New Zealand North Island itinerary 10 days | Exploring the north island

New Zealand, or Aotearoa to give the nation its traditional Maori name, is made up of two main landmasses: the north and south island. While the south island might boast the soaring glaciers and crystal blue lakes, the north island is packed with its own attractions: steaming natural geysers, bustling cities, remote undiscovered islands and even the world’s most unique McDonalds! So, if you’re keen to explore some of these, we’ve got you covered: we’ve put together an itinerary stretching from the country’s largest city, Auckland, to its capital, Wellington, and everything in between. It’s our personally tried-and-tested New Zealand North Island itinerary 10 days.

More keen on a south island road trip? Don’t fret – we’ve got that too. You can find our 10 day itinerary for New Zealand’s south island here, just in case you are able to spread your time over both islands (and we highly suggest you do!).

Mount Eden view Auckland

Why go to the North Island of New Zealand?

We imagine that if you’ve landed on this article that you are already set on visiting New Zealand’s North Island. However, just in case you need a little more convincing to make New Zealand your next destination here are a few reasons as to why it should be:

  • The Maori culture is a fascinating one, best explored in places like Wellington’s Te Papa Museum, or the ‘birthplace of New Zealand’, Waitangi Treaty Grounds, up the top of the island or even in a Maori ‘experience’ like the ones in Rotorua. If you’re fascinated by traditional cultures, then these are all a must.
  • While there aren’t too many fascinating buildings in New Zealand (other than the Beehive and the Sky Tower that is), there are some very unique landmarks on New Zealand’s north island, like the bubbling geysers of Rotorua or even the volcano crater of Mount Eden near Auckland.
  • Move over Queenstown, New Zealand’s north island is full of adrenalin activities, to get that pulse racing! From jet boating to bungy jumping, zorbing, zip lining, you name it – if you like to live life in the fast lane, the north island is for you!
  • While sandy shores might not be the first things that come to mind, the north island has some cracking beaches along its coastline. From the more metropolitan Mission Bay near Auckland, to untouched beauties in the Bay of Islands and some more unknown ones dotted along the journey, you will definitely have time for a bit of relaxation.
  • If you like anthing to do with Lord of the Rings or the Hobbiton film franchises then you have to visit!
Hobbiton near Rotorua

New Zealand North Island Itinerary – 10 days

  • Day 1 | Exploring Auckland
  • Day 2 | Exploring Auckland
  • Day 3 | Auckland to Paihia
  • Day 4 | Paihia and the Bay of Islands
  • Day 5 | Paihia to Rotorua
  • Day 6 | Exploring Rotorua
  • Day 7 | Rotorua to Taupo (via Waitomo)
  • Day 8 | Exploring Taupo
  • Day 9 | Taupo to Wellington
  • Day 10 | Exploring Wellington

Is 10 days on New Zealand’s North Island enough?

You could easily spend a month on New Zealand’s north island, travelling from amazing place to stunning location and still nowhere near see it all. But we know that many people only have a limited amount of (holiday) time to spare and so are keen to see as much of a country as possible.

With that in mind, we’ve outlined a really achievable itinerary that allows you to see the best sites on the New Zealand north island in 10 days, and believe that our suggested timings in each place allows you to give each location the time it deserves.

Roberton Island lookout Lee

However, if you are more interested in activities like hiking, and have heard about the likes of the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing near Lake Taupo, you’ll want to carve out a day to enjoy something like this. If that is the case, we’d definitely recommend that you cram your Auckland time into one day – handily, we’ve also created the perfect one day in Auckland itinerary to help you plan for that!

Getting around New Zealand’s North Island

By car: The most popular way to travel around the north island is to get yourself a decent rental car. A little different to the New Zealand south island, where we’d definitely recommend a campervan, for the north island a car is the best way. Unsurprisingly with over two thirds of New Zealand’s population living on the smaller north island, the accommodation options are way better, so no need to worry there.

Check out the best car rental deals on RentalCars!

Thrifty rental car near Mount Eden Auckland

By bus: If you’re not that keen on driving yourself, then we’d definitely suggest that you look into the fantastic coach passes that are offered by Intercity. They have a great TravelPass that will take you to the main destinations for a really affordable price.

By campervan: If you’re really keen campers, then you can also look into the campervan. There are plenty of great places like a holiday park or camping site to hook up your van, and it may be slightly more affordable than the car rental/accommodation option. The biggest vendor is Britz, although we rented our camper for the South Island through Wilderness Motorhomes and were very happy with it.

Where to start your New Zealand North Island Itinerary

You’ll most likely be arriving into New Zealand’s main city, Auckland, as it has the best international flights and connections. If you’re still looking for your flights, check out the best rates on Skyscanner. However, there are another couple of options, where you’ll start in the south of the North Island:

Taking the ferry from the North Island?

If you’re starting your North Island itinerary having already visited the South Island, you will most likely take the ferry from Picton to Wellington (it’s actually what we did), and if so, just do this itinerary in reverse!

Flying into Wellington?

Or, you may fly into Wellington to start your New Zealand’s North Island itinerary. If so, also do this 10 days New Zealand North Island itinerary in reverse…

Air New Zealand flight

Day 1 – Auckland

Catch the sunrise on Mount Eden

If you’re like us, and keen to make the most of your time in Auckland, get up nice and early and head up Mount Eden to get stunning panoramic views of the city waking. You can either drive up or hike it – at 196m high it’s not the most difficult walk, so a great way to start your day. Mount Eden is a dormant volcano, and you can walk around the rim of the crater, providing amazing views of the skyline in all directions.

They’re also building a new wooden walkway around the summit which should be completed in 2020!

View from Mount Eden Auckland

Walk to the Auckland Domain

Next up for your first day in Auckland, take a stroll across to the Auckland Domain. It’s only 30 minutes from the top of Mount Eden to New Zealand’s oldest park. Your wander will take you past Pukekaroa Hill, which boasts a memorial for the first Maori King, and you have a number of other options for stops along the way, including checking out Lover’s Walk or popping your head into the Wintergarden.

