Family road trip: A 5-day Auckland-Rotorua itinerary

Start your North Island road trip in New Zealand’s largest city before heading to Central North Island, bubbling with geothermal wonders.

Along the way make pit stops at limestone caves featuring glowworm grottos and hobbit holes – a reminder of New Zealand’s middle-earth legacy.

Day 1: Explore Auckland

This five day Auckland-Rotorua itinerary begins in New Zealand’s largest city with some of our favourite sights, including black sand beaches, volcanoes and some animal fun.

Begin your day with a ferry crossing across the Waitemata Harbour from the Auckland CBD to Rangitoto Island, one of the city’s 48 extinct volcanoes. The easy walk up to the summit through native bush and lava fields is one for everyone to enjoy. The views of Rangitoto to the city and ocean are fantastic. Before heading west to explore Auckland’s famous black sand beaches, visit the Sky Tower for 360-degree views of Auckland and to test your nerves by walking on the glass floor. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the Auckland Zoo, a natural haven in the middle of the city. Out west take your pick from some of the country’s most popular surf beaches – Piha, Muriwai (also renowned for its gannet colony), Bethells and Karekare. End your day with fish and chips on the beach while seeing the sun go down over the Tasman Sea – stunning!

Day 2: Discover treasures under the ground in Waitomo

As you travel south from Auckland towards Waitomo Caves, the landscape is quickly dominated by rolling farmland and lakeland.

Below the green hills of Waitomo Caves is an extensive limestone cave system – a subterranean wonderland that will leave you in awe of nature’s work. You’ll find stalactites, stalagmites and glowworms, accessible on easy walks or a boat ride through the glowworm grotto where you can marvel at the twinkling illuminations from thousands of tiny glowworms suspended from the cave ceiling.

If you are after an adrenaline rush, try black water rafting – an activity where you’ll zoom down an underground river in tube.
This evening carry on to Matamata that evening and enjoy a farmstay – an authentic 'kiwi' experience!

Day 3: Chasing hobbits in Matamata

The hobbits are gone but their legacy remains to the delight of Lord of the Rings fans who travel from around the world to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata. This beautiful set is home to hobbit holes (including Bag End – Bilbo’s house), the famous Party Tree and Green Dragon Inn.

Near Hobbiton, the Wairere Falls (North Island’s highest falls at 153m) never fail to impress visitors. Rotorua is just over an hour’s drive from here. Your nose will detect your arrival to Rotorua before you actually hit the city’s parameter as the sulphur smell lingers in the air – a reminder of this region’s geothermal action. Polynesian Spa in the city is a perfect place to wind down an adventurous day with natural hot pools to soak in.

Day 4: A forest adventure 

Today, enjoy an epic three-hour zipline tour with Rotorua Canopy Tours, flying above emerald forests. The guides are fantastic, offering not just encouragement but also plenty of information about the flora, fauna and a conservation project that you're helping to support.

This epic activity is hugely popular because of its epic nature and is something that is as much fun for mum and dad as it is for the kids.

Spend the rest of the day at one of Rotorua’s many geothermal parks. Gaze in wonder at the raw power of nature as you walk over bubbling mud, see shooting geysers and discover sulphur pools in all sorts of mesmerising colours.

Day 5: Explore Rotorua

Hire bikes and explore Whakarewarewa Forest by pedal power this morning. This is the home of some of the world’s best mountain biking tracks, suitable for riders of all abilities. Bike hire is easy to organise and the scenery is stunning.

If you’re after something more relaxing, head to Rainbow Springs – an animal conservation park where you can get up close to New Zealand’s endangered species like the Tuatara and kiwi.