not a big fan of this kind of places but since I had a rather limited time in Queenstown I kind of enjoyed it!
As soon as I arrived and left my backpack in my hostel I headed to probably the biggest attraction of Queenstown – Skyline. The gondola ride to the top takes few minutes only but the view from the upper station is spectacular! Queenstown and the surrounding area is just stunning, no wonder it’s such a popular place!
The viewing platform might be busy as everyone wants to score the best picture so prepare yourself for that. You should plan some extra time up there and instead of taking the next cable car down go for a walk around. There are few walking paths marked, I randomly chose one and after a short walk up I could enjoy a beautiful nature, amazing mountains and a complete silence with no one around (that was a nice change after the busy town).
To skip the line (and it was a pretty long one when I visited) you can get your Skyline Gondola ticket online. Just click here!
You can easily spend few solid hours just walking and hiking around but as it was already late afternoon I headed back to the town to enjoy the sunset at the Lake Wakatipu shore. The place had a completely different vibe than the upper station of the Skyline. It was busy and bustling with people. All the lakeshore restaurants as well as the small beach were full. Everyone, including me, was there to admire the beautiful sunset and it certainly didn’t disappoint!
In Queenstown be sure to eat at Fergburger. The place is somehow iconic and even if the line is always long it’s definitely worth the wait! Some even claim the best burgers in the world can be found here!
Where I stayed: at The Black Sheep Backpackers. I reserved a private cabin and it was small but cozy, good for one person. The hostel was just few minutes walk from the downtown and the lake shore, in the quiet area. It was good for socializing but also you could easily relax there. The Booking rating is 7.5/10. I’d avoid staying in the very downtown of Queenstown as the place is just madness. Click here to see the current rates and opinions on The Black Sheep Backpackers.
Day 5 Queenstown -> Milford Sound -> Queenstown
I used Queenstown as a base to go for a day trip to Milford Sound. There are numerous companies that offer this tour but since I was already familiar and satisfied with Intercity services I’ve decided to go with them. And it was a good day!
It’s quite a journey to get from Queenstown to Milford Sound (around 300kms one way) and the whole tour lasts around 12 hours but it’s definitely worth all the effort! On the way to Milford Sound there are few scenic stops: in Te Anau, at Mirror Lakes plus picture-perfect field just before them and at The Chasm waterfall.
It’s fascinating how, as soon as we were getting closer to Milford Sound and were about to cross the mountains via Homer Tunnel, the weather changed drastically. From the beautiful sunny day (that I was really hoping for) we got into cold, grey and windy weather.
The highlight of the day was the Milford Sound cruise. Despite the freezing wind I did stay on the top deck for the whole journey (including a really big close-up to the waterfall that left me soaking wet but at least it was fun) as the place was too stunning to miss it! But I must admit I was slightly disappointed.
Many people claim Milford Sound to be the most beautiful place in New Zealand and I guess I had my expectations too high. Could be the so-so weather or my new love for Mt. Cook (seriously, the most breathtaking and stunning place I’ve ever seen!) but Milford Sound didn’t blow me away all that much. I still loved it though! The scenery and the nature around was incredible and I definitely can see why so many people fall for this place!
Once I was back in Queenstown I went to the lakeshore again to enjoy another sunset in this beautiful location.
Day 6 Queenstown -> Wanaka
I left Queenstown early in the morning and went to Wanaka. It’s a short ride and already at 10am I was there. I had only this one full day in Wanaka but since I was limited transport-wise I thought I will focus only on the town, walk around the Lake, admire the famous That Wanaka Tree and maybe go to the Mt Iron – the most accessible track in Wanaka.
My dream was of course Roys Peak as pictures from it were the main reason why I’ve decided to include Wanaka in my New Zealand itinerary. Realistically speaking I knew I won’t make it there – not only you need to get somehow to the beginning of the trail but also my shape isn’t the best (still I did surprisingly good in NZ) and this hike is rather challenging. But still deep down I really regretted I couldn’t make it there.
I arrived to my guest house still before the noon, just wanting to leave my backpack before exploring the town. The lovely owner asked me about my plans and very quickly suggested I shouldn’t waste my time on Mt. Iron but go to Diamond Lake instead. And since I didn’t have a car she offered her son would take me there, I would just have to hitch-hike back.
I couldn’t have missed such an opportunity so shortly after I was already on the trail, hiking to Diamon Lake and afterwards to the viewpoint. It wasn’t the easiest hike for my poor shape but also not too difficult and the views were so rewarding! I was tempted to go all the way to Rocky Mountain but what I could see from the viewpoint was already stunning and I still wanted to have some time to enjoy Wanaka itself.
