I hear it all the time: "This is such a small country, but we never realized there would be so much to see; we wish we'd allowed more time." Seeing New Zealand in 1 week is possible, but it will require early starts and long days. Personally, I'd ditch the car idea and fly between four major stops - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown - to save time. There are regular internal flights between all major towns and cities, and if you shop around some of the smaller airlines, you can get good deals. Otherwise, you'll spend 90% of your time in a vehicle, suffering from jet lag, with little left over for the sights.
Day 1: Arrive in Auckland
Try to arrive early and focus your attention on Viaduct Harbour, a great introduction to New Zealand's passion for boats. Go for a sail on NZL 40, which is moored here. The New Zealand National Maritime Museum is also here and gives a great overview of our maritime history and short cruises on the historic scow Ted Ashby. In between, join the crowds lazing about over good coffee and fine food. There are at least a dozen restaurants to choose from. Stay at Hilton Auckland, perched on the end of the wharf.
Day 2: Waiheke Island
Catch a ferry across to Waiheke Island for a day of laid-back wine tasting and beach walking. Factor in lunch at Te Whau Vineyard, where you can gaze over staggering views and one of the best wine cellars in the country. Visit Connells Bay Sculpture Park with work by leading New Zealand artists, and swim in the clear warm waters of Onetangi Bay. Return to Auckland in the late afternoon, visit Auckland Museum, and eat at the French Café.
Day 3: Wellington
Get up early and fly to Wellington. For the definitive overview of New Zealand, go straight to Te Papa. Don't miss the Passports and Mana Whenua displays. Walk along the waterfront, down the Lambton Quay shopping precinct, and catch the cable car up to the Botanic Garden. Go down the other side to Tinakori Village for lunch. Walk back down Bowen Street, past the Beehive and Parliament. After unwinding at Caffe Astoria, enjoy dinner at Logan Brown.
Day 4: Christchurch
Take an early flight to Christchurch, hire a car at the airport, skip the city, and drive 1 hour to pretty Akaroa, admiring rural landscapes along the way. For interesting art and great coffee, stop at Little River Gallery. Take another break at the hilltop for great camera shots. Over the hills, try tasty Barry's Bay Cheese. In Akaroa, take a nature cruise with dolphin-watching, or saunter along the promenade, taking in quaint architecture and dinky shops. When you return to Christchurch, stay at Clearwater Resort, which is close to the airport.
Day 5: Arrive in Queenstown
Sleep in and wake up to ducks floating on the lake outside your window. Ease yourself into a late breakfast before flying to Queenstown. Once there, at the airport, take a memorable helicopter ride with Over The Top and land high on a mountain peak for lunch in total solitude. You'll remember this forever. Back on the ground, spoil yourself at the Sofitel.
Day 6: Queenstown Adventures
Rise early, meet the locals for breakfast at Joe's Garage, and then have the quintessential adventure experience on Shotover Jet. Move on to Arrowtown, explore the quaint old Chinese gold mining area, and have lunch at Saffron. If you're ready for more action, do the Kawarau Bungy, or watch others, and then visit GVW Winery. Alternatively, use this day to enjoy a scenic flight to Milford Sound, a cruise, and return flight.
Day 7: Back to Christchurch
Fly back to Christchurch to connect with your international flight. If you have time between flights, visit the nearby International Antarctic Centre, Orana Park, or Willowbank Wildlife Reserve - where you're sure to see a kiwi. Alternatively, unwind with a round of golf at Clearwater Resort. If you decide you were silly to try and cram it all into a week, see the next itinerary.