New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary

We love the fact that New Zealand is so distant. Even though the trip to there took 30+ hours and lots of flying, it is a journey that is totally worth it. Being so far away from… everything means that this Middle-Earth preserved its natural beauty of landscapes and cultures up to a high degree. And now it’s time to share our New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary.

Aotearoa is so beautiful that all you need to get a car and drive! Just make sure you can afford many stops and mind-blowing views. Here we share what we experienced on North Island during our 2 weeks there (during December and January). We tried to cover as much as possible from the vast lands of this endlessly fascinating country.

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Waiheke Island

Day 1 Kia ora! Welcome to the Land of the Long White Cloud!

We hoped on the SkyBus from the airport. It dropped us at Auckland CBD (Central Business District).
After 10 minutes uphill walking (first exercise after two days of flying) we reached our Airbnb accommodation and set off to the Sky Tower of Auckland. The tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. 360 degrees views of Auckland while standing on a glass floor is a cool first New Zealand experience. For the thrill-seekers, there are options to bungee jump from the tower or to walk around it in the open air on the 192-meters-high platform. In the distance, we could see the volcanic island of Rangitoto. We visited it on our very last day in New Zealand.

And it’s the beginning of the summer season so flip-flops all over everywhere but don’t forget your jacket for the evenings!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Auckland

Day 2 Sweet as hanuka kumara

We decided to spend the day on Waiheke Island. A 15-minute walk from CBD takes you to the ferry terminal and after 40 minutes of sailing, we arrived at the beautiful Waiheke Island. A quick look in the brochures assured us we can do many things on foot not going far from the Oneroa village. According to the locals, the island has a very well developed bus network and everything else is not more than a 20-minute bus ride.
We managed to visit two beautiful sandy beaches and three wineries with magnificent wines and surroundings. On our way back to Matiatia Bay we took an off-the-beaten-track hike, through unspoiled green fields and azure sea reflections.

Waiheke Island is a true jewel in the crown of Hauraki Gulf! Cheers!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Waiheke Island

Day 3 The great drive north

As we had to pick up our car at midday we afforded one relaxing morning in one of the local cafes. We combined adapting to the left side driving rules and driving up north. On our way to Northland, we made a few short stops visiting some points of interest. We had a late lunch in Whangarei to explore the town basin with many boats in the backwaters and well-preserved Victorian-style houses, and last but not least – the picturesque Whangarei waterfalls. Then it was time for a toilet stop and Kawakawa was the perfect place for this. This village is famous for its Hundertwasser toilets and probably survives on the tourist map because of them. We reached Kerikeri just in time for dinner (which usually is between 7 and 9 pm in New Zealand). Then we enjoyed the sunset time with our host on the porch in the countryside villa. Cabernet Franc was the so-much-needed component for reaching perfection.

NZ and all its visitors are very lucky to have only one native very poisonous and very very rare species – the katipō spider. We never met one or met one who has seen them.

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Whangarei

Day 4 Where two seas collide, bad spirits do not abide

We woke up early to drive to Kaitaia for our 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga tour. Our Maori driver (who was named Waru – Number 8 in Maori, you know why) and guide drove us along the 88-kilometer-long beach. Then he showed us how to slide on the sand dunes. We explored a bit the local flora and fauna and walked around the Cape Reinga park, saw where exactly the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. Visited some hidden white sand beaches, special ice cream place and the Kauri kingdom workshop featuring a giant kauri log with a staircase inside.

The northernmost part of the country proved to be amazingly beautiful!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, 90 Mile beach and Cape Reinga tour
New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, 90 Mile beach and Cape Reinga tour

Day 5 Spot the marine life and soak in the hot pool

Today we visited the Bay of Islands for a dolphin-spotting cruise. Departed from Paihia and not very far from the wharf we spotted killer whales or orcas. This is very unusual for this place and time of the year. We went through the “Hole in Rock” – another spectacular creation of nature. We stopped at one of the islands for a short walk and to absorb the beautiful scenery around. The cruise ended in Russel, another port town with historical significance. We spent the afternoon in hot spring pools following the advice of our host. We can still smell how good it was in those plenties of pools with different temperatures.

Don’t mistake orcas for orcs! They are both very dangerous and ready to eat you though!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Bay of Islands
New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Bay of Islands

Day 6 700 kilometers and 7 chords

This day was meant for a long drive from Northland to Central North Island. During our 700K drive, we stopped for a coffee break at the picturesque Rawene backwater village. Then we enjoyed the view of the Tasman Sea becoming backwaters with pristine beaches near Opononi and drove along the rugged coastline of the Tasman Sea. Accidentally we threw a look at the Kai Iwi lakes – bluer than any lake we’ve seen before. The road passed the ancient kauri forest, where we had the chance to see the oldest living kauri tree Tane Mahuta. After some traffic jams in the 100km long Auckland metropolis, we finally reached the Middle-Earth and our house at Otorohanga. It was Friday night so we enjoyed live music in the only working place after 9 p.m.