Once I was back in the parking lot I didn’t have any problems to find the ride back to the town, the first people I asked – a lovely Belgian couple – took me there even if I had to lie down on the bed in the back of the car for all the way to the town.
I thought that after Diamon Lake and Rocky Mountain track the views can’t get any better but the lakeshore in Wanaka is pretty amazing and once the sun was out the area looked gorgeous! I walked a bit around and eventually was back (for the third time in that day) at That Wanaka Tree – a perfect ending of my perfect day in Wanaka!
Where I stayed: at Altamont Lodge and I can’t recommend it enough! The place is some 10 minutes walking from That Wanaka Tree, offers spacious rooms, big kitchen and is perfect to relax. It has the rating of 9.1/10 on Booking. But the biggest asset of this place are amazing owners who really have made my stay in Wanaka so much better than I expected! Click here to check the current rates and opinions about Altamont Lodge.
Day 7 Wanaka -> Fox Glacier
After a lazy morning my Intercity bus took me to Fox Glacier, with two stops (next to the waterfall and for lunch in another beautiful location) along the way. I arrived to my destination around 3 in the afternoon and didn’t really know what to do.
First of all I can’t explain why I chose Fox Glacier and not Franz Josef (if you know me well you would now I so should go to the second one, just for its name, honoring the Austrian emperor who basically created the Central Europe legacy I adore so very much), it seemed like in both towns the glaciers are rather far away and not reachable if you have limited time and no transportation options. But I had to choose one place to break the journey.
Later on, in Queenstown, I learnt from the American couple I met that in Fox Glacier there is a picture-perfect spot – Lake Matheson – with a beautiful reflection of the mountains and the glacier. That was my option for the day. But then again I learnt that it’s actually only some 6kms to get to the glacier viewpoint so suddenly I had to decide what to do in Fox Glacier in my very limited time!
“Fortunately” on that day the weather has decided for me as it was rather poor and you barely could see the mountains. As soon as I arrived to the hostel and checked in I left to the glacier!
It was a pleasant walk as big part of it was through the forest (at that point I was already in love with New Zealand’s forests as they are so different from what I know in Europe) and then I could see my destination – it literally took my breath away (or maybe it was because I was walking fast?)! From the parking lot it was some 1km walk to the viewpoint – the trail was going through was used to be (and sometimes still is) riverbed and I must say it felt weird to walk there.
Eventually, after a really steep last meters, I got to the viewpoint and oh wow! Even if I barely could see the mountains and even if everything was so grey the place still impressed me, a lot. I think that’s the closest I’ve ever been to the glacier and it was really unforgettable, especially the moment when I was there all alone, only with the amazing nature around me.
I was ready to walk back to the town and the hostel but shortly after leaving the parking lot the car has stopped next to me and a fellow tourist, from the US, offered me a ride – I really couldn’t say no!
Where I stayed: at Ivorytowers Backpacker Lodge. It was good, probably the best budget friendly option in Fox Glacier. It has the Booking rating of 8.2/10.The place was located few steps away from the bus stop and near the entrance of the trail leading to Fox Glacier. Click here to check the current deals and opinions.
Day 8 Fox Glacier -> Greymouth -> TranzAlpine train -> Christchurch
I spent the whole day travelling but it still was pretty exciting! I took the early morning bus from Fox Glacier to Greymouth where I changed for the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch. But the adventure has started even before I left Fox Glacier and showed me one more time how amazing people in New Zealand are.
The bus started the route from Fox Glacier, I was at the stop some 20 minutes before the departure but since I was the only passenger and we still had some time the driver offered to take me to the viewpoint so I could see the glacier and the mountains again. It was an amazing view! After seeing glacier from really close I could admire it from the distance and see how massive it really is. But seriously, it was the first and probably the last time I had a private tour with the regular bus! How cool and nice is that?!
Another surprise was the stop on the way, in Hokitika. Until that moment I didn’t know such a place even exist but it turned out to be a charming little town, at the shore of Tasman Sea. We had almost one hour break there so it was a perfect place to relax a bit, grab a lunch and stretch the legs.
The biggest highlight of the day and one of the best adventures of my 10 days in New Zealand was about to happen afterwards. I’ve heard that TranzAlpine is considered one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world so I was really excited and had my expectations high. And it was beautiful!
At first I was a bit disappointed but the further along the journey, the views were more and more amazing! Green fields and blooming yellow flowers and bushes just added up to the overall beauty.
But the best thing about the journey was the last carriage, the one I spent 95% of the trip in, designed for everyone who wanted to take pictures. It’s the best invention ever and I believe every scenic train should have one of those carriages! There were no windows, just open space you could look through and take pictures of the scenery, without this annoying reflex you often get when photographing from the moving train. It felt incredible to be there, look outside and feel the wind in my hair or on my face – this feeling is one of the reasons why I love train journeys so much!
