Travel SOS – touring New Zealand: guided or go-it-alone?

When time is of the essence, should you opt for a guided tour or go it alone?

Travel SOS – touring New Zealand: guided or go-it-alone?

New Zealand is one of the easiest destinations to navigate but, when time is of the essence, should you opt for a guided tour or go it alone? Lee Mylne tackles Trevor’s question in today’s Travel SOS.

Q. Trevor
I’m planning a trip to New Zealand. It’s my first time there, and I’m not sure whether I should do a guided tour or travel by myself. Also, should I do both islands at once, or do you recommended one over the other? I’ll be going for two weeks.

A. Well, Trevor, you have chosen one of the best and most beautiful places in the world for your holiday! Of course, I am terribly biased when I say this. Yes, I am a New Zealander, so I’m sure I can help you out with this. I try to get back there at least once a year, both to work or to visit family, for my annual dose of ‘home’.

Now to some practicalities. Two weeks is a good amount of time, but you won’t be able to see everything. New Zealand may not be very big geographically, but it’s a country that packs a lot into that small space. You could spend one week in each island and still see a lot, or just concentrate on one island, North or South. I’m a North Islander, but the reality is that most Australians like to head to the South Island for the mountains and all that Lord of the Rings scenery. But the North Island has a lot to offer too, especially if you are interested in Maori culture or the geothermal attractions around Rotorua, in the centre.

Depending on where you are based in Australia, your flights might determine where you start your exploration of New Zealand. While most airlines fly to Auckland, in the north, some also fly direct to Christchurch or Queenstown, putting you right in the heartland of the Southern Alps. 

I am a fan of self-drive holidays, because of the freedom and flexibility it gives you, and it’s very easy to do in New Zealand. If you do choose self-drive, my best advice would be to ensure you have a map (or use a GPS) that will give you travelling times, not just distances. Unlike Australia, covering ground in New Zealand often takes a lot longer than the distance would suggest, because many of the roads are winding and only single-lane in each direction.

If, however, you are travelling solo, then you might be better off on a coach tour which will allow you to relax a bit more and let someone else do the driving. I took a South Island tour a couple of years ago with AAT Kings and it was great to be able to just gaze out the window and not concentrate on the road! If you decide to do both islands, this also saves you the (minor) hassle of organising the Cook Strait ferry crossing between Wellington and Picton. All that will be handled for you as part of your tour – or you might fly between the two islands as part of the tour price.  And as a first-timer, you can pick a tour that ensures you see all the major highlights of both islands.

I hope you have a fabulous time, Trevor! Your two weeks might not seem long enough, once you are there, but rest assured there’ll be plenty more to see if you decide to go back again. I’m still discovering new places after a lifetime of travelling around New Zealand.

For more information check out the Tourism New Zealand website It also includes a list of coach companies that specialise in New Zealand, with links to their websites.

Do you have a travel question for Lee? If so, email your Travel SOS to 

    has managed to combine her two passions – travelling and writing – into a long and successful career as a travel journalist. Her work is published in newspapers, magazines, websites and travel apps in Australia and around the world.


    To make a comment, please register or login
    17th Jun 2016
    I always check the registration of Australian businesses before attempting to buy.
    Go to (au). It is easy peasy to set up a webpage and take off with money.
    18th Jun 2016
    I started going to New Zealand in 1978 so I have been many times. I did a guided tour of the South Island in 2014, in 2015 I did a solo tour of the South Island. While solo tour was a bit of adventure, guided tour was so much better, Everything was done for you even your case was taken to your hotel,I didn't have to worry about a thing. The solo One had to organise everything yourself, and it took away part of your holiday I think. So I would recommend a guided tour. By the way I live in Melbourne, I've flown to Auckland, Christchurch, and Queenstown, From Melbourne. Also I should mention I think I was 87 in February this year, so don't let age put you off. This year I am going to the North Island, to the Bay of Islands and staying a week at Paihia, then staying with my friend of 60 years at Browns Bay which is north of Auckland for two weeks. New Zealand is such a lovely place and compares anywhere in Europe, which I have toured in a campervan in the 80s.
    fish head
    18th Jun 2016
    As a first timer I heartily recommend using a group tour. No , you don't see everything but you do get a good overview of most main attractions. In two weeks you can have a taste of both islands with minimum stress to you. See what you like and go back later to fit in any perceived gaps.I did a cruise and can't wait to take off on a self drive of the South Island particularly. Lots of gaps to fill there.
    7th Jan 2017
    I have been to NZ three times in the last ten years and each time we have flown into Auckland, collected a hire car and departed Wellington two weeks later.You will see much more that way. The first and last nights' motels have been pre-booked, in Australia, along with the hire car. Having a list of motels, from the internet, for each town we wanted to visit made it easy to book the following nights accommodation a day ahead. We used a copy of the 'Lonely Planet, New Zealand's North Island" to plan where we wanted to go - planning is part of the fun. Many of the small towns have museums or other attractions that you don't know about until driving through. Driving around is easy with many good maps available and most larger towns have information sites. Collect the car at one airport and drop it off at the other - too easy. This year we are planning on doing the south island.
    13th Jul 2019
    Two weeks, never enough time. Two weeks each island, just enough. If it's self drive you miss seeing the countryside however you remain independent. Lots of stops for photos. Self drive plus day tours by coach/rail/scenic flights (Tranz Alpine, Milford). Rental car relocation, cheap travel (Imoova). Jan., Feb., March, daylight saving, still light at 9:30 p.m., extra travel time. Some magic spots off the tourist routes.

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