Check out New Zealand's best bits, travelling on this comprehensive hop on hop off tour from Auckland to Christchurch. Visit the Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga and Milford Sound. Even explore Franz Josef and Rotorua in between!
The Back Yard pass takes a minimum of 21 days to travel the entire route. However, the pass is valid for 12 months from the first day of travel, so you can hop off for longer at the compulsory stops or even visit the non-compulsory stops in between. All you need to do is book your own accommodation for the extra nights and then call the reservations line to reschedule your next bus pick-up date. The pass is complete once you've travelled each section once.
The base itinerary for this tour is: Auckland – Pahia (2 nights) – Auckland (1 night) – The Coromandel (1 night) – Waitomo (1 night) – Rotorua (1 night) – Taupo (2 nights) – River Valley (1 night) – Wellington (1 night) – Able Tasman (1 night) – Westport (1 night) – Lake Mahinapua (1 night) – Franz Josef (2 nights) – Wanaka (1 night) – Queenstown (2 nights) – Lake Tekapo (1 night) – Christchurch (1 night). Of course, you can stay longer!
All the paid activities suggested in the itinerary are optional and can be booked on the day with your driver. There are quite a few free activities and attractions to enjoy as well!
Auckland – Paihia
Depart Auckland and begin the journey north. Stop at Whangarei Falls on your way before arriving in the Bay of Islands around midday. Check out the sights surrounding Paihia, including New Zealand's most historic location, Waitangi - the 'Birthplace of the Nation'. Northland is rich in history and Maori culture and with its crystal clear water, huge kauri forests, and plentiful islands to explore. Swim with the dolphins, ride out to the famous hole in the rock, go kayaking, sail, fish, dive, snorkelling, or just relax on the beach!
Paihia – Cape Reinga – Paihia
Roll yourself out of bed and be prepared for an action-packed day up to Cape Reinga. This area is sacred to the Maori people, and the day trip to Cape Reinga is a must-do. The day is full of walks and free activities. Drive along 90 Mile Beach, see huge kauri trees and bodyboard down the gigantic sand dunes! Then, take some time out to view the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean clashing, gather shellfish on the beach, and experience one of New Zealand’s best fish ‘n’ chip shops. Yum!
Paihia – Auckland
Today is your chance to squeeze in those activities you haven’t completed in Paihia before heading back to Auckland. Departing mid-afternoon, you have the best part of the day to experience one of the many activities on offer in the Bay or simply chill on the beach with a good book. The drive back to the “big smoke” is relaxed, and you'll be back in the city in time to find some dinner and hit the town.
Auckland – Hot Water Beach
Head towards the Coromandel Peninsula and spend the afternoon at Cathedral Cove. This stunning area is only accessible on foot or by kayak. This beautiful coastal spot is great for swimming,sea kayaking, and spotting dolphins if you’re lucky. Later, carry on to Hot Water Beach, which was rated one of the top ten beaches in the world by Lonely Planet. Head out with your shovel at low tide to dig your own hot pool in the sand.
Hot Water Beach – Waitomo
After an early start, hit the road to your first stop today, the Karangahake Scenic Reserve. Explore a native bush-clad gorge, swing bridges and a bit of New Zealand’s gold mining history. Next, it’s onto Waitomo, where you will get the chance to visit the world-famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves. If you're feeling adventurous, here is your chance to go underground and experience a trip with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.
Waitomo – Rotorua
Start the day with a walk through the Ruakuri Reserve and a breakfast stop at the Long Black Café. Then, it's onto Rotorua! Along the way, stop at The Shires Rest, where you can jump off and take a tour through the enchanting Hobbiton Movie Set. Tonight, don’t miss the chance to stay overnight at Tamaki Marae, where you can experience a traditional Maori hangi (feast) and a concert with Tamaki Maori Village. It's a night not to be missed!
Rotorua – Taupo
Today you'll head from geothermal Rotorua to Taupo, home to New Zealand’s biggest lake. There's plenty to keep you occupied! In Rotorua, spend the morning exploring the geothermal reserve of Te Puia. Here you'll see New Zealand’s largest geyser and a real live Kiwi bird. The afternoon journey includes a stop off at Taupo’s famous Huka Falls. Taupo is rightly known as the adventure capital of the North Island with optional activities on offer such as skydiving, bungy jumping, jet boating, sailing and the spectacular Tongariro Crossing!
Taupo (Extra Day)
We recommend staying an extra night in Taupo because there’s so much to do! If you’re short on time, you can always skip this extra day, timetable allowing, and get to the next stop sooner. Enjoy a sleep-in this morning - if you're not doing the Tongariro Crossing, that is! Head off on this incredible hike, or experience one of the many other activities on offer. A walk down to Spa Park to relax in the natural hot springs by the river is a great way to spend the day (or night).
Taupo – River Valley
Today, head south around the “great lake” towards the Tongariro National Park. Enjoy a picnic lunch and a two-hour walk through native bush and waterfalls. In the afternoon, travel through to the ultimate adventure lodge - River Valley, situated amongst towering cliffs and bush-clad hills. The lodge offers grade five rafting on the Rangitikei River, scenic horse riding, and a small golf course. Spend the evening enjoying the delicious roast dinner and relaxing by the open fire.
