Full North Island

18+Days

Discover the North Island in it's entirety on this 18 day journey around New Zealand's top half. This itinerary has something for everyone. Learn all about Aotearoa's history at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds or witness Maori Culture at a live performance in Rotorua. If you are a fan of the cinema be sure to check out the Hobbiton movie set in the Waikato and Weta Workshop in Wellington where many blockbuster movies are made. Cycle the vineyards of the stunning Hawkesbay winerys or take a stroll through around the shores of Lake Taupo. 

New Zealand Itinerary

Arrive: Auckland 1 night

New Zealand’s largest city is known as the city of sails.  Set between two iconic harbors, Auckland offers a stunning variety of activities. Take a trip out to the islands; easy-going Waiheke, volcanic Rangitoto and the Tiritiri Matangi sanctuary, or see wildlife closer to shore at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium or the Auckland Zoo. Visit the Toi o Tamaki art gallery or the city’s several museums.  

Try bungy jumping off the harbor bridge or the 328-meter Sky Tower for spectacular views and thrills. While you’re there, check out the glass viewing platform, and learn about NZ’s most famous sporting team at the interactive All Black Experience. Wander the waterfront at Viaduct Basin with its trendy bars and restaurants. Take the family for wild rides at Rainbow’s End, climb into the Waitakere ranges or stroll through the Botanic Gardens. Auckland truly has something for everyone.

Drive: Auckland to Rotorua

3 hours non-stop SH 1&5 or Try the Locals’ Route via Hunua & Matamata

State Highway 1 takes you through Hamilton and Tirau to Rotorua. Stop off in Hamilton for food, shopping and a trip to the largest Zoo in NZ. Continue to Tirau for the Oxford cafe’s legendary sausage rolls and a visit to the sheepdog center.

However, the locals say that their route is slightly faster and definitely more scenic. Travel on SH 2 to visit two stunning waterfalls at Hunua and Wairere. Continue through farmland and forest along SH 2 and 27 to Matamata. There, you can stretch your legs with a stroll around the Lord of the Rings’ most picturesque village at Hobbiton. Continuing on, make sure you stop at the Blue Springs in Putaruru. Over 60% of New Zealand’s bottled water comes from this beautiful stream which might rate as one of NZ’s best-kept secret scenic spots. 

Stay: Rotorua 1 night

Rotorua is home to spectacular geothermal wonderlands and Maori arts, culture and history. You can experience storytelling, cultural performances and delicious hangi (traditionally cooked meat and vegetables) at the Tamaki or Mitai Maori Villages. Or opt for Whakarewarewa to see geothermal marvels and the NZ Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. Further afield lie the Wai O Tapu thermal valley and the Redwoods Forest Treewalk with its many walking and cycling tracks. Bird watchers will love Wingspan, the national Bird of Prey Center and the Rainbow Springs Kiwi House. Daring adventurers rejoice! Rotorua's got everything from bungy jumping and rolling Zorb balls to a guided tour of the Mt Tarawera crater.  Finally ready to relax? Take a dip in one of the hot mineral spas before heading out to Eat Street with its mix of restaurants, cafes, bars and the fabulous Lady Jane's Ice Cream Parlour.

Drive: Rotorua to Gisborne

4 hours non-stop, via SH 30 and SH 2

Lakes, native bush, pine plantations, rolling hills, and winding river gorge — this drive has it all. You’ll travel on SH 30 through rolling farmland past the Rotorua lakes towards SH 2 at Awakeri. Detour to Whakatane and beautiful Ohope Beach for a swim and snack and fill the gas tank before continuing towards Opotiki. Wind through the Waioeka Gorge alongside sparkling rivers and over high-country farmland. There are plenty of stopping points to admire the breath-taking scenery and learn the area’s fascinating history from the many interpretation boards along the way. Stop for a walk along the historic Tauranga and Manganuku Bridges, then continue to Matawai and Otoko, where the Otoko Walkway follows an old railway line. The final 50km (33 miles) open out to orchards and vineyards before entering New Zealand’s most eastern city.  

Stay: Gisborne 1 night

It's worth the journey to get to Gisborne, the first city in the world to greet the sun each day. There's plenty of culture on offer here. For example, the Tupapa Heritage trail leads to the spot where both the Maori ancestral canoes and Captain Cook first came ashore in New Zealand. Or climb Maunga Hikurangi to see the sunrise and another Maori cultural experience. 

If you've always wanted to surf, here's your chance. Gisborne offers surfing lessons and next-level beaches to try out your new skills. If you'd rather bodysurf, try a hands-on workshop where you'll craft your very own wooden bodysurfer's hand-plane. Why not try a railbike adventure — ride side-by-side along disused railway lines, including tunnels and magnificent scenery. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, interact with wild stingrays on Dive Tatapouri’s low-tide reef ecology tour. 

Drive: Gisborne to Napier

3 hours non-stop via SH 2

Drive through hilly farmland and admire inland and coastal views as State Highway 2 winds its way from Gisborne to Napier. Stop halfway at Wairoa to visit the District Museum with its impressive display of local history. Further on, Lake Tutira wildlife refuge is known for its prolific birdlife and a great place to stretch your legs before the final leg into Napier. 

Stay: Napier 1 night

Napier, New Zealand's Art Deco City, was largely rebuilt after a devastating earthquake struck in 1931. Now, it makes the most of its status with an annual art-deco festival each February and plenty of all-year-round art tours around town. It is also one of New Zealand's sunniest regions, which boasts beautiful beaches, wineries, and the country's longest-running Farmers Market in nearby Hastings. Napier is home to the NZ National Aquarium, where you'll see 100+ native and exotic animals from land and sea. Or, experience nature at its wildest and windiest with a tractor tour onto Cape Kidnappers to visit the world's largest mainland gannet colony. But, if you're into haunted buildings, you can call in at New Zealand's oldest prison in Napier for a spooky, scary self-guided tour.

Drive: Napier to Martinborough

3.5 hours non-stop via SH 50 & SH 2

Napier and its neighboring region, Wairarapa, are known for their delicious chardonnays, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc wines, so the countryside between them is rich with vineyards, farms and orchards. Hot, dry summers often mean stunning weather for your drive, so plan to stop off at a winery or two on the way. For a wildlife experience, visit the Pukaha National Wildlife Center, home to many native and endangered birds. Refuel in their Kaka Cafe before driving through to Masterton, where the town’s central park has an aviary, aquarium, deer park and more. From there, it’s a short drive to Martinborough, home to boutique vineyards, restaurants and upmarket B&Bs.

Stay: Martinborough 1 night

It's well worth visiting the Wairarapa district and the "wine village" of Martinborough. There's plenty for aficionados to savor with so many wineries, breweries, and olive groves close to the town center. Walk or cycle around town and discover the Marty Mural Trail and the early settler museum with its eclectic collection. Next, visit the Cape Palliser Lighthouse on the North Island's most southerly point. On the way, you'll see seals and the Putangirua Pinnacles, which formed a dramatic backdrop in the Lord of the Rings.   

Martinborough is known NZ-wide for its many annual festivals, including the Martinborough Fair in February/March and the Wairarapa Hot Air Balloon Festival each Easter. If you're feeling fit, play the 18-hole course at the affordable Martinborough golf course or ride the Rimutaka Cycle Trail, which is one of the NZ Great Rides. 

Drive: Martinborough to Wellington

1.5 hours via SH 53 & SH 2

Travel 15 minutes straight through wine country to Featherston or take a 45-minute scenic circuit around Lake Wairarapa, where there are plenty of places to chill out and picnic along the shores. Leaving Featherston, the drive becomes a spectacular climb through the Rimutaka Range with its breath-taking views of the wide river valley below.  Once the mountains are behind you, it’s an easy drive through the Hutt Valley and onto the motorway to whisk you into Wellington. 

Stay: Wellington 1 night

Some call Wellington the "coolest little capital city in the world," and they're right! There's something for everyone in New Zealand's vibrant capital. Take a free tour of Te Papa National Museum, the Wellington museum or the beautiful Parliament buildings. Then, discover how movies make their magic at the intriguing Weta Workshop. For a jam-packed day, ride the Cable Car to the Botanic Gardens, and visit the Fragrifert perfumery and the planetarium at Space Place. From there, take a free electric vehicle shuttle to Zealandia, Wellington's flourishing ecosanctuary, for a glimpse into what NZ was like before humans arrived. 

Wellington is a foodie delight; try Hannah's Laneway to find bakers, roasters, grinders and chocolatiers. Cuba Street's the place to go for downtown restaurants and bars, and you'll find quirky cafes dotted all over the city. Finally, for something a little different, go to Counter Culture to eat, drink and play one of their 900+ board games. 

Drive: Wellington to New Plymouth

5 hours non-stop via SH 1, SH 3 and Surf Highway 45.

Drive out of Wellington along the motorway and continue on the scenic coastal road along the Kapiti Coast, or leave town via the busy new Northern Corridor via Transmission Gully. Either way, continue on SH 1 to Bulls. Spot all the bull and cow jokes on the town storefronts before you turn onto SH 3 towards Whanganui. Here you can stop for a break at Virginia Lake, take a paddleboat ride along the river or drive straight on to Hawera. Don’t miss the town’s entrancing Tawhiti Museum and Cafe.

Leaving Hawera, turn off SH3 and follow the spectacular Surf Highway 45. Enjoy stunning ocean views as you wind around the coast towards Ōpunake with its magnificent beach, excellent cafes and famous fish and chips. Continue through Ōketo and Ōakura into New Plymouth. 

Alternatively, stay on SH3 at Hawera and continue inland via Stratford. If the weather is clear, you’ll see stunning views of Mt Taranaki and take 30 minutes off the journey.

Stay: New Plymouth 1 night

There's plenty to love in the west coast city of New Plymouth, starting with perfectly formed Mt Taranaki. If you're into hiking and cycling, consider a day trip into Egmont National Park, which surrounds the mountain.

Back in town, stroll among acres of botanic gardens and woodlands, or visit Brooklands Zoo in Pukekura Park. In summer, Pukekura's annual Festival of Lights is a must-see. Visitors flock to the city in March to see a wealth of international acts during the WOMAD festival, while gardeners adore the Taranaki Garden Festival each spring. Finally, don't miss the celebrated Len Lye gallery or the Puke Ariki museum down the road.

Perched right on the coast, New Plymouth boasts a beautiful 13km ocean-view walkway. First, take a photo at the Len Lye wind wand and the spectacular arches of the Te Rewa Rewa bridge. Then, with the kids, pop into Pukeiti Gardens to enjoy their engaging Treehouse Trail.  

Drive: New Plymouth to Taupo

3 hours 45 minutes non-stop via SH 3 and SH 30.

You’ll see some spectacular coastal views as you follow SH 3 from New Plymouth to tiny Awakino. Turn inland and pause to explore the old Awakino Tunnel, before continuing on the new bypass to Te Mapara. Follow SH 30 or stay on SH 3 to detour into Te Kuiti and the world-famous Waitomo Glow-worm Caves. Here, take an adventurous break with a guided walk or blackwater rafting tour (book in advance) before driving back to SH 30. Continue through the hilly, rural landscape to Mangakino, a fishing and cycling village on the shores of Lake Maraetai. From there, drive alongside the Kinleith forest plantations to reach Taupo township.

Stay: Taupo 1 night

Another geothermal and water paradise awaits visitors to Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest freshwater lake. Here you can kayak, parasail, sail, paddleboard and more. Or let someone else do the work and take a scenic cruise to see the gigantic Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay. 

Taupo has myriad walking, hiking and cycle trails for all fitness levels. Head through forests and along mountain tops. Then walk past the bubbling, boiling mud and colorful mineral rocks at Craters of the Moon and Orakei Korako Valley. Locals will recommend you watch the spectacular release of water at Huka Falls and Aratiatia Rapids or get amongst it with the various river rafting and jet boating adventures on offer. Finally, relax and enjoy soaking in the mineral waters of the Otumuheke Stream or swim at the DeBretts pool complex. 

Drive: Taupo to Auckland

3 hours, 30 minutes non-stop via SH 1 

Drive through the heart of New Zealand’s timber country towards Putaruru, where you can stretch your legs on the Te Waihou Walkway or visit the Timber Museum and wander around the town’s decorative Water Park. Alternatively, stop a little further on at Cambridge, NZ’s equine capital. Take a tour through working racing stables or visit nearby Lake Karapiro to try its many water activities or get an adrenalin rush with a thrilling Camjet tour to the base of the Karapiro Dam. After Cambridge, it’s a straight but busy drive on SH 1 through Huntly and on to Auckland.   

Stay: Auckland 1 night

New Zealand’s largest city is known as the city of sails.  Set between two iconic harbors, Auckland offers a stunning variety of activities. Take a trip out to the islands; easy-going Waiheke, volcanic Rangitoto and the Tiritiri Matangi sanctuary, or see wildlife closer to shore at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium or the Auckland Zoo. Visit the Toi o Tamaki art gallery or the city’s several museums.  

Try bungy jumping off the harbor bridge or the 328-meter Sky Tower for spectacular views and thrills. While you’re there, check out the glass viewing platform, and learn about NZ’s most famous sporting team at the interactive All Black Experience. Wander the waterfront at Viaduct Basin with its trendy bars and restaurants. Take the family for wild rides at Rainbow’s End, climb into the Waitakere ranges or stroll through the Botanic Gardens. Auckland truly has something for everyone.

Drive: Auckland to Whangarei (Northland) 

2.5 hours   Routes: SH 1 (fastest on the motorway but scenic detours along the Hibiscus and Matakana Coasts are less congested and much prettier.)

The quickest way north is to take the straightforward route along the motorway and SH1. However, adventure lies in the scenic detours along the Hibiscus and Matakana coasts. These offer stunning beach stopovers all along the way. Pop into Orewa for boutique shopping and playgrounds and continue to Waiwera for a dip in hot pools. If you’d rather go skiing, visit the indoor winter wonderland of Snowplanet before heading back to the sand, sea and sunshine of the Matakana Coast. Sample wine and cheese in Puhoi and stretch your legs at the nearby Sculptureum. Go snorkeling or ride the glass bottom boat at Goat Island Marine Reserve. Visit the Kauri museum in Warkworth and the Te Ao Marama center at Te Hana for Maori culture and a fascinating replica pre-European village

Stay: Whangarei 1 night

Located two hours’ drive north of Auckland, Whangarei is the gateway to the “winterless north.” Get onto the water with a chartered fishing excursion, go sea kayaking, learn to paddleboard or simply cruise out to see the world’s largest sea cave. Try going underwater with Dive Tutukaka to explore around the Poor Knights Islands. 

Onshore, visit the Waipu Museum or learn all about time at the Claphams Clock Museum. See kiwi birds at the Kiwi North Museum and Heritage Park or ride the horse trekking trails at Sandy Bay. Soon to open is the much-anticipated Hundertwasser Art Center, the last in the world designed by the famous architect. Meanwhile, view the building’s scale model at The Hub in the Town Basin. Finally, take a stroll along the Hatea Loop around the Town Basin marina or get more active and swing a golf club at Extreme Mini Golf. 

Drive: Whangarei to Auckland

2.5 hours   Routes: SH 1 (fastest on the motorway but scenic detours along the Hibiscus and Matakana Coasts are less congested and much prettier.)

 

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