Blooming Pohutukawa trees and guitars!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Rawene, Opononi, Tasman Sea, Kai Ivi lakes
New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Tane Mahuta kauri tree

Day 7 Starry starry fluorescent skies…

Waitomo Caves are world-known for the glow worms. We believed combining “stargazing” in the caves with some black-water tubing would be one of the highlights on our trip. It turned out so. Then we did cave tour with a boat to silently admire those shiny little cacoons. The tour guide used ropes to navigate in the dark underground world so that we are able to see the fluorescent bulbs of the glow worms. We wish we had read this guide on taking great photos of glow worms that would do the whole experience justice.

After that, we drove to Rotorua ending up on Eat street on a lovely Saturday.

Sulfur town on an ancient land!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Waitomo caves
glowworm caves Australia
Photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash

Now let’s continue with week two of our North Island itinerary, where we tirelessly continued to be amazed! Or if you’re afraid that just one week will not be enough to explore the North Island, check out this amazing 1-week itinerary by a Kiwi.

Day 8 Haka warriors in sulfur fumes

We started the day in the sulfur land by visiting the Wai-O-Tapu thermal park. It enchanted us with its thermal lakes, rivers, waterfalls and mud pools – all in different bright colors. The lady Knox geyser erupted as every morning at 10:15 with little help by a human hand. We moved to Te Puia Maori village to enjoy their thermal land as well as the Maori cultural experience. In the evening we visited another Maori village – Mitai, where the cultural performance was accompanied by a bush walk and warriors in a canoe(waka).

These fascinating Polynesian people who know how to travel the ocean in a canoe are quite good singers and dancers – we were amazed by the haka dance and the melodious songs. And I cite here: “We love modern things like cars, lights, and Facebook”.

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Wai-O-Tapu thermal park
New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary,Te Puia Maori village
New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Mitai Maori village

Day 9 One Ring to rule them all, One Village to astonish them…

We set off to Matamata as the base for our Hobbiton movie set tour. The environment is maintained very well and everything looks as realistic as in the movies. You can never tell apart the real and the fake stuff. The tour is suitable not only for LOTR (Lord of the rings) fans but also for every fan of the beautiful little green villages. The only drawback is the crowds of people, but a cold beer in the Green Dragon pub will settle that issue very well. And here’s a detailed review of the Hobbiton tour with all its pros and cons.

On our way to Tongariro National park, we stopped at the small lake town Taupo to have a picnic lunch by the lake. Do it like the locals. On arrival at the park, we were warned that the weather conditions may not be suitable for trekking the next day, so we decided to hike to Taranaki Falls. Good that it gets dark after 9 pm in summer.

Middle-Earth involves a lot of walking but you shall see the Shire and the ranges of Mordor in the same day!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Tongariro National park

Day 10 …One Crossing to bring them all and in the scenery bind them

It was sunny and a bit windy morning with afternoon forecast for showers. After some convincing, we decided to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC). It is a 19,4-kilometers-long trek and it goes through spectacular active volcanic terrain. So many climate zones – from alpine to rain forest and from dry sandy hills to emerald surreal lakes. The crossing ends on a different place with no shuttle options for a return to the start without reservations. We were lucky to find people who drove us to the parking at the beginning of the crossing minutes before the showers started. Then we crossed the Abimanawa range by car to get to Hawke’s Bay just after the pink-sky sunset.

Tramping is the word kiwis use for hiking and trekking. Well, we did some tramping today, my poor feet!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Day 11 Radiant as paua shell, full-bodied as Syrah, lavish as Art Deco

We started strong with Hawke’s Bay vineyards tour dropped by at Napier for a self-guided Art Deco tour. And ended up on Te Mata peak where the cloudy weather didn’t shade the views. Wine, art, and views along with friendly relaxed people – that’s Hawke’s Bay (and probably an essential part of New Zealand as a whole).

Those few clouds on that day didn’t scare us but showed us a different perspective. Good that we climbed Mt. Doom yesterday!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Hawke's Bay, Napier

Day 12 Distinguished creatures in the windy capital

The morning compensated for yesterday’s weather and we woke up with the view of the shining Pacific. We drove to the capital Wellington to meet this hilly and crowded on Christmas Eve city. After some food shopping, we managed to ride the cable car to acquire some views from the above of the marina and the city center. We continued with the Weta Cave workshop visit at the Miramar suburb. This is where the film making in New Zealand happens and a lot of artists work in the cave to give us the most realistic perception of almost every creature we see in the movies. We finished the day with a gourmet dinner at the suburb’s vintage cinema theater.

If you ever wondered how is it possible all the creatures look so realistic – the creation of just an eyebrow of a model of a person could take up to some weeks. Ever hair is prepared and put manually. Talented artists draw every bit of the iris of the eye. Even the drops of sweat look real! Photography is forbidden!

