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Help with Sydney and going to New Zealand?

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I am trying to find a way to fly from the states in January to meet up with my adult daughter in Sydney for a couple days and then fly over to New Zealand for two weeks before a return to the US. My daughter's work has her leaving out of Christchurch to Antarctica so she has a ticket to New Zealand on Qantas by way of Sydney from work.
Logistically, I am trying to figure out if we should fly straight to the North Island from Sydney and work our way back down south to the South Island. If you had 14-16 days with a couple days in Sydney, what cities would you see in NZ before going to Christchurch? She is a marine geologist so Rotorua with the geysers are a must-any other suggestions?
Favorite cities in the North island?
Favorite cities in the South Island?
Rental car agency favorites you would recommend?
I appreciate any tips of information!

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