Green, rolling hills, pristine beaches, big city life and roaring volanoes. There is so much to do and see in New Zealand's North Island, that it's hardly possible to fit it all into just one visit. Even though the country is small compared ot its neighbour Australia, you should definitely calculate enough time for your New Zealand road trip. If you have two weeks, your North Island itinerary could look a bit like this:
If you need additional tips on New Zealand North Island attractions, send me a message. I'll try my best to help you.
Please note that this is a New Zealand itinerary for first timers and covers only some of the North Island highlights. Itineraries for New Zealand repeaters will follow at a later stage.
Day 1: Auckland
After arriving in Auckland, you shouldn’t go too far, as the chance of you having a jetlag is probably a reality. Go pick up your car or camper van and check-in to your hotel or campground. Maybe go for a little walk around your area. Get a first taste of New Zealand by eating the best hokey pokey ice cream in the world at Giapo ice cream on Gore Street or drinking a Flat White at one of the many cafes. But apart form that, just relax and get rid of the nasty jetlag.
Day 2: Explore Auckland
Exploring the inner city of Auckland is easiest done by public transport. The green Inner City Link bus will bring you to all the interesting areas of Auckland. Queen Street with the Skytower, Ponsonby, Parnell, K-Road, they all have their own flair and are worth a visit. There are also red buses to get you around the city center. But with all the traffic and lights, you’re probably faster by walking. Explore Auckland by boat on a Waitemata Harbour cruise or visit an open bird sanctuary on Tiritiri Matangi Island. If you feel like a day of walking, the Coast to Coast Walkway will be perfect for you. And don't miss out on the abundance of Auckland's waterfront restaurants in Viaduct Harbour and the Wynyard Quarter for dinner.
Day 3: Auckland to Paihia (approx. 230km)
Get up early and start driving north. Stop in Waipu to visit Waipu caves with their millions of glow worms, and add another break in Whangarei for lunch. Don’t forget to visit the toilets in Kawakawa that have been designed by the famous Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Peeing has never been artsier 😉
Day 4: bay of islands cruise
There are plenty of tour operators in Paihia or Russell. Go for a hole in the rock tour, dolphin watching or even swim with dolphins in Bay of Islands! It’s completely up to you! Just make sure you find time to walk through Russell as it’s really pretty with its colonial houses right on the water’s edge.
There is so much to see and do in the Bay of Islands and the rest of Northland.
Check out my recommendations for Bay of Islands activities and accommodation!
If you have a few days and want to rather stay on the islands instead of Russell or Paihia, Amy from outchasingstars.com has some really good inspiration in the Bay of islands for you
Day 5: paihia to Waipoua Forest (approx. 130km)
First, visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the place where the British Crown and Maori signed the famous treaty that founded modern New Zealand (and disadvantaged the Maori). Afterwards, drive to the Waipoua kauri forest. Here lives Tane Mahuta, the oldest Kauri tree in New Zealand.
Tip: If you travel with a tent or in a camper, stay at the DOC campground and take a nocturnal walk to find glow worms
Day 6: Waipoua Forest to Orewa Beach (approx. 210km)
To break up the long stretch to Rotorua, stay a night at Orewa Beach, just north of Auckland. The 3km long beach is perfect for a walk, some swimming and surfing, and is a popular weekend getaway for Aucklander. Perfect for a little relaxation.
Day 7 – 9: Explore Rotorua
This town is nicknamed Rotovegas for a reason. There is so many things to do in Rotorua that you could easily spend a week or even two and still explore something new every day. It is most famous for its geo-thermal areas and you can see it steaming and bubbling pretty much everywhere (even in the city park). All through the town the smell of rotten eggs is omnipresent, evidence of the ever-flowing Sulphur. A visit at Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland is a must-do and can be booked here!If you’re a biker, you’ll have to go on a ride through the Redwood forest! Thrill-seekers can zorb down a hill and kids can try to find their way out of the huge maze at aMAZEme. Hikers will love the nearby Tarawera Trail. Dinner is great in one of the restaurants at the car-free eat street Rotorua. And that’s only a little extract of what Rotorua has to offer!
By the way: If you have some time to spare on your way from Auckland to Rotorua, you should definitely stop at Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata!
Day 10: Rotorua to National Park Village (approx. 180km)
A must-stop en-route to National Park Village is Taupo. The least you should visit are the Huka Falls and Spa Park. Spa Park Taupo a poplular free hot spring that leads into the river and i can only recommend it. National Park Village is quiet but there are a couple bars (eg Schnapps Bar and Park Hotel Bar), a minigolf and a climbing hall (that is also a hostel).
Day 11: Tongariro Crossing in summer or skiing in winter (20km, approx. 6h)
Take the shuttle bus at the pre-arranged time and be chauffeured to the start of the 20km walk. It can be quite busy at times as this is the most popular day hike in New Zealand. The hike takes you through a volcanic landscape that seems out of this world. If you’re fast you can try to climb Mount Ngauruhoe additionally, known to many as Mt. Doom of Lord of the Rings. Take your lunch break at the Emerald Lakes before tackling the second half of the 6 hour hike.
If you are in Tongariro National Park in winter I suggest you try skiing Ruapehu. It's a one in a lifetime experience!
Day 12: National Park Village to Wellington (approx. 320km)
It’s a long way down to Wellington but it can easily be interrupted with a few breaks. Drive to Ohakune (30mins from National Park), get yourself a coffee for the road and stop again in the little village of Bulls. There’s not that much to see apart from the special sense of humor of the locals. You’ll see :-)
Another nice break is in Paraparaumu Beach, with a great view to Kapiti Island, a birders paradise. If the island sounds familiar to you, that’s because of the yummy Kapiti ice cream you might have eaten somewhere.
Or if you need to stretch your legs on a (longer) walk, the Paekakariki Escarpment Track is perfect for you!
Tip: If you have spare time, stay on Kapiti Island for the night. Because it’s governed by DOC you’ll need to book your accommodation in advance.
Day 13-14: Wellington
The least you should see in Wellington is the National Museum Te Papa and the often captured lookout that can be reached by cable car. Shopping and dining can be done in the popular Cuba Street. The street has a bohemian flair and is full with little cafes, bars and street art. Being the capital of New Zealand, Wellington is also interesting for the ones who are into politics.
Either fly home from here (Singapore Air now flies to Welly) or take the ferry down to the South Island.
If you need some more inspiration for things to do in Wellington, the Travelkiwis have 4 other tips on the Waterfront for you.