New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary, Wellington

So, our New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary ends with the Christmas Eve dinner like in the movies, i.e. in the movie set! The next day we plan to hop on the ferry that connects North Island and South Island and continue exploring South Island on a road trip!

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39 Responses

  1. Gotta say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your super organized, detailed blog posts! I have a friend who lives in NZ and she’s been egging me to visit for years. With this guide doing all the planning for me ;P, looks like all I have to do is buy the ticket!

    • Thanks a ton! We did our best to “infect” more people with NZ magic. Aotearoa is one of those places you’d want to stay as long as possible. Don’t hesitate to visit your friend! Let us know if you need more help planning your trip there 🙂

  2. Katie

    What a fun first week in New Zealand! Sledding on the sand looks like a blast, and your pictures of the orcas are fantastic! Can’t wait to read week 2.

  3. great photos sliding down the sand dunes looks super fun.

    • It is fun and not scary at all! Kids do it, elderly people do it, it’s amazing! 🙂

  4. natalietanner

    That crazy bathroom! It reminds me of something you’d see in a Museum of Modern Art. I love it!! 🙂 I’ve heard so much about New Zealand – that it is just crazy beautiful. I see from your photos that it really is. We would love to visit!! It is on the list of places we are hoping to go. We travel with the kids and know they would enjoy it, too!

  5. This looks like such an amazing adventure! I love the sledding down the dunes and the whales! Such a great guide.

  6. And to think this was just one week!! What incredible adventures – so many beautiful whales, and the sand boarding looked insane!

    • It was a fully packed itinerary. 🙂 But we found some time to chill, this is New Zealand after all and we wanted to follow the locals and be more relaxed. So we did quite a lot of picnics but also lots of hiking 🙂

  7. gtcookbook

    Usually when I see pictures of NZ it’s of their mountain ranges, but it was so cool to see the coastal parts in your post! I definitely want to check out the caves and the glowworms!!

    • Nature is magic in New Zealand! Glowworms shouldn’t be missed – they’re like starry skies in the caves 🙂

  8. Wangui

    They have such lovely weather there….. thank you for lovely pictures and the virtual tour…. the sliding down the dunes looks like loads of fun….

  9. The sand sledding is mental!!! I’m trying to get out to New Zealand in October time so thanks for this amazingly detailed post. Bookmarking it for when I book my flights! Would love to see some of these places for myself

  10. What a wonderful trip. I had never known of a dune which ends right at the sea. Also, looks like you had such a wonderful time at the island.

    • It was really wonderful! We highly recommend New Zealand!

  11. I love the places you chose to visit – all of them are amazing! Specially Waiheke Island: I’ve been told that it’s a stunning place but I couldn’t visit it when I was in NZ. It’s on my pending list! Thanks for sharing your amazing stories and pics!

    • We got to know about Waiheke the very first day we arrived in Auckland. It’s a gem! There is also another interesting island – Rangitoto – which we visited on our very last day in NZ. It’s a volcanic island and had great views towards the Auckland.

  12. What an incredible adventure! New Zealand has been on my list ever since I saw Lord of the rings haha and I’m already planning my trip there for next year so thanks for this!

  13. Gem

    I love visiting isolated places. Like you said because of such isolation, natural beauty of landscapes and cultures are preserved. I had the same experience when I visited Iceland. Because it’s so isolated, it was also quite unique.

    Maybe one day, I will visit NZ. It sounds like you guys had a lot of fun.

    Happy Travels 🙂

    • Iceland is on our bucket list from a loooong time! We hope to visit it very very soon! So we’ll be happy with any recommendations!
      Thank you!

  14. Lydia@LifeUntraveled

    New Zealand sounds like a dream destination – I can’t believe you can get from to an island from the city in just 40 minutes! And those beaches – wow!

    • Yes, ferries are a big deal and could go quite fast! Beaches are wonderful even if water might not be perfect for a long swim! 🙂

  15. Wow New Zealand is so fun!! I will definitely need to check out Waiheke Island, sand dunes and Waitomo Caves when I visit!

    • Great! Don’t forget the Hobbiton Movie Set and also the Milford Sound – everything is just magical!

  16. New Zealand has so many amazing things to explore! A true paradise for adventurers. Thank you for a detailed wander-lust inspiring post.

  17. New Zealand springs alive in all its beauty and charm in your post. Your photos stunningly capture the lovely landscapes. The beaches look spectacular, hope to visit NZ someday.

    • You wouldn’t regret it! Hope you managed to get there soon!

  18. So many activities in just a week. Wow! The sand dune slides look brilliant!

    • Yes, we’re kind of too active travelers. But we try to enjoy slowly and relax more. NZ definitely helps that, too! 🙂

  19. We’ve yet to be to New Zealand and the more I read the more I want to go – your post just added to that want 🙂

    • Thank you! We’re glad to inspire travelers to visit stunning places like New Zealand! We wish you to visit it soon!:-)

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