Winter garden at the Auckland Domain

Photo credit: Russellstreet / Flickr

Auckland War Memorial Museum

A stone’s throw from the Domain is the most popular tourist attraction on your 1 day Auckland itinerary, the Auckland War Memorial Museum. As the name suggests, it’s an ode to the country’s military (and natural) history and you should apportion yourself about two hours to walk around.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Opening hours: 10.00am to 5.00pm daily

Cost:  International Guests – 25 NZD for adults (16.50 USD/12.70 GBP) and 10 NZD for children (10.60 USD/5.00 GBP), New Zealanders – Free

Sky Tower

You can’t come to Auckland and not visit it’s crowning glory, the Sky Tower. The most well-known building in New Zealand (and the tallest in the entire southern hemisphere), it dominates the Auckland skyline.

Standing 328m tall, it’s amazing to see from the ground up but you most definitely want to buy a ticket to go up 220m, to a viewing deck that gives you sweeping views of Auckland twinkling below. They also have a SkyJump bungy or a Skywalk, if you’re adventure inclined!

Sky Tower views a must on your New Zealand North Island itinerary 10 days

Opening hours: 8.30am to 10.30pm (summer) and 9.00am to 10.00pm (winter)

Cost: 32 NZD for adults (21.20 USD/16.25 GBP) and 13 NZD for children (8.60 USD/6.60 GBP)

Auckland Night Market

It’s time to wrap up your day in Auckland and we suggest you do that at the Auckland Night Market. Open from 5pm daily, it shifts location each night but usually offers much of the same – interesting and diverse cuisine, plus a fun vibe!

Night Market in Auckland

Photo credit: Jamjar / Flickr

Opening hours: From 5.00pm daily

Location: Varies each night – check out their website for more details.

Where to stay

You’ve really got a plethora of options here, as Auckland caters for all budgets! That said, here are our two favourites:

Luxury: The ‘old dame’ of Auckland, the imitable 5 star Cordis is THE place to stay where in the city. You’ll feel transported back into a time of old-world glamour and grandeur, with the plush, inviting lobby, plus this property has everything from a top-notch gym, a great rooftop pool to a wonderful restaurant, Eight.

Cordis Hotel Auckland

Budget: Located on Nelson Street, close to loads of the main Auckland attractions we’d suggest that you go for TMACS Backpackers. They’ve got a shared lounge, free Wi-Fi and a lovely garden and terrace to explore.

Getting from Auckland International Airport

We wanted to add in some helpful information on getting from Auckland Airport into the city as we’re sure that you’re most likely to be arriving here to start your New Zealand North Island itinerary. And the good news is that there are relatively easy and affordable solutions to get from the airport, which is located around 20km to the south of Auckland.

Uber: Starting with the quickest and most convenient way to get into town – make sure you have Uber downloaded before you arrive in Auckland, hook up your credit card details and book your ride as soon as you are through customs! The journey will cost you around 40 NZD (26.50 USD/20.30 GBP).

Shuttle Service: Slightly more convenient than taking the bus, as it’s a door to door service, check out Super Shuttle for a cheaper way than a taxi to get from Auckland Airport to your accommodation. It will cost you around 25 NZD (16.50 USD/12.70 GBP). Although if you’re a couple or group, it may be cheaper to use a taxi!

Skybus: If you’re looking for the cheapest way into town, the Skybus is a super convenient and relatively affordable way into downtown Auckland. A one way trip will set you back 17 NZD (11.20 USD/8.60 GBP). Check out the timetables and routes the Skybus takes here.

Day 2 – Auckland

We hope you love the water, since today we’ve got two activities that get you out on the beautiful ocean.

Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari

First up is the chance to spot hundreds of whales and dolphins in their natural habit, with a safari! The Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari is a 5 hour trip out to spot these incredible creatures, all led by a highly experienced crew who are not only tour guides but also marine biologists! So, while the trips are geared towards spotting porpoises, there is also an educational element talking about plankton and understand the water’s health.

When we went on this trip, we had a pod of over 100 dolphins follow the boat for over an hour; it was something incredibly special to behold. However, according to the operators, this is ‘not according to their own impeccable standards’ so each one of us received a complimentary voucher to come and try the tour again. What a wonderful personal touch.

Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari

Ferry to Waiheke Island

Just 35 minutes from Auckland via ferry is the stunning Waiheke Island, a place for Aucklanders themselves to escape the hustle of the city. With the white sandy beaches of Oeroa, Palm Beach and Onetangi, plus epic views over the Hauraki Gulf, there is so much natural beauty on this island.

You can take the hiking trails across the cliff tops, walk through forests, chill on beaches or delve into the art scene, while sipping a glass of white wine.

The Fullers Ferry runs up to 24 times a day from the Downtown Ferry Terminal – you can book your tickets here.

Waiheke Island Auckland

Bonus things to do in Auckland

We’ve only given you two (very short) days in Auckland and perhaps you want to make more of this large metropolis? Here are four more things you could add onto your north island itinerary:

Wander the Te Ara I Whiti The Lightpath

You might have seen the candy-coloured pink path on Instagram, but did you know that the Lightpath is actually a functional walking and cycling path that connects Upper Queen to Quay Street?

Stretching over 700m in length, this is a great place to take a walk – you’ll get awesome pics from your albums but also get those legs moving at the same time!

Insider tip: There are 300 programmable LEDs which light up at night, making for some awesome interactive displays!

Te Ara I Whiti - The Lightpath Auckland

Sea Life, Kelly Tarlton Aquarium

If you love aquariums, then the Kelly Tarlton Sea Life aquarium is a must-visit as part of this North Island itinerary. It is made out of acrylic tunnels situated within old sewage tanks near the harbour, making it one of the most unique aquariums in the world. Check out the penguins, or the gigantic tank full of stingrays or even the stunning seahorse kingdom!