After arriving to Christchurch I headed to my hostel, the one I heard so much about I just had to book myself there. I spent my last night on South Island in the jail!
Where I stayed: at Jailhouse Accommodation. A former jail was turned into the hostel and it’s such a cool place to spend the night at! It has the Booking rating of 8.4/10. I had a private cell and it felt kind of weird to sleep there. The whole place looks pretty cool and for me it was probably one of the most interesting accommodation ever. Click here to see current deals and opinions.
Day 9 Christchurch -> Auckland
I had the whole day for exploring Christchurch before catching my evening flight back to Auckland. It was a perfect sunny weather but as much as I enjoyed it, it also got me pretty tired at some point. Or maybe I was still overwhelmed after seeing the incredible and magnificent nature in the past few days and I didn’t really switch to the city mood.
I was really hoping to like Christchurch and in different circumstances I think I would. I’m a city girl and Christchurch has everything I’d normally fall for: street art, great cafes, interesting architecture as well as dark recent history. The city is still recovering after the tragic earthquake that hit Christchurch in February 2011, much of the center is under construction, containers replaced shopping center and there are still so many holes showing where the houses used to be. The most moving place is the memorial to the victims of the earthquake – 185 empty white chairs, one for each of the victims…
It’s good to spend at least few hours in Christchurch and see the city but let’s face it – this is not why you visit New Zealand.
Where I stayed: after landing in Auckland late in the evening I went directly to my accommodation for the night – Kiwi International Hotel. It was good value for the money with the Booking rating of 7.2/10. With great location. The hotel is located on Queen Street next to the hipster-ish part of the city and not far from the downtown I can definitely recommend this place. Click here to see the current prices and details.
Day 10 Auckland
I spent my last day in New Zealand in Auckland and, contrary to Christchurch, I liked it much better than I expected. I’ve never heard many good things about the biggest city in New Zealand so I just treated it as a stopover (at some point I was even wondering if I should have maybe used this day better, spending it in another gorgeous destination) but I actually enjoyed it surprisingly much.
Part of it is thanks to my dear readers, Sam and Richard, who I met with in Auckland and who showed me some of the best places they city has to offer. Besides the downtown and waterfront I could also see Auckland War Memorial Museum with the interesting exhibitions about Pacific cultures (that I sadly know so little about) and super fascinating Maori cultural performance (they did the haka dance!) or the alternative area at the crossroads of Queen Street and Karangahape Road.
It was such a fun day and a perfect ending of my 10 days in New Zealand!
Is it worth to go to New Zealand for 10 day only?
No matter how crazy that sounds I think it’s definitely worth it! New Zealand really is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to and I’d go there again in a heartbeat! But everything also depends on how lucky you are with the weather as it’s pretty unpredictable and you can get all four season in one day. I was really lucky here, I had a really good weather for most of the time and it didn’t rain even once (although forecasts were predicting heavy rains in Fox Glacier and Auckland).
10 days in New Zealand is not a lot but if you plan your New Zealand itinerary well you really can see a lot of spectacular places! And don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible to visit New Zealand without renting a car – I’m a walking example that it’s perfectly doable!
How to travel around New Zealand without a car?
There are few bus companies but I’ve decided to use InterCity as their schedule and routes worked the best for me. The schedule, however, is rather limited with usually only one trip per day so you need to plan everything around that. But in any place I didn’t feel like I don’t have enough time for what I want to see and do, when I missed some activities or had to make some tough choices it was because of my busy itinerary in general.
After planning all my connections I’ve decided to get the 25 hours pass for 209 NZD. It counts the hours from the timetable so even if the bus is delayed (happened to me only once and it was only 15 minutes delay, in Twizel when I was about to depart to Queenstown) you don’t need to worry about taking the extra minutes from your pass. The pass is valid for a year so if I manage to return to New Zealand before the end of September I can technically still use those few hours I have left on it.
Planning and booking connections is super easy. You just need to log in on the Intercity website and search the route you’d like to take. Then you just add it to your cart and voila, you’re done. Even if none of the buses I took were full I still wouldn’t leave the booking for the last moment, especially in the summer months, just to be on a safe side. Before the trip you need to be at the bus stop 15 minutes before the departure time and then just give your name to the driver for the check-in, once he verifies you’re booked to this connection you are free to board the bus.
The bus journeys were all good, comfortable, with wifi and great drivers who were talking a lot during the trip: telling about the places we were passing by / about to reach or sharing the interesting stories. There were also some photo stops in beautiful places along the way. Overall it was so much better experience than with most of the buses I’ve ever taken and I can definitely recommend it to everyone visiting New Zealand who don’t want to / can’t rent a car!
And here is the map of all the places I visited during my 10 days in New Zealand
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