North Island Explorer

17 DAYS

2707 km

Highlights

  • Swim with dolphins
  • Stand beneath giant Kauri trees
  • Explore geothermal Rotorua

Proximity

CAR-FREE TRAVEL OPTIONS

Experience the very best of the North Island on this 17-day round trip journey starting in Auckland

From urban delights to long sandy beaches, geothermal attractions and subterranean mysteries, this journey takes you from the top to the bottom of the North Island and plenty of places in between.

Day 1 - 2: Auckland to Paihia

Northland & Bay of Islands
Poor Knights Islands, Northland & Bay of Islands

By Fraser Clements

Northland & Bay of Islands

NORTHLAND

A place of history, long beaches and giant trees

Highlights

  • Poor Knights Island
  • Maori cultural experience
  • Historical sites

Proximity

Leave Auckland and head to Whangarei, a subtropical city on the edge of a beautiful harbour. Not far away is Tutukaka, gateway to the Poor Knights Islands.

As you continue north, you'll pass the small town of Kawakawa, famous for its public toilet. This structure of mosaics, copper and cobblestones was the last building designed by Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser. 

Paihia makes an excellent base for exploring the Bay of Islands. Catch a cruise to the outer islands or a ferry to the charming township of Russell. The historic Treaty House at Waitangi marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation.

Day 3: Paihia to Kaitaia

Northland & Bay of Islands
Ninety Mile Beach, Northland & Bay of Islands

By Amos Chapple

Highlights

  • Haruru Falls
  • Cape Reinga
  • Ninety Mile Beach

Proximity

MORE ABOUT KAITAIA

Gateway to the Far North, Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach.

Read more

Spend the day exploring the very top of the North Island. Travel to Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea meets the mighty Pacific Ocean. On a good day, a white line of foam stretches across the ocean showing where the two bodies of water meet. Maori consider this place sacred, here spirits of the deceased leap into the ocean to return to their ancestral land.

From Cape Reinga, make your way to Ninety Mile Beach where you can sandboard down giant sand dunes and dig for fresh shellfish, before heading on to Kaitaia for the night.

Day 4 - 5: Kaitaia to Auckland via Dargaville

Auckland
Waiheke Island , Auckland

By Miles Holden

Auckland

AUCKLAND

Vibrant city style and spectacular landscapes.

Highlights

  • Kauri trees and Tane Mahuta
  • Matakohe Kauri Museum
  • Waiheke wineries

Proximity

  • By car: 4 h 40 min | 345 km via SH12 & SH1
  • By bus: 6 h 40 min | Auckland direct by Intercity

The backcountry route to Dargaville takes you past the awesome Waipoua Forest, home of New Zealand's largest kauri trees. Not far from Dargaville, Kai Iwi lakes are beautiful dune lakes that make a popular camping spot. Travel across the river plain from Dargaville to Matakohe’s kauri museum, where you’ll discover a fascinating history of kauri milling and gum diggers.

Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city is situated between two harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. It’s a place to enjoy marine adventures, wine trails, forest walks and urban sophistication.

Day 6 - 7: Auckland to Rotorua via Hobbiton

Hamilton - Waikato
Hobbiton, Waikato, Hamilton - Waikato

By Sara Orme

Highlights

  • Hobbiton Movie Set
  • Geothermal attractions
  • Maori cultural experiences

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 15 min | 251 km via SH1, SH27 & SH5
  • By bus: 3 h 30 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

HOBBITON IN 360

Go behind the scenes of New Zealand's real Middle‑earth film set.

See more

Leaving Auckland, you'll find yourself amid lush farmland on your way to Matamata. It's easy to see why Peter Jackson chose this area to play The Shire in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Visit Hobbiton Movie Set and see how this imaginary place was brought to life.

Travelling southeast through forest and farmland you'll approach Rotorua. Sitting squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, volcanic activity is part of this city’s past and present. Explore the geothermal areas, discover Maori culture or try one of the town's many adventure activities. Rotorua is entertaining at any time of the year.

Day 8: Rotorua to Whakatane

Bay of Plenty
Heli to White Island, Bay of Plenty

By Chris Sisarich

Highlights

  • White Island volcanic tours
  • Lake Rotoiti, Rotoehu and Rotoma
  • Maori historical sites

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 10 min | 85 km via SH30
  • By bus: 1 h 30 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

EXPLORE WHITE ISLAND

Learn more about New Zealand's only active marine volcano.

Read more

Today you could choose to spend the day enjoying some of the many activities in Rotorua, before making the short drive to Whakatane. Popular activities include mountain biking, rafting and new adventure sports like zorbing. 

Alternatively, you could head straight to Whakatane and visit New Zealand's most active volcano. Take a boat or helicopter to White Island to explore the steaming vents, vast craters and abandoned sulphur mine. Apart from the volcano, Whakatane's attractions include the museum, an observatory and Maori historical sites. In summer, you can also go dolphin swimming.

Day 9 - 10: Whakatane to Gisborne

Eastland
Mount Hikurangi, Gisborne, Eastland

By Fraser Clements

Eastland

EASTLAND

Maori culture, delicious wine and surf beaches.

Highlights

  • Mount Hikurangi
  • Picturesque surf beaches
  • Te Puia Springs

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 30 min | 185 km via SH2
  • By bus: 3 h 5 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

The short trip to Opotiki takes you past Ohope, a friendly coastal town with kilometres of uninterrupted beach for swimming, walking, surfing and fishing. 

There’s a lot to see and do as you drive around the edge of East Cape. Including Tikitiki's ornate Maori church and the historic 660-metre wharf at Tolaga Bay. For those preferring a shorter drive, take the inland route direct to Gisborne along State Highway 2. 

Gisborne is a sunny city with a reputation for good wine and fantastic surf beaches. There are more than 20 vineyards in the area, with many specialising in Chardonnay. Near the city centre, you can visit Kaiti Beach where the first European landed in New Zealand.

Day 11: Gisborne to Napier

West Coast
Hawke's Bay Cycle Trail, West Coast

By Camilla Rutherford

Hawke's Bay

HAWKE'S BAY

Discover wineries, wildlife and Art Deco design

Highlights

  • Walking and cycling trails
  • Cape Kidnapper's gannet colony
  • Winery tours

Proximity

There are two ways to approach the trip to Napier. The inland route takes you past Hackfalls Arboretum, one of the largest private collections of trees in New Zealand. The coastal route provides access to Morere Hot Springs and the fabulous beaches of Mahia Peninsula. Both roads lead to the town of Wairoa, memorable for the lighthouse in its main street. 

Napier is famous for its distinctive architecture. After the devastating 1931 earthquake, the city was rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the times. The architects added Maori motifs to many buildings, giving them a distinctly New Zealand flavour. Beyond the city, Hawke's Bay is a region of vineyards and orchards. 

Day 12 - 13: Napier to Wellington

Wellington
Wellington's craft brewing culture, Wellington

By Fraser Clements

Wellington

WELLINGTON

A mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine.

Highlights

  • Lively cafes, bars and restaurants
  • Wairarapa wineries
  • Museums and art galleries

Proximity

  • By car: 4 h 20 min | 230 km via SH2
  • By bus: 5 h 25 min | via Kapiti Coast by Intercity

Enjoy the clean, green Wairarapa scenery as you drive south. Carterton is a good place to shop for paua shell souvenirs, while Greytown has many beautiful examples of Victorian architecture and a quaint museum.

Wellington is compact, cultured and full of character. The downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Enjoy the myriad of cafes, restaurants, museums and live music venues that Wellington has to offer.

Popular attractions include Te Papa Museum, the Cable Car, Weta Workshop and Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary.

Day 14: Wellington to Tongariro National Park

New Zealand
Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

By Graeme Murray

Highlights

  • Walking and hiking trails
  • Volcanic landscapes
  • Heritage areas

Proximity

TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK

Learn more about New Zealand's first national park.

Read more

The Kapiti Coast route to Whanganui has a lot going for it. Offshore from Waikanae is Kapiti Island, a nature reserve for close encounters with rare birds. Whanganui itself has a long history. Take time to explore the restored heritage areas, or take an expedition on the river. You can also ride the historic elevator to the top of Durie Hill.

Carry on towards the volcanic plateau of Tongariro National Park. Turangi is small but well placed for adventures in the park. Tongariro Alpine Crossing, in particular, is regarded as one of the best day-walks in the world.

Day 15: Turangi to Taupo

Lake Taupo
Carvings at Mine Bay, Lake Taupo

By Chris McLennan

Lake Taupo

LAKE TAUPO

Teeming with outdoor activities and water sports.

Highlights

  • Mine Bay Maori rock carvings
  • Huka Falls and jet boat
  • Trout fishing

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 20 min | 100 km via SH47 & SH1
  • By bus: 40 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

From Turangi follow the eastern edge of the lake to reach the town of Taupo. The drive is very scenic and there are many picnic opportunities along the way. Where streams run into the lake, you’ll often see anglers trying their luck.

Taupo sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake and offers an exciting array of outdoor activities both on and off the water. Visit the awe-inspiring Huka Falls, relax in the hot pools, or take a boat cruise or kayak trip to see the Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay. Like nearby Rotorua, Taupo is geothermally active; check out Craters of the Moon or Orakei Korako to see steam vents and bubbling mud pools.

Day 16: Taupo to Waitomo Caves

Hamilton - Waikato
Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Hamilton - Waikato

By Tourism Holdings Limited

Highlights

  • Caves alight with glowworms
  • Hamilton Botanical Gardens
  • Otorohanga Kiwi House

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 55 min | 150 km via SH30
  • By bus: 5 h 22 min | via Rotorua by Intercity

WAITOMO CAVES

Explore a labyrinth of caves, sinkholes and underground rivers.

Read more

The route to Waitomo passes through farmland, lake land and forest. Keen walkers may enjoy the beautiful Pureora Forest Park, while trout fanciers can try their luck at Lake Whakamaru. After the township of Te Kuiti, you'll turn left towards Waitomo.

The Waitomo Caves region is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface of this ancient limestone region, is a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms. Choose your level of adventure, from guided walks and gentle boat rides to black water rafting, caving and abseiling into the abyss.

Day 17: Return to Auckland via Hamilton

Hamilton - Waikato
Raglan, Hamilton - Waikato

By Chris McLennan

Highlights

  • Surf Raglan's left-hand break
  • Waikato Museum
  • Zealong Tea Estate

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 30 min | 195 km via SH39 & SH1
  • By bus: 3 h 10 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

MUST-DO EXPERIENCES IN AUCKLAND

Discover a combination of metropolitan delights and natural landscapes.

Read more

On your return to Auckland, stop at the kiwi house in Otorohanga and meet New Zealand’s national symbol.

If you're in the mood for detours, head west to Raglan, a beautiful black-sand beach that's a favourite among surfers. Or you can spend your time exploring the river city of Hamilton. The city has lovely botanic gardens and an amazing free-flight bird aviary at Hamilton Zoo. Just north of Te Kauwhata on State Highway 1, you can turn off to visit the Jade Museum – the place to stock up on New Zealand Greenstone (pounamu) jewellery and gifts before you head home.

Driving in New Zealand

Important things you need to know about driving in New Zealand.

View the route below

You may also be interested in...

Recommended Trips →

Travel to NZ →

Visas & Immigration →