Penguins at Sea Life Kelly Tarlton Auckland

Location: 23 Tamaki Drive, Orakei, Auckland 1071

Opening hours: 9.30am – 5.00pm daily

Cost: 39 NZD (25.70 USD / 19.60 GBP) but only if you buy it online beforehand, as its more expensive at the door! We suggest you book it online with Get your Guide which includes a skip the line ticket and 24 hour cancellation!

Mission Bay Beach

About 15 minutes from the centre of Auckland is the laidback beach enclave of Mission Bay. Plop down your towel and scrunch your toes into the sand on the beach, with fantastic views out to Rangitito Island. Or get your fix of fish and chips at the Fish Pot Café!

Mission Bay Beach in Auckland New Zealand

Auckland Zoo

More than just a zoo, this conversation project set over 40 acres is the country’s largest animal sanctuary.  More than 130 species and 1,400 animals call the zoo home, including everything from elephants to tigers, and even cute little red pandas. Lions, lizards, birds, rhinos, you name it, the zoo has it.

What’s great about the zoo is the famed New Zealand Centre for Conversation Medicine, which is essentially an animal hospital where you can watch procedures right before you. The most famous one was a tiger getting a root canal – now that’s something you don’t see every day, right?

Red Panda at Auckland Zoo New Zealand

Location: Motions Rd, Auckland 1022

Opening hours: 9.30am – 5.30pm daily

Cost: A Day Pass costs 24 NZD (15.80 USD/12.20 GBP) for adults and 13 NZD (8.50 USD/6.60 GBP) for kids between 4-14 (under 4’s go free).

Day 3 – Auckland to Paihia

Travel time: 3 hours

It’s time to head out of awesome Auckland and get up to some of the exquisite islands dotted at the very northern tip of New Zealand. It’s the Bay of Islands, about 200 km away where not only will you find some of the best weather in the country but also some of the most picturesque views of the North Island.

You’ll simply drive north out of Auckland on State Highway 1, towards Paihia, where we recommend you settle yourself for the next two nights. One thing to keep in mind is that there is a toll road which will cost you $2.40 NZD (1.50 USD/1.20 GBP). Most rental companies don’t have automatic toll sensors so you’ll need to pay the toll within 5 days so you don’t end up with a fine!

Ferry to Russell

While you should definitely base yourself in Paihia, it’s worth checking out the other key town in the Bay of Islands, Russell, once you’ve arrived.

Just hop on the ferry (which only costs 12 NZD / 8 USD / 6 GBP one way) to this charming seaside town. If you’ve got limited time, we suggest you head straight over to the oldest pub in the country, Duke of Marlborough, for a freshly served plate of beer-battered fish and chips.

Fish and chips in Russell

And, if you have more time to spare, you could make a turn at the Pompallier Museum, Christ Church (the oldest church in New Zealand), Long Beach or even go tramping on one of the hiking trails. The most popular is the Maiki Hill walk (Flag Staff Hill) which overlooks Russell with panoramic views, or the Tapeka Point walk.

Insider tip: Time your ferry return for sunset – you’ll get a ‘sunset cruise’ for a bargain basement price!

Where to stay

We really liked Paihia and found that not only are there lots of lovely places to stay, but they are far more affordable than other hotspots like Rotorua or Taupo. Here are a few ideas of places to lay your head:

Budget: The family-run Mousetrap Backpackers is one of the best hostels in Paihia (by the way, there are a few!). This hostel has a tennis court, free of charge bikes and a free weekly BBQ session if you time it right!

Mid-range: While in Paihia we stayed at Seabeds Backpackers, and only have positive praise for this establishment. It’s called a ‘backpackers’ but is probably more an apartment complex, although it does have a dorm. It has a high-end shared kitchen with top-notch facilities, plus has a great location near the pier but also the supermarket.

Luxury: Look no further than Paihia Beach Resort and Spa. With epic vistas across the ocean and also the beach, huge fluffy beds and a highly rated breakfast, this is a great luxury option in Paihia.

Day 4 – Paihia (Bay of Islands)

Today is your day to really get your fix of the Bay of Islands, so we’ve got a packed itinerary for you. Starting with a bit of New Zealand’s history and ending with time out on that azure ocean.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

If you want to get to terms with the country’s history (and you should), then do visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, known as the ‘birthplace of New Zealand’.

It’s here that the Maoris and British signed the treaty to inaugurate New Zealand as a British colony, back in 1840. While the British history might be contentious, this treaty is still seen as the ‘founding document’ of the country and even celebrated each year on Waitangi Day, like an Independence Day of sorts.

Waitangti Treaty Grounds - Things to do in Paihia

There are a number of attractions spread over this 1000-acre property, so you’ll need to prioritise a few things. We’d suggest you check out the historic Treaty House, check out the globe’s largest single-hulled canoe (the ‘waka’) and probably the flagstaff, which is where the treaty was actually signed.

Buy a Day Pass (which is actually valid for two consecutive days) which includes a guided tour of about an hour, a Maori performance and entry into all the attractions as well as the bush walks available on the estate. The pass costs 50 NZD (33 USD / 25.40 GBP) for adults, 25 NZD (16.50 USD / 12.70 GBP) for New Zealand residents. And as it’s free for kids (as long as accompanied by an adult).

Location: Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi 0293, New Zealand

Open: 9.00am – 5.00pm daily

Haruru Falls

There are two waterfalls in short distance of Paihia: Haruru and Rainbow Falls. We’d spring for Haruru as it’s closer and you can easily fit it into this itinerary, but we’ve included Rainbow in the ‘bonus things’ section in case you’ve got more time.

Haruru Falls, translated as ‘big noise’ in Maori, was New Zealand’s first river port and is a pretty cool waterfall to visit. There are three ways to see it: a 10 minute drive from Waitangi, a 90 minute boardwalk and bush walk from Waitangi to Haruru, or kayaking!

Haruru Falls, Paihia

You can reserve a two hour kayaking trip which leads you right underneath the falls itself. Check it out here.

