The Best New Zealand North Island Itinerary
New Zealand’s North Island is so ripe with Maori culture, natural wonders and adventurous activities, planning a trip here is no mean feat. Overwhelmed with where to start? We’re born and bred in New Zealand, and the North Island is our backyard. We’ve put together the best New Zealand North Island itinerary to get you inspired.
Day 1 – Arrive in Auckland, the ‘City of Sails’
Arrive in Auckland and explore the ‘City of Sails’ at your leisure. Take a waterfront stroll along the Viaduct harbor, shop for NZ designers at Britomart Precinct, learn about New Zealand history at Auckland Museum or visit the iconic Sky Tower for sweeping views of the cityscape and yacht-dotted harbor.
Day 2 – Admire the mighty Kauri
Head north, stopping at Matakohe Kauri Museum, which is dedicated to the mighty Kauri tree. Then continue the theme by entering the Waipoua Forest to pay homage to the largest Kauri in New Zealand, Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest). Spend the night at a hotel in the Hokianga Harbour, where ‘Kupe’, the legendary Polynesian explorer, is said to have first landed in New Zealand.
Day 3 – Conquer the towering sand dunes of the Hokianga
This morning, cruise across the harbor and marvel at the towering sand dunes. For an adrenalin boost, choose to zoom down them on a body-board, skimming into the shallow waters at the bottom. From the Hokianga, we’d recommend crossing over the island to the East Coast and visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Here, in 1840, the most important document in New Zealand history, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed between Maori and The Crown. The Waitangi lawns are some of the best real estate in New Zealand, with sweeping vistas over the Bay of Islands. Spend the night near the ocean in Paihia.
Day 4 – Swim with dolphins and visit charming Russell
This morning, it’s time to explore on the water. Take a boat cruise out into the turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands in search of playful dolphins to splash around with, or visit the iconic Hole in the Rock. Disembark in Russell, the first capital of New Zealand, and learn of its illustrious past as ‘The Hellhole of the Pacific’, when it was a favored haunt for whalers and sealers. Nowadays, the town is an idyllic waterfront vacation spot, with charming colonial buildings and interesting historical sites.
Day 5 – Admire galaxies of twinkling glow worms
As you head back to Auckland, get off the beaten track and visit the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves. Guided by descendants of famous Maori chief Kawiti, journey through ancient limestone caves to admire thousands of twinkling glow-worms above. Leave a little time on the late afternoon to explore more of Auckland.
Day 6 – Sail the waters of Lake Rotoiti
From Auckland, journey southeast through the rolling countryside of the Waikato. Stop for a stroll to stretch your legs beside the Ohinemuri River in the Karangahake Gorge. Continuing on to Lake Rotoiti – one of Rotorua’s many beautiful lakes – getting out on the lake itself is highly recommended. It’s the only way to visit the natural hot pools, located in a secluded, pretty cove. Spend the night in Rotorua.
Day 7 – Sightsee in geothermal Rotorua
Some of the best holidays are those when you can take your time to relax and explore. Spend the day enjoying the beauty of Rotorua; perhaps visit the Rotorua Museum – originally medicinal bathhouses but now home to many cultural artefacts – or go ziplining in a native forest. There’s plenty to see and do in this geothermal wonderland.
Day 8 – Visit volcanic Tongariro National Park
In the morning, explore geothermal hideaway, Orakei Korako, (place of adorning) a majestic land of silica terraces, bubbling mud pools and an enchanting Aladdin’s Cave, Ruatapu (sacred hole). No New Zealand North Island itinerary would be complete without a visit to Tongariro National Park – a place where Mother Nature is at her most impressive. Drive to the Chateau Tongariro, a grand heritage hotel, and spend the afternoon soaking up the views of huge volcanoes on a stroll through the park.
Day 9 – Admire the Art Deco beauty of Napier & the Hawke’s Bay
Journey over the ranges for the Art Deco capital of New Zealand, Napier. Admire the 1930’s architecture that’s dotted throughout the central city on foot; it’s a great way to stretch your legs. Lunch in Napier and use the afternoon to explore the beauty of the Hawke’s Bay – nearby Havelock North or Te Mata Peak are worth a visit.
Day 10 – Finish your holiday with a visit to the ‘coolest little capital in the world’
From Napier, drive through the patchwork farmland of Wairarapa – a well-known wine-growing region – and on to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. Spend the afternoon discovering why Lonely Planet labeled Wellington ‘The coolest little capital in the world.’ Walk around the waterfront to bustling Oriental Bay, visit Te Papa, one of the world’s most interactive museums.
If this has inspired you to take on your North Island adventure, take a look at our ideas for the best New Zealand South Island itinerary. For the very best of the whole country, you'll love MoaTrek’s 21-day Kakapo Tour. A fully guided small group tour, the Kakapo has been put together by our team of local New Zealand travel experts - we reckon the first half is one of the best New Zealand North Island itineraries available. Contact us directly to chat about how we can make your NZ dream a reality.