New Zealand may be compact, but it is incredibly diverse. There is so much to see and do, and it takes longer to see and do it than you might think. It’s worth allowing time to visit a number of different regions while you’re here to take in the huge array of landscapes and activities on offer.





If you’re wanting a moderately relaxed sightseeing tour of the country, you should allow 2 or, ideally, 3 weeks to cover both islands. A common split is one week in the North Island and two weeks in the South. This allows for a good general overview of the features unique to each island. The right split between islands, however, may depend on your particular interests. See our article, New Zealand’s North Island vs. South Island, to find the right mix for you.

Two Black Sheep head off the beaten track. © Black Sheep Touring Co.
Two Black Sheep head off the beaten track. © Black Sheep Touring Co.

Of course, the longer you can spend here, the more in-depth and rewarding your trip will be, so if you have more time, take it; you’ll have no problem filling your itinerary. We’ve planned many Bespoke Self Drive and Private itineraries of 25 days or more.


Recommended 3-Week (22-Day) Itinerary: New Zealand Experience Small Group Tour




Consider a Guided Trip


We understand not everyone has the luxury of unlimited time off. You can still have a great New Zealand trip with less time. Three weeks or more might be ideal, but if you are limited by work or school schedules or other constraints, there are ways to fit in as much as you can with the time you have. A Guided trip (whether on your own Private tour or a Small Group tour) removes travel hassles and allows you to see and do more in less time. Our upcoming article 4 Benefits of a Guided New Zealand Trip goes into this in more detail.


Recommended 10-Day Family Itinerary: New Zealand Breakaway Private Tour

A Black Sheep family make the most of their time together with a guided Private tour. © Black Sheep Touring Co.
A Black Sheep family make the most of their time together with a guided Private tour. © Black Sheep Touring Co.
Consider Using Self Drive Experts


If you have limited time but prefer to take the wheel yourself or are budget conscious, we recommend considering a Self Drive tour where the itinerary planning is done for you, and that provides trip notes to assist you along the way. This way, you don’t have to spend precious vacation time doing hit-or-miss decision making.


When choosing a Self Drive tour planner, we strongly recommend using a New Zealand-based company. We don’t say this out of self-interest. Operators that actually live in New Zealand and drive on its roads will have more realistic expectations of how much you can comfortably do in limited time. We are often dismayed to see ‘short and sharp’ itineraries done by overseas agents or trip curators that we know will leave visitors exhausted and potentially at risk.


Recommended 13-Day Self-drive Itinerary: Southern Scenic Self Drive Tour

Cover page and excerpt from a Black Sheep self-driver's onroad bible. © Black Sheep Touring Co.

If you decide doing your own planning is part of the fun and you choose not to use a tour company, do promise us you’ll really do your research and allow yourself enough travel time between destinations to take breaks and enjoy the journey along the way.





On Travel Times


There are very few straight roads in New Zealand and visitors often underestimate the length of time it takes to get from one destination to another. In the South Island especially, getting from Point A to Point B often entails mountain passes, one-lane bridges, views that cry out for a photo op, and the occasional sheep jam. Standard driving time is approximately 3 hours between nightly destinations, and longer in wilderness areas.

Rush hour traffic in New Zealand © Black Sheep Touring Co.
Rush hour traffic in New Zealand © Black Sheep Touring Co.

Note, the Small Group and Private itineraries above factor in the use of a professional guide who is ‘road trip fit’ and can comfortably execute them. If you use them for your own planning purposes, we strongly recommend factoring in more time. See our upcoming articles comparing Guided and Self Drive travel.


On Getting Here


When planning your trip, remember that you will be crossing time zones in flight. For example, if you’re coming from the US and depart on 1 October, you’ll basically ‘lose’ 2 October en route (important to remember if you’re travelling around your birthday!), arriving in New Zealand on 3 October NZT (New Zealand Time).


Flights from the west coast of the US take approximately 12 hours to reach Auckland (a couple of meals, a couple of movies, and some shut-eye and you’re here!). Flights from eastern Australia are approximately 3.5 hours, and from ports around the Pacific Rim (eg Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan), around 10 hours. You should allow approximately 20 hours of flight time if coming from Europe, plus stopovers (OK, a few more meals and a few more movies, but completely worth it). It’s a good idea to allow a day’s recovery time (Auckland’s great for this) before jumping into your vacation in earnest.


On Australia


We’ll just put this out there now. We don’t recommend tacking a New Zealand trip onto an Australia trip unless you have plenty of time (4 weeks or more). We know it’s a long way to come and you might be thinking, “While I’m there…”, but New Zealand more than deserves a trip in its own right, as do our neighbours across the pond (but way after New Zealand). 😉


Finally, if you fear this might be your one shot at New Zealand and you feel you have to see it all and do it all in one go, take solace in the knowledge that many Black Sheep alumni came thinking the same, yet have come back again (and again). New Zealand does that to people (and we like to think we do our bit, too).

A special, overnight experience in Fiordland © Real Journeys
A special, overnight experience in Fiordland © Real Journeys


How much time do you have for your vacation/holiday? If you have a set timeframe in which to fit your New Zealand adventure, we’re here for free, expert advice on how to best optimize your time here. Just get in touch, and one of our Travel Shepherds will be happy to assist.