Cruise to Hole in the Rock

You can’t come all the way to Paihia and not do a cruise, and there is a plethora of options. Our recommendation is to go out to the renowned Hole in the Rock, ideally on the 3-hour cruise which also has you dolphin-spotting and seeing the famous Cape Brett lighthouse.

What is the Hole in the Rock, you might ask? Well, what is says on the tin: a large hole in a rockface. But more than just a geological feature, it has some spiritual significance as Maori warriors use to glide through it on their way to war. The idea was that if a drop of water dripped on you on your passage, this was a good omen for your upcoming battle.

Hole in the Rock near Paihia, New Zealand

Insider tip: To approach dolphins, your boat needs to have a number of accreditations. So ensure you book with a reputable operator – we suggest the Fullers Great Sights Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise.

Bonus things to do in the Bay of Islands / Northland region

You might not be sticking to our itinerary, or want to swap out some of our activities for something closer to your own travel style? Here are three more options for attractions in the area you might add to your New Zealand North Island road trip.

Urupukapuka Island

More than just a mouthful, Urupukapuka Island is the largest island in the Bay of Islands, and well worth a visit. You can get there via a boat trip, or as part of a package – we did it as part of the Bays and Beaches tour, which includes a stop at Roberton Island (Motuarohia).

The main attraction is to do one of the many hiking trails from one side of the island to Otehei Bay, where there is a lovely restaurant with a large grassy knoll and a wide sandy beach, to while away a few hours with a beer and, of course, more fish and chips (they are really good, by the way).

You could also do a shorter walk out of Otehei Bay – the Otehei Bay Loop is only 20 minutes or the Cable Bay Loop is one hour.

Urupukapuka Island near Paihia, New Zealand

Cape Reinga

It’s another three hours up to Cape Reinga, the ‘true’ northern point of New Zealand and a must-do if you have a free day on your North Island road trip.

Cape Reinga is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean converge and you can actually see the tides coming together. If you’ve been to Lee’s home city of Cape Town, you’ll know the same phenomenon from Cape Point.

There’s a lot more than the ‘meeting of the oceans’ to see in Cape Reinga, like the 45,000 year old Kauri wood staircase at Kauri Unearthed or a scenic drive along Ninety Mile beach (which is 88 miles by the way!). More active travellers could try sandboarding at the Te Paki Dunes or you could just focus on admiring the legendary Cape Reinga lighthouse, one of the true landmarks of New Zealand.

A day trip to Cape Reinga

If you don’t want to do a self-drive, it’s worth doing a day trip with a provider like Get your Guide, so you can save your energy for all those activities. Check out this one, which also includes a snazzy Dune Rider vehicle.

Rainbow Falls

The more impressive cousin to Haruru Falls, Rainbow Falls is about a 30 minute drive from Paihia, and we think worth the trip.

This is a ‘block’ waterfall with a 27m drop, making it a stunning sight.

If you’re up for more walking, you can take a 90-minute hiking track which takes you to the Kerikeri basin past historic buildings like the Stone House and St James’ Church.

Rainbow Falls near Kerikeri

Location: Kerikeri 0295, New Zealand

Day 5 – Paihia to Rotorua

Travel time: 6 hours

It’s a doozy of a driving day, about 6-7 hours on the road. That said, you could always make a quick stop in Auckland again to break it up. There aren’t many other attractions on your way, so we suggest just getting on your way and stopping in for coffee or more fuel when needed.

There is one attraction we would recommend for when you arrive in Rotorua though…

Redwoods Treetop Walkway

Like getting up close and personal with nature? Well get yourself to the Treetop Walkway, a set of suspended walkways amongst towering redwood trees just close to Rotorua. You’ll be 20 metres up in the air, traversing the wooden bridges for about 700 metres and hopping between trees on the 27 platforms.

The walkway is particularly pretty at night so if you arrive late into Rotorua, you can still give it a whirl – they light up the forest so it’s a very romantic activity for your first night in the town.

Redwoods treetop walk, Rotorua

Location: 1 Long Mile Road, Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, 3010

Opening hours: Daily from 9.00am to 11.30pm

Cost: 30 NZD for adults (20 USD/15 GBP)

Where to stay

We’ll tell you straight: Rotorua is a more expensive town when it comes to accommodation than some of the other cities in New Zealand. That said, it’s worth those extra pennies to spend a few days in the city. You could try one of the following:

Budget:  Pick of the litter is the Rotorua Central Backpackers. Central location, super social if you’re keen to meet people and even a great garden to relax in when you’re not buzzing around Rotorua.

Mid-range:  We’d make a punt for the Ibis Rotorua,, where we stayed when there. Yes, Ibis is a budget hotel but we really thought highly of this branch plus its sister hotel, Novotel, next door gives you use of their gym and other facilities. Tip – if you’re an Accor Loyalty member you get free wifi there. So if you’re not, just sign up (free of charge) when you check in.

Luxury: With the perfect location, beautifully appointed suites and two (one indoor and one outdoor) pool, you have to choose the Regent of Rotorua.

Day 6 – Rotorua

Ahhh… Rotorua. Definitely one of our favourite cities we visited as part of this New Zealand North Island itinerary. Well, if you can get over that pungent smell of sulphur that is!

Because there really is so much to see, we do have a day which is crammed with things to do. Our advice? Instead of wearing yourself out trying to speed between the sights, you can do what we did: book them as a tour with the country’s leading operator, Great Sights. You’ll be ferried about so you can see all the Rotorua highlights as well as make the trip out to Hobbiton, with time to spare. The tours are very popular, so make sure to book it in advance!

Te Puia Geothermal Geysers

It’s worth getting up close and personal with that icky smell, to see the fascinating geysers, mud pools and thermals of the Te Puia Geothermal Park.

It’s part of a larger geothermal hotspot, the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, and has everything you’ll want to see: exploding geysers, a Maori Village, the national bird (the kiwi) in a conservation project and a modern Arts and Crafts centre where they are trying to revive some of the more traditional Maori arts like wood carving and weaving.

