New Zealand is renowned for its vast open spaces, rolling hills and imposing mountains, spectacular lakes and lush greenery, plus so much more. It’s no surprise then, that it’s one of my very favorite places.
There’s no place like it in the world. Where else can you find four seasons in a day (true story), mountains that feature in the Lord of the Rings, as well as sprawling volcanic valleys? New Zealand’s North Island combines all these features, plus an awful lot more. Adventure? Check. Scenic routes? Check. Incredible landscapes and mountains? Check.
I have lived in New Zealand and traveled around the country, and therefore wanted to create this detailed 7 day New Zealand North Island itinerary. New Zealand is perfect for a road trip and this road trip itinerary takes you from Aukland to Wellington. Or the other way around of course, if that works better for you.
And although I say it’s a 7 day itinerary, that’s the minimum I would recommend. Spending more time in New Zealand is always a good idea!
New Zealand North Island Itinerary: 7 Days or More
Day 1: Auckland
Most of the things to do in Auckland are actually day trips; you’ll find a plethora of coach, ferry and bus services offering tours to Hobbiton, Rotorua, Waiheke Island and Rangitoto Island. However, the city itself is home to a few gems that you’ll want to tick off your New Zealand North Island itinerary!
A trip up the Sky Tower (New Zealand’s tallest man-made structure) is an absolute must while in Auckland. On clear days, you can see up to 80km in every direction from the tower’s observation platforms; making it utterly ‘Instagrammable’!
The Sky Tower also features a 360° revolving dining area (aptly named Orbit 360°), as well as the infamous ‘SkyJump’ and ‘SkyWalk’! The SkyJump is an incredible, adrenaline-inducing activity where you jump off the Sky Tower and fall 192 meters towards the ground! It’s certainly not an activity for the faint-hearted!
The SkyWalk is slightly less nerve-wracking and involves walking around the perimeter of the Sky Tower on a 1.2-meter-wide platform. Of course, if you’re not quite brave enough to take part in these activities, the viewing platforms at the Sky Tower provide you with ample opportunity to enjoy Auckland’s most stunning views!
Coast to Coast Walkway
One incredibly unique aspect and fact about Auckland is that it’s home to New Zealand’s narrowest bit of land; meaning you can effectively walk across the country in just over 5 hours! Of course, this will take up a large portion of your time in Auckland but it’s still a great thing to be able to tick off your North Island bucket list!
Climb Mount Eden
Auckland is famed for its 48 volcanic cones, but the most famous (and highest natural point in Auckland) is known as Mount Eden. From its vantage point, you can also see the volcano’s 50-meter deep crater; something that holds significant importance and relevance within New Zealand’s Maori culture.
After an incredibly busy day, I’d recommend staying in Auckland before continuing with your New Zealand North Island itinerary. There are plenty of accommodation options dotted all around the city and it’s an absolute haven for backpackers as there are so many hostels with excellent facilities!
Day 2: Auckland – Coromandel
Once you’ve woken up refreshed in Auckland, it’s time to hit the road and make the 2 hour and 45-minute drive to the Coromandel Peninsula.
I truly believe that you could spend days in the Coromandel, but if you’re a bit pushed for time, here are just a few of the things I’d recommend.
Hot Water Beach
Hot Water Beach is one of the most fascinating places in the whole of New Zealand’s North Island and it’s truly one of the most unique experiences you’ll ever have!
It works by an underground river of piping hot water flowing from below the earth’s surface which then emerges from the sand at Hot Water Beach. Bring your own spade/shovel (or hire one for $10NZD from the nearby café) and dig your very own hot water thermal pool!
The water can reach pretty high temperatures, so make sure you take caution; other than that, enjoy frolicking in your own hot pool on one of the most renowned beaches in the world!
Cathedral Cove is one of the most beautiful stretches of beach I’ve ever seen and is one of the top things to do in the Coromandel Peninsula.
The Cove is nestled away amidst a little beach; there’s a 40-minute bush walk to get to the Cove but it’s relatively easy going and if you get tired, there’s plenty of rest stops where you can look out to sea and enjoy the view.
Karangahake Gorge is another great place to get your hiking boots on in the Coromandel.
There are numerous hiking routes to choose from, including the Windows Walk, Historic Walkway and the Rail Tunnel Loop. You could easily spend hours walking in and around the Gorge, but I think a few hours should set you right!
Karangahake Gorge is only a half an hour’s drive from Waihi Beach, so I’d recommend driving there once you’ve finished exploring. Stay at one of the many campsites located around the town; bonus points if you set up camp right in front of the beach/ocean too!
Day 3: Waihi Beach – Mount Maunganui – Tauranga
There are numerous things to enjoy at Waihi Beach, but arguably the most notable thing to see/do is the Orokawa Bay Scenic Reserve Walk.
The walk will take around 45 minutes from the north end of Waihi Beach so make sure you’re up relatively early so you can have a good couple of hours there. Orokawa Bay is one of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in the region and makes for the perfect Instagram backdrop!
After grabbing a quick bite to eat, make your way along the coast, through Katikati, Aongatete, Te Puna and Bethlehem towards Mount Maunganui and Tauranga.
Mount Maunganui is a small suburb of Tauranga and is also home to one of the Bay of Plenty’s most famous attributes; the Mount itself. Also known as Mauao, the mountain’s summit can be reached in less than an hour.
The views from the top of the Mount are truly spectacular and while the hike up can be pretty tiring, it’s 100% worth it for the views!
Spend the night in one of Tauranga’s hotels, hostels or numerous campsites and get an early night in preparation for your next adventure filled day!
Day 4: Tauranga – Rotorua
It’s just an hour and a half drive from Tauranga to Rotorua but you’ll still want to be up nice and early so you can have a full day exploring everything Rotorua has to offer!
You probably won’t be able to fit in everything on this list during one day in Rotorua, but you can always extend your trip by a day or two if there are some things you really want to tick off your New Zealand North Island itinerary.
If I could suggest just one thing to do in Rotorua, it would be Velocity Valley. During my 6 and a half weeks in the North Island, this was probably one of the best things I did!
There are numerous adrenaline-fuelled activities to enjoy at Velocity Valley including a 142ft bungee jump (which I would highly recommend!), a jet boat racer, a wind tunnel, plus much more!
It’s a tad on the expensive side with each activity costing $49, but you can purchase a multi-ride package from $116.10 per person!
Sky Luge & Gondola – Skyline Rotorua
The Sky Luge is another fantastic thing to do in Rotorua and a great alternative to Velocity Valley if you’re both pushed for time and on a budget.
You can purchase multi-luge packages as well which includes two or three rides plus a free ride up the Sky Gondola included in the price of your ticket (adult prices start from $47 for a Gondola ride and 1 Luge ride).
Hot Pools and Geysers
Rotorua is famed for its plentiful natural hot pools and geysers. They may smell incredibly potent (think rotten eggs!) but they’re remarkably cool to see and definitely something you’ll want to tick off your New Zealand North Island bucket list!
Either park up in your car/van at one of Rotorua’s many campsites or spend the night in a hotel in preparation for another action-packed day tomorrow!
Day 5: Rotorua – Waimangu – Taupo – Tongariro National Park
If you want to make the most of your New Zealand North Island road trip I’d recommend another early start to make the 30-minute drive to Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
I’m prepared to go as far as to say that this place is one of my absolute favorite places in the North Island!
You’ll be blown away by the immense volcanic activity that once shrouded the area and you’ll be able to see the remnants of active volcanoes in the form of hot pools and geysers.
Taupo is most famous for its namesake lake which is the largest lake in New Zealand and is renowned for its incredible history; it actually sits in the crater of a volcano! The lake is the perfect place to enjoy water sport activities and there’s also a cruise that will take you all around the immense body of water!
Just a 10-minute drive from the town of Taupo resides Huka Falls; a set of striking blue waterfalls that drain from Lake Taupo at a speed of 220,000-litres-per-second! Stand over the footbridge and admire the rapidly cascading water below; it’s such an impressive sight to see!
There are also so many great places to eat in Taupo. Some of my favorites include; Rainbow Lodge (they have $5.90 pizza night every Wednesday!) and Mulligan’s Pub which is an excellent Irish bar serving yummy burgers and beer for just $15! There’s also an abundance of takeaway options right next to the waterfront.
You can either choose to spend the night in Taupo (I’d highly recommend the Tiki Lodge Backpacker’s Hostel which offers spacious, private rooms as well as dorm rooms for affordable prices!). Or you can choose to drive to Tongariro National Park just after dinner time so that you’re there nice and early and prepared for a remarkably exciting but arduous day tomorrow!
Day 6: Tongariro National Park
New Zealand’s oldest national park is certainly one of a kind and is a place that’s perfect for adventurists and adrenaline junkies. There are numerous routes you can take at Tongariro; including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing itself (taking around 8 hours to complete).
A lot of research is involved when undertaking a walk or hike at Tongariro as you’ll face so many different terrains, climates and seasons, just over the course of one day! You could arrive at Tongariro and begin the crossing with the sun shining blissfully above you, only to find yourself stuck in a snowstorm three hours later!
The official Tongariro Crossing website can give you many more helpful tips and advice than I can but I will say that if you plan on doing this world-famous hike, make sure you’re well equipped and fully prepared!
Day 7: Tongariro – Palmerston North
If you do complete the Tongariro Crossing, you will begin at one end and then be greeted with your vehicle by a sort of valet at the other end where you can begin your journey to Palmerston North.
Palmerston North is famed for the New Zealand Rugby Museum, Te Manawa (a museum, art gallery and science center) and the Lido Aquatic Centre (one of the best waterparks in New Zealand!).
The city is also renowned for its beautiful rose gardens and is often nicknamed ‘The Rose City’. You can enjoy beatific walks in and around Palmerston North and while it’s not as bustling as Auckland or as strenuous as Tongariro, it does have a great vibe and a more relaxed atmosphere for you to unwind after a very busy couple of days!
If you’ve had enough of Palmerston North, you might want to make the two-hour journey to Wellington in the evening in preparation for your day or two in Wellington!
Wellington – Adding to your New Zealand North Island Itinerary
Wellington has so many things to do and I actually preferred it much more than Auckland. It has such a lovely, student vibe to it but there’s plenty of things to do to suit people of all ages.
Te Papa Museum
New Zealand’s national museum is absolutely enormous and features a plethora of fascinating exhibitions and galleries; you could easily spend hours on end exploring everything that it has to offer!
The Gallipoli exhibition is a definite must-see and the ‘Active Land’, ‘Nature’ and ‘Bush City’ exhibitions were also some of my favorite things to see at Te Papa.
The Mount Victoria Lookout provides ample views of the city, harbor and even all the way to Wellington Airport! It’s a tiring hike to the top but it’s 100% worth it for the beautiful views!
Wellington Cable Car
The Wellington Cable Car is another great thing to do if you’ve got a day or two to spare in the city. It will take you all the way to the top of the Botanic Gardens and the Space Place at Carter Observatory. You’ll also enjoy spectacular views of the city below too!
Wellington is also a fabulous place to find some cheap and delicious eateries. Some of my favorites include Sal’s Pizza and the Wellington Night Market stalls which are on every Friday and Saturday night.
7 Day New Zealand North Island Itinerary
I hope this itinerary will help you plan your perfect North Island New Zealand road trip.
Your 7 or so days in the New Zealand North Island will certainly be jam-packed and you probably won’t have a minute to yourself to reflect on all your incredible experiences so far!
But, this 7-day itinerary for the North Island can easily be spread out over more days and I would recommend 7-10 days for this sort of itinerary.
Whatever you decide to do in New Zealand’s North Island, you’ll have the most amazing time and I already wish I could do it all over again!
And once you have seen the North Island, go to the South Island! This New Zealand South Island itinerary tells you exactly what not to miss.
If you love road trips, also read:
- Itinerary for the Perfect Road Trip Along Scotland’s North Coast
- Tips for Driving Abroad for the First Time
Map of This New Zealand North Island Itinerary
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