New Zealand looks deceptively small on a map. Don’t be fooled! There’s a lot to see here and plenty of roads to explore so be generous when you’re planning your time here.
To see a reasonable amount of both the North and South Islands you’ll want at least 3 months and perhaps as much as 6 months.
That amount of time can seem a lot at first glance. But remember that New Zealand is a bit bigger than Britain, with challenging terrain and weather (budget for a few rain days and tough-going against the wind and hills).
With 5-6 months you can really take your time and enjoy exploring every nook, cranny and dead-end peninsula. You should be able to cycle from the northernmost cape at the tip of the North Island to the little town of Bluff in the South Island and take quite a few detours inbetween.
Come for 3 months or less and you’ll have to do a bit of picking and choosing. We’d recommend seriously considering spending all of your time in the South Island, especially if you have fewer than 8 weeks to spare.
There’s hardly anywhere in the South Island that doesn’t offer stunning scenery, whether you’re going down the West Coast (a bit busy but gorgeous rainforests), checking out the Central Otago Rail Trail, relaxing in the Queen Charlotte Sounds and sipping wine in Marlborough or slogging it out over the remote Molesworth Road.
If you must see a bit of the north and your time is limited, use trains and buses to link up the highlights. Go straight for places like Tongariro National Park and the Coromandel Penninsula and skip the urban sprawl around Wellington and many of the other North Island cities.