Te Puia Rotorua Itinerary

Our best bit was sitting and watching Pohutu, the biggest geyser in the park, which blows about twice an hour, alongside the smaller ‘Prince of Wales’ geyser.

Opening hours: 8.00am to 5.00pm (winter) and 6.00pm (summer)

Location: Hemo Road, Tihiotonga, Rotorua 3040

The Agrodome Farm Show

After you’ve seen traditional culture and a bit of natural history, get yourself off to the Agrodome for a more contemporary show with a difference. It’s pretty hard to describe but the Farm Show gives you an introduction into the various sheep breeds in the world, an onstage shearing demonstration and a sheep dog circus, all rolled into one hilarious show. It really does defy description but we’ll tell you: we loved it. Make sure it’s part of your North Island itinerary.

Agrodome sheep show Rotorua

Show times: 3 per day at 9.30am, 11.00am and 2.30pm

Location: 141 Western Road, Ngongotaha, Rotorua 3010

Rainbow Spring Nature Park

If you are pressed for time, this is the activity we would give a miss. However, if you do have an hour or two to dedicate, then head to the Rainbow Springs Nature Park . You’ll see springs with rainbow trout (yes, hence the name), lots of different fish and reptiles and the most successful Kiwi hatchery in New Zealand. We also saw the silver fern, the fern that adorns the jersey of the country’s famous rugby team, The All Blacks, for the first time; something special for two rugby fanatics!

Rainbow Springs in Rotorua

Opening hours: 8.30am to 10.30pm

Location: 192 Fairy Springs Road, Fairy Springs, Rotorua 3015

Hobbiton

Even if you aren’t a die-hard Lord of the Rings or Hobbit fan (we aren’t), you must make sure you add Hobbiton to your trip.

It’s set a bit further out of Rotorua (technically back towards Auckland) but the opportunity to spend time on this movie set is something you shouldn’t pass up.

Essentially back in the late 90’s, a location scout for famous movies, The Lord of the Rings, came across the Alexander Farm in Matamata and thought it was the perfect place to film the trilogy. After this, the set was broken down but LOTR fans still found their way there, trying to get a piece of their beloved Hobbiton. So, when the film crews returned for the Hobbit movies in 2009, the enterprising farm owners (along with the film production company of course), decided to make the set a permanent feature.

Couple at Hobbiton

And, voila! Today you can walk around the village of Hobbiton with some incredibly passionate guides, who take you to Bilbo Baggins house, impart so much trivia and behind-the-scenes information, and then plant an absolutely delicious beer, cider or apple juice in your hand at the Green Dragon Pub.

Departure from Rotorua times: Twice daily at 8.00am and 1.20pm

Bonus things to do in Rotorua

Perhaps you aren’t keen on Hobbiton, or don’t fancy a sheep show? Here are a few more ideas that you could try to replace the other items. By the way, if you prefer, you could always check out our more comprehensive Rotorua itinerary here.

Skyline Rotorua Gondola and Luge

Get up high and see Rotorua from above, by going up the cable car! While you’re up there you could even go down the purpose-built luge for a bit more fun.

Book your experience here with Get Your Guide.

Skyline Gondola in Rotorua

Jet Boating on Lake Rotorua

If you haven’t yet been jet boating in New Zealand, then Rotorua is your chance! Did you know that it was actually invented in New Zealand? It would be rude not to try what is essentially one of the quintessential Kiwi extreme experiences! Just book yourself onto a Jet Boating experience.

Hells Gate Mud Bath and Spa Experience

Looking for a bit more relaxation? Check out the spa pools and mud baths at Hells Gate – your body (and skin) will thank you.

More Extreme Sports in Rotorua

Honestly if you’re adventure inclined, Rotorua has a plethora of things you’ll love. You can go white water rafting down the highest commercial waterfall in the world at Tutea Falls (book your ticket here), go zorbing (yes – zorbing!) in huge plastic balls with ZORB (who, again, invented the sport), or head to Velocity Valley where you could bungy jump, that the giant swing or even try your hand at BMX jumping.

Zorbing in Rotorua

Day 7 – Rotorua to Taupo (via Waitomo)

Travel Time: 1 hour (Rotorua to Taupo) or 4 hours (if adding Waitomo)

Now technically its only about an hour between Rotorua and Taupo but today we suggest you ‘take the scenic route’ and go via Waitomo, so you can experience the Waitomo glow-worm caves. That makes this closer to four hours of driving time.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Before you head out of stinky Rotorua (did you get used to the smell yet? We sure did), go south and just beyond the city limits you’ll reac the Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

Here you can see even more of the natural geothermal wonders of the valley, like the very Instagrammable Champagne Pools as well as many more geysers. The most legendary is the Lady Knox Geyser where the water eruptions can reach up to 20 metres high! She blows around 10.15am each morning for about an hour.

Champagne Pools, Thermal Valley

Book your entry ticket here.

Location: 201 Waiotapu Loop Road, Rotorua 3073

Opening hours: 8.30am – 5.00pm

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

Take State Highway 30 and 2 and a half hours from Wai-O-Tapu, you’ll arrive at the town of Waitomo. It’s pretty famous in New Zealand for having a plethora of caves filled with bright blue glow worms!

You can either do a chilled boat ride or go black water rafting, depending on your style. Alternatively, if you didn’t want to do Hobbiton yesterday, you could adjust your Great Sights tour and do Waitomo Caves instead! Book it here.

Location: 39 Waitomo Village Rd, Waitomo Caves, Otorohanga 3943

McDonalds Dinner

It’s now time to leave Waitomo and drive for about 2 hours to… McDonalds Taupo.

We couldn’t believe we were going to tell our readers to head to McDonalds. But, here we are. That’s since the McDonalds in Taupo was voted the World’s Most Unique McDonalds, beating out 35,000 other branches vying for the coveted title.

