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3 Weeks in New Zealand: Can You See It All? Top 10 Stops to Prioritize

Find out how to spend 3 weeksn in New Zealand with these 10 things to do on a New Zealand roadtrip. Plan a 3 week New Zealand itinerary.
Imagine the possibilities that 3 weeks in New Zealand would afford. 

New Zealand is a quintessential bucket list destination and for good reason.  The island nation features outstanding natural beauty, adventure galore, and will certainly wine and dine you. 

We rate New Zealand as one of our top trips of all time.  We had the luxury (by American standards) of visiting for the first time for three weeks on a road trip around the South and North Island.  

This post includes our North Island and South Island New Zealand itineraries to inspire your own trip.

Here are ten things that made the trip particularly memorable for us. Read on for ideas on how to make the most of 3 weeks in New Zealand.

Things to do in New Zealand - Milford Sound

NZ South Island Itinerary Destinations

Let's start off with 5 New Zealand South Island destinations and things to do that are a must-see for first time visitors.

1. Explore the Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula on the South Island is quite simply one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.  The narrow winding roads remind me a bit of Ireland. 

From our home base in Dunedin, we watched seals basking in the sun from a comfortable hide.  A rare yellow-eyed penguin waddled onto the beach.  

At the very end of the peninsula, we watched Albatross nesting.  Otago Peninsula should definitely not be missed.
Scenes from the Otago Peninsula in New Zealand

2. Marvel at Roadside Attractions

On a lighter note, We noticed on our drive around New Zealand that there is definitely a penchant for large novelty roadside attractions.  Don't be shy when you see one.  

Pull over, gawk, and take some photos.  I love a giant salmon!
Roadside attractions including giant salmon and sheep in New Zealand

3. Be Part of the Adventure (or Watch) in Queenstown

New Zealand is also ideal for adrenaline junkies and all the best things to do in Queenstown cater to this.  The town features the original Bungee jump (it's incredible to think about the pioneer that started this trend.  

What was he/she thinking? "I'm going to attach myself to a stretchy cable and jump off a bridge, heck yeah!").  

I'm afraid of heights but given that we were in New Zealand and at the origin of bungee jumping, we actually went out to the site with the intention of signing up for a jump.  

I watched for a while and then, simply, wussed out.  We opted for a speed boat 'funyak' (fun + kayak = funyak!) tour along the Dart River instead which proved to be much more to our liking.
Bungee jumping and other adventure sports in New Zealand

4. Board the BBQ Bus in Milford Sound

We took a Milford Sound cruise of the gorgeous fjords and followed that up with a ride on the BBQ bus for lunch.  We ate lunch with a backdrop of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Scenes from Milford Sound and the BBQ Bus

5. Step on the Franz Josef Glacier 

New Zealand is unique in that the island is home to at least a couple large glaciers.  A short hike through a green valley leads to the base of the Franz Josef glacier.  We signed on for a guided tour where we were able to walk on the ice.
Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

NZ North Island Itinerary Destinations

Now let's take a look at 5 destinations on the North Island that you should add to your New Zealand trip.

6. Get Above it All in Wellington 

New Zealand also offers quality city living. We enjoyed taking the funicular to the top of the hill to visit the botanical gardens in the capital of Wellington.  

Rising above it all, we steeped in the views and reflected on just how lucky we were to be there. Wellington really offers a wealth of things to do.
Scenes from Wellington New Zealand

7. Watch Mud Boil in Rotorua 

This may sound odd, but the boiling mud was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip.  Rotorua is known for intense geothermal activity and high mineral concentrations which results in spectacularly colored hot springs and, well, boiling mud.  

I could have stood there for hours watching the mud and listening to the 'gloop gloop gloop' sounds.  It was surprisingly zen.  

I recommend visiting Rotorua near the end of the trip as the sulfur smell from the hot springs and geothermal features tends to linger...the smell is especially tenacious if you get caught in the rain like we did.
Geothermal Pools and Boiling Mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

8. Cycle and Sip in Hawkes Bay

We love fine wine and New Zealand offers some of the best in the world.  There are a number of wine regions including the popular Marlborough, Central Otago, and Hawkes Bay.  

We stayed in Hawkes Bay and took a self-guided cycling tour from Bike About Tours in Napier to explore the region at a slower pace and sip a few fine wines along the way.
Cycling tour through the vineyards of Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

9. Behold! Sheep!

Much like Ireland, New Zealand is a country awash in sheep and they certainly embrace this.  One of the most fun and kitchiest activities that we did was visit the Agrodome in Rotorua. 

We watched a shepherd in a singlet introduce various species of sheep like they were rock stars.  He then invited audience members on stage to shear and milk the sheep.  

It was great fun and educational too!
Sheep show at the Agrodome in New Zealand

10. Float with the Gloworms

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are one of the more fascinating adventure destinations in New Zealand and doesn't require a high level of physical fitness or induce a massive adrenaline rush.  

The glowworms are the larvae of fungus gnats and take up residence here creating beautiful starry-sky patterns on the ceiling and walls of the cave.  

To get there, you can don a wet suit and float lazily down the river inside the cave watching the glowworms as you float past.  Zen.
Tubing in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand

Getting to New Zealand from Europe

What's the best way to get to New Zealand from Europe? Emirates Airlines flies to both Christchurch and Auckland via Dubai. 

For the most comfortable experience and only one hop through Dubai, fly business class on Emirates or splurge on an upgrade to the amazing Emirates First Class cabin like I did. 

The 17.5 hour flight from Auckland to Dubai was like staying in a luxury hotel in the sky.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: While we spent 3 weeks in New Zealand on our first trip, that still wasn't enough time to see everything that the North and South Islands have to offer. We had to save the road trip from Auckland to Paihia and the Bay of Islands (including various day trips from Devonport near Auckland) as well as a visit to Blenheim and the Marlborough wineries and a tour of the craft breweries in Nelson for a separate 2 week trip to New Zealand.

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3 Weeks in New ZealandThings to do in New Zealand

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 3 Weeks in New Zealand: Can You See It All? Top 10 Stops to Prioritize
3 Weeks in New Zealand: Can You See It All? Top 10 Stops to Prioritize
Find out how to spend 3 weeksn in New Zealand with these 10 things to do on a New Zealand roadtrip. Plan a 3 week New Zealand itinerary.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog