A New Zealand North Island itinerary

Cathedral Cove New Zealand
Cathedral Cove

I find that planning a holiday is often as enjoyable as the trip itself. It took me a long time to plan exactly what we would do when we went to New Zealand’s North Island this year, but I relished every moment of it, reveling in the details and talking over the sights with friends. At one point, I turned to the internet for help. What were the best things to see on the North Island, I asked. Which sights were not to be missed? Disappointingly, there weren’t very many answers. Many of the itineraries I found included both islands, often in a very compressed timeframe, so I had to make up my own. I thought I’d share it with you, if any of you are ever interested.

This itinerary covers a trip on the North Island over 12 days with a hire care. We flew into Auckland and out of Wellington, but you could easily do it the other way round or attach a South Island trip if you’re lucky enough to have that much time off!

Auckland skyline

Day one

Arrive in Auckland, check into hotel and try to stay up until it’s 8pm at the latest to stave off the jetlag (it worked for us). If you’ve got time, get your bearings and explore downtown Auckland and the harbourside. Auckland Art Gallery is worth a shout too.

Day two

Take the harbour cruise which has a brief stop off on Rangitoto Island. We didn’t have much time, so we didn’t get to spend the full day at Rangitoto or Waiheke Island. Next time! Collect your rental car and drive to the Waipoua Forest to see the giant kauri trees. Tane Mahuta is not to be missed. Stay somewhere local overnight, we were in Opononi.

Te Paki Sanddunes New Zealand

Day three

Take the scenic route along the Aupori Peninsula, driving from Waipoua to Cape Reinga. At Te Paki, right at the top of the Northland, go for a walk or sand tobogganing. Drive south towards Paihia and stay the night.

Day four

While you’re in Paihia, visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a great place to learn about Maori culture. The gist shop there is really good too, just as an aside. They sold some of the best quality souvenirs we saw for the whole trip. Alternatively, you can go on a half day dolphin cruise. Boats leave quite regularly from Paihia or Russell. Afterwards, drive south via Doubtless Bay to see the Whangarei Falls. We then drove even further south so there would be less driving the next day. We stayed in a little bed and breakfast in Silverdale, near Auckland.

View of Hobbiton New Zealand
View of Hobbiton

Day five

This was one of my favourite days of the entire trip. We drove up the Coromandel Peninsula to Hahei. From there there’s a 2 hour return walk to Cathedral Cove which is an absolute must-see. There’s also a water taxi that leaves from Hahei beach if you’re unable to walk. The famous Hot Water Beach is only a couple of minutes drive away from Hahei, so don’t miss it. Towel off and drive to Matamata for the night.

Day six

Drive to the Waitomo Glowworm caves and go on an underground tour, then visit the Otorohanga Kiwi House on your way back to Matamata. In the afternoon, go on a tour of Hobbiton. Make sure you’re not driving anymore that day, as you get a free drink in the Green Dragon after your tour (non-alcoholic drinks are available too).

Tamaki Maori Village New Zealand

Day seven

Drive to Rotorua and visit one of the thermal attractions. We went to the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village which combined Maori culture with hot springs and geysers. Afterwards, relax in the Polynesian Spa’s pools or go for a mud treatment. In the evening, if you haven’t had enough Maori culture yet, visit the Tamaki Maori Village for an entertaining evening.

Day eight

En route to Lake Taupo, visit the Huka Falls located in the Wairakei Tourist Park. Park up in Taupo City and try some of the watersports. We went on a half day kayaking trip to see the Maori rock carvings. Paragliding also sounded like really good fun. Another idea for our next visit.

Masonic Halls Napier New Zealand
Art Deco Masonic Hall in Napier

Day nine

Drive to the Tongariro National Park. Come prepared with adequate footwear and gear for hiking. There are short walks, half day walks and much longer day and multi-day walks to choose from. We chose two half day walks (they didn’t take us that long), Silica Rapids and Tamaki Falls. We then drove to Napier for the night. If you’ve got time, you could try a bike trip around the many vineyards in Hawkes Bay, or just sample to wines in the town centre.

Day ten

Explore Art Deco Napier or go to the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Stretch your legs because it’s a long 4 hour car drive to Wellington. We got out at Kaitoke Regional Park to visit the film set for Rivendell before we got to Wellington. We dropped off our hire car and explored some of Wellington’s night life.

Gollum in Wellington Airport
Giant Gollum in Wellington Airport

Day eleven

We took the Weta Cave workshop tour in Miramar and then went to Te Papa Tongarewa (the National Museum) for the afternoon. There’s so much to see inside, it could easily take you a whole day if not longer.

Day twelve

Say goodbye to New Zealand!

I felt like our itinerary was the best of both worlds; we never felt rushed at a site but we kept moving so we felt like we didn’t miss anything out. According to your interests, you could skip the Lord of the Rings attractions and do more activities outdoors. I think the trip was a good balance of driving and getting out and about to explore cities and the countryside. When we do go back to visit, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where I’d like to go again and there are certainly places we missed that are worth a trip second time around.

Have you ever been to New Zealand? What was your favourite part of the trip?



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