This branch is situated in a defunct aeroplane which you can see poking out the front of the restaurant. Actually, you can even take your Big Mac and McFlurry and sit in the aeroplane itself to enjoy your meal.

Insider Tip: It seems that the plane seating closes at 6pm, so you’ll want to get there before then.

Location: Cnr Roberts and Ruapehu Streets, 48 Roberts Street, Taupo 3330

Where to stay

Budget: We didn’t stay here (we stayed at a terrible hostel that we can’t even bear to think of again), but we were told that this is definitely the best in town: Haka Lodge! It’s pretty luxurious – huge contemporary kitchen, sun loungers, a hot tub and even baths in the bathrooms. A great option. Make sure you book early else you’ll end up like us – in a grotty hostel!

Mid-range: It’s a bit further out of town (a 5 min drive from the town centre) but Boulevard Waters Motor Lodge is a great option. It’s literally on the shores of Lake Taupo itself (with private balconies to view it), and the rooms are like mini-apartments, each boasting a full kitchen.

Luxury: It is by no means cheap but it’s entirely fabulous. Huka Lodge is one of the country’s leading hotels (not just Taupo itself), so if you can afford it, please do book a suite at this phenomenal property.

Day 8 – Taupo

Like Rotorua, Taupo has a rich natural history of hot springs and geysers, which is worth exploring. For us, we’d do this in a way that’s more affordable – hiking it!

Hot Springs / Spa Thermal Walk

You can do the ‘Huka Falls’ walk (known better as the Spa Thermal Walk) by starting at the free hot springs. There you can soak in the warm waters for absolutely free – there is even a changing room and a lovely on-site café to get a hot cup of coffee.

Once you’ve rested those tired bones in the spring, you’ll take the walk all the way to Huka Falls. This is an easy hike, taking about 1.5km /one hour to complete one way. We didn’t see too many people on our way, so took it easy and kept stopping off for photographs!

Location: County Avenue, Tauhara, Taupo 3378

Huka Falls

At the end of the walk, you’ll definitely start to hear the roar of the falls as you come closer. And, once you do, it’s an incredible sight – it’s not the country’s most visited natural attraction for nothing!

Essentially Huka Falls showcases natural hydro power – the Waikato River is usually 100m wide but at the mouth, it narrows to just 15m wide, forcing the water through with immense flowing pressure. This results in the roaring of the Huka Falls where nearly 250,000 litres of water gush through each section, thundering down 11m into the river waiting at the bottom.

By the way, you can also organise a kayaking trip to the falls, if you prefer that to the hike!

Huka Falls near Lake Taupo

Craters of the Moon

Even though you’d seen those bubbling mud pools and steamy geysers in Rotorua, we’d still like to make a plug for visiting Craters of the Moon, a geothermal park in Taupo. It’s a bit more ‘authentic’ and less touristy than the Rotorua counterparts, which we quite enjoyed.

As the name suggests, you feel that you’ve almost landed on another planet as you stroll around, not that you are just a few kilometres outside of Taupo!

Craters of the Moon in Taupo, New Zealand

Opening hours: 8.30am to 6pm

Location:  171 Karapiti Road, Taupo 3377, New Zealand

Cost: Ticket prices are around 8 NZD (5.10 USD / 4 GBP) for adults and 4 NZD (2.60 USD / 2 GBP) for kids.

Dinner at Incredible India

While we’re not sure if you’re Indian food fiends like we are, we still thought it worthwhile to throw our this suggestion: eat dinner at the Incredible India restaurant.

Often the top-rated restaurant on Tripadvisor, it lives up to its name, since the Indian fare there really is incredible. We gorged ourselves on tikka masala, dhal curry and as many garlic naans and mango lassis as they would bring us.

Location: 19 Paora Hapi Street, CBD, Taupo 3377, New Zealand

Bonus things to do in Taupo

Get out on the lake

As you would expect from the country’s largest lake, there is a lot to do on its glassy surface! Everything from kayaking to renting stand-up paddleboards, water skiing, wakeboarding, parasailing and so much more!

You could even rent a boat from a local provider, like 2 Mile Bay Centre, for the day.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Arguably one of the best North Island hikes, if not one of the best in all of New Zealand, this 19 kilometre tramping trail showcases some of the most epic landscapes in the world.

Set within the extraordinary Tongariro National Park, you’ll go from Mangatepop to Ketetahi Hot Springs in what is usually a 7 to 8 hour hike.

What should you expect? Bright blue watery lakes, massive craters of dormant volcanoes and steaming geysers and smoking vents. The hike of a lifetime, really.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Day 9 – Taupo to Wellington

Travel time: 5.5 hours

This was one of the more unusual drives we did in New Zealand – you’ll find the almost subterranean terrain fascinating and then, after that, feel like there is almost nothing to see until you hit Wellington. So, strap in for a long drive…!

Desert Road, Tongariro National Park

The drive is along State Highway 1 which is not the most eventful of highways. However, not far from Taupo itself is a stretch of road called ‘Desert Road’, essentially the one road that crosses the Rangipo Desert.

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll recognize the desert as where the Black Gate of Mordor scenes were shot; those are the epic landscapes you’ll be greeted with. We highly suggest you pull over at one of the rest stops to take a quick walk or just a snap or two – Rangipo is beautiful since it showcases three active peaks: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu.

Thrifty Car in Tongariro

Bulls

We weren’t very good tourists and so didn’t stop in the hilariously-named town of Bulls – don’t be like us, and make sure you get out for a picture or two! There are a few funny signs dotted around the town, all plays on the word ‘Bulls’, which had us giggling.

De Molen windmill and Dutch Oven, Foxton

There aren’t many good places to eat or relax on today’s drive, but we’d probably recommend The Dutch Oven in Foxton, just so you can make a joke or two. This brightly-hued building offers up traditional Dutch food like poffertjies or croquettes but we just liked it for the gag.

In case you don’t know, a dutch oven is a large cast-iron pot used for cooking in the Netherlands. However, for some English speakers, a ‘dutch oven’ means something a little more peculiar: when you pass gas in bed and take the chance to ‘trap’ your loved one under the covers!

Anyway, the restaurant is located next to the 17th century replica De Molen windmill that you can also tour for a small donation.

Location: 96a Main Street, Foxton 4814

Te Papa National Museum

Once you’ve arrived in Wellington, you might be a little tired. That said, there is so much to pack in!

We’d suggest that you try and visit the Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum, but you could just as easily swap that out for going up to the viewpoint at Mount Victoria or walking around Cuba Street, so we’ve included those suggestions too. You’ll probably only be able to stomach one…

If it’s the Te Papa museum, then great choice. This must count as one of the best museums we’ve ever visited (and we have visited a lot!). Jutting out on the waterfront’s edge, this museum showcases the best bits of New Zealand’s history but in a really engaging way. Every exhibition feels so interactive and well-considered – we can’t recommend this museum highly enough!

Real highlights include the Te Taiao Nature area as well as the Realm of Rūaumoko, which showcases the volcanic activity in the country. When we visited, the Gallipolli exhibition was on, which must rate as the most incredible exhibition we have ever seen. It chronicles the battle of Gallipolli in Turkey in a way that is entirely fascinating, told from the perspective of eight soldiers who took part.

Location: 55 Cable Street, Wellington

Opening hours: 10.00am – 6.00 pm daily

Cost: Absolutely free!

Mount Victoria lookout 

About ten minutes out of the city centre is a great place to get a vantage point, Mount Victoria. You just need to drive up to the car park and walk around the corner to the viewing platform.

Of course it’s generally a little windy up there (get used to it – Wellington is one of the windiest places on the planet) but you’ll get a spectacular birds-eye view over the city for your trouble.

Location: Lookout Road, Hataitai, Wellington 6021

Cuba Street

The heartbeat of Wellington, Cuba Street is where all the major bars and pubs are situated, so a good place to go if you want something vibey this evening. It’s a pedestrianised street that you can easily walk down, popping in at one of the vintage stores or settling in for dinner.

Where to stay

Budget: one of the most highly-rated hostels in Wellington is The Marion. It’s a pretty new hotel located near Cuba Street where you’ll find a nice social atmosphere but also strong wifi, great amenities and a cracking rooftop terrace.

Mid-range: We settled at the Gilmer Apartment Hotel, and really loved it. These are cute little self-contained apartments which give you all the amenities you need, in a great location near the museum and waterfront area. It’s also a few steps to the cable way, which you’ll want to take in the morning.

Luxury: If you’re wanting something a bit more plush, then probably spring or the Sofitel or the Intercontinental. These famous hotels both occupy prime real estate in Wellington.

Day 10 – Wellington

And just like that, your New Zealand road trip is over! Today’s your last day so you had better make it count. We’ve put together another fantastic itinerary for your day, so let’s get started…

Wellington Cable Car

The Wellington railway funicular has a long and varied history, and is an iconic part of Wellington that you have to see. The line was first laid back in 1902, giving this cable car for more than a century of heritage.

The ride only takes 5 minutes to the top where you’ll rub shoulders with locals and tourists alike, all wanting to see Wellington from up top. They run every 10 minutes.

Insider tip: Try and go early (about 8.00am) to avoid the crowds.

Once you’re at the top, you’re offered quite a number of things to do – from walking around the cable car’s own museum, to taking in a show at the planetarium, hopping on a shuttle to Zealandia or just admiring the botanic gardens on your way down. Our advice? Do them all!

Location: 280 Lambton Quay, Wellington 6011

Opening hours: 7.00am – 10.00pm weekdays, 8.30am – 9.00pm weekends

Cost: 5 NZD (3.20 USD / 2.50 GBP) for a one-way trip.

Wellington Tram Museum

It’s entirely free and just five minutes from the cable car’s top station, so pop your head into the tram museum to learn more about the tram through the ages. You’ll find one of the original cable cars, original implements and a fascinating history of James Fulton, the original engineer.

Space Place

Now the exhibition at the Space Place isn’t much to write home about but we did love the film we saw at this planetarium. Set in the typical full dome planetarium style, we lounged back in our plush seats, craned our necks back and saw a 45 minute show which linked the night sky to some of the original Maori birth legends. Fascinating stuff.

Location: 40 Salamanca Road, Kelburn, Wellington 6012, New Zealand (located in the Botanic Garden)

Opening hours: Opening times seem to vary – please check their website here.

Cost: Entrance including the show is 14 NZD (9 USD / 6.90 GBP).

Zealandia

At the top of the cable car station, you’ll see signage for the Zealandia shuttle, a free bus that takes you to Zealandia, one of the premier attractions in New Zealand. We suggest you hop on and go to explore all this property has to offer.

The internationally-acclaimed Zealandia Eco-Sanctuary is an attempt to regenerate New Zealand’s original biodome – the flora and fauna (mainly birds) that used to inhabit the island many centuries ago before mankind arrived. It’s a fully fenced urban sanctuary set over 225 hectares with the aim to reintroduce 20 species of previously ‘missing’ wildlife back into the area and has already had great success.

We loved doing the walking trails around Zealandia, which you can do self-guided or via a small tour with a passionate guide. You’ll come across so much beautiful birdlife, like saddlebacks and stitchbirds tweeting the trees, or the more interesting takahe or kaka birds waddling around you. There’s a lovely café too – Rata Café – to take some time off your feet.

Tickets cost 21 NZD (13.40 USD / 10.40 GBP) for adults or 55 NZD (35.20 USD / 27 GBP) for the tour (which includes general admission). You can also take a free shuttle from Wakefield street.

Location: 3 Waiapu Road, Karori, Wellington 6012

Opening hours: 8.00 – 5.00pm daily

Wellington Botanic Garden

Now when you’re done with Zealandia we suggest you hop back onto the shuttle to the cable car upper station and take a leisurely walk down the hill to the city, via the Botanic Garden.

Established in 1868, the Botanic Gardens are a mix of formal and informal flower beds, conifers and conservatories. We’d suggest you just saunter down the hill – it takes between 30 and 45 minutes depending on your pace and, of course, how many flowers you stop to admire.

Highlights include the Lady Norwood Rose Garden that you’ll find right at the bottom of the hill, or the amazing seasonal displays like the tulips in spring.

The Beehive 

As you’re walking through the Botanic Gardens and back towards Lambton Quay, you’ll walk past one of the most iconic places in New Zealand, The Beehive. It’s not really one to ‘visit’ exactly but to admire from afar.

Shaped like a honeycomb (hence the name), the Beehive was built between 1969 and 1979 and houses the executive functions of New Zealand’s parliament, including the office of the Prime Minister. It’s not the most beautiful building you’ve ever seen, but it’s a piece of the country’s history so worth a photo or two.

The Beehive, Wellington

Location: Molesworth Street, Pipitea, Wellington 6011

Opening hours: Not open to the public

Bonus thing to do in Wellington

Weta Workshop

It feels like we’ve spent a lot of this North Island itinerary talking about the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, but we’ve got some more to share! A quick drive from the city centre is Miramar, the home of Weta Workshop, which creates the physical effects for some of the globe’s most famous films.

From making the costumes and prosthetics for The Chronicles of Narnia to blockbuster movies like Avatar and Blade Runner, it’s a fascinating exploration of the behind-the-scenes magic of the movie industry.

You can do a single tour, like the Weta Cave Workshop Tour or Miniatures Stage Tour, or fuse them into a Combo Tour; the recommended option. Book the combo tour here.

Location: 1 Weka Street, Miramar, Wellington 6022

Opening hours: 9.00am – 5.30pm daily

Interactive Map for your 10 day itinerary of the North Island

Bonus places for your 10 days North Island itinerary

Our itinerary for your 10 days on the north island is a doozy, we know! That said, if you want to swap some of our suggested towns or cities for others, we might suggest one of the following:

Coromandel Peninsula

It’s probably the one place you wish you could fit into this itinerary: the stretch of the Coromandel Peninsula, which separates the Hauraki Gulf from the Bay of Plenty. The peninsula has so much natural beauty to explore – from the Driving Creek Railway where you traverse the forest on a small historic car, or the Karangahake Gorge, known as one of the wonders of New Zealand.

Avid trekkers head to Coromandel for ‘The Pinnacles’ an 8 hour journey across old dams, logging areas and railway lines to the summit of the peninsula itself.

There’s also Cathedral Cove, a massive beachfront cave made out of volcanic ash, which you can take a kayak out to, or Hot Water Beach to dig your toes in the sand and create your own hot pool!

Hamilton

You could make a stop in Hamilton if you’re perhaps skipping the Bay of Islands, and are traveling between Auckland and Rotorua. With the might Waikato River flowing through it, Hamilton doesn’t usually make it to the top of many NZ must-see lists but it’s a worthy stop just for the Hamilton Gardens and for some of the great international events and festivals. It’s got a good nightlife scene plus you could always do a cruise on the river if you’re looking for something quieter to do.

Tauranga

The fifth largest city in New Zealand, Tauranga is a beautiful coastal city that is often paired with a trip to Rotorua, as it’s about an hour away. Packed with pristine beaches, great galleries and delicious restaurants. Many visitors also travel to Moturiki Island, a historic settlement close to Mount Maunganui beach.

New Plymouth

We haven’t been to New Plymouth but we have been told (pretty repeatedly we’d add), that you need to head there. This old town perched on the west coast of the north island is an art-lovers paradise, plus has some great walking trails if you want to dust off those hiking shoes. The crowning glory is the Coastal Walkway, a 13km promenade track with sweeping ocean vistas.

New Plymouth near Auckland

Hawkes Bay

Before there was the (more famous) region of Marlborough, the town of Hawke’s Bay was the premier winemaking destination. You can still head to this Art Deco inspired town to tour the wineries, do a vintage car tour or see about 12,000 gannets nesting out at Cape Kidnappers.

What is the best time of year to visit New Zealand’s North Island?

The summer months of December to February offer the best weather on the New Zealand North Island.

Although it’s worth noting that the Christmas/New Year period is also the big summer holiday period for New Zealand! Which means that end of December through to end of January are also the most expensive from a flights, transport and accommodation perspective. If you’re planning to visit during this time, we definitely suggest that you plan well ahead and book in advance.

Read next: The perfect itinerary for Christchurch!

What camera equipment and other gear do we use?

We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.

What to pack for your 10 days New Zealand North Island Itinerary?

The weather on New Zealand’s North Island can be a real mixed bag. Windy Wellington as it’s known can be chilly, whereas the far north up around the Bay of Islands can be really hot. At time of writing, New Zealand was experiencing some of its hottest temperatures on record (around 40 degrees). So if you’re travelling in summer it’s worth packing both summery beach going attire as well as a few warmer items for the evenings.

And you’ll definitely want to take a light waterproof jacket too, you can’t be certain that you won’t get a bit of rain, even in summer. For winter months, definitely look at warmer clothing.

All James packing laid out on bed

What else should make the packing list?

  • Sturdy hiking shoes or boots, you’ll want these to tackle some of the amazing trails and hikes.
  • Sunglasses and suntan cream – the ozone layer is still relatively thin over New Zealand, so protect yourself against those UVs.
  • Unless travelling from Australia, make sure you take a travel adapter.

What did you think of our New Zealand itinerary for the North Island? We’d really value your comments and feedback, particularly if we’ve missed anything out – just let us know in the comments.

Also, if you’re looking for more things to do in the country, check out our full section of New Zealand Travel Guides, which has more in-depth information on some of our favourite spots.


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1 Comment

  1. Liz
    21st February 2020 / 4:44 pm

    Brilliant, loved this post on the North Island of New Zealand. Reminds me of my home… really useful for anyone who is travelling to NZ.