River Valley – Wellington
Head out of River Valley after a morning white water raft or horse ride. Travel through the rolling hills full of deer, cattle and sheep. You'll arrive in Wellington late in the afternoon. This city is the undisputed capital of culture, the arts, restaurants, fashion and nightlife. It’s home to the largest cultural attraction in New Zealand, Te Papa Museum, which is well worth a look (and it’s free). There's so much to explore here!
Wellington – Picton – Abel Tasman
Take the Interislander ferry across to the South Island through the magnificent Marlborough Sounds. Travel through vineyards to Nelson, New Zealand’s sunniest city, then on to Kaiteriteri at the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park. Kaiteriteri is a great spot to begin an adventure (on foot, by kayak or by water taxi) into Abel Tasman National Park.
Abel Tasman – Westport
Spend the morning kayaking out to Split Apple Rock and along the golden bays near Kaiteriteri. Look out for the local marine wildlife as you go! Then, if you feel like using your legs, catch a water taxi to one of the bays in the Abel Tasman National Park to go for a morning stroll in the native New Zealand forest. This afternoon you'll stop at the iconic Nelson Lakes, where you can get your legendary wharf jumping shot. Then, continue on to the surf town of Westport.
Westport – Lake Mahinapua
Today you'll start the journey down spectacular State Highway 6, a route that stretches 435 kilometres along the rugged Tasman shoreline. The road winds through a diverse series of landscapes that never cease to amaze. Highlights today include the Cape Foulwind seal colony walk, rugged beaches, and the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Tonight's unique accommodation is a chance to enjoy a delicious group meal and bond with your bus mates.
Lake Mahinapua – Franz Josef
After breakfast at Lake Mahinapua, hit the road toward Franz Josef. Franz Josef is the northern gateway to Te Wahipounamu, the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area, including Aoraki/Mount Cook, Westland Tai Poutini, Mount Aspiring, the Fiordland National Parks, and surrounding conservation lands. You'll need a free day in Franz Josef so that you can really get out there and experience what the area has to offer.
Franz Josef (Extra Day)
Today is your chance to hike on Franz Josef Glacier, rated as one of our passengers' top three activities in New Zealand. You can also enjoy a scenic heli-flight over the glacier, go horseback riding, kayaking or explore the various walks in the area.
Franz Josef – Wanaka
Start out early to catch the perfect mirror reflection of Mt Cook and the Southern Alps on Lake Matheson. Then, cruise down the last stretch of Highway 6, stopping at popular scenic spots along the way. Then, in the afternoon, it's onto Mount Aspiring National Park. Your final stop is the awe-inspiring Wanaka.
Wanaka – Queenstown
Before leaving Wanaka, get your brain working at Puzzling World! Then, it's onto the world’s first commercial Bungy site - the Kawarau Bridge. Only the brave will sign themselves up for this iconic NZ activity. Later, on arrival in Queenstown, head down to the spectacular waterfront before you go out on the town. Queenstown has some infamous nightlife just waiting to be discovered.
Queenstown (Extra day)
We recommend staying an extra night in Queenstown because there’s so much to do there. However, if you’re short on time, you can always skip this extra day, timetable allowing, and get to the next stop sooner. Queenstown is one of the most amazing places on Earth. No matter what time of the year, there are tons to see and do. Take the time to spend a few days here as it is one of the most picturesque places in the world. Make the most of the beautiful lake and surrounding walks, or get into a whole range of adrenaline-pumping activities.
Milford Sound Day Trip
You can't miss the day trip to Milford Sound, commonly referred to as The Eighth Wonder of the World. It's a New Zealand must see! You'll board the Milford Explorer early and make a stop for breakfast, coffee, or just a snack is at the picturesque town of Te Anau. Before getting to the Homer Tunnel, there's plenty of photo stops at places like Mirror Lakes and the Chasm. Once at Milford, you'll embark on an unforgettable scenic boat cruise through the Sound, exploring soaring peaks and towering waterfalls. This is a chance to see New Zealand’s scenery and nature at its best. After the cruise, it’s back on the bus for your journey back to the adventure capital.
Queenstown – Lake Tekapo
Head out of Queenstown through the Lindis Pass. Get your cameras ready because this isLord of the Rings territory. After stopping to admire Mt Cook at Lake Pukaki, travel to Lake Tekapo with its amazing location by snow-capped alps and clear starry skies. Lake Tekapo has something for everyone. Relax at the lakeside and take in the untouched view, soak in the hot springs or take a wander and discover one of the many scenic walkways. Tonight, spend some time checking out the mind-boggling stars in what is the world’s largest dark sky reserve.
Lake Tekapo – Christchurch
It's a straight run into Christchurch today, the largest city in the South Island. As you zoom around, you'll witness a city rebuilding and flourishing in the wake of the 2011 earthquakes. Check out the funky Re:Start Mall and keep your eyes peeled for the sweet pop-up bars around the city. Tonight, wave goodbye to your new travel mates.